The year of 2019 was a banner year for Bob on Books, both the blog site and the Facebook page. Early in 2019, the blog topped an all-time total of a half million views. At the end of the year, the total was over 650,000 with over 162,000 views from nearly 113,000 viewers. We posted over 180 reviews of books, including a number of science-faith reviews from guest reviewer Paul Bruggink. On the Facebook page, we started the year with around 2,000 people who “liked” the page. By the end of the year, we had topped 5,500.
Numbers are only part of the story. Early on, I wrote on my “about” page:
While I am a person of faith as a follower of Christ, I hope the blog will be a meeting place for anyone who cares about good literature, who loves books and reading, and wants to talk about ideas that matter. We live in an amazingly diverse mosaic of peoples and ideas which can either be the source of endless conflict or the opportunity for rich engagement with one another across our differences in pursuing together goodness, truth, and beauty in our world. My hope is that this blog will contribute to the latter.
I am encouraged that by and large, both on the blog and the Facebook page, we have cultivated a meeting place that is a pretty good approximation of this description. It feels to me that this is a volatile time, especially around matters that have been part of our political debates and that volatility has occasionally flared up, especially over on Facebook–a medium that is most prone to this. A simple post of the text of Greta Thunberg’s United Nations speech (reading material!) brought out some of the most vicious comments I’ve seen.
Most of the time, we’ve just enjoyed discussing the books we are reading and the quirkiness of those of us who are bibliophiles. My awareness of the diversity of genres people are reading has grown, and I’ve picked up some great ideas of mysteries and science fiction to read from others. While I post a number of reviews of Christian works, others have written about different religious and philosophical texts that have been formative for them. At least we haven’t fought about religion, but rather learned from each other. I was most delighted when several on Facebook commented that our page was the main reason they hadn’t closed their accounts.
As for the coming year? I’m in a new job that also involves a blog, social media, and other web media to encourage and equip and network emerging Christian scholars, and much of my creative energies are invested in that project. I’m applying much of what I learned these past years to this job (it might have even helped me get the job!). But here are a few things I want to keep on doing and do better here:
- I love reading and reviewing books, and if there is anything I want to do this year, I want to pay attention to great reviewers, and work at the craft of writing reviews that are both interesting to read, and help you decide whether the book in question is one you want to read.
- I will keep writing about Youngstown. I haven’t run out of things to write about yet and love discovering more about the people and places and institutions of the place where I grew up. Just as our own lives are enriched by our family history, I believe our communal life is enriched by understanding our communal history–what has made us uniquely us!
- I also enjoy learning and writing about everything bookish. I hope I get around to more bookstores this year. I also believe libraries play a critical role in fostering reading among both children and adults and an increasingly important role as a “third place” in our culture. I’ll continue to explore the quirky qualities that make us bibliophiles, and hopefully help us laugh at ourselves, something we all need.
- I was warned recently about writing about religion and politics. I happen to think there is nothing more important than how we answer the “big questions” of life, whether they concern what we believe to be really real, or how we order our relations and priorities in society. I strive to be neither a proselytizer nor a partisan. Whether in religion or in political discussion, I hope we can reclaim a civil public square from the trolls, the gaslighters, the echo chambers, and the partisans. I hope to moderate and write (when I do) toward that end! When we can’t engage civilly and substantively around the big questions and the common good, we surrender our culture to the demagogues and the power-mongers.
That’s it, as far as I can see, although you never know what comes along. Thanks for coming along with me this far. I’m looking forward to some great books in 2020 and I wish for you the same!