A Look Back; A Look Ahead

Janus-Vatican

Janus, Fubar Obfusco [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy New Year to all of you who follow Bob on Books! I not only love writing about books, reading, life, and Youngstown, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the interactions I have had with many of you, and how much I learn from your comments. You are the “social” in social media. This has been a year where various social media outlets have come under criticism for everything from enabling “echo chambers” to more nefarious invasions of privacy. What I have appreciated in at least this small space of the internet is that we have been able to talk about things of substance–things we love and care about, and learn from and respect each other.

Looking back over the year, here are a few highlights that come to mind:

  • Somehow, I managed to review 177 books, a number of which I thought quite extraordinary.
  • I enjoyed the fun we had together at times. One post that particularly comes to mind is “The Literary Confessional,” where a number of people, particularly on Facebook, posted their literary confessions, the things as bibliophiles they were ashamed to admit, like the books everyone likes that they couldn’t stand.
  • I was moved both as I read the story of Pete Frates, The Ice Bucket Challenge, and then received appreciative notes from Pete’s family for my review and the help that it was in getting his story out.
  • I had the privilege of telling the stories of people. When I wrote about my childhood pediatrician, I discovered scores of others who had been treated by him, and even heard from a couple of his grandchildren. The daughter of a local deejay contributed memories and pictures of her dad, and even sent me a t-shirt with his image and trademark saying on it. A profile on the professor who inspired a love of history led to a phone call from him and a delightful time of talking about the 40 years since I had been in his classes. Perhaps what meant the most was the chance to pay tribute to James Sire, a writer and editor whose work influenced me over forty years, who in later years became a friend and encourager. Jim went to be with the Lord at the beginning of this year.
  • I had the chance to interview a theologian after having reviewed three of his works. It was one of those “moments of wonder” as he spoke of his own thoughts on the glories of God and the majesty of Christ.
  • When Facebook no longer allowed automatic sharing of blog posts to profiles, I set up the Bob on Books Facebook page, which allows for more interactivity than the blog. I’ve learned about what others are reading, and this has suggested new ideas for posts, and for books to review.
  • Despite an unhappy experience with erroneous (and I think malicious) “blacklisting” that took several months to remedy, this was a record year on the blog with view totals up over 20 percent from the previous year.

So what’s ahead for Bob on Books in 2019?

  • In the next few days, someone will make the 500,000th view of a post at Bob on Books.
  • I expect to review a number of both current and classic works. Look for me to post reviews of at least one or two of the books I want to read before I die.
  • I want to explore the possibility of launching a podcast. I know a number of friends who love to listen to podcasts. I’d love to hear what you think of this idea.
  • I’ve also wondered about creating an online book group. I’d love to figure out a way to bring together people from my “tribe,” those who identify as “Christian,” and those who hold other views to talk about books we all consider important.
  • I can’t read everything. I am interested in talking with readers who write reviews on Goodreads who might like to contribute guest reviews. This is not an invitation for those who want to promote a book, but for readers who want to try their hand at reviewing. Who knows, it could be the first step to launching your own blog! Also, I’d love to post more bookstore reviews but can’t travel to them all. Do you have a great bookstore that you want others to know about? Let’s talk.

We’ll see which of these I get to this year. One thing I can say, is that I have thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and especially our interactions. I hope for more of that as we talk together about books, reading, and life and about the good, the true, and the beautiful. Best wishes as you begin a new year!

A Book Bloggers Thanksgiving

happy-thanksgiving-3767426_1280Around many American tables today, people will share things for which they are thankful. Sometimes it seems a bit cheesy, but often it serves as a reminder that, while there is a good deal of bad news and sadness, there is an underlying goodness to life that is worth celebrating around a table with family and friends.

