It’s #LibraryShelfieDay

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The primary sources I am working with right now

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Jersey keeps an eye on things

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These books look familiar.  🙂

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Part of the “H” shelf

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I still need to bring some order to this shelf

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Part of the “N” and “O” shelf

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Part of the “C” shelf

What Makes Your Book Valuable?

Fea books

How do authors measure the success of their books?  Rachel Toor asks this question in a very interesting piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Given my history in publishing, people often ask me for help with their book projects. One of the first things I ask them: What is your goal? What do you want to achieve by publishing the book?

“Getting it out there in the world” is too vague. With publishing, as in many aspects of life, specific is better and more attainable.

It requires hard thinking to make a list of what success will look like for you, but my advice is to do this exercise before the book is published, or even as you start work on the manuscript. Some things will be within your control. Others you can only hope for. If, on that list, you have items that are not measurable in terms of sales or money, I say that’s OK. You get to define what success looks like for you.

Read the entire piece here.

So how do I measure the success of my books?  It depends on the book:

The Way of Improvement Leads Home:   I wrote this to establish myself as an early American historian.  I thus published it with a respectable university press. I hope it makes some small contribution to our understanding of the Enlightenment in America.  In that sense, I think it has been a success.  But, much to my surprise, the story of Philip Vickers Fithian seems to captivate people.  Dozens of people tell me that they cried at the end of the book.  K-12 teachers have pushed me to write a grade-school edition of Fithian’s life.  So, in this case, the book has been successful for reasons I did not expect when I wrote it.

Confessing History:  I edited this book with close friends Jay Green and Eric Miller.  The fact that we were able to work on this book together makes it a success in my mind.  But I also hope the book has established me as a scholar writing out of a particular tradition.  In this sense, it has been successful.  I think we are asking our readers–Christian undergraduates and graduate students, Christian faculty members, and students of historiography–to join us in a conversation about the relationship between Christian faith and the historian’s vocation.

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?:  This book was written for a popular audience. I think it has been successful for two reasons.  First, it has brought historical thinking to a much-politicized debate on American identity.  Second, it has provided college professors who are interested in this debate with a text to assign to their students.

Why Study History?  I measure the success of this book by how often it is assigned in history survey courses, introduction to history courses, and historiography or methods courses.  I am encouraged by how many college and high school history departments are using it.

The Bible Cause:   In terms of sales, this has been my most unsuccessful book. Institutional histories are tough to sell.  The value of the book is its modest contribution to American religious history.  It will sit on library shelves and I hope it will be consulted whenever a scholar’s work intersects with the history of the Bible in America.

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:  This book will be successful if it: 1). Gets my fellow evangelicals to think differently about their support for Donald Trump.  2). Helps anti-Trump evangelicals to dialogue with their pro-Trump friends.  3).  Helps the larger community of scholars, journalists, politicos, and pundits understand why so many evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.   So far I think the book has been successful on points 2 and 3.  Has it been successful as it relates to point 1?  Only time will tell.

The Best Christian Bookstore in America

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Byron Borger, doing what he does best

I had some last minute Christmas shopping to do on December 24, 2018 so I drove down to Dallastown, Pennsylvania (about a 40-minute drive) to visit Byron and Beth Borger at Hearts & Minds Bookstore.  Beth was not around on this day, but Byron quickly emerged from the back of the store sporting a festive green dress shirt and a red flannel tie.  After exchanging pleasantries, we got down to work.

  • I wanted a thoughtful and liturgical devotional for my wife, Joy.  Byron introduced me to Frederick Schumacher’s For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and By the Church.  I bought it.
  • I wanted a book on vocation and calling for my youngest daughter.  When I asked Byron for the best book on the subject he pulled a copy of Os Guinness’s The Call off the shelf.  I bought it.
  • This same daughter is thinking seriously about pursuing environmental studies in college and I wanted a nice Christian primer on creation care.  Byron recommended Matthew Sleeth’s Serving God, Saving the Planet: A Call for Creation and Your Soul.  I bought it.
  • I wanted to buy a Wendell Berry novel for my older daughter.  Byron has an entire section on Berry’s fiction and non-fiction.  I bought her a copy of Hannah Coulter.

