Ode to Books

There are fewer things more personal.  Each one has a story and it reveals quite a lot about you.  Really, it’s a brave thing, putting your books out on a shelf for others to see.  Seldom have I read a book more euphoric about a book than Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night.  A deeply literate book collector unashamed, Manguel takes the reader on a pleasurable tour of many aspects of libraries, including his personal one.  Libraries may represent many things because books are so varied.  Many of us who are bibliophiles are used to trying to justify our libraries to those who don’t care to read or to complaining movers threatening to quit.  Or even to those who write books claiming other books are clutter.  Manguel understands.

Those of us with many books but little of anything else can tell you the story behind most individual books we have.  Where we bought them and why.  Why we’ve kept them even if we haven’t read them.  Manguel understands that not all books are reading books.  There are reference books.  There are episodic instructional books.  There are books laid up against retirement or incapacitation.  Books for work, books for play.  Books bought to help you prepare for that event that never took place but might, in some remote future, still happen.  Yes, books take up space, but so do pets, furniture, and children.  There’s a cheerfulness to rooms with books, unrivaled even by elegant spaces.

On a recent dentist visit the television was set to one of those shows where a couple is given their dream home.  I’ve watched those before in other waiting rooms and medical facilities and one thing I’ve never seen is a couple saying, “I want a home to fit my books.” And yet those homes with books occasionally make the news and garner thousands of clicks on the internet.  Those of us who are bibliophiles know we’re a minority.  Some of us actually enjoyed those high school reading assignments that so many of our classmates despised.  Our educational system, undervaluing teachers as we do, often fails to inspire the love of reading in the young.  Manguel’s book is for those who were inspired, who remain inspired by books.  Those of us who categorize and move them around.  Take them with us.  Who love them.  The Library at Night is a beautiful book full of wisdom.  It is a love letter to books. Happy National Independent Bookstore Day!


Keeping Categories

Writing books about movies with a limited budget presents some challenges.  Our subscription to Disney Plus doesn’t really help with the horror genre, but my wife insightfully added Hulu to the package.  Now Hulu isn’t known as a horror streaming hub, but they do have some movies on my viewing list.  The other day I noticed one of their offerings with a title I didn’t recognize.  I  tried searching it on IMDb and came up with nothing.  A bit more research revealed it was an episode of an original Hulu series, mixed in with the horror movies.  The eroding of categories bothers me a bit.  It’s not just Netflix and Hulu and Amazon with movies, but it’s across the board.  I grew up when movie and television were easily distinguished.  Now we live with hybrids.

The same is happening in publishing.  When I sit down to write a book I have a specific end-goal in mind.  Everyone knows what a book is, right?  Well, the future of publishing is all about breaking that down.  Already years ago you could purchase aggregates for classroom use.  These were custom-selected chapters from certain books (electronic, of course) that an instructor could bundle into a “textbook.”  You could mix in articles, blog posts, anything to which you had the rights.  Such a textbook is not a book.  Nobody set out to write it in that form.  It looks like things are moving more and more in that direction.  You’ll be able to purchase just a chapter, or even a paragraph, to use.  Even if the book only makes sense when taken as a whole.

The electronic era is all about breaking down what civilization took centuries to build up.  Not everything about civilization has been good, of course.  It has been patriarchal, treating women unfairly.  It has been supremacist, treating those less technically developed in horrendous ways.  It has been classist, favoring the rich and their interests over those of the vast majority.  Still, it has left us some good legacies—the book, the symphony, the movie.  Such things have made us better people.  It may be fine to break such things down—who knows?  Maybe it will create more fairness for more people.  It won’t help me, however, when I’m trying to write a book about movies.  You still have to know what counts for each category, even if you have to do so on a budget.


Can You Recall?

While recently in touch with a colleague I’ve never met, I agreed to send along a filmography of my two horror movie books, Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible.  I tend not to read my own books after sending them to the printer.  Defensively it might be that I can say, “I know what I wrote,” but in reality it’s probably more a lack of self-assurance.  Writers often experience self-doubt and although you’ve convinced an editor and an editorial board you may still have your harshest critic to please.  Even though you’ve read the book many times through—at least fifteen each for these two books—you fear you might’ve overlooked something.  So it was strange trying to recall which films I’d actually discussed.  Or how many.

The latter point became clear in a recent review on Reading Religion.  Knowing how I went about piecing together Holy Horror, I’d forgotten just how many movies I watched and rewatched for it.  While it was never intended to be a comprehensive treatment of the Bible in horror (I haven’t seen all horror films), it nevertheless ranges widely.  After having submitted it I continued to watch horror and I continue to find various Bibles in it.  The amazing thing is just how truly widespread the Good Book is as an iconic symbol.  Indeed, I’d been reading about the Bible as an iconic book and that idea took hold in the early days of putting words down for the book.  As an editor I help authors figure out these kinds of issues all the time.  Physician heal thyself.

Even though Nightmares with the Bible just came out over a year ago I couldn’t list all the films off the top of my head.  Sometimes you need reminders.  My books are never discussed at work.  The people I interact with on a daily basis have no interest in them.  In other words, unless I’m having an interview or reading a review, I don’t have much opportunity to think about them.  I’ve moved on to my next projects.  The draft of The Wicker Man has been submitted and I have three promised articles to work on.  Still, I’m trying to settle on the next book.  I seem to have found some acceptance among the horror crowd.  Biblical meteorologists and researchers on Ugaritic goddesses are much less seldom in touch.  Monsters are often mixed forms.  I should know that after watching all these movies.


Write It Down

Those of us with a bookish outlook often wish we could look things up.  This comes to mind because of a recent documentary I watched, but the thought has occurred many times when visiting museums, particularly for special exhibits.  I’m pretty easily overwhelmed by too much information at once.  In a museum I have trouble reading all the placards and remembering how they tie in because there are so many interesting artifacts to look at.  I leave inspired and impressed and wishing I could look up the information I just read.  I’ve often wondered why museums don’t sell exhibition books that have photographs of the objects with replications of the placards describing what they are.  Maybe it’d just be a market of one, but I’d buy them.

The same thing is true of documentaries.  I’ll readily admit I’m poor with names.  It takes many interactions before a person’s name sticks with me.  (It’s nothing personal, I assure you—it’s just the way my brain works.)  When I watch a documentary I often wish a booklet accompanied it with the names, and credit lines of the interviewees and (because I know this is available on IMDb) a full bibliography.  The books mentioned.  You see, those of us inclined to research enjoy looking things up.  In the case of a long documentary (and that’s only if you subscribe or buy it instead of “renting” it for a one-time viewing) it means having to skim through it all again to reach the information that you could easily look up in a book.  Books are wonderful.

For me, one of the benefits of books is their stability.  Electronic resources change.  When you go to cite a website as a source you have to list the accessed date because things may have changed.  The book on your shelf remains reliably unaltered.  The few ebooks I’ve read come with marks in them.  There’s probably a way of turning this off, but I don’t want to see what other people think is noteworthy.  I suppose it’s supposed to make reading a communal experience.  Reading, in my experience of it, is mostly a private things.  One of the great joys in life is talking about reading with others, whether it’s the same book you’ve read, or a different one.  Why not add to that by making books to go with other species of information-sharing, such as museums and documentaries?  Those of us with a bookish outlook aren’t hard to please.  We just like to have it down on paper.


2021 in Books

It’s become my habit, on the last post of the year, to think back over the year in reading.  This gives me a chance to give a separate boost to the books I found particularly valuable, for a variety of reasons.  My Goodreads total for 2021 will end up being 70 (two haven’t yet shown up on my page).  It’s easiest to do this by category, so I’ll begin with fiction.  My favorite novels of this past year were Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, Stephen Graham Jones’ Night of the Mannequins, Lisa Tuttle’s Familiar Spirit, Hank Green’s A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, and Christina Henry’s The Girl in Red.  I really enjoyed Joseph Bruchac’s Bearwalk as well, but it’s for younger readers.

For what might be called spiritual memoirs I found Ernestine Hayes’ Blonde Indian remarkable and Heather and Gary Botting’s The Orwellian World of Jehovah’s Witnesses revealing.  Vine Deloria’s God Is Red was stunning.  (It should be clear by now that I read quite a lot from indigenous writers.)  If you count love of books as spiritual I would include Andy Laties’ Rebel Bookseller as well.  As long as we’re on spiritual, books by religion professors might count, so I would add Intimate Alien by David Halperin.  If you count just memoirs, I would also add Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington.  And if reflective essays count, John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed.  And Thich Nhat Hahn’s Love Letter to the Earth.  I learn so much from reading about how others deal with their lives.

Books in the nonfiction category tended toward horror movie analyses (ahem), but some stood out even among the weirdness.  Daniel Ogden’s The Werewolf in the Ancient World inspired me.  Kendall R. Phillips’ A Place of Darkness was a well-written account of early horror movies.  Tanya Krzywinska’s A Skin for Dancing in was insightful and helpful to my research, if difficult to locate.  Likewise Hammer and Beyond by the late Peter Hutchings.  Mathias Clasen’s A Very Nervous Person’s Guide to Horror Movies was fun and informative.  For importance I’d rate Dag Øistein Endsjø’s Sex and Religion at the top.  So much of the world’s conflict is based on these two factors.  It’s difficult to believe that we don’t talk about them and end up fighting and killing over them.  If we can’t talk about it, at least we can read about it.  There are many other books I enjoyed over the year.  Enough that even a brief mention of each would put me over my usual word limit.  (They’re easily found, in any case, by using the “Books” category to the right.) 2021 may have been a challenging year, but books helped me make it through it.


Next Year’s Reading

One of my year-end rituals, apart from looking back at the past year’s books, is to look ahead for the next year’s reading.  This is such a pleasant exercise because Christmas often comes with gift cards from Bookshop.org or Amazon.  Until this year I’ve used the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s reading challenge to push me into some areas I might not read, but that challenge has now been discontinued.  I participated (this is strictly self-monitored, of course) in six of the seven years that challenge ran, starting in 2016.  Part of each late December was spent in visiting book stores, planning new reading projects, and thinking about the year ahead.  Of course, you can’t predict anything with too much accuracy, but I start the year with a stack of books and a head full of literary dreams.

Also in 2016 I began doing the Goodreads book challenge.  This is merely numerical—you pledge a certain number of books to read in the year.  According to my Goodreads stats (there are some books I don’t publicly admit reading, of course), I’ve read 517 books in the past six years.  Numbers were higher in the commuting days, of course, but I try to read more than a book a week and that practice gets me through some difficult times.  It always looks sunny when planning ahead for a year’s reading, but you never know where the other parts of life will actually take you.  Anyway, this year I’m planning my reading without Mrs. Darcy, mostly culled from my Amazon wishlist, which is unwieldy and constantly growing.  I try to buy the books from Bookshop, however, as it benefits independent bookstores.

This year I may set a slightly lower Goodreads goal.  The main reason for this is that books seem to keep on getting longer.  Novels grow to multiple hundreds of pages but time doesn’t increase in proportion to that number, unless it’s an inverse proportion.  Even with a lower goal I won’t plan on slowing my reading down.  In my commuting days it was fairly easy to read a hundred books per year.  I still tend to get over sixty without those hours on the bus, and hopefully all that reading is doing something useful to the world as a whole.  I write to give back for all the good I’ve been given.  If this in any small measure offsets the headlines that meet us daily, it will have been time well spent.


Salvation by the Book

I’ve never been to Iceland.  Part of me says that if I ever get to go I’d want it to be on Christmas Eve.  Ah, the light would be in short supply, no doubt, and it would be cold.  But the draw of Jolabokaflod is strong.  Jolabokaflod isn’t a difficult word to figure out, if you’re familiar with Indo-European languages. “Jol” (maybe the “a” is included) looks a lot like Yule.  “Bok” is English book missing an “o” (again, maybe the “a” is part of it).  And “flod,” likewise with another “o” becomes “flood.”  The Yule Book Flood.  The tradition is to give books on Christmas Eve and spend the long hours of darkness reading.  Iceland has the reputation for being a very literate culture.  I’ve read a number of books (in translation) by Icelandic authors.  If there’s ever to be peace on earth and goodwill to all, it will be through books.

If you observe Christmas, today is that great time of anticipation, Christmas Eve.  Churches, whether virtual or in person, will be humming places this day.  Last-minute shoppers will be out and frantic.  Some will be insisting we keep Christ in Christmas while others will be dreaming of sugarplums and fairies.  Some will be tracking Santa on NORAD.  In Iceland they’ll be exchanging books.  Politicians will continue their calculated plotting but I dearly wish they’d spend the day reading instead.  Perhaps there would be fewer tanks at the Ukraine border if those in Moscow would curl up with a good book.  Check the progress of their Goodreads challenge.  Open up the flood-gates and let the books pour in.

