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.

Power Tips for Traveling with Books

Do you like to read when you travel? For many people loading up some books on your e-reader (maybe from your local library) or audiobooks on your phone or tablet is the way to go. If that is you, you needn’t read further. But there are some of us who don’t want to abandon the feel of print books on a trip. Or you may not want to be dependent on being able to re-charge a device to read. So I turned to the power readers on the Bob on Books Facebook page to get their power tips for traveling with books.

First, a few don’ts:

  • Don’t take library books. If you lose them, it could cost big bucks.
  • For the same reason, don’t take that irreplaceable treasure.
  • Leave that fat hardback behind. You really don’t want to lug that thing around airports.
  • And don’t read and drive!

And now for the power tips:

  • The big consensus: take paperbacks–more compact and disposable
  • Take books you are willing to donate or pass along when you finish them. That way you don’t have to carry them home. Maybe you can even exchange them with someone else. A number suggested taking “throwaway” paperbacks. Then again, some of us think that’s a sacrilege!
  • One person suggested taking a fat paperback and slicing away the parts they’d read.
  • One way not to read and drive is be the passenger.
  • Some don’t start with books but pick them up along the way. It gives you a reason to detour into that interesting bookshop, or even a local thriftshop or library sale. You might even look up bookstores at your destination ahead of time.
  • Take slim books that fit into a handbag, or messenger bag.
  • On the other hand, there were those who aren’t concerned about space or weight. They said pack fewer clothes, pack a bag just for books, or take more than you think you will need. I guess that’s the value of roller bags.
  • Take sunglasses for reading outside.

I loved this reader’s ideas: “I have a small clip on LED light to read by in-flight thus avoiding using the overhead light which can still be annoying to other passengers. I use my book to store little reminders of my holiday within its pages like my used boarding pass, the receipt from a nice restaurant, a pretty leaf, a postcard. By the time I’m home it’s become a journal!”

My reading friends had some great ideas, don’t you think? Here’s a few I might add:

  • Think about what kind of trip this is. If there are quiet evenings in an Amish Inn, you could pack something that takes greater attention. On the other hand, if it is a work trip with intense meetings, or a beach vacation with family, something light or fast-paced makes sense.
  • I also leave the heavy hardback at home, even if I’m in the middle of it. I usually take two or three slim paperbacks and my e-reader. The e-reader is my fall back if I end up flight delayed and get through the print stuff.
  • I take less if I know there will be a conference selling books or I’ll be in a place known for its bookstores. I don’t have to explain.

There are times for other things than books when traveling: meetings, friends, scenery, recreation, good food for starters. But good trips have “down time” or even time to “introvert” for some of us and books are the perfect complement to those times. Then there are times in cars, trains, buses, and planes (or waiting in terminals) when a book is a good way to forget you are in this big impersonal place with thousands of people you don’t know. The book is your friend.

 

It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books

72592813_409115073084149_4895158919434862592_n“It’s not hoarding if it’s books.” This is a popular saying among bibliophiles with various versions like the above circulating as memes on social media. I’m not so sure if that’s always true. From comments I read, there are a number of us who are book hoarders. Notice that I include myself here. You know you are a book hoarder if:

  • You cannot leave a bookstore without a book, or ten, even if you have stacks at home to read.
  • You would have live at least fifty years longer than most mortals live (and retain your sight) to read all your books.
  • You almost feel a part of yourself is being amputated when you get rid of a book even if you know you will not read, or read again the book in question.
  • You have books everywhere, not just on your shelves–in stacks on the floor, on tables, on furniture, in every room, perhaps in closets.

Of course if this habit is compromising your safety by blocking exit doors, or your marriage, or your finances, or your children’s welfare, then it is a serious business and you really do need to get help. What once may have been a healthy love of books is no longer.

For most of us it is not nearly so bad. There are so many good things about reading. It cultivates emotional sensitivity and compassion. At its best, it holds forth virtues to which we aspire. It entertains. It enlarges our vision of the world. It helps form and guide our spiritual journeys. And sometimes, with a hot beverage and a well-made chair, it is one of the most comfortable moments of many of our days.

