What to Read

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Long Room, Trinity College, Dublin. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 4.0, via Wikipedia

In one sense, answering the question of what to read is truly daunting. In 2010, Google ran an algorithm to estimate the number of books ever published in its efforts to develop the capacity to catalog all these books. They came up with the number 129,864,880. That brings new meaning to one of my favorite laments, “so many books, so little time.”

That does make the choice of what we read worthy of some thought. This is also part of the “battle” we readers face. Consider, if we read 50 books a year for 40 years, that is 2,000 books out of all those ever published. This is one of those FOMO (fear of missing out) moments all of us encounter. We will inevitably miss out on many books. For me, the question comes down to what book, or at least what types of books, do I not want to miss out on. Here are some considerations I bring to this question:

  • I want to read books that have stood the test of time–decades and even centuries have passed and they are still influential. I don’t just want to read about them, but want to follow advice Marilynne Robinson gave in a lecture: “Read the primary sources!” I’d class The Bible, works of Shakespeare, Plato, Homer, Augustine, Calvin, Doestoevsky, among others in this category. C. S. Lewis recommended we read one “old” book for every recent book we read in an essay introducing a very good old book, On the Incarnation by Athanasius
  • I want to read the best books I can in genres I’ve found life-giving, which for me ranges from mysteries to presidential and other leadership biographies, American history, and science writing.
  • Finally, I read books related to my own work and calling. In my case, I work in a Christian ministry among graduate students and faculty and hold a Masters degree in biblical studies. So I try to keep up on current literature in biblical studies, theology, and other ministry-related fields, as well as reading books on current developments in the world of higher education.

Your answers to these criteria will be different from mine, but they will help you think with greater discrimination about the books you choose to read, and be able to give better criteria to booksellers and librarians who may help you connect to these books.

There are a variety of reading lists one may find online that may help with the first and, to some degree, the second of my three criteria. For the third, so much of this comes from reading reviews of books in journals related to your field of work, or just going to those sections at a good university library. Here are a few sources of  book lists that I’ve found helpful:

  1. For books that have stood the test of time, the Great Books lists can be helpful, although they may be criticized as Western-centric. Other lists may compensate for that. Wikipedia provides the list of books that comprised the Great Books series as well as a list of universities that still have “Great Books” programs. One of these is St. John’s, which provides PDFs of the reading list by semester through the four years of their program.
  2. There are numerous lists of “100 greatest books,” some which may overlap with the Great Books. Wikipedia has gathered the most prominent of these lists in an article with links, including lists for genres like crime fiction, fantasy, and science fiction as well as more general lists.
  3. For the thoughtful Christian reader, James Emory White at his Church and Culture website, has a wonderful collection of lists including “Ten to Begin With,” “Twenty Five Toward a Christian Worldview,” and a “One Year Reading Program” of 26 books and twelve other topical lists. A personal favorite for discovering thoughtful Christian writing is Byron Borger’s “Booknotes” blog which connects you with his store, where you can order the books you read about, usually at a discount. Byron is one who can listen to you, and on the basis of what you tell him about yourself and your interests can suggest ten books to you–and they will be good suggestions. He typifies what is best about brick and mortar booksellers.

Of course, I hope you will follow Bob on Books if you do not already. Over the course of a year, I will review about 140 books along the lines of the books I like to read and think important, and I hope some of these will find their way into your hands as well. Equally, I hope some of my reviews may help you choose not to read certain books in favor of others more congruent to your answers to the question of “what to read.” That, also, is a good thing.

 

Readers’ Bootcamp

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“Bootcamp” WorldArtsMe

Perhaps the title involves a bit of hyperbole. But if we are indeed in a battle to find space in our lives for attentive reading amid the distractions of modern technological life, it might involve something akin to bootcamp, where in a short space of weeks, civilians are turned into soldiers, and where civilian habits that might get you killed in short order are exchanged for habits that enable you to live life under fire.

