Reading By The Numbers

Goodreads see what your friends are reading

Accessed 12/25/2018 at 8:20 pm ET

Yesterday, I wrote about reading resolutions. I noted that of all the reading resolutions shared with me, none had to do with numbers. Nor did mine. Yet numerical reading challenges are a big deal among many bibliophiles.

The most famous is Goodreads’ yearly reading challenges. You have to have a free Goodreads account. Each year, you can set your own challenge goal beginning a few days before January 1. People set a variety of challenge goals from reading one book to hundreds. As you can see from above, the average is 60, a healthy goal of more than one per week. Your home page will show a progress bar, and whether you are ahead, behind, or on track to reach your goal. All your friends can see how you are progressing as well. You can also see how many pages you’ve read and compare your statistics to past years, what reading you’ve done in various categories and more.

LibraryThing also offers challenges at different levels (50, 75, etc.) and allows you to join groups and post what books you are reading. People make up a variety of creative challenges of reading different genres, reading through the alphabet (each book title starts with a successive letter of the alphabet), and a variety of other creative challenges.

Other groups I’ve seen offer monthly challenges. These involve the whole group reading a different type of book each month: eg. science fiction one month, a book about presidents the next. I know one group that is trying to read consecutively biographies of each U.S. president. I could see such challenges building a sense of community–physical or virtual.

I think if this sort of thing is fun and life-giving and occurs in the context of reading that enriches your life, then there is no harm in this, and even positive value in encouraging you and others in your challenge to read, and maybe get exposed to books they might not otherwise read. Personally, it is not something I pay a great deal of attention to. For the fun of it, I always set a goal on Goodreads, but it is a low one for me. I don’t want my reading driven by one of these goals.

It is interesting to me to see how people actually do on Goodreads in comparison with goals. For example, people pledged to read an average of 60 books. So far this year (as of the evening of 12/25 when I’m writing this), they’ve actually read just under 13, a bit over one a month. More striking to me is that slightly less than 0.7 percent of people have completed their challenge with a week to go. Maybe there will be a spurt in the last week. I wonder how many will read a bunch of really short books to reach their goal (I’ve heard of people doing this).

This suggests to me that this reading challenge thing isn’t working for quite a number of people. I would propose, instead, thinking about the number of minutes a day you want to read and figuring out where you will set aside that time in your day. A rough guide is that for every minute you read, you will read that many books in a year (15 minutes, 15 books; 60 minutes, 60 books; etc.). That might vary based on length of the book and the type of book.

The real point is figuring out where in your life you will make space for reading, if you share my belief that reading is a valuable, life-enriching activity. It might mean something as simple as deciding to read a book for the twenty minutes of your mass transit commute each day instead of flipping through your phone. I get 30 minutes of reading in on my Kindle each day while on my treadmill. Hopefully some of your time is in a comfortable chair with your favorite beverage.

Mortimer Adler is reputed to have said, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” It seems to me that the only benefit of any of these number games is to set us up for books to get through to us. If that isn’t happening in our number games, it might be better to abandon them, or at least ask ourselves why we are reading. What good is it to read 52 books if we can’t express what the value of any of these was to our lives? By the same token, a single book that changes our mind, that captures our imagination, that informs a critical choice, that gives us hope, or that inspires by example counts for more than all those forgotten books.

What it comes down to for me is that I don’t want to read more; I want to read well. I hope that for you. My reviews started and continue to function as a way of helping me read well, by trying to capture the essence and significance of a book. At least some times, that seems to be helpful for others, in figuring out what is worthy of their time and attention.

So, my hope for all of us in 2019 is that we read well, however few or many books we read. It seems to me that this is what the precious gift of literacy is all about.

 

Reading Resolutions for 2019

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Over at my Bob on Books Facebook page, I asked followers what their 2019 reading goals are. Here are the responses, in the order received:

  • Read read read read
  • I’d like to branch out and try new authors and writing styles.
  • I have set the goal that I will spend 2019 reading only from my own stacks. No library books (unless needed for a class) and no new purchases. It won’t be easy.
  • To read more. And get a job at the library (for real).
  • Just to read…
  •  I’d like to read at least 2 nights or more a week. I have enough books to last a lifetime and want to get enough for 4 to 5 lifetimes so I need to catch up.
  • Read more bios and autobiographies.
  • Not to feel obligated to finish every book I start. Start more, finish the good ones.
  • Reduce my bought-not-read shelf by 5 and read a book in Spanish.

I loved every one of these goals! I identify with those whose goal is “just to read.”  I’m not sure I have much more of a program than that. It also makes good sense to read the books we already have and our families, and the family budgets probably appreciate this. I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to work at a library. I hope the person who shared this goal lets us know how it goes if she gets the job. I know I’d probably be broke if I worked in a bookstore. I think the aim to read more diversely, which shows up in several goals, makes sense. I like the idea of reading a book in another language to brush up one’s knowledge of the language. Perhaps I should dust off my French…

Compulsiveness can kill the joy of reading. That’s why I like the idea of not feeling obligated to finish every book we start. If it’s not working, move on. Likewise, I noted that no one set a numerical goal for the number of books they would read. This is a big deal on Goodreads. I always set a low one for me so I don’t stress out about it and can get the nice badge!

So, my reading resolutions for 2019?

  1. I want to grow in what I would call “attentive reading,” where I’m actively engaged in thinking about what I read, why I am reacting as I do to it, and what I want to carry into my life from what I want to read.
  2. I want to read at least one more book from my “Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die” list. Leading candidates right now are Chernow’s George Washington, and Taylor’s Secular Age. Both are tomes, so if you see a drop in the number of my reviews, that’s probably why (unless I’m reading another big book).
  3. I’d like to read at least one collection of poetry this year. I have them in my TBR piles, and one on my “Ten Books…” list above.
  4. I like the idea of reading a book in another language. It had better be French, and even this is pretty dusty. Any suggestions, from those who know French literature, of something that is not too demanding?
  5. Finally, I want to be more selective in the books I request for review. Any book I request for review, I feel I need to read. In particular, I want to ask, “am I really interested in this?” and “is this saying something fresh, or is it just a repackaging of old ideas?”

I better stop there. I will probably break at least one of these resolutions as it is. And more might be an exercise in compulsiveness. It’s not a good thing to start hating something you love!

The only reason I see for reading goals is they bring focus to what gives us joy. As frustrating as it is to admit sometimes, we can’t read everything–not even everything we think we’d like. If goals can help us think about what we really want to read, what will be life-giving and world-enlarging, then they seem a good thing. If not, then just “read read read read.” As someone has said, “the way is made by walking.”

Happy walking and reading in 2019!

Great Works in Translation

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Some translated works I have read. Photo Robert C. Trube, 2018.

Yesterday, I wrote about a great new translation of The Cloud of Unknowing. The writing achieves a sense of intimacy as one might experience with a trusted spiritual counselor. Pictured above are some of the other works I’ve enjoyed in translation–both fiction and non-fiction. To capture and convey what a writer is saying in translation is to give two gifts–the great thinking of the writer, and a translation that is a clear window into those ideas–that doesn’t obstruct or distort the meaning.

Having said that, I must confess that I have not studied the works in the list that follows in their original languages. I can say that I have sometimes read other, more wooden translations of these works and I’m grateful for these. Most of the works are ones in the picture–a few others I either could not find or I read them in electronic versions. Where I’ve written reviews, I include a link to them.

Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian ReligionJohn Calvin (Translated by John T. McNeill). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. McNeill captures both the intellectual rigor and devotional warmth of Calvin.

Beowulfunknown, Seamus Heaney (translator). New York: W.W. Norton, 2000. Seamus Heaney makes one of the greatest stories in literature come to life in lyric poetry like this from the opening lines:

So, The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

Review

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). New York: Penguin, 2000. Pevear and Volokhonsky offer us this tale of the forbidden love of Anna and Count Vronsky in flowing prose that takes us inside the characters of Tolstoy’s sprawling work. Review

SilenceShusaku Endo (translated by William Johnston). New York: Picador, 2017. Johnston’s translation is spare, meditative, and captures both the physical agony and inner struggles of indigenous believers and missionaries in seventeenth century Japan. Review

The DecameronGiovanni Boccaccio (translation by Wayne A. Rebhorn). New York: W. W. Norton, 2013 (originally published 1353). (Not pictured above). The Decameron is a set of 100 stories told over ten days by ten travelers fleeing the plague in the fourteenth century. Before reading this version, I looked at a stilted one of which I could barely read a page or two. Rebhorn brings out the style, the earthy humor, the human pretensions, and occasional nobility portrayed in these stories. Review

The Unbearable Lightness of BeingMilan Kundera (translated by Michael Henry Heim). New York: HarperCollins, 2004. It’s been some time since I read this but the plotline of the tension between love and lust for many women, and the consequences in the sense of the substance of one’s life is a thoughtful exploration of the human condition.

