Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Bible as graphic novel

February 11, 2008

A quote:

Abraham rides a horse out of an explosion to save Lot. Og, king of Bashan, looms like an early Darth Vader. The Sermon on the Mount did not make the book, though, because there was not enough action to it.

People will misuse any edition of the Bible, but I wonder if this book has an introduction explaining that it’s “just the action scenes”? [Update: Just saw that the Manga Bible comes in a full-text edition as well as an “action highlights” version.] I am not a big fan of the idea of the Bible as a graphic novel, but I do think that it argues for the continued power of the Bible as a living book to inspire people.

When I went to the and clicked on “Downloads” I was surprised to see that the section at the top of the “page spreads” section was the Gospel reading for yesterday, the first Sunday in Lent (Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness). Coincidence, or does the webmaster update the sample based on the liturgical calendar?

Wal-Mart’s pushing the Osteen poison

November 12, 2007

After spending all weekend grappling with revising an essay, I figured a good balancing measure would be a 10 p.m. Sunday night trip to Wal-Mart. I was not disappointed. A brotha struck up a conversation with me in the DVD section over some action movie I hadn’t seen, and berated me for not having seen “300.” And the mullets never rest at Wal-Mart, be it Sunday night or any other time.

I saw two products that put the fear of God into me anew: One was a 2-CD set called “Thomas Kinkade: Handel’s Messiah.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Oprah puts her stamp of approval on a book, or Kinkade on a CD, and people go out and start reading and listening.
kinkade handel’s messiah
Reading and listening are good things, especially when the material is first-rate, as it is in the Handel case. And the Kinkadians might get their taste expanded in a healthy way. I guess I hate to see Handel presented as if he had to be endorsed by TK in order to have credibility.

Wal-Mart is also pushing Joel Osteen’s new book in a big way: Become a Better You. (I saw two giant sales displays in the store: one was for Osteen, the other was for the movie “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.”) I flipped through Osteen’s book, and quickly came to realize that it’s a collection of reworked sermons from the past couple of years. The chapter that gave it away was the one on your “bloodline.” One of my favorite Osteen moments was when he gave that sermon: he looked out at his stadium full of 10,000+ people, of whom many were normal and even sub-normal in various respects. He said to them, “I don’t believe I’m looking at ordinary people . . . I’m looking at thoroughbreds.”

To quote Christopher Hitchens from his debate last month with Dinesh D’Souza, “gag me with a spoon.” But Joel knows what the people come to hear, and he gives it to them. He seems to think that one can “choose” whether to be sick or healthy. In his new book, he talks of a woman whose debilitating disease disappeared. This was not a miracle, but a result of her choosing to “live under the blessing” and not “under the curse.” (quoted from memory). Name it and claim it! I think we should be thankful that the world does not work that way.

Google Books and Real Books

November 2, 2007

The main conclusion of this excellent New Yorker essay (“Future Reading” by Anthony Grafton) is that while the huge digitization projects will bring millions of items to anyone with an internet connection, if you want fuller knowledge, you will never be able to get it just from a computer screen. If you’ve spent any amount of time with original materials, you know how true this is. It was an amazing experience for me to browse through John Milton’s own Bible, Evelyn Waugh’s manuscript copy of Brideshead Revisited, an original printing of Shakespeare’s First Folio, and any of the scores of other items I’ve had the privilege to hold and read, dating from the 10th through the 21st centuries.

That said, you’ll have to shoot me before I stop using the digital resources. They too are now indispensible.

Here’s a good quotation, but do read the essay yourself. It’s got too many interesting nuggets in it to do it justice in a blog post.

Original documents reward us for taking the trouble to find them by telling us things that no image can. Duguid describes watching a fellow-historian systematically sniff two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old letters in an archive. By detecting the smell of vinegar—which had been sprinkled, in the eighteenth century, on letters from towns struck by cholera, in the hope of disinfecting them—he could trace the history of disease outbreaks. Historians of the book—a new and growing tribe—read books as scouts read trails. [. . .]

