Princeton Theological Seminary Religious Texts on Internet Archive

Holsinger s history of the Tunkers and the Bret

One summer, years ago, I got my first exposure to the work of digitizing archives when my son, something of a computer geek, spent a summer during high school digitizing old documents and photographs, learning how to handle and document this work. He wore gloves to protect old paper as he scanned documents. His work along with that of countless other volunteers is still online at Worthington Memory.

Digital archives are a profound boon of the internet era. I’ve accessed out of print books, census, geneology, and death records, old newspaper articles, plat and survey maps in the course of blogging. One of the biggest sources of digital archives is the Internet Archive. A recent article on Open Culture reports that Princeton Theological Seminary has digitized over 70,000 religious texts from all the great world religions. You can look at a first edition of J. G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough, a King James Bible from 1606 or an edition of Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection by E. A. Wallis Budge from 1912 (if I am reading the Roman numerals correctly).

When I visited the Princeton Theological Seminary archive, I was delighted to scroll down and find a history of our own small denomination, Holsinger’s History of the Tunkers and the Brethren ChurchIt is an amazing and eclectic collection with everything from Kathryn Kuhlman’s Victory in Jesus to an early edition of the MahabharataOne can find histories of particular congregations, mission society histories, hymnals, language studies, William Paley’s Natural Theologytheological monographs, and much more. These are not electronic texts but digital editions of works in the Princeton Seminary Library, with library stamps, signatures, damage and aging to the paper.

There is a search box, and you can filter by collections or individual texts, by year, by subject, by collection, by creator (denominations or individual authors), and by language. A few searches yielded everything from postcard images of Youngstown churches, to works of Charles and A. A. Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield.

Obviously, I had great fun just scrolling through the first few pages of texts. Some texts are simply early editions of books readily available. Some are works, like old Bible dictionaries, that have been superseded by recent scholarship. Yet I suspect there are scholars who find research-worthy studies in the comparison, or in tracking down earlier literature. Fine biblical and theological work has been done for centuries and to limit one’s study to the last ten years is limiting indeed.

This is just one archive within the Internet Archive. While browsing around I also came across the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) which advertises nearly 21 million images, texts, video and sound from across the United States. But that’s for another post!


Have You Been Hounded By A Book?

Pet Hound Animals Hunting Dog Dog Portrait Pets

CC0 Public Domain via Max Pixel

Have you ever been chased by a book? Maybe it is a book that has been sitting on your shelves for a long time that you have always been meaning to get around to read. Or perhaps it is one of those books you never heard about until a week ago, and suddenly three unrelated people told you about the book and insisted that you needed to read it.

I was reminded of this experience while reading The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, which I recently reviewed. His bookseller, Roger Mifflin is talking to his young protege’, Titania Chapman, when he asks:

“Did you ever notice how books track you down and hunt you out? They follow you like the hound in Francis Thompson’s poem. They know their quarry! Look at that book The Education of Henry Adams! Just watch the way it’s hounding out people this winter. . . . That’s why I call this place the Haunted Bookshop. Haunted by the ghosts of the books I haven’t read. Poor uneasy spirits, they walk and walk around me. There’s only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that is to read it.”

I did read The Education of Henry Adams but never felt hounded by it. Nor do I feel haunted by ghosts of books I haven’t read. But hounded? Chased? Yes. For example, I never got beyond the first 50 pages or so of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship until a few years ago when I read it with a book group. Yet I quoted Bonhoeffer’s statement in the book, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” I could talk about “cheap grace.” But it bothered me that I had never read the whole book, a profound exposition of the sermon on the mount. Later in life, several different friends mentioned Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace until I finally sat down and read this profound account of the “other” and how we might encounter those very different from us.

There are some books that continue to hound me. The Chronicles of Narnia are begging for another reading. Just to my right I see the old, second hand copy of the Modern Library’s edition of Capital by Karl Marx. No, I’m not going to become a communist, but I’ve always been interested in work and workers, and often come across references to this book. Haven’t cracked the book as yet. That equally applies to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, one of the first attempts to define what is distinctive about the American experiment and The Federalist Papers, and their arguments for the Constitution.

One of the books that has hounded me was Boccaccio’s Decameron. I inherited an old edition of the book from my mother, one of the works she loved. A book group I’m in has just started reading this Italian classic from the fourteenth century in modern translation. Witty, ironic, perceptive of human foibles and more than a little bawdy at times, but not boring. I finding myself wondering what stories mom liked most. That goes for the set of Balzac novels she loved as a girl. Other than Pere Goriot, they are still hounding me.

Have you been hounded by a book? What was it like to finally sit down and make friends with the hound and read the book? Did the book become a friend, or did you find yourself wonder, “what do people see in this?” What books have hounded you?

What Makes a Book a Good “Read”?

GrantWhat makes a book a good “read”? This has been a question I’ve been pondering as I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s Grant. As I write I’m 680 pages into the book and into Grant’s presidency. There are about 300 pages to go, and this is one book I don’t want to end. I contrast this with some 200 page books where i get to page 50 and wonder when it will end.

I’ve come up with several things that I think play into making a book of any length and any type a great read:

First of all is the choice of a subject or plot focus. Grant as a person makes for a fascinating subject. Son and son-in-law of two overbearing fathers. Resigned his position in the Army due to drinking problems, which dogged his heels all his life. A failure in civilian life in the years leading up to the war. Yet he comes alive with the Civil War as a leader who doesn’t worry about what others could do to him, but wants Confederate officers to worry about him. He takes the fight to his enemies. He finds an aide, John Rawlins, who acts as his conscience, keeping him more or less sober. He fights Lee fiercely, wearing him down, and treats him with grace at Appomattox. He sees Blacks as people, and embraces Emancipation and Reconstruction, when so many, even in the North, resist it. He is a man of integrity, yet can be strangely blind to others of lesser character. And on it goes.

A good writer finds or creates interest in her plot or subject. In one sense, almost anything can be interesting if the writer finds what is interesting in it. What a good writer seems to do is tease out the richness, the fascination, the goodness, and flaws of his character or characters. This is far more than a bare narrative of Grant’s life–one event after another. It is an exploration of what it was to be Grant. Chernow’s obviously thought about the strength’s and flat sides of Grant–how what worked on the battlefield and didn’t in political office. He considers the people around Grant, and their influence without submerging the influence of Grant himself.

Then there is the question of pace. How can someone write a thousand page book without being tedious? It comes down to keeping things moving. Chernow always seems to move on before I start wishing he would. Sometimes this is not the case with books that are considered “great.” Readers often complain they are hard to read, even if they explore fundamental matters of the human condition. I’m not sure what to say about this except that perhaps there are times when what is being said is of such importance that we hang in there, even if we wish it had been written with greater facility.

Finally, I think it comes down finally to good sentences. As a reader, what one notices is that you don’t bog down in the text but just move down the page. Meaning comes through clearly, and the sentences aren’t too complex. You don’t keep going back asking, what did I just read?

A good read is a pleasure. We often spend far more on a good meal or performance than we do on a good book that affords hours of pleasure and enriches our lives. I’m coming more and more to believe it is money well spent, a way to say “thank you” to authors, publishers, and booksellers who bring this goodness into our lives.


Should Reviewers Endorse Books?


The Source of the term “blurb”. Public Domain-US via Wikimedia

I had never thought about this question until recently when asked by an aspiring author whose work I had agreed to review whether I would do a book endorsement (or blurb) instead. I had to think about that one. In the end, I decided not to do this. Here’s my thought process (along with some further reflections).

For one thing, an endorsement serves to give credibility to a book. People look at the back cover or the inside of the book to see if people they know and respect think this book worth buying. Honestly, part of my reason for saying “no” is that I am not a household name, despite having a decent following, Most people would just say “Bob who?”

Beyond this, book endorsements are always positive, and they imply that one approves the ideas of the author, and particularly the book in question. I can fully understand why that is important in promoting a book. An endorsement by a person known to the prospective reader is an encouragement to at least take a look, and think about buying this book.