Work of LoveSoren Kierkegaard (translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong). Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. The Hongs have translated all or nearly all of Kierkegaard’s work, and in this book, we encounter Kierkegaard’s challenging reflections on the nature of Christian love. Review (of a different edition)

PenseesBlaise Pascal (translated by A. J. Krailsheimer). New York: Penguin Random House, 2003. Pascal’s unfinished collection of notes and fragments on the Christian faith and the nature of belief. I have long mused on his statement that “that heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.”

On the IncarnationSt Athanasius (translated by John Behr, with an introduction by C. S. Lewis). Yonker, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2014. This translation brings to life Athanasius efforts to articulate with clarity in a time of controversy the doctrine of the Incarnation. A bonus is a wonderful essay by C.S. Lewis on the reading of old books!

Of course, for many, the Bible itself is a translated work, a translation of sixty-six canonical books (and others depending on your communion) from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Often, not only in English, but other languages, the translations have become a benchmark of fluent expression in that language.

Great translations extend to us the opportunity to read literature of other cultures and other times, liberating us from the insularity of our own time and place. The works listed here were originally written in French, Old and Middle English, Russian, Japanese, Italian, Czech, Danish, Coptic and Greek. They remind us that excellence in literature is not confined to the English language.

What works have you read in translation that you would recommend?

How Do You Read So Many Books?

My Review Stats Goodreads

My reading stats as of 11/13/2018

A friend asked that question recently over at the Bob on Books Facebook Page. Yes, I do read quite a few books, 155 so far this year. I’m far from alone. Just two examples. Teddy Roosevelt was reputed to read a book a day. Warren Buffett reads 500 pages a day (I typically read about 125). Both far exceed me. Here are a few thoughts on how that works for me:

  1. There are other things I don’t do. I don’t watch very much TV. If you cut out an hour of TV a day, you can read 60 books in a year.
  2. I try to cut out other distractions when I read, which slow me down as well as divert my attention from the text. Keeping the cell phone out of sight and hearing is key. I need to stay away from screens when I read.
  3. I try to read when I am most alert, which for me is early in the day. Sometimes, I stand when I read when I have to read closely, and might be inclined to doze off!
  4. I always have something available to read–on breaks, in airports. This is when I do some lighter reading.
  5. There is something to reading skills–reading speed, comprehension–that improve with practice. I pay attention to chapter titles, headings, first sentences in paragraphs, which tip me off to meaning.
  6. I find punctuating reading with some physical activity–say five minutes of walking–results in greater alertness.
  7. I always have books on hand to read next, the proverbial TBR (to be read) pile.
  8. I vary my reading–fiction, history, biography, sports, theology, science and more.
  9. I’ve been part of a book group, and over the years, we’ve read nearly one hundred books together.
  10. Track your progress, which is a kind of reinforcer in itself. Goodreads has a reading challenge. Be realistic and keep it fun.

The point in reading though is not how many books we read, but what happens in us as a result of what we read. Books can enlarge our world, enlarge our ideas of a life well-lived, sharpen our thinking, and feed our imagination. There are times to read quickly, times to read carefully, and times to savor the richness of wordplay in a poem or particularly well-written passage. Hopefully these ideas will help you make more space in your life for books, whatever number you read.

