Bob on Books Best of the Rest

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The front page of one of the hometown newspapers I delivered.

Each year I post summaries of my best books of the year and my best Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown posts. Here is a list of the “best of the rest,” posts on reading, current events or observations about life. Hope you enjoy this sampler from Bob on Books.

  1. The Death of my Hometown Paper. On August 31, 2019, The Vindicator, under the ownership of the Maag and Brown families, ceased publication. Since then, the Warren Tribune Chronicle has picked up publication under The Vindicator name, but something died that day for me.
  2. It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books. This received a good deal of reaction. Secretly, many of us bibliophiles use this rationalization, but I suspect we still feel uneasy about the amount of books around us.
  3. What Happens to Unsold Books? This arose out of some idle curiosity, but it appears that many worry about the fate of the unsold!
  4. Why I’ll be in Church This Sunday. Attendance at Sunday worship services has been dropping. I don’t try to answer why this is, but rather why I keep showing up.
  5. Getting Impeachment Right. Before impeachment proceedings began, I outlined the conditions I thought necessary for this to be done properly. I don’t think Congress has paid any attention! I wrote at the end of my post, “While we have survived past crises, that does not mean we will this one. All I can do is hope. And pray.” If anything I feel this more than when I wrote the post.
  6. Counterfeit Books on Amazon. A good friend’s book was counterfeited by third-party sellers using Amazon’s platform. In my outrage, I looked into this and wrote about it.
  7. Why Are Prisons Banning Used Book Donations? I learned that my own state, along with others to ban the donation of used books to prisons. When I looked into this, I became even more disturbed as I realized the commercial interests and the state’s financial interests involved in this decision, and the deleterious impact on those in our state’s prison system.
  8. Toxic Masculinity? Following a controversial commercial by Gillette last January, I wrote about my own reactions to this commercial. This was one I received a fair amount of pushback on as well.
  9. Do You Own Your E-books? Many people were surprised to discover that they do not and why this is.
  10. Memo: To the New CEO of Barnes & Noble. When James Daunt became the new CEO of Barnes & Noble, I asked those on my Bob on Books Facebook page what advice they would have for him. This post summarized their responses.

For my most faithful followers, this list will be a visit with old friends. For others, it might be an interesting read to discover what you might have missed on the blog in 2019. I so appreciate all of you who follow, read, and comment on the blog. Over 100,000 people (for the first time) visited the blog this year and made nearly 160,000 visits (so far). I appreciate all the interactions–not only those who agree but those who write with everything from grammar corrections to disagreements with what I’ve written. You force me to be a better and more accurate writer and thinker, and hopefully a better person. I hope what I write has some of that effect on others as well!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Your Favorites of 2019

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Blizzard of ’78, Photo courtesy of the Vindicator

It has now been a bit over five and a half years since I began writing about Youngstown. One of the most rewarding parts of this, beyond learning so much I’d never known about our home town, is all the interactions both online and in person. The ones that have been the most special are with descendants or friends of people I write about. I think people from Youngstown are just the best! I’d love to send you all a holiday gift, but there are just too many of you. But wait! I can send something else–articles I loved writing, and that you loved reading. So here are ten of your favorites, along with some pictures, counted down. Looking them over has been a way to recall our year together. I hope you enjoy revisiting these stories and snapshots one more time.

Atlas of Mahoning County Ohio from actual surveys by and Full View HathiTrust Digital Library HathiTrust Digital Library

Scanned from Titus, Simmons, and Titus Atlas of Mahoning County, Ohio, 1874

10. George Borts Farm. I used to deliver papers to the house that was the old Borts home. Little did I realize how influential this family was in the early settlement of the West Side of Youngstown. All I knew was that Borts Field was named after them.

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The Wall Garden, looking east. Photo by Bob Trube © 2019.

9. The Wall Garden. I drove, biked and walked past this amazing garden in the side of the hill above West Glacier Drive in Mill Creek Park. It was fascinating to learn about the major construction project involved in creating the Wall Garden, which is 552 feet long and 54 feet high.

Oak Hill Cemetery postcard

Entrance to Oak Hill Cemetery before construction of the granite gates

8. Oak Hill Cemetery. If you want a who’s who of Youngstown history, one of the best ways to get it is a tour of Oak Hill Cemetery, a scenic final resting place that is also a walk through Youngstown history.

