Abby advises friend on how to be one

To be blunt, being a good friend means getting your focus off yourself and onto the other person.

Here’s how one woman described the dilemma a friend had put her in:

Dear Abby: My friend’s husband has been writing a novel for several years. He just self-published it, and it’s available on Amazon. He gave me a copy, asked me to read it and enter a great review on the Amazon page. The problem is the book is filled with misused and misspelled words, and there is missing punctuation. He even switched the names of two characters. (His wife, who is a "perfectionist," was his editor.)

Aside from the fact that I don’t want to finish the book, I know he or my friend will ask me how I liked it. I don’t want to lie because I’m afraid if someone else brings these things to their attention, they’ll know I didn’t read it or think I should have told them. I know they will be embarrassed if I bring it to their attention.

Frankly, I think it’s too late to say anything negative because the book has already been printed. I also don’t want to cause hurt feelings because I know how long he worked on this project and he’s proud of it. How do I handle this?

I thought this response from Abby was perfect:

Dear Reader: He’s a friend, right? And you’re only a reader, not a literary critic whose credibility will suffer if you don’t point out every flaw. Find something you liked about the book and mention that on the Amazon page. You could call it a "page turner" because you had to turn from Page 1 to Page 2, didn’t you?

The inquirer’s dilemma stems entirely from her concern about herself—her integrity, her reputation, her critical skills. Abby’s solution is to get the focus off her and onto the other, i.e. what is the most loving thing she can do for her friend at this point? Clearly, it’s to respond to the request without embarrassing her friend or her friend’s husband. Can it be done while remaining honest? Of course. In fact, Abby mentions a key strategy:

In a case like this, less is more. And remember, you’re doing this in the capacity of being a friend, not an English teacher.

I’m certain the friend and her husband would be satisfied with any positive response, no matter how weak it had to be in order to remain honest. And taking the “less is more” approach might also do a bit of level-setting for the inquirer—after all, if her critical opinion was so important to them, why didn’t they seek her out before the book was published.

“Less is more’’” had done invaluable service for me over the years, both in helping me treat people lovingly and in keeping me humble.

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