Authors I Wish Were Still Around

Sonya_Noskowiak,_John_Steinbeck,_1930

John Steinbeck” by Sonya Noskowiak is licensed under CC BY 2.5

One of the realities of books is that (at least for the present), they must be written by a living person. Yesterday, as I wrote about the authors whose next books I would buy, I kept thinking of favorite authors who will never write another book. Here are some who came to mind:

Wallace Stegner. Whether writing about the American West, or about the passages of life, Stegner helps us to love what he loved, to think with him about life, with an economy of prose.

John Steinbeck. From Cannery Row to East of Eden, he left us with memorable characters capturing the struggle for existence, the joys of life, and the bonds and discords within families.

Elizabeth Peters. My wife and I delighted for years in her Amelia Peabody series, equal part Egyptology and rollicking adventure with Emerson, Ramses, Nefret, Sennia, and their friends.

Dorothy L. SayersHow I wish there were more Lord Peter Wimsey stories, especially with Harriet Vane! My favorite? Probably The Nine Tailors with Gaudy Night as a runner up.

Barbara Tuchman. Whether writing about 14th century France, or the onset of World War 1, or Joseph Stilwell, she brought history alive for the layperson with elegant prose and flowing narrative. Underneath it all, she portrayed the follies of war, brought together in her book The March of Folly.

William Manchester. He seemed uniquely able to write grandly about grand figures, whether John F. Kennedy or Winston Churchill. I personally wish he, rather than Paul Reid, had finished the final volume on Churchill. He captured the vainglory of Douglas MacArthur, and rise and fall of the Krupp dynasty.

Rachel Carson. She is most known for Silent Spring, her warning of the dangers of pesticides. Less known is her beautiful The Sea Around Us, on the wonders of the oceans. How I wish we had more science writing like this!

Ray Bradbury. He wrote great short stories, science fiction, the coming of age novel Dandelion Wine, and a dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451. Haven’t seen any modern science fiction writer quite like him.

Henri Nouwen. Whether it was his early The Wounded Healer, his book on leadership, In the Name of Jesus, or his reflections on Rembrandt’s painting in The Return of the Prodigal, Nouwen both opened your eyes to the pitfalls that lurk in our hearts and the healing intimacy of relationship with God.

John R. W. Stott. From his early Basic Christianity, which I gave to many friends who were exploring Christianity to classic The Cross of Christ, to his valedictory The Radical Disciple, Stott’s writing and preaching combined clarity of writing, theological orthodoxy, and a commitment to connecting Christian truth to the issues and concerns of any thoughtful person.

There are many others I could add but at the expense of brevity. Though I cannot read any new booksby these authors (unless they are previously unpublished works), they each are so good that their books are worth reading again. In the case of some on this list, I haven’t read all they’ve written, and so there are books by these people that will be new to me. Some I even have in one of my “to read” piles. There are others worth revisiting. How about you?

I’d Buy Their Next Books

One of the things about inveterate readers is that they have favorite authors. When the news comes that they have a new book coming out, we want to know when. We might even pre-order the book. Authors win that status with us in different ways. Some are great at writing page turners. Others simply write so beautifully that we revel in their prose. Some make sense of our world through their writing. Others make us think, or even re-examine our lives. So, here are some of those authors whose newest book I would buy.

Anthony Doerr. All the Light We Cannot See is probably the best work of fiction I have read in the past ten years. There are books that instill a sense of wonder as one reads. This was one of them. It’s been six years since this came out, so I hope there is a new one coming soon.

Kristen Hannah. I’ve remarked recently on how much I’ve enjoyed both The Nightingale and The Great Alone. Both had characters who take up residence in your head and plots that raise profound questions about the nature of evil and the possibility of goodness.

Louise Penny. I’ve discovered in the last year what many mystery lovers have long known–it’s a good thing Three Pines doesn’t really exist, or we’d all move there–just for the chance to get to know Chief Inspector Gamache. One of the great “thinking” detectives. Word is that the next in the series comes out this fall.

Ron Chernow. He’s given us some of the best biographies of the last few decades–Titan, The Warburgs, Alexander Hamilton, Washington, and Grant. The next will likely be a tome, but I will buy it for a great and long read.

Robert Caro. I dearly hope he (and I) live to see the final volume of his biography of Lyndon Johnson. I was in my early teens when he was president, and Caro draws out the complexity of this man who was both better and worse than I remember. His little volume, Working, was a fascinating glimpse into how he researches, sleuths for the truth, and his process of writing.

David McCullough. I think I’ve read everything he has written. His book Pioneers was fascinating, simply because he told the story of the people from the east who settle my home state of Ohio. I only wish he would have told more of the story of the people who were here before them. Maybe his next book will do that, if he has any more in him. My favorite was his biography of Harry S. Truman, who had the misfortune of coming between Roosevelt and Eisenhower.

Wendell Berry. He defines what it means to be a “curmudgeon” but provokes me in all he writes to think what it means to hold “membership” in a community, and to think of the land from which we derive our livelihood. Berry continually provokes me to think of what it means to love and care for a place and the desperate need for more such people in our country.

Fleming Rutledge. The Crucifixion was one of the most profound theological works I read in the past ten years, reading it over the course of Lent. Her emphasis both on the substitutionary death of Christ and the victory over evil that occurred in Christ’s death took my thinking about these things in fresh directions.

