A number of factors have combined recently to convince me that I should return to the practice of crafting the occasional post for this blog. Not the least of these was this stirring post at Reading the Maps, discovered via the very medium the author denigrates and in which so many of us guiltily indulge: Facebook. How can I continue to neglect Logismoi after reading the following?
Blogging may have been superseded by new and inferior innovations, but the medium need not die. Indeed, bloggers should treat the rise of alternative forms of online communication as a liberation, rather than a disaster. Freed from the curse of coolness, blogging can now develop as a literary and artistic genre, or set of genres. Blogging may have lost some of its old practitioners, but it should be able to attract writers, artists, and political thinkers dissatisfied with the short attention span of twitter and the ritualised onanism of facebook. Blogging may become an act of resistance against the dumbing down of culture and political discourse in the twenty-first century.
I am not so certain, however, that this first new post since last summer can aspire to the lofty heights called for here. Instead, I intend to ease back into the practice beginning with a simple and, for me at least, enjoyable genre: the newly acquired books overview. In my household, we exchanged gifts for the Nativity according to the Church's calendar four nights ago, and I had already previously come by a few other titles, either received as gifts or purchased with gift cards and/or money. Having forgotten the order in which I acquired them, I'll settle for the alphabetical order of the authors' last names.
1) Ibrahim S. Amin, The Monster Hunter's Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Saving Mankind from Vampires, Zombies, Hellhounds, & Other Mythical Beasts (NY: Bloomsbury, 2007). An unexpected gift from a friend, this one is a sheer delight. For a small taste, consider the author's response to the question, 'Why would anyone want to hunt monsters?'
...A hunter kills to test himself against what nature has to offer, to see if his humble human mind and body can overcome the power, quickness, and savage cunning of the beasts. Thus a true hunter will wish to pit himself against the most challenging prey--creatures that will push him to the limit. Any fool with a gun can shoot a deer, but only the greatest of sportsmen will be able to overcome a Hydra.However, even among the most dedicated sportsmen in the field there is also a second, and perhaps far more noble concern--no less lofty a goal than the protection and preservation of the human race.
The entry on each creature even includes a citation of early, often classical, sources. My only complaint is that, despite the appropriately arcane, antique-looking cover design, the illustrations are brightly coloured, modern-looking things. They just don't do justice to the subject matter.
2) G.K. Chesterton, Collected Works, Vol. 1: Heretics, Orthodoxy, The Blatchford Controversies, ed. David Dooley (SF: Ignatius, 1986). I was excited finally to come across an inexpensive used copy of a volume of GKC's Collected Works, a set of handsomely designed, but rather pricey volumes from Ignatius Press. I hope to see more some day.
3) Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol: The Original 1843 Manuscript (Delray Beach, FL: Levenger, 2011). A gift from my always thoughtful mother-in-law, this is the first-ever full-cover facsimile of Dickens's original manuscript of A Christmas Carol. It features a facing-page transcription, a beautiful red cloth Smythe-sewn binding gold-stamped with a design from the 1st edition, a silk ribbon marker, and, it seems, 'Archival paper selected to match the color of Dickens’s manuscript paper'. It also has an introduction by the curator of Literary & Historical Manuscripts at the Dickens MS owner: The Morgan Library & Museum. See the photo above. Now I can, just barely, read my favourite lines in Dickens's own handwriting:
'Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. 'Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive Ocean of my business!' (p. 14)
4) David L. Edwards, OBE, Poets & God: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Herbert, Milton, WOrdsworth, Coleridge, Blake (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2005). I was off to Half Price Books to kill some time, hoping to find a copy of Gerald Basil Edwards's Book of Ebenezer Le Page. But while I saw no sign of the latter, I did discover this book by another Edwards, apparently a former Dean of King's College, Cambridge. The blurb on the back says this:
These great English poets are at the centre of a cultural heritage which goes along with the world-wide appeal of the English language, yet they have often become the object of study rather than of pleasure.Scholarly, entertaining and often provocative, David Edwards's new book reveals their relevance to the current quest for an authentic spirituality in a mostly church-less society. Poets & God will excite the reader to rediscover and enjoy their work.
5) Thomas C. Oden, Early Libyan Christianity: Uncovering a North African Tradition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011). Although Tom Oden's niece, Amy Oden, was my Church history professor in college, and I myself briefly met the old fellow at a lecture about the Green Collection of Biblical artifacts here in OKC a few months ago, I've managed never to read any of his work. My father gave me this one with the explanation that he never knows what I have, and it was new enough that he could be pretty certain I didn't have it. I fully intend to read it through. I already glanced at the conclusion and found it profoundly moving. Oden is explaining how and why he is passionate about the subject, and apologising in advance for the tentative nature of his conclusions:
Why, then, have I continued to pursue this difficult task to the very end, when I had other urgent projects sitting on the shelf awaiting my attention at a late date in my life? Because so few know about this obscure area; because its role in early Christianity was so significant; because it has been so neglected as a subject of historical inquiry by Western academic colleages. These motives have been the engines of desire.Now that I am at last ready to offer its results for scholarly and public examination, I am all the more aware that many of its conclusions may seem at first hard to defend and easy targets for academics who are working out of very different premises about reliable knowledge. I hope that someday someone will do more justice to this subject than I. But my time to do anything in this world is limited and growing more so. Hence I offer it for the reader's consideration, hoping for clemency.
6) Rob Pope, How to Study Chaucer, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 2001). I do of course enjoy reading Chaucer, but my primary motive in buying this one was that I am going to be teaching Chaucer to my 8th-grade students this Spring. As I do not know him nearly as well as most of the other books we have been reading, I need all the help I can get.
7) David Simay, Swordfishtrombones: 33 1/3 (NY: Continuum, 2008). Some of you may recall that I posted briefly about Tom Waits a few years ago (here), but if you're not aware, I am an enormous fan. My sister gave me this little book (apparently the 33 1/3 series of books about albums is all the same size), a 'study' of sorts of Waits's groundbreaking album, 1983's Swordfishtrombones. Again, the back blurb says it best:
At the end of the seventies, Tom Waits felt trapped in a stalled career: his musical persona an artistic straightjacket. At a dark, desperate time in his life he got the phone call that offered a way out and met the woman who would change his life. What followed was Swordfishtrombones, one of the most daring transformations in pop music history.Tom Waits is an elusive subject, sly and evasive. Through extensive research and a close, playful reading of his work, David Smay unwraps the vinegar pleasures of Swordfishtrombones and creates a freewheeling portrait of an American genius. This is the album where Tom Waits beats the blues with a hammer, drags his piano into the rain and burrows deep underground. This is the story of a man who reinvented himself and changed the musical landscape forever, a love story built on exotic percussion and phantom landscapes. This is a story about crows and mules.
8) J.R.R. Tolkien, Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham (NY: Del Rey, 1986). I bought this with a HP Books gift card after I had the disconcerting realisation that I didn't own a single copy of 'Smith of Wootton Major' (I had 'Farmer Giles' in the Tolkien Reader). It's such a beautiful story, and the descriptions of Smith's journeys oddly reminded me a little bit of Lovecraft's dream stories (another Tolkien/Lovecraft connection).
9) Leo Tolstoy, The Bear Hunt & Other Stories (NY: Little Leather Library Co., n.d.). I received this curious little volume only just tonight from an old family friend. I'd never seen or heard anything of this series, but according to this description the 'Little Leather Libary' books were a series of small classics bound in what was once brownish green imitation leather (mine is decidedly brown) in the early 1920's, apparently inspired by the Arts & Crafts-related Roycroft Press. The Tolstoy volume (Box 2 Volume 91 of the series) contains the stories 'The Bear Hunt', 'What Men Live By', and 'A Fairy Tale'.