Book Reviews in the Age of Goodreads

A few weeks ago, I read Reza Aslan’s book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and I loved it. I went to my Goodreads account and posted a glowing review.

I recommended this book to some historians I know and they both read it. I’ve been speaking to them about it and I was surprised to learn that they’re far more critical of the work than I am. Not because of their religious beliefs but because they don’t think it’s very good history.

Both of them have advanced degrees in history. One of them works as an administrator in higher education. They’ve both been trained in the work of history and both have expectations molded by the standards of academic work.

They see significant flaws in Dr. Aslan’s book. If someone expects to challenge the orthodox historical consensus on a subject (as Dr. Aslan does) there are standards that must be met, the work must uphold a certain level of academic rigor.

Zealot fails to meet these standards. As my friend suggested—he can’t believe that this work would ever survive peer review.

After hearing what my friends had to say about the work I decided to do what a good librarian should do and find out more about Dr. Aslan’s qualifications, his authority to speak on this matter, and the critical reception his work has received from professional historians in the field.

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Checking My Privilege

Last year, I vowed to be more aware of how my life is very different from the lives of many in the community I serve through my library work.

I recently read the book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, and it opened my eyes to yet another way that I’m really quite privileged compared to many.

When I completed my Master’s degree and began my job search, my top priority was to get my wife back home. She’d spent several years living away from her family and wanted to be near them again.

Everyone I spoke to for job search advice, every article I read, they all told me that I had to be willing to go where the work was, wherever that happened to be. Librarianship is a highly mobile profession. When I restricted my job search right out of the gate to a fairly narrow region of the country, it went against common wisdom. Some people told me I was making a mistake, narrowing my options too soon. Indeed, I passed over many professional opportunities because they were in the wrong part of the country.

But family was my first priority. Getting my wife back home was the most important thing. Luckily, I found a great job at a great public library, right where we wanted to be.

When I tell people why I did what I did—that I chose to put family first despite the potential risk to my career—many people praise me. For much of my life, there has been a sense that families suffer for our culture’s obsessive focus on work and career. Many people tell me how refreshing it is to see someone living with different values.

Now consider a young man very like Robert Peace:

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Teaching Digital Literacy

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over these past few weeks thinking about digital literacy. I try to compare it to reading and language literacy.

The comparison is illustrative.

Consider language literacy:

  • It takes years to learn and master a language.
  • Immersion is universally recognized as the best way to learn a language.
  • The more words and phrases you’re exposed to, the more you’ll learn.
  • You have to start simple and work your way up to the complicated stuff over time.

Consider reading literacy:

  • It takes years to learn how to read.
  • Constant exposure to reading is the best way to learn—being read to, reading on your own.
  • The more you see other people in your daily life reading, the more likely you are to make reading a habit for yourself and the greater your comfort level with reading will be.
  • You have to start simple and work your way up to the complicated stuff over time.

“Years to learn,” “immersion,” “exposure,” “work your way up”—developing literacy is a long process that needs to be a part of your daily life. Literacy involves more than just the mechanical tasks of speaking and reading—it requires habit and a level of comfort.

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