The last post of the year is supposed to look back at what’s transpired over the last 12 months, so that’s what I’m going to do.
To start, thank you for your support.
After writing the newsletter for a year without monetization as a proof of concept to myself that I would actually write a weekly newsletter, I swallowed hard and made a public plea for monetary support in my first post of 2022.
Within 10 days, the subscription revenue reached the number, $10,000, that I had set for myself as the marker of success, and I knew I could keep doing the newsletter for the year. Even better, over the course of the year subscription revenue has increased by over 50%, cresting $15,000. This has allowed me to commission additional content from outside contributors, with more to come next year.
If the anniversary of the initial burst of annual subscriptions passes without losing too much revenue, I’m hoping to actually hire an assistant for a few hours of work a week who will bring some enhanced features to the newsletter. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s see what the New Year brings.
But for now, I couldn’t be more gratified to have found a (relatively) small, but mighty community that is willing to support this enterprise. Even if it all collapses in January, this past year has been a blast.
If you’re in the giving spirit of the holidays, consider a paid subscription to keep the good times rolling into 2023.
Your favorite pieces of the year.
Given that the number of subscribers has been growing slowly, but steadily for the year, there’s a bias towards material published later in the calendar, but these are the top-5 most read pieces on The Biblioracle Recommends from 2022, counting down from 5 to 1.
“Not the Smartest Guys in the Room” This is my take on the collapse of FTX and the downfall of Seth Bankman-Fried, who now finds himself charged with multiple crimes, has been expedited from the Bahamas, and is now on house arrest at his parents’ Palo Alto home. In some ways, it’s the platonic ideal of what I want to do here - think out loud about our culture while working in recommendations of books that may provide interest and enlightenment to readers.
“I Love Reading” My attempt to explore what exactly I like so much about reading, as well as some of the changes I’ve experienced as a reader (and writer) over the years.
“Be Not Aggrieved” A commentary on a social media dustup among writers/editors that honestly seems a little silly, but I think is reflective of some of the broader cultural tensions, and also illustrates the futility of looking for ultimate validation in how others view your work.
“ChatGPT Can’t Kill Anything Worth Preserving” Pretty soon this will become the most read piece on the site because it continues to draw audience and the issue of what to make of a world where a chat bot can write convincing English syntax will continue to be a challenge we have to face.
“What’s the Most Harmful Airport Book?” This being the most read newsletter is entirely a function of Michael Hobbes, the podcast host whose tweet I launched this piece from, tweeting out this link to his large and passionate following over social media. It turns out that Hobbes and I were on the same page, as his tweet was a teaser for his new podcast, If Books Could Kill, which looks at some of the worst nonfiction published over the last thirty or so years.
My favorite pieces of the year.
I think as a writer, more often than not, your own favorite stuff is not necessarily the most popular with audiences. This shouldn’t be surprising as a piece that is deeply personal, may have a hard time achieving the universal. My best book, IMO, is my story collection Tough Day for the Army, but it is also the book that has sold the fewest copies, by far. Still, it’s my favorite.
I’m fond of the most popular pieces for sure, but my personal favorites are the ones where I sat down with a relatively vague notion, and in the process figured some stuff out for myself. That’s the power of writing as thinking - both the expression and exploration of an idea - that I find so interesting as a writer and writing teacher.
These three pieces are ones where I learned something for myself that was hopefully passed on to others.
“Consumers V. Patrons” I knew that I wanted to avoid putting the content here behind a paywall because that feels better to me, but I had not thought a lot about the structural implications of such a choice, or the full range of what it means to “consume.” It’s actually a subject I can see myself coming around to again.
“It’s Problematic” Most weeks when it comes time to sit down, I have a bunch of what I call “noodlings,” little snippets of ideas or threads that seem to belong together, but I’m not sure how or why, and the process becomes one of seeing if those threads can be stitched together. Other weeks, all I have is a line stuck in my head on repeat. This piece was one of the latter, with the opening line, “I feel like the word “problematic” has become…well…problematic,” running as a refrain in my head. By the end, I’d reached a better understand about how I, personally, draw distinctions on why I still read Flannery O’Connor, but stopped watching Woody Allen’s movies.
“Thinking About Good Bookstores” This is a quasi-review of In Praise of Good Bookstores by Jeff Deutsch, but mostly it’s a reminiscence of my mom’s bookstore that I grew up in. One of Deutsch’s points in his book is that bookstores are not merely retail outlets, but are repositories of culture. In my case, they are also part of my origin story, a space that literally shaped me as a person.
What does all this add up to?
This will be the fifty-first piece I publish in the newsletter this year, plus four pieces by others recommending books they wish more people knew about.
I’m only guesstimating, but each post is (conservatively speaking) 2000 words, so doing the math, that’s more than 100,000 words published by me in this space over a year. Add in to the 31,200 that the Chicago Tribune gets from me, and the 60,000 or so that I provide to Inside Higher Ed, and you can see that my core gigs result in a couple of pretty long books-worth of tappety-tapping per year.
While I can get a little tired thinking about that volume of production, from here, it feels like an enormous privilege to be able to do this. I get to spend the bulk of my time exploring my own interests and sharing them with others. No, it does not bring fortune, nor fame, but there’s not a lot of writers I’d trade places with.
Which brings me back to…
Thank you again.
On a lot of levels this wouldn’t be possible without you, so again, thank you for reading.
My Chicago Tribune column this week is the second half of my Biblioracle Awards for fiction, featuring:
Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach (I broke down some of the things I admired about the book in a previous newsletter.)
Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib. (Caution, though, I gave this my “not sure I recommend it, but I can’t forget it” award.)
I thought this was kind of interesting. “14 Famous Books that Were Published Posthumously.” It’s sort of fun to try to guess as many as you can before you click. I got six.
Here’s a little twist on the season’s “best of” lists. Adam Morgan shares what he thinks are the “10 best book reviews” of the year.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has the best scholarly books. Vulture has the best comedy books.
Esquire has their best 50 books of the year, only two of which overlap with any of my Biblioracle Book Awards books, which goes to show you that there’s a lot of good books out there.
The New York Times has their 100 notable books, only four of which overlap with my Biblioracle Book Awards books, which goes to show you yet again that there’s a lot of good books out there.
Some guy named Barack Obama shared his favorite books of the year, only two of which overlap with my Biblioracle Book Awards books, which…you get the picture.
No requests are in the queue, but I’m glad to be able to report that thanks to the affiliate income generated by your purchases to the site, and my matching, we were able to donate $790 to Open Books in Chicago.
We’ll take a shot at beating that total next year.
I hope everyone who is in the way of the polar vortex is warm and rested. I can’t think of a better excuse to stay inside and read.
See you all in 2023!
Happy New Year!
FWIW, I liked the Problematic column too. And a few more end of year thoughts - your column is like a good book club. It brings to one's attention books one would otherwise never know about, and, happily, opens new worlds of knowledge and/or pleasure. Case in point, the actual, factual Book Club I belong to, while a bit more on the "friends' club with a reading problem" (like the book clubs that are actually wine clubs with a reading problem) has put me in touch with Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, The Lost City of Z by David Grann, and My Name is Lucy Barton, which introduced me to my favorite living author, Elizabeth Strout. Similarly, you put me in touch with Anthony Marra's Tsar of Love and Techno, and William Melvin Kelley's A Different Drummer, both your recommendations, for which, thank you VERY much. Merry Christmas (if you celebrate it) and happy and healthy New Year. May I pedantically remind everyone that Christmas is a 12 day festival which BEGINS on Christmas Day. 🎅🏼🎄💝🥂🎉🦢📚