Perhaps the drastic metaphor of bootcamp has a place. At one time, our shopkeepers and farmers read Shakespeare, The Bible, Plato, Aristotle, John Locke and others. John Adams traveled from town to town with a “poet in his pocket.” The great ideas that shaped our republic came from people who weren’t academics, but who kept company in the books they read with great ideas. At one time in this country, workers’ Athenaeums  were popular for people who wanted to improve themselves and their understanding of the world. Apart from some things like TED talks, much of the content we have online that occupy much of our time are tweets that amuse or arouse us, memes, pictures and news of often-dubious and editorially biased origin. To break our addiction to these distractions to recover the experience of deep, extended and attentive reading might require something of a “bootcamp” experience in our lives.

Here are some starters I might suggest:

  • Figure out a time when you are mentally sharpest and carve out a space of that time to read. Maybe to start, decide on the 15-20 minutes you will dedicate to reading, or a goal to read 10 pages during this sharpest time.
  • Now, the hard part. Put yourself as far away from any screens including your smartphone as possible. You will find your ability to focus immeasurably enhanced by doing this.
  • At this point, I would strongly discourage reading on any tablet that is not a dedicated e-reader, and would favor using a physical book. Any piece of technology with other apps will provide distractions that will undermine the goal of attentive, undistracted reading.
  • Don’t start with a dense philosophical tome by Kant or Heidegger. Pick a genre and writer you like and start reading.
  • If you already have the book at hand, so much the better provided it doesn’t violate the previous suggestion!
  • If you don’t have something to read, I would suggest going either to your local library or a brick and mortar bookstore. If you want to cultivate a reading habit, you want to make friends with the people in these places who are highly motivated to help you find good books, because you will keep coming to them for recommendations! Besides, would you rather get a book recommendation from an algorithm than a friend?
  • Speaking of friends, find a book buddy, maybe someone else is on the same journey to recovering literacy that you are, that you can meet up with to talk about the books in your lives. This can also help as you graduate to books that require more mental effort to understand. I’ve often found that great books demand multiple minds to really grasp their full meaning and I see so much more when I read with friends.
  • Keep a book journal where you record the books you have read, and key thoughts you want to remember from those books, and how, if at all, the book has changed your thinking. Online tools like Goodreads make this convenient as long as you don’t get distracted from actually reading. (That’s really how this blog was born–as a way to remember what I read as well as to talk about books with others).

I’ll stop there other than suggesting that you might try working up to the goal of an hour of focused reading a day. Actually, I think if you follow some of these ideas, you will find yourself wanting to read more and stopping will be the problem.

Tomorrow, I will talk a bit more about what to read.

The Battle to Read?

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By Omarfaruquepro (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

This week, Philip Yancey posted a blog “Reading Wars” that was picked up in the Washington Post under the title “The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul.” Yancey begins the post noting the change in his own reading practices, from about three books a week (about what I typically read) to much less, and that he is reading far fewer works that require hard work.

He attributes this to the internet, and the tendency to read a paragraph or two and move along to something else, and to skip around from one thing to the next, and be easily distracted. He also notes the constant interruptions of emails and other messaging that wants a reply now.

He quotes a Charles Chu who estimates that it would take approximately 417 hours over a year to read 200 average sized books. Chu is walking proof that it’s possible, having read 400 books in the past two years. He notes that the average American spends 608 hours on social media and 1642 hours watching television. It is not a question of time.

Rather it is a question of seduction. And this is where the battle to read comes in. Between distracting notifications on smartphones, and the temptation to go from there to different social media can consume a lot of time. It’s mind candy, kind of fun really. There’s a video–was that really ten minutes? It lures us away from our books, and makes it harder to concentrate when we sit down to read them.

Yancey joins a chorus of people from Senator Ben Sasse who is trying to cultivate practices of reading in his family to Rod Dreher in his Benedict Option who are urging us to lay aside, or even fast from our technology to make time for deep reading of the printed page. Many business are arguing for setting aside at least an hour a day for reading.

Why does it matter? Isn’t this time one could more productively employ elsewhere? Personally, I reached a decision in my forties, that having passed the peak of my physical powers, I needed to take more time to read, and think, and pray if I was going to be spiritually and intellectually vital and fresh in my work. I could not just keep recycling what I learned in college and the first years out in the work force. I was changing, the world was changing, and the advance of years brought new questions, and questioned previous assumptions.