 

The Literary Confessional

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Photo by Hans, CC0 1.0 Universal via Pixabay

I’ve just begun a delightful little book, I’d Rather Be Reading, by a kindred spirit, Anne Bogel. In her opening chapter, she talks about literary confessions, the guilty secrets of bibliophiles, such as the important literary works they haven’t read, or didn’t like.  That got me thinking about some of my own literary confessions:

  • I just don’t get why everyone loves the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
  • Great American Read just named To Kill A Mockingbird its “Great American Read.” I think East of Eden by John Steinbeck a far better literary work, which didn’t even make the list.
  • There are at least a couple series that I really like that I have never finished. I’ve nearly finished them and have all the books. I guess I don’t want them to end.
  • I am ashamed how little of Shakespeare I have ever read.
  • My unread books might outnumber the ones I’ve read.
  • We didn’t have “young adult” fiction when I was a young adult–and now I feel too old to read it!
  • There was a period when I binged on Tom Clancy novels.
  • I’m reading Cloud Atlas right now, and liking it more than I thought I would.
  • I have not read a single Harry Potter story.
  • I avoided reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle growing up, but have enjoyed his Lanny Budd books, perfect on my Kindle for morning workouts on the treadmill.
  • I loved Calvin’s Institutes. Calvin loved God, and wrote with precision.
  • I think John Henry Cardinal Newman had great ideas that get lost in an effluvia of words!
  • I think most theologians could use a good dose of G. K. Chesterton in their writing.
  • I’m a sucker for a good baseball book, or even a bad one!

I could go on, but my literary soul already feels better…and it is time to give you a turn at the confessional.

So, what are your literary confessions, those guilty secrets of which you would like to unburden yourself with other bibliophiles? It is even OK to confess your outrage at some of my confessions!

Review: Plough Quarterly

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Cover of Autumn 2018 issue of Plough Quarterly

It is not my usual custom to review periodicals on this blog, but I decided to make an exception because of an extraordinary publication that has come across my path in recent months. Plough Quarterly is part of the publishing efforts of the Bruderhof who describe themselves as “an international movement of Christian communities whose members are called to follow Jesus together in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and of the first church in Jerusalem, sharing all our talents, income, and possessions (Acts 2 and 4).” The Bruderhof began as an Anabaptist community formed by Eberhard Arnold in Germany in the chaos of post World War I Germany. The rise of Nazism drove the community abroad and led to the formation of communities in the United States, England, Germany, Australia, and Paraguay. These voluntary communities seek to live out the life of the Sermon on the Mount, and the book of Acts. Arnold wrote the following about the mission of these communities and their publishing efforts:

The mission of our publishing house is to proclaim living renewal, to summon people to deeds in the spirit of Jesus, to spread the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) in the social distress of the present day, to apply Christianity publicly, and to testify to God’s action in current events. We must get down to the deepest roots of Christianity and demonstrate that they are crucial to solving the urgent problems in contemporary culture. With breadth of vision and energetic daring, our publishing house must steer its course right into the torrent of contemporary thought. Its work in fields that are apparently religiously neutral will lead to new relationships and open new doors. (1920)

Only where the plough of God has tilled our lives can sowing bear fruit. An enduring deepening of the interior life can be brought about only through the ploughing of repentance. Therefore our main task is to work for that spiritual revolution and re-evaluation which leads to metanoia – the fundamental transformation of mind and heart…

This task can only be fulfilled in one way: in allowing the gospel to work in creation, producing literary and artistic work in which the witness of the gospel retains the highest place while at the same time representing all that is true, worthy, pure, beautiful and noble (Phil.4:8). This means breaking the cloistered isolation of Christian publishing, in which only explicitly Christian books are promoted exclusively to Christian circles. (1917)

I have reviewed several books from Plough Publishing, including works on Gerard Manley Hopkins, Archbishop Romero, Dorothy Day, a wonderful collection of the writings of Philip Britts, a Bruderhof leader in Paraguay, and a graphic novel of the life of Martin Luther. I’ve been struck with how these fulfill the standards of literary and artistic excellence while focusing on a clear gospel witness.

Plough Quarterly reflects these same qualities. What first catches my eye is the aesthetic appeal of the magazine, from eye catching covers, to original artwork and reproductions. The current issue includes an excerpt of a new graphic novel on the life of Nelson Mandela. There is artwork from Kandinsky, Raphael, Van Gogh, Winslow Homer, and Caravaggio.

