Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Beach Reading

At least one very good thing has come from my being removed from consideration for the job with the Peace Education Program: I'm going to the beach.

My family has long had a special connection to Holden Beach, North Carolina. Just about half an hour by car from the more popular (and touristy) Myrtle Beach, Holden, sitting on an island between the Inland Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, is a quaint and quiet beach, perfect for relaxing and focusing the mind. My Mom's family is from North Carolina, and her maternal grandmother owned a cottage on Holden Beach; a cottage which was destroyed in a 1954 hurricane, forever ridding her family of the desire to own beach-front property.

Almost every year my mother rents a beach house for a week, inviting whoever from our clan who wishes to go to share the week with her. Because the application process for the Peace Education Program job was such an extended one I was afraid that this year I wouldn't be able to make the trip. Truth be told, I was even hoping that this year I wouldn't be able to make the trip, because that would mean, of course, that I either had a job that I wanted, or was very close to having a job that I wanted. But having gone through the disappointment that invariably comes with even the most well reasoned rejection, now I'm ready to hit the beach.

Because Holden's peaceful ambiance is perfect for focusing the mind, I always bring with me a book that I've struggled to read in the chaos of Louisville (I know, those of you who live in New York or Chicago are wondering just how chaotic my piddly little city can get, but chaos is relative). On each of the last two trips to Holden I've brought books by Paul Tillich. Last year I worked through Theology of Culture, and in 2003 (we didn't get to go to Holden in 2004, because it was being threatened by a hurricane the week we'd planned to go that year) I was enchanted by The Shaking of the Foundations, his book of sermons.

This year I've got a couple of candidates from Tillich - perhaps Morality and Beyond or What is Religion? - but I'm not sure I want to continue the tradition of wrestling with Tillich at the beach. Perhaps I should branch out. So, I'm putting together a short list of some of the books that for one reason or another I haven't gotten around to reading; books that would do well in the relaxed, centering atmosphere of Holden Beach. If you see one on this list that you think I just absolutely have to take with me, let me know:

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Ethics. I started reading this about four or five years ago, and never finished. I got enough into it to have a pretty good idea of where I thought he was going, but then, frankly, I got bored. I don't know if that was the fault of the book - much of which was written in prison and wasn't published until after his death - or the fault of the inattentiveness of youth. Anyway, at some point I'm going to take another crack at it.

Wustenberg, Ralf K.; A Theology of Life: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Religionless Christianity. I saw this in a used bookstore in the winter of 2004/2005, just before Adam was born. The thesis intrigued me. Because Bonhoeffer died so young, leaving so much of his thought unexplained, so much has been written by scholars trying to explain what Bonhoeffer might have been thinking. He was a work in progress, cut down far too soon. I read the first chapter, which hooked me. But then school started back, and Adam was born, and life spiraled out of control and I never looked back at the book.

Ellis, Marc H.; Ending Auschwitz: The Future of Jewish and Christian Life. You can often pick up scholarly religious works on the remainders market. I saw this book, written by the Professor of Religion, Culture, and Society Studies and Director of the Justice and Peace Program at Maryknoll School of Theology, in a temporary book store in the mall for maybe $2, and took a chance on it. I haven't found the time to read it yet.

Griffith-Jones, Robin; The Four Witnesses. A book by an Anglican priest comparing and contrasting the four canonical Gospels, this was actually written in John Wesley's study at Oxford, so I had to get it. The author was a chaplain who also taught New Testament at Lincoln College, Oxford University, before being named Master of the Temple Church in London. This has been sitting in my library for maybe four and a half years, and I still haven't read a word of it.

Kung, Hans; Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. I first read of this book in Kung's memoir, My Struggle for Freedom, which I got for Christmas 2003. It was one of his two doctoral dissertations written as a student at the German University in the Vatican. While writing it he had the unique opportunity to dialogue with an elderly Barth on his own writing. After reading the finished work, it is said that Barth remarked that Kung understood him better than he understood himself. A landmark work in ecumenical theology, I haven't yet had the courage to tackle this epic.