For now and for the foreseeable future, any serious reader will have to know how to travel down two very different roads simultaneously. No one should avoid the broad, smooth, and open road that leads through the screen. But if you want to know what one of Coleridge’s annotated books or an early “Spider-Man” comic really looks and feels like, or if you just want to read one of those millions of books which are being digitized, you still have to do it the old way, and you will have to for decades to come. At the New York Public Library, the staff loves electronic media. The library has made hundreds of thousands of images from its collections accessible on the Web, but it has done so in the knowledge that its collection comprises fifty-three million items.

War and Peace: “original edition” worth my time?

October 18, 2007

A few days ago I found a brand-new hardcover with dustjacket of War and Peace. Inside was a publisher’s letter. It began:

Dear Professor:

I hope that you will take a minute to look over this complimentary copy of War and Peace.

A minute? To look over one of the longest novels ever written? I am amused. The letter continues:

Now available for the first time in English, here is the original edition of Russia’s most famous novel. Tolstoy completed this version of his materpiece in 1866, but it was never published. He later returned to this draft to add the brilliant philosophical and historical meditations that would ultimately double the book’s length and give us the familiar, canonical text. Translated by Andrew Bromfield, this shorter and more narrative edition in its initial incarnation, and with several intriguing differences in plot, will both open this remarkable work of literature to new readers and engage devoted fans with a fresh look at an important classic.

My pleasure at having scored a brand new book for free gave way to disappointment that I hadn’t gotten the “genuine article” that everyone knows and loves, but some book that nobody ever read until the day before yesterday. Same name as the real deal, but minus a lot of “brilliant” passages. It’s like collecting film scraps from the cutting room floor, putting them together, and marketing them as an “important” version of the classic film, somehow worthy of our attention.

In my opinion, Tolstoy likely revised his book for a reason. Why would anyone but the most devoted Tolstoyista bother with this book? And what am I going to do with my copy?

Private Christian worship

October 15, 2007

One of the books I’m reading right now is Gregory Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy. I’m on page 16 and so far it’s great. Only 736 pages to go!

Something interesting from page 16:

We regard christian worship in general, not excluding the eucharist, as essentially a public activity, in the sense that it ought to be open to all comers, and that the stranger (even the non-christian, though he may not be a communicant) ought to be welcomed and even attracted to be present and to take part. The apostolic and primitive church, on the contrary, regarded all christian worship, and especially the eucharist, as a highly private activity, and rigidly excluded all strangers from taking any part in it whatsoever, and even from from attendance at the eucharist. Christian worship was intensely corporate, but it was not ‘public’.

Where the broom comes from: vocabulary from 16th-century English

August 11, 2007

Do you know what a knop is? How about a snoffet ? A habergeon ? The kall of a calf? The lap of the ear? What is a besom ?

If you answered No, you would have a hard time reading the Bible in English—the Geneva Bible of 1562, anyway. It uses all these words in Exodus 25 ff. where God gives instructions for the Tabernacle, its accoutrements, and the priestly garments.

I had no idea what any of these were, so I looked them up.
* knop = a knob
* snoffet = something you snuff out a candle with or in
* habergeon = “A sleeveless coat or jacket of mail or scale armour, originally smaller and lighter than a HAUBERK, but sometimes app. the same as that.” (OED) —Exodus 28:32 says the the priestly garment should have a hole for the head which is designed “as the coller of an habergeon that it rent not.”)
* kall = modern-day “caul” . . . “The fatty membrane investing the intestines; the epiploön or omentum” (OED)
* lap = lobe

And a besom is a bundle of twigs bound around a handle and used as a sweeping implement. We call these things “brooms” but broom was just one of many plants used to make besoms.

But today, through the constant evolution of language and its usage, we use this specific word “broom” for the general concept of “sweeping implement.” Pehaps people got tired of saying “where’s the broom besom?” and started abbreviating. The reverse logic applies to the shortening of “motor car” to just “car”—in this case, the general term is preferred over the specific type. Unless you’re really hoity-toity.

Who knows what we’ll call brooms in the year 2462?

Chinese Harry Potter imitations—baaaad!

August 10, 2007

You simply must read these excerpts from Chinese knock-offs of the latest Harry Potter book. With phrases like “sour and sweet rain” and names like “Big Spinach,” you are guaranteed a laugh.

