Bob on Books Top Viewed Reviews of 2021

A few weeks ago, I posted my Bob on Books Best Books of 2021. One of the interesting things I noticed as I compiled this post is that none of the books on that list are on this list (although The Lincoln Highway lost out by a whisker to The Four Winds for best literary fiction in my opinion). What this list records are the interests of those who visit this blog. As I look over the list of my most viewed reviews, I see some great books, some well-written works, and important books. Here’s the list:

10. Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land. I think many, like me, eagerly awaited his follow-up to All the Light We Cannot See. It’s a layered story occurring in three different time periods. I thought he pulled it off well.

9. Review: The Western Canon. This one surprises me. I didn’t expect so many to be interested in Harold Bloom’s defense of the Western Canon

8. Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. I had a mixed assessment of this book, appreciating the intellectual tour de force of Carl Trueman’s exploration of the expressive individualism at the heart of the modern view of the self, but not the polemical tone of the work, which I believed would be off-putting to all but those already persuaded of his thesis. Clearly, a number were interested in this book, or at least in what I had to say.

7. Review: A Gentleman in Moscow. I was fascinated with the premise of this novel, a political detainee sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a Moscow hotel. Perhaps it is the feeling that all of us are living this life to some degree that made this such a fascinating book.

6. Review: The Nature of the Beast (second reading). This is the eleventh book in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series. It was the first of her books I read, then I realized this was one series it was best to read in order. And so I have, and when I got to this book, I re-read it and reflected on how much richer the re-read was for having read the first ten. I was surprised so many others liked the idea.

5. Review: Bury Your Dead. This was the other Louise Penny book to make this list. It follows a volume in which Gamache and Beauvoir solve murders separately while dealing with the trauma following an ambush in which both nearly died, and several other officers did. I explored the process of healing and growth Penny develops in this book.

4. Review: Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James show how we often misread the Bible which was written in a collectivist society when we approach it individualistically. I appreciated the nuance that saw both the good and the faults in each approach while showing how our reading could be enriched as we see that salvation is about “we” and not just “me.”

3. Review: Jesus and John Wayne. Kristen Kobes Du Mez explores the develop of the rugged masculinity typified by John Wayne, and traces how this shaped evangelical religious and political culture, and created a culture in churches often abusive or at least hurtful to women. This book has been discussed a great deal in circles I work in, perhaps accounting for the interest.

2. Review: The Hidden Wound. This is an extended essay from Wendell Berry written in 1968 on racism in America, our collective attempts to conceal this wound upon American life, and its connections to our deformed ideas of work. Berry’s analysis of the wound of racism in our national life seems as relevant today as in 1968, because we still are trying to conceal the wound. I hope it wasn’t only Wendell Berry fans who read the review!

1. Review: Lincoln Highway. This is the second Amor Towles book to make the list, representing my discovery of this author (I also read Rules of Civility). I suspect the popularity of the review was that it came out soon after the book. I described this as “one of the best road novels I’ve ever read–leaving Kerouac’s On the Road in the metaphorical dust.”

Even though none of these made my “best books” I like the choices of my blog readers. I was struck that both Louise Penny and Amor Towles had two books on this list. The Louise Penny choice is easier. I’m sure that a number of views are thanks to the Louise Penny group in which I post. Amor Towles is more interesting–the only reason I can think of is that many others are also discovering this author. I will likely buy his next book, as I will Penny’s as well.

I also realized that this list reflects the particular audience of my blog as well as the books I chose to read and review. It’s an interesting snapshot. I’ll leave it to you to analyze the picture, since I’m part of it. What I do want to say above all is how grateful I am for everyone that follows, who reads, and comments, and even buys some of the books. I hope you liked them and I look forward to another year of talking books!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Your Favorites of 2021

Can you believe it? We’ve spent another year together remembering what was so great about growing up in Youngstown, Ohio. I’m amazed that we have been doing this since 2014. Because next Saturday is Christmas, I thought I would count down your top ten favorite posts (by number of views) this week–kind of like WHOT’s New Year’s countdown of the top 100 hits of the previous year, only a lot shorter! So without further ado, here they are:

10. Center Street Crossing. An old railroad man suggested this post to me about the crossing just west of the Center Street Bridge where eleven tracks from five different railroads crossed, the busiest manually operated crossing in the country.

