Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The CEO of the Sofa by P. J. O'Rourke

The CEO of the Sofa (O'Rourke, P. J.) Mildly amusing.

God So Loved the World by Eric Huntsman

God So Loved The World - The Final Days of the Savior's Life

More common than tinsel are wistful pleas to “put Christ back into Christmas,” but you’re more likely to find a brussel sprout in a plastic egg than someone reminding you to “put Christ back into Easter.” Which is a theologically vacant state of affairs, if you stop and think about it.

What would you do to put Christ back into Easter? How about starting with a book rich with ideas for study, contemplation, scripture reading, art, and music? Eric Huntsman has written just such a book, and if you are looking to emphasize Easter in your personal or family study, I recommend it. It is divided into chapters for each day of the last week of Jesus’ life (called “Holy Week” in some Christian traditions). Since the entire book is just over one hundred pages, each chapter is short enough to read on the relevant day during the week before Easter.

Each chapter contains gorgeous artwork on nearly every page, including some that are perhaps particularly lovely for being outside the norm for LDS art, including Grey Day at Golgoltha, The Meal in the House of the Pharisee, and Triplus, No. 3. So even though this is a book for adults, I could see reading it ahead of time and then summarizing key points while sharing the artwork with children each day of Holy Week.

There are also lots of crisp photographs here: some of traditional sites for key events and some of modern pilgrims visiting those sites. I’m not sure about the pilgrim pictures, as they tend to consist of a crowd of the backs of people’s heads, although I found the variety of headgear (red baseball caps to nun’s wimples) charming.

You won’t be surprised to learn how pleased I am that Huntsman made an effort to keep each gospel story separate instead of harmonizing them completely, and he does a fine job of showing how each writer shapes the story of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection in unique ways. However, given that some of the audience for this book may never have considered the (often virtually impossible to reconcile) differences between the gospels, I wonder if someone expecting a total warm-fuzzy from a BYU Religious Education professor (published by Deseret Book, of course) is going to have a touch of cognitive dissonance when reading, for example, that Mark “delays” the story of the cleansing of the temple from one day to the next “for symbolic and literary reasons” (page 12) or “John differs from the other Gospels, however, in the timing of the dinner: while the synoptic Gospels make it clear that the Last Supper was a Passover meal, John indicates that the Passover began at sunset the next day, the day when Jesus was crucified.” (page 51, italics in original). The question naturally arises: If Mark or John could move an event to a different date, what other facts might have been changed, and how then can we trust the gospels? If you are reading T & S, you are probably familiar with these issues and their various possible solutions, but if you aren’t . . . I wish Huntsman had had a paragraph or two about how to process the implications. I’m all for inoculation, but there’s a reason they always have a band-aid and lolly pop ready immediately afterwards.

I could also quibble with some of the choices made regarding what to cover: dismissing the story of the widow’s mite in one sentence made my heart hurt, especially when nearly two pages (of a 135 page book) were devoted to the issue of where Jesus was buried.

But I hope those concerns won’t take away from what is definitely a remarkable book. Huntsman presents an interesting way of understanding Holy Week as framed by the two anointings of Jesus. While there is endless scholarly debate regarding how many separate anointings there were (see Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-8), he chooses to read–at least symbolically–the anointing in John’s gospel as happening at the beginning of Holy Week, functioning as a kingly anointing, and introducing the royal themes that permeate the first part of the week. The anointing in Matthew and Mark is read separately, occurring on Wednesday, functioning as a priestly anointing, and introducing the priestly themes that fill the second half of the week. This is an intriguing reading, and while I’m not 100% convinced by it, I’m beyond overjoyed to see the anointing stories getting serious attention from LDS biblical scholars. (But I’m not exactly unbiased in any of this; I wrote my thesis on the anointing in Mark.)

Huntsman excels at teasing out the symbolism of the events that he recounts and the symbolic connections that he reveals are truly the highlight of the book. I could recite examples at length, but I don’t want you think you can skip this title because I gave you the crib sheet. He also has a sidebar with devotional considerations for each day.

He deals delicately but directly with situations where LDS authorities have staked out positions on various interpretive issues as a result of, we might suppose, their exposure to 19th century biblical scholarship instead of direct revelation. He does this with such finesse that most readers probably won’t even realize what is happening, but those of us familiar with the interpretive history will thank him for blazing a clear and gracious path.

I’ve focused on some interpretive and controversial issues in this review because that’s the kind of thing I notice since I’m a biblical studies geek. And other geeks will want to check this title out because of the way in which Huntsman is moving LDS NT studies forward in compelling directions. But for the rest of us (and I include myself here with my Mom hat on), this is a welcome volume that could easily and beneficially be incorporated into personal or family study to make Easter week something truly special.

(Two other reviews of this book are available here and here. Eric is apparently scheduled for something called “Ladies’ Night” at the DB in SLC during GC [boy, aren't we LDS thick with acronyms?], at least until his wife hears about it . . .)

Note: The publisher provided me with a review copy of this book. And Eric thanks me in the acknowledgments (unless that is some other Julie Smith; sometimes it is tricky, having such a common name).

Cross-posted from Times & Seasons.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Poser by Claire Dederer

Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses I liked this. It was funny, and it made me want to do yoga again.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why Kids Don't Like School by Daniel T. Willingham

Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom I really liked this--he did a masterful job debunking currently-trendy educational theories.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery) Why exactly did this win the Newbery?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right Very interesting. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Moloka'i Heart-wrenching and lovely. Highly recommended. I actually got a little teary (when she opens the suitcase) and I never do that.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff

In the Shadow of Gotham An engaging book with a meh ending.

Empire of Liberty by Gordon Wood

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States) Kind of a slog, but I'm glad I read it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol

The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America Wow. This is one of those (depressing) books that forever changes the way you think about things. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Devil's Rooming House by M. William Phelps

The Devil's Rooming House: The True Story of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer Interesting story; subpar writing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Who Was Albert Einstein? by Jess Brallier

Who Was Albert Einstein? I read this to the boys. Nice, funny, simple.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts: A Novel I really enjoyed this.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home Hilarious.

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

A Year Down Yonder I read this to the boys. They loved it because it was funny; I thought it was OK.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America I really liked this, and not just because I am a curmudgeon. (Although I am.) But because she's absolutely right that a cultish devotion to "positive thinking" has taken over the country, to ill effect in a wide variety of fields. Recommended.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Warmest Room in the House by Steven Gdula

The Warmest Room in the House: How the Kitchen Became the Heart of the Twentieth-Century American Home If you had never read anything about the history of American cooking, this might be interesting. But if you have, there is nothing new here.

A More Perfect Constitution by Larry Sabato

A More Perfect Constitution: 23 Proposals to Revitalize Our Constitution and Make America a Fairer Country Interesting.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Story of Thomas Alva Edison by Margaret Davidson

The Story Of Thomas Alva Edison (Scholastic Biography) I read this to the boys. Very simplistic writing style, but a decent story.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Gray Matter by David Levy

Gray Matter: A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer . . . One Patient at a Time An interesting book; I started off liking the author, but by the end, I thought he was unprofessional and creepy.

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