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”

Interview with Marc Brettler

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cover of the second edition

This transcript is a lightly edited version of an interview that took place on September 1, 2015, and retains its oral style.

Interviewer: Hello. Welcome to New Books and Biblical Studies, where we look at New Books about the Bible—from modern day commentaries and art books to scholarly monographs and reference works.

On today’s program, I’m talking with Marc Brettler about the second edition of The Jewish Study Bible, published by Oxford University Press, which he co‑edited with Adele Berlin.

Professor Brettler is Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor of Judaic Studies at Duke University’s Center for Jewish Studies, and member of Duke’s Department of Religious Studies. From 1986 to 2015, he taught Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, and since 2001 was the Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies. Continue reading “Interview with Marc Brettler”

Fall 2015 books

At BookExpo two weeks ago, I had a chance to preview some of the forthcoming titles in the fall 2015 season. Here is a select list of books that looked the most promising.

August

Raymond Tallis, The Black Mirror: Looking at Life through Death (Yale UP)—the author of Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity

September

Mark Edmundson, Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals (Harvard UP)

Aviya Kushner, The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible (Spiegel & Grau)

Candida Moss and Joel Baden, Reconceiving Infertility: Biblical Perspectives on Procreation and Childlessness (Princeton UP)

October

Leo Damrosch, Eternity’s Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake (Yale UP)

Harry G. Frankfurt, On Inequality (Princeton UP)—from the author who brought you On Bullshit

Philip Jenkins, The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels (Basic Books)

Tom Lewis, Washington: A History of Our National City (Basic Books)

November

Mary Beard, S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome (Liveright/Norton)

Craig Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries)—paperback release

Jon D. Levenson, The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual Faithfulness in Judaism (Princeton UP)

John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume V: Probing the Authenticity of the Parables (Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library)—in which he argues that only four parables—those of the Mustard Seed, the Evil Tenants, the Talents, and the Great Supper—can be attributed to Jesus with certitude.

December

Diana Fuss and William Gleason, The Pocket Instructor: Literature: 101 Exercises for the College Classroom (Princeton UP)

Early 2016

J. Richard Gott, The Cosmic Web: Mysterious Architecture of the Universe (Princeton UP)—the author of Sizing Up the Universe (National Geographic, 2012)

Leonard Sax, The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups (Basic Books)—the author of Why Gender Matters

Miroslav Volf, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World (Yale UP)

New Books in Biblical Studies

From the looks of this site, it seems as if I took a hiatus from posting for Lent. Unfortunately, that wasn’t intentional. But I have been focused on a new endeavor—becoming a host for the New Books Network. My “channel” is New Books in Biblical Studies, and my first podcast, an interview with Tremper Longman about his new commentary on the Psalms, is now up on the site. Please let me know what you think of it! I’ll be posting new interviews each month.

Most Anticipated Books of 2015

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Here are a few of the books that I am most looking forward to reading in 2015. (I will announce some fall books later this spring, after BookExpo.)

Happy reading!

 

 

 

January

February

March

May

  • Kirsten Powers, The Silencing (Regnery)—Powers has been an outspoken and visible witness to those on the Left. Her book will likely be more honest than David Shipler’s forthcoming book, Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword (Knopf).

June

July

farther out

  • Jan Assmann, The Book of Exodus: A Biography (Princeton University Press)
  • George Marsden, C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography (Princeton University Press)
  • Robert Alter, translator, Isaiah (W. W. Norton)

recent honorable mention