But why do we buy and keep more books than we can read? Here are a few musings that may reveal some of my own inner monologue in the bookstore:

  • Every book that is at least of remote interest symbolizes the delight we’ve found in many of the books we’ve read.
  • FOMO. We read a review of a book, or hear a friend rave about it and don’t want to be left out of those who have had the delightful experience of reading this book. Even when we have ten such books waiting to be read and are in the middle of one.
  • Enlightenment. What a baffling, puzzling world it is we live in. Books often have illuminated little corners of it, and made it a bit less puzzling. Maybe the book in my hand will do that as well.
  • Books offer a sense of safety and security. Sometimes it feels good to look at that shelf or that stack and think, “I don’t have to worry about running out of things to read” (even though there is a library down the street that dwarfs even my accumulation of books.
  • Sometimes it is the delight of the bargain. There is something about snagging a $50 book for $2, even if you know you won’t soon read it. You can’t let such a good thing go by. There is no “catch and release” when it comes to book bargains.

I could go on. We bibliophiles equally have a hoard of rationalizations! My point is not to heap a guilt trip on anyone. Perhaps it is more personal confession. But I would observe that we humans are collectors. It could be clothes, coins, stamps, dolls, cigar bands, beer cans, you name it! For Jay Leno, it is cars–he has a huge storage building full of them, a “garage” bigger than my house. Probably the one thing book hoarders need to remember is that someone is going to have to get rid of that hoard!

The fact that I have books in my house that are older than I am ought to warn me that apart from fire or mold, books are very durable objects, more durable than I. Since many of them will likely outlive me, perhaps the most loving thing I can do is not keep them, because there is a good chance they might end up in a dumpster if I try to. And while we can get carried away and inordinately love things, a book that represents both work and hours of enjoyment may deserve a good home. Perhaps one way we express love for both books and people is to pass them along to those who will love them while we are still able.

The Month in Reviews: September 2018

On Reading Well

There are a number of people who have followed Bob on Books either here on the blog or via the Bob on Books Facebook Page in the last month. Welcome to all of you and I hope you are enjoying what you find. One of the recurring features of this page is a monthly “The Month in Reviews” post. Each month, I provide capsule summaries of all my reviews in case you missed the review when first posted. It serves as a listing of all the reviews on this site if you select “The Month in Reviews” category on the menu. I also highlight my “best” book of the month (often a hard choice) and a quote I really liked. I also offer a preview of upcoming reviews. One thing you’ll notice–I enjoy reading widely, as well as more deeply in Christian-related books. There is some method to this–it is one way I make connection between my faith and the rest of life–I think it is all connected. So in this month’s list you have theological books on retreats, the nature of being human, and being like Christ as well as a murder mystery, a debut novel by an Ohio author, a presidential biography, a book on Klan influence in my home town, and the story of a Navy baseball team on which Ted Williams played in World War II. One other note: the hypertext link in the title is to the publisher’s website for the book. The hypertext link at the end of the summary labelled “Review” will take you to my full review. Enjoy

What is man

What is Man?Edgar Andrews. Nashville: Elm Hill, 2018. An exploration of the answers different worldviews come up with to the question of what it means to be human, making the case for a Christian view of humans descended from a historical Adam who was created in God’s image, through whom sin entered the human race in the fall, and for the redemption of all who believe through the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Review.

answering why

Answering WhyMark C. Perna. Austin: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2018. Argues that behind the skills gap between unfilled jobs and Why Generation job-seekers is an awareness gap about possible careers that fails to answer the “why” question. Review.

Invitation to Retreat

Invitation to RetreatRuth Haley Barton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2018. A guide to retreat as a spiritual practice exploring why retreat, preparing for retreat, helpful practices on retreat, and concluding our retreat and returning from (and to) retreat. Review.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Lyndon Johnson and the American DreamDoris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Open Road Media, 2015 (originally published in 1976. A biography of the 36th president exploring his ambitions, political skills, and vision, shaped by his family and upbringing, and marred by Vietnam, written from the unique perspective of a White House Fellowship and post-presidential interviews. Review.

evangelical sacramental pentecostal

Evangelical, Sacramental, and PentecostalGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. An argument for why the church at its best ought to embrace an emphasis on scripture, on baptism and the Lord’s table, and on the empowering work of the Spirit. Review.

