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2020 Reading Report

I have stopped doing traditional ‘best of’  lists the past couple of years. Instead, I have written about what has impacted me in different areas. I also have been tracking, as part disclosure and part accountability info about the authors, I am reading. My authors were too White and too male again this year. Overall, I read about 66% male authors and about 60 White authors. And about 85% non-fiction. Part of this is schoolwork; I have only been assigned White authors and only one woman throughout the whole program. This is the program’s weakness, and I have been supplementing on my own, but not enough. Reading diversely takes me more intention than I am giving it (as I have said every year I have reported this).

Confronting History

I do not think I will ever be finished confronting history. There is always more depravity to discover and more history that we, as a culture, have chosen to spend less time exploring. The four books here are a good overview of the areas that I need to keep confronting.

  • Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/O Social Justice, Theology, and Identity by Robert Chao Romero was a very accessible overview of 500 years of history outside of the Black/White binary or racial history that tends to be my main historical focus. I need to keep working on expanding my reading here, but I really recommend Brown Church as a brief, well written, and helpful overview of Latnia/o theological contributions and history.
  • Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr was written as a companion book to his PBS series. It pairs really well with Eric Foner’s Reconstruction because Foner is primarily writing a political history, and Gates is primarily writing cultural history.
  • Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez has reverberated across my Twitter world. It has come up in conversations regularly, and I have definitely recommended it to many. It is a history of gender in the White Evangelical church over the past 75 years. That may seem like a narrow topic, but when paired with Taking America Back for God, which I will talk about below, there are some significant connections made between how the White Evangelical church has handled gender, politics, power, abuse, and institutions that need working out in this necessary but narrow history.
  • Facing West: American Evangelicals in an Age of World Christianity by David Swartz is the story of how American Evangelicals have shaped and been shaped by world Christianity. It is far from a complete picture, but pulling out examples works well to illustrate the areas in some depth while not writing a 1500 page tome. There are several major themes, the messy history of how the story of the founding of World Vision gets told (leaving out the Korean founder in most tellings), how the Lausanne movement brought together Evangelicals from around the world, but was resistant to western control, the way that US ministry interests impact what gets funded and how the messaging around funding gets communicated by the US funders, how US racial caste issues impact global missions and the way that the US has become a missionary receiving country as well as other themes weaves together a different type of historical narrative.
Other Perspectives

I am continually in need of other perspectives because it is too easy to become trapped in thinking that my way of thinking or being is the only possible way. History one way of expanding perspectives, but that is a very narrow method, I also need constructive methods of building new perspectives.

  • Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope by Esau McCaulley deserves its wide praise. It won book of the year from both Christianity Today and the Englewood Review of Books, and it is on many ‘best of’ lists this year. I have read not just this, and the large number of articles that McCaulley has written this past year, but also listened/watched a 20 something hour class that he recorded over the summer. Reading While Black is partially his own story of being one a Black New Testament professor and how he constructively approaches biblical interpretation as a son of the Black church but also designed for White Christians and others to overhear what contributions that the Black church is making to the health of the global church if the global church is willing to listen.
  • Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World by E Randolph Richards and Richard James is one of those books that I think almost every biblically literate Christian needs to pick up. Part of the importance of thinking about biblical interpretation is that we all have a culture and background. Without thinking clearly about that starting point, we can easily fall into ‘plain reading’ of the bible that strips the historical context and subtext of scripture from the text and inserts our own subjective assumptions. As with anything, much of communication is assumed. When you read a news story or a fiction book, assumptions may or may not be expressly hinted at but are essential to understanding the whole context. Some of the ways that we modern Western Christians misunderstand scripture is by not understanding the Biblical cultures focus on honor/shame or how God and others are often referred to in terms of being a patron or how our current individualist bias misreads a biblical era’s collectivist culture. This is a more targeted book than Richards’ earlier Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. And I think probably the more important of the two books. They can be read in either order, but I do recommend both.
  • Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie Glaude is a book I need to read again but needs to be on this list. Baldwin has been one of those authors that I have tried to read at least one or two books a year for the past four or five years. In many ways, Baldwin may be more prescient than when his books first came out, in part because of Baldwin’s ability to speak clearly about white supremacy. As a first-rate cultural commentator, Eddie Glaude opens up Baldwin in ways that only a good professor can. As a student, I can get so far on my own, but I need help to see the more subtle references and themes and connections that I miss.
  • Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism by Derrick Bell is a classic in the area of Critical Race Theory. CRT is the new pop culture topic that many have opinions on, but few have done much real reading on. This is a unique book; mostly, it is presented as short parables or fictionalized dialogue. Bell’s point isn’t to lay out a legal brief or write narrative history or sociology. His point is to engage the reader’s mind and heart, not just present them with information. I am not sure this is the first book I would read to introduce someone to CRT, but more people need to read these classics to understand what CRT is and is not.
  • Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan Shaw lays out a justification and method for writing theology that takes intersectionality seriously. It is not a quick read because the authors try to define exactly what they are trying to say carefully. There were many points where I was trying to highlight an idea and realized that to really get the whole idea, and I needed to highlight a full page.
White Supremacy

