What You Should Do with Advance Copies of Books . . .

I am a person who occasionally receives free copies of books from publishers.  They send them to me hoping I will comment upon them somewhere online.  It has never occurred to me to attempt to sell any of these books.

When I wrote The End of Secularism, my publisher encouraged me to send them a list of influencers to whom they should send the book.  I made out a list of about 75 people.  I have been very pleased by the comments and reviews offered by many of these people.  For example, I continue to be gratified that the New York Times bestselling author Andrew Klavan took the time to write about my book despite not knowing me or my work in advance.  You can scroll down the page and see his review in the lower right corner.

I am less pleased with some of them.

Is this because they offered a negative review?  No.  What’s the problem, then?

As soon as the book became available, my Amazon page showed approximately 20 “new” copies available from third parties.  I have a suspicion that some of the recipients of advance copies simply sold them to third parties for cash who then turned around and offered them for sale on Amazon.  This is not exactly nice behavior.

If someone sends you an advance copy of their book and you don’t want to take the time to read it — which is understandable as many of us receive too many books to read — then don’t do the author the disservice of putting the free book up for sale and thus competing with their publisher.  Do the kind thing which would be to find another person who is interested in the book and does want to read it and who might end up reviewing it.

Book Confessions Meme

I rarely participate in any of this internet “tagging” but Kevin Holtsberry hit me with one I couldn’t refuse.  It’s about books and how you treat them.

1. To mark your page you: use a bookmark, bend the page corner, leave the book open face down?

I occasionally leave a book open face down, but I almost always dog-ear the corner of the page I’m on and shut the book.  When I try to do this with my six year old son’s books, he reprimands me for not using a book mark as he has been taught to do at his fascist public school.  🙂

2. Do you lend your books?

I loan books because I want to influence people’s thoughts about the world.  I usually don’t get them back.  It’s not something I judge the human race about because it is very easy to forget you have borrowed a CD or a book.  I’m sure I have done it myself.

3. You find an interesting passage: you write in your book or NO WRITING IN BOOKS!

Not only do I write extensively in books by bracketing text, underlining text, and adding marginalia, but I also write in library books.  I know this is a vile habit which horrifies anyone I tell, but I can’t help but note places that meant something to me.  I promise I do it in a very modest and not very noticeable manner.

4. Dust jackets – leave it on or take it off.

OFF.  They are an impediment and were not made to be long for this world.  I used to remove them while reading and replace them.  Then, I started putting them in a drawer.  My wife threw them away one day.  I freaked out for several minutes and then realized, so what?

5. Hard cover, paperback, skip it and get the audio book?

Hardbacks are unnecessary for me.  I probably like the trade paperback format the most for ease of handling and reading.  Of course, I keep getting more and more interested in using the Kindle to read.

6. Do you shelve your books by subject, author, or size and color of the book spines?

I shelve them so as to get them off of other furniture and keep my wife from injuring me.  Not much rhyme or reason except that I usually isolate the mass paperbacks and keep my very favorite books downstairs in the best bookcase.
7. Buy it or borrow it from the library later?

I don’t use the library much these days.  Amazon turned me into a serious book buyer.  Especially Amazon marketplace.

8. Do you put your name on your books – scribble your name in the cover, fancy bookplate, or stamp?

I used a beautiful book embossing device that says Baker Family Library — Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.  It is a treasured gift from a friend.

9. Most of the books you own are rare and out-of-print books or recent publications?

Highly eclectic mix of books.  I am becoming averse to really old books because the dust and mildew affects as I age.

10. Page edges – deckled or straight?

Straight.  I think the rough cut book pages are just a little precious.  You have the technology to do it straight, so just do it that way.

11. How many books do you read at one time?

I frequently have multiple books going at one time.  If I am reading only one book, that is a sure sign that it is a marvelous read.

12. Be honest, ever tear a page from a book?

Are you a barbarian?  Leave me and go sack Washington, D.C.

Farewell, Jack Reacher. Farewell, Lee Child.

My father-in-law and I bonded years ago when he introduced me to the genre of action thrillers. It began when he loaned me a box full of the first 60 or so Remo Williams novels. I still remember that chapter two of each book began with “His name was Remo and . . .”

Our latest action hero has been Jack Reacher, the creation of British television writer Lee Child. Reacher (always Reacher in the series, never Jack) is an imaginative hero. He spent the first thirty-five years or so of his life on military bases. First, as a child of a soldier and then as a top military policeman. The hook is that Reacher, as a military policeman, is something like a super-cop. His targets were trained men, often devious, tough fighters without a moral code.

As he aged, he tired of his regimented life, quit the army, and became a wanderer. Reacher doesn’t even have a suitcase. He wears a set of clothes until it wears out, buys good quality English walking shoes, and carries an ATM card and a folding toothbrush. He is something of a cross between Dr. Richard Kimble (The Fugitive) and The Incredible Hulk. Big, tough, strong, and very street smart. He moves from place to place and gets involved in situations usually requiring his violent intervention.

All in all, it has been a highly enjoyable series. The kind of candy I yearned for while working on my dissertation. Upon finishing, I gorged on the likes of Reacher.

The latest, Nothing to Lose, lost me as a customer. Lee Child, the author, seems to have REALLY enjoyed the recent works of village atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. He seems to have enjoyed them so much that he had to come up with a highly improbable plot just to demonstrate how stupid he thinks Christians are. Oh, and along the way he manages to claim that nothing the American military has done since 1945 has been worth the price of men’s lives.