9. South High School. South High School had a long and illustrious history, from its grand architecture to its sports teams to its distinguished graduates.

8. Caroline Bonnell. Caroline was one of four Youngstown women to survive the sinking of the Titanic, part of the Wick-Bonnell party from which George Dennick Wick perished. I share her recollections and recount her life of service.

7. Village of Poland. Posts about the towns and townships around Youngstown have always been popular. I recount in brief the history of this village through which Ida Tarbell and William McKinley passed, among others.

6. Gypsy Lane. I discovered that this road, which defines Youngstown’s northern boundary gets its name from a real settlement of gypsies on the North Side. I include some background on gypsies, and heard many corroborating stories from readers about gypsies in Youngstown.

5. Favorite Things. After a crazy week, I came up with a list of my favorite things about Youngstown. See if the things on my list are on yours!

4. Slumgullion. That’s what we called the macaroni, ground beef, onions, and tomato sauce stew, topped with some cheese. But as you all let me know, there are a number of other names, and they are all right!

3. Seven Years of Food Posts. My “Slumgullion” post inspired me to go back and compile all my food posts from the seven years of this series. One thing for sure, Youngstown people love to eat and talk about food.

2. Front Porch City. I reflect on how Youngstown was once a “front porch city” where summer evenings on front porch and visiting with neighbors were one of the things contributing to healthy neighborhoods.

1. Pat Bilon. Did you know that when the actor who played E.T. phoned home, he called Youngstown? Bilon had an interesting life before he ever starred as E.T., one that sadly ended too soon. Many of you knew him from his radio show, high school or college, or your encounters with him as a bouncer at the Wedgewood or his work at his church. No wonder this was your favorite post of the year.

It’s fun just to look back at these “snapshots” of our life in Youngstown. One of the favorite parts of my weeks is posting these articles and then hearing from you. I learn so much from your comments! And if you have ideas for an article, just leave a comment or message me. My best wishes to you all for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

My Ten Top Rain Songs


Yesterday, I reviewed Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. In the book Cynthia Barnett talks about all the poetry and songs inspired by rain. One example from classical music is Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (Number 6) with its famous storm section. But there are a number of popular songs that come to mind as well. Here are my top ten. I suspect you will think of other favorites which I’d love for you to add.

10. Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, B.J Thomas. Brings back memories of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

9. Rainy Night in Georgia, Brook Benton. A haunting, moody song of remembering love. “Seems like it’s raining all over the world.”

8. I Wish It Would Rain, The Temptations. A song of lost love and the wish for rain to drown out sorrow.

7. Ain’t No Sunshine, Bill Withers. Technically rain isn’t mentioned but a great, soulful song of how dark it is “any time she goes away.

6. Set Fire to the Rain, Adele. An interesting fusion of images “I set fire to the rain
And I threw us into the flames.” The consuming power and ache of love.

5. Riders on the Storm, The Doors. Barnett mentions this and Ray Manzarek’s descending piano run suggesting the cascades of rain. I remember it as one of their last songs, Jim Morrison’s farewell,as it were: “Into this house we’re born/Into this world we’re thrown/
Like a dog without a bone/An actor out on loan./Riders on the storm.”

4. Summer Rain, Johnny Rivers. “Summer rain taps at my window/West wind soft as a sweet dream/My love, warm as the sunshine/Sitting here by me, yeah/She’s here by me” One of those “summer of love songs” not of love lost but love at its sweetest.

3. Stormy Weather, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler wrote the words of this blues song made famous by Billy Holiday. “Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky/Stormy weather/
Since my man and I ain’t together,/Keeps rainin’ all of the time.”

2. Fire and Rain, James Taylor. Another song that juxtaposes these images as Taylor sings of the suicide death of childhood friend Suzanne Schnerr. “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end./I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I’d see you again.”

1. Singin’ In the Rain, Gene Kelly. Perhaps the most famous and exuberant song of all time about rain as Kelly splashes and dances and exulting over his love after seeing Debbie Reynolds for the night.

Well, there is the list and it suggests the many moods of rain, from bluesy to joyous, fiery to reflective. So, what are your favorite rain songs?