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.

Goodreads Recent Changes

Goodreads so you finishedMany of you who are book lovers use Goodreads to catalog your books, track what your friends are reading, and read reviews of books you might be interested in. There are currently 55 million Goodreads members and 1.5 billion books added to the site. I’ve been on Goodreads since 2011, and it was the “gateway drug” that got me into book reviewing and blogging.

This is kind of an update on some of the recent changes, at least the ones that have noticed. One that started turning up in my email inbox recently was that whenever I finished a book Goodreads sends an email that shows the book, my rating, and links to my review. Not shown on the screen capture above is that it also allows me to see any friends who are reading the book, their reviews, and the reviews of other Goodreads members. It allows me to go to the Goodreads author page, even dead ones (there is one for Gerard Manley Hopkins which I can follow). It also allows me to like and comment on friends activity, and even to post a question about the book. What I discovered is that about the time Goodreads introduced this feature, I saw an uptick in likes and comments on my reviewed books, even ones I reviewed in the past. This seems like a good change that makes Goodreads more interactive.

A second change that  Goodreads has begun is “Goodreads Deals” emails and “Sponsored Books” on the updates feed (on the phone app). The “deals” update is just for e-books but surprisingly does provide options (depending on the book) for Google books, Apple iBooks, Nook, and Kobo, as well as Kindle (Goodreads is owned by Amazon). It is interesting that these deals are on e-books but there seems to be no similar approach with print media even though e-books have been waning in popularity. Still, I give Goodreads credit for not promoting only Amazon.

Not so with “Sponsored Books.” Here you have options for purchasing the book in whatever format you are interested in, but only from Amazon. There are also inserts of books that are “new” or “popular” which also direct one to the Amazon site.  So far, this only appears on updates on the Goodreads App, not on the website. It appears that you can indicate you are not interested in a particular “sponsored” book, but not these others, which are interspersed with friends’ updates. Rarely are any of these of interest to me. For some reason, who is reading the book often catches my eye and makes it of interest. The “recommendations” function is better, even if it often recommends books I’ve read but haven’t logged on Goodreads.

One thing with both of these changes is that they drive online purchasing, which of course is the interest of the online book seller behind this site. At least the page for each book on Goodreads offers the option of looking for the books in stores like Barnes and Noble, or through the IndieBound site at independent booksellers. One wonders if Goodreads will continue to do this in the future or direct potential buyers to their parent company more and more. This may be the point where those of us who think brick and mortar stores and local businesses are a cultural good should close our accounts. I hope it doesn’t come to that because there is so much I like about Goodreads (and, yes, I also am on LibraryThing).

One of the features I really like on the phone app is the ability to scan a book and add it to one or more of your shelves. It uses your phone’s camera and I just discovered that it not only works by scanning bar codes, but even by scanning the cover of the book. It will pop up options for your book which you can then add to your shelves. The cover scan worked on every book (a limited sample) I tested it on. This is much better than typing in a title and searching a list for your book. I only log books as I read them, but I could imagine going through my whole library in a relatively short period of time if I wanted to do this.

These are not the only changes on Goodreads. I’d be interested in what changes others who use Goodreads have seen and what you like or don’t like about them.

 

Amazon Charts

Amazon Charts

Screenshot of Amazon Charts page for week of May 14, 2017

Did you get a new type of email from Amazon last week? I did, with a link to the new Amazon Charts website. For years we have been able to see real-time sales rank information on any book on Amazon’s site as well as hourly updates of print and e-book best sellers.

Now Amazon is taking on The New York Times and other venerable best seller lists with a weekly best seller list of fiction and non-fiction books. With a twist.

The twist is that Amazon breaks this into “most read” and “most sold.” “Most read” uses all the information it collects from users of its Kindle e-readers and those using Audible to listen to audio books. “Most sold” includes print, e-books, and audio purchases through its marketplace.

On the one hand, this utilizes the immense amount of data Amazon is constantly collecting to compile its own bestseller lists. At the same time, it is a list that only reflects those using Amazon to buy and read or listen to books. By contrast, The New York Times compiles its lists from a sampling (according to its own secret formula) of independent and chain booksellers and only tells us what people are buying. Truthfully each is selective.

