A Bibliophile’s Top Ten For Thanksgiving

happy-thanksgiving-3767426_1280Thanksgiving is the traditional occasion for recalling the many good gifts of life for which we are thankful. With that holiday approaching, it occurred to me that bibliophiles have particular reason to be thankful. Here are ten:

  1. The gift of words. In well-crafted sentences and paragraphs, filling the imagination with ideas and stories films only poorly capture.
  2. The feel of a well-made book in one’s hand.
  3. The smell of books: fresh paper and ink, or the faint mustiness of an older book.
  4. The discovery of a good series and the thought that there may be two, five, ten or more to follow, where characters become friends (or hated enemies).
  5. That moment when light and seating, beverage and book merge into a seamless flow of pleasure as we lose ourselves in a story.
  6. The insight that the world, both real and imagined, is larger, more complicated and interesting that we’d previously thought.
  7. The re-reading of once, or twice, or thrice-loved books that are never the same book because we are never the same reader.
  8. The finding of a book on the shelves of a bookstore, or a book sale, that one has always wanted to acquire, as if both you and the book were just waiting this moment.
  9. The thought that there are professionals, booksellers and librarians, who share our love of books, and work to connect book and reader; where their employment and our enjoyment allow us both to flourish.
  10. Finally, there are those, usually teachers and parents, who ushered us into the love of story, the printed page, and the wonder of books. Perhaps for these we reserve our greatest thanks, for without them, the rest is not possible.

I could go on and I’m sure you can think of reasons to be thankful connected with books. Why don’t you add them in the comments below, and perhaps share this exercise with your book-loving friends and loved ones this Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Delivering Holiday Newspapers


Newspapers B & W (4), by Jon S. [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

The other day I spotted a bag of advertising circulars for Black Friday laying on the apron of my driveway. It brought back memories of delivering The Vindicator on Thanksgiving morning, as well as all the Sunday papers leading up to Christmas. Generally the Thanksgiving Vindicator was the biggest paper of the year with all the sales ads for Friday (it wasn’t called Black Friday back then). There were maybe twenty or thirty pages of news content, and the rest was advertising, either in the newspaper of the advertising inserts–in all there were often several hundred pages.

Stories that I found online said that these papers could weigh between three and five pounds apiece. I had seventy customers on my paper route, and so that adds up to 210 to 350 pounds of newspapers that I had to deliver. The newspapers were delivered in one bundle, the ads in another. For seventy papers, this often turned out to be four to six bundles for my route.

I picked up my papers at a drop on Steel Street and haul them four blocks uphill on Oakwood Avenue to my route. Most days, I could put all my papers in one canvas paper sack, or two on Wednesdays and on Sundays I used a wagon.  For this haul, I used a wagon one year and it about killed me. I enlisted dad after that, and he would stuff the ads into the papers for one side of the street while I loaded up my paper sack and delivered the other, and then he would meet up with me to deliver the other side, or go up to the other block that I delivered.

Newspapers obviously made a good deal of extra money on all this advertising, but paper carriers didn’t get any more money. But in a way we did in the form of Christmas tips. For a route my size, I could get a hundred dollars in tips at Christmas time. Some were Scrooges, some were generous, and most remembered. It made hauling those papers worth it. One lady made homemade hard candy and would always give me a bag. If you were thinking of quitting your route, you usually waited until after Christmas, despite all those heavy papers.

In most communities, kids don’t deliver newspapers any more. When I delivered papers, most every person on my route, which covered two city blocks, took the paper. These days, you are lucky if about one out of five homes take the paper, and the routes are much larger, and usually delivered by adults in a car. But there are generations of paper carriers with memories of hauling hundreds of pounds of ad-laden Vindicators on Thanksgiving morning. Maybe some of you will share your stories…

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!

Review: Teach Us To Pray

teach us to pray

Teach Us To PrayGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: A concise guide to prayer based on the Lord’s prayer, with a central focus on the coming of the kingdom and a dependence upon the Spirit expressed in thanksgiving, confession, and discernment.