Morgan, Robin; The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism. Finally, a non-theological book! Not only is the remainders market great for finding cheap books by religious academics, it is also a great place to pick up a book you would never think of buying otherwise. I bought this feminist critique or patriarchal societies for $1 just a couple of months ago. I don't know much about it, except that it was originally published in 1989, and then reissued with a new introduction after 9-11. Oh, yeah, and according to the front cover, Gloria Steinem loved it.

Palmo, Ani Tenzin; Reflections on a Mountain Lake: Teachings on Practical Buddhism. This was one of the texts for my Buddhist philosophy class my final semester as a college student. I skimmed the sections which were assigned in class, and was impressed by them. However, I was only skimming (Adam was born that semester, remember?) and the assigned readings covered less than a quarter of the book. The author, born in London, was among the first Western women to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun.

Segal, Ronald; The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa. Another remainders market purchase. The word diaspora, a Greek word which means roughly "scattering," was first applied to the Jewish experience. The Septuagint, for instance, is a product of the Jewish diaspora, compiled by Alexandrian Jews who wanted to be able to read their sacred texts despite the gradual loss of the Hebrew language from their community. If anyone's experience mirrors the diaspora, the "scattering" of the remnants of ancient Israel, it is the scattered population of those stolen from Africa. This book, a look at diasporic black culture, was written by the former editor and publisher of Africa South, a South African who left the country for political exile in England.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre; The Phenomenon of Man. Forgive the lack of inclusive language in the title, this was first published by the famous Jesuit scientist and theologian (so disowned by his beloved Roman Catholic Church for his explorations of the theological implications of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection that he was unceremoniously buried in an unmarked grave despite devoting his life to the service of the church) in 1955, and was first translated into English in 1959. It is truly a product of its time, which is rare for theological works, which often dialogue with the past but not the present. I first became interested in Telihard's work reading an essay in Thomas Merton's Love and Living which attempted to redeem Telihard for Catholics. Of course, having Merton vouch for your orthodoxy may just seal your fate as a heretic. I haven't yet read this particular work, but I have read some of his others, and can honestly say that I don't yet have the foggiest idea what he is talking about. That is the danger of reading on your own.

Of course, my brother, who in asking me this weekend what I was going to read at the beach, will chastise me for coming up with such a lofty list. After all, while I was reading Tillich last year, he and my wife we pouring through my copies of the Chronicles of Narnia. So, if you'd like to see me pick some lighter reading this year, you are welcome to suggest one.


Tom said...

Any work of fiction will do for beach reading. You should try the family's copy of A Painted House. You'd be the only one who hasn't read it. All of this assumes that it has any pages left in it. It was looking pretty rough the last time I saw it (with Jason reading it, by the way).

Shannon's only bringing trashy romance novels (or at least that's what she usually does - she calls them her "Beach Trash"). That would be a nice change of pace for you. I'm thinking about finding a biography of Sid Barrett.

Troy said...


the only book here I've read any of is Four Witnesses, and it was one of those standing-in-a-bookstore flip throughs. I was intrigued; one interesting thing is the author keeps bringing in Revelation and its imagery as he works through the distinct nature of each of the gospels. Yes, the Wesley-study thing is intriguing; some people get all the luck.

Light reading which still moves me? Wind in the Willows. Less light? I read a short story by Anthony Doerr this spring called "The Hunter's Wife" and it was one of the finest I've read. Check out his collection of short fiction.

From American realism/naturalism (a personal fave): try Wharton, Summer or House of Mirth or The Reef. How about Faulkner's Light in August or Robert Penn Warrenn's All the King's Men? Of course, Moby Dick or Billy Budd.

From the British canon: Vanity Fair stands out, as does Jude the Obscure or Return of the Native from Hardy. From Eliot, Adam Bede or Mill on the Floss or Middlemarch. Going further back, Pilgrim's Progress is often overlooked as is, outside small circles anyway, the unique power of Milton.

If you want to go into a trance while reading obscure poems, try Dylan Thomas, say "Fern Hill" or "In the White Giant's Thigh." For a more settling experience, Frost's early poems are still quite moving.

And though I'm sure you've read it, Symposium is easy to read and worth the effort.

As you know from my blog, I am digging Wright. His series is a good introduction to NT history, at least, though you may already know most of the material and though Wright may be too conservative.

In fact, you have probably read some of these already, maybe most. But ask an English teacher for a summer reading list and this is what one gets!

Best, Chris. I put time into this because I care about you; these are all books which have shaped me over the years.


Princess Pinky said...


I will have you know that the closest I have been to reading beach trash since I graduated high school is Bronte sisters! My Beach list for this year includes To Kill a Mocking Bird and probably Agnes Grey (Bronte) to lighten things up! ;P

Princess Pinky said...


Take whatever book(s) will make you happy! If that means an thick and boring work by some theologian, go for it. I highly recomend some Calvin(and Hobbes).

Sandalstraps said...

Princess Pinky,

I almost can't resist the temptation to take both volumes of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion from the Library of Christian Classics (required reading at the Presbyterian seminary I went to for one semester before dropping out), along with, perhaps, Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat, my favorite Calvin and Hobbes collection. Perhaps I'll also bring along Hobbes' Leviathan, though I have to say that the Hobbes seminar I took in college cured me of any interest in that book. It did, however, produce a semi-interesting paper comparing and contrasting the way in which Hobbes and Aristotle use a theory of human nature to develop a political philosophy.

But I doubt I'll bring any of those. If I do, it is more likely to be the work by Bill Watterson than the work by John Calvin or Thomas Hobbes.

Sandalstraps said...


Thanks for the list. I'll seriously think about picking up at least one of those books from my favorite independent bookstore, Twin Sisters Bookery in Wilmington, NC. We drop by Wilmington at least once every time we go to Holden Beach.

The last time I was there I picked up Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, a must read. The time before I picked up Mystics and Zen Masters by Thomas Merton, one of my all time favorites.

Amy said...

Speaking of small bookstores - did all y'all see that Twice Told Tales, on Bardstown Rd, has closed it's doors? Absolutely heartbreaking...

Like Tom, I tend to prefer fiction for my summer reading. This summer, my selections have included "The Interpreter of Maladies," and "The Hours," which I'm working on now and will probably take to Colombia with me. It seems a shame to take something heavy with you on vacation!

Tom said...

Yeah, but he's wierd like that.

Twice Told Books closed?! That sucks!

Sandalstraps said...

Yeah, I saw that Twice Told closed. I never bought a book from them, but they were one of my sources for vintage jazz records.

As they were closing I hovered like a vulture, waiting to see if their prices on some records would ever go down to a point where I could actually justify spending the money. They never did.

While Twice Told was a Louisville landmark, I was never particularly impressed with them. I'm sad to say that I'm not all that sad to see them go. I'm certainly not glad to see them go, but I think that I only muttered "that sucks" once or twice after seeing their plans to shut down. After that I was cool with it. Everything has its time.

Brian Cubbage said...

I liked Twice Told well enough; I found some genuinely obscure philosophy and French-language titles there. My test of a good used bookstore is the quality of its selection of books in languages other than English. I don't go for quantity, although I really like quantity; I go for the availability of obscure but interesting books, or at least of some genuine classics.

By that standard, Webster's Bookstore in State College, PA, where I went to graduate school, was excellent. Twice Told varied, but I found some truly good things there.

Aaaaanyway, your beach reading list is rather heavy, Chris. Of course, mine has always been, too, but the older I get, the more I realize that I suffer from a dearth of truly entertaining reading. I used to read graphic novels, but there aren't many left that I really want to read.

I can suggest, though, that if you've never read Neil Gaiman's _Sandman_ series from start to finish, you really should. For that matter, his novels are pretty good, too; I've read _American Gods_, and I want to make time to read _Anansi Boys_ sometime soon. I think you'd dig Neil Gaiman.