Steel Valley Klan

Steel Valley Klan, William D. Jenkins. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990. A study of Ku Klux Klan activity in the Mahoning Valley in the early 1920’s, its composition, and factors contributing to the rise and decline of its influence. Review.

12 Faithful Men

12 Faithful MenCollin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, editors. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. Twelve thumbnail biographies focused on pastoral leaders who served faithfully through suffering. Review.

On Reading Well

On Reading WellKaren Swallow Prior. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2018. Makes a case that the reading of great literature may help us live well through cultivating the desire in us to live virtuously and to understand why we are doing so. Review.

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to PemberleyP. D. James. New York: Vintage Books, 2013 P.D. James writes a murder mystery as a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Review.

Conformed to the Image of His Son

Conformed to the Image of His SonHaley Goranson Jacob (Foreword by N. T. Wright). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. An in-depth exploration of the meaning of Romans 8:29b-30, arguing that conformity to the image of the His Son has to do with our participation in the Son’s rule over creation, which is our glorification. Review.

Ohio

Ohio, Stephen Markley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. Four characters, acquainted with each other in high school return to their home town in Ohio ten years after graduation on the same night, unbeknownst to each other, driven by various longings reflecting lives that turned out differently than they’d hoped. Review.

Cloudbuster 9

The Cloudbuster Nine, Anne R. Keene. New York: Sports Publishing, 2018. The story of the 1943 Navy training school team on which Ted Williams, Johnny Sain, Johnny Pesky and others played, and the baseball hopes and disappointments of the team’s batboy, the author’s father. Review.

Disruptive Witness

Disruptive WitnessAlan Noble. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Drawing on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, Noble explores our longing for fullness in a distracted, secular age of “buffered selves,” and the personal, communal and cultural practices Christians might pursue to disrupt our society’s secular mindset. Review.

Best of the Month: My best of the month is kind of a gateway book to cultivating the reading life. Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well not only whets our appetite for the reading of quality fiction, but also explores how great works may change us. Here is one pithy piece of advice to enrich our reading lives:

“Read books you enjoy, develop your ability to enjoy challenging reading, read deeply and slowly, and increase your enjoyment of a book by writing words of your own in it.”

Quote of the Month: Ruth Haley Barton has recently written a wonderful guide to retreats, Invitation to Retreat, that I’ve already used on a personal retreat and plan to return to often. Here is a taste:

“Retreat in the context of the spiritual life is an extended time apart for the purpose of being with God and giving God our full and undivided attention; it is, as Emilie Griffin puts it, “a generous commitment to our friendship with God.” The emphasis is on the words extended and generous. Truth is, we are not always generous with ourselves where God is concerned. Many of us have done well to incorporate regular times of solitude and silence into the rhythm of our ordinary lives, which means we’ve gotten pretty good at giving God twenty minutes here and half an hour there. And there’s no question we are better for it!

But many of us are longing for more—and we have a sense that there is more if we could create more space for quiet to give attention to God at the center of our beings. We sense that a kind of fullness and satisfaction is discovered more in the silence than in the words, more in solitude than in socializing, more in spaciousness than in busyness. “Times come,” Emilie Griffin goes on to say, “when we yearn for more of God than our schedules will allow. We are tired, we are crushed, we are crowded by friends and acquaintances, commitments and obligations. The life of grace is abounding, but we are too busy for it. Even good obligations begin to hem us in.”

Current reads: I’ve actually just finished three books that I will be reviewing this week. Timothy Jennings writes in The Aging Brain, giving practical advice as a doctor, on delaying or preventing dementia and keeping mentally sharp as we age. Elizabeth Warren is a new biography by Antonia Felix, which has impressed me as a striking example of an academic who acted on her research on bankruptcy to protect consumers. On the Brink of Everything is Parker Palmer’s reflections at the end of his eighth decade on aging, and facing the eventual end of his life. My current reads include Paul, a biography of the apostle by N.T. Wright, who has probably written more about Paul than any New Testament scholar. I’m very excited to dip into Jonathan Walton’s Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive, a book coming out early next year. Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature brings together a group of scholars discussing the interpretive challenges of books like Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. And I’ve tackled one of the books on my list of Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die –Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. I’ll be at this one for a while.

As the weather gets cooler, a comfy chair, a warm beverage, and a good book seem an ideal way to spend a quiet evening. Perhaps something on this list may strike your fancy. Or maybe not. I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading!

