Tuesday, January 29, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Love Does (2012) - Bob Goff


My good friend Aaron Schendel got me this book for Christmas, and it's been a great read. It's written in a similar format to the incredible New York Bestseller 'Blue Like Jazz' which is written by Goff's close friend and uncredited editor Donald Miller. The format they share structures a series of personal memoirs together in an attempt to pass both lifelong lessons and spiritual epiphanies to the reader. The lesson of this book, of course, being that love doesn't wait, love does.

Goff tells heartfelt tales that detail both love's whimsical nature, and it's need to endure. The way he strings the stories together is very linear, starting with his adolescence, when he was first learning of love from his family and friends. In particular, he talks about a friend who, on a whim, follows him on a Chris McCandless-esque endeavor (to leave life behind and live on his own). Goff fails, and the man supports him on his way back. When Goff drops the friend off, he finds out that his friend followed him in the midst of his honeymoon - and his new wife is OK with it, and with his lifestyle, because she, too, understands love's whimsy, and doesn't try to control it.

What I appreciate about Goff's tales is that, while they seem to romanticize details in the first few stories (there's one particularly hard to believe story about a man who makes ridiculous demands of Goff in order to propose to his wife) the later stories take on a more realistic approach. Goff, as an adult lawyer, tackles hard issues in Uganda, takes his kids to meet world leaders after 9/11, and shows his kids the meaning of 'paying it forward.' Through Goff's openness to life's ever-changing ways, he allows himself to flow with the whimsy of life, at the same time that he takes responsibility as a father and as a husband.

The one area of the book I found disappointing was that it never really delved deep enough into the grit of loving. This, is, of course, to support Goff's thesis that love and whimsy bring about positivity, and that positivity must beget positivity, right? This is where I have trouble with the book. It brings up love like a glitzy glam product - love does, and if you're so willing to do then things will turn out okay.  I think Goff can support this thesis at the same time that he describes it more realistically.

At times, I felt like I was reading fairy tales instead of real life stories, and maybe that's Goff's point. Maybe he wants to convince people of love's power through exaggeration (let's be honest with ourselves, if you want your message to get noticed, you need to kick people in the teeth). But some of the stories would have definitely had tragedy in them (such as Goff's interactions with some of the Ugandan children), and I felt like I was denied the experience of understanding that following love and whimsy can end badly, or unhappily because Goff wanted that omitted.

For those who struggle with books that heavily involve religion or theology, this can be a tough book to get through, especially in the latter chapters, but it helps give perspective on what Goff's point of view is, and why he thinks that way. I, personally, find Donald Miller's books more accessible, because while Miller brings up theology, he approaches it from a more skeptical lens.

All in all, though, it's an incredibly uplifting read that will make you want to go outside and follow whatever path the day takes you down. What you find in this book may not change your outlook on life - it didn't for me, but at the very least, the experiences Goff describes in this book may open your eyes up more to the whimsical, loving, nature of life, and in essence, become a 'yes' man like Goff.

Thanks Aaron, for the lovely read.

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