A Little Eliot

Out and about last Friday, I stopped by my favorite Berkeley bookstore, Black Oak Books. After making my usual rounds, through Christianity/Theology/Biblical Studies, Archaeology, Judaica, Classics, and Middle Ages, I popped by the Poetry section, which has lately been shrinking somewhat alarmingly. To be honest, the whole store has a kind of resigned feel to it these days, a “get it over with” mood that’s not encouraging. Rumors abound among Berkeley’s litterati that its time has come, to generalized dismay. Regardless, I managed to find a great little book there.

It’s Eliot: Poems and Prose, from the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series, published by Alfred A. Knopf. This little (4.5 x 6.5 x .75″) hardback comes complete with dustcover and register (the bound-in bookmark). The paper is creamy and smooth. The sewn binding is perhaps a little too tight, but sure to loosen comfortably with age and use. Best, the whole thing fits easily in a coat pocket.

For a T. S. Eliot fan, there’s a fine selection of his work in here. The editor, Peter Washington, receives my admiration, particularly for his choice to include some of Eliot’s essays. The poetry contents are those of three collections: Prufrock and Other Observations, Poems 1920, and The Waste Land. I think perfection would’ve been achieved by including Four Quartets, but, as the old Mohammedan rugmaker said, perfection belongs to God. The essays included are: Reflections on Vers Libre, Tradition and the Individual Talent, Hamlet, The Perfect Critic, The Metaphysical Poets, The Function of Criticism, Andrew Marvell, and Ulysses, Order and Myth. And index of first lines follows the essays.

As I mentioned above, I’m happy to have a selection of Eliot’s prose in such a handy little book. But I’m even more happy to have both The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land in one such handy and pleasantly read volume.

The Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series includes quite a number of volumes, all of which are listed here by author. For people who’ve created such great little books, their website is unfortunate. It’d be ideal to have a table of contents available for each of those volumes on their individual pages. As you may’ve noticed by clicking the link above to the Eliot volume, the pages are rather bare-bones.

Nonetheless, I can at least recommend the Eliot book for one’s winter pocket.

Dare to eat the peach!

Massive Book Sale

Loome Antiquarian Booksellers, which specializes in theological literature, is closing at the end of the year. Their extensive catalogue is currently 75% off, with rare books and manuscripts 25% off. The discount for non-rare books jumps to 90% off on 26 December.

I’ve bought several hard to find titles from Loome in the past, and am sad to see them go.

CLARIFICATION: Loome Theological Booksellers will still be around. Loome Antiquarian Booksellers was an expansion store located in another part of town. It’s still a good sale, fortunately not so foreboding as I’d thought. The sale applies only to Loome Antiquarian stock. Sorry for the scare!

Winter Reading List

Three Andrew Louth books:
Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology
St John Damascene: Tradition and Originality in Byzantine Theology
The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys

Two Eric Ormsby books:
Time’s Covenant: Selected Poems
Facsimiles of Time: Essays on Poetry and Translation

Several partridges, each in his pear tree:
C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love
Alessandro Scafi, Mapping Paradise: A History of Heaven on Earth
Stephen Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption
Karel van der Toorn, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible

Waiting for a dark and stormy night, two by Russell Kirk:
Old House of Fear
Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales

The Iconic Books Blog

Professor Jim Watts of the Department of Religion at Syracuse University has written to inform me about a very interesting new blog:

A new blog that may be of interest to you has come online in the last couple of months: The Iconic Books Blog comments on Bibles as well as other scriptures and “texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight.” It is produced by the Iconic Books Project at Syracuse University. Comments welcome!

Even if you’re suffering from only a mild case of the apparently incurable condition bibliophilia, you’ll find much solace there!

Philokalia vol. 5

It appears that the long-awaited full translation into English of the fifth volume of the Philokalia of St Nikodimos the Hagiorite, translated by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Bishop KALLISTOS, will be published in June 2007.

Two Bestiaries

The Phoenix

Take a few hours and browse through the Aberdeen Bestiary. The Aberdeen Bestiary Project has done a magnificent job in presenting this treasure of the University of (you guessed it) Aberdeen. Full color, legible pictures of each page with transcriptions, translations, and commentary are given. It’s a great site and a fine example of what should be done with every manuscript before they fleck away into the dust of forgotten questions and best intentions.

Our second bestiary is of the printed species. One of my favorite books, its source a bibliophile’s dream though it is of far more recent origin that the above bestiary, is D. M. Dooling’s abridged and translated edition of Louis Charbonneau-Lassay’s The Bestiary of Christ (Parabola Books, 1991). (It is out of print, but you might find copies here.) The history of this beautiful volume is as follows:

Le Bestiaire du Christ was originally a book of a thousand pages and over a thousand of the author’s woodcuts. It was published in Brussels just after the outbreak of the Second World War: one of four volumes planned by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay, all pursuing his interest in religious symbolism. The others were Le Floraire du Christ, Le Vulnéraire du Christ, and Le Lapidaire du Christ. All the material was gathered for them, but he did not live to finish and publish any of the three. Le Bestiaire alone has survived, and barely. The firm of Desclée, De Brouwer et Cie. published it in a limited edition of five hundred copies, almost all of which, along with the woodblocks for the illustrations, were lost when a bomb set fire to the warehouse where they were stored. Four other printings of five hundred copies each were printed in Milan from surviving copies of the first edition. That is the entire publishing history of this extraordinary book until its present appearance.

Dooling was fortunate enough to have access to one of the extremely rare first editions of Le Bestiaire du Christ in preparing the volume, which though an abridgment, is still a sizable one of more than 460 pages. This Parabola edition is a beauty in itself. The hardback, which is what I have, is of a satisfying heft, on acid-free paper, with sewn bindings. The creamy, faintly textured paper is a delight to the hands as well as the eyes.

I tend to drop into it now and again, like visiting an old and very learnèd friend with an old-fashioned cabinet of curiosities. Even in translation, there is an Old World charm to the phrasing (Monsieur Charbonneau-Lassy was born in 1871, after all), bringing gracefully to the mind a recollection of a world now sadly passed; for instance:

The Frog—Here is another humble member of God’s family whose name many Westerners will be surprised to see among those whom the reverence of the first Christian centuries linked with the personal symbolism of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Charbonneau-Lassay was a lifelong Roman Catholic believer, and was even a novitiate in an eventually defunct order. During life he was an archaeologist and historian, yet he is known, solely now, for Le Bestiaire du Christ. As Dooling says in the Foreward (p. ii), “He led one of those remarkable unremarkable lives that are probably the reason why God does not lose patience entirely with the human race.” Noble praise, nobly phrased.