One thing I like to do before I comment on a piece of writing is read the piece of writing. I do not understand the glut of postings this weekend that begin a criticism of Joseph Bottum’s piece in Commonweal titled The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-sex Marriage, with the caveat, “I didn’t bother to read the whole thing,” or “I just skimmed it.”
So much has been made of its length, in fact, that people are falling asleep in the first paragraph, poking their eyes out in boredom, driving off cliffs, and performing many other acts of self-harm in the face of a 6000-9000 word essay–if the facebook statuses are to be believed.
Other common criticisms are that he got paid handsomely for writing it, that the New York Times picked it up, and that it was published in a left-leaning magazine.
We get the writing we deserve. If Catholic readers make known that they only have an attention span for the 140 character idea, then that is exactly what we’ll get.
I think, though, that we can make room for a writer to try, and possibly fail at a difficult literary genre, the evocative personal essay. I think we can allow a writer to make a living at his craft. We can permit a Catholic writer to dialogue on difficult issues with other-minded publications.
To my mind, Bottum did not fail. His writing received noteworthy attention from established media outlets, he was suitably compensated, and he made thousands of people angry on both sides of an issue without caving on the essential teachings of the Church.
That’s about the best a writer can hope for.