In that spirit, I’ve been reflecting on all the things as a book blogger (and chronicler of Youngstown life), for which I am thankful. Like so many other endeavors in life, blogging is not a solitary activity, nor is success a solitary achievement. So, as you and I gather around the screen (but not at your Thanksgiving table–put that phone down!), I want to share some of the people in this book blogger’s life for which I’m grateful:

  • Authors. I’ve read works that took years to research and write in some cases and went through numerous drafts and revisions. Then you engage with your readers, including the critical ones. I’ve had the chance to interact with some of them, many who are gracious with their time. I’m also struck what a perilous enterprise this is, wondering if anyone will be interested in what you write, particularly if you are just starting out.
  • Publishers. You take the financial risks to publish, especially in an era of tighter margins. It is incredible how many books get published every year and you make that magic happen.
  • Publicists. You are the people I interact with as I seek copies of the books I want to review. In nearly all cases, you have been friendly, quick to respond, and eager to help, and I have to admit to still being amazed that you send me your books. I hope at least a few people buy them from reading my reviews.
  • Bookstores. I’m amazed how hard some of my friends who are booksellers work to make ends meet and get good books into hands of the people who want them. Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books in Dallastown, Pennsylvania runs one of the most well-curated stores of thoughtful Christian and other fine literature in the country. I’ve never been to the store (on my bucket list) but they always have what I’m looking for, carefully packaged and quickly shipped. There are no indie bookstores near our home, but we’ve spent many happy hours at our local Barnes and Noble and Half Price Books.
  • Librarians. You curate these incredible spaces where I can get the books I cannot afford or find, along with all the research resources that I cannot find easily on my own.
  • Facebook group administrators. A good reason many people find their way to my blog is that you allow me to post on your pages. Hopefully I help start some good conversations on your pages as well and make them richer places to visit.
  • The Bob on Books Facebook page. This is a new venture this year with over 700 now following, about half personal friends, and about half people who I don’t know who love books. You remind me of all the interesting genres of literature and authors I don’t know very well, as well as what an interesting and quirky tribe all of us who love books can be.
  • All the others at Literary Hub, Publishers Weekly, The Atlantic, Shelf AwarenessBookriot, and other people who are writing about books. You clue me into so much of what is going on in the publishing and literary worlds, and provide great material to repost, ideas for books to review, and grist for blog posts, usually in reaction to something I’ve read.
  • WordPress.  You provide the software and the hosting that makes this page possible. I’ve found your online support great. I contact you, things get fixed, and the magic keeps happening!
  • You. Yes, you. I’m still amazed that people read my stuff, like and comment, share and re-blog. You help me reach a bigger audience than I could alone. Your comments make me think, and sometimes show me where I’m wrong. A special shoutout for all my Youngstown friends. I probably learn as much from you as I do in researching my posts.

There is a good deal of criticism of the online world these days. I’ve seen some of the reasons for that criticism from trolls to echo chambers. But overwhelmingly, the world I’ve engaged through Bob on Books is one inhabited by funny, creative, fascinating, and unique human beings who love and care, work and play, think and learn and share a common desire for a flourishing and civil world. Book people are like that. I count myself so blessed for the ways we’ve connected, both virtually, and face to face. Thank you. And Happy Thanksgiving, or whatever day it is for you if you are one who follows me in another country–I’m so grateful for all of you!

Why “Bob on Books” is Now on Facebook

Bob on Books Home

Screen capture of Bob on Books on Facebook 9/10/2018

You might have noticed in yesterday’s post that there is now a “Bob on Books” Facebook page. Facebook kind of forced me into it. For as long as I’ve had my blog, Facebook allowed scheduled automated sharing of my WordPress posts on my Facebook profile. Facebook blocked this capability at the end of July but allowed scheduled automated sharing to Facebook pages.

I suspect this is part of Facebook’s approach to dealing with “fake news” and “fake account” sites and the propagation of this material. But it was at least a minor inconvenience to many of us who connected our profiles to our WordPress blogs. It is still possible to manually post links from a blog to your profile, an extra step. Harder than that is that when Facebook broke the connection, it also cut my “follower count” on my blog by 2500 in one fell swoop. Now that may not be all bad, because I suspect a good number of my Facebook friends don’t look at my blog but were still counted as “followers.” But it meant taking the time to set up a page and inviting people to “like” and “follow” it. That certainly has the advantage of people “opting into” your content, and perhaps is a better indicator of interest. Maybe it is more honest.

There are several advantages beyond this of a page:

  • People interested in blog posts and other material can access this quickly.
  • It allows me to post polls, articles, photos and quotes, and a “question of the day” facilitating ongoing conversation to a greater degree than the blog.
  • Facebook provides a variety of metrics for pages that you don’t have access to on profiles. I can also get another indicator of the interest in individual blog posts.
  • It is easier to post on Facebook than the blog, which anyone on Facebook can do. On the blog, people need to set up a WordPress account (not necessarily a blog) to post comments, something not everyone wants to do.
  • For a relatively low expense, I’ve added 100 followers beyond my own circle of contacts in the last month. I tried promoting the website for the blog, but this led to very few additional blog followers. I haven’t promoted posts.
  • I don’t have a good sense yet whether the page has translated into more traffic on my blog, although my summer stats usually decline, and this year have been on the rise. Unfortunately, WordPress stats aggregate all “referrals” from Facebook, so clicks from my profile, my page, or posts in other groups (which I do a fair amount of) are all lumped together. It certainly hasn’t hurt, from what I can tell.

