Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Book Review: If It Bleeds by Stephen King

Here's another Stephen King tetralogy of short stories (OK, long stories), and as he continues to grow as a writer, these are becoming more and more my favorite way to read his work. The first one is creepy and technologically relevant, the second one is weird, messy, and exuberant; the third one is familiar and unsettlingly topical (with a monster who masquerades as a journalist that feeds on fear, which is not exactly what that profession needs right now); and the fourth one is about writing, which somehow is far better as a story than as a novel like King used to write. Each one actually says something. King still likes to gross you out and scare you, but that's never really the point. The point is about how to be human, even what it means to be alive and the mysteries at the edge of ordinary lives. Although there's not one that stands out (maybe the second just because it's so weirdly mixed up?), this might be the best four-story collection he's done.

Book Review: Conversations with Rene Girard: Prophet of Envy

Cynthia Haven has provided the world with the best, most accessible biography of Rene Girard and with this book, the most up-to-date collection of his interviews. Most of the interviews in this collection are more recent than the Girard books most Girardians have read, and so they touch on topics post-9/11 and show Girard applying his thoughts to the 21st century. He has no trouble doing so, and each interview is insightful and challenging. I'm surprised at how little repetition there is relative to most books like this, but I think that's because Girard did his best thinking in dialogue. It's probably best to be familiar with Girard's ideas before starting this, but that's what Haven's biography is for. I'm glad I bought this in physical form because I started scribbling notes and ended up in further conversation with Girard. Few books are provocative enough to require self-annotation but this one is.

Book Review: The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone

I don't actually enjoy much theology. Only about 10% of it has the "snap" that makes it worth it, but when it has that "snap" it's the most important reading in the world. Cone has that "snap." His writing is also elegant and trimmed to make its point and move on. This book shows a parallel that few white people see (although Girard saw it and he is duly cited here). Then it critiques a prominent theologian (Niebuhr), shows how this worked in the lived-out history of another prominent theologian (MLK), found it in the arts, and found it in the words of women. This is not just a crucial piece of theology that needs to be understood, it is an expansive example of how to include all voices and all fields in your argument. The most important book I've read this year.

Book Review: Miracles by Luke Timothy Johnson

This book takes you through the Bible looking at where and when miracles occur. Several points recommend it: It starts with the music (the Psalms) and focuses on the Gospel miracles in detail. I was good to read Johnson in his own words to justify his interpretative strategy of looking away from history and toward the present and future. In Johnson's definition, the miracle of persistence of life in the community is the primary miracle, which is a nice change of perspective. It correlates with Walker Percy's statement about the remarkable persistence of the Jews as one of the two primary miracles he sees today. I wish it came together a bit more at the end but just the action of walking through the texts from Johnson's perspective was very worthwhile and changed the way I look at miracles and prophecy. Miracles are about endurance, faithfulness, and music being embedded deep in creation. They can be quiet and hidden but they are fundamental to life.