Monday, July 11, 2005

The RYM trip to Panama City Florida was, for some reason, cancelled. So instead our youth group (that includes me) is going to the beach in North Carolina for a few days.

Before we leave, I guess I should comply with Al's query.

How many books do I own?

I tried counting a couple of months ago and got to around 800 on one floor before I got distracted and gave up. I would guess somewhere around 1200 to 1500 or so.

What's the last book I bought?

Not completely sure. I bought two cheap books at the good will store recently: a John Mortimer collection and a Pete Dexter novel. Dexter was recommended to me by a young reader working at Armadillo grill, but I haven't read him yet. The last thing I got (used) from amazon was Jackie Disaster, another case of getting interested in an author after hearing him interview on NPR. Dezenhall works as a damage control specialist for celebrities.

What's the last book I read?

If you haven't heard me say this before, I try to keep three (and no more) book going at all times, and try to finish all three in a week. My wife wanted me to read a parenting book, so I read Grace Based Parenting. Thought it was about half good, but don't want to take the time to go into that right now. I read Hauerwas' Suffering Presence, a good work on some medical ethics topics. It's a notable not least for the fact that Hauerwas takes the position that human suffering is by design necessarily tragic and thus cannot be solved in a satisfactory way by any particular conception of medicine. I also got to another Harry Potter book. I've enjoyed these, and certainly will want John to enjoy them as well, but I did think this one (unlike the first three) was truly longer than it needed to be. Specifically I thought the first part was much to long.

What are the five books that mean the most to me?

No idea. Of course I put the Bible in it's own category, since I have continued to study it regularly throughout my life and I have not done that with any other books. I think I'll just have to choose some books which seemed to open up new ways of thinking to me. I'll start with the non-fiction.

Helmut Schoeck's book Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior has always struck me as one of the most useful pieces of historical/cultural research I've come accross. As a human attitude envy can be very mysterious because of the fact that those who are experiencing great envy never admit to it. Schoeck gathers and synthesizes a very large collection of data from accross time and the world, probably too much for the taste of modern american researchers who don't seem to like large theories any more. The presentation of how envy controls certain cultural institutions and patterns in different societies I found completely fascinating.

This leads well to the work of two New Testament scholars, Bruce Malina and N T Wright. Mark Horne and several of people had been recommending Wright's work on the gospels to me several years ago. I began reading, iirc, The New Testament and the People of God. It was this book, more than any other, the rekindled my interest in learning about the NT in a serious way, as Wright was the first serious, academic NT scholar I saw who had a perspective I could swallow, though reading him stared changing my perspective around quite a bit. I know a good number of you readers here have read this, but f you haven't, it is well worth the effort. There's a fari amount of philosophy of history at the beginning, but if you find that difficult, just skip to the next section.

Having read some of Wright on understanding the NT in it's historical context, I took upon myself to try teaching a class at my church on that topic. Wanting to be well prepared, I tried to find more books to round out my reading and became entranced by the work of Bruce Malina, who I found had been a big source for Wright. Malina is one of the mor prolific writers of a movement called the Context Group, a group of scholars who attempt to bring a knowledge of ancient history and cultural anthropology to bear on New Testament studies. I began with The New Testament World: Insights From Cultural Anthropology, a work designed as a college textbook (it has study questions in each chapter). Really, from the day I began reading that until now the question of the cultural distance between us and the biblical writers and characters has loomed large for me.There are many other related works on this topic, but the one I mentioned as as good a place to start as any.

One last work for this category, then I'll try to get throgh fiction quickly. In a local used bookstore (the very odd Skylight Exchange), I noticed a book called A Community of Character. I think maybe I had heard of Stan Hauerwas a little, but not necessarily anything memorable, plus he taught at Duke, which made me skeptical at the time, but the topic looked pretty interesting, and it seemed to be closely related to the thought of Alasdair MacIntyre, which I had been reading. Little did I know how much his writing would change me. In a way Hauerwas was similar to Wright in that he was a well eduacted philosopher/theologian with all the proper academic credentials (in his case Yale and Notre Dame), speaking in the language of proper academic cicles (though a bit saltier here), and defending something I can only call authentic christianity. Getting on to Hauerwas would lead to far to many topics (war, peace, ethics, literature, virtue, family, medicine, politics, etc.) so I'll leave off there. Don't have time to write more about MacIntyre or Postman or Tournier or Hayek or Van Til or a host of others who have been important to me.

Since Hauerwas has written elegantly about the role novels can play in learning about virtue, I'll very briefly mention a few novelists who have been important to me. As I think about my taste in novels, it strikes me that I primarily like two things in a novel: that it be educational, and that it be funny. I'll usually settle for either one. Among the writers who have shown a huge amount of erudtion in novel writing are Gene Wolfe, Umberto Eco and Patrick O'Brian. Mark Leyner is very funny in a very peculiar contemporary-cultural-references sort of way. The two writers I found who have mastered writing wise and funny novels are Mark Helprin and Robertson Davies. Not that their books are funny all the time, but they made me laugh often enough, wheras most novels never make me laugh at all.

The folks I'd like to tag are those I have known in that other, "real", world: Christina, Andrea, and Scott. I'll check these off as they participate.

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