New Books!

The words of the wise are like goads and like nails driven in — from the composers of collections, given from a certain shepherd. And more than these, my son, beware: of making many books there is no end, and much chatter is weariness of the flesh.

Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) 12:11-12 (trans. by Robert Alter)

Every year, BookExpo showcases books slated for release in the fall and beyond, drumming up buzz among independent booksellers, librarians, and the like. The books listed below, both recent and forthcoming, looked to be of greatest interest to readers of serious nonfiction.

A few observations from the show:

  • In my humble opinion, some of the best academic work across the board continues to be published by Princeton University Press, followed closely by Yale and Harvard. Nebraska and Minnesota remain interesting smaller presses.
  • Other academic presses, being focused on niche audiences or on monographs that sell at high prices to academic libraries, seem to have lost their ability to appeal to cross-over audiences. Chicago and California, mired in academic fads and fancies, seem to be shadows of their former glorious selves.
  • Among commercial publishers, W. W. Norton stood out at the show as standing by high-quality content while taking some risks on lesser-known but deserving authors and their books.

Language and Literature

Peter Martin, The Dictionary Wars: The Fight over the English Language (Princeton, May)

Ilana Pardes, The Song of Songs: A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books, Princeton, August)

Peter Mack, Reading Old Books: Writing with Traditions (Princeton, September)

Michael Schmidt, Gilgamesh: The Life of a Poem (Princeton, September)

A. E. Stallings, translator, The Battle Between the Frogs and the Mice: A Tiny Homeric Epic (Paul Dry Books, October)

Christian Wiman, editor, Joy: 100 Poems (paperback release, Yale, November)—I missed this when it was published in 2017.

Biography and Memoir

Andrew Gant, Johann Sebastian Bach (SPCK, October 2018)—I missed this when it was published last year.

Carlos Eire, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila: A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books, Princeton, June)—His history Reformations is magisterial.

Thomas Chatterton Williams, Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race (W. W. Norton, October)

John Took, Dante (Princeton, January 2020)

History

T. H. Breen, The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America (Princeton, September)

George Weigel, The Irony of Modern Catholic History (Basic Books, September)

David Sorkin, Jewish Emancipation: A History Across Five Centuries (Princeton, September)

Roel Sterckx, Ways of Heaven: An Introduction to Chinese Thought (Basic Books, September)

Martin Goodman, Josephus’s The Jewish War: A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books, Princeton, October)

Martin Goodman, A History of Judaism (paperback release, Princeton, October)—highly recommended!

Pekka Hamalainen, Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power (Yale, October)

* Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World (Basic Books, October)

David D. Hall, The Puritans: A Transatlantic History (Princeton, November)

Alec Ryrie, Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt (Harvard, November)—Ryrie will also publish The Reformation in England: A Very Brief History (SPCK, August).

Religion

Joel Baden, The Book of Exodus: A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books, Princeton, April)

Phillip Cary, The Meaning of Protestant Theology: Luther, Augustine, and the Gospel That Gives Us Christ (Baker Academic, June)

John Collins, What Are Biblical Values?: What the Bible Says on Key Ethical Issues (Yale, August)

Iain Duguid, The Whole Armor of God: How Christ’s Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual Warfare (Crossway, August)

Paula Frederiksen, When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation (paperback release, Yale, August)—This book didn’t receive enough attention.

Edward L. Greenstein, Job: A New Translation (Yale, August)—I’ll bite, but it’s claim that “no English translation has come close to conveying the proper sense of the original” is difficult to believe, with Robert Alter’s, X’s, and Cline’s translations all on the market for years now.

Michael LeFebvre, The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in the Old Testament Context (IVP Academic, August)

David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation (Yale, September)

David Bentley Hart, The New Testament: A Translation (paperback release, Yale, October)—I’ll be curious to see if there are any differences from the first printing.