Matthew Levering. This, perhaps is a name you’ve not heard. He is a Catholic theologian. The last book I read was Dying and the Virtues, exploring the virtues that help us both die and live well. I’ve read three of his books, all of which brought me to fresh insight about theological truths I grew up with. I had the privilege to interview him, much of which was spent in wonder as I listened to him do what seems the theologian’s calling–to think and then teach great ideas about God, and our relation to God.

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. I have only read her book on Caring for Truth in a Culture of Lies. This is a woman who cares for words in a culture where there is so many of them and so little insight or truth. I want to read more of what she has written, and will keep an eye out for her newest work.

There are many I’ve not included. I’d love to know the ones you would list and why. I have to think that between good authors and their readers, there is kind of an unspoken contract where authors reward the effort of their readers with everything from wonder to insight, where they faithfully pass along the vision of reality that opens not only their world, but ours.

Supporting Authors While Staying Home

Many people are hurting during the lockdowns and stay at home mandates most of us are living under. While I focus on things related to books (because that what this blog is about), I realize there are many others who are hurting, especially those who were living from paycheck to paycheck before this all started, and others on the edge.

I’ve written about the challenges facing bookstores. Another group struggling are authors. Imagine in particular that you had a book launching any time after about March 15 or in the next few months. No book tours. Amazon has de-emphasized books. Most bookstores are closed. When things open up again (which may not be for months) a new raft of books will be coming out. Authors with books launching now may face real losses.

How can the reading public help?

  1. Read reviews for books in the genres you like to find out about newly published works. Three review sites open without subscriptions that you might check are Publishers Weekly, NPR Book Reviews, and Kirkus. There are many others and you might have your favorites.
  2. Of course, if you have a favorite author, they may have a mailing list and you can learn about new books they have coming out. Often, they post personal updates that you will never see otherwise.
  3. Your favorite bookstore’s website also is a good source of news about new books. The advantage here is that if you find something you like, you can order them in a one stop shopping experience.
  4. Have you launched an online book group? You could host an author event! I’ve done this in another setting and even was able to arrange book discounts with the publisher.
  5. Once you get into the book, talk it up with your friends on social media so people not only hear about the book, but the reasons why you like it. I often buy books recommended by others. Word of mouth works.
  6. Are you on GoodReads? Add a short review to your rating. Or if you are like me, blog on books. Some creative people even do video blogs or video posts on social media.

Making efforts to support the authors we like is another way of preserving cultural goods during this crisis. I have loved Hilary Mandel’s historical fiction on Thomas Cromwell. So I ordered The Mirror and the Light from my favorite indie store. And the image above gives the book one more well deserved shoutout. Look for a review as well! Perhaps one of the ways of we live with hope is to look beyond this crisis, whether in our support of our favorite bookstores or favorite authors.

200,000 Views Later

Sometime during the day yesterday Bob on Books was viewed for the two hundred thousandth time since I launched the blog in August 2013. For some blogs, this is not such a big deal. They may get that many views in a month or even a week or less. I’m still surprised that over 137,000 visitors were actually interested enough to visit a page.

The picture above was the one that appeared on the first blog. Since then there have been 930 more posts (an average of 215 views per post) and something of a rhythm that includes two to three review posts, and usually something related to reading, something related to larger life issues, and, since May 2014 posts each Saturday on Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown. I take Sundays off from writing new posts, but often re-post old Youngstown posts or others from the archives.

I have to say that this has truly been a delightful journey. Some of those delights have been:

  • Readers: I’ve interacted with so many either on the blog or via pages on Facebook and Google +. With very few exceptions, people have been thoughtful, often appreciative, and many times have added insights of their own that have enriched my insights.
  • Admins:  I post on a number of Facebook and Google+ pages appropriate to content of particular posts. Page admins have been so gracious in permitting this. I could mention so many but several stand out: Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books, John Mulholland at Charles Malik Society for Redeeming Reason, Rob Bradshaw at Theology on the Web, David Swartz at Geezer 1, and those two amazing Youngstown women, Bobbi Ennett Allen at I Used to Live in Youngstown, and Joan Alfona Watters at I Grew Up in Youngstown. Tom Grosh at the Emerging Scholars Network has given a number of my review posts a second life and a wider audience.
  • Authors: I am surprised by how many times I’ve heard from authors of books I’ve reviewed. Most gratifying is when they convey that I understood what they were trying to do.
  • Publishers: A number of the books I’ve reviewed, and often enjoyed, were graciously provided by publishers. Yes, I took time to read and review these books. But I don’t take these review copies for granted. I hope I helped make their books known and helped sell a few.
  • Booksellers: These folks, especially the Indies, have taken so many risks and work so hard to pursue what they love. Its been fun to tell some of their stories and share what awesome places are their stores.

And a few concluding insights about blogging:

  • Strive for quality, and keep showing up. In my case, I had 3300 view the first year, 45,000 views the next year. Last year, I topped 100,000 views. Most of what I did was to just keep writing.
  • Persist in finding new places and means to connect with people you don’t know, and some will follow, and many others view.
  • Take your readers seriously. Respond where possible to their comments. Be grateful for them. They turn electrical impulses into conversations, shared experiences, and traffic of yet others to your blog.

All of you who follow, read, comment, share, and let me into your lives, whether readers or authors or admins have been gifts and made writing a joy. Very simply, thank you.