One thing that Amazon does is provide these lists side by side on its “Best Sellers & More” page that includes its Charts lists side by side with The New York Times best sellers. Granted, the books on the Times list also are linked to Amazon’s site. This page also provides editors picks, hourly updates of print, Kindle, and Audible best sellers, and a list of 100 books to read in a lifetime, curated by Amazon’s editors.

Back to Amazon Charts. For each book on the top 20 “most read” and “most sold” lists, you can see reviews, purchase the book, and read a preview. On some books, such as Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Wings and Ruin we have a comment like “unputdownable.” There are also indications of whether the books are eligible for “Prime Reading” (a program where Prime Members can read the book for free) or “Kindle Unlimited” programs.

Obviously, this is designed to drive sales on the Amazon site for those wanting to buy the latest best sellers. Why not? I am not usually that interested in best sellers, unless it is something I want to review, in which case I want to get the book and review it while it is trending. (So such lists do have uses beyond driving sales).

My wife does something online that suggests another use for Amazon Charts. She uses online sites to “pre-shop” so she can decide whether she wants to buy a particular item at a local store. I think Amazon Charts is a great way to pre-shop for books that you might want to browse at a local store and purchase. But then, I think brick and mortar stores are a cultural good that ought to be preserved. Whether or not you agree with my book buying preferences, “Charts” offers another site to learn about the latest and best in books.

Why I’m Not Obsessed with My Goodreads Reading Challenge

Goodreads Recent Updates

My Goodreads Reading Challenge as of 5/18/17

I guess there is something to our nature as human beings that needs challenges. It could be losing weight. Or running a marathon in under three hours. Or getting 10,000 steps on your Fitbit. Those of us who are bibliophiles have our own challenges. And one of the most popular is the annual Goodreads Reading Challenge. This year, over 2 million people have set reading challenges for themselves. As of right now, their challenges add up to 94,585,110 books, or roughly 46 books a person. I’ve seen challenges anywhere between reading one book to hundreds. This year I set a goal of 110, five more than my goal last year. I do it mostly for the fun of seeing the goals of my friends. I always read more than my goal without really trying.

I’m writing about this today because of an amusing article in Bookriot titled “Why I’m Obsessed with My Goodreads Challenge Tracker.” I think for this writer (and apparently a number of commenters!) that this really is an obsession. Would you consider reading a bunch of children’s books, graphic novels and novellas at the end of the year just to make your challenge obsessive? Would you consider yourself an abject failure, a wipeout, if you got behind on your reading goal, or horror of horrors, finished the year short of your goal? Apparently this writer is far from alone.

I guess there is one simple reason why I do not obsess over my challenge. And that is that, short of an emergency, I set a goal that I will reach with time to spare, given my reading habits. That way I get to enjoy all those good feelings the writer describes of seeing her list of completed challenges and being ahead on the current one. Shouldn’t something connected with your favorite activity make you feel even better about it?And by most standards 110 books (a bit over two a week) is a goodly number of books. Some think I’m crazy that I read that many.

I don’t like the idea of worrying that I’ll fall behind if I sink my teeth into a really long history or Russian novel. It’s nice to have some slack if other things rise to greater importance and I have to set aside my books.

Jesus of Nazareth once said that we should be careful in trying to remove a speck from someone else’s eye while we have a log in our own. As I thought about this, it occurred to me that I may have book-related obsessions that make the writer’s look benign.

Probably one of the biggest is simply keeping up with my “to be read” piles, or for that matter, the “to be reviewed” pile. I swear that when I turn out the lights at night, they multiply! Actually it is a case of requesting more interesting books to review from various publishers than I should. I probably shouldn’t buy any. That, as much as anything accounts for reaching reading goals–it is not the goal, but the burgeoning TBR pile that can sometimes lead to obsessive reading (“gotta get through this–it’s been three months since the publisher sent it on my request!”).

Objectively, I haven’t done too badly with this, reviewing 30 books that were advance review copies so far this year. It’s fun when a new book to review comes in the mail–until you add it to the pile and queue it with the others and have that realization that it will be a while until you read it unless you read faster! Funny how you don’t think of that when you are reading the description of a book you are considering requesting! Then the rationale is, “that looks like an important book, I’ll fit it in somewhere!”