Each issue focuses around a theme and brings together quality writing not only of those in Bruderhof circles but other thinkers and writers. The current issue, focused on “the art of community” includes contributions from the likes of Roger Scruton, Jacques Maritain, Dorothy Day, Annie Dillard, Dorothy L. Sayers, and James Baldwin, among others. There is a fine essay from Quaker writer Sarah Ruden on sound and silence, shaped by her Quaker tradition, and one by Scott Beauchamp on the use of the arts in the healing of the traumas of war among military veterans. The issue features a “manifesto” by the founder of the Bruderhof, Eberhard Arnold on “Why We Live in Community.”

I appreciate the focus on the gospel in all of life, from farming to art, from non-violence to the building of a summer tree house described in this issue. While the Quarterly certainly is a winsome portrayal of Bruderhof community, I think its most significant function is to nourish all those who aspire to a deeper engagement in following Christ, in the world, in the company of others.

A subscription to Plough Quarterly is currently $18 for U.S. residents, and includes both print editions and digital access to back issues. You may subscribe at their website. If you are not sure, you can access the current issue online. In its commitment to “all that is true, worthy, pure, beautiful and noble” it is a publication consistent with all that this blog stands for and I would highly commend it!

If You Could Meet One Author

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The author I would love to have met.

Over at the Bob on Books Facebook Page, one of the fun things I do is post a “Question of the Day.” Part of the fun is to see the diversity of answers that reflects the diversity of people who follow the page. This was certainly true of a recent question I posted: “Who is one author, living or dead, you’d like to meet?”

The winner was C. S. Lewis, who definitely would be a delightful author to meet, preferably over a brew at the Eagle and Child, perhaps with his Inkling friends, including J. R. R. Tolkien, who was the second most popular choice. I could hear Tolkien chiding Lewis over his children’s books, and everyone ribbing Tolkien about “more stories of Elves.”

I was surprised by the number of poets who turned up on the list: William Wordsworth, T. S. Eliot, Dr. Suess (!), Robert Frost, and Walt Whitman. It is heartening to know there are people out there who love poetry.

There were some really interesting choices, at least interesting to me. One person recommended Inger Wolf, a Danish writer. Another suggested Alice Munro, whom we have to thank for the modern short story. Ignazio Silone was a name I had not heard since I read Bread and Wine in college. Should I go back and re-read him? A fascinating choice was Lilian Jackson Braun, who has written a series of mysteries with titles that all begin, The Cat Who…. A mystery writer for cat lovers!

There are some who follow the page of a more theological turn. They would gather an impressive company: Paul the Apostle, St. John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, John Owen, Dallas Willard and Phyllis Tickle. Lewis, Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers might be found at times with this group, and perhaps even Aristotle, another nominee, might have found some interesting conversation. On the other hand, I’m not sure Ayn Rand would have liked hanging out with these folk.

Of course, there were a number of contemporary authors: Richard Paul Evans, Jan Karon, Mary Karr, Dee Henderson, Jodi Picoult, Gaby Triana (a young adult author I’ve not heard of), Jean Hager, Terry Pratchett, Pat Conroy, Sue Grafton, and Stephen King. Then there were a couple of best-selling twentieth century authors, Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee. In this list, women outnumbered men nine to four.

I was also surprised that no one named William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, or John Steinbeck. I’m sure you can think of others.

And my choice? Winston Churchill. The man could speak, write, paint, and even stage a genuine heroic escape during captivity in the Boer War. He was one of those who might be described as “often wrong, but never in doubt.’ If you love history, he wrote some of the most readable histories of both World Wars, of the English Speaking people, and of his coverage of the Boer War. I would love to know how he wrote so much and did so much else. I’m also curious about how he held the prodigious amounts of alcohol he drank. If I could get him to paint a plein air, I would love to see him “attack” the canvas.

Most of us won’t actually get to meet these authors. But perhaps the reason we want to is that we have met them–in their works.

Who would you add to the names in this article? Who is one author, living or dead, you would like to meet?

“I Could Read Were It Not For All Those Distractions!”

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“The Distracted Reader” Rick&Brenda Beerhorst, 2013. (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Does that sound like you? It sure sounds like me some times. You settle into your favorite chair with a warm beverage and just get into the flow of a book–and the phone rings, or a child comes out of the bedroom with an upset stomach, which he proceeds to launch all over the room. For those of us who love to read, it often feels like a tug of war to find time to read, or to read well when we do, because of distractions from things, people, and sometimes our selves.

