Saturday, September 08, 2007

Books I read in 2006

removed from the sidebar because it is getting too long:

  • December 2006:
  • Dorothy Sayers, The Nine Tailors
  • Richard Kalmin, Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine
  • Laurie R. King, A Grave Talent
  • Laurie R. King, To Play the Fool
  • Laurie R. King, With Child
  • November 2006:
  • Laurie R. King, Locked Rooms
  • David Mamet, The Wicked Son
  • October 2006:
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism
  • Nils Roemer, Jewish Scholarship and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Germany
  • Paul Griffiths, Religious Reading
  • September 2006:
  • Henry Adams, Mont St. Michel and Chartres
  • Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, part 1
  • Leslie Fiedler, The Last Jew in America
  • August 2006:
  • Laurie R. King, The Game
  • The New Yorker, May-July 2006
  • Daniel Dennet, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
  • Laurie R. King, Justice Hall
  • July 2006:
  • Brian Leiter, ed., The Future for Philosophy
  • George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture
  • Manfred Unger et al., Juden in Leipzig: Eine Dokumentation
  • Colm Toibin, The Master
  • James Ault, Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church
  • Laurie R. King, The Moor
  • June 2006:
  • Susan Allen Toth, Ivy Days: Making My Way Out East
  • P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins
  • William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
  • Laurie R. King, O Jerusalem
  • Zachary Schrag, The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro
  • May 2006:
  • Laurie R. King, A Darker Place
  • Myla Goldberg, Bee Season
  • Elliott Horowitz, Reckless Rites
  • Laurie R. King, A Monstrous Regiment of Women
  • Magda Teter, Jews and Heretics in Catholic Poland
  • April 2006:
  • H. Goldberg, ed. The Life of Judaism
  • Carl Knappett, Thinking Through Material Culture
  • The New Yorker, September 2005-April 2006
  • March 2006:
  • I. Hodder, ed. The Meanings of Things
  • S. Lubar and W. D. Kingery, eds. History from Things
  • February 2006:
  • Haym Soloveitchik, Yaynam [Jewish Trade in Gentile Wine in the Middle Ages
  • Marvin Lowenthal, The Jews of Germany: A Story of Sixteen Centuries
  • January 2006:
  • Laurie R. King, A Letter of Mary
  • Susan Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

Books I read in 2005

removed from the sidebar because the page is getting too long:

  • December 2005:
  • Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper's Apprentice
  • Michael Sells, Approaching the Quran
  • Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night
  • William Bayer, Pattern Crimes
  • November 2005:
  • Andrew Sean Greer, The Confessions of Max Tivoli
  • M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, trans. The Qur'an
  • Batya Gur, The Saturday Morning Murder: A Psychoanalytic Case
  • Gigi Anders, Jubana: The Awkwardly True and Dazzling Adventures of a Jewish Cubana Goddess
  • October 2005:
  • Linda Woodhead, An Introduction to Christianity
  • Leon Batista Alberti, The Use and Abuse of Books
  • September 2005:
  • Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, trans. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran
  • John Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path
  • Michael Kurland, ed. My Sherlock Holmes: Untold Stories of the Great Detective
  • Willard Oxtoby, ed. World Religions: Western Traditions
  • August 2005:
  • Batya Gur, Murder on a Kibbutz: A Communal Case
  • Lev Grossman, Codex
  • Abraham Melamed, On the Shoulders of Giants: The Debate between Moderns and Ancients in Medieval and Renaissance Jewish Thought
  • David Liss, A Spectacle of Corruption
  • T.M. Luhrmann, Of Two Minds: The Growing Disorder in American Psychiatry
  • Jane Smiley, Moo
  • E.B. White, Stuart Little
  • The New Yorker, December 2004-August 2006
  • July 2005:
  • Ronald Schechter, Obstinate Hebrews: Representations of Jews in France, 1715-1815
  • Aaron Hughes, The Texture of the Divine
  • David Myers, Resisting History
  • Robert Eisen, The Book of Job in Medieval Jewish Philosophy
  • Batya Gur, Literary Murder: A Critical Case
  • Michael Chabon, The Final Solution
  • June 2005:
  • C. Helmer and C. Landmesser, eds. One Scripture or Many? Canon from Biblical, Theological, and Philosophical Perspectives
  • Gershon Hundert, The Jews of Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century
  • James Hynes, The Lecturer's Tale
  • May 2005:
  • Peter Ochs and Nancy Levene, eds. Textual Reasonings: Jewish Philosophy and Text Study at the End of the Twentieth Century
  • David Katz, God's Last Words: Reading the English Bible from the Reformation to Fundamentalism
  • Robert Chazan, Fashioning Jewish Identity in Medieval Western Christendom
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes. Selected Stories
  • E. Benbassa and J-C. Attias, The Jews and the Other
  • Ernst Cassirer, The Logic of the Cultural Sciences
  • April 2005:
  • Jon Stewart, America
  • Russell McCutcheon, Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia
  • Joseph Rykwert, The Seduction of Place: The History and Future of the City
  • March 2005:
  • Judith Frishman et al., Religious Identity and the Problem of Historical Foundation
  • Reinhart Kosseleck, The Practice of Conceptual History
  • Robert Brody, The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture
  • Edward Shorter, A History of Psychiatry
  • Herbert Davidson, Moses Maimonides
  • Yvonne Petry, Gender, Kabbalah, and the Reformation
  • Jane Leavy, Sandy Kaufax: A Lefty's Legacy
  • February 2005:
  • Roni Weinstein, Marriage Rituals Italian Style
  • Christopher Celenza, The Lost Italian Renaissance
  • Matt Goldish, The Sabbatean Prophets
  • Ivan Marcus, The Jewish Life Cycle

Thursday, September 06, 2007

When is Art Finished? A not so deep question

I passed a bank branch in my neighborhood this morning. The side wall was painted with what could only be described as a kind of abstract expressionist mural. When I went inside to tell the tellers that I thought it was really interesting, they told me it's not finished and that the finished mural will be a kind of tableau of different houses and buildings in the neighborhood.

So is an unfinished mural art if people see and respond to it as art? If it were a text, I can imagine the debate between Wolfgang Iser, Stanley Fish, and E.D. Hirsch, but I don't know enough about art criticism to imagine who the relevant art critics would be.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Unions and Cities

This is really interesting. Quick: before you follow that link, which metro area has a lower rate of unionization in the work force: Pittsburgh or Las Vegas?

You're wrong (unless you guessed where I was going with this and switched to the other answer).

Cities Big and Small

I tend to be interested in things Springfield (Mass), because my in-laws live there, and also in things New Haven, because I went to college there. So I found this article by Mark Oppenheimer, "Medium Town: On Living in A City Smaller than New York" interesting. (I got to it via this post at the Pittsburgh blog, Antirust.)

Oppenheimer basically argues that there are pleasures in living in small cities--like New Haven or Springfield--rather than in New York or other very large cities. Oppenheim writes well even if his arguments are not startlingly original: the quality of life is better; the cost of living is lower; people are more normal and life is more well-balanced, etc. In the second part of the essay, he turns to an argument that not all writers need to live in New York in order to be successful. I suppose this is necessary because he is writing in the New Haven Review of Books (a new journal that he founded; I guess the New Haven Register Literary Supplement just didn't sound right).

Anyway, the thought struck me that the piece is particularly New England-centric. Although he does mention Des Moines, his frame of reference is clearly the industrial (or post-industrial rather) New England small city or big town: New Haven, Springfield, Worcester, Hartford, Providence, etc. Although there are other sorts of places where one can have a nice quality of life outside of the really big metropolitan areas (college towns, medium-sized metro areas--e.g. Pittsburgh) and although there are some metro areas/small cities in other parts of the country that have similar demographics to a New Haven or a Springfield, those cities offer a particular advantage. Due to the short distances in New England from one metro area to the next (indeed, is there any part of southern New England not included in an MSA or a CMSA?), these cities are not free-standing entities in the middle of nowhere. Rather, they are part of a kind megalopolis that stretches from Boston to New York and have close connections--in both a figurative (cultural and economic) and a literal (train lines, highways) to both. So it's a little disengenous to pose New Haven as an alternative to New York when in many ways it functions as a kind of urban exurb in the mega New York.

