Discovering “Literary Hub”


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.



The Month in Reviews: April 2016

The Warmth of Other Sons

My reading this month ranged from rain to a runaway girl by the name of Rifqa (how is that for alliteration!). I reviewed Isabel Wilkerson’s account of the unheralded immigration of Blacks from the south to the north and west in the twentieth century, and a pair of novels by management guru Peter Drucker. There was the usual collection of more “theological” works, including one on the theology of Jonathan Edwards, future directions in biblical interpretation, a biblical theology of that unusual book in scripture, Daniel. I began the month with several shorter but thoughtful books on the paradoxical relationship of strength and weakness, different ways of fasting over forty days, and a book on the psychological motivations of religious striving. Finally, I revisited one of my old favorites by C. S. Lewis. So here are my review summaries with links in the title to the publisher’s website, and at the end to my full review.

strong and weakStrong and Weak, Andy Crouch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Explores two qualities that we often think opposed to one another and argues that strength and weakness are paradoxically related and that human beings flourish to the extent that they can appropriately exercise strength (authority) and weakness (vulnerability) together. Review.

40 Days of Decrease40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016. A collection of 40 readings, reflections, and different kinds of fasts that encourage us to “thin our lives to thicken our communion with God.” Review.

16 Strivings for God16 Strivings for God, Steven Reiss. Macon: Mercer University Press, 2015. A new psychology of religious experience that argues that religions enjoy such a wide embrace because they offer repeated opportunities to satisfy sixteen basic motivations or “strivings” common to all human beings. Review.

future of biblical interpretationThe Future of Biblical Interpretation, Stanley E. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm, eds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013. A festschrift for Anthony Thiselton exploring from different perspectives the tension between plurality of interpretations of the Bible, and responsible hermeneutics. Review.

The Warmth of Other SonsThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson. New York: Vintage, 2011. The story of the great migration of blacks from the South to the North and West between 1915 and 1970, told through the lives of three of those migrants and their families. Review.

With the Clouds of HeavenWith the Clouds of Heaven (New Studies in Biblical Theology), James M. Hamilton, Jr. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. A study of the biblical theology of Daniel, including its structure, key themes, how the book influences both early Jewish literature and the New Testament, and how it connects to key themes throughout scripture. Review.

DruckerThe Last of All Possible Worlds and The Temptation to Do GoodPeter F. Drucker. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2016 (forthcoming, expected publication date June 14, 2016). The two novels of management guru Peter Drucker, the first of which is an interlocking tale of the lives of bankers and aristocracy in pre-World War I Europe as they face an impending meeting, the second a tale of an act of kindness by a Catholic college president that goes horribly wrong. Review.

screwtape lettersThe Screwtape LettersC. S. Lewis.  New York: Macmillan, 1962 (Link is to current edition). The classic collection of letters between a senior demon and junior tempter charged with undermining the new found faith of his “patient.” Review.

Jonathan Edwards Among the TheologiansJonathan Edwards among the Theologians, Oliver D. Crisp. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2015. By comparing Edwards writing on various theological themes, Crisp underscores Edwards work as an original thinker and constructive theologian, building on a Reformed base, but even pressing the limits of orthodoxy in some of his work. Review.

RainRain: A Natural and Cultural History, Cynthia Barnett. New York: Broadway Books, 2015. An exploration of this elemental reality on which our lives depend, how we have tried to control it, produce it, predict it, protect ourselves from it and how it has shaped our lives and how we are shaping future rainfall. Review.

Hiding in the LightHiding in the Light, Rifqa Bary. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2015. A memoir of Bary’s turning from Islam to Christianity during her teens, her flight from her family when she feared for her life, and her subsequent struggles to prevent the courts from forcibly returning her to her family. Review.

Best of the Month: I’ll give the nod to The Warmth of Other Suns for this eloquent chronicle of the largely untold story of the migration of Blacks from south to north and west in response to Jim Crow racism and how it changed both the migrants and their destination cities. It helped me understand in new light the dynamics of race that became a growing issue in my and many northern cities during the years I was growing up.