Here are the distractions I and some of my friends on my Facebook page have run into, and some thoughts of how we might deal with them:

  1. Thoughts. Perhaps this is one of my main distractions. Sometimes they come from what I’m reading, and might be worth pursuing. After all, don’t we read to enrich our minds? A notepad to capture those golden thoughts (or maybe brass) might be a good idea. Other times, thoughts just pop into one’s head. In that case, most of the time, just telling them to pop back out is good enough. Sometimes, we are thinking about a troubling life situation. That may be the time to lay aside the book, and pay attention.
  2. Life obligations. Many of us have to work. There are lawns to mow, houses to clean, meals to prepare and enjoy, and bills to pay. Usually the stage of life when we no longer have these obligations comes with advanced age and physical decline. Perhaps we should be grateful for life and health, and find ways to reward ourselves with time to read when our work is done.
  3. Sleepiness. That’s the one problem with reading as a reward for finishing our work. We sit down, and we crash. Standing might be a good alternative. I have a high dresser with a good lamp at which I read sometimes. Many of us sit too much anyways. At the same time, our bodies are telling us something, and most often, it is that we are not getting enough sleep, which for most of us is at least seven hours.
  4. Smartphones. This is a big one, and one I struggle with. I shut off notifications which can nearly constantly distract one. Even better is to put it in another room if you can’t resist checking in on Facebook every ten minutes. Don’t have it sitting by the book–if the book is the least bit dull, or closely written, guess what wins the attention war? If you want to share something you’ve read, bookmark it and come back to it at the end of your reading time. It has been suggested that smartphones are changing the way we read, and our attention span. Finding time to read “unplugged” may be critical for our attention to extended narratives or arguments.
  5. People. Keeping a sense of proportion in our lives and remembering what matters more is important. I don’t think I regret a single hour I spent with our son as he was growing up. As a result, there are some seasons when we will have less time to read. And we don’t want to miss those moments for various forms of intimacy with our significant others! Sometimes, people find a momentary reading retreat in the bathroom–as long as no one else needs the facilities, and people don’t start worrying that something has happened to you! Sometimes, we take some time to turn off the TV and read, and then talk about what we’ve read. Take advantage of different rhythms. I wake much earlier (and crash earlier) than my wife. That early morning time is reading time.

There is life beyond reading, and reading is just one aspect of a richly textured, well-lived life. But taking deliberate steps to set aside undistracted time to savor a book and think about it can enrich the whole of our lives. It is when books occupy an inordinate rather than ordinate place in our lives (something that will be different for all of us) that we have problems. There may come a day I cannot read. Have I cultivated both friends who might read to me, and an inner richness that sustains me when they are not present? There is an episode (here is a short clip of the ending) of The Twilight Zone where bookish Henry Bemis finds himself the only survivor of an apocalypse in the midst of a library full of treasured books and he cries out “time enough at last” only to be cruelly disappointed. We don’t want to be this guy.

The Atlantic’s New Book “Hub”

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Screen capture of The Atlantic magazine’s new Books hub (9/26/2018)

The other day, I saw a post on Twitter about The Atlantic’s new book hub. So I thought I’d wander over and take a look. The Atlantic is one of the magazines I subscribe to for its literary and cultural commentary. It is a good “left of center” balance to my other subscription of this sort, First Things, a far more conservative and religiously oriented publication. As a reviewer, both publications put me on to books that cultural thought-leaders are discussing. This page brings all of The Atlantic’s reviews and literary criticism together in one place–sort of.

It should be noted to start with that this “hub” is not a separate website like Literary Hub but a “section” within the online presence of The Atlantic. The menu headings at the top of the page are not for sub pages within “Books” but rather for the magazine as a whole. But what you find here is still quite rich. Best of all, while they would love it and offer the chance to do so, you do not need to subscribe to The Atlantic. At least for now, the whole site operates on a “no paywall” policy.

The top of the page includes previews of feature articles, currently on a new book on Oklahoma City, and a piece of literary criticism looking at The Iliad in light of the #MeToo movement. Three other articles are highlighted below it: one on a new book on Princess Margaret, one on a graphic novel of an intergalactic tale populated by women, and one considering the current president through the novel, The Great Gatsby.

