Paywalls

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Image by Ron Mader, [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Remember when the internet was free? I still remember the incredible fascination of discovering the world at my fingertips the first time I got on the internet and found the first primitive Yahoo search engine (before the days of Google and Bing).

There is still an amazing amount of that out there. But increasingly, if you are like me, you’ve run into walls. Paywalls.

The problem? Many content providers from The New York Times to The New Yorker have put up paywalls. Paywalls mean you must be a subscriber to see the content, or any content beyond a limited number of articles per month. Some, at least, like The New York Times, have actually found this a successful strategy.

I understand. Print circulation of many of these content providers is dropping and hardly anyone has figured out how to create a good advertising revenue stream on digital media, particularly with ad blockers (more recently sites have taken to asking you to pause your ad blocker on their site as a partial remedy). Bottom line is that writers and others who make these content outlets possible have to be paid or they will be out of business. The Atlantic, one of the few media outlets without a paywall has a good article explaining how all this works. [In a counter-intuitive move, I decided to subscribe to them because they don’t have a paywall, and I really appreciate many of their writers and articles.]

I also decided to subscribe to one major news outlet with a paywall. I have print subscriptions to a couple of periodicals that allow me access through their online paywalls because I subscribe. But here’s my problem. I’m at my limit of subscriptions. And I probably encounter paywalls on a dozen or more sites that I access each week. Often, I’m referred there via a newsletter only to find either that I cannot access the content, or that I need to use up my allotment of free articles to do so. Often I am at these sites because I curate a Facebook page on books. Truth is, although I do it sometimes, I hate to post material with a paywall for those on my page.

NiemanLab ran an article about this problem and they have come up with a solution that I have wondered about for some time. Perhaps you can guess what it is if you subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime. Create an umbrella subscription that will give access to a number of periodicals and news outlets. By using cookies and some type of user ID, it would seem to be easy to track usage and allocate revenues accordingly.

For the big outlets that have been going it on their own successfully, this might not be attractive. But for smaller content providers that many might decide to pass up, I could see the benefit in enhancing their revenue stream.

In Christian circles, it was once common to use song lyrics at meetings and retreats, and knowingly or not, routinely violate copyright restrictions and rob artists of earnings on their artistic work. In 1988, Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. was formed. Churches and ministries could purchase an annual license, the fee for which was based on group size, and gave access for noncommercial use to a wide range of music and lyrics. Now, over 250,000 subscribe, enough that their founder, Howard Rachinski, was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2016, a sign of the impact this has had for musicians and songwriters.

A blanket periodical subscription could be offered as a tier of plans based on usage. I think a marketing/usage study might be needed to determine these but I suspect offering multiple price points based on usage patterns would be attractive to many who value the content, recognize the need to these outlets to have revenue, but can’t afford a dozen subscriptions (or don’t want to keep track of that many usernames and passwords). People pay $120 a year for Prime, around $170 a year for Netflix, depending on the plan, $180 a year for the basic Audible plan, and often $400 a year or more for premium cable or other plans, when at one time they got their TV for free, and audiobooks at the library. Might this be a good way to pay for digital print media that we care about?

What do you think of such an idea? How much per month or per year would you pay for a subscription?

Young Readers in Love

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Children reading, by perfertdaysphotography via Pixabay

The other day, I asked the Bob on Books Facebook Page membership “when did you discover you loved reading?” As of this writing, thirty-six people responded and it was unanimous that they fell in love with reading in elementary school or before. The oldest was in sixth grade. Some always loved reading, enjoying being read to and even learning to read before they went to school. One woman claimed she read at a twelfth grade level in first grade!

There were several things I learned from my informal survey:

  1. Time spent with parents or another adult reading stories contributed to a love for reading for some.
  2. Learning how to read opened up the wonderful world of reading for some.
  3. One reader shared how she didn’t learn to read until sixth grade due to issues related to Aspergers, and how dedicated Special Ed teachers persisted when she started falling behind and resented reading. Now she loves reading and commented, “I enjoy reading so much now and will continue on for more years to come.”
  4. For many, it was a particular book that opened the wonderful world of reading. People mentioned Huckleberry Finn, Charlotte’s Web, the Little House books, A Wrinkle in Time, Nancy Drew mysteries and monster books.
  5. Trips to the library and bookmobile were important for a number of individuals, and getting a library card of one’s own was empowering.

The funniest reply I received was, “When I realized I wasn’t getting siblings, ever.”

Just yesterday, I came across this in How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick:

“Learning to read in first grade is the start of future academic attainment that has significant implications on adult health status. By third grade, students transition from learning to read to reading to learn, meaning that an inability to read hinders learning across all subjects. A study in the Chicago Public School system found that 80 percent of children with above-average reading scores in third grade graduated high school compared to 45 percent of those with below-average reading levels.” (p. 65)

Elsewhere in this book it was noted that life expectancies in the U.S. can differ by as much as 14 years between those who fail to graduate from high school and those with sixteen or more years of education. Often, these differences are associated with zip codes and a complex of challenges.