The big minus that you just have to deal with is that pages are a revenue stream for Facebook and they are constantly inviting you to promote the page, an individual post, and your website. For some reason, I find the page loads more slowly than my personal profile, perhaps because of all the extra analytics. I would like to see Facebook streamline this (it may be better for visitors than admins who see extra content).

This might be more “inside baseball” than some of you may like. What I hope might be the case is that the blog and the Facebook page complement each other and maybe foster a bit of a “Bob on Books” community of people interested in interacting about good books, their reading experiences and how all this relates to our pursuit of the good, the beautiful, and the true in our lives. Blogs allow more extended development of an idea or review of a particular work. Facebook pages afford the chance for briefer but more frequent posts and interactions. I hope you will visit both

I’d love to hear your feedback. Even after five years of doing this, I still feel I’m making it up as I go….

 

Five Years Later…

Stats ‹ Bob on Books — WordPress com

I received this little recognition from WordPress, where my blogs are hosted, on Sunday. A day after I registered, I wrote my first post, Writing on Reading, and took the plunge into the world of blogging. That was on August 13, 2013.

It has been, on the whole, a delightful journey. What has made it so special are the interactions with so many who follow the blog, either on WordPress, or via social media. Many of those interactions are online, and often, I feel I am learning as much as I’m sharing. Perhaps some of the most delightful interactions, though, are with people I would call “anonymous followers” who I run into at a conference or other gathering and tell me how much they appreciated a particular post, or the blog more generally. It reminds me that there is a world of readers out there beyond the comments and the likes and the stats.

But if you like stats, here are a few. Currently 1099 people follow the blog. Actually, a month ago this number was more like 3300, but included all my Facebook friends on my personal profile as well as my WordPress followers. Facebook changed their policy recently and would only count and allow posting to those on your Facebook Page. Actually, that’s OK, because the current number is a more honest reflection of those really interested. Over the past five years, I’ve written 1630 posts and, as of writing had 301,787 visitors and 439,774 views on the blog. That’s an average of 240 views a day over five years–which in blogging circles is modest success.  The all-time top post was Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top 10 (from 2015) that has had 19,966 views to date. Nearly since the beginning, I’ve posted six days a week, taking Sundays off, with a couple of breaks, one for a conference I was directing, another for emergency foot surgery.

Somewhere over the past five years, I went from posting book reviews to becoming a reviewer. The transition was one of simply reviewing whatever I read to developing relationships with various publishers to review newly published books, either in print or e-galley form, sometimes before the books were published. I’ve learned the value of becoming a reliable reviewer, producing clear content related to a book in a timely fashion. The payoff is the chance to review more of that publisher’s books. Sometimes I’ve had the chance to interact with authors as well. I love it when an author reads a review, and whatever I thought of the book, says, “you understood what I was trying to say.” It is gratifying when I learn that I’ve been able to connect an author whose work I deeply appreciate with a reader who will find the work amusing, informative, or even, on occasion, transformative.

Booksellers are another group of my heroes. In the age of online sales, I so appreciate the work of those who curate a selection of books in a way that is responsive to their customers, work hard to build a customer base, host book events, and attempt to pay the bills every month. I appreciate those who have taken the time to let me into their world, even a little.

I mentioned a Youngstown post earlier. This was something I think I fell into by accident. It began with a post where I talked about one of these conversation exercises used at conferences. The question was, “what is something I probably don’t know about you that you should ask me about?” My answer was “what it was like growing up in working class Youngstown.” I wrote a post about that and someone said I should write some more about that. Early on, I wrote a post about food, which exploded when I posted it in some Youngstown Facebook groups. For the past four years I’ve been learning about everything from ethnic foods to city founders, reading more than a few Youngstown books, writing about it, and then learning a ton more from the comments of others. I’ve discovered that to know who you are, you need to know where you’ve come from.