More than that, I came to realize that there really is something grand about this collective project called humanity–noble and sometimes hubristic dreams, great ideas like the freedom of conscience, and not so great ones like race theory, and great works of art and literature, that capture in a particular piece aspects of the universal human experience. I came to discover in the Christian faith not only the two to three millenia-old sacred scriptures that are our rule of faith and practice, but that conversation of great minds from Augustine and Athanasius to Barth and Niebuhr and Kuyper that sought to understand and apply these truths to their times. Many contemporary writers and speakers, as compelling as they seemed, were pretty thin fare by comparison.

Most of all, what I think I am trying to do as I read is to live an attentive life. I want to listen for God’s voice in the things that I read, and to be open to the possibility that a word of scripture, or an idea on a page might transform my perspective, question my ways of doing things, or lead to insights into how to live or work more in sync with God’s workings in the world. More than that, if God is the real hero of this story and mine but a small supporting role (and even that is something), so much of reading is a walk in the wonder of understanding the works and ways and majesty of God, whether in a book on the latest discoveries in physics, a history of a people, or a biography of a leader of the past.

There is so much more to life than what can be expressed in 140 characters or displayed on my smartphone screen. If we are dissatisfied with the banality of our public discourse, then perhaps a good beginning is to attack our own lack of attention to deep reading of ideas that matter. We might even discover that there is great joy to be found in a rich interior life. We might want such people to be leaders in our communities, and maybe our nation. We might even become them.

In the next days, I want to discuss more of what we can do to give substantive reading a greater place in our lives, and some practices and sources that can get us started.

 

Christian Scholars Review

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Cover of the current issue of Christian Scholars Review

The most recent issue of the Christian Scholars Review (CSR) arrived in my mail the other day and it occurred to me that this might be a resource at least some who follow this blog might like to know of. For one thing, it may give you a clue as to where I hear about some of the books I review! The website for CSR describes its objective as follows:

“Established in 1970, Christian Scholar’s Review is a medium for communication among Christians who have been called to an academic vocation. Its primary objective is the publication of peer-reviewed scholarship and research, within and across the disciplines, that advances the integration of faith and learning and contributes to a broader and more unified understanding of the nature of creation, culture, and vocation and the responsibilities of those whom God has created. It also provides a forum for discussion of pedagogical and theoretical issues related to Christian higher education. It invites contributions from Christian scholars of all historic traditions, and from others sympathetic to the task of religiously-informed scholarship, that advance the work of Christian academic communities and enhance mutual understanding with other religious and academic communities. “

The Review does not focus on a particular academic discipline but publishes peer reviewed articles exploring how thoughtful Christian academics connect their faith to whatever it is they are studying. Some issues center around a theme, like the environment or nuclear weapons. Others have several articles on drawn on divergent themes. The current issue includes the following articles:

  • Stephen V. Monsma – What is an Evangelical? And Does It Matter? [Abstract]
  • Judith Anderson – Doers of the Word: Shakespeare, Macbeth, and the Epistle of James [Abstract]
  • Michael Kugler – The Faun Beneath the Lamppost: When Christian Scholars Talk About the Enlightenment [Abstract]

There are a steady stream of articles on Christian higher education because the editorial team and many of the contributors work in this context. In addition, you will find responses to articles in previous issues, kind of an ongoing scholarly conversation similar to many academic journals.

One of my favorite parts of the Review are the reviews! Each issue includes an extended review or two. I write very concise reviews for the blog context. It is always interesting to see reviewers do a more extended review of something I’ve covered more briefly. In the current issue (XLVI:4, Summer 2017), there is a review of Modern Art and the Life of a Culture (which I reviewed here on May 24, 2016). Like most people, I read reviews for one of two reasons, either to find books I would like to read, or to learn about books that I won’t have the time or interest to read. This is a good place to find reviews of longer works connecting faith and academic life.