By the way, you can buy all these books from Beth and Byron at Hearts & Minds.  Just send him an e-mail and he will get them into your hands as soon as possible.

After I was done with my gift-shopping, I did some shopping for myself and spent a few hundred bucks on new hardbacks.  Byron coached me through every selection.  He recommended philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s memoir.  I finished it last week and it did not disappoint.  He tentatively suggested literary scholar Anthony Esolen’s Nostalgia, but warned me that it was very conservative.  He was right.  I liked about a third of it.  Byron provided a narrative for every book I bought that day (and some that I didn’t buy). I left encouraged, inspired, and intellectually satisfied.

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans, a freelance religion reporter who I have worked with in the past.  She told me that Hearts & Minds was not doing very well financially and that she was working on a story about it.  I talked to her for about thirty minutes.  Her piece appeared at Religion News Service today.  Here is a taste:

The first book that Byron and Beth Borger sold at the Hearts & Minds bookstore was a copy of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.”

For the Borgers, it was a perfect fit.

But their customer was a bit perplexed since the book isn’t standard fare at Christian bookshops.

“The first customer asked, ‘What kind of bookstore carries Les Mis?’” said Byron Borger. “We said, ‘What kind of bookstore doesn’t?’”

Hearts & Minds has long been an anomaly in the world of Christian retail.

The Borgers, who previously worked for a Christian campus ministry group, launched their Dallastown store during the faith-based-bookstore boom times of the 1980s. They bucked evangelical conventions by including Catholic writers such as Thomas Merton, tackling topics like racial justice and featuring books by spiritual formation proponent Richard Foster, whose take on the Christian life was considered radical.

Back in the day, they faced boycotts, pickets and even death threats from the Ku Klux Klan over a display of books from Martin Luther King Jr., said Byron Borger. The store survived them all — and thrived for years, attracting fans among customers and authors.

Contemporary challenges are different — and perhaps more threatening.

With ongoing demise of Christian retail stores, consolidation in the Christian publishing industry and the continued dominance of online sellers such as Amazon, the future of this idiosyncratic venture is uncertain.

In recent years, the Borgers have cut back on staff and dipped into their savings to keep the story going.

“I’m not embarrassed to say that we have not been doing well,” said Borger. “We have not been self-sustaining.”

Despite the struggles, Hearts & Minds has a loyal following, readers who appreciate the couple’s wide-ranging knowledge of the Christian book scene.

The store appeals to mainline Protestants and what Beth Borger refers to as “thinking evangelicals” — Christians with traditional beliefs about theology whose faith prompts them to care about injustice. There are more than a few in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, where Hearts & Minds draws most of its support, said Beth Borger.

Read the rest here.  And then start buying some books from Hearts & Minds.

Here are some pics:

hearts and minds book haul

I bought these books for my library on December 24, 2018

 

heartd and minds 2017

 I bought these books at Hearts & Minds back in 2015

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Last summer I did a book talk on *Believe Me* at Hearts Minds

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Beth and Byron have most of my books in stock

On Book Exhibits and World War II Material Culture (#AHA19)

Megan Jones of The Pingry School offers one more post from the floor of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago.  In this post, Megan reflects on her last day of the conference with a nod to the book exhibit and a panel on visual culture and the end of World War II. (Read all of Megan’s posts here).  Enjoy!  –JF

The book exhibit is one of the best parts of an academic conference, particularly for someone who does not have the time to keep up with book reviews in academic journals. A scholar browsing the exhibit hall for new titles is like a child perusing a candy store, and the feeling of ecstatic curiosity is probably about the same. Kevin Gannon (@TheTattooedProf) had a great GIF of the wizard from Disney’s “Fantasia” to represent his analysis of historians in book exhibits. I spent about two hours walking through the hall. Here’s a screenshot of my camera roll showing the books I found particularly appealing:

megan pics

I’m going to (hopefully) be teaching a course on American environmentalism, Atlantic World and modern European revolutions, and Modern World History in the future, so my selection is fairly broad. I even persuaded a few publishing reps to send me free samples. Score.

