Fall Book Preview 2019

20190912_1912308059462925875403666.jpgAs the calendar has turned over from August to September and students have returned to school, publishers have released a number of new titles, and a stack of those (as you can see) have landed at our door. Obviously, I won’t read this stack in the next week. I have a day job (actually two), but that doesn’t mean I can’t give you a quick preview of these. Some, you may want to read before I get to reviewing them. Others, you will want to be on the lookout for my review. So here’s the list.

a life of listening

A Life of ListeningLeighton Ford. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Leighton Ford has spent a lifetime of speaking for God as an evangelist, but also a life of listening to God, and to emerging leaders. This is his personal account of that life.

Participating in Christ

Participating in ChristMichael J. Gorman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. Gorman traces the idea of “participation” across the writings of Paul and its significance for the transformation of believers through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Holy Disunity

Holy Disunity: How What Separates Us Can Save UsLayton E. Williams. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. Williams makes the argument that it is not unity that we should seek, but engagement with those we differ with, and that this in the end will save us.

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Faith for ExilesDavid Kinnaman & Mark Matlock. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. The authors, using Barna Research, identify the factors that distinguish those who sustain lives of faith from those who do not in a time when many are leaving the church.

Becoming an Ordinary Mystic

Becoming an Ordinary MysticAlbert Haase, OFM. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2019. We often feel like our ordinary lives are often spiritual failures. Haase offers the hope that we might become ordinary mystics in the sense of learning to respond to grace as we draw close to God.

The Awakening

The AwakeningFriedrich Zuendel. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2000. This is an older book on the confrontation with evil Johann Christoph Blumhardt engaged when he gave pastoral care to a tormented woman; a story that teaches the reality of spiritual warfare.

Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in WorkShundrawn A. Thomas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A business executive shows how people can experience joy rather than frustration in their work.

Make Way for the Spirit

Make Way for the SpiritChristoph Friedrich Blumhardt. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. The son of Johann Christoph Blumhardt discusses his theology of the Holy Spirit, and how it differs from his father’s, shaped by encounters like that in The Awakening (above).

My Life in the Cleveland Zoo

My Life in the Cleveland ZooAdam A Smith. Huron, OH: Drinian Press, 2014. This one was sent to me via a relative of the author. The author worked in the Cleveland Zoo as a tour train driver and eventually as a keeper in the Pachyderm building and offers a memoir of the changes he saw in zoos in the 1970’s ranging from an evolving idea of what a zoo should be to changes in the gender makeup of those who worked there. We used to live in Cleveland in the 1980’s and loved this zoo.

Revolution of Values

Revolution of ValuesJonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. This book argues that the common good, particularly of the marginalized, is a casualty of the religious culture wars and how a biblical faith upholds the value of all people.

Trinity without Hierarchy

Trinity Without HierarchyMichael F. Bird & Scott Harrower, editors. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. In response to complementarian theologians who support their position by arguing for the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, the contributors (both egalitarians and complementarians) argue for a Trinity with no hierarchy of relations between the persons.

Divine Impassibility

Divine ImpassibilityRobert J. Matz and A. Chadwick Thornhill, editors. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. The book explores four positions on the question of whether God has emotions and experiences suffering and whether God changes.

You Throw Like a Girl

You Throw Like a GirlDon McPherson. Brooklyn: Akashic Books, 2019. A former NFL quarterback contends that we often raise boys not to be women rather than to be men, resulting in an unhealthy emotional development, and violence against women. He frames a new way of thinking and talking about being a man that leads to greater emotional wholeness.

The Liturgy of Creation

The Liturgy of CreationMichael LeFebvre. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Looks at the Old Testament calendar including the week of creation through the lens of liturgy.

What you take with you

What You Take With YouTherese Greenwood. Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 2019. A personal account of the Fort McMurray fire in Canada, its impact on a community, the questions of what to take, what to leave, will we survive, and what does it mean to re-build?

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Fearfully and WonderfullyDr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Explores the wonders of the human body and the wonder to which our bodies point, of being creatures who image God.

into his presence

Into His Presence, Tim L. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. Rather than mere sentiment or experience, the author proposes a theology of intimacy with God.

Except for one instance, the links are to the publishers, and you can learn much more about the books at their websites. I have my reading list for the fall. Perhaps you might find a few books here that you will want to pick up. If you do, I’d love to hear about it. Perhaps we can read together!

