I thought it might be helpful to give a quick list of the books I’m reading over Christmas break. I always like it when bloggers I read do this, so I decided to follow suit. I also got a Kindle for Christmas, and it might be the coolest piece of technology ever. So here’s what I’m reading, on the Kindle or not:
Reading Between the Lines, Gene Edward Veith
I’ve wanted to read this book for a while, and so far it’s everything I expected it to be. Veith does an excellent job in chapter 1 explaining the importance of being a text-based society. Drawing on some of Neil Postman’s works, Veith convincingly demonstrates how image-based societies rapidly digress into pagan cultures. On the other hand, God’s people are “people of the book,” and they take the written word seriously. He also draws an important distinction between “illiteracy” and “alliteracy.” The former is not having the ability to read; the latter is having the ability but choosing not to exercise it. Obviously, our culture generally fits into the second category, and we’re the worse for it, according to Veith. In later chapters, he presents distinctives of good taste and bad taste, and shows what makes Christian literature Christian. In all, a very good read so far.
Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman
I’ve read about this book so many times, and I’ve read several parts of it in other works. When it was cited in Reading Between the Lines, I decided it was high time to actually read the whole thing. I’m not too far, but Postman’s criticisms of modern television-watching are enlightening. Combined with Veith’s book and, of course, Farenheit 451, his observations become downright scary.
Word Pictures, Brian Godawa
Not sure about this book yet. To understand the first chapter, basically take Veith’s point about image-based societies and flip it on its ear. Godawa pits words against images, saying that words are a modern, rationalistic way of seeing truth, but images are postmodern, premodern, and thoroughly biblical. Reading further, though, Godawa says that words are important, but primarily because they are windows into images. They are, to put it briefly, word pictures. I’m not convinced that Godawa would ultimately disagree with Veith (i.e. I don’t think Godawa would argue against words per se). Opinion pending. Of course, this is probably why you shouldn’t review books before you read them, but whatever.
Is There a Meaning in this Text? Kevin Vanhoozer
This one is admittedly a difficult read, but usually you have to do a lot of digging to find gold. This book deals primarily with a theology of interpretation (hermeneutics) and a theology of knowing (epistemology). The central question centers on interpretation of text, specifically interpretation of holy scripture. Vanhoozer seeks to answer a fundamental question about textual interpretation that has major implications for Christians: is there something in text (specifically, biblical text) that reflects a reality that is independent of the reader’s interpretive activity, or does the text merely reflect what the reader projects into it? Vanhoozer is doing an excellent job so far of dealing with the works of Derrida (the father of deconstructionist criticism, which says that language is inherently unclear and therefore contradicts itself) and demonstrating how Derrida’s view unnecessarily undermines the knowability of the Bible.
Early in the book, Vanhoozer comments on how modern hermeneutics (interpretation theory, as defined by Reader-Response criticism and other deconstructionist theories informed by the works of Derrida) falls short of faithfully encountering text:
…readers have ceased to take the privilege and responsibility of interpretation seriously. The purpose of [modern] interpretation is no longer to recover and relate to a message from one who is other than ourselves, but precisely to evade such a confrontation. The business of interpretation is busyness: constantly to produce readings in order to avoid having to respond to the text. What is the purpose of such interpretation? … In order to avoid seeing themselves in Scripture as they really are, some readers prefer either to look at the mirror or to project their own, more flattering images. (emphasis mine)
Later, Vanhoozer interestingly points out what kind of interpretation Christians should engage in–a kind of Spirit-informed Reader Response criticism. Truly, the Holy Spirit indeed gives us the eyes to read and the heart to understand the revelation of God. I’m loving this book so far, and I would definitely encourage it.
I also plan on reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (a Pulitzer Prize winner) and Young, Restless, and Reformed by Collin Hansen (a Christianity Today journalist who travelled the country and wrote about the “New Calvinism” phenomenon that is prevalent in young, mainly urban churches.