*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

lady

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.

 

On the Loaning of Books

Bookshelf

Over at U.S. Intellectual History Blog, Robert Greene II has a nice piece on the experience of loaning books to his father.  It reminded me of the power of ideas and the importance of making those ideas accessible to people other than academics.

Here is a taste:

Perhaps not all historians can write for a general audience. When we lament that folks outside the academy don’t (or can’t) read our work, however, we never seem to slow down and think, “Wait a minute. Are we sure our work is that hard to comprehend?” Or to put it another way: is it time for us to stop underestimating what people outside the academy can read, understand, and enjoy?

Again, I only bring this up because I think about loaning monographs to my father and getting his reaction to reading them. Just today, I went home to celebrate his birthday. I was glad to, in addition to handing him his gift, to loan him my copy of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and George Frederickson’s White Supremacy. I handed over The New Jim Crow because my father, during casual conversation last week, mentioned wanting to get the book down the road. Wanting to spare my dad a few bucks, I briefly perused my book shelf before finding it and letting out a small whoop of satisfaction.

Read the entire piece here.

Are You Reading *Education and Culture*?

TheBestSchools John Wilson

As some of you know, John Wilson, the founding and only editor of the now defunct Books & Culture, has started a new venture.  It is called “Education and Culture: A Critical Review” and it is sponsored by TheBestSchools.org.

Here is a recent press release:

PELLA, Iowa, June 28, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Too much fake in your news? Too much noise in your signal? Wouldn’t it be nice to have experienced voices to help you make more sense of what you hear and read?

Many found a trusted voice in John Wilson. Twenty-plus years helming Christianity Today’s Books & Culture. Assembled an all-star team of writers. Earned the publishing world’s respect, with articles in The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe, First Things, and National Review.

Yet with the announcement that Books & Culture would halt its run at the close of 2016, it looked like the end of an era.

TheBestSchools.org couldn’t let such an influential voice go silent. Today, they proudly announce John Wilson is back! TheBestSchools.org presents the new, online magazine/website Education & Culture: A Critical Review, with John Wilson and his talented team of writers and reviewers.

Link to Education & Culture at TheBestSchools.org:
https://thebestschools.org/review/

Education & Culture — like its predecessor, Books & Culture — is a ‘critical review,’ a member of the family that includes the TLS, the New York Review of Books, The Literary Review, The New York Times Book Review, the Claremont Review of Books, The Threepenny Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and many others in this genre, past and present.

Look to E&C to cover history, literature, music, science & math, religion, sports, art, anthropology, fashion, politics, philosophy — anything under today’s spotlight. Other published pieces will include movies & TV, interviews, freestanding essays, poetry, reportage, and more.

“A jumble, then, a hodgepodge? Only insofar as that is true of the world itself, the universe, the whole shebang,” says John Wilson, Editor. “This little miscellany is a microcosm of the reality we all share. Magazines such as E&C — ‘reviews’ — encourage an awareness of the many-sidedness of things, a mingled sense of irony and awe, a sharp taste both of the absurdity and of the inexhaustible richness of creation.”

E&C writers familiar to readers of B&C include Amy E. Black, Joseph Bottum, Catherine Brekus, Heath Carter, John Fea, Robert Gundry, Paula Huston, Alan Jacobs, Philip Jenkins, Martyn Wendell Jones, John McWhorter, Amy Peterson, Michael Robbins, Sarah Ruden, Tom Shippey, Tim Stafford, Rachel Marie Stone, to name only a few. E&C’s advisory board, chaired by Mark Noll, includes Susan Wise Bauer, Lena Hill, Timothy Larsen, Shirley Mullen, David Skeel, Alissa Wilkinson, and Marly Youmans; they’ll be writing for the magazine as well.

“I met John Wilson about four years after he launched Books & Culture and found him to be one of the most interesting and engaging editors I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” said Rich Tatum, senior editor and media producer for TBS and E&C. “Many who read and loved B&C are just as excited about E&C precisely because John Wilson is at the helm.”

Intellectually curious? Then E&C is your cup of tea. Visit the E&C website and let them know your feedback.

The Author’s Corner with Kevin J. Hayes

GW BooksKevin J. Hayes, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma, now lives and writes in Toledo, Ohio. This interview is based on his new book, George Washington, A Life in Books (Oxford University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write George Washington, A Life in Books?

KJH: After finishing The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson, I began searching for a similar project, that is, another intellectual life of a major figure in early American history. Once I started researching Washington’s life of the mind, other historians tried to discourage me, asserting that Washington had little intellectual life. My preliminary research told me different. The more I researched the more I realized I could tell a story of Washington’s life unlike any previous biography.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of George Washington, A Life in Books?

KJH: My book presents a biography of Washington that concentrates on how the books he owned and read shaped the man he became. Organized chronologically and thematically, George Washington, A Life in Books examines many different subject areas Washington studied — devotional literature, histories, travel writing, political pamphlets, agricultural manuals — and situates them within the context of his public and private life.