Musings on What We Mean By “Book”

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Does this child with a book remind you of any other images of a reading child?

I’ve read several articles recently that have me musing on what we mean by “book,” and why our books are configured as they are.

Tablets and scrolling are not new things in terms of recording human words. Narratives carved in stone of everything from legal texts to grocery lists have survived millenia. At one time, animal skins were sewn together into long sheets on which columns of text were written, and then rolled up in a scroll. (Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road on a continuous sheet of paper!).

The book, as most of us knew it growing up developed when those skins or sheets of papyrus were folded and bound into what technically is called a “codex.” This also helps account for why books exist in the rectangular shape they do. A mathematician, Raul Rosarivo studied Renaissance books and came up with a Golden Number of page construction which is 1.5 or a ratio of 2:3 for width:length. “Why are Books That Shape?” goes into all of this at greater length. As books transitioned from large objects read on a table to handheld objects,  the size and shape of books conformed well to the human hand. The article also observes that the ideal number of characters on a line is 66 (and a range of 45-75), which is why magazine formats and some books use columns.

The article also makes the fascinating observation that the transition to handheld e-book devices didn’t change all this. Early Kindles conformed to this “golden number” in its shape. It would be interesting to study our adjustments of font size to see how close they come to the 66 character ideal.

What e-readers did in our time is open the door to the idea that a “book” is something different from the format in which it comes to us. It may be bound, electronic, or audible, and sometimes electronic text and audible rendering may be merged. Another recent article, “Who Has Time to Read? And Where? And on What?” makes the point that our idea of “book” is different than the physical means of engaging an author’s work. I’ve seen some impressive, as well as humorous arguments that listening to audiobooks may even be a superior experience to reading books.

Perhaps there is an analogy with recorded music, for which there are Edison cylinders, 78’s, 45’s, and 33 long play albums, 8-track tapes, cassettes, CD’s, and digital downloads. All of these can be termed “albums” even though the form is different. [By the way, as a lover of vinyl, I remember recordings of books, plays of Shakespeare, etc. on vinyl. Audiobooks have been around for awhile!]

So this begs the question of how we define “book”. Dictionary.com offers these two primary definitions:

  1. a handwritten or printed work of fiction or nonfiction, usually on sheets of paper fastened or bound together within covers.
  2. a work of fiction or nonfiction in an electronic format:

The traditional definition here and in several other dictionaries understands book as “codex.” But with the inclusion of electronic formats, the definition appears to be becoming more fluid. I wonder if the day is coming when a more fluid definition of book might exists along the lines of “an authored work of fiction or nonfiction, consisting of words and images conveyed one or more forms of media including printed and bound form, electronic, audio, or audio-visual formats.”

It seems we are a season where these thrive side by side, reflecting different lifestyles and preferences of readers and listeners of books. Just as there is a revival of vinyl and those who prefer its sound, so there are some who still love the printed and bound book, and love to see them on physical shelves. That is one type of aesthetic, which includes the joys of wandering bookstores, booksales, and libraries. For others, e-books fit a lifestyle on the go, a space-conscious living situation, or just the idea of “living lightly.” A third aesthetic may value the spoken word, whether spoken, or even read aloud, perhaps communally, or perhaps during one’s commute or workout in the gym.

The question remains, which one article asks, “who has time to read?” That’s one for another post. My book is waiting…

 

Do You Ever Read Aloud?

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Read Aloud, Photo by Ben Stephenson, [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

You might be surprised to know that at one time, reading and reading aloud were synonymous. It was especially common to read aloud when books were scarce and literacy levels low. There is a sense to this. Books and other forms of the written word are a way of storing human speech, whether it is our stories or our history or our ideas about matters of ultimate concern. Much of the New Testament consists of letters that were read aloud in the churches to which they were written. Likewise, the Psalms were Israel’s prayer and song book.

I posted the question in the title of this post recently on Facebook. I found out that quite a few people read aloud, and for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps the most popular is reading to children and grandchildren, one of my own favorite reading aloud experiences. One person even reads to her dogs (they are in the middle of The Adventures Robin Hood at present!). Others read aloud to children in Sunday Schools and libraries.

Some of our reading aloud is simply to share something delightful we’ve found. My wife certainly has endured that!