Downsides? There is the struggle of every writer to figure out what you want to say and then making the words on the screen reflect the ideas in your head. Mercifully, I’ve had few “trolls”–perhaps I’m not that interesting. I’ve learned that your website can be wrongly blacklisted, and it can take months to undo. It happens often enough that there are businesses who deal with this stuff. Add this to all the ways people try to defraud you online and offline….

To end on a positive note, I have to give a shout out to the folks at WordPress, who have designed software that is easy to work with and gets you online quickly. Beyond that, I’ve found their support people among the very best to work with whenever I’ve had a question or problem. Most of the time, it all just works so seamlessly that you forget all the people working behind the scenes that make it work. After five years, though, it seems appropriate to say thanks to the folks at WordPress that help my voice be heard, my reviews seen, and all those great Youngstown conversations to happen. Thank you, WordPress!

Review: Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow (Welsh Princes Trilogy Book 2)Sharon Kay Penman. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. [Note: Publisher link to this edition unavailable; link is to another edition.]

Summary: A historical fiction account of the tense relationship and eventual conflict between incompetent Henry III (and his son Edward I) and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and husband of Henry’s sister, as well as the struggle of Llewellyn, eventual Prince of Wales and grandson of Llewellyn the Great to hold and unite Wales against the English.

In recent years I’ve discovered the historical fiction of Sharon Kay Penman (I reviewed Here Be Dragons, the first volume of this series on Llewellyn the Great in July 2015) and have loved her introduction to the world of the thirteenth century and the conflicts between England and Wales. This is definitely “backlist” and you probably can find inexpensive used copies of the whole series, which I would definitely recommend.

This volume is actually focused less on Welsh princes than on Simon de Montfort and the increasing tensions between him and his brother-in-law, King Henry III that eventually led to all-out war. Penman in an Author’s Note, informs us that she originally had planned to split focus between Llewellyn and Simon but found she could not do justice to both in the same book and so devoted this one to Simon.

Who was this Simon and why did he pose such a threat to Henry? Born in France, he accompanied his father in battle as a boy and learned courage, the leadership of others, and strategic thinking. An ambitious young man, he seeks to claim the family lands in England and persuades the Earl of Chester, a childless old man to yield them to him. He persuades Eleanor (Nell), sister of Henry to marry him, forsaking a vow of chastity she’d sworn after the death of her first husband. He effectively served the king in suppressing unrest in Gascony, only to be called to account by the King who listened more to the rebels than to him, sowing seeds of discord.

Meanwhile, his sons Bran and Harry, and Henry’s son Edward become fast friends and hell-raisers. Henry, however, in contrast to Simon, is ineffective in battle and without sense in his administration, spending lavishly in excess of his means. Eventually, Henry is forced by Parliament, with Simon in the lead to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, which held the king accountable to his people. No king wished his power to be constrained by his subjects and this earned Simon his hatred, and sowed the seeds of war. Edward, deceiving Harry, rallies some of the Barons to the king’s cause, Simon suffers numerous setbacks and even flees to France at one point. Eventually he gains a decisive victory over the King, in part due to a battlefield error of Edward, at the Battle of Lewes in 1264. Simon attempts to rule in the King’s name implementing the Provisions, but quickly the situation degenerates as Edward escapes, the Barons rally to him, Simon and his son Bran are separated, and Bran decisively defeated by a lightning attack. Although helped by Llewellyn, Simon is undermanned and unaware of what has befallen his son, and is cornered by Edward at the fateful battle of Evesham in 1265.

In the backdrop of this primary narrative, is the uneasy relationship between Llewellyn and his younger brother Davydd over the leadership of Wales. As is the case in so much of royal history, it is the story of marriages between rival houses, and the conflicts of love and loyalty in consequence. Penman also exposes the plight of the Jews in England, hindered from all commerce but money lending, and hated for it, within often fatal consequences. We see the low status of the towns, expected to contribute to the king’s coffers, but enjoying no power, that Simon tried to elevate.

Simon de Montfort is remembered today as an early advocate of representative government. This work portrays him as a courageous man of integrity whose very convictions led to the tragedy of his end. He was too good for his King in many ways, earning the King’s undying hatred. In the end, men willingly followed him to death and pilgrims claimed healings at his grave. Unlike the religious martyrs under Henry VIII, Simon, portrayed by Penman as a God-fearing man of faith and friend of clergy, was a martyr to the idea that Kings should not be answerable to God alone, but also to those they rule. Penman not only tells a great story but does us a great service in bringing to life the greatness of Simon de Montfort, sixth Earl of Leicester.

