It wasn’t a plan particularly, but then that’s part of the joy of books – I never have a plan for what I’m going to sink my teeth into next. It is usually just a matter of wanting something different from the one before.
But a couple of books recently have done that self-referential thing: they’re books about books (a bit like U2’s recent self-referential album, I suppose). And it got me thinking about the other books I’ve loved that have done this. Read more
Here’s one of those infernal lists. It hopefully speaks for itself. Read more
As ever slow on the uptake, but I finally got round to reading Azar Nafisi’s beautifully written 2004 book, Reading Lolita in Tehran. It is a rich, highly thoughtful and thought-provoking memoir from an Iranian English literature professor about her life and students (in particular the small but diverse group of women in her reading group). She meditates deeply on her culture, on their favourite authors and their books, on the simple wonders of reading. She makes extraordinary, unexpected connections – which aid understanding of both the literature and life in Tehran.
There’s a surprising amount of the natural world on Songs of Innocence, just as there was in fact in No Line on the Horizon (the title kind of gives that away, I suppose). Nature has always provided poetic inspiration, but perhaps it’s not the most common imagery for rock ‘n roll. (Though having said that, you can no doubt think of countless counter-examples. Please don’t all write at once.)
So here’s just a quick thumbnail sketch of some of the key nature metaphors: Read more
- C S Lewis on Friendship
- Are the Apocryphal Gospels true? Ian Paul picks up Simon Gathercole’s address at the recent British NT conference
- If you missed it, this is an extraordinary episode of BBC’s Panorama about the Christians working in North Korea for Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (30 minutes – definitely worth watching in full).
At last year’s launch of veteran travel writer Dervla Murphy’s remarkable book, A Month by the Sea – Encounters in Gaza, she made a simple but telling point. “The Palestinians’ predicament is that they are the victims’ victims”. Of course, in Faith in the Face of Empire, an equally remarkable book by a Palestinian Christian pastor, victimhood (despite its postmodern attractions) is a dangerous mantle. Read more
Have been playing catch up with a few New Yorker back issues in the last couple of days – like buses, you get none, and then suddenly several arrive in the post in a pile. So I was stopped in my tracks by Japanese Maple, a new poem by Clive James. He’s a remarkable writer and commentator – his is a sizzling combination of high intelligence, unsnobbish cultural magpie-ism (if that’s not a thing, it jolly well should be) and laugh-out-loud-wit.
But he now has terminal cancer. As a result he knows he’ll never make it back to his native Australia before he dies. (Here is an interview he gave back in 2013) He is confined to Cambridge and the UK. So here he writes of the tree planted by his daughter in their garden. Read more
U2 can be pretty shocking. If you’ve followed social media recently, you’ll know they’ve caused global offence by giving away their Songs of Innocence album for free (oh, and a nice tidy cheque from Apple for $100 million). I do think that the sum is pretty obnoxious. There’s no way that anyone needs that kind of cash, least of all the world’s most successful band in history (more or less). I’d say it represents, at the very least, a rather grim error of judgment. I have enjoyed some of the memes that this has provoked, though (esp Who is U2 anyway?). But even though that all now seems rather an inadvertent PR disaster, the album contains some genuine shocks which are clearly more artfully deliberate.
This is superb and completely speaks for itself.
It subverts the natural, but risky, human desire to connect all the dots on the basis of a few curiosities and anomalies.
Errol Morris’ short film asks why it was that ‘The Umbrella Man watched the JFK motorcade in November 1963 with his umbrella up. Whenever someone is articulating a conspiracy theory like this one, it is always worth keep an ear out for ‘facts’ like this one… Read more
So I’ve been pondering a lot on the fact that Bono has called Songs of Innocence a personal album. Here he is in Rolling Stone last week:
“We wanted to make a very personal album,” Bono told Rolling Stone‘s Gus Wenner the day before the press conference in an exclusive interview. “Let’s try to figure out why we wanted to be in a band, the relationships around the band, our friendships, our lovers, our family. The whole album is first journeys — first journeys geographically, spiritually, sexually. And that’s hard. But we went there.”
To be opaque is to be beguiling, provocative. You need to be hooked, of course. But once I’m hooked, I never want everything on a plate. I want to be made to work a little. It is one of the most compelling things about U2’s songs. Read more
I guess being a U2 devotee is a bit like supporting a top-flight football team. You can’t wait for their next match, and yet there’s always a sense of dread that it won’t come to much. The rumours about a new album(s) have been circulating for years. And then suddenly, there it was. Already in iTunes playlists, without any warning. How bizarre is that?! Nothing if not bold, and perhaps mildly megalomaniacal. The Bono-haters will certainly think so. Read more
- Cranmer has been on form: 1. None dare call it evil, except Justin Welby; 2. I have forgiven Islamic militants
- Interesting stuff here from Tyndale House on Simon Gathercole’s work on the Gospel of Thomas
- “Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here…” from the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul
- The stigma of being an atheist in the USA…
Friday saw the end of our annual All Souls church week away, during which I was speaking on a series of psalms from David’s life. The result is now online on iTunes, for general amusement, delectation and/or edification. Read more
Rachel Kelly is spot on: “But in the end, depression doesn’t follow rules: it is a devil that comes in many guises.” (Black Rainbow, p231) So there is a sense in which her experiences of depression (two highly debilitating and bewildering attacks and the subsequent need to manage it) will inevitably be unique. But her new Black Rainbow is remarkable: for it is no misery memoir but an act of generosity. In making herself vulnerable through talking so openly about facing and working through deeply personal pains, she has offered nothing less than a gift of grace. For in the midst of the bleak, black, barrenness of depression, she has found a path through. For those of us perhaps further back along the road, this is a germ of hope.
Well, the book’s first draft is done and sent off – the initial editors’ comments are awaited with trepidation. But the good news (I hear you ALL cry) is that I can get back to some serious blogging. And what better way to mark this momentous event than by offering some Friday Fun.
One of my recent excitements is the quirky Cox’s Fragmenta. This is edited by Simon Murphy from a really bizarre tome in the British Library – essentially a scrap-book of news clippings kept by one Francis Cox (1752-1834) on every subject under the sun. In fact, it takes up 20 feet of shelving. So I thought it might be fun to pick out a few choice morsels.
It hardly needs saying, but spying did not stop with the collapse of Communism. But if spying continued, it naturally follows that so did betrayal. The haunting question provoked by every betrayal is, “Why?” Perhaps it was easier to understand during the Cold War. The globe’s ideological map was drawn all too clearly. However flawed the enemy might be, believing in their ideological stance always made it forgiving those flaws much easier. But what about today? Read more