When the words white supremacy are used, context matters. Sometimes it does refer to groups like the KKK or Proud Boys or those who are members. But generally, when I use the term, I mean the idea of a racial hierarchy, where white people are assumed to be superior. One of the themes of my reading this year has been that we cannot deal with the racial issues of this country without addressing the belief in white supremacy or white superiority, especially within the church. The very nature of the theological idea of being created in the image of God is that all of us are created in the image of God. Individuals have different skills and talents, and gifts. But when this is applied to groups, it inevitably creates a hierarchy. These books deal with different aspects of white supremacy.

  • White Lies: Nine Ways to Expose and Resist the Racial Systems That Divide Us by Daniel Hill follows his earlier White Awake. I re-read White Awake this year as part of a discussion group I participated in and was struck again by how important work around understanding what white self-identity is. But this follow-up book is about nine spiritual practices to expose and confront white superiority within the church and society. Racial Reconciliation is a good long term goal, but there cannot be real reconciliation if the reality of an underlying culture of white superiority is unchallenged. David Swanson’s Rediscipling the White Church is roughly on the same theme from a slightly different perspective. Both are worth reading.
  • The Color of Christ by Edward Blum and Paul Harvey is a history of how Jesus Christ has been understood and portrayed in story, theology, popular culture, or image throughout the United States’ history. This may seem like a fairly narrow history, but it is an important aspect of confronting white supremacy, especially within the church.
  • Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry defines what Christian Nationalism means and how it operates sociologically. This book has sparked a lot of discussion and obfuscation. The premise is simple; over the past 10 or so years, Perry and Whitehead have been developing a theory of Christian Nationalism and a means of testing that. Their research suggests that White Christians have a significant group within it that are Christian Nationalists, which influences how they practice their Christianity and how those theological assumptions impact public policy, church structure, and their perspectives on the world. According to Perry and Whitehead, the strength of belief in Christian Nationalism is the best predictor of whether a White Christian would vote for Trump or not. It also overlaps with belief in patriarchy (which is why reading this with Jesus and John Wayne is helpful), objection to immigration and interracial families, and strong biases toward law and order politics.
Spiritual Practices

As I hinted above, I am nearly done with a certificate program in Spiritual Direction. My main focus has been racial issues and discipleship, and this program in spiritual direction has helped me significantly. About one-third of my reading this year has been directly or indirectly related to spiritual practices. I am increasingly convinced that part of the church’s problem today is that evangelism has become too much a focus, instead of discipleship, and that the methodology of mass evangelism has influenced how we think of discipleship. I think that is fundamentally backward. As the church, we should primarily focus on discipleship and understand it not as information that can be mass communicated but as a practice and relationship. And approach discipleship as a personalized and individualized reality as any relationship is. Evangelism is a natural outgrowth of mature disciples. Discipleship is not a natural outgrowth of evangelism. I am only going to highlight three books on underutilized spiritual practices, but I will also highlight three additional books that are more generally on discipleship that I think are well worth reading.