Why do I subscribe to Christian Scholars Review? I work with academics and grad students in a variety of disciplines, and while I can never hope to understand any of those disciplines as well as they can, over the years I’ve come across a number of articles that helped me see how Christian faith might address important questions in their disciplines and pointed me to resources they might explore around those questions.

Who else might find this helpful? First and most obvious would be any faculty or grad student who cares about the connection of faith and their academic work. I would suggest that even the articles concerning disciplines other than their own may well suggest resources for questions they face. Also, the interdisciplinary character of this journal helps in the recovery of a sense of the unity of knowledge in the fragmented multiversity.

I don’t think academics are the only ones who will find value in this journal. Pastors, particularly those in university towns, may benefit in seeing how others connect theological principles and convictions to subjects ranging from history to engineering, from literature to education. Any thoughtful Christian who wants to think both broadly and deeply about the world might find these article length treatments more accessible than lengthy books.

You may find information about subscribing to the Review at the Subscribe/Back Issues page on their website. Students providing an ID can subscribe for $15 a year, others for $24 (four issues). You can also order back issues and the website includes an index with links to a table of contents going back to 1995.

 

LibraryThing’s New Android App

LibraryThing Android App home screenAs an Android phone user and a member of Library Thing for the last year and a half, I’ve lamented the lack of an Android app. Why should the iPhone users have all the fun. Well, I no longer need to lament. The middle of last month, LibraryThing announced that its Android app was finally available. They even accompanied it with a fun video, showing how easy it is to catalog your whole library using the bar code scanner on the app.

Let’s begin with that function, since it is probably one of the most useful aspects of the app. From the Home screen, you hit the button labeled “Add to catalog.” That will take you to a screen that allows you either key in a title or ISBN number, or much more easily scan the bar code for the book. To do this, tap the bar code symbol with a red horizontal line through it. You will see a frame appear using your phone’s camera. Hold it over the bar code on your book, wait for the beep (a bit startling the first time you hear it), and then it will pull up a small image, title, and author of the book you are scanning. It’s worked accurately every time I’ve used it, has always retrieved the correct title, and in my experience, does so more quickly than the scanner on the GoodReads app. One complaint I’ve heard is that you cannot use the bar code scanner to search for books already in your library.

Probably the other most significant button on your app is the “Your Catalog” button. Tapping it will display all your books either in a list or tiled covers. Tapping on the book will take you to a page on that book, allow you to edit what “collections” it appears in, see publication information, member tags and go to links on LibraryThing or Amazon for the book. At the bottom, you are able to delete the entry from your library, or edit your own information, including your tags, ratings, review, and other comments on the book. I would say this is much easier to do on a computer (and often I cut and paste reviews from a blog, which is easier to do on a computer).

You can also search your collections by title, author, ISBN, or even tags. This is quite convenient if you want to see how many books you’ve read, or own, of a particular author, or find books on a particular topic. This comes up often when I’m asked for a book recommendation and the ability to do a quick search comes in handy.

The “Cover Explorer” button is one I’m not quite sure of why it is included. It’s basic function is to tell you the source of the cover image–Amazon (ISBN or ASIN), and low or high member-uploaded cover images. The only reason I can see for this is that the book data from Amazon including ISBN is probably more certain to match their image.

The “Account” button allows you to sign in or out and an “add to catalog resources” section (where LibraryThing looks to find a book you are adding to your library). The defaults are Amazon and the libraries connected to LibraryThing’s database. This accounts for the amazing ability LibraryThing seems to have to find books (and other media).

Finally, the “News” button takes you to the news articles that appear in the right column on the internet version of LibraryThing–including Early Reviewer posts, and information about other changes on LibraryThing.

As an app, it is simple and uncomplicated and accomplishes speedily one of the basic things many people turn to LibraryThing for–cataloging books. It doesn’t have the newsfeed showing you what friends are reading. It’s not especially “pretty.” It shows you your catalog and helps you organize and add to it. It is fast and accurate.

If you are already on LibraryThing or have considered getting on, another bonus of using the app is that it automatically qualifies you for a lifetime free membership on LibraryThing. It has been the case that membership was free for those with under 200 books cataloged and $10 a year or $25 lifetime otherwise.

The app is available at the Google Play Store, and is free as well. What a great way to use smartphone technology if you have a library you want to catalog, or just want to start a list of the books you’ve read!

 

The Dangerous Practice of Reading in Bed

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“The Bed-Time Book, written by Helen Hay and illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith. Photo by Plum Leaves, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr (unedited)

Do you like to read in bed? I do. Most of the time, I only read a few pages before nodding off. Usually my wife comes to bed after I do and turns out the light, and I usually wake up just enough to mark my place and put the book aside. Pretty harmless, huh? It wouldn’t have been thought so at one time.

I recently came across a blog on the evils of reading in bed, by Kristen Wardowski, who posts some great stuff about books, reading and writing. She, in turn points to an article in The Atlantic by Nika Mavrody. The gist of both posts is that there were two dangers, one very real and one feared.

The very real danger had to do with how people were able to read in bed. They did so by candlelight. Readers falling asleep could be the cause of fires as candles burned down, or set fire to flammables like curtains in the vicinity. This was the equivalent of smoking in bed, and was considered a form of negligence.

The other danger reflects a shift in the nature of reading from communal to solitary. Sleeping arrangements also shifted in the same way from a time when a family shared a bed or slept in a common room to greater privacy in sleeping arrangements. Reading at one time was something done aloud, in the family circle, and of course needed to be suitable for the various members of the family. Often, it was the Bible that was read (although sex and violence are hardly absent from its pages).

Private, silent reading was feared to lead to private fantasies that distracted one from household duties, particularly those of women. It sounds obsessive that there was societal concern over what someone thought about in solitude. Yet is this so far from concern over what can be viewed on screens which may be obliterated with a swipe or a mouse click, but not erased from our minds?

These days we don’t condemn reading in bed with a broad brush, and that’s an advance. But does what we read in our last waking moments matter? I think of a somewhat humorous incident from early in our married life. I was reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and had dozed off and my wife came in, and I turned to her with a scowl and not fully awake and asked her, “why did you kill all those Indians?” She was not sure she wanted to join me that night.

What we read in bed can entertain us and relax us. But it can also anger us, disturb us, arouse us, or keep us awake far after we should be sleeping. A while back I was reading Kirsten Hannah’s The Nightingale, one of the best books I read last year. But the horrors of the Nazi occupation of France were profoundly disturbing, and not the best things to consider right before I wanted to sleep. This was good reading–for another time of day–at least for me. I would not dictate for anyone else, but I’m coming to realize that some types of reading in bed aren’t helpful.

One type of reading that has been helpful are to read some of the prayers that have been prayed by many others as they close their days. I love these words from the Wednesday compline of the Northumbria Community:

Calm me, O Lord, as You stilled the storm.
Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm.
Let all the tumult within me cease.
Enfold me, Lord, in Your peace.

The prayer concludes with these words:

 The peace of God
be over me to shelter me,

under me to uphold me,

 about me to protect me,

 behind me to direct me,

 ever with me to save me.

I love to think of being enfolded in the peace of God before slipping into the oblivion and helplessness of sleep. To read, and pray, and turn these words over in my mind is good reading. Sometimes it is all the reading I have energy left to do. If that is dangerous, then bring it on. That’s reading I can live with…and sleep with.

Think Twice About The Books You Fly With

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By U.S. Federal Government (Transportation Security Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

(Updated below)

You know the drill. Take off your shoes, your belt, empty your pockets, pull out your 3-1-1 bag, your laptop (unless you have TSA-Precheck status). Hope you remembered everything and that you don’t need to be swabbed or patted down.

According to an ACLU article, you may soon need to unpack your books and other papers and allow them to be examined as well. Apparently the TSA is already testing this and may roll it out at an airport near you.

Of course, you knew the TSA already has the right to inspect anything you are carrying onto the plane, didn’t you? Yes, even your books and papers.