Perhaps one of the most common struggles for many Christians is the practice of prayer. Little wonder that the disciples, observing Jesus at prayer, ask him, “teach us to pray.” In this small but rich book, Gordon T. Smith considers the practice of prayer through the lens of the model prayer Jesus gave his disciples in response to their request.

Smith begins with the observation that the whole prayer turns on the central request, “thy kingdom come.” He writes:

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” should not our prayer be an act of recalibration? Could our praying be an act of intentional alignment and realignment? That is, in our prayer our vision of the kingdom purposes of God will be deepened and broadened; we will be drawn into the reality of Christ risen and now on the throne of the universe. And thus through our prayers we not only pray for the kingdom but come to increasingly live within the kingdom, under the reign of Christ. (p.11)

From our longing for the kingdom come flow three movements in prayer, each of which Smith takes a chapter to cover:

  • Thanksgiving: We align ourselves with God’s kingdom by recognizing how the kingdom has already come and is at work both in our lives and in the world. We celebrate the goodness of God, dwell in the love of God, and in suffering both lament (an acknowledgement and cry to the God we even yet believe is good) and trusting thanksgiving for that goodness and what is formed in us through suffering.
  • Confession: We align ourselves with God’s kingdom by acknowledging where we are out of line with God’s intentions, accept responsibility, seek God’s mercy, and both receive and grant forgiveness, as we embrace the way of truth and light.
  • Discernment: We align ourselves with God’s kingdom by asking and listening for God’s direction for how we may participate in his kingdom purposes. We learn to hear the voice of the Spirit through the noise of our lives as we pay attention to whether this direction is congruent with scripture, whether we have reached a place of holy indifference, and find affirmation within the community to whom we are accountable.

If these three movements arise from the centrality of the kingdom of God, they crucially depend upon the Spirit of God. The Spirit helps us see the good works of God, reveals our sin and humbles our hearts, and guides us in consolation.

Smith also emphasizes throughout the book how each of the three movements are realized in the Eucharist, as we give thanks for the work of Christ, come in repentance acknowledging the reconciliation won through the body and the blood, and strengthens us to say what we need to say and do what we need to do.

A concluding chapter then considers both corporate and personal prayer. Here, as elsewhere throughout the book, Smith commends the Psalms as both Israel’s and our prayer book. An afterword deals succinctly and helpfully with petition.

This is one of those books one can give a person just beginning in the practice of prayer, while enriching and deepening the practice of those who have prayed for some time. Smith shows us how prayer connects to a whole life lived around “thy kingdom come.” He weaves the importance of our dependence upon the Spirit, the richness of the scriptures and especially the Psalms, and our gatherings around the Lord’s table. And so we are taught to pray.





Memories of “over the river and through the woods.”

Of dinner’s at grandmother’s house,

Where we had to go for long walks to work off all the food.

Of mom’s turkey stuffing, and cranberry dressing and a big drumstick on my plate.

Men cleaning up in the kitchen afterwards, hand washing mountains of dishes,

and then gathering around to find out how badly the Lions would lose this year.


Memories of later years of dinners at the Timberlanes,

Of three hours, sometimes stretching to four or five in traffic,

All worth it to see loved ones once again,

and to give thanks for one more year of having them in our lives.


Those years have passed, as have those loved ones,

We still gather with family and friends,

No longer the youngest, nor yet the eldest,

but increasingly aware of the blessings of life, and health, and friends.


To remember opens one up to the fleeting character of our lives,

And yet also to the goodness of that life in all its brevity.

Family recipes and shared stories,

Delicious smells and inside jokes,

Grandpa nodding off while the children play, quarrel, and make up,

A tear for grandma who is no longer with us,

News of a baby on the way.


For a day we set the world’s troubles aside,

for the goodness of turkey and dressing,

pumpkin or sweet potato pie.

Shared in a circle of love.




Thanksgiving in Troubling Times

From both personal conversations and following numerous online conversations, I sense there are many who are deeply troubled by our recent elections–many by the tenor of these elections, some by the outcome, and still others by violent protests by some, and verbal, and sometimes physical attacks on people of color, immigrants, LGBT persons, and those who voted for the President-elect.

