Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Reading

Many bloggers like to post reading lists, and I'm a sucker for such lists.  So here several of my recent or current reads, followed by incisive commentary.  My mom always claimed I wasn't too good at leisure reading; this list has proven she was right.

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1. The Bible (King James version, with Apocrypha) (Penguin Classics). (http://www.amazon.com/The-Bible-Penguin-Classics-Anonymous/dp/0141441518).

Not your grandma's King James Bible.  Actually, a several months ago, I finally succeeded in reading this tome cover-to-cover -- no small feat at a hefty 2,000 pages.  This took me two years and was much more difficult than I anticipated.  In case you think I'm bragging, keep in mind that my grandmothers have read the Bible through numerous times.

This is a literary-critical edition of the Bible, edited and introduced by David Norton, probably the leading expert on the Authorized Version.  This is not the KJV you would find typically at a bookstore or that the Gideon's might have dropped off next to your bed at the Super8.  That Bible is the text as it was standardized in 1769.  There were a number of variations among the early print runs of the 1611; this text is Norton's attempt to reconstruct the original.  To make the text more readable today, he has modernized punctuation and spelling (thus "begat" becomes "begot") and put the text in a paragraph form that's easier on the eyes than the two-column, verse-by-verse bullet style in most pew Bibles.

A 2,000 page paperback doesn't wear as well as ye goode old leather-bound Bibles, but this text has been my go-to for personal Bible reading for several years now.  Not that it has been easy.  Reading through I & II Chronicles is like hitting the 22nd mile of a marathon. And most of you Protestants have never had to contend with the apocryphal / deuterocanonical texts.  Those who like to extol the grandeur and majesty of the KJV (which sometimes includes me), need to spend half a day or so in  plodding through Ecclesiasticus or 2 Esdras and then report back.

The "King James only" phenomenon is somewhat preposterous, but fascinating nonetheless.  I know there are many weaknesses to this text.  But, for some unknown reason, I just can't bring myself to sit down to read any of the many fine contemporary translations.

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2. A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow (ed. Bill Wylie Kellerman, Eerdmans).  (http://www.amazon.com/Keeper-Word-Selected-Writings-Stringfellow/dp/0802807267/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1341866521&sr=8-1&keywords=keeper+of+the+word)

I just finished reading this splendid anthology that, sadly, is out of print.  This is the ideal introduction to that quirky, pugnatious, passionate and incisive lawyer-theologian who practiced law in East Harlem, harbored the fugitive priest Dan Berrigan and defended the first women ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church.

There are anthologies that caricature the subject and there are those that illumine them, and this one is in that latter category.  Keeper of the Word is no mere introduction.  Wylie Kellerman, who knew Stringfellow well, has captured the essence of his mentor's writings with well-chosen excerpts organized topically.  These include generous excerpts, especially, from the autobiographical books and, especially, from the more programmatic books on Christian political ethics.  Also included are manuscripts from the Stringfellow collection at Cornell that are published only in this volume.  A couple of my favorite things are the famous exchange between Stringfellow and Karl Barth at the University of Chicago in 1962 and his open letter calling for Episcopal Presiding Bishop John Maury Allin to resign.

So try to get a hold of this book if you're terested in dialectical theology, radical discipleship, Christian political ethics and the North American theological scene of late 20th century.  I'm now working through Stringfellow's books, which happily are available here: (https://wipfandstock.com/browse/series/The%20William%20Stringfellow%20Library).

You'll be hearing more musings about Stringfellow on this blog soon.  But, in the meantime, check out these excellent posts:  http://www.faith-theology.com/2009/07/interested-in-william-stringfellow.html, http://cruciality.wordpress.com/category/william-stringfellow/ and http://www.inhabitatiodei.com/category/theologians/william-stringfellow/.

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3. The Future of Work in Massachusetts (ed. Tom Juravich, UMass press). (http://www.amazon.com/The-Future-Work-Massachusetts-Juravich/dp/1558496076/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1341867519&sr=8-1&keywords=future+of+labor+in+massachusetts).

Now this is a heady volume I picked up at the local public library.  It's so depressing that it may just have to go back there unfinished.  The essays came out of a conference of labor experts held at the University of Massachusetts several years ago.  The contributions are interdisciplinary, primarily from within the social sciences, and this book seems pretty thorough and solid (at least to a layperson like me).

Here's what gleaned, so far, from reading the introduction:  The major shift in the Bay State's economy in recent decades has been the deindustrialization that has hit several counties, including Hampden, pretty hard.  This is no surprise for anyone who has spent some time in the Holyoke-Springfield area.  The other piece is that many economic forecasts had overstated the potential growth in the high tech industries (which include many high paying jobs), whereas the greatest growth (of course!) has been in low-end service sector jobs.  This is not surprising, I guess, and I bet similar studies across the country must bear out the same trend.

A quick word to recent graduates:  Don't read this book!  Just go with what your commencement speaker -- or maybe Steve Jobs -- had to say, and keep on trucking.

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