Robert Beveridge's Reviews > The Spanking Room: A Child's Eye View of the Jehovah's Witnesses

The Spanking Room by William Coburn
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Oct 31, 2008

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bookshelves: owned-and-still-own, finished
Read in November, 2008 , read count: 1

William Coburn, The Spanking Room (WinePress, 2008)

As much as I keep beating my dead horse about how much I hate memoirs, I always seem to end up getting roped into reading them somehow. This is my latest solicited review book (well, the latest I've actually finished; a collective apology to the rest of you lot for being so far behind...), and while I did realize it was a memoir going in, I couldn't resist the idea of a Jehovah's Witness expose. On the other hand, I seem to have missed the part where the author mentioned the book was from WinePress (for those of you unfamiliar, think of WinePress as a Christian version of AuthorHouse, competing head to head with Xulon, the Lulu of Christianity). But I dove in anyway, despite the book having two strikes against it before I even cracked the cover already. And I have to say, I'm starting to revise my opinion of memoirs; despite the fact that I've still found the majority of them I've read loathsome (assuming they're even partially true, as we have found out over the last few years how few of them actually are), some of them are getting slotted into the category of “guilty pleasure”. The Spanking Room fits quite nicely into that niche—I enjoyed it (if “enjoyed” is the proper word for a catalog of abuse such as this), but I felt vaguely dirty doing so.

Before actually getting into the book, I do have to comment on what, for me, was one of the books' most amusing parts, the hypocrisy inherent in criticizing parts of religion A that are also parts of religion B (to which you subscribe). I can certainly understand the sentiment; after what Coburn went through, I can't imagine not seeing every last aspect of the Jehovah's Witnesses as inherently evil. But that tends to lead to a blind eye when, say, criticizing the proselytizing aspect of being a Witness while ignoring the proselytizing aspect of born-again Christianity. (And yes, Coburn is a born-again Christian; this should be obvious from the press and the general tone, but he explicitly states it in the final chapter.)

Once you're past this, however, the book definitely does have its guilty-pleasure aspects. Coburn sees himself as something of a black humorist. The book does have its funny parts—though it's more a humor of the snorting rather than the belly-laughing variety—but what really makes it shine is Coburn's gift for observation. This does bring up questions about veracity; how much is an adult going to remember about his preteen years, especially in such detail?—but there's solid grounding for the overall shape of the thing, as Coburn points out a few times (he suggests checking out the Jehovah's Witness website and reading some of the books and pamphlets to be found there. Illuminating stuff indeed).

There are also certain aspects of this book that only a Biblical scholar, at least of the casual variety, could have shed light on, and as most of those who know the Bible well are Christians, there is value in reading a Christian's account of the inside affairs of the Witnesses. Coburn points out a number of differences between the New World Translation (used by the Witnesses) of the Bible and other translations, and shows how sometimes translating one word differently can lead to entirely different conclusions being drawn from those passages. While those of us who endlessly debate religion are well aware of how this defines much of the difference between various flavors of Judeo-Christianity, less religiously aware folks will probably find these sections of the book quite enlightening.

I'm giving the book three stars and a conditional recommendation. There are obviously folks who will find what Coburn has to say unbelievable, offensive, or some combination of the two. Hopefully the review above will give you some insight into whether you're one of those people, and if you are, you would do well to avoid it. However, if you're a fan of memoirs in general, or just like seeing a religion get a good hiding from someone who was once involved with it, then you should definitely consider giving this one a go. ***

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Gayle Amazing review. I've just finished the book also with the same trepidation going in and the same delight at having found a good read.

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