There are certain forms of literature that derive from oral discourse. Sermons, sacred texts, lectures, prayers, and poetry are good examples. One person wrote, “I read poetry out loud to myself, especially poems I am working on memorizing.” Several mentioned reading out loud in the context of memorizing.

We read out loud to comprehend. For some, it helps in noisy settings. I find reading dense writing aloud sometimes makes it more intelligible.

Some of us read aloud when we are reading a language that is not our first language. Perhaps it helps with the comprehension, and sometimes for the rhythms of the language.

One of the most delightful practices I read about were adults who read aloud to each other. One couple took turns driving and reading on long trips. My favorite was this one:

I did so as a school librarian, and have read aloud in the evenings to my husband for 44 years. His and my preferences are generally similar, although slogging through the Iliad recently was tough for me, and Pride and Prejudice was enough Austen for him.

I thought that was quite lovely, and loving, that each would work hard to grasp something that the other loved. I wondered if this was what many others did in the days before television and streaming services.

I’m reminded that the rise of audiobooks also reflects that we love being read to, whether we are children or adults.

This leads me to wonder how often writers think about their works being read aloud, about written words becoming spoken words?

Your thoughts?

Cozy Mysteries

Cozy mysteries

Screen capture of cozy mystery covers from an image search on Google

I never knew “cozy” mysteries, or “cozies” were a thing until recently. I discovered recently that these are a sub-genre of mysteries/crime fiction that enjoy a dedicated following.

So what characterizes a “cozy mystery” for those of us who are among the uninitiated:

  • Usually, the crime-solver is an amateur sleuth and most often, a woman. Think Jessica Fletcher.
  • Cozy mysteries are usually set in a small town or village. The more charm the better. Think Cabot Cove. This creates a situation where people readily talk to each other including our amateur sleuth.
  • The sleuth usually has a well-connected friend who can help fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
  • Many of these are part of a series, and one of the draws is likable, interesting characters, beginning with the sleuth. Think of the Amelia Peabody stories (I didn’t realize they could be characterized as “cozies”).
  • Often the cozy theme is connected in some way to the sleuth’s job, hobby, or pet, especially cats, it seems. I’ve even found some with booksellers as the sleuth!
  • Cozies assume readers who love to solve mysteries along with the sleuth. You join the sleuth in trying to make sense of the clues while recognizing the red herrings.
  • Generally these mysteries are “gentle” in de-emphasizing profanity, explicit sex, and graphic violence or descriptions of murders. Some more recent cozies do have some profanity and adult situations.

These characteristics are not absolute and it seems that what may be “cozy” for one is not for another.

The classic cozy is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Among more recent cozy mysteries are the Aunt Dimity series by Nancy Atherton, Lillian Jackson Braun’s “Cat Who” series, and several different series by Rita Mae Brown.

There are some great and far more extensive lists online that go far beyond the few examples I’ve offered. Here are some to get you started if you think you might like to read some cozies, or would like to find a new series:

45 Best Cozy Mystery Novels: Essential 2019 Guide to First Book of a Series

A Guide to Cozy Mysteries

Cozy Mystery List: Most Popular & Recommended Cozy Mystery Series

25 of the Absolute Best Cozy Mystery Series

Looking over this list, I realized I had read and enjoyed and recommended several of these. One page had this statement:

Cozy mysteries have become a booming business. Many cozy mystery readers are intelligent women looking for a “fun read” that engages the mind, as well as provides entertainment… something to “look forward to getting back to.” This is not to say that intelligent men don’t read cozies…they do!

I guess (and hope) that I qualify as one of those “intelligent men!” Sometimes a ” ‘fun read’ that engages the mind” is just the thing.

Ten Presidential Biographies

One of my fascinations is presidential biographies. Part of me is simply fascinated by studying people, I guess, and what makes them tick. I find instructive the practice of leadership and the uses of power, for good and for ill.

As we approach a new electoral season (do they ever end?), it is worth considering, beyond the soundbites and the rhetoric, the character of the person we choose for president. Reading presidential biographies has taught me that character matters deeply and that character flaws often become amplified into tragedies in the office of the President.

Here are ten of the biographies I’ve liked (as well as mentions of others) for your consideration, in chronological order. Since I read a number before I began reviewing I’m just going to list the books.