Now, from what I can understand, they can only do this to ensure the safety of your flight and its passengers. Technically, what your books are about is not at issue–or is it? In 2010, a man was detained for five hours because he was carrying Arabic flashcards and had reading materials critical of U.S. foreign policy. You might think twice about material critical of the U.S., or material about other illegal activities (even if you have no intent to engage in them, for example, materials about sexual abuse).

Beyond this, it is probably wise to ask oneself, “would I want a total stranger, and one in law enforcement, to know I am reading this?” In some cases, you might just find this embarrassing, particularly if it is material of a sexual nature. Yes, you might want to leave that copy of Fifty Shades at home. But you might also take a hard look at the title and cover graphics of any books you are thinking of packing and ask how someone trained to be suspicious might look at your book, or periodicals you are carrying.

You might want to travel lighter. I sometimes carry several different books that I am reading. That could mean more to screen or even seem suspicious. Who really reads that much on a trip? (I do.) E-readers or reading apps on phones are a possibility. Currently they do not have to be unpacked (other than not being carried on your person through screening), but that could change. There is no legitimate reason a TSA officer should need to look at what books you have on it. (With e-readers, the danger is not at the airport, but in what electronic records are kept, and shared about your books and your notations by e-book vendors.)

I share this not to tell you what you should or should not read on a flight. I happen to think stronger protections of our first and fourth amendment rights in this time of fear are in order. It is also important to understand one’s rights at a TSA checkpoint, explained well in this article. But most of the time, that’s not a matter we want to pursue at a security checkpoint. Rather, we just want to get through without a fuss, and with the least invasion of our privacy. We want to get through so we have the time to stop at Starbucks before our flight.

So, reading friends, you might think about what you take along to read the next time you travel. Big Brother may want to look at your books.

(Update)

The TSA has announced that they have no current plans to ask passengers to remove books from carry-ons, having completed test procedures at two airports. This friendly, even chatty, blog post from the folks at TSA provides the low down on all this, and why it was considered.

Shelving Solutions

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One of my shelves

One of the challenges for voracious readers is where to shelve their books. In terms of physical books, I am at the point where any book I finish goes on the giveaway or resale piles unless I pull something else off the shelves in its place. If I haven’t thought of or read the book in ten years, it’s a good candidate to get culled out.

Bookriot article today, “Ways to Shelve Your Books on Goodreads” brings up another shelving dilemma that our book apps create. Where do we shelve our books electronically? Actually, this has been quite useful at times when I have done posts on books in a particular category. The challenge is figuring out the categories, which I may suspect vary widely from person to person. The article suggests some different ways including the year read, the format and location, the genre, by author and book identifier. Here’s what mine currently looks like:

Goodreads Bob Trube The United States 1 056 books

The article provides several examples for different kinds of readers. I am probably much like the author of the article in that my categories get more specific with types of literature I especially like. In my case, it has to do with various subcategories of Christian literature. Mine include works of theology, spiritual formation, on culture, on politics, leadership, ethics, apologetics, and Bible study and more. Under biography, I created a category of presidential biographies because this is one of my favorite genres. Probably I should create one on British royalty!

That brings up another question. When do you create a new category? And if you do, do you go back and “re-shelve” books into that category. I did this with presidential biographies and when I created my “inklings” shelf, but, because I read numbers of books, that can be a bit of work. I might be inclined to consider it “busywork” that I don’t have time for. But that is just me.

Probably the greatest usefulness of this to me is that I regularly get asked the question of “what is a good book on…?” It can be handy to pull up my shelves on my phone and offer a few suggestions. If it was just up to memory, I’d probably find myself saying, “I’ll get back to you” which may never happen.

It is also handy in providing a more extensive set of categories than is easily accommodated here on the blog. I still dream of creating an indexing system that would work here, but at this point it is a dream. You can always search a title on the blog. For categories, my Goodreads page works better and all the reviews I do here are also there.

All this falls in the category of “first world problems.” My suggestion if you are trying to create more shelves than “reading” and “read” is that you create a list of the categories of books you most like to read. Create new categories for things that don’t fit.  Then as you go along combine categories where the numbers of books remain just a few. Figure out if there are any categories that are particularly relevant to your work or other interests. And don’t worry if it looks nothing like your friends. That’s what makes it interesting!

