Sunday, December 25, 2011

Books for the New Year

Today, I finally finished Digenes Akrites, the epic Byzantine narrative poem (yes, there is such.) This brings to a close my last book list, meaning that is time to start whittling-down the new stack. The appeal of book is often connected to the place and occasion of their discovery. Consequently, I have sorted the new list accordingly. I have cheated a bit on my discipline, having read a few in advance--but for the most part, I am sticking with my plan, that is to read the books I have on hand before moving on to others. The list for the first part of 2012 shapes up as follows:

Annual Pilgrimage to Arkansas, May 2011:

New Confessors of Russia, by Archimandrite Damascene (Orlovsky)
The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios, by Dionysios Farasiotis

Every May, I take a two-day trip to northern Arkansas to visit the last surviving sibling of either of my parents. We are not noticeably long-lived, so at age 88, my aunt is redefining the genetic history for our family. I aways go the back roads, avoiding Arkansas interstate highways at all costs. All Saints of North America Orthodox Mission (ROCOR) out from DeQueen has become one of my favorite stops. The rural setting is picture perfect. The two titles above that I purchased there should be familiar to most Orthodox readers, but for some reason have eluded me until now. Fr. George earns a living by the St. Mark the Grave-digger's Workshop, in a barn across from the farmstead and chapel. There, he crafts wooden liturgical furniture, as well as caskets. Events of this last year have brought home the fact that I might want to keep his number handy.

Road trip through the South, July 2012:

Slaves in the Family, and The Sweet Hell Inside: The Rise of an Elite Black Family in the Segregated South, by Edward Ball
Sunken Plantations: The Santee Cooper Project, by Douglas W. Bostick
Dixie: A Personal Odyssey Through Events that Shaped the Modern South, by Curtis Wilkie
The Reservoir, by John Milliken Thompson
A Good, Hard Look: A Novel, by Ann Napolitano
Life, Death and the Coming Kingdom, by Fr. Cyril Argenti

Any road trip east usually takes us through Jackson, a favored stop-over. In times past, we would always try to have supper at Dennery's (now closed), a favorite haunt of Eudora Welty. In recent years, we enjoy the Mayflower and/or Cock o' the Walk. The thing we never fail to do, however, is to visit Lemuria, the South's finest independent bookstore. My preference is for used bookstores and the people who own and inhabit them, but I make an exception for this establishment. On our way east, we noticed they were hosting a book-signing in a few days, which would fit nicely on our return trip. We probably would not have purchased the books by Thompson and Napolitano otherwise, but I am glad we did. We picked up a few titles in Charleston, where--to my wife's consternation--little notice is given to native-son Pat Conroy. I came away with a slim volume while paying a short visit to Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in nearby Mount Pleasant.

If you are trying to understand the history of Southern slavery in all its ramifications, I heartily recommend Ball's Slaves in the Family. I passed the book on to the late Milton Burton about two weeks before he went into the hospital for the last time. He devoured the book and claimed it to be one of the best he had ever read, which which is high praise indeed. Wilkie's book offers a unique insight into the Civil Rights Movement. He grew up in the Mississippi of the 1950s, the step-son of a relatively enlightened Presbyterian minister, attended Ole Miss and witnessed first hand the violence of 1962, worked as a journalist for the Clarksdale, MS newspaper where he interviewed Martin Luther King while sitting in a car in a rural church parking lot only a week before his assassination, served as a McCarthy delegate on the alternative (and seated) Mississippi delegation to the 1968 Democratic Convention while also taking part in the antiwar street demonstrations, then later a turn as a legislative aide which led to scoring a job as the token Southerner on the Boston Globe where he was able to experience firsthand northern racism in the anti-integration violence on Boston's South Side, then assigned to cover the 1976 Presidential candidacy of an obscure Georgia governor, and finally assigned to the paper's Middle East Bureau, just in time for the Lebanese Civil War. All told, his story makes for a helluva ride.

Recycled Books, early October 2011:

The Alexiad, by Anna Comnena
Montenegro: The Divided Land, by Thomas Fleming

During a professional convention in the one of the north Dallas wastelands (in this case, Frisco), I made a break for nearby Denton, which is at least a college town and has some history to it. Recycled Books, downtown on the square, is a worthy destination. I already owned the Comnena, but not in hardback. I look forward to reading Fleming's take on Montenegro. As I have been told, he is something of an enthusiast for Serbia and Montenegro, though I think he stops short when it comes to their Orthodoxy.

Byzantine Studies Conference in Chicago, late October 2011:

Theodore the Stoudite: The Ordering of Holiness, by Roman Cholij
The Chronicle of Ibn Al-Athir for the Crusading Period from al-Kamil fi'l-Ta'rikh, Part 1
The Chronicle of Ibn Al-Athir for the Crusading Period from al-Kamil fi'l-Ta'rikh, Part 2
The Chronicle of Ibn Al-Athir for the Crusading Period from al-Kamil fi'l-Ta'rikh, Part 3
History as Literature in Byzantium, ed. by Ruth Macrides
Tales from Another Byzantium: Celestial Journey and Local Community in the Medieval Greek Apocrypha, Jane Baun
A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811-1057, by John Skylitzes
From Byzantium to Modern Greece: Hellenistic Art in Adversity, 1453-1830

One of the overriding attractions of the Byzantine Studies Conference is the presence of 3 or 4 booksellers, where one can obtain scholarly works at a 40% to 60% discount. Even so, they are still over-priced. If I am able to attend next year (at Holy Cross, in Boston), obtaining 3 titles from Ashgate Publishing will be as strong a motivation as any. Of the titles above, I particularly look forward to delving into Ibn Al-Athir and Skylitzes.

Holy Archangels Monastery, early December 2011:

A Ray of Light: Instructions in Piety and the State of the World at the End of Time, by Archimandrite Pantleimon

What God has Done for our Salvation, by St. Nikodim of the Holy Mountain

Five members of our parish teach classes in one way or another at tiny Lon Morris College in nearby Jacksonville, Texas. And so, the Orthodox presence at this nominally Methodist school has attracted a little attention--at least among other faculty members and students. My friend and fellow parishioner received permission to take some of his history and world civ. students on a field trip to Holy Archangels Monastery in the Texas Hill Country. The number of students was not large, so there was plenty of room for me to tag along. There and back again turned into a 18-hour day, but I believe it to be quite an experience for the students--and the bus-driver. While there, I picked up the two small devotional volumes listed above. I have already read St. Nikodim's and profited from doing so.

Recommendations and Odds and Ends:

A Christian Ending: A Handbook for Burial in the Ancient Christian Tradition, by J. Mark Barna
Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible, by John J. O'Keefe and R. R. Reno
Greece's Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis, by Anestis Keselopoulos
The Last Years of the Georgian Monarchy, 1658-1832 , David M. Lang

I have posted on the Papadiamandis book earlier. It remains a strong favorite of mine. If you want to know anything about the late Kingdom of Georgia, then I'm your man--having already read Lang's rare work. I figured I could go ahead and read it since I paid-out on this book over 4 or 5 months. One of the revelations of this book had to be the extent of Persian influence in Georgia--and in some cases, visa-verse. Obviously, much of it involved coercion, and cooperation was necessary for their very survival. And so, the claim of Georgian "Europeanness" is a qualified one, I think.

In the Mail:

l'Histoire de la Georgie depuis l'antiquite jusqu'en 1569 J.-C., by Marie-Felicite Brosset

The Byzantine Monuments and Topography of the Pontos, by Anthony Bryer

These two are my birthday/Christmas presents to myself. There's not much out there for those interested in detailed histories addressing Trebizond and Georgia--or at least not in English. Brosset's work (1851) is seminal for Georgian study. As it can only be obtained in French, it is safe to say that I may be reading it for quite some time. For Trebizond, you start with Bryer. Print-to-orders abound, but the original first volume with the maps and illustrations is harder to come by. This one is being sent from Germany.

Wish List:

George F. Kennan: An American Life, by John Lewis Gaddis

I enjoy reading of America's Cassandras. George F. Kennan was one. Andrew Bacevich is another. Kennan was one of the most fascinating Americans of the 20th-Century. As soon as I come across a good deal on this volume, I will snap it up.


elizabeth said...

John: Thank you for this tour; as always it was well worth reading.

Clint said...

Recycled Books is one of my favorite places in the world. we lived in Denton for about 6 months (our sponsoring church for mission work was there - the ones supporting us when we 'found' Orthodoxy, no less).

John said...

Looking forward to your next post. I am dizzy from reading this drivel CNN tries to pass off as journalism.

BTW, am currently reading Pasternak's 'Zhivago.' Have you read it? Have you read some of Isaacson's biographies?