Popular Patristics

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press has been publishing a Popular Patristics series for some time now, comprised of various translations of individual Patristic works, selections thereof, or themed editions of excerpts. The translations are fresh, contemporary, and pleasant to read. The books are also of a perfect size for popping into a pocket: 5x7x1/2″ (12.5×18.5×1.3 cm for you metric heretics). I’ve just picked up a short stack of these, rather like Lenten pancakes, and thought I’d recommend them to any readers who are interested in patristic reading, as I am. Each little volume includes a helpful (and surprisingly, for such little volumes, high quality) introduction, and most (all?) include selective but very useful and most importantly thoughtful footnotes. The surface of these translations is perfectly popular, with the depths entirely scholarly. And they’re inexpensive. How delightful!

Now Reading

I’m forcing myself to make a shift in focus away from academic reading for the remainder of the Great Fast (a.k.a. Lent). If I can do without pizza, I can certainly do without a Festschrift, two compilations, a book on Nineveh, some Brill Josephus, and some non-Biblical historiography works. To all my academic friends, I assure you that I appreciate that luxury.

Here’s the list of religious reading that I need to catch up on or want to reread now, in no particular order:
Various Lives of Saints
St. John of Damascus’ The Precious Pearl (Barlaan and Joasaph)
St. John Climacus’ The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Vladimir Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church
Fr Patrick Reardon’s The Trial of Job and Christ in the Psalms
Fr Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World
Fr Thomas Hopko’s The Lenten Spring
Tito Colliander Way of the Ascetics

That should keep me busy for the next month!

Lovely Little Bible

I’ve just picked up a copy of the Oxford University Press RSV Catholic Bible Compact Edition. It’s about 5×6.5×1 inches, which is just a perfect size, and has a very nice two-tone bonded leather cover in burgundy and basketweave-imprinted black along the binding. Several years ago, Oxford also put out an NRSV with Apocrypha Anglicized Edition in the same size (the one I got is out of print, but new editions with the two-tone covers are about to come out; several are listed here), and it’s one of my favorite Bibles, so I appreciate having a comparable RSV one. I do, though, hope they do an edition of the whole RSV with Apocrypha in this compact size. The Catholic Edition is great in that the Deuterocanonicals are interspersed with the other books, and the additions to Daniel and Esther are integrated into those books. Yet there are several books lacking from the full translation of the RSV (1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Maccabees, all of which are in the appendix to the Vulgate; and Psalm 151 and 4 Maccabees, which are part of the Eastern Orthodox canon). There are various presentation and family record pages in the front, which is charming, reminding me of a huge family Bible we had when I was a child with all that kind of stuff in it (and, among many others, a reproduction of a completely ghastly Rembrandt painting of Samson’s eyes being put out, which I can still remember — shudder). There is an Introduction explaining the edition, and, niftily, the entire English text of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation: Dei Verbum of Pope Paul VI, which I’ve always found a fascinating read. The OT and NT each has an appendix with very short introductions to the books and very brief textual notes indicating differences with the Vulgate. At the very end of this Bible are several pages of Prayers and Devotions of the Catholic Faith.

Now, I’m not Roman Catholic, but Eastern Orthodox. I hope that our Orthodox Study Bible which is in preparation and due out Pascha 2007 (a.k.a. Easter 2007), will be quite as nice, though that’ll only be the Old Testament. It’ll be the first full modern translation into English of all the Eastern Orthodox books from the Septuagint/Old Greek text, which is our canonical version, in case you didn’t know, dear reader. There’s already a New Testament Orthdox Study Bible based on the New King James Version, about which I’m ambivalent, though I really have to say I hope they’ve listened to the critiques of this NT-OSB volume so that the Old Testament OSB comes out better. We’ll see. But it will be refreshing to have a Bible representative of my own religious tradition which is in my own “heart language.” In the meantime, the Catholic Edition RSV is as close as we get in English to an Eastern Orthodox Bible. And it’s so beautifully produced a book that I’m sure I’ll enjoy it for a long time even after the Orthodox translation is published.