Obit: G.B. Tennyson

June 14, 2007

One of my UCLA English professors has died in a house fire. I learned this while searching for information on Owen Barfield, whose Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry I’m currently rereading.

I found the news over at David Lavery’s Barfield website. Tennyson was a specialist in Victorian literature and a pioneer in Barfield studies; and at the time I was his student, had recently completed a documentary on Barfield (“Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning”), part of which we watched in class. That was 1996 and Barfield was 98 years old.

Strangely, there’s not a word of Tennyson’s passing on the UCLA English department’s website, and I couldn’t find anything about it anywhere else online, either. I have good memories of his C.S. Lewis class: his expertise on the subject of Lewis’s life and writings, primarily, but also the “magic wand” he would bring to class—a clear tube filled with glitter and a clear, semi-viscous liquid. I think he used its powers mainly to get us to be quiet at the beginning of class—a feat accomplished by tapping it repeatedly on the table. The final exam was also memorable: we were to complete a narrative/analytical essay on Lewis by simply writing single words into blank spaces. E.g., “Lewis was born in the year ____.”

Lavery has written up a nice bio of Tennyson. R.I.P.

Evolution / Intelligent Designer . . . whatever

May 28, 2007

From the language used by Nicholas Wade, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between evolution and an Intelligent Designer. Consider his characterization of evolution (almost a person, not merely a process) in his recent mini-review of a book about moths:

Every feature of a butterfly or moth, throughout its life from egg to adult, has been shaped over millions of years of evolution for specific purposes.

A moth on which evolution has lavished a remarkable degree of protective care is Oxytenis modestia.

As an adult, the Oxytenis moth resembles a leaf, but even here evolution’s inventiveness is not an end.

The distance between “specific purpose” and “design” in my mind is not very great, if not nonexistent. (Is Wade secretly an IDer?)

Other times, though, Wade speaks as if the variations seen on moths are not due to evolution at all, but rather to a conscious decision or effort of the moth:

Many butterfly and moth species try to pretend they are the least nutritious objects in the forest. This generally means imitating a piece of bird excrement if one is a caterpillar, and a dead leaf when one reaches adulthood.

Several butterflies practice a clever combination of camouflage and conspicuousness.

I’ve been trying hard to grow claws and wings for some time. Maybe I just don’t have a sufficiently moth-like drive to succeed?

Atheists with attitude

May 15, 2007

A semi-refreshing multi-book review of current atheist attacks on religion: the New Yorker considers some of the many shortcomings of books by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. It’s “semi-refreshing” because one doesn’t expect much on the Christian religion from the New Yorker—their article on Benedict XVI in April was downright disgraceful from a number of perspectives, basic fact-checking not being the least of these. But here one gets an article that criticizes the extremist non-arguments of these authors, but, as one would expect, does not jump to defend “religion” in any real way.

Particularly embarrassing, I would think, to someone who claims to be a serious intellectual, are the logical impossibilities attendant upon classifying all systems of supernatural belief, regardless of their actual teachings, regardless of their mutual incompatibility, as one monolithic, evil entity called “religion.” The New Yorker author rightly comments:

From the perspective of the new atheists, religion is all one entity; those who would apologize for any of its forms—Harris and Dawkins, in particular, insist on this point—are helping to sustain the whole. But, though the vague belief in a “life force” may be misguided, it’s hard to make the case that it’s dangerous. And there’s a dreamy incoherence in their conviction that moderate forms of religion somehow enable fundamentalist zeal and violence to survive. Are we really going to tame the fervor of an extremist imam’s mosque in Waziristan by weakening the plush-toy creed of a nondenominational church in Chappaqua?

Not to mention the fact that, to my knowledge, none of the authors consider any form of religion other than the traditional-theistic—what about the belief in science, pursuit of financial gain, rationalism, or self-reliance as religions? People, even if they don’t recognize an omnipotent other-worldly being, will elevate something to transcendental status, be it even their own selves. If “religion” is to be taken as an undifferentiated and pernicious phenomenon, then these attacks on it by Dawkins, Harris, et al. are omitting an essential segment of their investigation. To include it would implicate themselves in the horrific project called “religion” that they want so badly to distance themselves from.

I know these books only through a great many reviews, so I apologize if I’m mischaracterizing them.