And that brought me to my other reason for saying “no.” I have developed this blog around reviewing, and reviewing is different. It is not one to three sentences about what is so good about a book. It is a longer form, in which I try to summarize a book in a way that helps my readers decide whether or not to buy the book. If I’ve done my job well, someone who buys a book I review won’t think I misled them, even if they have a different “take” on the book. While I generally try to be gracious in my reviews because I have some sense of what goes into writing a book, I will not always agree with the book’s point of view or think that it was particularly well-written. Sometimes I will note issues it fails to address. Reviewing gives me the freedom to make negative as well as positive comments about a book.

Sometimes, an author or book publisher or publicist will excerpt a quote from a review I’ve written (often on Twitter) that looks like an endorsement. I have no problem with this as long as there is proper attribution and a link to my full review (note the copyright paragraph on this blog). For anyone who cares, they are able to consult the full review…and it provides traffic to my blog as well!

This points to the place of both reviewers and endorsers in the book industry. Both are important in “getting the word out” about a book and helping people decide whether to buy it. We both have in common an appreciation for the work that goes into a book, we both think reading good books is a valuable endeavor, and we both recognize that publishers, authors, and booksellers depend, at least in part, on our efforts in securing sales of a book. Also, in most cases for both of us, this is purely a labor of love, unless we work for a review publication like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Reviews. Otherwise, paid reviews or endorsements raise all kinds of ethical questions (especially online reviews at bookseller sites).

But the two roles are different. While some do both, in truth I’m uneasy about endorsements if I am to maintain my independence as a reviewer. At very least, I could not review the same or another work of an author for whom I had written an endorsement. [Similarly, I’ve done anonymous reader reviews of a couple of manuscripts that were later published. I did not write reviews on these books.] Maybe deep down, I worry that if I endorse books, people will think any positive reviews I write to simply be endorsements of the book.

So, for now, I won’t be appearing in any book blurbs…not that people are beating a path to my door! I’d be curious how others have thought of this.

Postscript: I do think the endorsement thing can be overdone. I wrote a while back about a book I reviewed with six pages of endorsements. The more endorsements, the more suspicious I get about the book, but that just may be me.


Librarians in Dystopia


Patchogue-Medford Library, [CC BY-SA 2.5] via Wikimedia

Remember when the role of the librarian was to help you find research materials for your homework, sign you up for a library card, help you log onto the library computers, and check out your books? Remember when librarians were the guardians of a safe, quiet place of discovery?

Our news is filled with accounts of opioid abuse and overdose deaths, gun violence, and sexual harassment and abuse. In many of our minds, we consider the library a sanctuary from such things, a place to read the newspaper, to hunt for your next read, to do research on a business start up idea. When, in my mind I conjure up my idea of a “safe place” or my “happy place” some version of a library often comes to mind.

Sadly, the reality of the evening news has invaded my safe and happy place. A recent story run by our local CBS affiliate cited the statistic that police answered 3200 calls to our city’s libraries in the last two years. They received calls for drug overdoses, shootings, gang fights, and sexual harassment and assaults.

In one incident, a librarian was punched in the head by a 12-year old boy after asking him to be quiet. Plainly, librarians are being called upon to deal with situations most of them probably never dreamed of when they decided to pursue the profession. This was the subject of a recent Bookriot article by Katie McLain that gives a glimpse into the brave new world librarians are confronting each day. In some major cities, for example, librarians are receiving training in administering Naloxone. One Philadelphia librarian, Chera Kowalski, has saved dozens of lives and was recognized by Hillary Clinton for her work at the 2017 American Library Association convention, according to Fobazi Ettarh’s article, Vocational Awe and Librarianship.

In addition to confronting crises like those named above, librarians often are confronting issues once addressed by social agencies, the health care system, and other neighborhood institutions like churches, parishes, and other religious bodies. They are called upon to address homelessness, unemployment and mental health issues along with the more usual questions for which they trained. McLain asks the question of whether we are asking librarians to be our local “superheroes,” a role that can be exhausting, albeit rewarding.

It seems to me that this new reality that our librarians face in our dystopian world is something they should not face alone. It seems at least three things are important:

  1. If they are expected to regularly handle these situations they should be trained, institutionally supported and appropriately compensated.
  2. Libraries will need to spend more on security. The local news report I mentioned above indicated that our metropolitan library has spent $600,000 in upgraded security cameras in addition to hiring more security personnel. If we want our libraries to be safe and to provide the same or enhanced levels of service, in most municipalities, we should be prepared to pay for it.
  3. We need to recognize that, in addition to societal factors, the erosion of other neighborhood institutions puts more stress on the libraries to fill the gap. In particular, I think we have seen a decline in neighborhood religious institutions, which, along with mom and pop stores, have yielded to “big box” facilities 5, 10, or 20 miles away that have no connection with where their parishioners live. Likewise, many social agencies are in a central location, often distant from different parts of the city, and inaccessible to those lacking transportation. What can we do to strengthen networks of care in our local communities?

Finally, it probably won’t hurt to thank your local librarian for all that he or she does. It may in fact be far more than you think.

Book Recommendations

book-recommendationDo you like book recommendations? I do, at least most of the time.  But not always, and I’ve been thinking about the difference between the ones I like and the ones that are not as welcome.

The book recommendations I appreciate the most are personal. They come out of conversations, sometimes about books,sometimes about other things. For example, a ride back from a conference and a discussion about “skunk works” operations led to a recommendation of Skunk Works, the story of the original “skunk works” operation under Lockheed, that developed the X-15 and the first stealth fighters. A conversation with another friend who was a mystery buff put me on to Michael Innes, and his detective, Sir John Appleby.

I’ve often enjoyed, and sometimes invite, a conversation, about “what have you read recently that you enjoyed.” Almost invariably, I’ll hear of a book I want to read. I finally read, and loved, Walter Wangerin’s Book of the Dun Cow, because of one such recommendation after having known of it for years.

I do learn about books through reviews, ads, publisher catalogues, websites, and emails. Just as I suspect you don’t read all my reviews, and you certainly don’t buy everything I review, neither do I. All these formats give me the space to choose, or move on.

One trend I’ve enjoyed among booksellers are cards placed with books they are recommending. I always find intriguing what fascinated someone about a book, even if I decide not to buy it.

I really don’t like impersonal recommendations–you know, the ones based on recent viewing or purchasing history, For example, for a while, all I would see was cookbooks, because we’d ordered a cookbook for a friend.

The other kind of recommendation is kind of an occupational hazard of reviewers. Just because I’ve read a book on a particular subject or in a particular genre, that does not mean I want to hear what I really “should” read. Sometimes this is a vehicle  for authors to promote their book, or another blogger to promote their blog with a link to it. It’s one thing if you have a different take on the book I’ve reviewed and are posting your review to engage with me. But promoting something else is hi-jacking and bad manners.

Sometimes it is more innocent. Someone just likes another book on the subject, often one I’ve not heard of, and messages me on Goodreads or Facebook or on the blog. My challenge comes down to “so many books; so little time.” Often, I have a pile of books I’ve requested for review, and other books I want to read.  I thank them for the suggestion (and secretly hope they won’t be offended when they never see me review the book).

Probably, and I think this is true for all of us, we love the space to choose to read books that pique our interest. On the other hand, nothing repulses me more than the statement or insinuation that I “should” read something. Probably, as a Christian, the only book I should read is the Bible, and even in this case, it is not a question of “should,” because I find it life giving. “Should” never has been a good motivator for me.

I think what it comes down to is that there is a certain serendipity about the best recommendations, similar to coming across a long-searched for book at a second hand store or book sale. They are especially fun when personal, and unanticipated, when your own sense of “I think I’d like that” matches up with your friend’s “I really liked this and here’s why.”

I’d be curious, am I just being cranky, or do others think this way?

Caring for the Books You Want to Keep


A shelving no-no. These books are shelved on an exterior wall. The do probably have an insulation value!

I’ve written in other posts about getting rid of books I don’t need. At the same time, there are some books that are like old friends, that you enjoy reading and re-reading or frequently reference. The good news is that, with proper care, it is likely that your favorite books will outlast you. Well-made books on acid-free paper properly cared for and handled can last for hundreds of years.

Start with well-made books. Recently I pulled out my forty year old mass-market paperback of The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis. It was a challenge to read. The paper was brittle, pages literally fell out and by the end, and the book was in pieces held together by a rubber band. Lesson: when you find a book you like, purchase the best edition you can afford, ideally hardbound on a good acid-free paper. Paperbacks are fine for a “one and done” reading, or as a way to find out whether this is a book you would read again. I have forty year old hardbound books that look like new, or have just slightly yellowed. Trade paperbacks are generally printed on better paper and use a better glue in the binding.