Inspiration

I am in continual need of inspiration from my elders. I most often seek this out by memoir or biography. This year I primarily found that in Howard Thurman. I read his memoir, With Head and Heart, a collection of his sermons, a biography, Howard Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography. I am also nearly finished with the second reading of Jesus and the Disinherited, his most well-known book. Some other biographies/memoirs I enjoyed this year were:

2018 Reading Report

Every year I create reading goals and mostly fail at them. My goals are rough guidelines, more than hard goals.

This year I accomplished some of them. I had a goal to finish the fiction of three authors. I finished all of Marilynne Robinson and Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. But I still have one more Octavia Butler fiction book. I also had a goal to read at least three books by both Madeleine L’Engle and James Baldwin. I read three books by L’Engle and one biography. But I only read one book by Baldwin and two books about him. (I am aware that the two authors I didn’t complete my goal were Black and the ones I did were White, including O’Connor who has some very questionable writing about race.)

I had a goal to read more about beauty, and did not pick up a single book on beauty.

Race and Gender of Authors

Sometime around April, I sat down and figured out the race and gender of the authors I read in 2017 and early 2018. At the time I was reading roughly 2/3 non-fiction and 1/3 fiction. I realized that I was roughly even between men and women authors in fiction, but my non-fiction was disproportionally male.

My real hole was reading non-fiction by non-White women. That is still a pretty big deficit, but I went from 1% in 2017 to 4% in 2018. I also am not reading hardly anything by authors that are Asian, Native American or Hispanic. As far as I can tell, I read no books by Native Americans or Hispanic authors and only six books by an Asian author in the last two years.

This chart is the percent, by category, with each year equalling 100% and the sections (non-fiction and fiction also equaling 100%). In 2017, 50% of the books I read were non-fiction books by male authors and 35% of the books I read in 2017 were non-fiction by white male authors. I read nearly twice as much fiction by women as men in 2018, and that holds true for both Black and White authors. But I read just over three times as much fiction by White authors as Black authors.

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I actually increased the percentage of White non-fiction authors this year from 46% to 51% because I was reading more White women non-fiction, without reducing the amount of White male non-fiction authors. One of the parts I did not foresee was that while I have been reading a number of books about race, history and theology around race, a number of those books were written by White authors grappling with race from their place as Whites. Of the 23 books I read this year around race, 10 of them were by White authors. None of them were bad books. But that is actually an increase from 2017 when I read 21 books roughly about race and only 6 of them were by White authors.

A Recounting of 2017 Reading and Plans for 2018

I am ambivalent about posting a best of 2017 list. My books are not, for the most part books that were published in 2017. And what is best, or most important for me, is unlikely to be the best for anyone else. So this is a recounting of what is important, but not really what was ‘best’. I would probably come up with a slightly different list on a different day. Overall I read 101 books in 2017, roughly two-thirds were non-fiction.

Two rough themes emerge as I looked back on the year. One is an exploration of race and history in the United States and the other is a seeking out of wisdom in memoirs.

The memoirs are far easier to look at. Madeleine L’Engle, over a 20 year period wrote four memoirs that are together called the Crosswick Journals. They will be books that I read again in the future. I have appreciated L’Engle as a great young adult author, but I had not really explored the range of her writing. Many of her books have been out of print and over the past year have been reissued in ebook versions. It is because of these new editions that I stumbled across the Crosswick Journals.

They start with A Circle of Quiet, which is roughly about creativity, writing, family, and seeking wisdom from life. The second, The Summer of the Great Grandmother, is her memories of her life that are brought about by the dying of her mother. The third, The Irrational Season, is a riff off of the liturgical year and what that structure has brought to her life. The last, Two Part Invention, is about her husband and their life together as he grew sick and eventually passed away. I also read three of her fiction books. The best of which I think was A Live Coal in the Sea, but none of which I think were among her best books.

