in Book Reviews, Books

December Books

1. The Living Paul: An Introduction to the Apostle’s Life and Thought by Anthony C. Thiselton (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009).
Many thanks to Adrianna at IVP for this review copy!
Over the last few years, I’ve read or skimmed through a few dozen brief introductions to Paul.  Given the space and content limitations imposed upon short introductory works, and given how often they appear, I have often wondered why scholars (and publishers) are keen to churn them out.  I understand that developments occur in scholarship but the sort of change that really impacts an small volume geared towards lay people or first year college students does not come around all that often.
In fact, sweeping introductions to Paul often feel like college papers to me — there is some good writing, but hardly any references, and a lot of general statements that need to be supported in a lot more detail than they are in the text at hand.  So, while a scholar like Thiselton may get away with writing this sort of thing, I would have a hard time imagining a publishing accepting an identical manuscript from an unknown and unaccredited person.
I’m sure the reader can tell, at this point, that I was a little bit disappointed in this book.  I tried to keep in mind the limitations of the genre, but I still had higher expectations.  Given the work that Thiselton has done in Pauline exegesis (see, for example, his NIGTC commentary on 1 Corinthians) and in the realm of hermeneutics (several volumes), I was hoping to see more of the strengths he exhibited in those works.  However, what he ended up writings was pretty similar to most other introductions to Paul, devoting about ten pages to each of the major themes we find in Paul (biography, justification, ministry, the Church, ethics, eschatology, and so on), with a concluding chapter that relates some of Paul’s themes to the mood of postmodernism (for a lay person, or for a first year college student that chapter might be of some interest, but it was far too brief and superficial to say anything new to those who have any kind of familiarity with people like Foucault or Derrida).  Thus, while I felt like this was a decent enough introduction, I also felt like it was a bit of a missed opportunity.  If the reader is looking for a short readable introduction to Paul, and one that plays to the strengths of the author, I would suggest What Saint Paul Really Said by N. T. Wright or Reading Paul by Michael Gorman.
2. A Grammar of the Multitude by Paolo Virno.
I’m currently involved in a reading group that is working its way through Commonwealth by Hardt and Negri.  This is my second time reading through that text and it got me thinking that I wanted to start engaging with more Italian voices and with the Italian history of resistance.
This short text is a series of lectures Virno delivered in 2001.  In those lectures, he spells out his theory of “the multitude” over against the more Hobbesian notion of “the people” (a concept popularized by Hardt and Negri in second volume of their trilogy).  He then looks at the ways in which the multitude has sought emancipation from the overcoding of the State and of Capital in various ways in the twentieth century.  This, then, leads to his (very interesting) conclusion that post-Fordism should not be understood as a triumph of labour (as though the workers have emancipated themselves from more oppressive working conditions) but should, instead, be understood as the way in which capitalism was able to overcome the near-revolution against capitalism that occurred throughout much of the Western world in the 1960s and ’70s.  Post-Fordism is thus capitalism’s way of changing it’s shape without relinquishing its original nature or goals.
I found this text to be quite interesting.  I would recommend it to those who are interesting in these things.
3. Life by Keith Richards.
I’ve been going through a pretty major Stones kick for the last two years, thanks to a friend who turned me back on to them.  Because of this, and because of a number of (what were to me) surprisingly good reviews, I decided to pick this book up and do a little further reading.  I’ve never really done the Hollywood Star bio thing (except for a pretty good book I once read about Marilyn Monroe), but I’m glad I indulged in this one.  It wasn’t just “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” along with crazy Keith Richards rumours about getting his blood changed in Europe in order to stay alive despite his drug use.  Far from it.  It was like sitting down and listening to Keith ramble about his number one addiction–music.  And he rambles in a really down-to-earth manner.  He’s not just out to tell war stories or make himself out to be the crazy rock-god that he became in the public eye.  He just wants to talk about the music, the people, the music, the places, and the music he loved and loves.  After I finished, instead of thinking, “it would be wild to hang-out with Keith because that man knows how to party,” I found myself thinking, “man, I’d love to sit down somewhere quiet, have a few beers and shoot the shit with this guy.”  Fun stuff.
4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I really enjoy Marquez but I find his prose to be really rich.  Reading him is kind of like eating an expensive dessert.  If you do it right, you take it in small doses and enjoy it piece by piece.  However, sometimes it’s hard to avoid over-indulging, which means you go through a lot in a short time, but then you need to take a break for awhile afterward to recover.  Plus, I think he’s best read when you have time to just immerse yourself in the story and the mood he creates and have no other worries on your plate.
That said, this book covers several generations of a family (of people who tend to all have the same name) in a small Latin American town.  We go through the birth of a town, more than one revolution, the arrival of banana plantations, and the gradual downfall of the town.  Along the way we meet farmers, gypsies, revolutionaries, colonizers, ghosts, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, parents and children and lovers.  It really is a magical story.  Recommended reading.

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