Monday, May 28, 2012

Confessions of a literary polygamist


When it comes to books some people are serial monogamists. They pick up a book and remain wedded to it until they have finished before starting on another one. I have a sneaking regard for such undying literary faithfulness. I could almost bring myself to echo the famous prayer of Augustine, "Make me chaste and continent, but not yet." (Confessions, 8:7). However, while the thought of being married to only one wife is fine by me, the idea of being limited to one book at a time does my head in. Only read systematic theology, for months on end? As much as I enjoy ST, no, no, please no. Only read biography? Same response. Only novels? Same again. You've got the picture. When it comes to books - and only when it comes to books, mind you, I am an unashamed polygamist. 

I have to confess, though that I don't treat all the books I read with equal attentiveness and affection. I don't even try. Some are left gathering dust for weeks, even months before I pick them up and read a chapter or two. But others keep drawing me back day after day, week after week. My current long-term read is Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck. I'm currently around half way through Volume 3. Big multi-volume sets hold no fear for me as, a bit like William Carey, I can plod. Not that reading Bavinck is a plodding hard slog. The theologian writes with a warmth, depth of insight and sheer triune God-centredness that is utterly captivating. Forget Befkhof and Reymond. Read Bavinck I say. 

One of my favourite Christian biographers has to be Iain Murray. His work on Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards and Lloyd-Jones had a massive impact on my life and thinking. I'm presently on chapter 12 of his biography of Archibald Brown. It really is excellent stuff, very moving and encouraging. 

Some time ago I started D. B. Calhuon's two volume history of Pinceton Seminary, published by Banner. I stopped reading near the end of volume one and did not disturb the set for a couple of years. But I recently finished Volume 1 and have made a good start on Volume 2, usually reading a chapter or so Sunday evenings. Few better ways to unwind than to hang out with the Alexanders and Hodges of Old Princteon, not to mention the estimable B. B. Warfield. 

But it's not all big sets. The other day I picked up The Secret Providence of God by John Calvin, edited by Paul Helm (Crossway). It's a mere 125pp. but it really is bracing stuff. Calvin takes on a pesky 'calumniator' who presumed to diss the Reformer's views on providence and the sovereignty of God. There are some great put-downs from Calvin's acid-dipped pen, "Now see, you dog, what you accomplish by your violent barking". Why don't you just tell him what you think, Mr. C? Should be finished by the end of the day. Expect a review soon. 

I've written before about John Newton's Letters as my 'waiting room book', but no visits to the doctor or dentist recently, so the old sea captain's epistles have been rather neglected of late. 

I like to read a bit of poetry. These days it's mostly Edward Taylor or R. S. Thomas. Taylor is extravagantly metaphorical, ornate and theologically orthodox. RST is stripped back, spare and sceptical. 

I keep a weather eye on politics and current affairs and have almost finished The Journey by Tony Blair. I'm a bit diffident about reading it in public in case I get accosted by an anti-war protester. But it's an interesting read that gives some insight into life in No. 10. 

Lastly Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. We've just arrived in France. A barrel of wine has been smashed, sending its blood-red contents cascading down the street.  And we've been introduced to a shoemaker.  

And that's about it for now. 

1 comment:

Phillip said...

Loved "YOUR CONFESSIONS" Hope the pedestal[mine] doesn't break.
Being a charter member of bibliophile, Inc.,sharing multiplicity with you, the dark side being the direct proportional relationship of the height of the stack to their fall.