Handling matters. This begins with how you open the book for the first time. My post on “How to Open a New Book” covers this. Several other things are important in our handling of books:

  • When we take them off the shelf, don’t pull them off from the top of the spine but rather grasp both sides of the spine in the middle of the book, which may mean pushing the adjacent books in.
  • Always handle the books with clean hands so we don’t leave grease or dirt on the books which causes them to deteriorate more quickly.
  • When reading, or copying the book, don’t force the book flat where it lies open at 180 degrees. This is hard on the binding, especially for paperbacks. Books are meant to be held in our hands or cradled in our laps.
  • If you write in your books (and only your books, not the library’s!), only use pencil. Ink can run and bleed through pages.
  • Don’t eat or drink around books you care about.
  • Don’t fold, dog ear, or use self-stick notes on pages. The adhesive can damage the paper. Paper clips and rubber bands can tear pages. A good acid-free paper bookmark is the best for marking your place.

Safe storage.  The conditions under which our books are kept when we aren’t handling them are especially important to their survival. A few key ideas:

  • Books are best stored lying flat or upright held in place by either the ends of the bookshelves or books ends. Books stored at a slant can become misshapen.
  • Watch humidity and temperature. A cool room with humidity under 35% is best. I shelve some of my books on an external wall. That’s not a good idea as this exposes them to more temperature and humidity change. You don’t want musty books!
  • Books need dusting! Hold the book closed and gently wipe the edges and covers with a soft cloth.
  • Light is the enemy! Especially keep books away from any form of direct sunlight or other intense light sources. The UV radiation of sunlight and fluorescent light is particularly bad. This accelerates deterioration and fading of colors.
  • Avoid storage in basements and other places that could be damp or attics that can be too hot. Don’t store books near heating vents or radiators, which can dry out bindings. Whenever storing books, look for evidence of pests. Rats, mice and silverfish are common problems.
  • If you are boxing up books, alkaline corrugated cardboard boxes that are new are best. Don’t use any boxes that have contained food, because the odor will transfer to the books. Don’t store them in plastic bags or wraps that can emit gas.

Compared to digital media, books are an amazing storage device. Most digital media will be unreadable in ten to fifty years, either because of corruption of the media, or obsolescence of the hardware to access the media. I have books from my grandparents that are over one hundred years old. A few months ago, I had a chance to view books published at the time of the Reformation five hundred years ago. A little tender loving care, and your books will be friends for life.



Bob on Books Tips For Reading Well in 2018


Man Reading, Vaino Hamalainen, 1897

Among the resolutions people make each year is some variant on “read more books.” That’s certainly a goal that I can applaud when the average number of books read by adults is 12 a year (a number skewed by avid readers; most read about 4 a year). But I have a hunch that many of these resolutions fare no better than those of losing weight or exercising more, and probably for the same reasons: lack of specific goals that are realistic, forming a habit, social support and a good coach. I will come back to these but I want to address something I hear less about–reading well.

For a number who read this blog, I don’t have to convince you about the value of reading, and in many cases, you already have good reading habits and exceed that book a month average. And even if you don’t, you probably sense that reading isn’t about numbers of books but part of a well-lived life. You read not only for amusement or diversion but to better understand your world and how to live one’s life in it. That can be anything from understanding the inner workings of your computer and how to use it better to a work of philosophy or theology or even a great novel that explores fundamental questions of life’s meaning, living virtuously, or the nature of God.