The other two memoirs that were worth reading are Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura, which yes, was on last year’s list of most important books. But I read it again and then read his Culture Care, which is also worth reading. Fujimura’s focus on what art and culture bring to life and faith are important. And it is largely because of his work that I want to read more about the concept of beauty this next year.

The other memoir that was worth reading is Stanley Hauerwas’ Hannah’s Child. Part of what is important in this memoir is the reminder that as much as a person may be doing important things or thinking great thoughts, they are still human and still likely have regular human failings and problems. Hauerwas’ long marriage to a severely mentally ill wife had an impact on this theology and work in both positive and negative ways. But without a memoir or some other writing by him about it, only gossip or maybe a future biography would prompt me to remember how much brokenness is part of our life as Christians in the same way. (This is still on sale for $1.99 on kindle.)

The exploration of race and history is a much harder picture to paint. Race matters today and it matters today in large part because of the history of our country. What I never did write up, but it part of my history this year is a David Blight’s Yale history course on the Civil War and Reconstruction. Listening to the 20+ hours of lectures on the civil war and reconstruction in combination with Eric Foner’s history of Reconstruction and Edward Baptist’s exploration of slavery and the development of the American Economy and Amar’s biography of the Constitution and the fictional Underground Railroad gave some historical context to the problems of race in the United States.

On the modern side, Intervarsity has been publishing a number of books about race that are worth reading. The Myth of Equality and White Awake are good primers for Whites to explore how race matters to our current day. Both are written by white men, which is part of the discussion. But also we need others voices. So I read James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son and Fire Next Time for some mid 20th century context. And then a trio of books by Michael Eric Dyson, The Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, The Black Presidency (which is more about what is means to be Black in the US than about Obama) and the not quite as good, but still interesting April 4, 1968.

Ta’Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power fit well with the previous books, but it is a series of essays that I had mostly previously read. So it was the introductions to those essays about why they were important and why he wrote them that were more interesting to me.

Coates is clearly an atheist and is famously not particularly hopeful about racial issues in the US. It is an interesting pairing to have read Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, who was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr and who did a lot of the background theology that gave rise to the Civil Rights era. I have picked up Thurman’s memoir and I will read that this year. Thurman’s books also was an interesting pairing with James H Cone’s memoir My Soul Looks Back. Cone and Thurman are in quite different places theologically, but have quite a bit of overlap in the diagnosis of the problem. The black authors I read this year were born in 1899 (Thurman), 1924 (Baldwin), 1936 (Cone), 1944 (Alice Walker), 1945 (John Perkins), 1957 (James McBride), 1958 (Dyson), 1969 (Colson Whitehead) and 1975 (Coates). That 76 year spread is interesting because of what seems to be similar and what changed.

Part of what I know is important is to keep listing to different voices. No one person can be the voice of a race. I did not read a lot of minority women (Color Purple and Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ I think were the only books I read by minority women this year.) I also did not read much by non-black voices about racial issues. Although Aliens in the Promise Land as a book of essays was excellent about including a range of voices beyond the standard Black minority voice. And Still Evangelical, which won’t be published until later this month also had several Asian voices talking about racial issues within the Evangelical church world.

The two books that I haven’t yet mentioned but I think need to be at least quickly referenced are: How to Survive the Apocalypse, which was an excellent book about theology and philosophy using pop culture as a teaching tool. And Richard Beck’s Reviving Old Scratch about the need for the theological left to embrace the concept of Satan was well worth reading. Both of these books talked about Charles Taylor a good bit and at some point I will get around to reading Taylor.

I didn’t read much fiction this year that I was blown away with. Color Purple was very well written and very difficult to read. I thought Underground Railroad was worth reading in context of my other reading but I thought was too much of a concept book that didn’t quite live up to its hype. The latest of the Inspector Gamache books, Glass Houses, is among the best of the series, which is impressive for a series that has 14 books. The two Binti books, the novella Binti and the longer novel Home were refreshingly original. And I look forward to reading the conclusion of the trilogy that comes out in a couple weeks.