There are those who believe this world should be consumed by God’s awful fire, and that right soon.  But God, as I understand it, is a writer of books.  Perhaps the divine plan is different than so many suppose.  Even the angels sang about peace on earth in one of those books.  You never know what’s going to be under the tree, but in our house books are always a certainty.  The words that describe this season—joy, peace, goodwill—can come in a few ounces of paper, ink, and glue.  And if God’s own book tells us to love one another, who are we to argue on Christmas Eve?  And if it’s true today won’t it be true also tomorrow and every other day beyond that?  Iceland has grown out of its warlike past.  And today they’re exchanging books.  Perhaps there’s a lesson there for all of us.


Feeling Used

It may be perverse of me, but it makes me happy that used copies of all my books can be found on Bookfinder.com.  I discovered Bookfinder many years ago and it is a wonderful site for cash-strapped ex-academics, or anybody who loves books.  There is almost nothing you can’t find here.  Some of the books are very expensive (if they’re rare), but generally you choose the condition you’re willing to accept and how much you’re willing to spend.  The other day I was looking for a research book there and decided to type my own name in, just for fun.  I suppose some authors, having received next to no royalties, might be upset to find themselves on the used market.  For others it’s a kind of validation that their books are overpriced.

I’m a book keeper.  (Not, I hasten to add a bookkeeper.)  If I read a book I want to be able to refer to it again.  That’s one, but not the only, reason I don’t quite trust ebooks.  I’ve had electronics die on me and they can cost many books’ worth of dollars to replace.  Even then you can’t be sure some software upgrade hasn’t deleted the content you paid for.  At least sitting on a shelf you can find an actual book again.  I know some people prefer to read a book and then set it free—a kind of read and release method.  I suspect some folks buy used books just to sell them.  Still, to know that books are available is cause for celebration.  We may survive this after all.  At least our words will.

Bookfinder has been a lifesaver for us independent scholars who don’t have university library privileges or research expense accounts.  The collections of books individuals amass are as unique as the person her or himself.  A family friend was once won, I’m guessing, by visiting us years ago and saying, “You’ve got interesting books on your shelf.”  (In that apartment shelves covered all available wall space in every room except the bathroom.)  Having books around is kind of like having kids.  Some are new, some adopted.  A few you’ve even produced yourself.  They make you glad when they’re around.  Bookfinder occasionally has items that not even Amazon can find.  It doesn’t sell books directly, but puts you in touch with vendors who work with vendors who actually have the goods.  It’s all very complicated but it works.  It actually seems to showcase one of the things the internet does particularly well—puts people in touch with actual books, to be read offline.


Reading Memory

I recently wrote about writing too much (as if such a thing were possible).  After posting that I thought of how much the same can be said of reading.  I like to believe that whatever I’ve read is stored in my brain somewhere, rather like my writing on all those external drives.  I get some hopeful hints of this when a fragment of something read long ago suddenly reappears.  It’s good to know it’s there somewhere.  What brought this to mind is that a book I’m currently reading used a significant term.  Overly confident as I only am when reading, I figured I’d remember where it occurred.  A few days later I’d forgotten.  “No problem,” I thought, “the index.”  Indexes are never perfect and I’m always amazed by what strikes me as being so important failed to make the author’s cut.  So it happened.

This particular book was compactly written, but even so, it was more than sixty pages ago.  It took a few days of skimming, and finally going through line-by-line to find the word again.  It was a capitalized word and I thought mere skimming would be able to pick it out.  No such luck.  Part of the problem, I suppose, is that since I’ve left academia I’ve pretty much stopped writing in books.  I always did it in pencil, but still—there’s something about that pristine page so carefully typeset and laid out.  Well, if I had all the time in the world I could re-read those first sixty pages again, but I don’t have time to read all the books I need to, so I grabbed my old Pentel and began marking the spots I wanted to remember.

When we age it’s recall that suffers.  I tend to think the memories themselves are still there, sometimes distorted, sometimes altered, but present.  Books, after all, can be reread.  If I read something while commuting to Manhattan, there is a good likelihood that some of it was occluded by the worries of work lying ahead, coupled with the anxiety of catching the bus back home at the end of the day.  Not to mention anything that might’ve been happening in real life—that place outside of work that you really care about.  I’m glad for the commute reading; I regularly read over 100 books a year.  You couldn’t take notes while on a New Jersey Transit bus, though.  It’s not possible to read too much, but reading memory, it seems, is a sometimes a scarce resource.