Why The Disclosure on Reviews?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bob on Books in 2017

happy-new-yearIt is always perilous to make New Year’s resolutions. Many don’t last past January 2. So, you might consider some of my thoughts on the direction of this blog in 2017 to be aspirations rather than resolutions. There are a few things I can clearly say I will keep doing:

  • I will keep reviewing both new and classic works on subjects of faith as well as fiction and literature, history, biography, science, as well as a few good baseball books–and an occasional book off the beaten path of my usual reading. I would contend that any of us who want to keep growing intellectually and in our awareness of the world throughout life, read deeply in the area of our vocational life and widely to see how our work and life fits into the bigger picture of God’s incredibly beautiful, diverse, and complex world.
  • I will keep posting about the world of books and reading. When I get the chance, I will write about bookstores I visit, resources for readers, and more. I did not get to do this beyond a review of a book on debates among librarians, but this year I want to explore more of the changes in technology shaping libraries and how libraries continue to promote literacy as well as serving other information and media needs for patrons.
  • I will keep writing about Youngstown as long as I keep coming up with ideas and memories about my hometown. I’m open to ideas from my Youngstown friends as well.
  • A continuing concern for me is how, in our divided society, we foster better conversations, and relations. The alternative is not pretty! I also am concerned with how our faith perspectives, which are important in so many of our lives, can be part of those conversations rather than being relegated to private life, or dismissed or discounted. I do believe those of faith need to speak with conviction, cogency, and charity, hopefully in a context that welcomes, if not always agrees with that kind of discourse.

And some aspirations for 2017

  • I want to explore the idea of what Peter Berger has called “mediating structures” which stand between individuals and political structure. It seems to me that in our mass media age, we focus so much on “big government” that we overlook the importance of mediating structures–everything from churches, neighborhood associations, leagues, and hobbyist groups to advocacy groups.
  • Inspired by C. Christopher Smith’s Reading for the Common Good, I want to explore how books and shared reading might strengthen mediating structures, the real communities many of us are a part of.
  • I want to explore some of the places beyond books where we go to read, on and off the net. Related to this, I am particularly interested in how we find reliable information sources and how we sustain them. Two of my favorite journals, Conversations Journal and Books and Culture ceased publishing at the end of the past year. Thankfully others, like The New York Times, have seen a growth in their subscriber base as people realize we need reliable news sources in this “post-truth” era.

The demise of Books and Culture leaves, it seems to me, a great void in connecting Christians (and other literate fellow travelers!) with great writing on books and culture informed by a faith perspective. At the same time, I’ve wondered about whether some form of curated platform for blogs that are attempting to do this kind of work might go a significant way toward filling this void. While none of us has the expertise or bandwidth to fill that void on our own, might there be a way that in the aggregate we could, giving our work a wider audience, and serving a wider network of “mediating structures” by connecting them with the best that is being thought and written? It’s an idea I want to explore–for all I know someone else is already doing this somewhere!

I so appreciate all who follow this blog, and all the comments you share that help me grow in the writing of it. Bob on Books is now in its fourth year, having launched in August 2013. I hope you will keep pressing me to be a better writer and I would love to hear your ideas about what I’m doing here.

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.

 

 

Bob on Books in 2016

20151225_163728I just looked back at a post from a year ago where I talked about some of the things I hoped to do on the blog in 2015.  Here are some of the successes, and some of those lapses we won’t talk too much about:

Successes:

  • I reviewed more recently published books, those with a 2015 copyright.
  • I started including a summary at the top of my reviews to help with deciding whether you were interested enough in a book to read my whole review. I also include publishing information and a link to the publisher’s website for the book if I can locate this.
  • I did a couple author interviews, a two part interview with a publisher, and many of the bookstore reviews included interviews with an owner or bookseller.
  • I certainly did posts on the reading life. Some of my favorites were on books I read too soon and books I wish I had read sooner.
  • I did a variety of bookstore reviews, enough to give this its own category on the blog menu.
  • I also converted the blog to a “responsive” theme, making it easier to read in general and especially on tablets and smartphones.
  • I continued the “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown” series– far longer than I expected.