Beautiful Bookmarks

If you’re someone who loves books, thoroughly enjoys the act of reading, and would like to honor that pastime with accoutrements of a bit more quality than perhaps you have in the past, consider treating yourself to these woven silk bookmarks. Each is in the traditional style of a rug from long ago and far away.

Not only will they add a level of dignity to your act of reading, much more than a torn slip from the newspaper or the envelope of an old bill would do, they also make very well-appreciated gifts. One friend of mine uses hers in her Bible, where the intricate patterns peeking out from between the pages are enhanced by the beautiful glow from the gold of those gilt-edged pages themselves. Another friend’s five year old daughter treasures hers, using it to mark her place in her nighttime storybook.

It’s much more pleasing to see these little fringed beauties gently drooping from out of the books rather than the rigidly jutting dog-eared paper stock bookmarks that come gratis from the booksellers’ counters, a torn corner of notebook paper, a used bus transfer or train ticket, or any of the other detritus that I’ve used in the past to mark my place in a book. With reading being such an integral part of the process of learning, it deserves a better than occasional amount of respect.

Treat yourself! You won’t regret it!

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

For a shot of pure joy, I think there’s nothing better than Calvin and Hobbes. This is a beautifully printed large format set, each of the three volumes being 10.75 x 12 x 1.5 inches, the whole weighing about twenty pounds! It’s worth every ounce. Some customers, as I, have had some problems with the slipcase, but the books themselves are well-constructed. The slipcase has a rather shoddily attached pastedown, which tore loose (!) when I first tipped the books out.

Aside from a somewhat short but quite informative introduction by the reclusive artist, Bill Watterson, the book is otherwise unencumbered by text, which is completely appropriate in the case of Calvin and Hobbes. In addition to all the black and white daily strips and the Sunday color strips, there are also included the special larger format watercolored pieces done for the various book collections Watterson put together throughout the years.

Being of a supremely nostalgic and quite affective nature, I alternately giggle, tear up, or sigh wistfully with nearly every page. There is no other regular comic strip that has ever pleased me in so many ways as this one, with only Charles Schultz coming in a fairly distant second with Peanuts. Unlike so many (most? all?) modern comics, Calvin and Hobbes is not just a collection of visual or verbal gags, or oddities and cruelties, or dated political or social crassitudities, but rather has its roots in a powerful combination of love and imagination, two particularly human gifts from the Divine.

In short, I highly recommend it.

(Clicking on the picture above takes you to the publisher’s site. A little bird told me the collection may be purchased at a nearly 50% savings at Costco.)

Score!

Sometimes living in Berkeley is just like living in a dream.

This afternooon, in a gorgeously breezy, warm (65-ish), cumulus-strewn and peekingly sunny break between alternately Noachically Delugional and St. John the Divinely Apocalyptic storms (“Each Comes Complete with Your Own Power Outage and Free Bonus Reading by Candlelight!”), I took a walk downhill to one of our many unbelievably great Berkeley bookstores, Black OakBooks.

And what to my wondering eyes did appear?
But Labat’s Sixth Edition, at a price not too dear!

Yes, rather than a brand new copy, which I had been planning on buying at near $100, I found a used copy in perfect condition, without a single mark but the bookseller’s price in pencil, positively a steal at $35.

On picking up and seeing the price in the most beauteous copy of said Manuel d’épigraphie akkadienne, in the middle of the oh-so-intellectually quiet store, the beguilingly blended wafting scents of damp wool and of aging books all around, Kevin was heard to exclaim, over the unobtrusive tip-tap of patrons’ umbrellas on the wooden floors, and quite indecorously loudly, “Score!” It will deservedly replace my old spiral-bound photocopy, a gift from my Akkadian professor so long ago, of the second edition.

I also picked up a similarly spotless hardback copy of Ugarit in Retrospect: 50 Years of Ugarit and Ugaritic for a mere $25, also a deal as a new copy is about $10 more.

And two loaves of Provolone-Olive bread from the Cheese Board.

And a nice large double mocha espresso at the French Hotel’s café for the walk homeward.

All in all, it was a beautiful day, the penultimate in a weekend through weekend vacation!

Happy New Year to everyone!