The best panel I attended on Day 3 was session #173, “Visualizing Victory, Visualizing Defeat: The Material Culture of Occupation in the Wake of World War II.” Two PhD candidates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison gave fascinating talks on the afterlives of visual artifacts in the postwar period. Abigail Lewis discussed the various uses and changing meaning of photographs taken by French photographers during the Vichy regime. These images depicted a relatively happy and peaceful France under Nazi occupation, which can be best explained by the fact that only photographers who agreed to abide by Nazi rules could obtain material with which to actually shoot photos. These images were used after the end of WWII to depict occupation in a blockbuster show at the Grand Palais in 1946, and also during a 2008 retrospective.  Jennifer Gramer spoke about German war art and the confiscation of such work by the American Captain Gordon Gilkey with the Roberts Commission, and the choices made to determine which art was deemed potentially capable of inciting violence in the future.

Both Lewis and Gramer discussed how the images and works they studied had different meaning for the French and Germans depending on the time under consideration. Both also questioned how the meaning of images changes depending on the context – should we look at an image divorced from its historical context and deem it “artistic” as in the case of German war art, some of which is objectively beautiful and clearly drawn by a talented artist? Do the images taken by French photographers indicate their complicity with the Vichy regime, or were they subversively collaborating with the idea that their images would serve as a documentary record for posterity? Who gets to determine the meaning of an image? The questions Lewis and Gramer posed, which I am probably doing no justice to, speak to a broader question of who owns history and who has the right to interpret historical artifacts.

Thanks, Megan!

Stocking Stuffers for the History Buff in Your Life

Maybe you know someone trying to make historical sense of why so many white evangelicals supported Donald Trump.  Or perhaps you want to expose your Trump-voting evangelical friend to a different evangelical take on Trump:

Believe Me JPEG

Or perhaps you know someone who loves the Bible and wants to learn more about an organization that has been distributing the Holy Brook for more than 200 years:

Bible Cause Cover

Maybe you have a son or daughter who is thinking about studying history in college and you want to know more about what historians do, how they think, and what she/he can with the major:

Why Study History

Do you know someone who is trying to make sense of this question?

Christian America book

OK, this next book is for the hardcore Christian historian in your life.  If you want to think deeply about the relationship between Christian faith and the history:

Confessing

Finally, if you know someone who wants to learn more about an 18th-century farmer and diarist who tried to balance his ambition with his passion for home, his revolutionary-era patriotism with his Christian faith, and his love of a woman with his pursuit of a genteel life, you may enjoy the story of Philip Vickers Fithian.

Fithian 2

Order any of these books from your favorite bookstore.  I recommend Hearts & Minds Books.  Byron and Beth Borger will take care of you.

Book Coverage is on the Rise

Book Reviews

As an author, I am happy to learn that media outlets are starting to devote a little more attention to books.  Sam Eichner tries to make sense of this rise in book coverage in an interesting piece at Columbia Journalism Review.  Here is a taste:

IF IT OCCASIONALLY FEELS like nobody reads books, anymore—that we are indeed witnessing the slow death of the literary novel, and the rapid decline of leisure readingand the steady increase of American non-readers—why is it that mainstream publications are writing more about them?

Since the beginning of 2017, The New York Times has continued to expand its already robust book coverage. More recently, New York announced that it would triple its book coverage. In October, The Atlantic launched a Books section and a newsletter, “The Books Briefing,” with plans for “additional products.” Even BuzzFeed is getting in on the action: in November, they launched an online book club, complete with an attendant Facebook group and newsletter.

For the Times and The Atlantic, the changes arrived at a moment of substantial growth for each publication as a whole.

Read the rest here.

Are You Shopping on Small Business Sunday? Here are Some Great Independent Bookstores

Caroline with Book

You never know what you will find in an independent bookstore!

All of these stores hosted the Believe Me book tour:

Hearts & Minds, Dallastown, PA

Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg, PA

Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C.

Penguin Bookshop, Sewickley, PA

The Book Loft, Columbus, OH

Carmichael’s, Louisville, KY

Taylor Books, Charleston, WV

Givens Books, Lynchburg, VA

Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC

Chop Suey Books, Richmond, VA

Seminary Co-Op, Chicago, IL

Bookstores

At Hearts & Minds Bookstore

 

What’s the Most Influential Book of the Past 20 Years?

