More Recent Readings: July 17, 2006

Posted July 18, 2006 by reading
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Lutheran Forum, Christmass, Winter 2005: This issue contains one of the most inexplicably bad articles I have read in some time. M. E. Chapman’s “Fundamental Unity: Evangelical-Catholic Non-Negotiables” does not argue, but rather asserts, that there are a number of items, all Roman in origin and character, that Lutherans interested in unity with Rome cannot let go of. The author has no understanding of the Gospel, does not understand Lutheran objections to particular (and general) aspects of Roman theology, and gives the reader the impression that the author is nothing more than a 5th-columnist — at best. That the article is not much more than an unpleasant odor emitted at a party, and politely ignored by the other guests, is demonstrated in the following issue, where no letters to the editor, positive or enraged, appear. No other articles stand out, though they are of a consistently interesting quality.

Lutheran Forum, Easter, Spring 2006: C.S. Baldwin provides an interesting reminiscence of Taiz√©’s Brother Roger; a lovely set of woodcuts from Luther’s Little Prayer Book of 1529 are included; R. B. Bagnall gives us a nice overview of various (reasonably recent) daily office books; and R. J. Niebanck’s review essay of Robert Benne’s recent A Christian Approach to Social, Economic, and Political Concerns is much more than just a review essay — a fine thing to read. There is more to to be found here.

Forum Letter, February 2006: P. G. Alms shares an excellent essay on our desire to be Bigger and Better as churches, and the temptation to go after what we want rather than faithfulness.

Forum Letter, March 2006: As in a past Lutheran Forum, we are directed again to Berthold von Schenk; I’m now convinced his writings are worth a look. We also learn that Catechism classes can be successful — kids do learn, and learn well.

Forum Letter, April 2006: Language matters, even when words scare or put us off; the same is true of Scripture.

Forum Letter, May 2006: We learn details of the scriptural emendations found in the new ELCA hymnal; also that political powers have much too strong a hand in academic institutions, much to the detriment of both those involved and the Church at large.

First Things, No. 160: In which we learn from S. M. Barr (and thus the editors) that the Roman church no longer needs (to hold to, or teach) Creation (no surprise, given the ontology which directs their thinking).

First Things, No. 164: Paul Johnson discusses the U.S. as the “Almost-Chosen People” — worth a look; and R. Hittinger has an interesting take on the release of temporal authority by, especially, Rome.

Cell: A Novel, by Stephen King: At last, someone who finds cell phones and their slaves to be more distasteful than I do! Not a particularly notable book, but one that, for the most part, follows its premises to their conclusions.

American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, by Stephen Prothero: a nice overview of Jesus-through-the-American-centuries. The book would have benefitted from a deeper understanding of the theological underpinnings of these various portraits of Jesus, but the book is not harmed by this lack.

Pandora’s Star / Judas Unchained, by Peter F. Hamilton: Part 1: excellent, fun, sad to finish it. Part 2: not so excellent, fun, and glad to get it over with. The interminable chase at the end of Book 2 destroys what could have been a classic of the genre; the second book also suffers from scenes that run on far too long for Hamilton’s style, as well as unnecessary attempts to get us to care for more than a handful of characters. Solutions are far too easy in the second half of this saga, especially given the threat to humanity served up in Book 1.

The American Scholar, Vol. 75.1: a pair of handy shoes can be found on page 14; “My Holocaust Problem” by A. Krystal makes the entire issue worthwhile; W. Rybczynski leads us into superb, anachronistic architecture; M. Edmundson accompanies us as we deal with aging; good writing all around.

The American Scholar, Vol. 75.2: Marilynne Robinson and Gary Wills attempt to find the modern world hidden within Scripture; a set of unusual encounters are recounted by J. McConkey; B. Wallraff invites us down the closed alleys of language. Other pieces worth time are also to be found in this issue.

Bound Choice, Election, and Wittenberg Theological Method: From Martin Luther to the Formula of Concord, by Robert Kolb: not for those without background in the subject, this book is for those with any interest in the history of and actual issues surrounding discussion of the bound will. Superb.

The Role of Justification in Contemporary Theology, by Mark C. Mattes: excellent book, covering five prominent (mostly Lutheran) theologians. While the index, especially of names, needs expansion, it is an excellent resource and up-to-date discussion of the question at hand.

The Believer 4.3: J. Price begins the issue with the first part of an investigation of the natural world hidden in L.A.; S. Saroyan looks behind happiness psychology; worthy issue, but otherwise no standouts.

The Believer 4.4: J. Price concludes her study of nature in L.A.; A. Selsberg dives into 80’s sex comedies; Repo Man relived by J. Ruland; extreme taxidermy investigated by M. Tea; a fine issue.

