Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Suburban Christian reviews and an interview

One of the most interesting things for me about the publication of The Suburban Christian is that it's the first of my three books to have been published since the emergence of the blogosphere. So instead of waiting for book reviews to appear in print magazines or other publications, I can search Blogger or Google and see what readers are thinking. (Forgive me if this is a bit self-indulgent. It's not that I need external reviews to validate me - I'm just thrilled that the book is getting out there, regardless of what people think of it.)

Australian Simon Holt has a nice review of my book. He's been reviewing a number of books related to suburbia, and he's captured well how mine is different: "Of all the Christian books that deal with suburbia—some of them I’ve already reviewed—many treat suburbia in its present form as, at best, a problem and, at worst, a corrosive blight on humankind. What I appreciate most about Albert Hsu’s new book, The Suburban Christian: Finding Spiritual Vitality in the Land of Plenty, is that he writes out of a fundamental commitment to suburbia. For Hsu, suburbia is a place of genuine spiritual longing and, even more, a context into which God calls." It's been interesting to read his blog and see Australian perspectives on suburbia, which seems to be even more dominant there than in the States. See his blog for a suburban prayer as well.

DisciplesWorld is a denominational magazine for the Disciples of Christ, and they've run a review of my book that also serves as a quick summary of the content. Some excerpts:
Anyone who has read either of Hsu’s previous books will not be disappointed in their expectation of a thorough, thoughtful, and positive review of the condition and potential of suburbia.

Hsu is deliberate and detailed in his research and employs an average of 28 informative and enlightening resource references per chapter in support of his subject. He establishes the foundation for a good understanding of suburbia by providing the history and current status of life in the suburbs. However, he also writes with a considerable passion for the Christian to see all the opportunity that exists for ministry in these modern-day communities.

As a lifetime suburban dweller, Hsu shares both his concern and his hope regarding the direction in which suburbia is evolving and the steps that can be taken to make for a more positive development. Over half of the U.S. population lives in the suburbs. In many areas suburbs are emerging as a dominant cultural force, having much less dependence on urban centers for jobs, markets, and so on.

However, Hsu sees suburbs often isolating or becoming ingrown in themselves, despite a wide array of opportunities for community and individual spiritual growth. People use their cars to go everywhere, and many suburbs do not have sidewalks, houses do not have front porches, and homes often have high privacy fences — all of which make it difficult for easy and natural community that was a way of life in the past.

Contributing to the breakdown of community is commuter culture, which is a condition of suburban sprawl. Hsu writes, “Suburban commuter culture diffuses our personal relationships and connections over a wide geographical area. We don’t work in our local community. We don’t make friends in our neighborhood. We commute elsewhere to shop, to study, to worship”
(p. 63).

Hsu uses the first five chapters to describe and define the emergence of suburbia, and the present-day status and opportunity that exist there. In the final four chapters, he addresses the many roadblocks to community and ministry in the suburbs, but emphasizes the positive steps suburbanites can employ to overcome these barriers.

The message the reader will experience from start to finish is a hopeful and passionate optimism for Christians to see suburbia as a great field ripe for harvest despite a number of complex barriers that exist. This book will be beneficial for Christians and civic leaders in all types of communities to read.
It's especially neat to see references to my previous books, since it's not automatic for readers of one to find or care about the others. (The only commonalities are that each book has a chapter about community and the topics of the books all begin with the letter S.) But one person's Xanga site mentioned that she's currently reading The Suburban Christian, and someone commented, "hey! it's the same guy who wrote singles at the crossroads!" Kind of cool.

Last Wednesday I was interviewed by a radio station in Minneapolis, and you can listen to the interview here. I always feel weird listening to recordings of my own voice; for most of us, how we sound to ourselves is different from how we sound to others. And for this particular interview, during a break the producer asked me if there was a better phone for me to talk on (I was talking on a cordless phone), so I had to run upstairs to get to a landline. So if I sound out of breath on the segment, that's why. I also had a brain freeze and blanked out at one point, which is embarrassing. I've done enough interviews at this point that I have stock answers to most questions, but even so, it's hard to summarize a two-hundred-page book in a few minutes. You just have to pick a few things to highlight and hope it comes out halfway coherent.

A friend just asked if publishing a book is like having a baby. In many ways, yes, except that the baby is immediately sent off to college or the real world to fend for itself! Authors can do some things to try to help a book find its way, but basically it's on its own, and we keep tabs on how it's doing by Googling for reviews. I remember reading a Twila Paris interview where she talked about how her song "He Is Exalted" has been translated into various languages and sung around the world, and she just cheers, "Good job, little song!" That's how we authors feel about our books. We hope they get out there and do some good.


Anonymous said...

Hello Al Hsu, My friend and I were excited to see her comment on my blog referred to. We were both huge fans of Singles at the Crossroads because it provided a refreshing pro-single perspective in a sea of "gotta get married" books (I think we'd both like to marry one day, but don't want to be rushed into such a significant commitment out of peer pressure).

Thanks to IVP's website that lists upcoming releases, I was looking forward to The Suburban Christian about six months before it was published!

I look forward to reading more of IVP's high quality books on all aspects of knowing and following Jesus.


Al Hsu said...

Michelle - thanks for visiting! (Yes, I found your friend's comment on your blog by Googling for myself - I admit it, I do vanity searches. It's weird to think that Google didn't even exist ten years ago.) Anyway, I'm glad you liked Singles at the Crossroads. That book came out before the whole "kissed dating goodbye" phenomenon, and it seems like in recent years a number of Christian leaders have been arguing that marriage is normative and that (many? most?) singles are being disobedient to God's will. Wonder if they would say that to Jesus, or the apostle Paul, or John Stott . . . So anyway, I'm glad that you and your friend found the book helpful. Best wishes and God bless!