Rodgers

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked scholars to answer this question.  Here are some of the titles they chose:

Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Robert Putnam: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Jo Guildi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto

Jonathan Levy: Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in Modern America

Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

David Harvey,  A Brief History of Neoliberalism

Jessica Riskin, The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick

Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement

Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness

Daniel T. Rodgers, The Age of Fracture

Read the entire list here.

2 Questions:

  1. How many have you read?
  2. What books would you add to the list?

*Englewood Review of Books* Hires John Wilson

Wilson JohnHere is the press release:

We are excited to announce that we have hired John Wilson, the former editor of BOOKS & CULTURE, as Contributing Editor for THE ENGLEWOOD REVIEW OF BOOKS.

For over two decades, John was the editor of Books & Culture magazine, a publication of Christianity Today. After the demise of B&C in late 2016, John worked as editor for the short-lived online publication Education and Culture. In a superb essay from COMMENT magazine on the legacy of B&C, John Schmalzbauer writes:

Whatever happens next, the networks [John Wilson forged at B&C] will continue to hum with the give-and-take of faithful discourse, overlapping with the cloud of witnesses found in the mastheads of the Reformed Journal and other deceased publications. If the evangelical mind is a multi-generational argument, the seminar has only just begun. This conversation is Books & Culture‘s true legacy for evangelical intellectual life.

John Wilson was editor of Books & Culture from its first issue (Sept/Oct 1995) to its last (Nov/Dec 2016). He received a B.A. from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1970 and an M.A. from California State University, Los Angeles, in 1975. His reviews and essays appear in the New York Times, the Boston GlobeFirst ThingsNational ReviewCommonwealThe Christian Century, and other publications. He and his wife, Wendy, are members of Faith Evangelical Covenant Church in Wheaton; they have four children.

The Englewood Review of Books (ERB) was founded in early 2008 at Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, as a tribute to the intertwined practices of reading and conversation that had shaped that congregation for over a decade prior to the launch of the ERB. Although it began as an online-only publication, an extension of the church’s bookstore, a separate subscription-only quarterly print magazine (with reviews and other articles that are not available online) was launched in November 2010 Subscription Info ]. C. Christopher Smith, a member of the church, was the founding editor and continues as the editor-in-chief. The mission of the ERB is to promote reading broadly and talking about what we are reading, as vital and transformative practices of the Christian tradition. In 2016, Smith published the book Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish (IVP Books), which emerged from his reflections on the aims and mission of the ERB. The ERB’s community of readers and writers, although vastly Christian, represents a wide swath of the Christian tradition, and the ERB continues to be driven by the hope that civil conversations about books and other sorts of reading will guide us out of the present age of fragmentation and toward a deeper and more substantial Christian unity.

As Contributing Editor, John will write a column for The Englewood Review‘s quarterly magazine, which will begin in the ERB’s Ordinary Time (Fall) 2018 issue. Drawing upon his deep well of experience with B&C, John will also help curate the selection of books that the ERB covers. The Contributing Editor role will begin as a part-time position and John will work remotely from his home in Wheaton, but both parties are optimistic that John’s work with the ERB will be able to expand over time.

Congratulations, John!

Inside the Mind of the Book Editor

What Editors DoIf you have written an academic book or hope to write one soon, you need to read Rachel Toor‘s interview at The Chronicle of Higher Education with Mary Laur and Peter Ginna, the editors of What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing.

Here is a taste:

What are some of the main commonalities that emerged between the different types of publishing that might be of use to academic authors?

Peter: I make the argument in the book that editing has fundamental similarities across categories of publishing. There are real differences between, say, trade and scholarly presses, but for editors at both, the single most important question is: Should I acquire this book? And related to that: Who is the audience for it? And do I know how I can get that audience excited about it? We often need to think about an audience bigger than the one that’s on the author’s mind. That is, the author may be more worried about a tenure committee than about the New York Review of Books.

Editors also ask themselves, What is working with this author going to be like? Do I want to spend a year (or several) bringing this person’s work into print? At one place I worked, some authors were known as “LITS” — “Life is too short.” Most authors are a pleasure to deal with, but either way it’s an intimate relationship. You want the author to be a partner in the publishing process, so how you get along with them is important. Finally, whatever kind of book you’re publishing, editing the text comes down to reading it with loving care and trying to make it the best version of itself it can be.