Quote of the Month: I can’t resist some C.S. Lewis here from The Screwtape Letters:

“He is a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or onlylike foam on the seashore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at his right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore.’ Ugh! I don’t think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the Miserific vision. He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least–sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side” (pp. 101-102).

Reviewing Soon: One of the classics I’ve never read and am currently enjoying is John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, another migration tale of farmers escaping the 1930’s dust bowl for dreams of a better life in California. I’m reading an intriguing book on how our physiology enables us to connect with God and serve others titled What Your Body Knows About God. In this political season there are a couple political books: Randall Balmer’s Faith in the White House on faith and politics from the Kennedy through Bush II presidencies, and Ask the Questions on why religious clarity is important to ask of our political candidates. And along the lines of recent reading, I will be reading Jose’ Orduna’s The Weight of Shadows on immigration and displacement, and Benjamin Watson’s Under Our Skin on addressing our racial divides.

The Month in Reviews is a great way to see all the books reviewed at Bob on Books. Just click on “The Month in Reviews” on the menu to access review summaries going back to February 2014.




Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Youngstown Books

20160422_160834In case you haven’t figured it out, on Mondays through Fridays, this is a book blog. I thought that today I would bring books and Youngstown together. It is obvious that we like to read about Youngstown and remember the city where we grew up. Along the way, and particularly since I began this series of posts, I’ve acquired a number of Youngstown books (I haven’t read them all yet!). They appear in the picture above, spread out on my kitchen table. Below, I say a bit about them. For books in print, I’ve included links (usually to Amazon) in case you want to add them to your Youngstown shelf!

Aley, Howard C. A Heritage to ShareYoungstown: Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, 1975. Published for our national bicentennial in 1976, this gives a year by year history of Youngstown and surrounding areas up until that time with feature articles and “it happened in…” for each year. This was a gift from my son who found it in a used bookstore in Columbus.

Allen, Bobbi Ennett, ed. Recipes of Youngstown. Lenexa, KS: Cookbook Publishers, 2014. This grew out of a Facebook group of people sharing Youngstown recipes and was published to benefit Lanterman’s Mill.

Allen, Bobbi Ennett, ed. Recipes of Youngstown 2Lenexa, KS: Cookbook Publishers, 2015. One cookbook was not enough for Bobbi’s group. The proceeds from this book are being used for the Tyler History Center’s “Recipes of Youngstown Kitchen” which will be dedicated on May 7. I posted about this here.

Bruno, Robert, Steelworker Alley: How Class Works in Youngstown. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. Robert Bruno is a professor in Chicago who grew up in Struthers who described as well as anyone I know what it means to be working class. I reviewed the book here.

Hatcher, Harlan, The Western Reserve. Indianapolis: Bobbs, Merrill Co., 1949. Harlan Hatcher is a former Vice-President of Ohio State. He wrote a number of history books about Ohio including this one, which describes the New England roots and development of northeast Ohio. My copy is even signed by him and has a picture of Lanterman Falls on the frontispiece.

Marino, Jacqueline, and Miller, Will, Car Bombs to Cookie Tables. Cleveland: Belt Publishing, 2015.  An anthology of articles under the headings “Loss”, “Family”, “Work”, and “Rise.” Most are short and give an unvarnished look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Youngstown.

Peyko, Mark C. ed., Remembering YoungstownCharleston: The History Press, 2009. Another collection of historical articles, more of a celebration of Youngstown’s history that includes beginnings, the rise of the steel industry, sports and popular culture, the arts, colorful figures, and icons of the Mahoning Valley like Idora Park.

Posey, Sean T. Lost Youngstown. Charleston: The History Press, 2016. Just arrived this week with stories of Youngstown Sheet and Tube, Republic Rubber, The Elms Ballroom, The Uptown, The Paramount, The Newport, and communities like Brier Hill and Smoky Hollow.

Potter, Carol and Shale, Rick, Historic Mill Creek Park. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2005. Found a signed copy in a local bookstore of this collection of photos of our beloved park from its founding by Volney Rogers.

Skardon, Alvin W. Steel Valley University: The Origin of Youngstown StateYoungstown: Youngstown State University, 1983. Written by a professor of history at Youngstown State and providing the history of the university up until 1983.