To Write in Black and White

It can be seen as a black and white issue: either you’ve written a book or you haven’t.  Many people do write books.  Many more want to.  In a survey I saw sometime in the past few months—I can’t recall exactly where—a survey indicated a high percentage of Americans wanted to write a book.  What exactly does that mean?  There are many different kinds of books and several motivations for writing them.  And, depending, your work may or may not be taken seriously, even if you publish.  As someone who’s published four nonfiction books, all of them obscure, I often think about this.  Working in publishing I have some privileged access to the ins and outs of how this works, but that doesn’t necessarily help in writing success.  So what are the motivations?  Is there any way to tell the difference?

Obviously, I can’t speak for others’ motivations but I can see the results.  Most of the writers with whom I work are academic writers.  Their books are generally written for fellow academics and they’re the result of years of research in specialized libraries often off-limits to non-academics.  Those are pretty easy to tell at a glance.  Another class of nonfiction writer is the journalist.  It’s assumed by the industry that someone who majored in journalism is a talented writer.  If, after reporting on a topic for a few years, a journalist wants to write a book based on experience, that frequently gets a publisher’s interest.  The results may not be academically reliable.  I recall that as a grad student it was assumed there were even certain established publishers not to trust—mainly those that weren’t university presses, but not exclusively.

The self-published book has a more difficult trajectory to trace.  Some authors, no matter how good or insightful, just can’t get a standard publisher’s attention.  Others are convinced of their own wisdom and now have an easy route to become a published author.  Yet others realize some money can be made from writing (although making a living at it is very hard work).  I’ve been reading a book by a journalist that has lots of factual errors in it.  I try not to judge, but I do wonder when I know it’s shelved as nonfiction.  Now, these aren’t the kinds of errors that will cost a life if dosed incorrectly or will set off a war between dominant personalities that are heads of state.  I also know that most books do contain inadvertent errors—books are written by humans and we don’t have all the answers yet.  Still, I think of the readers and how we define nonfiction.  What counts as a book anyway?  Things are seldom black or white.

Writing my first book

Dirty Books

Dirty books annoy me.  Not that kind of dirty book, but books that arrive dirty.  If a book is expensive, particularly an academic book, I look for a used copy.  Since we’re in a pandemic, and also since the books I read tend to be outré, shall we say, getting them in the local second-hand place generally doesn’t work.  Sellers of used books online have to rate them.  Acceptable, poor, fair, good, very good—the scale is somewhat arbitrary.  I don’t like books with writing in them; I don’t want somebody else telling me what’s important.  I think I can find a topic sentence, thank you very much.  Lately I’ve gone down to the level of good with my online buying.  (Have you looked at the prices?!)  When you add that “very” to “good” sticker shock sets in.  Okay, so the books arrive well loved, I expect that.  But dirty?

I used to sell used books on Amazon.  I never sold many, but I always tried to be sure they were dusted off before putting them in the envelope.  I never put a cup of coffee on them.  Nor used them as a plate.  Some people apparently do, though.  I had one book arrive so filthy that I took the 409 to it.  Thing is, it cleaned up nicely.  Is it too much to expect that someone selling used books might go ahead and get some of the gunk off before sending it?  It’s not exactly Antiques Roadshow patina, after all.  It’s someone else’s slovenliness.  Who knows—might not a quick wipe-down improve the profitability by enhancing the condition of the book?

Library builders like yours truly want to afford the best editions that we can.  Books are more than mere objects gathering dust on the shelves—they’re individuals that we get to know.  Those that we meet but don’t really care for we pass along, hopefully to loving homes.  The way someone treats books reveals quite a bit about a person.  Accidents happen, of course.  A hazard of reading a lot may lead to the occasional spilled coffee or dropped bit of food, but treating books with respect not only increases their resale potential, it’s also an acknowledgement of the accomplishment.  Writing a book involves a considerable amount of work.  And although your property is yours to treat as you please, books are particularly vulnerable to damage by water, mice, or neglect.  Add fire, food, or extended exposure to sunlight and you get a sense of their fragility.  Acknowledging the effort a book takes to produce can go a long way towards making sure no book is dirty.  That, and a quick wipe-off before shoving it in the envelope.