I have worked with some great editors over the years, including Bob Lockhart, Jana Riess, Cynthia Read, Charles Van Hof, Lisa Ann Cockrel, and David Bratt.  They have all been great. When my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction was picked as one of the three finalists for the George Washington Book Prize, Jana came with us to Mount Vernon for the big awards ceremony!

Read Toor’s entire interview here.

A Nice Intro to the Early American Book Trade

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PVF read Francis Brooke in the south Jersey countryside

When I was writing The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America I spent a lot of time reading scholarship on the book trade in early America.  I was trying to trace the print infrastructure that brought ideas into the southern New Jersey hinterland at the time of the American Revolution.

Elaina Frulla‘s piece at the Pedagogy & American Literary Studies blog reminded me of my work on the book that eventually gave birth to this blog.  Drawing on some of the best scholarship in the field, Frulla identifies “four major methods for distribution and sale of books in early America.  They are:

Bookstores

Libraries

Academic libraries

Book agents and “hawkers.”

This is a great piece for graduate students or those new to the field.  Read it all here.

What Black Readers Read in 1943

Beecher Terrace

Over at History News Network, book historian Jonathan Rose discusses a 1943 study of African American reading habits in Louisville.  Here is a taste:

In 1943 a study of reading habits was conducted in Beecher Terrace, a black Louisville public housing community. At this point “the projects” were new, clean, and well maintained, a vast improvement over the hovels they replaced, and not yet ridden by crime and drugs. The residents were nearly all domestic, service, and industrial workers, but only 11 percent of households were headed by single mothers, and the unemployment rate was just 4.4 percent. As for schooling, 44.2 percent had some elementary education, 44.8 percent had attended high school, and nearly 10 percent had some exposure to higher education. Beecher Terrace offered a range of social and recreational services and was located near a black business district and a segregated branch public library. It was a stable and hopeful community, and although life wasn’t easy, it was improving.

The investigator, Juanita Offutt, visited all 616 homes and interviewed the residents about the books they owned, read, and borrowed from the library. And when she asked about their leisure activities, the most popular answer, volunteered by nearly a third of all residents, was reading. A 1938 study of Cincinnati had found that 34 percent of black homes were bookless, but the figure for Beecher Terrace was just 7.3 percent, though four times as many had only a Bible, and another 13.1 percent only a Bible and dictionary. Nearly half of the Beecher Terrace homes had more substantial libraries, averaging 3.7 novels, 2.3 religious books, and 1.5 works of non-fiction.

Offutt compiled a complete inventory of all the books she found in residents’ homes, a total of roughly 1,800 volumes. Mostly they were standard romantic and detective fiction, Tarzan, westerns, children’s books, religious tomes, Sherlock Holmes, Rudyard Kipling, Louisa May Alcott, and seven copies of How to Win Friends and Influence People. But there were also some classics: The Arabian Nights, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights (four copies), Pilgrim’s Progress (four copies), James Fenimore Cooper (eight individual volumes plus his collected works), eleven volumes of Charles Dickens (including three of Oliver Twist), Lewis Carroll, Silas Marner (three copies), Madame Bovary, John Dryden’s Marriage à la Mode, The Vicar of Wakefield, Far from the Madding Crowd and The Return of the Native, Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Moby Dick, Ivanhoe (three copies), Tristram Shandy, Gulliver’s Travels, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Brave New World, Das Kapital, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and twelve individual Shakespeare plays plus two volumes of his collected works.

There were four volumes of essays by Emerson, a popular author among black autodidacts (Ralph Waldo Ellison was named after him). Eighty-three households stocked some poetry, mainly Robert Browning, Burns, Byron, Chaucer, Coleridge, Virgil, Kipling, Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Masefield, Milton, Thomas Moore, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Tennyson, Whittier, Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, and nothing really modern. There was some contemporary middlebrow fiction: Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth (three copies), A. J. Cronin, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (four copies), John Galsworthy, James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, Main Street and Arrowsmith, Somerset Maugham, O. Henry, All Quiet on the Western Front, Treasure Island (8 copies), The Grapes of Wrath, Booth Tarkington, H. G. Wells, and even P. G. Wodehouse.

And Offutt found seventeen sex manuals, including Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, but mostly common-sense guides for married couples, such as Harland W. Long’s Sane Sex Life and Sane Sex Living. As Offutt conceded: “Frequently the tenants admitted that the books were given to them and that many of them had not been read by any one in the family.” But the sex guides clearly had been bought and thumbed through.