Well, I think all I’ve accomplished here is to demonstrate that booknerds are indeed quirky people. But you already probably knew that, whether you are a booknerd or not. But to paraphrase my favorite teacher–“let him (or her) without obsessions cast the first stone!”

 

 

Why The Disclosure on Reviews?

Flag_of_the_United_States_Federal_Trade_CommissionOne of the curious things I discovered when I began receiving books from publishers to review on my blog was that I need to disclose my “material connection” with the publisher that provided the review copy. On my blog, it appears at the end of the review of any book I have received for free for review purposes. It is usually some variation of this:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

I wondered whether this was some kind of “urban myth” circulating on the internet. I learned that this is a real deal and that while I haven’t heard of bloggers being prosecuted for failing to disclose “material connections” I’m given to understand it could happen. This blog is simply a labor of love. Besides some free books, I do not get paid for writing it, and I consider the effort of reading the books and writing honest reviews a fair exchange. Simply put, I have no interest in shelling out legal fees, so I include the disclosure, even though it seems kind of unfriendly.

This all comes from rules the Federal Trade Commission put in place in 2009 for online media that is called “16 CFR Part 255” or “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” There are a few important things (do not take this as legal advice, I am not a lawyer) that I gleaned in reading this.

  1. I need to disclose a material connection each and every time I review a book I received for free for review purposes from the publisher. A single disclosure on my home or about page isn’t sufficient. I don’t have to include a disclosure on books I review that I’ve purchased and you will not see such a disclosure in those reviews.
  2. Disclosures need to be “clear and conspicuous.” It should be close to the content or claim, in easily readable print (or if it is an audio blog, it needs to be audible and read at a speed that can be followed.)
  3. There is no single legal template that must be followed, simply a brief disclosure such as “I received this product for free in exchange for a review.” I drew my language from this site. For a while I included the legalese about the FTC regulation but eventually dropped it because the FTC doesn’t require this.
  4. If you are paid in exchange for a review, you should disclose that but do not need to specify the amount. Likewise, if you are an affiliate marketer for a retail site and provide links to that site that allow you to receive payment if people make purchases by that link, you should disclose that. This article provides pretty good help on what you need to do if you do this. I do not include links to online retailers other than the publisher and I receive no compensation for this. I try to encourage people to buy from local booksellers, especially independents.

A question that may have occurred to you is “why don’t print media reviewers have to make similar disclosures?” The best answer I can find is that people understand already that reviewers receive review copies from publishers. They do not necessarily know this on social media (this also applies to other products). This disclosure protects consumers by letting them know that there is a relationship with the publisher or manufacturer of the product that may influence the review.

Does this relationship influence me? I don’t think so but it is probably best to let others judge. I know I have been critical of books I’ve received as review copies (including one I received this week). I’ve not had the experience of publishers no longer sending review copies because I wrote something critical. I always try to be fair, and affirm what I think is good or helpful in a book, whether I paid for it or not. I realize authors have invested deeply in what they have brought to print. I make it a point to leave the decision of whether to buy a book or not up to the reader. I will never say, “don’t buy this book.”

Actually reviews may be more influenced by those who view them and follow the blog. Publishers ask for these statistics and base decisions on who they send review copies to on who you write for and how many they are. It’s odd that I don’t have to disclose on the blog. It’s my observation that most bloggers are far more driven by this factor than “material connections.” Actually, I’m quite grateful for those of you who read, comment and follow–you make this worth it!

So, I will keep providing those disclosures. I suppose it is a way of keeping me honest. I hope you will do that as well. If a review is helpful, I’d love to know that, but equally, if you think I really got it wrong on a book, let me know. No refunds, but you will keep me mindful of those I really write for!

 

Ten Books For Understanding Evangelicalism

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My copy of Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There, purchased c. 1972.

In a review of Carl F. H. Henry’s classic The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism the other day, I mentioned a conversation in which I wondered aloud how many of those who leave evangelicalism understand the rich, if imperfect, part of the Christian family they are leaving. My own sense is that often, though not always, they are responding to distortions or downright contradictions of historical evangelicalism. I recognize that for some it is a matter of leaving the incredibly painful, and may well be warranted, but I sense for others, it is wondering whether the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I won’t try to answer that, but would propose that it might first be important to appraise the grass on the evangelical side of the fence.