Below these in a single column are previews of fifteen more articles in a single column. Several caught my eye. One is on a new book about Nietzsche, suggesting that his work may help us live better in the mess of life (intriguing, but I’m skeptical). One centers on a single sentence in a Chekhov novel. In a review of novelist William T. Vollman, I learned not only about Coal Ideologies, a new two volume work, but the fact that this somewhat eccentric writer (once suspected of being the Unabomber) has his papers archived at The Ohio State University, in my home town. Below that is a thoughtful article on recent criticism of the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, particularly her treatment of Native peoples. I could go on but the article at the bottom of this page, on Alfred Brendel and his essays on Beethoven caught my eye. I’ve loved listening to Brendel’s recordings of Beethoven’s work. I think I want to get the book, and then listen to the recordings with his comments in hand.

At the bottom of the page, there is a “see more stories” bar that takes you to the next page on the site. I clicked through twenty pages and did not come to an end. As a Tolkien fan, I found this piece on the 80th anniversary of The Hobbit on page 8. There is a plethora of riches here, both concerning new works, and reconsidering classics, something I particularly appreciate, since I read both.

I’m not sure how you would index this wealth of material, but that would be helpful (I’m trying to figure out how to do that with my own reviews, so I can forgive this). There is a search symbol at the top right of the menu bar. Entering a topic or author yields a Google-type listing of links to articles in The Atlantic. One thing my blog does that this site doesn’t is offer links at the end of an article to articles of similar interest. Instead you get The Atlantic’s currently most popular articles, which takes you away from their book “hub.”

I wonder if this page will evolve over time or even be spun off from the parent site. This might allow for development of the site’s features, and perhaps better utilization of what has to be a tremendous archive of reviews and literary criticism. Yet, even in its present format, I find myself more drawn to read the articles here than in the print magazine, the reverse of how I think about the rest of the content, which tends to be more long form writing. Because the magazine publishes ten times a year, you might come back once or twice a month to see what is new, in contrast to review publications that come out more frequently. When you do, you will be richly rewarded.

The url for the site is: https://www.theatlantic.com/books/

Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die

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Some of my “Read Before I Die” Books

I posted a question at my Bob on Books Facebook page yesterday asking people to name one book they would like to read before they die. It seems that this is a popular topic. Here is a link to a Google search I did on the topic. It’s actually a worthwhile question to think about. We can read only so many books in a life, the length of which we have no way of knowing. One book available proposes a list of 1001 books.

Here’s my answer pared down to ten books. One of my criteria is that I’ve not read the book. The other is that I have the book already. That should warn you that it is probably a pretty idiosyncratic list. Don’t feel under any obligation to make it your list but use it simply as an example for doing this yourself.

  1. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age. It seems every other book I read references this book, and it seem a seminal work in helping us understand the time we are in.
  2. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism. There seems to be a sense that the horrors of Stalinism and Nazism can’t happen here. I think they can, and I’d like to know what Arendt, who wrote the classic work on this thinks.
  3. T. S. Eliot, Collected Poems and Plays. I have read poetry of Eliot since college and acquired this work several years ago.
  4. Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind. I’ve never read this and it was one of the books I inherited from my mom.
  5. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. Might be as close as we get to the reflections of a philosopher-king.
  6. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans. Barth’s study of Romans rocked not only his world but the theological world around him.
  7. Ron Chernow, Washington. I’ve delighted in his biographies of Grant and Hamilton.
  8. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (3 vols.). I bought this set from a retiring pastor 40 years ago. I suspect Hodge and I might differ on a few things, but his rigorous thought will make the argument worth it!
  9. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity. This has been on my shelves only half as long, but this classic study of church history has been begging to be read.
  10. Honore de Balzac, Pere Goriot and other stories. My mother loved Balzac as a young girl. I have her whole set of Balzac novels, that came from her father. I think I want to read these for what they might tell me about my mom before I pass them along.

It would not be hard to add to this list, and if you ask me another time, I might come up with a completely different one. But doing this makes me ask, why have I waited so long on a number of these? Perhaps the time has come to wait no longer.