  1. Washington: A LifeRon Chernow. New York: Penguin Press, 2010. A magnificent one volume study showing a Washington who was not the dull, stuffy figure we might think, but a man of passion, integrity, and steely self-control. Chernow’s Grant is equally worth a read.
  2. John AdamsDavid McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. Adams combined courage, deep faith and learning, and an irascibility that often thwarted his aspirations. His relationship and correspondence with Abigail was legendary. McCullough also has written a magnificent biography of Harry Truman.
  3. Jefferson and His Time, Dumas Malone. Boston: Little, Brown, 1948-1981. This was a magnificent effort that was a joy to read. We marvel at Jefferson’s skill with words, his love of learning, his passion for liberty of conscience, as well as his spendthrift habits, and his struggle to reconcile an agrarian way of life with the requirements of a growing industrial power.
  4. John Quincy Adams, Harlow Giles Unger. Boston: Da Capo, 2012. He served with Washington, had a distinguished ambassadorial career, and was probably the first whose ex-presidency excelled his time in office, marked by electoral controversy and gridlock. He spent the rest of his life in the House of Representatives, fought slavery along with Lincoln, collapsing on the House floor and dying on its premises.
  5. Team of RivalsDoris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. An account of how Lincoln built his cabinet around those who had wanted his office, and how he worked with these contentious rivals to meet the challenge of the Civil War. Goodwin has also written biographies of Teddy Roosevelt and Robert Taft, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, with whom she worked as a graduate student. Recently, she published Leadership in Turbulent Times, a study of all these figures.
  6. Destiny of the RepublicCandace Millard. New York: Random House, 2012. James A. Garfield was only in office for a brief time before being claimed by an assassin’s bullet and the medical practice that led to infection that killed him. Amid this sad tale, we learn of this individual who might have gone on to be Ohio’s greatest president. It is a story of tragedy and might-have-beens compellingly told.
  7. Theodore Roosevelt Trilogy, Edmund Morris. New York: Random House, 2010. Another magnificent effort, tracing Roosevelt’s life from the sickly child who through exercise, and the rigors of the west was transformed into a “rough rider,” the president who loved every day in office, and found time to read a book a day, and the ex-president who nearly died in the Amazon, and never gave up the hope of returning to office.
  8. One Thousand DaysArthur M. Schlesinger. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1965, 2002.  One of the earliest accounts of the Kennedy presidency by an eyewitness who was a special aide to the President. Schlesinger may not give the most objective account of the Kennedy presidency but his first hand account combined with his writerly skills gives us the ethos of this Camelot presidency.
  9. The Years of Lyndon Johnson (four volumes), Robert A. Caro. New York, Random House, 2013. Robert Caro spent a good part of his life meticulously researching this four volume work tracing the ambition, the capacity of Johnson to bend people to his will, and the tragedy of not being able to let go of Vietnam that undercut the considerable accomplishments of his presidency.
  10. Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, Jon Meacham. New York: Random House, 2015. Meacham has also written biographies of Jefferson, and an outstanding one of Andrew Jackson. I think George H. W. Bush’s presidency may be underestimated at present. Meacham traces not only his life but his skilled leadership during the fall of communism, and the Gulf War, and his politically flawed decision to raise taxes after his “no new taxes” pledge, a decision that laid the foundation for the budget surpluses and prosperity of the Clinton years.

There are so many others I could suggest including Scott A. Berg’s Wilson and Robert W. Merry’s recent study, President McKinley.  Several have written multi-volume studies of Franklin Roosevelt including Doris Kearns Goodwin, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and James MacGregor Burns. I could go on but this is more than enough. For me, reading these biographies is perhaps more helpful than all the political ads and daily news stories. They help me consider the qualities of character and the skills and vision of leadership I should look for. You might give it a try.

Do You Own Your E-books?

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

In most cases, the simple answer to this question is “no.” The vast majority of the e-books on most of our e-readers are essentially “rented” to the end-user. If you’ve downloaded an e-book from Amazon on your Kindle device or app, or from Barnes and Noble, or Google, you’ve been granted the right to read that e-book only on your registered device or app and there is a limit to the number of devices to which you can download without re-purchasing the book.

Furthermore, books can be removed by the provider from your device. A recent Chicago Tribune article describes how this is happening to those who bought books at the Microsoft Store, which closed in April. In this case, the relative few who purchased books via this outlet will receive a refund, plus extra compensation if they have annotated the books.