Neat as a pin.


Unintentional Patterns

Time, they say, is what prevents everything from happening at once.  I’ve noticed something about my reading life (is there any other kind of life?).  One of my favorite topics on this blog is books.  Both reading and writing them.  When I wake up and try to clear the cobwebs of sleep from my head to think about the day’s post, I always feel relieved when I have a book I’ve just finished because that’s an eager and ready topic.  When I’m in the middle of a large book, it seems like a long time until I’ll be able to jot down some thoughts on it, and the ideas don’t always flow.  It’s here that I’ve noticed a strange kind of pattern and it has to do with the way I read.  Interestingly, it isn’t intentional.  It goes back to my post-commuting literary lifestyle.

I read nonfiction in the mornings.  I awake early and after about an hour of writing I try to get in an hour of reading before thoughts turn to work and its unraveling effect on the fabric I’ve been weaving before the sun rises.  The nonfiction I read depends, to a large extent, on my writing projects.  Not exactly the kind of research that time and libraries afford academics, but still, research in my own way.  Often these nonfiction books are large—400 pagers seem to be the trend.  I’m a slow reader, so they take some weeks to finish.  At night (or actually evening, for I retire early) I read fiction.  It isn’t unusual for my fiction choices to be briefer than the nonfiction books of the morning.  It always seems, however, that I finish two books very near the same time.  Then I have two book posts in a week and many days without any.

Since we married over thirty years ago, my wife and I read to each other.  Usually she reads while I wash dishes.  Those reading choices are by mutual consent.  They sometimes make their way into my research, but more often they show up in my fiction writing.  In any case, they also seem to fit this same pattern.  When I finish a large nonfiction book in the morning, the same day, or the next day, I generally finish my fiction book.  Shortly after that our dishes-reading book finishes.  I’ve noticed this happening over the past couple of years and I always wonder about unexpected patterns that I find.  It doesn’t always happen this way, but it does often enough to make me wonder.  If I intentionally set out to do this it would be understandable, but as it is, it simply happens.  As they say, things tend to occur in threes.


Gratefully

I confess.  I read acknowledgements.  Part of it is the vanity of finding someone’s name I know.  Or the worse vanity of finding my own name.  Acknowledgements, however, reveal quite a lot about the book you’re about to read, or have just read.  Not all books have them, of course.  Most academic books do.  A recurring theme occurs in the acknowledgements I read: privilege.  Many academics are feted and pampered and their institutions pour money on their desks.  Often they show a nonchalance about it all.  ‘Tweren’t nothin’.  What seems to be missing to me is the struggle.  Anything worth having, in the experience of many, is something for which sacrifice was required.  Hard work, long hours, and nobody pouring money on your desk.

Privilege breeds a strange kind of entitlement.  Many academics complain of how difficult they’ve got it.  (The stories I could tell!)  Now, I haven’t walked in their loafers so I can’t say if the personal circumstances of others are trying or not.  My own experience at Nashotah House—how good I had it!—wasn’t exactly pristine.  Conflicts between dean and faculty.  Required chapel twice a day whether you needed it or not.  Your every move watched for any indication of heresy or disloyalty (that’s not limited to the Oval Office).  And yet, those days were much better than I realized at the time.  Once in a while you have to crawl up next to Job on his ash heap to get an idea of what you simply couldn’t see before.

Acknowledgements are often like mini biographies.  You try to make sure you don’t leave out anyone that helped you along the way.  Books, particularly academic books, are the product of many people, not just the author.  Sure, the author’s the star of the show, but if the support staff wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.  Book making is incredibly complex, which is why self-publishing, while sometimes necessary, often shows in the end results.  Editors come in many flavors: acquisitions editors, copyeditors, line editors, production editors, and more.  Sometimes there’s overlap between positions, but even books that barely get read have plenty of sets of eyes upon them before they come to the public.  Acknowledgments don’t always name everyone.  In fact, they simply can’t.  It takes a village to publish a book.  Instead of feeling entitled,   I find acknowledgements always instill a sense of humility.  It’s an honor to be part of bringing a book to birth, even if your contribution is hidden away in unread pages.


Is It Real?