As one who ordinarily (sometimes to the annoyance of some family members!) enjoys political conversation, I sense this is a Thanksgiving where it would be well to leave this at the door. I’m just not sure what can be added to the interminable conversation of this past year except to give people indigestion. I’m not proposing Thanksgiving escapism, or dismissing the importance of the continuing concerns people have. It is simply that “to everything there is a season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) and this is a season for thanksgiving, first of all to the host or whoever has provided the food and space to enjoy a meal together, and for the others gathered around. Anything else is just bad manners.

Beyond this, a few thoughts:

  • Take a social media and news media break. Anything really important will still be around on Monday, and you might have a better sense of proportion to engage it. And as compelling as your insights are to you, it probably has been said.
  • If you are hosting a gathering, you might find some humorous ways to let people know this is a “no politics zone.” Like signs, or the threat that there are no seconds on Mom’s famous recipe stuffing for anyone who talks politics.
  • Do not, I repeat, do not bring your cell phone to the dinner table! Put it on mute and check it only when you are not with real, physical people.
  • Focus on the real people in your life this weekend and the ties that bind you together. True, you may not agree on everything, and sometimes you annoy the heck out of each other. As a mental exercise, try to think of something about that person for which you can give thanks. Try real hard. Working those thankfulness muscles will put you in better condition to do the same for those out there we have to share the same country with.
  • Take time to savor the meal. Silently give thanks for each dish and verbally praise the one who made it. We rush through most dinners. This is one to savor, to enjoy good conversation as we move from appetizers to salads to main courses to desserts. Think of the time it takes to prepare this meal. It shouldn’t be all done in an hour.

It seems to me that it is actually quite a good thing that we have a day dedicated to giving thanks. From the Christian scriptures, the Apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV). Reflecting on, as some families do around the table, what each person is thankful for from the past year is a good exercise. Some have taken it further and come up with a “Thirty Days of Thankfulness” challenge. It may be that it is good to end the day thinking of at least one thing we may give thanks for in each day.

Underlying this is an assumption about the way the world is. Thankfulness assumes that no matter how bad things may seem, goodness wins out in the end. Actually even our complaints about what we think is wrong assumes that there is something that is better, some way that things ought to be. As the old proverb goes, “it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Perhaps that could be a good accompaniment to “thanks-sharing” around the table, a beautiful way to begin or end a special meal.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Cranberry Salad


By Shadle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

With Thanksgiving approaching I’ve been thinking about the great Thanksgiving dinners we used to have at my parents. There was always the turkey and dressing (mom made some of the best!) and the green bean casseroles and sweet potatoes and usually pumpkin and mince meat pies. But for some reason, I’ve been thinking this year of her cranberry salads–and wishing I had the recipe (if one of my siblings sees this and has it, I’d love a copy!). Big lesson here is make sure you ask your mom for all those great recipes while you can!

Here’s what I remember of her cranberry salads. I have no clue of quantities but they started with canned whole cranberries, I’m pretty sure a raspberry or cherry Jello, chopped walnuts, celery, and orange zest. But her secret ingredient that added that special something was 7-Up. That added a bit of a sweet tang that made it special.

I’ve seen similar recipes that add mayonnaise or whipped cream toppings. That was too much for her. She would simply serve a generous dollop on a piece of fresh lettuce, usually on the nice china salad plates we would only see on special occasions. And it was one of those dishes you could ask for more of without worrying about being stuffed.

I have to admit that this wasn’t as true as a kid when I was all about getting the big old drumstick and lots of dressing. But as I grew up I found myself enjoying that cranberry salad (some would call it a relish) more and more.

In the kitchen, I am not so much the cook as the assistant. I’m good (at least most of the time) at taking orders. But some time, I think I’d like to experiment and see if I can figure out how to make my mom’s cranberry salad. And if I do, I’ll let you know!

Meanwhile, I would love to hear your favorite cranberry salad or relish recipes. From what I see, there are lots of different ways people like to do this, and like so many other things, I suspect no one does it better than my fellow Youngstowners!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Taking for Granted What is Granted

happy-thanksgiving-greetings-graphicIn his message this past Sunday, our pastor mentioned the idea of “taking for granted what is granted” as he talked about thanksgiving. I’ve been turning that over in my mind all week. It seems we have this propensity to forget that every good, true, and beautiful person, place or thing we enjoy comes as a “grant” and not something we earn or are simply entitled to. It is easy to think we have done something to deserve the good things we have in life. Yet we can think of instances of others who have done the same things and don’t have what we enjoy, or those who have done squat and enjoy far more.

Actually, the idea of “thanksgiving” seems to recognize that there is both something for which we give thanks, and someone to be thanked. We are both thankful for and thankful to. We are thankful for what we’ve been granted, and also thankful to the grantor.

Certainly some of what we’ve been granted comes from significant others in our lives. I am truly thankful for the love and companionship, the home and the meals, the good sense and artistic view of life, that are gifts from my wife. I’m thankful for the nurture and care and guidance and love of two parents who profoundly shaped my life. I’m thankful to my son for a friendship where we spur each other on in writing, and where he’s not afraid to push back when he thinks I’m “out of touch” or disagrees with my take on life. I’m thankful for and to friends and colleagues who have so enriched my life.

There is so much else though that is good, true, and beautiful for which there is no person to thank. The glories of this evening’s sunset. The smell of autumn leaves. The crisp tang of the morning air. The inspirations of a glorious landscape or the song of a bird, to art and music and dance. The simple pleasures of being alive–the warmth of the morning shower, the savor of coffee brewing and that first sip, the refreshment of a nap, a brisk walk across campus, the hug of someone you love.

There is a sense in which all these things are “granted” as well even though there is no human grantor. Some resolve this by saying that what is important is just the state of thankfulness. And probably that is far better than a grumbling, complaining spirit and our own mental outlook. Others, depending on their outlook thank nature, the universe or the Creator. I find myself in the latter camp, inclined to think that something so personal as a heartfelt “thank you” fits best with an infinite-personal Creator who “grants” these wonders for which I am so thankful and feel myself so blessed. One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in James 1:17:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

This reminds me of the chorus from Godspell (based on an old German hymn, later translated into English):

“All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above..
So thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all his love..”

Today is a day that reminds me that I am loved extravagantly. Lover.
Father. Lord. And all I can do is say “thank you.” And that is enough.



The Goodness Leading to Thanksgiving

Photo by M. Rehemtulla [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by M. Rehemtulla [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I am celebrating Thanksgiving today. You might wonder from my post on From Lament to Thanksgiving if today was going to be a somber affair for us. No way! There will be food, family, great conversation, and football.

“But doesn’t that contradict what you wrote yesterday?” No, and here is why. While there is indeed a “problem of evil” in our world, the larger “problem” it seems to me is that of goodness. Why is it that soldiers tell jokes in the midst of battle, and show pictures of sweethearts while in the trenches? Why is it that even in the times surrounding funerals, we cannot resist telling stories that evoke laughter, even about the deceased, or enjoying good food and drink? It is because somehow, we believe deep down that the good is somehow more enduring and real than evil, that life somehow prevails over death and that with all the evil we see, we live in a world shot through with goodness.

So much of that goodness comes in the ordinary warp and woof of life. Sometimes it is the amazing feeling of refreshment after sleeping in after a good night’s sleep. Sometimes it is that first sip from the first cup of coffee in the morning. Sometimes it is in the first hug and first “I love you” of the day. There are all the shared moments and shared memories that weave the tapestry of a family’s life together.

Then there is the work of our days. Some is around our home and particularly the making of a place of welcome together. I also work in an amazing organization filled with gifted people of every ethnicity using their gifts to pursue the glory of God in the university world. I’m often amazed to be counted among them and to have been blessed to share in this work for 38 years. I work alongside amazing students and faculty, brilliant people of character pursuing their work with God-honoring excellence.