The simple reason for this, and the fact that you can’t read Amazon books on Nooks or Barnes & Noble books on Kindles comes down to something called Digital Rights Management (DRM). This technology, developed to prevent music piracy, means you cannot copy and share digital files.

So, what are the good reasons for this? The simple answer is that it protects copyright, and proceeds to publishers and authors and the e-book vendor. This is good, right?

It’s right for everyone except the end user. Here are some of the problems:

  • You are restricted to particular devices or apps depending on the source of your download.
  • I cannot re-sell books I’ve read. There are limited circumstances under which I may lend them. For physical books, I can recover at least a fraction of my investment at second hand stores or other ways of re-selling. Not for e-books. After all, I don’t own them.
  • There are a variety of reasons that your device may be “wiped” by the vendor. Attempting to sell a licensed work is one of them. Don’t do this–you could lose everything. It is all in the Terms of Service. It can happen if you travel with your device to a country where your vendor cannot sell books. And if the “store” you licensed (not bought, remember) your books closes, you could lose them all. Yes, it could even happen to Amazon.
  • If you decide another device or app is superior, you have to re-license any of the books you had on your previous device that you still wish access to. DRMs do not transfer across platforms.

There are ways around this. Tech savvy users have found ways to remove DRM code from files, which allows them to make up backups and use the files across platforms. Technically, this probably violates most licenses, and never should be done to circumvent copyright and anti-piracy laws.

There are some other alternatives. Indie e-book publishers like Smashwords and Humble Bundle sell DRM-free books and some publishers sell DRM-free books on their own sites. Some have concluded that the inconvenience of DRM to end users is worse that the risk of piracy. DRM-free books are still copyrighted and licensed, not sold.

What else can we do if we like to use e-readers, particularly to read books only available under DRM licenses?

  • Borrow them from the library. You really are borrowing the book anyway, so why pay for it?
  • Only buy what you will immediately read. The greatest potential for loss is when you have a large library on your device. While you can de-register a defunct or stolen device (which will be wiped), and restore your books on a new one, carrying a large library on the device puts you at greater risk for loss.
  • If you really like a book that you’ve read, you might consider purchasing a physical copy. Good print books properly kept will last your lifetime, and perhaps many more.

I don’t think there is an upside for vendors like Amazon to change the system, so we have to decide whether it is one you want to live with. The most important thing to remember: you don’t own your e-books.

Reading When Others Want to Talk

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Screenshot of GIF posted on BookBub

Have you ever been trying to read when others want to talk and you end up reading the same paragraph over and over again? Do you find yourself internally “clinching up” and having to stifle your impulse to scream “shut up!”

Unless we decide to become hermits (who still depend on others for the necessities of life), a reality of life is that there will be times when we want to read and others want to talk. Even more, sometimes they want to talk with us!

Here are a few thoughts of how I (very imperfectly) deal with this dilemma:

  1. Sometimes you just need to give it up and choose relationships over books. Especially with spouses or partners or children who want to talk with us. Does it really pay to lose those you love to lose yourself in a book? I hope you don’t have to think too long about that!
  2. This also applies to social gatherings. Most people don’t assume this is a time for reading unless it has been arranged as a reading party–yes there is such a thing, and I’ve written about it.
  3. Try reading when others are sleeping, although this means sleeping on a different schedule.
  4. Agree on times that are “reading times” as a family. For the sake of the talkers, don’t exceed them! People will more readily allow you time to read if they know when you will be available–and you are.
  5. Sometimes, finding a quiet place, like a library reading room can work if that is the shared expectation. It only takes one loud talker on a cell phone to spoil it!
  6. If you want to read where there are conversations going on that don’t involve you but can be distracting, choose books that engage your attention, and don’t involve careful reading of densely articulated ideas.
  7. Depending on how you and other people in your household feel about it, and their bodily needs, the bathroom can sometimes offer a temporary refuge–emphasis on temporary!
  8. Weather permitting, is there a place outside your home that might be secluded, perhaps a “readers garden”? (I draw this term from a nearby bookstore of the same name).
  9. Speaking of bookstores, these also sometimes have alcoves or seating that allow for reading, and should be places that respect that.
  10. Sometimes, the best answer that combines reading and sociability is to read aloud together. Maybe you can even give each member of the family or group a chance to share a passage of what they are reading.