JF: Why do we need to read George Washington, A Life in Books?

KJH: Though there are numerous Washington biographies available, mine presents a fresh look at Washington, portraying him as both a reader and a writer. It provides a unique view of Washington’s life and adds a completely new dimension to the story of a man we thought we knew.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

KJH: I chose to attend graduate school at the University of Delaware because it was one of the best places in the country to study American literature during the eighties. Professor J. A. Leo Lemay, a leading scholar of early American literature, informed me about the numerous opportunities in his field. In addition to the critical study of literature, the field of early American literature would let me pursue parallel interests in American intellectual history and the history of the book. Researching the literary history of early America, I could be both literary scholar and historian.

JF: What is your next project?

KJH: I write biographies. This summer, Reaktion, a London publisher, will release my next book, Herman Melville, as part of its series Critical Lives. Over the past few years I have unearthed a considerable amount of new information about Benjamin Franklin, which I am now incorporating in an book-length study of Franklin’s life and writings.

JF: Thanks, Kevin!

The Mind of George Washington

HayesHistorian Kevin Hayes has a new book out on the reading habits of George Washington. (Kevin, if you are out there I would love to interview for the Author’s Corner.  I can’t seem to find an e-mail address.  Thanks).

He gives us a preview of George Washington: A Life in Books at the blog of Oxford University Press.

Here is a taste:

A hundred years ago Ezra Pound criticized American history textbooks for ignoring George Washington’s intellect. More often than not Washington has been seen as a shelf-filler, someone who decorated his home with books, but seldom read them fully or deeply. Here’s an alternate theory: though George Washington never assembled a great library in the manner of, say, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, he did amass an impressive and diverse collection of books that he read closely and carefully and that significantly influenced his thought and action.

No one has ever written an intellectual biography of George Washington. Though Washington’s surviving comments about books and reading are not nearly as extensive as those of other Founding Fathers, he did leave many different types of evidence that, in the aggregate, can help to reconstruct his life of the mind. The evidence takes many different forms:

Surviving books

Though Washington’s library was widely dispersed during the nineteenth century, many of his books do survive. The Boston Athenaeum holds the single largest collection of books formerly in his possession. Additional books survive at Mount Vernon. Other libraries—the Firestone Library at Princeton University, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Library of Congress, the Lilly Library at Indiana University, the Morgan Library, the New York Public Library, the Virginia Historical Society—all hold books from Washington’s library in their collections, most of which I have examined.

Marginalia

With the notable exception of his copy of James Monroe’s View of the Conduct of the Executive of the United States, Washington’s surviving books contain little marginalia, but he did write in his books occasionally. Most of the time he did so to correct typographical errors, but sometimes his marginal notes reveal how he read. Occasionally his notes in one book indicate other books he read. The fact that Washington wrote in his books has gone largely unnoticed, because uncovering these notes requires work that some find tedious. One must examine the surviving books meticulously, turning over one page after another in search of the slightest pencil marks showing that Washington did read the volumes that bear his bookplate.

Read the entire piece here.

Best-Selling Evangelical Book Makes an Appearance on CBS’s “Madame Secretary”

Tia

Byron Borger, the proprietor of Hearts and Minds Books in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, got a screen shot of Tea Leoni’s character, the Secretary of State in the CBS show “Madame Secretary,” placing a copy of David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream in her briefcase.

Here is Byron’s post at Facebook:

SCREEN SHOT FROM CBS SHOW MADAME SECRETARY We were getting caught up on one of our favorite shows, Madame Secretary, and there was a scene where, as parents, the Secretary of State and her husband were discussing donating books to the high school book fair. One title was grabbed out of a bag and Madame Secretary said “Oh, I was going to read that.” It was only a second, but, booksellers that we are, it looked familiar. We scrolled back and in that fraction of a section saw what book the show’s producers used. We stock it here at Hearts & Minds, a pop-evangelical best-seller, “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream” by David Platt, published by Multnomah. One might wish a Secretary of State would read such stuff. What fun to catch it. Wow.

 

“Education and Culture” Is Here!

Wilson Ed and Culture

John Wilson‘s new venture, “Education & Culture: A Critical Review,” is now up and running at bestschools.org.

Bookmark it and visit often.

Many of you know John Wilson as the founder and only editor of the now defunct Books & Culture (1995-2016).

With John at the helm, I have no doubt that “Education and Culture” will deliver some of the best book reviewing and cultural criticism on the Internet.

Here is a taste of what you will find:

Joseph Bottum’s review of Pierre Brant’s The First European: A History of Alexander in the Age of Empire.

Wilson’s interview with Chip Colwell, curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and author of Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture.

Catherine Brekus’s review of Ann Little’s The Many Captivities of Esther Wheewright. (Check out our interview with Ann in Episode 11 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).