10 Rules For Lending Books

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U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman J.T. Armstrong

I saw a post from Bustle yesterday on “15 Rules for Borrowing Books, So You Don’t Lose Your Friends in the Process.” The article didn’t say anything about lending, so I thought I might propose a few rules for lenders, with the basic idea that you don’t want to lose friends over books. I really don’t think I can come up with 15, but here goes…

1. Basically, say good-bye to a book when you lend it. Just let it go, because there is a high likelihood you will never see it again. Is it really worth more than your friend?

2. If a book has special meaning to you (family heirloom, heavily annotated, a part of a set, or a reference you use regularly and need), don’t lend it. Just be honest and say, “this book has special meaning for me, or has been in the family, or is something I use regularly.” True friends will understand.

3. A book plate (ex libris) with your name may help. Sometimes people honestly forget from whom a book is borrowed.

4. Don’t lend a book if you need it or plan to read it soon. Again, just explain that. Offer to lend it after you’ve read it.

5. View lending as an easy way to clear out excess books from our shelves. Most of us have more books than shelves. A quoted attributed to Joe Queenen says, “Lending books to other people is merely a shrewd form of housecleaning.”

6. If repeat borrowers who don’t return books bothers you, set a limit. Just let your friend know that you only lend two books (or whatever number seems right to you) at a time to someone, and would be glad to lend the book they want when they’ve finished the others they’ve borrowed and returned them. Of course you have to decide if keeping that close a track of what you’ve lent matters.

7. Consider what the book meant to you. If it was beneficial, do you want to keep that to yourself, letting the book collect dust on your shelves. Lending a book can open up conversations with friends such as “did you see what I saw in this book?”

8. Don’t lend books you’ve borrowed, unless the owner says it is OK, and who owns the book is clear so that it can get back to them.

9. On the other hand, if you really are not concerned about getting the book back, let the person know they are free to pass it along after they have finished reading it. If a book is really good, shouldn’t it pass through many hands?

10. Think of lending books as a way of stocking your library in heaven. I take comfort in these words by C. S. Lewis:

My friend said, “I don’t see why there shouldn’t be books in Heaven. But you will find that your library in Heaven contains only some of the books you had on earth.” “Which?” I asked. “The ones you gave away or lent.” “I hope the lent ones won’t still have all the borrowers’ dirty thumb marks,” said I. “Oh yes they will,” said he. “But just as the wounds of the martyrs will have turned into beauties, so you will find that the thumb-marks have turned into beautiful illuminated capitals or exquisite marginal woodcuts.*

*C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 216.

Overcrowded Shelves

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Bookshelves in my home office

Over at my Bob on Books Facebook page, I have a “question of the day.” Recently I asked whether people had more shelves than books or books than shelves. It was unanimous: everyone who commented had more books than shelves.

I have not reached a books-to-shelves equilibrium but here are some of the strategies I’ve pursued to keep the overflow under a measure of control.

1. I freely lend. I’m almost disappointed when someone does the rare thing of returning a book. Often, people ask to borrow books I’ve reviewed.

2. I donate books related to my work to a book grab for new employees in my organization.

3. I always ask whether I will re-read or use as a reference every book I read. If I keep it, another book (or three) has to go.

4. Library book sales are a great place to donate your books to a good cause. You clear your shelves, you give your books a second life with someone else, and you provide funds for “extras” for the library you love.

5. A variation on this is that I’ve donated some books to the theological library of the seminary where I’m an alumnus. I know that doesn’t fit everyone, but I also know it fits some of you.

6. Some have donated books to seminaries or other educational institutions in other countries. Either donate classics or newer scholarship and text books.

7. I do sell some of my books at Half Price Books. Increasingly, we walk out with money in our pockets. Recent books generally bring the best prices, so read it, and if you know you won’t read it again, sell it quick.

8. I know some have set up their own online selling and you can make more on your books by doing this, if you are willing to devote the time to it and give good service and value.

9. I try to find at least one book a day that I put on my donate/sell piles.

10. Finally, books fitly chosen and shared with someone actually interested in the book gives you the joy of passing along a book to someone you know will appreciate it. I find it always helps to ask first if they would be interested in reading it–otherwise, it can feel like you are just dumping your books.

This is one advantage of e-readers–one book or a thousand take up the same physical space. I would be even deeper in books were it not for the ones on my Kindle. Still, I like reading, and especially reviewing, from physical books.

Of course, I suspect there are other creative ways to deal with the overflow. Here are a few I could come up with.

1. Build something with them. I’ve seen great examples of book igloos online.

2. Insulate with them. Anyone know the R-value of books?

3. Use them to support a table or counter top.

4. Some big books make great door stops.

5. Or just do what most of us do and stack them, box them, squirrel them away and live around them.

6. Build or find an annex for your books. We have heard of a few used bookstores getting their start this way.

Have you come up with other creative ways to deal with your book overflow? If you are a reader, you likely will need to sooner or later!

Discovering “Literary Hub”

literary-hub-the-best-of-the-literary-internet

Screenshot of Literary Hub from September 7, 2016 (without feature banner)

I discovered Literary Hub yesterday when I wrote about Mario Vargas Llosa’s new book, Notes on the Death of a Culture. I’ve had lots of fun looking around the website, which Literary Hub describes the purpose of as follows:

 

Literary Hub is an organizing principle in the service of literary culture, a single, trusted, daily source for all the news, ideas and richness of contemporary literary life. There is more great literary content online than ever before, but it is scattered, easily lost—with the help of its editorial partners, Lit Hub is a site readers can rely on for smart, engaged, entertaining writing about all things books. Each day—alongside original content and exclusive excerpts—Literary Hub is proud to showcase an editorial feature from one of its many partners from across the literary spectrum: publishers big and small, journals, bookstores, and non-profits.

Following this description is an impressive list of partners including a number of major publishers, booksellers, and review journals. One could probably spend an enjoyable evening just clicking through the links of all the partners!

The home page is topped by a graphic banner highlighting current top literary stories on the site. Presently these include “Writing a Novel Limited to the 483 Words Spoken to Ophelia,” “How a Self-Published Writer of Gay Erotica Beat Sci-fi’s Sad Puppies at Their Own Game,” “Death is Actually Very Funny: A Last Conversation with Max Ritvo,” “Mario Vargas Llosa: How Global Entertainment Killed Culture” (from which yesterday’s post was inspired), and “On Writing, Parenthood and Trying to Stay a Little Wild.” Probably something there will grab your attention, if not all.

In the left column, you can click on excerpts of recently released books, a good way to sample before you buy. The center column highlights a few other feature stories. The right column highlights “Lit Hub Daily”, featuring on September 7:

Across the top of the page, you also have a menu which duplicates some of these items. From left to right you have:

  • Bookmarks: Clicking this takes you to visual representations of bookcovers of current books with a bookmark containing a “grade” based on an “average” of at least three reviews. Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth received an A+. On the other hand Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am only rated a C+. You can click on the cover to go to a page that includes relevant excerpts of reviews with a link to the full review. Highlighted are new books, most reviewed books and best reviewed. You may also search a number of categories of books listed on the right side of the page.
  • Features: This includes a fuller list of featured articles. Since I’ve spent some time interviewing booksellers, I liked “Interview with a Bookstore: Carmichael’s Books.”
  • Excerpts: Similar to “Features”, this expands the list of excerpts from books from the few highlighted on the home page. Good feature. I read one from a book with an intriguing title. Decided the title was more intriguing than the excerpt.
  • Bookshelf includes the covers of books mentioned in articles in Literary Hub. Clicking on the cover will take you to the article. Mousing over it shows you a box telling you what article or articles the book is mentioned in. These include everything from new books to classics like Ivan Illych.
  • Lit Hub Daily is collection of the best of the literary internet collected daily. This one sounded interesting:
    • Why the man behind “Born to Run” is also “a born memoirist.” Dave Kamp profiles Bruce Springsteen ahead of his 500-page memoir. | Vanity Fair
  • The last is the already mentioned About page. In addition to the glorious collection of links to publishers, booksellers, and review journals is a link at the bottom to the “masthead” for Literary Hub.