Summers, Susan J. and Ekoniak, Loretta A. Slovaks of the Greater Mahoning ValleyCharleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011. A pictorial history of the Slovak migration to the Mahoning Valley–pictures of families, workplaces, churches and more.

Welsh, Thomas & Geltz, Michael, Strouss’. Charleston: The History Press, 2012. A history of one of the two great department stores in downtown Youngstown. I hope someone writes this history of McKelvey’s some day.

Welsh, Thomas & Morgan, Gordon F., Classic Restaurants of Youngstown. Charleston: American Palate, 2014. One of my favorites covering all the great restaurants all over Youngstown with lots of pictures.

I know there are a number of other books about Youngstown and its people and history. I’d love to hear about your favorites and hope this might help you find some enjoyable reading as well. For some, these are just a walk down memory lane, or the rediscovery of a recipe that mom made. But for others, and particularly those living in Youngstown, to know what the city could be may serve as an inspiration for what the city can be.

What are your favorite Youngstown books?

[Like to read more posts on Youngstown. Just go to the top of this page (or the link here) and click on the menu item “on Youngstown” and you can read them all!]

Where Are The Reviews?

Partially Read Books.jpgThat’s a question some of you who follow regularly may be wondering for a little while. I wonder if other reviewers have ever had this happen? You end up in the middle of a number of books at the same time! The picture right now represents my current reading stack minus a couple books I’m reading on Kindle. Notice all those bookmarks in the middle of my books! So I thought I would give you some “mid-book” updates, that hopefully I’ll remember not to rehash in the reviews. Consider it a taste of things to come.

I Beg to DifferI’ll begin with the top most book. Tim Muelhoff’s I Beg to Differ is a very practical book on one of the hardest relational challenges–having those difficult conversations around disagreements without creating relational discord. Muelhoff outlines a set of questions and approaches that I’m finding very helpful.

Paul and His Recent InterpretersThe “meatiest” book comes next. N.T. Wright’s Paul and His Recent Interpreters is described as a companion to his magisterial Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Wright’s definitive work on the Apostle Paul. In Paul and His Recent Interpreters, Wright engages the range of contemporary Pauline scholarship, including the criticism of his own work. Wish I had read Paul and the Faithfulness of God, but haven’t been able to wade through the two volumes that make up this work yet! Point is, we often read Paul in light of the Reformation rather than Paul’s Jewish context and may miss some crucial things as a result. Stay tuned to the review for more!

Destiny and PowerThe “fattest” book in the stack is Jon Meacham’s Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker BushI’ve liked the things I’ve read of Meacham, and this is no exception. Bush, the 41st president was a complex mix of character and ambition, that both led to the presidency and was his undoing after one term. His single term, and the shadow of his son’s presidency may obscure the significant things this man quietly accomplished, both as president, and in the rest of his life.

A Commentary on 1 and 2 ChroniclesEugene Merrill’s A Commentary on 1 and 2 Chronicles is probably not something you’d pick up unless you were teaching or preaching on these books. I’m reading it because it was sent to me to review (and I am teaching a Bible overview that includes these books). Good introductory materials as well as enough depth to inform of textual issues without being overwhelming to all but the specialist.

Falling UpwardThe last two books are not in the photograph because they are on my Kindle. One is Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. Rohr sees our lives in halves, each with their crucial tasks, the first half, preparing for the second. I’ve just started this and find his basic premise intriguing. I’m clearly in the second half (unless there is a medical miracle) and interested to see what he says about this.

HolinessFinally, my last book is one our Dead Theologians group is reading at present, J. C. Ryle’s HolinessThe version we are using includes all twenty sermons on this theme. Unlike some 19th century writers, Ryle is plain-spoken without being simplistic. He argues that growth in holiness, or the idea of becoming more like Christ, involves faith that actively strives for this goal.

All of this is rich reading. One decision I’ve made though, particularly after a comment on yesterday’s post is that I’m going to move Nine Tailors to the top of my reading pile. This commenter thought it “just might be Sayer’s best mystery.” After all this meaty reading, I’m ready for a good mystery!

