Monthly Archives: February 2013

Other People on Old Books

I’ve found a couple of other places where people are talking about reading older books/classics in 2013. Over at the Englewood Review of Books there is an ongoing feature of authors listing their favourite classics (the link is to the most recent one). In the introduction to each of these lists, the ERB points to an article by one of the editors at ERB who gives his definition of a “classic.” As you know, my challenge is to read one older book for every two newer ones, but the ERB challenge suggests a 1:1 ratio and, as I have done, suggests you make your own definition of a classic or older book. I’ve gone with “older than 1970” for my older book selection, and I’m still working on the 1 older for every 2 newer, and I’m exactly on target so far this year.

Over at Book Riot, here is a post on Reading Hard Things. I think it is clear from the post that the author is not talking about Reading Badly Written Things, but Hard Things, things that are difficult and worth fighting through. The problem is, one doesn’t know if it is worth it until one tries. So C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism. But trying is important. And ploughing through something that is difficult may produce a new understanding. You may find, as I did after wading through Pride and Prejudice, that you LIKE the book that was difficult, and that re-reading it becomes a pleasure, not a chore.

Speaking of Pride and Prejudice I am enjoying it in audio form at this time. It is a different experience hearing the book. Details stand out differently. Try it out with one of your favourites. I’m sure the library will have a copy in audio form.


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Synchronized Reading

It is always interesting when I’m reading fiction and non-fiction that turn out to be about similar things. This doesn’t always happen. Of course, whenever I’m reading two books at once the two speak to each other. Even books I’m not reading right now also speak into what I’m currently reading. That is part of the fun of reading lots. Your brain works intertextually more and more. But I’ve just finished two fiction books that almost perfectly illustrate the first chapter of my current theological reading. That is pretty exciting.

My current theological read is The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic by James K.A. Smith. Smith’s book is about hermeneutics and reading texts. He discusses whether one can ever do this without interpretation. He claims that the need for hermeneutics is part of our status as creatures, created beings, not God, and thus it is not a result of the Fall (Garden of Eden, Eve, Adam, fruit, all that = Fall). I’ve just finished the first chapter in which he discusses and disputes a view of hermeneutics that I was raised with (and, it appears, so was he, #plymouthbrethren ftw). I enjoyed it very much. I’m interested to see how he builds the “Creational Hermeneutic” promised in the title of the book.

I just finished reading The Chosen and The Promise by Chaim Potok. These books are about growing up Jewish in New York in the 40s. The first book is set during World War II, and in it the protagonist learns about the holocaust. The second book is set in the years after the war with survivors of concentration camps living in New York. Both books discuss the reading and interpretation of sacred texts extensively. The key conflict in the second book is about the reading and study of the Talmud. It is very interesting. I’m glad I re-read these two just in time to start reading Smith’s book. It makes all of them more interesting.

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A New Book about Old Books

The post over at the Baker Academic Blog yesterday was a set of videos of Marion Taylor discussing the Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters. Marion was the editor of the Handbook and I contributed four articles to it. I was heavily involved in some of the initial re-discovery of women research that made the Handbook possible. And, as seen on my books page, I’ve published a little about it.

I shouldn’t find it so hard to read older books when most of my published research is about older books, right? It is a nice theory anyhow.

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The Complete Ideal Bookshelf

Previously I suggested five books of a possible 10 for my personalized bookshelf in the Swan station were I to be stranded there and have to push a button every 108 minutes to save the world. I have the final five, and now present the complete list. Three are non-fiction works, and seven works of literature.


1. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought ed. Alister E. McGrath. To provoke theological thought so I don’t get bored.

2. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (4th Edition) NRSV, hardcover, with Apocrypha. With the above work, so that I remain a theologian while stranded. It is important to maintain a sense of who you are called to be while stranded on a desert island.

3. Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D. James. I said before that this was so I could write mystery novels while on the desert island. This is true. I thought about bringing more non-fiction to help me produce things while stranded, thinking that fiction/literature was only about consuming. I don’t think this is entirely correct. I realized that literature produces something in me that leads me to be creative. Reading literature is not just a consuming activity, but can also be a creative activity. I still want to bring James along because this reflection is not just a how-to manual but a reflection on what detective fiction is and does. If I couldn’t find my copy of James, I’d bring The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers instead.


4. A one-volume English translation of The Divine Comedy by Dante. I figure on a desert island I’ll make time to read Dante. Right?

5. Possession by A.S. Byatt. Best Book Ever. No further explanation needed.

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. In print for 200 years, how can one not bring Austen? For down time.

7. Anathem by Neal Stephenson. I had a debate in my head about whether to bring Cryptonomicon or AnathemCryptonomicon is a Pacific-focused book. The Island is probably in the Pacific. (Though it moves.) But Anathem is about parallel universes, and it is very clear that parallel universes play a part in what happens on the Island.

8. Children of Men by P.D. James. This is not detective fiction, but speculative fiction by James. It is about the end of civilization, or the end of the world as we know it. This seems appropriate reading for the Island somehow.

9. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. This is literary detective fiction, not at all brain candy. It is about an island of women in the sea of men at Oxford in the early twentieth century. Again, somehow appropriate.

10. Mystical Paths by Susan Howatch. Howatch wrote a set of books about the Church of England in the twentieth centuryMP is the one I’ve re-read the most. There are ways that some of the action in this book speaks to some of the people and things that happen on the Island in the LOST series.