J. Ryan Lister and Anthony Benedetto, Emblems of the Infinite King: Entering the Knowledge of the Living God (Crossway, October)—illustrated book for kids ages 8-14, warrants comparison with The Bible Project books

Jack Miles, Religion as We Know It: An Origin Story (W. W. Norton, November)

Economics

Greg Forster, Economics: A Student’s Guide (Crossway, August)—A Christian perspective on (more or less) mainline economics

Lawrence Glickman, Free Enterprise: An American History (Yale, August)—A Cornell historian’s view

Deirdre McCloskey, Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All (Yale, October)

Thomas Philippon, The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets (Harvard, October)

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Good Economics, Bad Economics: Six Ways We Get the World Wrong and How to Set It Right (PublicAffairs, November)

A Recap of BookExpo 2018

{For some reason, I didn’t make this post live after last year’s event. Some of it still seems on point in describing current trends. So why not share it?}

At the end of May, I attended BookExpo, the largest publishing trade show in the United States. Over the years, I’ve gone to reconnect with past colleagues, to talk shop with other editors and marketers about their approach to publishing, and of course to scout for gems among all the forthcoming books on display for the fall and beyond.

More Questions than Answers

According to the show’s organizers, the 2018 BookExpo was “reimagined.” I had a hard time seeing how the changes benefited publishers or booksellers. More space than ever before was dedicated to lines for author signings and small stages for various talks or demonstrations. And there were noticeably fewer publishers and less representation of smaller and independent presses. So the big five seemed to dominate much of the show, with a few noteworthy exceptions. I gather that some of the changes attracted more school librarians, but don’t they have their own show?

An obvious question came to mind: What is BookExpo for? I don’t know that the show organizers know anymore. They’re certainly not thinking about me or my role within the industry. (And that’s okay. For my limited purposes, I am surely in the minority.) Most of the talks were not about industry trends or best practices but about an author’s “creative process” or experience being published (or rejected). And the purpose from ages past—taking orders on the floor—was whittled away over the course of many years.

I would describe the mood as chipper but disoriented. There wasn’t a clear “big book” of the show, unless you count The President Is Missing: A Novel by the dynamic duo James Patterson and Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama’s forthcoming memoir Becoming. Neither sound like my cup of tea, but apart from gigantic banners hanging in Javits Center, I didn’t hear much “buzz” about them. Then again, the reviews of these books are only now just dribbling out.

The worry in years past about disruptive technologies seems to have faded or been absorbed by the industry, which I take to sign of the industry’s health. Margins continue to be thin, but who gets into publishing expecting to get rich, let alone rich quick?

That said, I also get a sense that people don’t really even know what reading is for. Is it entertainment? Is it a hallmark of being educated and well informed? Is it a necessity to participate in certain cultural conversations? Is it about escapism, imagination, or play? Is it a necessity, or just a leisure good, in a culture that simultaneously loves DYI references, cooking tricks and tips, and relationship advice but also wants to celebrate individual experience, identity politics, and emotivism above all else? It would be hard to answer any of those questions by attending BookExpo.

The Readers Are Missing

In March of this year, it was reported that “about a quarter of American adults (24%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form.” This figure should be troubling to publishers and educators.

The report noted, “The share of Americans who report not reading any books in the past 12 months has bounced around a bit since 2011, when Pew Research Center first began conducting surveys about book-reading habits. That year, 19% of adults reported not reading any books. The share of non-book readers hit a high point of 27% in 2015.”

What’s behind this trend? Are Americans consuming more online? Are we lost in the threads of social media? Are we held captive by YouTube videos? What other activities are filling our leisure time and displacing reading?

For the full report, see Andrew Perrin, “Who doesn’t read books in America?,” or this 2014 lament in The Atlantic.

Brick & Mortar Comeback

Despite the disappearance of Borders superstores in September 2011, which once claimed more than 500 outlets, it seems that independent booksellers are now clawing their way back into the marketplace. I was delighted to see the opening of Bard’s Alley in Vienna, Virginia. Just one shop among many that have opened within the last year. Even Amazon senses the need to open its own “brick and mortar” stores.

Even with these developments, some industry experts are honing in on what sets publishers and bookstores apart. I liked the following two quotations for their optimism and their assessment of what matters most.