2018 Reading Goals

I am not much of a goal setter. My reading is usually focused on whatever happens to catch my eye right now. But I have tended to set some rough goals most years. I have four goals this year. I am a bit over half way through Subversive Gospel about Flannery O’Connor. And because of that and the biography of her I read a couple weeks ago I want to read the two novels and the rest of the short stories that I have not previously read.

My second goal is to work toward finishing a couple of author’s books. There are two novels of Octavia Butler that I have not yet read. I am not sure I will ever read all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, but I want to read at least three more L’Engle books and at least three more of James Baldwin’s books. I have not yet read any of his fiction. So at least two of those I want to be fiction.

My third goals is to continue to explore racial issues and history and expand my reading to include more women and additional voices that I have not yet read.

The final goal is to read some formal books on the concept of Beauty in Christian theology. If anyone has some suggestions in that area I would love to hear them.

I have a goal every year of reading more fiction. But I tend to not read as much fiction as I want to because I get lost in the information. But fiction, in part because of its ability to communicate beauty is important and I hope I will move closer to even ratio of fiction to non-fiction this year.

Best Books I Read in 2016

This is my annual best of 2016 list. (Way late I know.) This is my list of the books that at the end of the year I still think about. They are not all from 2016 (most are not) and they may not be the ‘best’ books that I have read. Some years my best list has been more heavily fiction oriented. And some years I have split it up into a fiction list and a non-fiction list. But this year I am going to keep it all together (fiction is at the bottom). This is my list, roughly in order. I am not sure how you really compare books of widely different genres. So think of it as an approximation.

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura The new Martin Scorsesee movie Silence, based on the novel by Shusaku Endo goes into wide release next weekend. You theoretically have time to read the original Endo novel and then this book, which is Fujimura’s reflection on the novel and his reflections his and Endo’s Christian faith and the culture of Japan. Silence is not for the faint of heart. It is a novel about Christians that renounce their faith in the face of persecution. I think it is an important book and I think Fujimura’s book is the best book I have read this year. I am in the middle of re-reading it right now.

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is the most unexpected book on the list. I have liked Noah when I watched The Daily Show, but I don’t watch it often. And I tend to not pick up many celebrity memoirs, so if this has not been offered for free on audiobook I would not have picked it up. But it is very well written and a fascinating look at a culture and country that I do not know much about. Growing up in post-apartheid South Africa is not a particularly funny subject. But Noah handle it with humility, appropriate weight for the subjects and with lots of humor. I will pre-order anything else that he writes.

The March Trilogy by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with illustrator Nate Powell deserves it accolades (National Book Award and Goodreads Graphic Novel of the Year among others.) I have read a number of comic book/graphic novels this year. I have become acquainted with Seth Hahne who is behind the Goodokbad blog. He has shown me that there is so much more than traditional superhero or Manga. A lot of history is particularly well suited to graphic novel format. And the story of the Civil Rights movement through the biography of John Lewis, hits all the right notes.

Another very good graphic novel is Vision by Tom King. Vision is a member of the Avengers, but this is more a comic book about his family and what it means to love in difficult situations than about superheroes.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes was my light pick of the year. I tend toward heavy fiction and lots of non-fiction. But I can’t only read those. I need funny books and lighters books as well. I am a huge fan of the Princess Bride movie and book. But I had not picked it up until it was on sale several years after I heard about it. This is a book that should be listened to. Elwes is not only an excellent narrator, who does great impressions of the other stars in the movie, but many of the others involved in the movie participated in reading their sections of the book as well.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soon-Chan Rah is the best biblical book I read this year. It is both a commentary on the book of Lamentations and a call to bring the concept of lamentations back to Evangelical worship and a commentary on how Christians should think about social issues. Soon-Chan Rah is a former pastor/church planter and now a professor at Northpark Seminary. He is a prime example of why we need more diversity not only in our seminaries, but in our reading and thinking about scripture as well. Diversity is not simply about making minority Christians feel represented but about becoming the whole body of Christ. Also related and worth reading is The End of White Christian America by Robert Jones. It is a book about demographics and polling more than theology, but it just serves to reenforce the need for a more diverse understanding of the church.