I’ve been reading an ebook and I feel lost.  I resorted to the ebook because I was invited to join an informal virtual bookclub.  Book discussion group may be a more accurate description.  Since I don’t see many people this seemed like a good idea.  Although I often take recommendations, reading a book someone else chose is kind of an infringement on my already crowded “to read” list, but connection is connection.  The problem was I couldn’t get a physical copy of the book delivered before the first meeting.  I struggled with whether or not to buy the ebook for hours.  I just can’t get over the feeling that I’m paying for something that can disappear at the next upgrade and all my effort in reading it will have been lost.  I’m a book keeper.  (Not a bookkeeper.)

After a morning of angst, I finally clicked on “buy.”  I’ve been reading the book but I’m finding it disorienting.  When I read an actual book, I quite often take a look at the physical object and assess it as I’m reading.  Appraise it.  Who is the author again?  Who published it?  When?  In the ebook world that information is obviously available, but it’s not where I expect to find it.  And there’s the matter of pages.  I measure my progress of book reading by the location of my physical bookmarks.  I can tell at a glance to the top of the book how my progress is.  A slider bar just doesn’t do it.  I click out of it and check on Amazon.  How many pages does this book actually have?  Why does my e-version have a different number?  Won’t that confuse the discussion?

I don’t feel so guilty about marking up an ebook, I’m finding.  Highlighting in a print book always annoys me—I don’t want some previous owner telling me what I should remember.  This ebook won’t get passed on to anyone else (that’s the genius of the business model—the ebook isn’t available for resale, which more durable, actual books are).  As I’m doing this I recollect that I’ve only ever read two ebooks before, both fiction.  They didn’t make much of an impact because it was only in writing this post that I remembered them at all.  The world of the coronavirus has taken its toll, I guess.  I’m reading an ebook and I can’t wait to finish so I can get my hands on the real thing again.


2019 Books

  Goodreads is always a little eager to put the tally on a year’s worth of reading.  This year, however, since I’ve been engaged in some larger books, they may be on target.  According to their count I’ve read 71 books this year.  (I re-read two, so my personal count is 73.)  New Year’s Eve, for me, is a time to reflect about what I’ve learned in the past year.  Much of that involves books I’ve read.  A good deal of my reading has been for Nightmares with the Bible.  To write a book you need to read books.  Frequently it means taking them on regardless of your mood—and I tend to be a mood-driven reader.  So what books stand out from 2019?  (They all have individual posts on this blog, in case you missed them.)

My first nonfiction book of the year was Christopher Skaife’s The Ravenmaster.  Animal intelligence always makes for good reading and this was reprised in Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds.  I’ve fallen behind in my Frans de Waal reading, though.  Of the many research books on the Devil and demons, Jeffrey Burton Russell’s Mephistopheles stands out.  Russell’s clear thinking and wide view make him a pleasure to read even on unpleasant subjects.  Other books in that category didn’t quite rise to his level.  Monster books, on the other hand, rocked.  I loved James Neibaur’s Monster Movies of Universal Studios, Mallory O’Meara’s Lady from the Black Lagoon, and Kröger and Anderson’s Monster, She Wrote.  These were all excellent.  Tipping toward the unusual, Guy Playfair’s This House Is Haunted and Jeffrey Kripal’s The Flip gave me pause for thought.

Perhaps because I was reading longer books, this year didn’t have fiction in the numbers I usually strive for.  Most of it was quite good, though.   David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas was memorable and Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (strangely similar to Mitchell) became an instant favorite.  My young adult fix came through Christy Lenzi’s Stonefield and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.  Victor Gischler scored with Vampire a Go-Go and Cherie Priest made a fine impression with The Toll.  I mentioned Neal Stephenson’s Fall yesterday, but it will stay with me into 2020.

A couple of memories/biographies also made deep marks on my mind.  Anne Serling’s As I Knew Him brought me close to Rod Serling and Barbara Taylor Brown’s Learning to Walk in the Dark found me where I live.  America’s Dark Theologian by Douglas E. Cowan isn’t really biography, but it was thought-provoking (as his books always are) and increased my resolve to read some more Stephen King.  The books I read make me more myself.  At the end of each year I think back over it all.  And this year I pondered what got me through a difficult 2019.  I have ended the year more myself than ever, I suspect, and I looking forward to a reading through the new decade.