But the evocations of his neighborhoods, past and present--Forest Park in Springfield and Westville in New Haven--are worth the price of admission.

It's also interesting how one's perspective changes:

When I lived in Philadelphia (the 6th largest metro area in the United States), I got tired of explaining to friends in New York (the largest metro area) that Philadelphia was, in fact, a pretty big city with a lot of culture and big-city amenities (restaurants, public transit, etc.) But I would get irritated with Philadelphia's provincialism and wonder why the residents of the nation's 6th largest metro area weren't more assertive about their big-city-ness.

Now that I live in Pittsburgh (the 22nd largest metro area), I am more willing to accept my status as a provincial, but I still tend to boast to non-Pittsburgh about all the wonderful aspects of Pittsburgh.

But I can now recognize that my civic boosting is actually a form of provincialism. And I can now see that my boasting/pushing Philadelphia was also a form of provincialism. (So in a sense Oppenheimer's piece can be read as a kind of praise for civic modesty--taking pride in one's town or city but with a proper perspective on it.)

In between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, I lived in Boston. Boston is my own counter-example that nonetheless somehow proves the rule. I never liked Boston as much as Bostonians thought I should like it. And when I lived in Boston, I was constantly annoyed by the "Hub of the Universe" and "Athens of America" mentality. Didn't Bostonians realize that Boston is only the 7th largest metro area? (Then I read E. Digby Baltzell's Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia and it all made sense.)

So the constant collective need to see Boston as part of a holy triumvirate of the East Coast (money in NY, politics in DC, and culture and science in Boston) is perhaps the greatest provincialism of all.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More song lyric confusion...

For the last few weeks, our kids have been requesting that we sing "Country Roads" at bedtime.

(The other favorites right now are "Sweet Baby James" and "I'll Walk in the Rain By Your Side." This is the fault of a certain aunt with whom we visited in June and July and the people behind the Rise Up Singing songbook. That's right Pete Seeger: you and your buddies have made our bedtime a rather drawn out affair.)

The first stanza of "Country Roads" drives me crazy, because I can't figure out what the subject of "blowing like a breeze" is:

This site has this for the lyrics of the first stanza:

"Almost heaven, west virginia
Blue ridge mountains, shenandoah river
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze."

I have trouble imagining how mountains can blow like a breeze. But this is how I have always heard it in my head:

"Almost heaven, West Virginia: Blue Ridge mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old there, older than the trees; younger than the mountains, blowing in the breeze."

I can almost get my head around mountains blowing in the breeze. Really the trees on top of the mountains would be swaying a bit in the breeze which might give the impression of the mountains moving a bit in the breeze.

So perhaps my mishearing the lyrics was my way of correcting the imagery for myself.

Trees can blow in a breeze (but can they blow like a breeze?) more easily (or more litarally I should say) than mountains. However, I don't see how the last phrase can really modify the trees unless you allow for shifting the phrases to fit the rhyme scheme. I guess this would have sounded awkward:

"Life is old there, older than the trees blowing in the breeze, but younger than the mountains which give off the effect of blowing in the breeze because of the trees on them"

My wife insists that proper parsing is:

"Life is old there. [Life is] older than the trees. [Life is] younger than the mountains. [Life is] blowing like a breeze.

This interpretation has some merit (although I was dubious about it when she first proposed it) especially if we consider an important folk music intertext : if the answer can be blowing in wind, I suppose life can blow like a (or in the) breeze.

(Don't get me started on how little sense "Sweet Baby James" makes. But there is nothing cuter than my three-year-old belting out "There is a young cowboy..." at the top of his lungs.)