Reading is a conversation with an invisible author and requires our full attention. So do conversations with people. Most of the time, trying to multitask means we end up doing both badly, present to neither conversation. At least part of our screen time on cell phones is also reading–texts, comments, news, and shopping sites. Perhaps the offense of not being present happens here more than anywhere. Sometimes we are more present with what is on the screen than the person we are sitting with.

It all comes down, I guess, to which conversation we really want to be in.

 

Mystery Detectives

Watson and Holmes

Watson and Holmes, Sidney Paget, Public Domain

I am probably what you might call a middling mystery fan. A check of Goodreads shows that I’ve shelved 33 mysteries since 2011, which would suggest I read about four mysteries a year. Nevertheless, it is a genre I enjoy, and recently, I figured out one of the reasons why. The detectives.

This dawned on my while reviewing Fall of a Cosmonaut by Stuart M. Kaminsky. I realized that one of the reasons I was really enjoying the book was because of Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov. Rostnikov combines something of a mystic’s sensibilities with strong relationships, shrewd observations, and bureaucratic savvy.

From Sherlock Holmes on, mystery writers have created series around a distinctive character. In our childhoods, many of us were fascinated by the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. My son had a fascination for a time with Encyclopedia Brown. For some of us, our introduction as adults to mystery came through one of Agatha Christie’s many mysteries with Hercule Poirot or kindly but observant Miss Marple. Perhaps it was Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, inspirations for many Fifties TV detectives. Others of us were dawn to Lord Peter Wimsey, rich, something of a dilettante, the archetypal English gentleman, eventually joined by Harriet Vane.

We had a season of reading Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries. In this case you got a whole entourage of daring sleuths–Amelia, Emerson and Ramses at the head. I’ve enjoyed the cerebral, art-loving British sleuths: P. D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh and Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse. Dalgliesh writes poetry and Morse loves the opera. More recently, I’ve been discovered an entirely different character in James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, troubled by memories of Vietnam, the loss of his wife, and ghosts of the Civil War. He breaks all the rules, and yet solves cases and brings people to book. Not entirely sure what I think of him but he is intriguing. Then at the other end is G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, whose spiritual insights into human nature combine with observational skills in solving crime. Then there are the gritty women like Kinsey Millhone and Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

I could go on and on and I’m sure I’ve omitted one of your favorites. I hope you will talk about him or her in your comments. Part of the delight in reading different mysteries is the sheer uniqueness of these very different characters. One of the things that hooks me into a good series is a character to whom I’m drawn. I especially enjoy writers whose characters grow in insight, self-understanding and depth over time. Lord Peter Wimsey and Adam Dalgliesh stand out to me as examples.

There is a common element that I think draws me as well. It is a quality of attentiveness. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes remarks at one point, “You see, but you do not observe.” It seems that all good detectives notice what others miss, perhaps because of prejudice, haste, or distraction. It also seems that another quality I would emulate is a persistent curiosity. They keep observing, asking questions, tracking down threads. Remember Columbo’s “Just one more thing!” Then there is patience, a comfort with ambiguity that doesn’t force a solution when all the pieces are in place. I value that all these are people who take time to think and reflect–and then act when the time is ripe. They neither act without thinking, nor think without acting. Above all, each of these qualities are focused toward righting wrongs and making the world a bit more just.

All of these seem good qualities not only for detectives, but for life. After all, perhaps the greatest mystery is found in each one of our lives. There are depths in our own being that we can spend a life understanding, as is the case with any other person close to us–parents, spouses or partners, friends, colleagues and children. There is the mystery of discerning the path before us. Even if we believe in a God who guides us, it often takes attentiveness, curiosity, patience, thought, reflection, and pursuing justice to discern that path. Perhaps this is what I appreciate in reading detective mysteries–they remind me how to live.

Do We Need to Fight Over Books?

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Image by RyanMcGuire via Pixabay

A couple of interesting things came across my screen today that suggest that even book lovers may act in very unlovely ways toward each other. One was an article on Literary Hub titled “Chuck Wendig on the Time He Enraged a Bunch of Tolkienites.” It seems that the author committed the unforgiveable sin of admitting on Twitter that he just could get through The Lord of the Rings. He learned that you don’t question this holy trilogy of books. Angry Tolkienites even made YouTube videos in response. I read that and thought, “These people need to get a life!”

Now I am a fan of LOTR, having read the books five or so times over the course of my life. But I have many friends like Wendig–and we are still friends! A friend of mine saw this story and commented, “I just don’t understand people’s rage against someone who likes different books, movies, etc than they do.” Truth is, I don’t either. This is like getting into a spat over what flavor of ice cream is best. It seems to me far more fun to celebrate how good ice cream is in all its flavors.

It seems to me that it ought to be that way among lovers of books. I’ve hosted a Facebook page over the past year liked by over 2000 lovers of books. I like the thought both that there are so many like me who delight in this wonderful gift of what we find between the covers of a book (or on our e-reader) but also how different we all are. As I write, people have been responding to a question I posted on how they organize their books. It is fun to see the differences between those who have highly organized systems and those who say, “organize?” I’ve enjoyed times when people could disagree without becoming disagreeable, and discover different perspectives. For example, a recent discussion explored whether you could help a reading averse college grad to come to love reading. There were those who said “impossible,” those who suggested ideas from their own experience, and a few who said, “I was once one of those people and now I love books.”

That brings me to the other thing that crossed my screen. I’m in another Facebook book group, and saw a post from an admin who apologized for an individual who was bullying others in the group, and informed everyone that the individual had been “blocked.” I’d seen similar messages elsewhere on Facebook, but never in a book group. I did not see the offending posts so have no idea what was said, but I guess people can be trolls, or at least very obnoxious, anywhere. I appreciate admins like this one who act promptly to keep pages or groups from going toxic.

It is ironic, and frankly puzzling to me, that there are people who love reading, but haven’t had their minds opened enough by their reading to discover that people see the world differently, have good reasons for doing so, and that people like different things. I suspect it has to do with wounds in other parts of their lives that take more than books to heal. Sometimes it is the case that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1, NIV). Sometimes all you can do is block continued abusiveness online, and celebrate all the others who enjoy the common love of books, and all the different ways we love them. That’s actually pretty good, and often, pretty good is good enough.

 

Little Golden Books

scuffy-the-tugboatIn a discussion with other readers on the Bob on Books Facebook page, the first book many of us remembered reading was a Little Golden Book. These cardboard cover books with lavish illustrations and the distinctive gold binding have been treasured by generations of children. One of the things children loved was that inside the front cover was a place where a child could write his or her name.

The book I remember as my first read was Scuffy the Tugboat written by Gertrude Crampton and illustrated by Tibor Gergeley. But I had a whole collection. I remember the Disney movie tie-ins of Dumbo and Bambi, Christmas stories like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Mickey Mouse Goes Shopping, and The Night Before Christmas, and a Marian Potter authored book, The Little Red Caboose.

poky

The series started in 1942 as the vision of Georges Duplaix, and the idea was to publish very inexpensive children’s books with gorgeous illustrations, sold at half of the 50 cent price of most children’s books at the time, and far less than the $2 to $3 price of some. Simon & Schuster first published the books and figured out that if they did print runs of 50,000 books, they could sell them at 25 cents.  They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. In their first fifty years, ending in 1992, they sold 1.5 billion of these books!

Ownership of the Little Golden Books line has changed over the years, with the books currently being published by Random House. The amazing thing is that they are still being published and an edition of The Poky Little Puppy (the all-time bestselling Little Golden Book) being sold new today looks just the same as the one published in 1942. Tootle (another Gertrude Crampton story) that I loved reading our son in the late 1980’s was just the same as the one first published in 1945.

tootle

Little Golden Books featured children’s authors like Margaret Wise Brown, Janette Sebring Lowry (The Poky Little Puppy) and Kathryn Jackson, and illustrators like Richard Scarry and Garth Williams. Over the years the line expanded to include books about children’s concerns, like the first day at school, religious themes such as the Lord’s Prayer and tie-ins with Disney, Nickelodeon, and most recently Star Wars. Audio and video versions in record, tape, CD, and video have been created, and some toy lines. But the books remain the core product with Random House currently listing 590 titles.

Random House celebrated 75 years of Golden Books in 2017, creating a special website for the occasion. We’ve passed down my collection of Little Golden Books to my son. Some were falling apart from use. Whether the books are passed along or new ones purchased, there seems to be something quite wonderful when grandparents can share with grandchildren a book that looks just like the one they had as a child and cherish the bond of commonly remembered story and illustration.