This January marks the one year anniversary of my first post on tomsbooks, a short review of John McWhorter’s “Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care,” posted on January 22, 2012. As we all look to the year ahead, I thought I would add a few paragraphs of my thoughts on tomsbooks’ first year.
Over the course of 2012, tomsbooks kept to a fairly rigorous routine of posting a review once every two weeks, with only minor delays and a couple of deadlines narrowly missed. During the year, I reviewed 32 books in 25 separate posts; 15 were newly-written during 2012, 17 were drafted earlier and revised in varying degrees. The Word Press site helpfully provides an Annual Report, which I’ve decided to make public (Word Press allows me to keep it private, but I feel like a corporate big wig compelled to explain to wary shareholders what he did with their money). The report reveals that there were approximately 3700 views of tomsbooks during 2012, coming from 46 countries, with the most from France, followed closely by the United States and Belgium. Almost exactly 100 comments were posted in response to the reviews.
Tomsbooks addressed a fairly wide range of subject matter within the generally narrow framework defined as its area of interest, or AOI: modern history, politics, and political theory (AOI is adopted from a military acronym I learned in 2012, AOR, Area of Responsibility – my daughters, however, prefer their own colorful acronym to describe the books I like to write about, BS, which of course stands for “boring stuff”). The specific topics and subject matter under review seemed to go in streaks and waves. Early on, many of the books were on French history, with a three-book review of the Dreyfus affair; another on French women in Nazi prison camps; and a third on Americans in Paris in the 19th century. But after those early reviews, I went in another direction, reviewing five books on Islam and its compatibility with what we sometimes term Western values. Then, toward the middle of the year, I waded gently into the turbulent waters that marked the US elections, with four books explicitly on American politics: two books on neo-conservatism; one on Jewish-American voting patterns, and a fourth on why the United States never saw a traditional socialist or social democratic movement gain traction. I finished the year with two books on Germany from 1944 to 1950, which together treated the transition from the horrors of Nazism to the efforts to bring Germany back into the world mainstream. In between, I was able to address Russian and Soviet politics and cultural trends in three books and even ventured outside my AOI: in addition to my first post was on English grammar, I also reviewed a book on wine; two on the sad plight of my home city, Detroit; and another on aging in the United States.
At one point in the year, I began to think of tomsbooks as a site written by a Newsweek reader for Newsweek readers and people like them – folks interested in history and politics, but not specialists or academics — but about books that were unlikely to be reviewed in Newsweek. Little did I realize in developing that catchy sound bite that Newsweek as my generation knows it was about to go into the dustbin of history, along with the Edsel, Marxism, and real baseball stadiums. So in 2013, I will have to develop another sound bite to describe tomsbooks, and of course readers are invited to provide their clever suggestions.
Looking back at my reviews of 2012, I find it ironic that the three I consider to have been the most technically proficient might well have been reviewed in Newsweek (challenged by google as well as everything else cyber, I can’t confirm that they were actually reviewed in that forum):
- David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris;
- Janny Scott, A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother; and
- Alan Riding, And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris.
Each at least flirted for a time with bestseller lists. If I had to pick the one book which I most enjoyed writing on, it would be Janny Scott’s biography of Barack Obama’s mother, Anne Dunham. Having now voted twice for Dunham’s son, I felt I came to understand him better through the portrait of his mother which Scott provided. Since reading Scott’s book, it is rare that I see the President on TV and don’t think of his mother and the joy she would have experienced had she been lucky enough to live to follow her son’s improbable odyssey to the White House in 2008 and his re-election in 2012, when the odds against him often looked so steep.
The AOI of tomsbooks is not likely to change significantly in 2013. I am hoping, however, that we can garner more comments this year. Many friends tell me that they read the reviews, but I would be very grateful if more would take the time to share their views on the review or its subject matter by posting a comment. The comments must, of course, be “civil and respectful,” as I said here last year. Not surprisingly, every one of the nearly 100 comments posted in 2012 easily met that standard, without a single comment that even approached the forbidden territory of the uncivil and disrespectful. There’s no reason to suspect that 2013 will be any different in that regard. We are by our very nature a civil and respectful lot.
Happy and lucky 2013 to all, with thanks for following tomsbooks in 2012.