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!


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!

How to Open a New Book?

book-openingSimple. Turn on your device. Download. Read.

Not quite so simple if you are a lover of physical books. I came across this “NOTICE” the other day and I realized I had heard this many years ago, probably from a school librarian. And I’ve basically forgotten to observe these directions all my life.

I think I’ve had the sense not to violently open books at the center, as the connoisseur in this story did, although I’ve seen new books, particularly paperbacks in bookstores, that have been ruined by this treatment.

Most often, I simply open the book at the beginning, and start reading, supporting the left side of the book and not forcing it to lie flat. I have noted that sometimes the binding becomes canted to one side and I wonder now if this might be do to failing to observe this procedure. It is clearly the case that I am pulling the book to one side as I hold it open.

The procedure the “NOTICE” outlines is to place the book on a flat surface with the back or spine against the surface. While holding the pages, let both the front and back covers down onto the table. Then alternately take a few pages at the back and then the front and gently press them down, continuing until you reach the center of the book. Repeat two or three times The idea is to “break in” rather than “break” the binding. Here is another description that includes diagrams:

how to open a book

A post on the Booksville blog suggests that this procedure also works for paperbacks. I would be curious to hear from those in the know if this is indeed the case. The binding is different in a paperback. Clearly I can see that violently forcing the book at the center is not a good idea. I also am wondering if this is the current wisdom among bookbinders, archivists and others who work with books. The notice and diagrams look old and I wonder if thinking about this has changed at all. The “Wikihow” on this subject is more modern and recommends the same procedure and also has recommendations for caring for our books (another post!).

This makes me wonder about the etiquette of browsing a book in a bookstore, which probably could (and might be) a blog post in itself. Should I gently “break in” a book I’m browsing, or leave that to the eventual buyer? Clearly, I don’t want to smudge it with greasy or sticky fingers, or crease pages. I really wonder here what is most considerate to bookseller and book buyer.

What is clear is that I will approach my next new book differently. Rather than just plunge in, I will “break in” first–at least until someone shows me a better way!


Magic Moments in Reading

Manguel QuoteYou know those moments. You are reading and the magic happens. It could be an exquisite description, an evocative scene, an insight that makes sense of the perplexing, an unexpected but thrilling plot turn, or a satisfying resolution. They are the moments that make reading special. Here are some of mine:

  1. Aslan’s romp with the children when he comes back from the dead in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
  2. The arrival of the hobbits at Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings. Not the end of the journey but a truly “homely home”.
  3. The banquet scene in Babette’s Feast when hearts thaw and the good, the beautiful and the true are glimpsed over a magnificent meal.
  4. The radio broadcasts on science in All The Light We Cannot See for the sense of wonder they evoke.
  5. William Manchester’s magnificent description of Winston Churchill’s moral and political courage in The Last Lion, and particularly how he resolutely spoke against the Nazi threat when everyone else wanted to appease Hitler.
  6. The wonderful reconciliation between Jarvis and Kumalo in Cry the Beloved Country.
  7. The scene in My Name is Asher Lev, in which Asher and the Jews are dancing with Torah at Simchat Torah and he asks his Catholic friend if they love scripture as his people love scripture.
  8. Hannah Coulter for its exploration of how one can look back on one’s life in a place, and begin to make sense of what in the moment was baffling.
  9. Susan Cain’s wonderfully clarifying insights in Quiet of how introversion is not a problem but a gift.
  10. The moment I realized in the opening pages of The Institutes that I was encountering in John Calvin a truly fine mind who could write with clarity and depth about the love and glory of God.

I suspect not all of you would agree with this last, but there you have it, there are no two of us readers alike! And thankfully, we do not have to agree. In fact, part of the delight in getting bibliophiles together is discovering delights we’ve never encountered. There is also the delight of “you, too?” when we discover shared magic moments.

While I can’t gather you all in my living room, it would be delightful to use this “social” media to share some of our “magic moments” in reading. I’d love to hear what were some of your magic moments in reading that have contributed to your love of books and appreciation of life.