A book is a text and a thing.
And here are the instructions for turning a page.
The Internet has returned us to the alphabet…From now on, everyone has to read. In order to read, you need a medium. This medium cannot simply be a computer screen…
One of two things will happen. Either the book will continue to be the medium for reading, or its replacement will resemble what the book has always been, even before the invention of the printing press. Alterations to the book-as-object have modified neither its function nor its grammar for more than 500 years. The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved.
Jennifer Wright Knust’s new book has the best title I’ve seen in quite a while: Unprotected Texts (subtitled The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire). And, to judge by author’s comments during the Fresh Air program I heard while driving across the country, the book is well worth a look. Here’s one excerpt from Terry Gross’s interview with Knust:
There’s a fantastic passage in Matthew where Jesus says to his disciples that some people should be eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. So the way this gets received by early Christians is that Jesus is recommending celibacy which would make sense, given that he says elsewhere that we shouldn’t get married, that we should be focusing our attention on spreading the gospel. So the idea [of] ‘be a eunich’ for the kingdom of heaven makes sense. However, interestingly enough, some Christians took this literally and there were some cases of early Christians castrating themselves for the purpose of celibacy. So that’s a pretty radical statement that the best kind of Christian is one who is celibate to the point of castration. We don’t talk about that much in our own culture and that was a really important message and many, many Christians were celibate.
Then there’s Donald Katzner’s new book, At the Edge of Camelot: Debating Economics in Turbulent Times, about the history of the pathbreaking department of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Here’s Robert Paul Wolff’s blurb for the not-yet-released book:
Professor Katzner has written a fascinating and astonishingly balanced and fair account of one of the most exciting, controversial, successful educational experiments I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing and, as an outside colleague, participating in. It is no accident that this happened at a State University and not at one of the Ivy League institutions. I recommend this book to anyone interested in seeing what intelligence, courage, and good will can create in the Academy.
Finally, David Brooks has just published The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, which seems to have created quite a splash.* Will Wilkinson, however, is less than enchanted with the book.
But Brooks supplies neither drama, high emotion, nor the mindbending metaphysics of aging without time. He serves up instead a shapeless story of ruling-class, Davos-goers so tedious, so lacking in passion and intensity, one begins to hope Harry and Erica will be pursued by proletarian lynch-mobs, revealed as rubber fetishists, or at least stranded at sea one ominous afternoon on a friend’s yacht, just so one may be sure these cardboard cutouts have functioning cardboard hearts.
* Although not as much, it seems, as Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. Swing a stick (or listen to the radio or surf the ‘net) and you’re bound to hit one or another essay by or interview with urban enthusiast and free-marketeer Glaeser. Me, I’m going to have to read the book before offering any comments.