The Believer 4.5: Ah, the annual music issue. A nice collection of songs come along with the issue, good enough to warrant purchasing the entire thing; E. Vincentelli takes us along to the Eurovision song competition; the history of “I Want Candy” is examined in minute detail; we learn the background and proliferation of the Numa Numa dance; Greil Marcus babbles on and on, as usual, blocking out Don DeLillo; there is a fine interview with Bun B. Great issue!

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Small things finished this spring

Posted June 27, 2006 by reading
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Not everything read will appear here; the last few months have been a jumbled haze due to work and home. Here are the highlights — more on the way Real Soon Now.

First Things No. 161: Michael Novak’s “The Truth About Religious Freedom” is the highlight of this issue; the rest of the issue, while not awful, is mostly forgettable.

First Things No. 162: A. Jacobs’ “To Be a Christian College” is both timely and interesting, especially for those who have an association with (at least putatively) Christian college(s); “Theology’s Continental Captivity” by R. R. Reno does point towards a new area to be cleared in theology, although it does not grapple with the severely limited ground contemporary analytic thought is willing to cover, and thus the constraints put on thought in the use of analytic philosophy; it is also the case that R. J. Neuhaus’ segment, “The Two-Hundred-Year War”, is worthy of a reader’s time. Other pieces are worth reading, especially a review article by J. Bottum.

The Believer 4.1: Of interest to classicists is G. Strand’s “The Ecology of Empire”, a fine examination of America and oil through the lens of Virgil; I. Grinspan directs us to the less-than-well-known oeuvre of Donald Harrington; S. Schenkenberg shares interesting sentences with us; the reader is taken on a (cut too short) tour of the literal underside of NYC by A. Wilkinson; stock photography is made available; Eminem is noted by R. Christgau as important far more for his self-construction than his art; Peter Singer is given a platform for further fundamentalist-utilitarian ranting in an interview; J. Ladouceur supplies some quite-interesting drawings. Another issue worth the cover price.

The Believer 4.2: The wonders of Costumed Debt Collectors in Spain are shared with us; J. Fort spends time wisely with Kafka; N. Hornby spends more time with books than with his own life (real or imagined), which is good for his reviews; D. Shields fails to convince that “the lyric essay is better than fiction”; an interview with Ed Ruscha does what it should — sends the reader to Ruscha’s work; Robyn Hitchcock is interesting; we discover that Harold Ramis needs to be given more money to make movies. This is a middling issue when all the articles are taken into account, but there are fine pieces to be found here.

Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism, by William Harmless: This book is a useful introduction to the early monastic movement of the East, especially in Egypt. Know that it does suffer from repetition of information and arguments in places (the book appears to have been put together from numerous articles, so the overlap is to be expected) and, especially in the latter third of the book, from poor editing. Poorly written sentences fell past the editor’s notice, and some spelling mistakes should have been found. Other than these flaws, this is a work well worth reading.

The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, edited by Frances Young: Little needs to be said about this volume other than that it is well-edited, well-written, and well-constructed. If one has an interest in the background and general outline of Early Christian Literature, this is the place to start.

The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology, edited by David Bagchi: Overall a fine volume, with experts on the various topics and figures of this period writing each chapter. Some choices, however, are odd. For example, in discussing the protestant reaction to Trent, comprehensive works such as Chemnitz’s Examen are mentioned and left to the side, while Calvin’s writings on the council, which stop long before the council itself ended, are used to examine Trent and its proceedings. Such unusual choices are not, however, to be found throughout the book. This would be useful as a companion volume to a Reformation survey class.

Small Things Recently Finished 12/15/05 – 01/15/06

Posted January 15, 2006 by reading
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The American Scholar 74.4: It still does not measure up to the heights of the Fadiman days, in either appearance or content, but there are few if any other periodicals that can take its place on one’s reading list. A half-point is knocked off for having given Kitty Kelley not only print space but a picture. Let us hope this is but an anomaly. Pieces worth looking at: Peter Filkins’ “Letter from Berlin”; an excellent photograph accompanies Adam Goodheart’s local-focus article “Tea and Fantasy”; David Chanoff’s “Education Is My Mother and My Father” is especially interesting when set along side D. Eggers’ similar pieces for The Believer; “Custom and Law” by Melvin Jules Bukiet is an interesting meditation on the role of ritual when belief is no longer there. The poetry found in this issue is of a piece with most contemporary poetry — jumpy, dull, and without interesting language. One must wonder why most of our poets even bother.

