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Book reviews

Bibliotheca: Achievement Unlocked


If my greatest reading accomplishment in 2020 was reading 100 books in a year, my reading accomplishment for 2021 was finally reading my entire Bibliotheca set in a little over nine months.

For those unfamiliar with Bibliotheca:

Bibliotheca is an elegant, meticulously crafted edition of the Bible designed to invite the reader to a pure, literary experience of its vast and varied contents.

The text is treated in classic typographic style, free of all added conventions such as chapter and verse numbers, section headers, cross-references, and marginalia.

I received the set way back in December of 2016 and despite picking it up on occasion never really read it in any serious way.

I don’t really have any deep spiritual/theological nuggets of wisdom to offer as my approach was really about getting lost in reading scripture as literature. So instead, allow me to offer my thoughts as tracked via Goodreads:

Volume I: The Five Books of Moses & The Former Prophets

I would give the design and materials of Bibliotheca 5 stars but I am not going to lie, by the end of this volume I was slogging through the kings and their continued insistence on doing evil in the sight of God. Seems almost sacrilegious to give the Bible 3 stars but hard to say “I really liked it” given the content… ;-)

A few things struck me while reading in this format: it really reads like the ancient text that it is, there is a lot of violence, and there is very little obvious doctrine or theology. My perspective leans heavily in this direction, but I was struck by the narrative drive of scripture. It is about the relationship of the people of Israel with their God. It is not abstract theology but often blunt and ugly history but with a God who is faithful.

Literature as equipment for living

What if we were to think of literature and the other arts as a kind of repository of habitus, a motley collection of practices and strategies? “Motley” because we can never adopt them simply and straightforwardly – we have to accept the inevitability of bricolage. But still: experiences not just to admire or appreciate but to use. Edward Mendelson’s idea of “literature as a special form of intimacy” seems relevant here – literature, and the other arts, as equipment for living, equipment shared by fallen mortals, thinking reeds, puzzled people in the process of being formed. An improvised sociology for wayfarers.

equipment, Snakes and Ladders

The Good Life Method by Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blaschko

The Good Life Method: Reasoning Through the Big Questions of Happiness, Faith, and Meaning by Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blaschko is the perfect early January book to review. In this time of New Year’s resolutions, what better to discuss than a book on pursuing the good life:

Two Philosophers Ask and Answer the Big Questions About the Search for Faith and Happiness

For seekers of all stripes, philosophy is timeless self-care. Notre Dame philosophy professors Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blaschko have reinvigorated this tradition in their wildly popular and influential undergraduate course "God and the Good Life," in which they wrestle with the big questions about how to live and what makes life meaningful.

Now they invite us into the classroom to work through issues like what justifies our beliefs, whether we should practice a religion and what sacrifices we should make for others--as well as to investigate what figures such as Aristotle, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Iris Murdoch, and W. E. B. Du Bois have to say about how to live well. Sullivan and Blaschko do the timeless work of philosophy using real-world case studies that explore love, finance, truth, and more. In so doing, they push us to escape our own caves, ask stronger questions, explain our deepest goals, and wrestle with suffering, the nature of death, and the existence of God.

It also fits in rather well with my post from yesterday:

Like many during the never-ending ongoing pandemic I was trying to figure how I wanted to structure and approach my life. What would I spend my time on? Where would I put my focus and energy? What ultimately brought joy and meaning into my life?

And this approachable and engaging look at virtue, ethics, and the good life will reward careful reading and contemplation. While the book begins with a contrast between virtue ethics and consequentialism, it is really about how to go about a thoughtful, active and meaningful life; wrestling with the big questions and coming to grips with partial and contingent answers as best we can.

But like so many non-fiction books I have read in the past, I am struggling to organize my thoughts into a concise review.1 But will try to recap the main ideas and offer what I liked and learned.

Happy New Year! 2022 is a brand new year (literally)

I have decided to attempt yet another return to blogging on this site.  I feel like I have learned somethings about myself in the last six months or so.  I also fixed an issue that was making the site very slow.

What better time to make a fresh start than the first day of the year?

I hope to once again post my favorite books from 2021 and I have few other posts in the works. I had planned to read fewer books in 2021 because I wanted to read bigger books and re-read books (more about that later).  But I ended up at 84, between the 100 of the previous year and the 60 I had set as a goal.

So playing the optimist, here is to a great 2022! Happy reading.

The Winter that Won the War: The Winter Encampment at Valley Forge, 1777-1778 by Phillip S. Greenwalt

Continuing to delve into the Revolutionary War some more, I recently read The Winter that Won the War: The Winter Encampment at Valley Forge, 1777-1778 by Phillip S. Greenwalt. It is an excellent brief history of the American army at Valley Forge.

The Winter that Won the War is part of Savas Beatie’s Emerging Revolutionary War Series. The Series offers an overview of the Revolutionary War’s most important battles and stories.

The Winter that Won the War does not disappoint. It is a succinct history that summarizes the major events and characters that molded the American army into the fighting machine that eventually won the war.

Greenwalt establishes Valley Forge’s place in the timeline of the war – immediately following the disastrous Philadelphia campaign (which had the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown). He follows that with the encampment at Valley Forge and the training under Prussian Baron von Steuben. He finishes the book with a study of a small battle after Valley Forge (Battle of Barren Hill) that illustrated how well the newly trained army maneuvered under stress.

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