So a few thoughts on reading well, and then a few tips for those who do want to read more:

  1. Reading well is an act of attentiveness. We read well when we read without external and internal distractions. A place of quiet and a time when we are not distracted with other concerns helps us “engage the page.” It also helps to turn off the notifications on your phone or tablet, or better yet, put the electronics in another room. Read on an e-reader without other apps if you prefer these to physical books.
  2. Visual media often encourages us to passively absorb content. Books of substance require our active engagement–noticing plot, characters, and the use of literary devices like foreshadowing, allusions and more. Non-fiction often involves following an argument, and paying attention to the logic, the evidence, and whether the argument is consistent. Reading well can mean jotting notes, asking questions, or even arguing with the author. Above all it means reflecting on what we read, and how the book connects with our lives.
  3. Reading well over time means choosing good books to read. What is “good”? I’m not sure there is one good or simple answer. There are a number of “great books” lists out there and they are worth a look. You might choose one of those to read this year. One test of a book’s worth is whether people are still reading the book and finding value in it long after its author has passed. Also, in almost any genre, there are reviews, websites, and online groups. Over time, you will find sources of good recommendations.
  4. Finally, I’d suggest choosing something to read off the beaten path. Reading authors from other cultures, or a genre you don’t read can stretch your horizons. This year, I want to work in some poetry and get around to the Langston Hughes and Seamus Heaney that I’ve had laying around.

And now a few thoughts for those who simply want to read more and get into the reading habit.

  1. Set a realistic goal. Rather than focus on numbers of books, figure out where you can regularly find 10-15 minutes a day to read. You probably spend more time than that on social media. Do you know if you read 15 minutes a day, you will end up reading 15 books a year?
  2. Start with something you like. Don’t choose something others say you should read if you don’t think it is interesting. Choose something you’ve always wanted to read.
  3. Try doing this for a month–15 minutes a day with reading you enjoy. The idea is to form a habit. I started an exercise routine taking 5 minutes a day, then gradually expanded it. Forming the habit was the most important part.
  4. Finding some friends who read, or are trying to, and getting together to talk books can help. Many of us find exercising with others helps. Reading and talking books can work the same way.
  5. Finally, get a good coach. I have a number of friends who work with personal trainers or life coaches. But book coaches? Where do you find those? I’d start with a local bookseller or librarian. Any of them worth their salt can learn about your reading interests or topics you’d like to read about and suggest some good things to read.

I mentioned that finding good sources of book reviews can help you find worthy books that you will love. Hopefully Bob on Books will be one of them. My goal in writing reviews is to tell you enough about a book to help you decide if it is something you will want to read, or just something it’s good to know about. I’m looking forward to digging into the books on my “to be read” pile and telling you about them. To reading well in 2018!

Banning…Or Curating?

pyramid of transparency_updated“Every time you turn around, it seems a school somewhere is banning a book after parental complaints. What we should or shouldn’t be allowing–or requiring–students to read is a topic of constant, heated debate.”

This is the opening paragraph in a recent Bookriot article. I would contend that the writer is engaging in a bit of hyperbole. In 2016, according to the American Library Association, there were 323 challenges of all sorts, including challenges to databases, filtering, speakers, programs, or social media, as well as to books. That is less than one challenge per million people living in this country or just over six challenges in each state, on average The ALA contends this may be only about 10 percent of all actual challenges, which would mean there might be 3230 challenges, yet they quote a number of 10,766 but give no rationale for this number. Furthermore, these numbers are dropping. In 1995, 762 books were challenged. The reality is, in most cases the challenges are unsuccessful.

I do think we have to take a look at the reasons these books are challenged. Primarily, especially in the most recent top ten, the subject matter of the books which is objected often has to do with content that is sexually objectionable for a particular age group, or is “transgressive” on terms of sexuality, violence, drug use or language. One of the top 10 books was by Bill Cosby, challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author. Particularly in the light of #MeToo allegations, I think a credible case could be made for not promoting works by this author. We are “banning” figures facing similar allegations from political office, media positions and other workplaces.

The puzzling thing is that on the one hand we are promoting books that violate traditional sexual moral standards, and then attacking people, mostly men who make unwanted sexual advances against women. In no way, in writing this am I justifying these acts, which are inexcusable, nor suggesting that the one causes the other. Nor am I necessarily contending that such books should be “banned” from schools or libraries, particularly if they are of high literary merit, or if non-fiction, represent a well-argued and researched account the deals with different views fairly.