The American Booksellers Association’s CEO Oren Teicher said: “While there may be a small army of smart people working for Amazon, in the more than two decades that they have been selling books it’s important to recognize that none of them has come up with computer coding or an algorithm that can beat what you all do every day: putting the right book in a customer’s hands.” (reported in “BookExpo 2018: ABA Annual Meeting,” Shelf Awareness for Friday, June 1, 2018.)

Macmillan CEO John Sargent “agreed that the “long-term health of the industry” was good, but said he thought that in the coming years publishers will face “some serious issues” pertaining to “changing consumer buying behaviors.” As consumers shop more and more online, it will be harder for them to discover books; Sargent argued that what publishers need to protect is “lots and lots of shelf space” in which customers can browse and discover books.” (reported in “BookExpo 2018: CEO Roundtable,” Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, June 5, 2018.)

And, to close, this nugget about opportunities for the independents is worth requoting:

The independent bookstores that have proved successful are uniquely suited to the community they’re in. Some are big. Some are small. Some are homey and stitched together with found shelving. Others are practically works of art and architecture. They stock the books that the community wants, and, while their selections are minuscule compared with Barnes & Noble, the staff can speak to the books on those shelves with authority. In other words, they are all different. (David Sax, “What Barnes & Noble Doesn’t Get About Bookstores,” The New Yorker)

Interview with Sarah Ruden

In the past month, I interviewed Sarah Ruden about her new book, The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible (published by Pantheon Books), and her new translation of St. Augustine’s Confessions (published by The Modern Library). The two interviews can be found here and here, respectively.

In the run up to the interviews and in their wake, Sarah and I traded messages about Augustine, the Bible, and other topics. Sarah kindly granted me permission to reproduce parts of our exchange here in an edited format.

Garrett: I can’t help but begin by asking: Is there a work of Greek or Latin literature that is unduly overlooked? Or, to put a different spin on the question, is there a work of Greek or Latin literature that should be better known or more widely read by Christians?

Sarah: I’m an interested party, because I’ve translated this work myself, but still I can’t resist recommending Apuleius’s Golden Ass, a comic novel of the mid-second century A.D. The book gives vivid pictures of ordinary people’s lives at a time of great growth in Christianity. Also, the story is full of moral and religious themes and offers the most detailed account to date of a religious conversion; the conversion is to the worship of the goddess Isis, but the differences from and similarities to Christian conversions are fascinating in themselves.
Continue reading “Interview with Sarah Ruden”

The Foremothers of the Messiah

I recently stumbled across an old audio recording of Tim Keller’s sermon, “Hannah’s Prayer for Family,” from October 2007. At minute 31:40, he makes an astonishing observation about the role of women of the Old Testament in the anticipation of the Messiah:

If you look at the forefathers of the Messiah, the penultimate forerunners of the Messiah—the forefathers of the Messiah were Samuel and Sampson and David and Gideon—they all brought salvation by being strong and getting glory. And so they [their descendants] looked at Jesus and said, “That can’t be the Messiah. The Messiah wouldn’t be weak. The Messiah wouldn’t be disgraced.”

Do you know what their problem was? They were looking at the forefathers of the Messiah but not the foremothers; they were looking at the men who were the forerunners of Jesus but not the women.

Because over and over again God gave a foretaste of the real gospel and the work of Jesus Christ in the fact that he continually brought his salvation of the world through the barren, through the rejected, through the unwanted women.
It’s old barren Sarah not beautiful fertile Hagar through whom God brings the royal messianic saving seed of Isaac.

It’s through Leah, the girl that nobody wanted, the wife that Jacob didn’t want, not Rachel the beautiful and the wanted; it’s through Leah that God brings the royal messianic saving seed of Judah.

Sampson is born to a barren woman who shouldn’t be able to have children.
Samuel is born to a suffering, disgraced woman, but through through the suffering and disgrace of Hannah salvation comes.

If you had looked at the foremothers, you would have known that Isaiah was talking about the Messiah when he said that the one who comes to save us will suffer disgrace and be crushed for our iniquities. Jesus experienced the reversal that Hannah was talking about. . . .

The women in the Old Testament show that Jesus Christ is not just a coming King but a suffering servant.