 

What Happened to the Greatest Library in the World?

LibraryTurns out it was illegal.

Check out Jamie Somers’s piece at The Atlantic on Google’s failed attempt to scan every out of print book in the world.

Here is a taste:

Although academics and library enthusiasts like [Harvard historian Robert] Darnton were thrilled by the prospect of opening up out-of-print books, they saw the settlement as a kind of deal with the devil. Yes, it would create the greatest library there’s ever been—but at the expense of creating perhaps the largest bookstore, too, run by what they saw as a powerful monopolist. In their view, there had to be a better way to unlock all those books. “Indeed, most elements of the GBS settlement would seem to be in the public interest, except for the fact that the settlement restricts the benefits of the deal to Google,” the Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson wrote.

Certainly Google’s competitors felt put out by the deal. Microsoft, predictably, argued that it would further cement Google’s position as the world’s dominant search engine, by making it the only one that could legally mine out-of-print books. By using those books in results for user’s long-tail queries, Google would have an unfair advantage over competitors. Google’s response to this objection was simply that anyone could scan books and show them in search results if they wanted—and that doing so was fair use. (Earlier this year, a Second Circuit court ruled finally that Google’s scanning of books and display of snippets was, in fact, fair use.)

There was this hypothesis that there was this huge competitive advantage,” Clancy said to me, regarding Google’s access to the books corpus. But he said that the data never ended up being a core part of any project at Google, simply because the amount of information on the web itself dwarfed anything available in books. “You don’t need to go to a book to know when Woodrow Wilson was born,” he said. The books data was helpful, and interesting for researchers, but “the degree to which the naysayers characterized this as being the strategic motivation for the whole project—that was malarkey.”

Amazon, for its part, worried that the settlement allowed Google to set up a bookstore that no one else could. Anyone else who wanted to sell out-of-print books, they argued, would have to clear rights on a book-by-book basis, which was as good as impossible, whereas the class action agreement gave Google a license to all of the books at once.

Read the entire piece here.

 

University of Virginia Press Announces New Book Series on American Spirutality

schmidt

Leigh Eric Schmidt of Washington University and Matthew Hedstrom of the University of Virginia will be the editors.

Here is a taste of the announcement:

The American Spirituality series seeks scholarship that explores dimensions of American religious life that fall into the cracks or beyond the margins of conventional religious thought, practice, and institutions. The category “spirituality,” in its Emersonian and Whitmanesque formulation, fundamentally registers these qualities of nonconformity and open-road individuality, even as it encompasses a variety of more specific religious lineages. We aim to publish books that view the past and present of American spirituality in both tight focus and through wider apertures. Doing so, we believe, will help define a still-emerging field of scholarly study, as well as contribute texture and depth to the wider public conversation about spirituality, a category that has grown in power in recent decades as so many millennials have relinquished previously recognized forms of religious identity. The thrust of the series will be historical, with particular focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it will also invite ethnographically informed work on contemporary expressions of America’s metaphysical preoccupations.

Scholars to date have approached the study of spirituality in America with varying degrees of precision. Most specifically, American spirituality describes a particular lineage within American religious history with deep roots in liberal Protestant and transcendentalist movements of the early nineteenth century. That stream, in turn, flowed outward in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries into broadly cosmopolitan forms of post-Protestantism, including universalized forms of Quakerism and religious humanism. Those tributaries often converged with a host of still more far-ranging metaphysical movements, from New Thought to Theosophy, from Vedanta to Zen. Even as it has grown evermore eclectic in expression, the American construction of spirituality nonetheless retains a popular coherence. It is taken to describe the perennial essence of the religious life, typically conceived as individual experience of the divine or the transcendent, and usually understood in contrast to the outer forms of religion. The phrase “spiritual but not religious” captures this common distinction, a distinction with profound resonance in American religious thought—from Emerson to William James, from Whitman to Bill Wilson, the founder of AA.

Studying the multi-form history of spirituality allows scholars to examine in new ways the forces that have shaped religion in modern America—individualism, consumerism, mass culture, psychology, democratic norms, gender, race, immigration, globalization, pluralism, and cosmopolitanism. It allows for multidisciplinary consideration of religion’s fundamental reconfiguration over the last three centuries—a reconfiguration prominently marked by exalting “spirituality” and diminishing “organized religion.” Is the redefinition of religion in the solitary, interiorized terms of spirituality indispensable to the politics of secularism? Is spirituality’s amalgamative drive—its ceaseless borrowing across religious traditions—ever separable from the politics of empire and neoliberalism? Are spirituality’s therapeutic regimens salvageable from a culture of narcissism and an economy of unsustainable consumption? The series invites critical histories and ethnographies that explore these multiple entanglements of religion, politics, and culture as they have found expression through the various spiritual movements and quests in which Americans have participated.