As you may already know, this blog is devoted to historical Jesus research and NT studies. On occasion Chris will wax eloquent about Louisville sports or I will get on my soapbox about breastfeeding, but we pretty much stick to topic most of the time. Given the focus of this blog, I rarely talk about some of the best books that I'm reading that do not relate to historical Jesus research. Here are ten books that I've read in the past year that I've appreciated but wouldn't warrant a full book review in this space. In no particular order:
The Mark of Cain: Guilt and Denial in the Post-War Lives of Nazi Perpetrators by Katharina von Kellenbach - This book is a must-read for anybody interested in how memory distorts and corrects after catastrophic violence. It also takes seriously the consequences of cheap grace and the ruin that comes from the "sins of the fathers." My thanks to Joel Lohr for putting me onto this book. Really, I will read any book that Joel suggests. (Except those about Neil Young; Southern man don't need him round, anyhow.)
How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance by Marilyn Yalom - I had not expected to read this book. I started a few paragraphs and couldn't stop. First of all, who doesn't want to be a bit more French when it comes to romance? Second, who doesn't want to quietly judge the French for their Franco-proclivities. I should say that I disagree with one of her key theses. I don't think that the troubadours were the great innovators of romance. We must begin any discussion of this nature in Persia. See more here. Even so, this book is fascinating. Indeed, it is one of those books that takes a topic that we see everywhere and educates you so that you see the world a bit differently.
Codename: Hannah by Daniel Melligan - This is a really thrilling read. Daniel Melligan is a friend of mine and so I'd like to see the book do well. Even so, I can honestly say that this was among the best books that I read last year. Melligan is a great student of the Divine Comedy and weaves many Dantean themes into this spy novel. The basic premise (which is inspired by several real-world events) is that a computer programmer finds himself hacking code for the wrong people.
A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin - This was a re-read for me. I blew through this series (five of the seven books have been published) the first time and read so fast that I couldn't quite remember where the last book left all of my favorite characters. I decided to re-read this (the latest published) around Christmas and quietly wondered whether the writing would stand up to second-read scrutiny. It did and does. Martin is such a talented and heartbreaking storyteller. Arya... at some point you're going to have to love something besides death!
James (ICC) by Dale Allison - Allison's commentary is a tour de force and is worth reading (at least the first 200 pages or so) just to acquire better categories for how Christianity emerged. His introductory materials are fascinating. His bibliography is exhaustive (and that is saying something these days). His writing style, as always, is absorbing.
Paul's Gentile-Jews: Neither Jew nor Gentile, but Both by Joshua D. Garroway - This was Garroway's revamped PhD dissertation. I've wrestled with Paul's view of Israel (esp. Romans 9-11) for a long time. Garroway offers a compelling reading of this section - one that doesn't imagine Paul in conflict with himself. Josh argues that Paul defines "Israel" in such a way that he is able to say that "all Israel is saved" while still keeping to a remnant eschatology. I will reserve the right to wrestle with Paul on this point, but this book is well written, well argued, and probably the book to beat on the topic.
The Theology of Augustine by Matthew Levering - Matthew Levering is a machine. How on earth does he produce so much good work? I don't even pretend to keep up, but I had to have this book. Augustine (while I've read a bit) has represented a scholarly blind spot for me. I've sorely needed a book like this for a great long while. If you're an amateur and you're looking for a theology starter-kit, look no further.
Jewish Marriage in Antiquity by Michael Satlow - I could not have written my latest book without the help of Satlow's godsend. It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive book on the topic of Jewish marriage circa Second Temple and Rabbinic periods. My sincere apologies to the SFTS library for the water damage incurred. It was an ignominious bathtub snafu of epic proportions.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman - This is a book that I read aloud to my daughter. My daughter is nine, but reads like your average 16-year-old... maybe better. It is therefore difficult to find a "junior" fiction that works for her. My feeling is that her private reading should be at about her reading level (or comfortable at least). Whereas reading together allows us to press the limits of her vocabulary, theme, etc. Seraphina is really quite adult for several reasons (buyer beware). It is basically a murder mystery... with dragons! These dragons are somewhat similar to Vulcans - they worship mathematics, fail to understand emotions, look down their fiery snouts at humans... but can take human form at will! Anyway, it's the perfect book for a smarty-pants pre-teen girl and her dad.
What is an Ethical Life? (my course reader) - This book is a collection of essays, ancient and modern, designed to introduce ethics to university seniors. I would not have read this book if I hadn't agreed to teach the class by the same name. Reading these essays might have been my most rewarding experience in preparation for a class. Essays on philosophy, religion, psychology, everyday life, etc. Key players like Mill and Kant are discussed. I found myself fascinated by the topic and thought more than once that would like to ready much, much more. This, methinks, is a the mark of a good reader.