Friday, January 21, 2022

A 2021 Reading Retrospective

Instead of a belated tally of books completed in 2021, which would impress no one,* I mention here a few reading highlights. In most cases these are not books--which means you can read them too, for free, online.

(1) Black Lives Matter: David Blight's Open Yale History course on the American Civil War has nothing directly to do with last summer's protests, but it helped put them in historical perspective and--more than anything else I've read in the last two years--it explained why the protests matter. Sometimes the best way to learn about the present is to study the past.

(2) Covid-19: Judging from the place of privilege it occupies in my mental furniture, Alan Jacobs's musings on the problem of "scale" are among the most significant I've read on Covid-19. They are developed in detail in Alan's essay in the Hedgehog Review, though I expect I first encountered it on his blog, which I read assiduously, and you should too.

(3) On Reading: The main thrust of Alastair Fowler's fascinating essay, "C. S. Lewis: Supervisor" (available in full here and here), is to define education as reading--and remembering what you read. A few excerpts: 

"The flow of Lewis’s writing and speaking had much to do with this remarkable memory. .... It was not principally memoria ad verba but rather ad res – memory of the substance, aimed at grasp of contents through their structure. ... Lewis’s innate memorial powers were developed by education, first at school and then with his private tutor William Kirkpatrick. At Oxford they were strengthened by having to depend on the Bodleian Library rather than on his own books. .... Later ... his reading habits had become ingrained, and he continued to rely on memory. Often he used books almost in the medieval way, as memory prompts. Literary memory depends on use: it must be frequently refreshed. .... Lewis had almost total recall of words (he remembered new vocabulary after once looking it up in the dictionary), yet he had to go over texts frequently – sometimes immediately before a tutorial. Consequently his reading and re-reading were astonishingly copious. Reading habits, of course, were different in the fifties; I used then to read ten hours a day. Lewis, who read far faster, read with surer grasp, and read whenever commitments allowed – read even at mealtimes – read prodigiously."

Alan Jacobs explains why this matters:

"[A] book becomes more fully itself when we see both how it resembles and how is differs from other books; one discipline of study takes on its proper hues only when we see its relations to other disciplines that stand close to it or very far away. My repertoire of analogies is my toolbox, or my console of instruments, by which I comprehend and navigate the world. It can’t be too large; every addition helps, at least a bit."

Which reminds me, there are some books I should be reading ....

Credit: NYTimes

*Not that impressing anyone is the point. ... right?

Thursday, January 6, 2022

A 2022 Reading List


Scot McKnight used to give himself a new fountain pen every Christmas. This year I did something similar with books.

I read a draft of Adele Reinhartz's Befriending the Beloved Disciple in Jerusalem in December 2000. My former teacher's sequel, Cast out of the Covenant, has been on my to-read list since it came out in 2018. Now that I have a copy of my own, I hope to get to it sooner rather than later. For Adele's reflections on her "Journey with John" and an overview of the book's argument, see this short essay

I first encountered Jason Staples's "new theory of ... Israelite identity"--to quote the sub-title of his 2021 monograph--years ago at SBL, and have kept an eye on his work ever since. When Scot McKnight named The Idea of Israel as the "best academic book" he "read this year," I decided not to wait until the paperback edition comes out.


Christopher Stroup's The Christians Who Became Jews is not the only book whose title and topic make me wish I had written it first. Since my research and publishing efforts have centered on ethnicity in ancient Judaism and, separately, Luke-Acts, I decided to take advantage of a Yale University Press sale and a trip to the United States to pick up a copy of this monograph that treats both at once. 

Also from Yale University Press, Lawrence Wills's recent Introduction to the Apocrypha promises to inform the course I teach on "Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity."

To round out my Yale University Press order, I picked up a copy of Brent Nongbri's much-discussed, God's Library: The Archaeology of the Earliest Christian Manuscripts, which is, fortunately, now out in paperback.

Attentive readers of titles (and subtitles) will notice a pattern here: "Jews and Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John," "Jewish Books in Christian Bibles," "The Christians who Became Jews," "The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism." In different ways all four books deal squarely with my own persistent scholarly preoccupation with early Judaism, the Jewish context of early Christianity, and the relationship between Jews and early Christians. I don't expect to agree fully with any of these books (who does?), but I do expect to learn much and to be stimulated to look at familiar texts with fresh eyes.

I suffer from a tendency to buy books faster than I read them, but these I hope to get to in 2022. Just perhaps--come spring--I may pull one or two of my own languishing projects off the shelf and make some headway on writing as well as reading in pandemic year 3.

In addition to picking up a book order, our trip the United States including a little snowshoeing: