Here are some gift recommendations from my past year of reading.
Alan Jacobs, a professor of humanities at Baylor University, has written a beautiful and wise book about The Book of Common Prayer and its many iterations since it’s initial publication by Thomas Cranmer in 1549. It is both a feat of compression, bringing 500 years of history into the scope of some 230 pages, and of scholarship, gracefully knitting together several course strands of literary, liturgical, and ecclesiastical history. And yet somehow Jacobs maintains an effortlessness, a gracefulness of style, that is rare in academia. Continue reading “Alan Jacobs and the Book of Common Prayer”
- Tim Blanning, The Romantic Revolution: A History (Modern Library, 2010)—An outstanding overview of the early 19th-century cultural movement known as romanticism. A writer at the height of his craft, Blanning casts a wide net, surveying a huge corpus of art, literature, and music both in England and the continent, but creates an astonishingly tight and compelling account in a mere 200 pages. Blanning’s history surely trumps M. H. Abram’s 1971 classic The Mirror and the Lamp in its accessibility and scope. It reminded me why I became so fond of the “long eighteenth century” (from which the romantics emerged), and it left me eager to dig into Blanning’s ambitious The Pursuit of Glory.
Perhaps not unlike other readers, I picked up a copy of My Bright Abyss: Mediation of a Modern Believer because of the reputation of its author, Christian Wiman. Since 2003, he has been the editor of Poetry, a prestigious and influential monthly journal published by the Poetry Foundation. While he stepped down from that position in June 2013, he took up joint appointments to Yale Divinity School and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music this fall. So, naturally, I was intrigued when I learned that he had reportedly come to faith during a battle with a rare form of cancer several years ago, at the age of 39. It’s not often that one hears of such conversions among intellectuals or literati, not the least of which a poet, so I was curious.
This post should be entitled “In Praise of Margaret M. Wagner,” since she created the design and typography of Robert Alter’s translations of the Bible for W. W. Norton, beginning with the very first, The Book of Genesis (1996). More than most readers may even be aware, her contribution, evident on every page, mediates Alter’s words, making each translation handsome, accessible, and eminently readable. Indeed, it may be the greatest compliment to the design that most readers see through it and never notice how it functions so clearly and effortlessly.
Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Ideal is, without question, one of the finest works about the decline of the family farm, specifically the harsh realities of California agriculture during the 1980s (written from the perspective of the late 1990s). The profiles of the last holdout “yeoman” are compelling and full blooded. But what’s even more interesting is how, through the small details and the individual anecdotes, Hanson is able to diagnose the larger trends and social consequences of this decline.
I have read several books by N. T. Wright, and I consider myself an admirer of his work, both popular and academic. So I was naturally excited when I heard that he had compiled his translations from the “New Testament for Everyone Series” (published by Westminster John Knox Press) into a single volume, entitled The Kingdom New Testament. Here’s one volume in the series, for example: Mark for Everyone.