I often find myself giving thanks and rejoicing in the beauties of artistic expression, poor imitations at best of the work of our Creator. This past Tuesday in our Capriccio Columbus rehearsal, the men sat and listened to a number of our women sing a beautiful piece as our director tried to figure out who should have the solo. What struck me was all the different ways our women sang this so beautifully. While they sang the same notes and words, nuances of emphasis and varying timbres of voice reminded me that goodness and beauty have so many expressions.

I don’t think days like Thanksgiving are an escape but rather a celebration that affirms the deep sense we have that goodness, truth, and beauty will prevail in the end. And it is a day to gives thanks both to and for those who mean so much to us, and for those who believe that all this goodness comes from a good Creator, to offer that thanks to Him. And so I eagerly look forward to our family gathering today when we may do all of these things.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I also want to thank all those who read and especially who comment on this blog. Much of the joy of writing it has been in learning of the joy or insight it gives another and the thoughts it provokes that you share, which often enlighten me as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

From Lament to Thanksgiving

I’m already seeing them. The status posts and blogs for “what I am thankful for at Thanksgiving.” It seem that lots of these have to do with food, friends, family, and freedom. In truth, I experience many of these blessings as well and am thankful for these. But it seems that we are in the midst of a season of heaviness in our land and to write of thanksgiving without acknowledging these realities feels insular and trite to me. How is it possible to engage in thanksgiving in a time of lament?

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem --Rembrandt

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem –Rembrandt

Indeed there is much to lament:

  • Whatever we think of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, we lament that one family faces Thanksgiving without a son and another with a promising career shattered because of a tragic encounter.
  • We lament a community torn by a hundred year history of racial conflict that is a microcosm for our nation’s continuing struggle with and accommodation to racial divides.
  • We lament for the people of West Africa whose families and societies have been decimated by a lethal virus.
  • We lament the continuing clash between Islam and the West represented most recently in the atrocities of ISIS, but also at times in Western policies extending back to World War I and before that are more concerned with self-interest (or even payback) than the flourishing of the people from whom ISIS recruits.
  • We lament the breakdown in society from neighborhoods where one’s children could play and roam safely and one’s doors could be left unlocked to cities with security systems, GPS tracking of our children, surveillance cameras everywhere, and a proliferation of guns and the need to protect ourselves.

I could go on but the question remains, is thanksgiving even possible in such lamentable times? Or are our thanksgiving rituals simply temporary ventures in escapism?

For me it begins with the idea that there is One who hears laments and who will one day “wipe away every tear” (Revelation 21:4). I hang on to the hope that my laments are not simply futile exercises that reach no further than the ceiling or simply an emotional release. I believe in One who heard the cries of Israel in bondage and who sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt (Exodus 3:7-8). It also is striking to me that while my hope is in the One who hears and acts, I see that this One acts through his people. For me this is where thanksgiving begins:

  • I’m thankful for all the leaders both black and white, many who never make the news, who are pursuing the hard work of justice and reconciliation, believing that the status quo is not the best we can do in our cities, states and nation.
  • I’m thankful for the courageous doctors and aid workers from Doctors without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse and other agencies who have risked their lives to bring comfort, care, and where possible, healing in West Africa.
  • While I am thankful for those in our own military services who put themselves in harm’s way to restrain the evil of groups like ISIS, I am also thankful for the peacemakers in places like the Palestinian territories and for every instance where someone, often in a persecuted minority, chooses to return love for hatred.
  • I’m thankful for those who engage in the hard work of “re-neighboring”, who move into blighted communities and rehabilitate homes and form neighborhood associations and block watches believing it possible to restore the fabric of community in a place.

Most of us are not on the front lines of such efforts. Most of these efforts are far removed from our thanksgiving tables. But I know how conversations can go at these gatherings and how easily we may degenerate into conversations that blame this or that group, find fault with this or that party or organization, or even demonize this or that group of people. Why not agree to leave this to our prayerful laments where God can be the judge of these things? Rather, if we say anything about these matters on this day of Thanksgiving, might it be better to give thanks for those acting with grace and courage and humility on the front lines of these great challenges? Might it be better this day to light the candle of thanksgiving for them rather than curse the darkness?