What troubles me more is the double rhetorical standard applied to this discussion. When parents object to books being available to their children that seem to affirm what they would view as transgressive, it is called “challenging, banning, and censorship.” But what is it called when librarians decide not to acquire books by white supremacists, by homophobic writers, or others of their ilk? It is called “curating” and even though the decisions they make affect the selection of books in the stacks for adults (not children), few people challenge the librarians for violating intellectual freedom. If one flipped the rhetoric, one could contend that librarians are the single largest group of book banners around, making conscious decisions to exclude far more titles than parents or patrons ever do.

I happen to think the librarians who make such choices are entirely justified in doing so and I would agree with them. But is there any role parents have in “curating” the books their children are exposed to? At very least, is there not a place for them in the decision processes, particular given the fact that there are only so many books that can be included in a curriculum, or in a library?

I would also observe that no one is banning these books from book stores or challenging stores for selling them. And with our online sellers, anything in print or e-book format is a click away. In fact, “banned books” are a bonanza for booksellers who promote them each year.

If we really care about “banned books” we may want to look at the books that are truly banned in other countries, beginning with the sacred scriptures of any religion not in the majority. In repressive regimes, books about democracy are often prohibited. In patriarchal regimes, books advocating the rights of women are banned. In some countries possession of some books is considered criminal.

Personally, I think trying to challenge or ban a book is a fool’s errand. I think a better tactic is for parents to read these books with their children and talk about them. I also think some questions we might explore more in curating books that our children are exposed to are:

  • What are some of the best books by age group, across different subject areas, that have stood the test of time, as well as newer books of widely recognized excellence, to which we want our children exposed?
  • What books will encourage our children to be readers?
  • What books will cultivate a sense of our history, our shared values, and highest aspirations, appealing to the better, rather than lesser, angels of our nature?

One thing everyone in this discussion agrees upon is that books matter. They shape our view of the world and the way we live. In an era where people may be reading less, might there be more discussion of how we might foster literacy and a lifelong love of reading. That seems to me a far more worthwhile endeavor than discussing what not to read.

My Favorite “Bookish” Things

20171129_185514A certain TV personality is famous for the show she does each holiday season sharing her “favorite things.” For me the phrase brings back memories of Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp singing about “these are a few of my favorite thing.” That got me thinking about a few of my favorite “bookish” things.

  1. Attractive and durable bookmarks. My favorite is the genuine leather bookmark pictured above that a friend brought back from a trip to Italy. I use it to mark my place in the Bible I use for my daily devotional time. I’ve had it for years and it shows no sign of wear–unlike most of my bookmarks!
  2. Well-made books to put them in. It is always a delight to read a book with a fine paper, readable print, and elegant binding.
  3. Elegant shelves lining one or more walls of a library room. Mostly, this is a dream for me, and as I’ve written recently, I think I’ve reached the stage in life where the prescription is not more shelves but less books! The closest I get to this most of the time is the East Reading Room in Thompson Library at The Ohio State University.
  4. Attractive dust jackets or book covers. This adds to the aesthetic of reading. I would also include the spine of the book, which may stare out at me for years on my shelves.
  5. Bookish t-shirts. I treasure my “so many books, so little time” shirt, which might be one of my life mottoes. I could probably use a few more.
  6. Book weights. Something I wouldn’t spend money on but I’ve thought to be extremely useful for books that won’t lay flat on their own, particularly while I am writing reviews or copying out a quote. Usually I end up using another book or a stapler on my desk.
  7. Chairs that are still comfortable after you’ve been sitting for half an hour reading. I have a few in my house. My son’s middle school football coach once said, “the mind can’t absorb more than the seat can endure.” Every bibliophile totally understands.
  8. Knowledgeable booksellers who actually seem interested in talking with patrons. Given that many bibliophiles are introverts it’s easy to see how you can get one without the other. When you find a bookseller like this, take good care of them!
  9. Bookish decor. We just cleaned and re-hung our bookshelf wall-hanging in our living room. One of the “shelves” from that wall-hanging serves as the header for this blog.
  10. A helpful review or a book recommendation that helps you find a book you really like. Hopefully, you’ve found a few of these here (and none that were unhelpful). I even enjoy books on books and perusing book lists!

With the holidays approaching, some of these might spark some gift ideas for the bookish person in your life (although booksellers are hard to gift wrap!). And if you are that bookish person (and why else would you read this?), I’d love to know some of your favorite bookish things.