While of course I hope that for those reading this that Bob on Books will be a kind of “literary hub,” I have to admit that I appreciated the quality of writing, the variety of features, and the breadth of content from across the literary landscape brought together on Literary Hub. I’ve bookmarked it and look forward to returning. Now, if they can just get an app for that…

The Month in Reviews: July 2016

The Nightingale

I noticed a few trends in my reading this month. One was that I read more fiction than in the usual month, including works by Kristin Hannah, Agatha Christie, and Rohinton Mistry. The last author overlaps another trend, and that is reading non-Western authors. Rohinton Mistry is from India, Nabeel Quereshi is American-born of Pakistani descent, and Soong-Chan Rah was born in Korea and now lives in the U.S. I’ve also enjoyed reading a couple women theologians, Michelle Lee-Barnewall and Marva Dawn. All these voices stretch me to see a bigger world than my roots as a white male from the Midwest of the United States. I also had the chance to plunge into David Maraniss’ excellent biography of football icon Vince Lombardi, a social history of the U.S. in the first half of the twentieth century and a few other books as well. So, here are my July 2016 reads:

The Nightingale

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015. The story of two sisters, estranged from each other and their father, a poet and bookseller, broken by World War I and the loss of his wife, as they face the Nazi occupation of France, how each resists this brutal regime, and how they find reconciliation and a kind of healing in the end. (Review)

Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian

Neither Complementarian nor EgalitarianMichelle Lee-Barnewall. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016. Argues on the basis of the biblical texts for a reframing of the discussion of the relationship of men and women from one of power versus equality  to one that focuses on the elements in the biblical texts around reversal, inclusion, unity and service. (Review)

When Pride Still Mattered

When Pride Still Mattered, David Maraniss. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. The biography of Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi, showing a man striving for excellence in, and caught in the tensions of the three priorities in his life: faith, family, and football. (Review)

In the Beginning GOD

In The Beginning, GOD, Marva J. Dawn. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. A series of reflections on the texts of Genesis 1-3 focused not on questions of beginnings and the controversies that surround these chapters but on what they show us of God and how this may lead us into worship. (Review)

Mapping Your Academic Career

Mapping Your Academic Career, Gary M. Burge. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. Traces the career trajectory of a college professor, identifying the factors that mark the successful passage from one “cohort” to the next, the risks to be negotiated in each season of work, and key resources for career development. (Review)

Answering Jihad

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, Nabeel Qureshi. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Contends that there is a basis in the foundations of Islam for violent, and not merely defensive, jihad, which neither can be ignored, nor assumed of all Muslims, but calls for a proactive response, particularly of Christians, of love and friendship with the hope of breaking the cycle of violence. (Review)

The Big Change

The Big Change, Frederick Lewis Allen. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2016 (forthcoming,  originally published in 1952). A social history of the United States from 1900 to 1950 chronicling the expansion of the middle class, the technological changes that occurred, and the impact of two World Wars and the Depression. (Review)

Prophetic Lament

Prophetic Lament, Soong-Chan Rah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. A commentary and exposition of the book of Lamentations that advocates for the restoration of the practice of lament as part of the worship of American churches, particularly majority culture evangelical churches. (Review)

One nation under God

One Nation Under God, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2015. Explores whether and how it is appropriate for Christians in the American context to engage in politics,  how one brings one’s faith into this, and applies this to seven contemporary issues. (Review)

Breaking the Rules

Breaking the Rules, Fil Anderson (foreward by Brennan Manning). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010.  Anderson traces his own spiritual journey of moving from rules- and performance-based religion to an intimate relationship with God where he was unafraid of revealing his true self. (Review)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger AckroydAgatha Christie. New York: HarperCollins, 2002 (originally published 1926). Poirot comes out of retirement to solve the murder of Roger Ackroyd, who is killed after learning that the woman he loved, who has taken her life, had poisoned her first husband and was being blackmailed to cover up the fact. (Review)

A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Centered around the flat of Dina Dalal, inhabited by two tailors and a student with a larger circle on the periphery, the novel charts the “fine balances” the people of India sought to maintain through the Emergency Rule of Indira Gandhi–balances of both physical and spiritual. (Review)

Best of the Month: This was a tough one. I was torn between Mistry’s A Fine Balance and Hannah’s The Nightingale. Both are well-written books dealing with profound themes. I will give the nod to Hannah’s book as a better read. Both books actually explore “the fine balances” of survival under tyranny and the razor’s edge between hope and despair. Hannah’s book was the one that kept me up at night thinking about what I had read.