Saving and the Self

In his “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts” of 1844, Karl Marx wrote:

The less you eat, drink, and read books;
the less you go to the theater,
the dance hall, the public-house;
the less you think, love, theorize,
sing, paint, fence, etc.,
the more you save your capital:
the greater becomes your treasure
which neither moths nor dust will devour.
The less you are, the more you have;
the less you express your own life,
the greater is your alienated life:
the greater is the store
for your estranged being.

My twenty-year-old self clipped that passage and tucked it away in a folder. I think it impressed me at the time that he was able to put his finger on a psychological reality that was true, even if it really didn’t extend to his (deeply flawed) economic or political analysis.

The reference to the moth, regardless if it was intentional, echoes a passage from James 5:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

And James may be calling to mind the passage from Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Marx is not talking about commodities or acquisitive action; rather, he’s talking about experiences and participation. He’s talking a life in community with others. The quotation serves as a nice check on one’s priorities.

Interview with Richard B. Hays

Screen Shot 2016-10-29 at 4.50.15 PM.png
detail of Joseph von Führich’s Der Gang nach Emmaus

On June 4, 2016, Garrett Brown recorded an interview with Richard B. Hays, which was initially released as an hour-long podcast on the New Books Network. The transcript below, which includes 20 additional minutes of conversation, has been edited and revised by the authors. An abridged version of it first appeared in the November/December issue of Books and Culture.

The authors would like to thank Carey Newman of Baylor University Press for his comments on an early draft of this transcript and John Wilson of Books and Culture for his support and enthusiasm for the project.

About Richard B. Hays

Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, is internationally recognized for his work on the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and on New Testament ethics. His scholarly work has bridged the disciplines of biblical criticism and literary studies, exploring the innovative ways in which early Christian writers interpreted Israel’s Scripture. He has also consistently sought to demonstrate how close reading of the New Testament can inform the church’s theological reflection, proclamation, and ministry.

Hays’s book The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation (1996) was selected by Christianity Today as one of the 100 most important religious books of the twentieth century. His more recent books include The Art of Reading Scripture (2003, co-edited with Ellen Davis), The Conversion of the Imagination (2005), Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage (2008, co-edited with Beverly Roberts Gaventa), Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation (2012, co-edited with Stefan Alkier), Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (2014), and Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (2016).

Professor Hays has lectured widely in North America, Europe, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Japan. An ordained United Methodist minister, he has preached in settings ranging from rural Oklahoma churches to London’s Westminster Abbey. Professor Hays has chaired the Pauline Epistles Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, as well as the Seminar on New Testament Ethics in the Society for New Testament Studies, and has served on the editorial boards of several leading scholarly journals. Professor Hays received an honorary doctorate (Dr. theol. honoris causa) from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2009. He served as dean of Duke Divinity School from 2010 to 2015.

The Interview

Garrett Brown: Would you start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself and your background?

Richard B. Hays: I grew up in Oklahoma, went to an Episcopal day school as a high school student, and had a rich education there that included daily chapel. That had the effect of getting the Book of Common Prayer into my bones, although I was a Methodist by family upbringing.

I went to Yale as an undergraduate and ended up being an English major. I was particularly immersed in poetry and drama of the 16th and 17th centuries. After that, I went to seminary, graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1977, and continued on to a PhD at Emory in New Testament Studies. Continue reading “Interview with Richard B. Hays”

New Books in Biblical Studies

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-3-02-10-pmSince April 2015, I’ve been the host of New Books in Biblical Studies on the New Books Network, a consortium of volunteer podcasters who are “dedicated to raising the level of public discourse by introducing serious authors to serious audiences.”

On my channel, I interview authors of new books about the Bible—from modern-day commentaries and art books to scholarly monographs and reference works. Each interview is about an hour long, which allows for a more wide-ranging conversation than most interview programs.

There are many other podcasts on the NBN about religion and faith. You can browse a complete listing here.

This page serves as an index of my interviews to date. I will update it periodically as I add new programs. You can also follow the channel on Twitter @newbooksbible. Please let me know if you have a suggestion for an upcoming program.

As always, thank you for listening!

Continue reading “New Books in Biblical Studies”