The friend I was talking with asked me about some books he might consider. This is a kind of expansion on my response. I suggest two kinds of books here. Some are histories, which go back to Great Britain as well as our own national beginnings. The others are “classics”–books that for many of us shaped an evangelical outlook. At the end, I provide links to some other lists–mine is hardly exhaustive–but rather a starting point.

Histories:

David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern BritainLondon: Routledge, 1988. The history of Wesley to John Stott is covered here, as well as Bebbington’s crucial delineation of four evangelical distinctives: biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism and activism.

Donald W. Dayton and Douglas M Strong, Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage, 2nd editionGrand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014. An updated edition of a study of the pre-Civil War nineteenth century roots of evangelicalism in the United States and the combination of piety, preaching, and social reform characteristic of this movement in this period. (From my review).

George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American CultureOxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. This book looks at the retrenchment of evangelicalism into fundamentalism in the U.S. post Civil War, with the rise of Darwinism, European biblical scholarship, and the “social gospel” associated with theologically liberal Christianity. The new edition tracks this movement since the 1970’s in its more politically engaged form.

Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical MindGrand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995. Noll explores the historical reasons for the lack of evangelical influence in the academy, the arts, and “high” culture. This book served as a kind of rallying cry for a group of us involved in launching a national ministry effort with graduate students and faculty.

Brian Stanley, The Global Diffusion of EvangelicalismDowners Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013. This is part of InterVarsity’s “History of Evangelicalism” series (all worth reading) that covers the post-World War II rise of modern or neo-evangelicalism–the evangelicalism of Billy Graham and John Stott, and an increasingly global leadership. Here is my review of the book.

Classic Formative Works:

Charles W. Colson, Born AgainGrand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2008 (revised edition). The biography of White House aide and Watergate conspirator Charles Colson and his conversion to a socially engaged evangelical faith that led to launching Prison Fellowship, and a career as an influential social commentator within the evangelical community.

J. I. Packer, Knowing GodDowners Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993 (revised edition). This was a classic for many of us that explored how we may know God, the attributes of God, and benefits of knowing God. You read a few pages, and then had to stop, think, and worship.

Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who is ThereDowners Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998 (revised edition). Schaeffer was the prophet of L’Abri whose analysis of a culture that had moved further and further from God gave us a framework to make sense of our times.

Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of HungerNashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005 (revised edition). Sider was one of the voices that re-awakened the slumbering social conscience of evangelicals, challenging the privatized versions of the Bible with it social teaching, as well as exposing American Christians to the challenge of global hunger.

John R. W. Stott, Basic ChristianityDowners Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012 (revised edition). This was a book that taught many of us the basics of our faith and how to explain it to others.

The histories, I think, are even-handed, showing both the best and the worst. Likewise, the “classic” works I’ve selected are not without their flaws, but are representative of books that reflect some of the “best” of evangelicalism and were important in shaping the outlook of many of us.

The list is hardly exhaustive. My friend said, “there is only so much I can read. But as I researched this post, I came along a few other lists you might visit:

The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals. A list published in 2006 by Christianity Today.

10 of the Best Books About Evangelical Christianity. I appreciate Kyle Roberts inclusion of Amos Yang’s work and also Soong Chan Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism.

Five Great Books on Evangelical Christianity. Thomas Kidd narrows it down even more and includes Michael Emerson and Christian Smith’s Divided by Faith–a very important book!

What all these do is go beyond the media soundbites which rarely do justice to any religious tradition. Whether you are an evangelical or someone diffident about this identity, or you are just trying to understand this group of people who seem to be so much in the news, these lists should help. Happy reading!

 

Visit Your Favorite Indie Bookstore This Saturday!

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The delightful children’s section at Gramercy Books, an independent bookseller in Bexley, Ohio.

This Saturday, April 29, would be a good day to visit your favorite independent bookstore. It is Independent Bookstore Day in the U.S. and at least 458 stores are participating according to Publishers Weekly.