Clearly I’ve been watching too much LOST. But it is so much fun and full of twists and turns and people running through the jungle yelling each other’s names! And it has lots of books and the potential to talk about ideas and books. Good times.

Do you have a top ten desert island list? You don’t have to put yourself in the LOST series, but which books would you want with you on a desert island?

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Ideal Bookshelf part 2

I said that I’d come back to the idea of an ideal bookshelf later in the week after I thought a little. I’ve thought some. If this is a bookshelf for me in the Swan station, I’m allowed 10 books, because according to all the LOST lists, there are ten books on the Swan shelf in the LOST show. I’ve already chosen two books, Possession and an unspecified reference work. Let me specify the reference work: The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought edited by Alistair E. McGrath. To these let me add the following:

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (4th Ed’n) hardcover, NRSV with Apocrypha. This and the theological reference listed above are for the theologian in me.

A single volume translation of The Divine Comedy by Dante, I’d like the Sayers translation but am not sure if that comes in a single volume or not. This is on my to be read list, and there’s nothing like a desert island to get you to read Dante, right?

Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D. James. There is no point to bringing mysteries to the Island, I might as well bring Baroness James’s thoughts on writing mysteries and attempt to write my own.

I’m still working on the final five (no Battlestar Galactica reference intended). Stay tuned.

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LOST Reading, Part First

I mentioned earlier this year that I was re-watching LOST and noticing the books. I dug up a LOST booklist or two, and thought that I could easily find reading material on the lists. I’ve started reading from the LOST-inspired list that now sits on my desk top. As I tick books off the list I’ll tell you about them. I started with a book I already owned and have read, but I read The Chosen by Chaim Potok a long time ago. I have fond memories of it, and recommend it to people regularly, but it has been several years since I read it. I started it again today. It certainly evokes a particular time and place, Brooklyn at the end of the second world war. I’m finding the re-read fascinating and enjoyable so far. I’m sure there will be much more to say later. I do like the main characters and the way they become friends. You should read it too.

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Ideal Bookshelves

Here is an article on the pleasures of owning physical (not digital) books. Ah, the truth to the pleasures inherent in gazing at bookshelves of read and yet-to-be read treasures. I’m thinking about my desert island picks, my ideal bookshelf as described in the article. I’ll post it later in the week. In the meantime, which two books would have to be on your ideal bookshelf list? My top two? Possession by A.S. Byatt. And a reference book of some kind. I’ll pick a specific one out for my ideal shelf list later in the week. I’m defining my ideal bookshelf as the set of books I’d like to have with me in the Hatch if I had to push a button every 108 minutes to save the world.

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Not Bond

I mentioned in this space that I’d acquired a library copy of Casino Royale so that I could read James Bond books in order as part of my reading old(er) books project. The James Bond books have all just been deleted from my list. Why? Let’s just say that the movies soften Bond. The one book that I’ve read is pretty raw, and I’m not really interested in that kind of reading material. I posted a link to my previous Bond post to facebook and one friend commented that the movie character and the book character were completely different. He’s right. I prefer the Hollywoodized Bond.

I’ve found this with other book/movie pairings. The movie leads me to the book looking for the fuller experience that the books usually provide, then the book turns out to be full of scenes I’d rather not read. The fuller experience has too much information. The movie softened the book, made it more palatable for viewers, broadened the audience. The movie basically has less sex and/or violence than the book. A short list of books I remember that fall into this category includes BeachesEverything is Illuminated, and now Casino Royale.

Of course movies change books, that cannot be helped. But I’m still surprised when I find that the movie softened the book substantially. The accepted view in society  is that movies are full of sex and violence. But the written word can carry a lot of both those elements as well. Should books have rating systems? Just a random thought on a Saturday morning.

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Bond, James Bond

When I was thinking about deliberately reading old(er) books this year, I thought about the James Bond series. I like a good spy story. I investigated the publication dates of the books written by Ian Fleming. Fleming died before I was born, making everything he ever wrote eligible as an Old Book by my definition. This is Very Exciting News. I went hunting for Casino Royale, determined to read the Bond books in publication order. I have now secured a library copy and am half-way through it already. So far I’ve met the Bond car, watched Bond drink his own particular version of the dry martini, met the Bond girl, and things have exploded all over our heroes. Excellent. I shall report as things develop, but I’m sure you already know what happens.

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1Mom and I went to see “Life of Pi.” We’ve both read the book and liked it, but were slightly skeptical of the movie. We both thought it would be a hard book to capture. Ang Lee did a good job. We both enjoyed the movie. It was 3-D, which, in our opinion, wasn’t necessary. The photography was striking, and the visual effects beautiful, but the depths of the ocean shots didn’t strictly need 3-D. The tiger jumping out of the screen might have been effective, but that didn’t happen.

As you might expect from a shipwreck book there was a lot of water. Lots and lots and lots of water. As you might not expect, the movie adaptation was very true to the book. A colleague of 1Mom told her that this was the case, and that she’d really enjoyed the movie. This recommendation was a key reason 1Mom and I took ourselves to the theatre. If you’ve read the book, there are no surprises in the movie. If you’ve not read the book, the movie is a good introduction. Movies and books are different experiences, and I’d recommend both the book and the movie.

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