About Miller’s Book Review 📚

Welcome to a celebration of all things bookish and literary. Miller’s Book Review 📚 began in 2022 as venue to share reviews of my current reading but has since evolved into a place to explore book culture and discuss the role of books in our lives, from such little things as our habits and predilections to the larger impact of books in the world.

The core offerings each week include a review of a notable book and an essay covering something bookish. Some top reviews recently have included Anna Funder’s Wifedom: Mrs. Orwell’s Invisible Life and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, part of my classic novel goal for 2023. And for literary diversions see “C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot: How Rivals Became Friends” or “Actually, Try Reading Several Books at Once.”

Much to my delight, these regular reviews and essays have caught on and found a great reception. In 2023 Miller’s Book Review 📚 was named a Substack Featured Publication.

The Tasting Menu

Here are five reviews that represent what’s typically on offer:

  1. ’Culture Is a Huge Recycling Project’ (Martin Puchner’s Culture: The Story of Us from Cave Art to K-Pop)

  2. Lead Us Not into Distraction (Jamie Kreiner’s The Wandering Mind)

  3. A Woman on Her Own, Joyously and Fiercely Independent (Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God)

  4. Artificial Authenticity? When Presentation Becomes Personality (Tara Isabella Burton’s Self Made)

  5. Unstable in All His Ways: A New Life of Thomas Jefferson (Thomas S. Kidd’s Thomas Jeffersonmy favorite book from 2022)

Along with those, here are a handful of bookish diversions:

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And Who Am I, Exactly?

I’m Joel J. Miller. A former publishing executive, I’m a longtime professional editor and writer. I served as vice president of editorial and acquisitions for Thomas Nelson Publishers, an imprint of HarperCollins, working with authors such William J. Bennett, Karen Swallow Prior, Lysa TerKeurst, Donald Miller, and Stephen Mansfield. I began as a senior editor at Nelson and eventually became publisher of the general trade division. I worked at Nelson just over a decade.

Today I’m the chief product officer of Full Focus. We create books, podcasts, articles, courses, and the wonderful Full Focus Planner.

My personal history with books goes back much further. My family home was awash in books. Dad was an English teacher, and Mom loved mysteries. Napoleon and Snowball, Father Brown, Atticus Finch, Poirot, Romeo and Juliette, and Miss Marple all vied for attention on shelves throughout the house—already crowded by memoir, biography, religion, romances, spy thrillers, economics, history, philosophy, comics, politics, cookbooks, and at least two Volkswagen technical manuals.

I was a voracious if highly uneven reader as a child. Fantasy and survival tales captivated me. I devoured the Tarzan novels and loved mythology, particularly the Irish stuff. I discovered early the treacherous chasm between books and movies, not always to my delight. When I reached the last page of Swiss Family Robinson having encountered no pirates, I felt robbed. And Rambo actually—spoiler alert!—dies in First Blood; author David Morrell resurrected him for a sequel when Sylvester Stallone decided to let the traumatized Vietnam vet live. But the occasional curveball only heightened my interest. That the same stories could differ one teller to the next fascinated me.

Then in my teens I started writing. I tried my hand at fiction, economics, and political humor. I was about nineteen or twenty when I received a gracious rejection from the celebrated editor and publisher Morgan Entrekin for a poor attempt at political satire I had submitted. He spared me inevitable humiliation and the world involuntary eye-rolling.

I joined the book trade through retail. My first job out of high school was at the Almost Perfect Bookstore, a used bookshop in Roseville, California, which has since (alas) closed its doors; I took my first two paychecks home in the form of several bags of books. After the Almost Perfect Bookstore, I also worked a stint at Borders Books & Music, shelving history, religion, and poli-sci.

My basic approach to life.

My interest in the book as the book—its history and impact in the world—started in my days as an editor and publisher. I was like a chef investigating the cuisine he cooked. I started reading the memoirs and observations of editors and publishers, people like Maxwell Perkins, William Jovanovich, Henry Regnery, and André Schiffrin. That led to the history of publishing and then to the history of books themselves. I became fascinated by the development of their use and how, in turn, their use featured in our cultural and societal evolution.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic,” Stephen King once said. It’s an observation I take as confirmation of another, known as Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” We tend to equate books with mere information. In doing so, we miss that they are an essential information technology in the shaping of our world.

Muhammad called Jews and Christians people of the book. But the truth is whether directly or indirectly, religious or irreligious, that name fits us all.

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Chief product officer at Full Focus. Former vice president of editorial and acquisitions at Thomas Nelson. Author of several books, including The Revolutionary Paul Revere and Lifted by Angels.