The Believer 1.3: Oh how I love this magazine. Enough to purchase back issues and gobble them up as soon as I get them. Few articles in this issue are dull; nothing would be lost, however, in passing by Rorty’s interview, or the Tool/Mammal/etc. bits found here (other issues are another matter), or Brian Evenson’s article on Steve Erickson — and this not because it is written badly, but because Erickson just isn’t really all that good. John Giuffo’s “We Are All Harkonnens” is wonderful, timely, and worth the cost of the issue; Tom Bissell’s “The Banality of Reality” starts OK, flattens out in the middle, and finishes with a powerful burst. “Babette’s Feast and the Reclamation of Melodrama” by Jim Shepard focuses on one of the most difficult-to-watch movies ever made, and, last but not least, the interview with Timothy Taylor is worth the time. Buy it, read it, keep it, encourage others to do the same.

First Things No. 159: Another below-standards issue. From the tedious letters arguing over Intelligent Design to “The Designs of Science”, yet another article on the relation of The Church to science, there is little of interest to be found. The only article of note is Algis Valiunas’ “Spirit in the Abstract”, a nice rejoinder to Roger Kimball and his fellow barbarians. Is much abstract art awful and pointless? Sure. Sturgeon’s Law applies in art as it does anywhere else. There is also much that is good and worth a hard look-see. Neuhaus posts a nice attack on the NAB and its use in worship; there is, sadly, little that jumps out of this month’s “While We’re At It”, though that isn’t the writer’s fault. Much is to be expected of this journal, and little has been generated in recent months.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling; illustrated by Mary GrandPr√©. Rowling clearly knows what she is doing. She has adopted a plotting formula that has held fast for six books, and has ensured that the seventh and final book will be unable to follow the same formula; this means she is likely telling the truth that she will be All But Done with Harry once the next book is released. Good for her. Harry and his Posse continue to flout the rules and get away with most everything; Snape continues in his bipolar ways; teen love and lust appear but are kept well under control. This is not to say that the book is bad, or unenjoyable — far from it, really. It is, rather, to say that it is a book for tweens and below, albeit one that is well-written enough for adults to enjoy (do, however, search for “shotgun” at this link; I believe that most children are well-aware of the plot holes and weaknesses of the books they love). These are enjoyable tales; this book is a worthy addition to the series.

Small Things Recently Finished 12/07/05 – 12/14/05

Posted December 15, 2005 by reading
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Forum Letter 34.11: Contains a useful overview of the lawsuit currently being brought against the LC-MS by the LC-MS via a class-action suit (lovely thing, state corporate law). Also some quick coverage of Carl Braaten’s recent open letter to the ELCA‘s presiding cleric. Braaten’s letter, in which he voices opposition to the direction that church body has taken in recent years, is an excellent example of instinct trumping training. A quick read of the letter ought to make that clear; not even someone so bright as Braaten is able to shove his rickety presuppositions out of the way, even the very presuppositions that have led the ELCA to move in the directions with which he disagrees. Go with the gut, man! Go with the gut!

Lutheran Forum 39.3: References to useful catechetical resources are a highlight of this issue. A theological journal that gives over space for pastoral concerns deserves praise. Ronald Marshall’s “Kierkegaard’s Music Box” follows some interesting paths in relation to what it means to proclaim the Gospel; splendid drawings by Christian Rietschel accompany this issue’s articles. Another fine issue.

The Believer 3.9: Yet another fine issue. While the editors ought to have force-fed an article or two before letting them out the door (esp. “The Land of Macho Literature”), most articles, as usual, map out enough of the landscape to be useful while stopping before every rock and blade of grass is catalogued. Includes a well-worth-reading interview with William Gass, and a fun article/picture spread on found bookmarks. The book reviews, however, are somewhat uneven, though this has always been the case. The one-page standard-sized review (give or take a paragraph or two) is either far too much space for some books and far too little for others. Pick it up; read it; get the back-issues if you do not have them already.

First Things No. 158: While my subscription has at least another year to go on it, I am already considering just letting it run out. Every issue has good articles, but not so many as in years past. Far too much space is given over to adulation of the current Pope and his just-passed predecessor; far too many articles flog issues (various pro-life issues, Just War “theory”, the relationship of science and religion, and religion in the public square) that are certainly of importance, and are well worth discussion and coverage — but not in issue after issue, with similar article after similar article parading by every month. Neuhaus continues his name-dropping ways, but that is only to be expected of a New Yorker. If you are familiar with First Things then the book reviews are really the best part of this particular issue; if not, then the articles may very well grab your attention.

Greetings & Salutations

Posted November 24, 2005 by reading
Categories: Uncategorized

Simple, really: a set of notes, publicly available, concerning recently-read items. More Real Soon Now.