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Esther Hamilton, Headshot from Vindicator “Around Town” Columns in the 1960’s

7. Esther Hamilton. She was one of the more colorful and interesting figures who seemed to know everything that was going on in Youngstown and reported on it in her “Around the Town” columns in The Vindicator. What I didn’t know was how involved she was in various charitable activities around the city she covered.

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The Paisley House, photo courtesy of The Paisley House

6. The Paisley House. I passed by this house for years without knowing the purpose of this beautiful old building or who lived there. I had fun learning its history, purpose, and interviewing its current director. Turns out they have an incredible and ongoing history of serving the elderly in the Mahoning Valley.

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Calvary Cemetery Northeast Entrance, © Bob Trube, 2019.

5. Calvary Cemetery. It’s curious to me that articles about cemeteries were two of the most popular of this year. This was about the Catholic cemetery on Youngstown’s West side, one I passed walking to Chaney High School from my home a few blocks away.

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Renner Mansion, © Bob Trube, 2019.

4. George J. Renner, Jr. I had known nothing about Renner, his family, or the brewing business that was the largest in Youngstown, nor that I used to run past his former residence when I would go for runs at Wick Park during college.

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Blizzard of ’78, Photo courtesy of the Vindicator

3. The Blizzard of 1978. I wasn’t in Youngstown during the Blizzard of 1978 (actually stranded for five days in a college dorm in Bowling Green). It was interesting to look at old Vindicator accounts of the storm, the meteorology of the storm, and its impact in the Youngstown area.

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Zedaker’s Anjon Acres, © Bob Trube, 2019.

2. Zedaker’s Farm and Pony Rides. Driving past Zedaker’s last summer brought back memories, led to some research and resulted in this article about the farm, the family, and the thriving business that continues to this day.

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View of Southern Park Mall” by Nyttend – Own Work, Public Domain

1. Southern Park Mall. For many of my generation, the mall was our favorite hangout. I remember those days, the history of Southern Park, as well as discuss the decline of malls, and the turnaround plans for Southern Park.

The article titles are linked to the full articles. I hope you have some time to relax and spend some time with these snapshots of Youngstown, perhaps with a smile on your face, as they bring back your own Youngstown memories. Maybe they will even encourage some storytelling around the Christmas tree!

Bob on Books Best Books of 2019

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With a few weeks left in the year I’ve reviewed 175 books in 2019. The list that follows is my judgment of the best of many good books I read during 2019. Many of these were published in 2019 but some in earlier years. One unusual category I included this year is books on writing because of two standout books I read in this category. With that, here is my list:

Best of the Year:

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The CrucifixionFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017. Fleming Rutledge wrote a long, deep book on the meaning of the death of Christ that I read through the season of Lent this year. She distills it to two critical truths: 1. God’s definitive action in making vicarious atonement for sin and 2. God’s decisive victory over the alien Powers of Sin and Death. This book is both one of the most well-written and theologically profound books I’ve read in the last ten years.

Literary Fiction:

The dearly beloved

The Dearly BelovedCara Wall. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. This was a debut work reminiscent of the writing of Marilynne Robinson about two pastors and their wives who share in the ministry of a New York City during the turbulent Sixties, the different ways each approaches their faith, and the challenge of coming to terms with their differences. Review

a world lost

A World Lost, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2008. (no publisher’s webpage available). I’ve long been a Wendell Berry fan, and this book only confirmed my appreciation for his work, as he explores how a family, including a young boy, comes to terms when a family member is suddenly and violently taken away from them. Review

Crime Fiction:

This was the year I discovered writers of crime fiction I really liked: James Lee Burke, and C.J. Box, and their characters Dave Robicheaux and Joe Pickett. Different characters, vastly different settings, but great reads.

wolf pack

Wolf Pack (Joe Pickett #19), C. J. Box. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. A pack of four contract killers from a Mexican drug cartel threaten to take over Pickett’s town in pursuit of a former kingpin now in witness protection. Review

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Robicheaux (Dave Robicheaux #21), James Lee Burke. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. Robicheaux tries to navigate his way through grief from the tragic death of his wife, his friend’s debt issues, a mobster wanting to make a movie, a demagogic politician and a serial murderer, while trying to clear himself of suspicion in the death of the man who killed his wife. Review

Memoirs:

Educated

Educated, Tara Westover. New York: Random House, 2018. In last year’s version of this list, I predicted that this would be on the 2019 list. Like many others, I found riveting Westover’s memoir of growing up with survivalist Mormon parents in rural Idaho, suffering abuse from other family members, and her passion to learn that took her ultimately to Cambridge. Review

perfectly human

Perfectly HumanSarah C. Williams. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. A professor and her husband face a pre-natal diagnosis of fatal birth defects, decide to carry their daughter to term, describe their discussions with family and friends, and the larger issues their decision raised for them. Review

Biographies:

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of FreedomDavid W. Blight. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. This was a magnificent biography of an escaped slave who relentlessly fought for the freedom of his people. Review

the good neighbor

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred RogersMaxwell King. New York: Abrams Press, 2018. After reading this account of Fred Rogers, I wrote: “King’s book, and this story in particular, suggests to me that Rogers was a modern St. Francis. He came from wealth, and yet lived simply. He pursued a calling, a ministry with a singleness of vision that seemed strange to some at times, and yet had its own peculiar power to form the character and self-worth of children. He sang and spoke through puppets, fed fish, and met us on screen in homely cardigans. To read about him is to be elevated, and to ask oneself, ‘am I a good neighbor?’ ” Review

History:

the impeachers

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just NationBrenda Wineapple. New York: Random House, 2019. Wineapple’s careful historical account of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson demonstrates why impeachment is as yet unproven as a remedy for removing presidents accused of abusing the powers of their office. Review

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Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent ManLynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. This is a wonderfully told story of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis by a Japanese submarine at the end of World War Two, the five day struggle for survival that took the lives of nearly two-thirds of those who made it into the water, and the fifty-year effort to exonerate her court-martialed captain. Review

Science-related:

Yancey

Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image (Updated and combined edition), Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Brand explores the wonders of the human body, and parallels these wonders with the body of Christ. Review

Losing Earth

Losing Earth: A Recent HistoryNathaniel Rich. MCD/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019. Nathaniel Rich reminded me that we’ve long known the science of climate change, that at one time political parties agreed on the need for action, but allowed fossil fuel interests to polarize the parties and the country. Rich traces that history. Review

Higher Education:

religion in the university

Religion in the University, Nicholas Wolterstorff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. Wolterstorff proposes a cogent argument that in a pluralist university public square, religious perspectives ought be welcomed along with others. Review

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Fundamentalist U: Keeping Faith in American Higher EducationAdam Laats. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. A study of eight flagship fundamentalist/evangelical institutions over the last century, their evolution, and the outsized influence they have had on American society. Review

Writing:

Write Better

Write BetterAndrew T. LePeau. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A former editor describes the craft, art, and spirituality of writing well, or at least better with wit, examples, and practicality. Review

Working

Working: Researching, Interviewing, WritingRobert A. Caro. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. A writer of magnificent biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson describes his practices of research and writing. Review

Theological Works:

the violence of the biblical god

The Violence of the Biblical GodL. Daniel Hawk, foreword by John Goldingay. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2019. Hawk takes on the hard question of the involvement of God in violence, listening to the different voices in scripture to arrive at a singular proposal. Review

the gospel according to eve

The Gospel According to EveAmanda W. Benckhuysen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Benckhuysen collects the writing of sixty women from the fourth century to the present on Genesis 1-3, and some of the distinctive contributions they make on how women and men ought live together. Review

Devotional Works: 

Inexpressible

InexpressibleMichael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Card studies the use of the Hebrew word hesed, often translated as lovingkindness. In my review, I wrote:

To read this book was to allow God to thaw my heart, reminding me of the everything I have so undeservingly received. To read this book was to clear the fog from my eyes, to give me at least a glimpse of the inexpressible beauty of the God of hesed. Finally, to read this book was to stir my will, my hands, my feet, to think about the places where I might repair the world through the loving-kindness of hesed.  Review

Three Hours

Three Hours: Sermons for Good FridayFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019. Seven short sermons on the seven last words of Christ on the cross. I read this on Good Friday of this year, a profound reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ last words on the cross. Review

So there is my list. It reflects that I work in collegiate ministry, write, love history and biography, and a good story. I think those of you who follow this blog have similar, but not identical interests. Picking these out of the 175 was a challenge. I could have included so many others. Even the 175 is but a tiny fraction of the books published this year. I’m aware that there were a number of other outstanding works. These were works I found life-giving, informative, and diverting by turn. I think you will as well.