5000th Post

This is the 5000th Bookwi.se post. I have decided to delete free and sale book posts that are more than 50 days old, so there are just under 1700 posts still active (nearly 1300 book reviews, about 50 tips or kindle review posts, some recent sale and free book posts and a bunch of uncategorized posts that probably should be deleted as well.

I am trying to figure out what to do with this blog in the long term. I am not going to go back to posting more than the occasional sale and free books posts any time soon. So traffic has dropped significantly (around 80%) and I have put a LOT less time into the blog lately.  I am just too busy with two young kids and a part time job to do much more.

But I do want to keep occasionally posting. If you want to find out about the (mostly book review) posts, subscribing by email or RSS is the best option. Facebook is only showing about 1 or 2 percent of fans each post. And I only note each post on twitter once.

Those few of you that are still reading, thanks.

 

Halloween Photo

Out full extended family costume photo.  

 

A Vacation

 

11084134_10153337110419861_5208531105090428927_oMy son turned two months yesterday.  And my daughter will be 19 months at the end of next week.  My wife’s last (paid) day as a teacher for this school year is today. I have had a hard time adjusting to this new reality while keeping up Bookwi.se. So I am going to take some time off. Likely what I am going to do is only post once or twice a week for a while. I will try to build up some reserve book reviews and try to come back with a lighter, but more consistent schedule.

If you usually come to Bookwi.se via social media, I would encourage you to subscribe via email (on right) or RSS so you see the posts that I do have. Facebook, especially, only shows a small percentage of subscribers and I almost never post links on twitter more than once.

(Both pictures were taken by my talented wife.)

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Most Read Reviews in April

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9) by Louise PennyThe Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Gamache #8) by Louise Penny and How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9)

Books 8 and 9 were both in the most read reviews this month. If you like a series mystery that both pays attention to the mystery and on going characters, this is a series worth reading.

Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian by Wesley HillSpiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian by Wesley Hill

Wesley Hill is a seminary professor at a small seminary in Pennsylvania. He has serious theology (I am reading his Paul and the Trinity right now), but he is best known for his two memoir-ish books about being a Gay Celibate Christian. The first, Washed and Waiting, makes the case for why he has chosen to be celibate and this second makes the case for the importance of deep friendships in direct relationship to the need for relational intimacy.

Neither of these books should be seen as only ‘gay Christian’ books. Hill has deep insight into the theological and spiritual issues around sex and marriage and intimacy. His illustrations are personal there are clear (at least to me) implications for understanding sexuality and intimacy in straight relationship as well.

UnknownMisreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien

Richard and O’Brien have written about nine areas that we as western Christians tend to misunderstand about the Bible because we are ignorant of the culture that the bible was written in and pre-suppose that the biblical era culture was similar to our own.

This is essentially a basic class in sociology and anthropology for the purpose of better understanding scripture. It is also well written with good illustrations and humor and good for those that are not bringing a lot of previous formal biblical education to the book.

UnknownRuby by Cynthia Bond

I continue to appreciate regular Bookwi.se contributors, especially Vikki Huisman and Emily Flury. I could not continue Bookwi.se as I do without their ongoing participation.

This review of Ruby was by Vikki Huisman.

Family update

I hope to get back to a semi normal posting schedule this week. But I thought I would post some pictures as part of that announcement. 

   

     

Meet William Thomas Shields

My son was born this morning at 2:17 AM.  He is 6lbs, 12ozs and 19in long. He and my wife are doing well. 

Bookwi.se posting schedule will probably be a bit erratic for a little while.