Born on the 14th of July

I’ll return next week to the kind of post I usually write, but I wanted to devote today’s column to the one-year anniversary of this blog — which launched on July 14, 2014. There will be some statistics, some of my thoughts, and more.

As many of you know, I decided to start this blog after three years of writing about literature for The Huffington Post — where my columns became the most consistently popular of any on that site’s “Books” page. The “thanks” I got from HP was no pay, frequently buried posts (perhaps because I wasn’t a “celebrity”?), being ignored 90% of the time when I occasionally emailed HP with a question, etc. My readers were “thanked” by often having their great, intelligent, unobjectionable comments killed by human or “automatic” moderators, or waiting hours or even days for their comments to post. (The same thing happened with my replies to comments.) There were other problems, too.

The 2005-founded HP — which continued to not pay bloggers even after making $315 million when bought by AOL in 2011 — does have a huge audience, and I’m grateful I was able to “online-ly” meet some of that audience. Being on the site also got me several offers for other work, but unfortunately each and every offer was to again work for free. I declined.

But now it’s time to get positive! πŸ™‚ Being only middling savvy with things digital, I was nervous about creating a blog, but WordPress made it easy. And I vowed to make things easy for readers — including adjusting the settings to make sure comments posted immediately. Still, I wondered how many current or former HP commenters would migrate to my blog, but a lot of them did. (Thank you!) I was able to tell a number of people about my new blog via email and social media, but there were some HP commenters I couldn’t find because I knew them only by their aliases.

That said, a number of my current visitors never commented at HP!

What you’re now reading is the 50th column for this blog, and, by afternoon’s end on July 14, those posts had drawn a total of 31,015 views and 8,224 comments. (As you might have guessed, WordPress offers its bloggers a handy-dandy statistics page!) Nearly every comment has been friendly and full of literary knowledge — with many also containing humor.

The most views in a day was 366, on Feb. 23 — after I posted a column about authors’ pen names. That Feb. 22 piece attracted 295 comments, second only to the 344 comments under a Nov. 2 piece about single parents in literature. Rounding out the top five were posts about novels turned into movies (249 comments), unhappy marriages in literature (236), and humor in fiction (229).

The post with the fewest comments (88) was about symbols in literature. Imagine how few comments there would have been if I had discussed cymbals in literature!

Countries where the readership originated? The U.S. was first by far (26,667 views), followed by Japan (896), Australia (729), Canada (363), Brazil (311), the United Kingdom (274), Germany (256), India (113), Italy (74), and Russia (65). Views came from a total of 111 countries on six continents.

Approximately 75% of the books and writers I read nowadays are those recommended by commenters here. Thanks to you, authors I tried for the first time during the past 12 months included, among others, Joan Barfoot (Duet for Three), Geraldine Brooks (March), Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries), Lee Child (eight Jack Reacher novels — I’m hooked!), Michael Connelly (The Lincoln Lawyer), Alexandre Dumas fils (Camille), Neil Gaiman (American Gods), Nadine Gordimer (My Son’s Story), and Graham Greene (short stories).

Also: Adam Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son), Anne Lamott (Blue Shoe), Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (The Leopard), Stieg Larsson (The Millennium Trilogy), Billie Letts (Where the Heart Is), Mario Vargas Llosa (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter), Alistair MacLean (Where Eagles Dare), Elsa Morante (History), Patrick O’Brian (Master and Commander), Boris Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago), Dorothy Sayers (Strong Poison), Zadie Smith (On Beauty), M.L. Stedman (The Light Between Oceans), and John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces).

In addition, after recommendations from you, I’ve enjoyed other novels by authors I had read before, including Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, E.L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, John Grisham’s The Firm, Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, and Toni Morrison’s Sula.

And the words of commenters were part of the reason I reread and was impressed again by classics such as Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. (Yes, we can continue discussing Ms. Lee’s “new” Go Set a Watchman!)

Which literary works have you read during the past year at least partly because of this blog and its comments? Anything else you’d like to say is welcome as well!

One more note: During the fantastic U2 concert I attended last night, the band did not sing “One” — which reminds me that one-year anniversaries are not that significant. πŸ™‚

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I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.