Lapses:

  • I didn’t do graphic novels. Sorry Ben. I think I’m going to leave reviewing these to you!
  • I didn’t really feature famous readers other than Dr. Eliot’s “five foot shelf.”

Some thoughts about 2016:

Reviews: I will continue to look for ways to tweak these and would love to get your feedback on what would make these more user friendly for you. I would also like to explore doing more author interviews in conjunction with book reviews. I consider reading an interactive relationship of the ideas and imaginations of reader and author via the book. I hope I can personalize the author end more.

Literacy: It has always been a passion of mine to foster literacy, which is not just the ability to read and write, but a growing love and thoughtfulness in engaging in these activities through reading quality work, thinking critically about what we’ve read, and writing with cogency and grace. I hope to interact with teachers of reading, librarians, booksellers, and writers around this theme. Because I review and write on theological subjects, I’m also interested in the role churches and other religious institutions play in fostering literacy. I’ve been most intrigued by the work of Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, and their Englewood Review of Books in this regard.

Bookstore Reviews: I hope to continue to feature great bookstores, both for new and used books, especially those independently owned. I have to do this as my travels give me opportunity. If you know of a great store in another part of the country than the Midwest and would be interested in doing a “guest review”, let me know!

On Life: These posts, and those on Youngstown tend to be the most popular, but in some ways the most unpredictable. What I would say, is that in these and all posts, I want to exemplify and encourage what I called recently “the speech of freedom.” I want to work out more of what that means this year. I’m not sure of what that will mean but I do want to foster a different kind of speech, a different ethic of speech from the polarizing speech in the worlds of politics, punditry, and other forms of popular discourse. I hope we can work together on that!

Thanks to all of you who follow the blog and especially those who engage the things I write. I would like to hear what you think about my ideas for the blog, and your ideas of what you’d enjoy seeing.

The Rest of the Best 2015

The title for this post reflects an odd reality of this blog. This is that the most viewed posts on the blog are all in the “On Youngstown” category. Last Saturday’s post lists the top ten Youngstown posts of the year. Strictly speaking, they were the top ten posts period, with a post on kolachi, a kind of nut roll taking top honors. My friends from Youngstown are a loyal bunch!

The list below reflects the top ten posts from categories other than “On Youngstown”. Curiously, only one of the top ten posts was a book review. Equally curious, the second place post was a bookstore review. Two were on topics related to reading and books, and the others came from the “on life” category. All this sort of makes me wonder if I should be doing a book blog, but I’m not sure what the focus might be otherwise, and frankly, I like writing about books and reading and all the trappings that surround a love of reading.

So, without further ado, here is the list (links are to the full post):

Redeeming Sex10. Review: Redeeming Sex. The only book to make the top ten (I wonder why this one made it?!). At any rate, it is an important book and glad it received a good deal of attention.

9. Is It Time For Stricter “Man Control”? I muse on the fact that the bulk of gun and sexual violence is by men, especially young men and consider what we might do to better address the process by which boys become men.

8. How I Save Money on Books. What it says, my tips for getting more books for less money! The idea for the post came from another blogger, but all the money-saving tips are mine!

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Stone Bridge (c)2015, Bob Trube

7. First Attempts at Painting. Was the interest here one of seeing how bad a beginner would do? Still trying to find time to paint more. My artist friends would probably say “blog less.”

6. Jesus Was a Refugee. One of the fundamental realities of my faith that I have to take into account in thinking about our stance on refugees.

5. Books I Wish I Had Read Sooner. Have you ever read a book where you say “I wish I had read that 10, 20, 30 years sooner?”

4. Do We Need More Than Lament? Reflections after the shootings in San Bernardino.

3. “I Don’t Have a Problem”. I consider the proliferation of craft brews, pubs and the increasing comfort with drinking in our culture and wonder if it’s time for a renewed awareness of the signs and dangers of alcoholism.

IMG_23612. Bookstore Review: Paperback Exchange. This was a review of a clean, well-stocked store in downtown Lancaster, Ohio. Wonder if all their customers took a look!

And the top (non-Youngstown) post?

1. Memories of the Blizzard of ’78. Written on the 37th anniversary of what was the most memorable winter storm for many in my generation living in the Midwest. Includes memories of being stranded for five days in a dorm in Bowling Green, Ohio!

An eclectic assortment to be sure. But these are the posts you considered best, if amount of interest is the measure. Enjoy!