Years ago, two friends co-wrote a book titled Read for Your Life. I wonder if they realized how literally true their words were. It seems that fostering the skill of reading, and hopefully with it, the love of reading, ought to be a national priority. How I wish a president would be willing to shut down the government for adequate funding to ensure  every child learned to read. God bless the Special Ed teachers of my one respondent who persisted until she learned not only to read but to love reading!

So what do we say for the adults who did not develop a love of reading as children? Actually, I don’t think we are so different than children. We don’t like being lectured that we should read. Far better to read a book on something they find interesting and love that makes them want to read more. Far better to discover that talking about books can be enjoyable (do we need book groups for reading neophytes?). Sometimes there may even be a learning or visual difficulty that has made reading a chore all one’s life. Wouldn’t it be great if employee health plans included help in these areas. I suspect it would more than pay off in productivity.

I do suspect we who have always loved reading need to be careful with adults just learning to love books. We should not intimidate them with an avalanche of book recommendations or be book snobs looking down on choices that we might think are “mind candy.” After all, who doesn’t enjoy candy at times? And as we watch the child-like birth of a love for reading, we may recall our own first love.

 

Sharing What Gives You Joy

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One of the memes doing the rounds on the internet in the wake of Marie Kondo’s video.

Bookish circles around the internet have been buzzing about the Marie Kondo video about tidying up your books, suggesting you identify the 30 books that give you joy, and dispose of the rest. There has been huge pushback among bibliophiles. One I know said “all my books give me joy!” Another said they had more than 30 books just on their nightstand. I think for some of us, a booklined wall (or walls) brings a feeling of safety. When I imagine a “safe place,” the first image that comes to mind is a book-lined library with a fireplace and rich and comfortable leather furniture.

At the same time many of us have far too much clutter in our lives. I’ve also recognized that a certain amount of de-accumulating of books is necessary at this stage of my life and I regularly donate, re-sell, and gift books, and still truly have more than I need–and they keep coming in!

As I’ve reflected on this idea of keeping books that give us joy, I have found that a corollary is giving books that give us joy, and that giving may even be a deeper source of joy than the books around us. It is interesting that we are encouraged to dispose of the books that don’t give us joy (although they may for someone else). Might a more meaningful gift be to share a book that has given us joy? In some cases, we may end up acquiring another copy, particularly if the book is one we want to revisit!

There was an article I read yesterday about physician burnout and how reading helps doctors replenish the emotional tank. We have a primary care doc who we really like, and, over the years, I’ve gotten a sense for the books he likes and I periodically bring one in when I have an appointment. Little did I realize that I might be helping avert burnout, but sharing joy may amount to the same thing.

I take for granted the ease with which I acquire books. Through interactions on this blog and on Facebook, I’ve discovered that this is not the case in many parts of the world, or even in some parts of our own society.  This has led me to begin exploring various ways to respond including donations of theological books. One place I’ve found that accepts scholarly theological works published after 1980 is the Theological Book Network that has shipped books to 1400 schools in the global south.

Prisons are another place often in need of books. The American Library Association publishes a list of secular organizations that accept donations of books. Among Christian ministries, Christian Library International serves over 1,000 prison facilities in the US.

Of course, one of the simplest things we can do is ask the question as we read a book that we really like is to ask who else would like it. One of the delights in sharing books is that when our friend has read the book, we can talk about it, and it adds to the things we share in common.

Of course, there are a number of other ways to share books and bring joy to others. Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist has a great list of twenty places to donate books. He thinks of all the places I know of and many more. Often, it is simply a matter of collecting books in a box and hauling them to a nearby local location. Others provide help in preparing books for shipment.

What I’m proposing is that a joyful life is a giving life. As joy-giving as great books are, finding ways to share those books offers the chance to enhance that joy for ourselves and to bring joy, knowledge, diversion and all the things we love about our books to others. That, it seems to me, is the prize beyond book lined walls and tidy shelves.

Reading By The Numbers

Goodreads see what your friends are reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reading Resolutions for 2019

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

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

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

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

So, my reading resolutions for 2019?

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

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

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

Happy walking and reading in 2019!

Great Works in Translation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do You Read So Many Books?

My Review Stats Goodreads

My reading stats as of 11/13/2018

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

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

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

 

The Literary Confessional

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Photo by Hans, CC0 1.0 Universal via Pixabay

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

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

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

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

Review: Plough Quarterly

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Cover of Autumn 2018 issue of Plough Quarterly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You Could Meet One Author

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The author I would love to have met.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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