Just to go on record, in case you haven’t noticed, I am a HUGE fan of indie bookstores–whether they are retail or re-sale. It’s not just that I like bookstores, but there are several things I especially like about independent booksellers. One is that they contribute to the fabric and cultural richness of our communities. Two is that they contribute to the relational richness of our communities. Independent booksellers livelihood depends on knowing their customers. I’ve been in some stores that have an atmosphere a bit like Cheers–everybody knows your name and they are always glad you are here. And finally, these booksellers help us connect both with the books we are looking for and the books that are looking for us.

Stores have come up with some novel attractions, according to the PW article. Brazos Bookstore in Houston is giving out Cormac McCarthy self-published coloring books. They come with two crayons–red and black. Parnassus Books, Ann Patchett’s store in Nashville promises, “a brand new, never before seen, original story created before your very eyes by Nashville’s finest literary talents!” In some cities, including Minneapolis and Chicago, indies are teaming up to offer discount programs tiered by how many stores you visit. One of the weirder giveaways at some stores are literary themed condoms (sigh…).

The real point of the day is to encourage people to visit and leave with books they and those they care for will love. For many stores, this day is like Christmas in April. What I hope it is for many of us is the first (or second or third) step in cultivating a habit. These stores won’t thrive if those of us who are book lovers simply say, “someone else will buy from them.”

Some of us may struggle with the bargain-hunter mentality that tries to find the book at its lowest price. In addition to the fact that this may tempt us to buy more books than we will read (guilty as charged), the care of selecting a book we will buy to read and keep may be another benefit of buying our books at stores that don’t buy in bulk.

Finally, most of these stores take orders over the phone or online. If you can’t go visit them this Saturday, why not support them this way? You might consider doing so early because it sounds like they could be busy on Saturday. For the love of books and for the health of our communities, let’s hope so!

A Poet in Your Pocket

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John Adams, by Gilbert Stuart, 1815

John Adams once said, “You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.”

In reading Marilyn McEntyre’s book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, one of the practices she commends is the reading and memorizing of poetry. In a later chapter, she writes about the delights of wordplay, including wordplay in poetry. In her chapter “Practice Poetry” she writes:

“What the discipline of poetry requires most of all is caring about words and caring for words. I do not believe we steward language well without some regular practice of poesis–reading poetry, learning some by heart, and writing–if not verse as such, at least sentences crafted with close attention to the cadence and music and the poetic devices that offer nonrational, evocative, intuitive, associative modes of understanding” (p. 145).

Reading this chapter made me realize the relative lack of poetry in my life. Apart from the Hebrew poetry of the Psalms, which I find myself regularly turning to, to give words to my prayers, I have little poetry in my life. You may notice I have not reviewed works of poetry here.

In college I first came in contact with the poetry of T. S. Eliot. As bleak as “The Wasteland” was, I felt it captured an essence of his time, and our own, in words that resonated deeply. I thrilled to the mysterious question in this stanza toward the end:

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

 

Who is the third…I wonder still?

Another memory of a poem shared was the time our Dead Theologians reading group, between books, spent a morning parsing preacher and poet George Herbert’s “Love (III),” one of many in a collection known as “The Temple.” He wrote,

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
        Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
        I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
        “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
        “My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
        So I did sit and eat.

It left me with a deepened sense of wonder of the “Love that bade me welcome.”

There was a time when people memorized both the scriptures, and poetry, two things very akin to each other, it seems to me. There was a day when both the psalms of the Bible and the sonnets of Shakespeare were things we carried around with us, either in our pockets, or in a pocket of our minds. I wonder if it led to a different sensibility, and as McEntyre suggests, a care for words?

In researching this post, I learned that there is a Poem in Your Pocket Day each year during April, National Poetry Month. This year, it falls on April 27, 2017. I discovered that the day was initiated by the Office of the Mayor of New York City in 2002. I found this poem posted at the Mayor’s website (I’m not sure if it was from that first day):poem6-monday

It was plainly intended to be cut out and placed in our pockets. I wonder what would happen if this practice were adopted by more of our political leaders?

I also discovered that Everyman’s Library has a collection of more than sixty “Pocket Poets” books, allowing us to have a somewhat more durable and attractive way to carry poets in our pockets.

I wonder if it might not in fact be time for me to have some poetry in my life. Maybe some of you are further along this way than I. I would love to hear your suggestions of poems that have been life-giving to you, or at least taken you deeper into a care for words. If I receive some suggestions, I’ll post them on Poem in Your Pocket Day!