But Child’s little crusade against conservative protestants and American military efforts of the past sixty years wouldn’t have been enough to send me packing if the book weren’t so bad. The villain catches Reacher multiple times and somewhat inexplicably lets him go. The bad guy has a compound. Reacher spends the entire novel working his way in and out of the compound as he goes between two towns, Hope and Despair. On the one hand, the villain has put together an incredibly devious and ingenious plan to help bring about the apocalypse. On the other, Child (through Reacher) assures us that the villain is a weak-minded man who is accustomed to believing things that comfort him. It is profoundly boring, which is something I have never been remotely close to saying about any of the other books. It was literally an act of will for me to continue reading Nothing to Lose. I was determined to finish because I knew it would likely be the last run for Reacher and me.

Now, having finished, I’m sure of it. It was.

My End of the Year Book List for Conservatives

It is nearly New Year’s Eve and the time of reflection is greatly upon us.  This reality is especially poignant in the wake of a revolutionary left-liberal presidential victory and the onset of substantial economic challenges.

Under the circumstances, I thought now might be a good time to propose a list of outstanding books for the intellectually curious friend or fellow traveler.

I would not dare attempt to put these in order based on excellence.  Just consider it a series of number ones.

1.  Lancelot by Walker Percy — A southern moderate-liberal is slowly fading out of his own life.  He doesn’t know what his purpose is or where his marriage and family are going.  But then, something strange happens.  He discovers there is such a thing as evil.  Percy won the National Book Award for The Moviegoer, but Lancelot is my favorite.

2.  Witness by Whittaker Chambers — Surely, the greatest memoir of any man of the right.  Possibly, the greatest memoir ever.  I once tried to copy out the passages that meant the most to me and ended up just typing in whole pages at a time.  For those too young to know, Chambers was an American traitor loyal to the Communist cause, who left the Communists for what he felt was the losing side.  He had to do it because of his recovered belief in God.  In the course of his life, he became a senior editor of Time magazine and ultimately defeated Alger Hiss in legal battles over Hiss’s identity as a communist agent.  Since Frost/Nixon is hot, you might also know that Richard Nixon’s presidency would likely never have happened without his championing of Chambers’ cause.

3.  Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand — I can’t resist putting Chambers and Rand together, especially since Chambers was the instrument William F. Buckley used to read Rand out of the conservative movement.  As a Christian, I find Rand’s work antithetical to my own sensibilities, but I have to admit its power.  Besides, this is a conservative-libertarian list and she can’t be left off.  On the other hand, as literature, it cannot rank with the greats.  I still remember the moment when John Galt grabs a microphone to speak to the nation . . . and one hundred pages later is wrapping it up!

4.  After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre — This is arguably the finest and most readable piece of political philosophy I have ever encountered.  Anyone who wonders why our political discourse has become so poisonous and incommensurate should read this work.  So, for that matter, should anyone interested in answering John Rawls.  George W. Bush would have known long ago that “the new tone” was destined to fail, if only he’d read his MacIntyre.

5.  Anarchy, Utopia, and the State by Robert Nozick — I’ll make this one simple.  Robert Nozick provides the most convincing case for a minimalist state that I’ve ever seen.  You can break your head on his symbols and formulas, but bear with it because you WILL get it if you keep reading.  Even if you were only to read the short portion where he tells his “tale of the slave” you will be confirmed in your libertarian instincts.

6.  Man and the State by Jacques Maritain — This collection of lectures about the relationship between the individual, the culture, and the state contains the kind of essential thought we wish every politician understood.  Careful, wise, insightful.  You will understand many things better after reading Maritain. If you would like to read political philosophy, but have been afraid to start, this may be your entry point.

7.  Stained Glass by William F. Buckley — William F. Buckley is dead and I don’t feel so good, myself.  However, I am comforted by reading his best works.  This Blackford Oakes heart of the Cold War novel is one of his strongest entries.  You want to see the kind of chess match the Soviets and Americans were playing?  Then, read this Buckley spy novel.

8.  The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer — Would you like to know who was the prince of the Christian conservatives?  It wasn’t Falwell or Robertson.  It was Francis Schaeffer.  The missionary who set up a Swiss Chalet spent years arguing with college students in Europe.  Along the way, he formed a convincing apologetic for the existence of God and the reality of values.  (I am almost required to point out that Schaeffer was wrong in his critique of certain figures.  So, I said it.  Still, this book is great stuff.)

9.  Perelandra by C.S. Lewis — I could have chosen almost any title by C.S. Lewis, so I picked the one that had the greatest emotional impact on me.  Perelandra is the second book of Lewis’s space trilogy (underappreciated next to Narnia).  The story centers around the drama of Adam and Eve being replayed on a new planet with an earthman there to witness it.  Utterly compelling and, of course, full to bursting with philosophical and spiritual meaning.

The Remarkable Andrew Klavan

A few years ago, I somehow came upon the fiction of Lars Walker.  I’m not sure how it happened, but it did.  I became aware that there was a Christian writing fantasy and that he was a guy to consider.  His book The Year of the Warrior touched me.  Though published almost as pulp fiction, I discovered the book contained serious reflection on the nature of faith, religious freedom, and the spread of the Christian faith to pagan cultures.  I went on to read his other books and his blog.  At his blog, he wrote quite a bit about a fellow named Andrew Klavan.

I picked up Klavan’s books and began one of the more rewarding reading experiences of my life.  In particular, I have to single out the Weiss and Bishop detective series for special praise.  Just from reading them, I began to suspect Klavan of being a Christian.

I don’t know if he was one at the time of writing those novels, but he is a Christian now.  He appeared on Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson to talk about faith.  I am usually the type who would much rather read than watch short videos, but this one is an exception.

Here’s the link.

What you will see is a thoughtful man really thinking about life and offering a fascinating story of his Jewish upbringing and being bar mitzvah’d even though he’d been raised not to believe.