Very few households regularly subscribed to magazines, but some were bought and read at least occasionally: the most popular were Life (23.3 percent of homes), True Stories (21.9 percent), Good Housekeeping (13. 1 percent), and the Ladies Home Journal (8.2 percent), compared to just 3.1 percent for Time and 1 percent for the Crisis, the NAACP organ.

Four out of five households read the Louisville Defender, the local black weekly, a comparable proportion read the white-owned Louisville dailies, and only 5.5 percent of households never took in a newspaper. (In 1943 total circulation for African-American newspapers was 1,613,255, more than triple the figure for 1910, and rising rapidly.)

Read the entire post here.

Keep Buying Books

Shelf
I love Jessica Stillman‘s piece at Inc.com: “Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time to Read.”  Here is a taste:

…I have good news for you (and for me, I definitely fall into this category): your overstuffed library isn’t a sign of failure or ignorance, it’s a badge of honor.

That’s the argument author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes in his bestseller The Black Swan. Perpetually fascinating blog Brain Pickings dug up and highlighted the section in a particularly lovely post. Taleb kicks off his musings with an anecdote about the legendary library of Italian writer Umberto Eco, which contained a jaw-dropping 30,000 volumes.

Did Eco actually read all those books? Of course not, but that wasn’t the point of surrounding himself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. By providing a constant reminder of all the things he didn’t know, Eco’s library kept him intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. An ever growing collection of books you haven’t yet read can do the same for you, Taleb writes:

A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations – the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself towards the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

Read the rest here.

Unpacking Books

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Over at The Paris Review, Alberto Manguel writes about the experience of unpacking a library.  Early in my career, as we bounced from apartment to apartment and job to job, I did this often.  Now, as I enter the back half of my life, I wonder if I will ever have to do it again.  I think about this often as I enter my extremely cluttered study and navigate through the stacks and stacks of books that surround my desk.

Here is a taste of Manguel’s piece:

Sometime in 1931, Walter Benjamin wrote a short and now famous essay about readers’ relationship to their books. He called it “Unpacking My Library: A Speech on Collecting,” and he used the occasion of pulling his almost two thousand books out of their boxes to muse on the privileges and responsibilities of a reader. Benjamin was moving from the house he had shared with his wife until their acrimonious divorce the previous year to a small furnished apartment in which he would live alone, he said, for the first time in his life, “like an adult.” Benjamin was then “at the threshold of forty and without property, position, home or assets.” It might not be entirely mistaken to see his meditation on books as a counterpoise to the breakup of his marriage.

Packing and unpacking are two sides of the same impulse, and both lend meaning to moments of chaos. “Thus is the existence of the collector,” Benjamin writes, “dialectically pulled between the poles of disorder and order.” He might have added: or packing and unpacking.

Unpacking, as Benjamin realized, is essentially an expansive and untidy activity. Freed from their bounds, the books spill onto the floor or pile up in unsteady columns, waiting for the places that will later be assigned to them. In this waiting period, before the new order has been established, they exist in a tangle of synchronicities and remembrances, forming sudden and unexpected alliances or parting from each other incongruously. Lifelong enemies Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, for instance, will sit amicably on the same expectant shelf while the many members of the Bloomsbury group will find themselves each exiled to a different “negatively charged region” (as the physicists call it), waiting for the wishful reunion of their particles.

Read the entire piece here.

Obama Shares His 2017 Reading List and Playlist

Obama books

And it also looks like he has been to Springsteen on Broadway!

From his Facebook page:

During my presidency, I started a tradition of sharing my reading lists and playlists. It was a nice way to reflect on the works that resonated with me and lift up authors and artists from around the world. With some extra time on my hands this year to catch up, I wanted to share the books and music that I enjoyed most. From songs that got me moving to stories that inspired me, here’s my 2017 list — I hope you enjoy it and have a happy and healthy New Year.

