Posted by: Dan | August 31, 2005

August Books

Well, the summer is coming to an end so don’t expect to see any more fiction on my list until December. Of course this is potentially my very last year of course work (what is this year #6?) so that’s leaving me with an interesting feeling. Anyway…

1. Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolenceby Stanley Hauerwas. A somewhat mixed collection of essays but — as can be expected from Hauerwas — a worthwhile read. As always Stan is concerned with showing how the Christian practice of nonviolence is linked to the communal development of virtue. He thus argues for a form of nonviolence that cannot be divorced from discipleship. For this reason he argues that Yoder is not a “pacifist” (understood here as one who appeals to nonviolence as some sort of abstract universal standard), for Yoder understands the contingency of all things. This is also why he argues that Milbank should admit that he is a “pacifist” for he is still dealing with an epistemology that buys into absolutes — it is because of this that Hauerwas also argues that Milbank smacks of triumphalism. Stanley argues that Christians are called to endure in the world — Milbank, says Stan, wants Christians to win. Of course this is only a wee sample of a collection of essays that touch on many more topics than this.

2. Dominion and Dynasty: a Theology of the Hebrew Bible by Stephen Dempster. Two biblical studies professors that I have stayed in touch with from my undergrad have continually recommended this book to me and I finally got around to reading it. Basically Dempster argues that there is an overarching narrative that guides the Hebrew Bible (Tanahk) from the first to the last book — and this narrative is shaped by the twin themes of dominion and dynasty (or genealogy and geography). A beautiful work that does a find job of showing the Tanahk to be a single coherent Text and not just a collection of somewhat random texts. Of course part of the beauty of this book is its readability and brevity. A great primer for anybody interested in moving into more serious biblical study (so that should include all Christians).

3. The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture can’t be Jammed by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter. This book is an excellent critique of the counter-culture that reveals how the counter-culture is self-defeating. Far from providing an alternative to consumer capitalism the counter-culture with its rampant individualism and sense of distinction actually exacerbates all the problems that the counter-culture pins on “the system.” While I tend to disagree with the authors on several points (i.e. they have bought too wholeheartedly into Fukuyama’s notion of “the end of history”) this book should be required reading for anybody (like myself) who has been influenced by the likes of Naomi Klein.

4. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. I have always had a strong affinity for Camus. The Plague was a beautiful and heartbreaking piece that any Christian who wants to write-off atheism needs to take the time to read. This work is Camus’ defense and explanation for “absurd” living. Living the requires lucidity and hopelessness. It is the absence of hope that is the most fundamental certitude here. Of course a link that Camus does not make explicit — but which undergirds much of what is said — is the way in which hubris is connected to this hopelessness. Reading this I can’t help but think how far the Church has lost its way, for it too, while speaking of hope, tends to live in a hopeless way in our culture. Christian hope, built not on pride but on trust in God, is what enables things to be made new — something that Camus cannot perceive as possible.

5. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. Wilde is certainly a master of the bon mot. He can consistently turn a phrase and writes very beautifully at times. Unfortunately the content of this book feels somewhat… juvenile. This is the mentality of a self-absorbed rich kid elevated to the best way to approach all of life. I hate to say it, but that’s the description that comes most readily to mind. It feels juvenile in the sense that the philosophy espoused by the central characters (and by Oscar himself?) is one that has no concern for others. Indeed, the characters (and Oscar) claim that one should not be concerned with ethics — only with beauty — but this itself suggests that none of the people involved understand what ethics are. Oscar’s book is an ethical work — it just suggests a different ethic than what was the norm. And a much more troubling one.

6. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Hooray for Dickens and his (mostly) happy endings. This book reminded me of David Copperfield and was good simple pleasure reading.

7. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. That’s the kind of title that has the potential the creep me out (i.e. does a woman have a son that is also her lover?) and there is a rather creepy mother involved. What makes the book more interesting is the fact that it was in this work that Lawrence was trying to sort out what kind of relationship he had with his own mother. This was my first time reading Lawrence and I think I’ll pick up another one of his in the near future.

8. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I don’t know what it is with Canadian novelists and their seeming obsession with writing psychological novels (cf. The Manticore by Robertson Davies, or The Piano Man’s Daughter by Timothy Findley, etc., etc.) but this book was excellent. I’ve often scoffed at Canadian lit and said that the only reason it qualified as “literature” was because it was the best of what was available. Thankfully this book actually is the real deal. Atwood writes with a distinctive voice that took me a bit to get into but fully drew me in until I couldn’t put the book down. This is a work of historical fiction around the notorious “murderess” Grace Marks who lived in the 19th century.

9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. A classic that I hadn’t read in years and so I decided to pick it up again. That hound still scares the hell out of me — but still doesn’t quite scare me as much as Montag’s wife. Yikes.

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