Quote of the Month: One of the runners up for best of the month this month was Soong-Chan Rah’s Prophetic Lament. He made this challenging observation about the imbalance between celebration and lament in most American churches:

“What do we lose as a result of this imbalance? American Christians that flourish under the existing system seek to maintain the existing dynamics of inequality and remain in the theology of celebration over and against the theology of suffering. Promoting one perspective over the other, however, diminishes our theological discourse. To only have a theology of celebration at the cost of a theology of suffering is incomplete. The intersection of the two threads provides the opportunity to engage in the fullness of the gospel message. Lament and praise must go hand in hand.”

Coming Soon: I will post a review tomorrow of Japanese-American artist Makoto Fujimura’s wonderful new book, Silence and Beauty, a reflection upon Shusako Endo’s novel, Silence, and the intersection of Christianity and Japanese culture. I’m also currently reading Julie M. Fenster’s Jefferson’s America, an intriguing account of the explorations of the American west commissioned by Jefferson during his presidency, and how he used these to assert America’s hold on these lands. I’m also reading John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, having read his sequel on Genesis Two and Three, and Richard Horsley’s Covenant Economics, a biblical study of how the covenant shaped (or didn’t) economic relationships in Israel, and in the communities of followers of Jesus. I’m looking forward to reading a gift from my wife, Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time, a novel exploring the life of Dmitri Shostakovich under Stalinist Russia.

Hope you are able to squeeze a few more “summer reads” into your life before school or work pick up for you!

 

 

Books During Troubling Times

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????What part do books play in your life during tumultuous times? Right now, we are in the midst of political convention season with harsh words both inside and outside the convention halls that are symptomatic of our national fault lines. Our news seems an endless stream of violence and hate and the angry responses of others. How do you deal with all of that? And what part do books play?

Some of us may simply decide these are not times when one should bury one’s nose in a book. We get caught up on CNN, or Fox News, or NPR, or the endless bits and bytes of information on Facebook and Twitter. Truthfully, I think most who follow this route simply ratchet themselves up to high levels of anxiety, anger, or depression.

Books offer a great escape for some of us. For a time, we can imagine ourselves in imaginary worlds, on fantastic voyages, or in idyllic settings. Maybe there are wars, but they are far off and imaginary with clearly drawn lines of good and evil–orcs versus men, Romulans versus Earth. These are worlds with heroes and villains. Or we join a clever, iconic detective like Hercule Poirot as he (or she) ferrets out the murderer, as in the Agatha Christie mystery I am reading at present.

For others, we read to understand–whether it is books on Islam, on race relations, on political processes and past presidents. We read to be able to understand how we’ve gotten to this place, to reflect on our way forward and what may be learned from the past. We want to go deeper than the news story soundbites and the ponderings of pundits. Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns opened my eyes to the huge internal migration of Blacks from the south to the northern cities of our country between 1915 and 1970, and how it has shaped race relations to this day.

Sometimes we need books that help us step out of our own situation to get perspective from another time and place. While I am disturbed by the unrest in our own country, reading Rohinton Mistry’s account, in A Fine Balance, of India during Indira Gandhi’s time as Prime Minister and the country was under a state of emergency, I gain a renewed appreciation for living in a country where there is still a commitment to the rule of law, that serves as the basis or ground for protests of injustice, where law could not be bought, sold, and enforced by strongmen. It reminds me that if we become complacent about advocating for the living out of a nation’s highest ideals, either at home or abroad, we risk losing something precious and rare in the world.

Finally, it seems to me that we sometimes respond to troubling times by going back to sacred texts as well as the great works of literature. A recent book on lament pointed me back to the biblical language of lament that allows me to give expression to grief and sadness over the paroxysm of violence we see in the world and the bitter enmities that fuel that violence. Troubling times remind us that we can’t live on mass culture pablum, that we need to keep company with those who have wrestled with the deepest questions of the human condition.

I am not going to make particular recommendations for what you ought to read. What I might suggest is that all these different types of books have a place in our reading in troubled times. Books help us confront the deep questions our troubles raise, give us perspective and spiritual resources, and help us lay aside questions that cannot be resolved in a day when it is time to do so. Read well in these times, friends.

 

 

 

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.