The best books I read in 2017:
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Grant by Ron Chernow
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond 
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid 
Five-Carat Soul by James McBride 
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
*Bonus for hoops fans: Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

My favorite songs of 2017:
Mi Gente by J Balvin & Willy William 
Havana by Camila Cabello (feat. Young Thug)
Blessed by Daniel Caesar 
The Joke by Brandi Carlile
First World Problems by Chance The Rapper (feat. Daniel Caesar)
Rise Up by Andra Day
Wild Thoughts by DJ Khaled (feat. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller)
Family Feud by Jay-Z (feat. Beyoncé)
Humble by Kendrick Lamar
La Dame et Ses Valises by Les Amazones d’Afrique (feat. Nneka)
Unforgettable by French Montana (feat. Swae Lee)
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National
Chanel by Frank Ocean 
Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man
Butterfly Effect by Travis Scott
Matter of Time by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Little Bit by Mavis Staples
Millionaire by Chris Stapleton
Sign of the Times by Harry Styles 
Broken Clocks by SZA
Ordinary Love (Extraordinary Mix) by U2
*Bonus: Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen (not out yet, but the blues version in his Broadway show is the best!)

The End of *Education and Culture*

Wilson JohnI recently learned that thebestschools.org pulled the plug on John Wilson’s latest project Education & Culture: A Critical Review.  (See our May 2107 post celebrating the launch of this new venture by the former Books & Culture editor).

I am obviously disappointed by this, but I am even more upset that the evangelical community could not step up to fund Books & Culture before it was forced to shut down operations last year.  What does this say about the state of the “evangelical mind?”  (If you were at the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference in Indianapolis last month you heard me say this publicly during the Q&A session following my presentation).

Here is Wilson’s final post: “Endings and Education & Culture“:

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”–Frank Herbert

Beginning. Middle. Ending. In a good book, all three rush by and you turn that final page satisfied, disappointed, or wanting more.

Today marks the end of Education & Culture. The beginning was unexpected, the middle rushed by, and now with the final page reached unexpectedly, the hope is that you turn it wanting more.

More will need to come from elsewhere, though, and where that familiar landscape may be . . . well, we as yet do not know. Many talented people contributed to Books & Culture, many of them journeyed here to Education & Culture, and surely some will be present at the future not yet. At least that is the hope. And as the master of sandworms notes above, endings cannot endure the life of an epic story, so hope abides.

Thank you. Find more of the narrative thread unspooling at Twitter through @JWilson1812 and @Ed_Cult.

The Finalists for the 2017 National Book Awards

EvangelicalsA couple of weeks ago we did a post on the long list.  Yesterday the finalists for the National Book Award was released.  Good to see that the short list for nonfiction is dominated by history.

Erica Armstrong Dunbar: Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

Frances FitzGerald: The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America

Masha Gessen: The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

David Grann: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Nancy MacLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

Two of the author’s on this list have agreed to appear this year on The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  Stay tuned.

The National Book Award Longlist

Ona JudgeThe following ten books will be considered for the National Book Award:

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
37 ink / Atria / Simon & Schuster

Frances FitzGerald, “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” Simon & Schuster

James Forman, Jr., “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Macmillan

Masha Gessen, “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House

David Grann, “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I.
Doubleday / Penguin Random House

Naomi Klein, “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need
Haymarket Books

Nancy MacLean, “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
Viking / Penguin Random House

Richard Rothstein, “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
Liveright / W. W. Norton & Company

Timothy B. Tyson, “The Blood of Emmett Till
Simon & Schuster

Kevin Young, “Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News
Graywolf Press

Your Manuscript is 30 Years Late!

kansas Press

The home of University Press of Kansas

The Chronicle of Higher Education is running a story about David Congdon, an acquisition editor at the University Press of Kansas who, after arriving at his new job, found a book contract that was thirty years old.  He contacted the author to let him out of the contract and, surprisingly, the writer said he would finish the book.

Here is a taste:

Mr. Congdon’s comically tardy book may seem like an extreme example of editorial generosity, but The Chronicle spoke to several people with lengthy tenures at university presses. They say that anyone who spends enough time in the industry, where a turnaround of several months to a few years for a book is the norm, will very likely encounter a project that is the not only years late, but decades so.

“Oh yes, this is something that comes up with surprising frequency!” wrote Leila Salisbury, director of University Press of Kentucky.

Scholarly presses, which don’t pay the enormous advances one might read about in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, have an interest in producing the best work possible, even if that means some projects far exceed deadlines most would consider timely.