Finding E-Book Bargains

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My trusty old e-reader with a “Vicky Bliss” mystery loaded. (c) 2015, Robert C Trube

While I am a print guy and I prefer buying books at brick and mortar stores, I do buy and read e-books, particularly when traveling. Here are five sites that I receive emails from to learn about currently discounted e-books. I have a Kindle, so I do acquire these from Amazon’s site, one of the places all of these sites will direct you to. The first three also options of purchasing in other formats. The fourth is an affiliate site with Amazon. All allow you to sign up for emails, most of which are daily.

Early Bird Books This site connects you to Open Road’s catalog of books. I’ve found some great older fiction, as well as history and biographies. They often have a free classic e-book at the bottom of the emails. You can set up categories of books you are interested in.

BookBubThis site also does daily emails and allows you to set up categories. What is different is that they highlight discounted books from various publishers and occasionally free books as well. I do sometimes see overlap between Bookbub and Early Bird.

Bookperk. This site is connected with HarperCollins and connects you with discounts from their catalog. In addition to daily emails they will sometimes send special emails.

Englewood Review of Books. For those interested in thoughtful Christian writing as well as classic literature, Englewood is a great resource. Once or twice a week they will send an email with current discounts available on religious books through Amazon, including alerts about discounts particular publishers may be offering (for example, Fortress sometimes offers deep discounts on hundreds of their e-books).

Kindle Daily DealsAmazon also sends emails (sometimes multiple per day if you sign up) of discounted e-books available through their site. Personally, I’ve found these the least tailored to my interests of any of these. Much seems to be popular fiction, which I read very little.

In most cases, the books on these sites are $1.99 to $3.99, occasionally less or more. Of course there are also various free sources of e-books from Project Gutenberg to Amazon, as well as borrowing at your library. I write about some of this here. Hope all this helps as you stock up your e-reader, tablet, or smartphone for this summer.

Don’t Forgive Us Our Transgressions?

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Stockholm, Sweden, where much of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes place.  Photo by Hedwig Storch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

One of the ideas that keeps cropping up on several literary sites I follow is that of the “transgressive.” Goodreads defines transgressive fiction as “Books that contain depictions of behavior that violates socially acceptable norms, often involving taboo subject matters such as drug use, violence, incest, crime.” At Goodreads “Best Transgressive Fiction” site, these works are the top 5 in transgressive fiction:

  1. Chuck Palahniuk, The Fight Club.
  2. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
  3. Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho
  4. George Orwell, 1984
  5. J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

One of the others on the list (and hence the image above) was Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I understand includes significant episodes of rape (male and female) and violence.

I have to admit that, apart from 1984 I’ve not read anything of these five. In the extended list are titles like Crime and PunishmentThe Stranger, and Slaughterhouse Five. This suggests a few things about the attraction of such works. One is the acknowledged fact among writers that an evil character generally is far more interesting, and interesting to write, than a good one. Another is that the transgressive often seems to be acting against oppressive social norms or controlling circumstances. In 1984 the transgressive is an attempt to throw off the yoke of oppressive tyranny.

I also suspect that it may sometimes be attractive to explore what it is like to do things we don’t have the courage to do, or would never think of, except in our imaginations. We often wonder why a sociopath, or psychopath does what s/he does.

What troubles me is what seems to me a growing preference for the transgressive over the virtuous, in fiction, and perhaps in life. In matters of sexuality, it seems that the effort is to extend the “normative” to whatever one wants to do, with even consent optional. I understand this is a statement against hetero-sexist hegemony. Yet whether we consider sexuality, violence, substance use and abuse, or criminal acts, one has to ask whether the celebration of crossing boundaries is always a good thing. Are there any reasons for norms beside an exertion of power by a dominant group?

This is something I’m wondering about. I’m not sure I want to say more because I suspect there is much I don’t understand. But I’ve often written about “the good, the true, and the beautiful” and I wonder if making the transgressive to be a kind of good, or truth, or beauty is to destroy the meaning of goodness, truth, and beauty.