By John Wilson
Mr. Wilson's Bookshelf
This week's soundtrack is the theme from Perry Mason. Earlier this year, Paramount Home Video released a DVD box featuring the first 19 episodes from Season 1 of the Perry Mason TV series, which debuted on CBS in the fall of 1957. This week, another DVD box with the remaining 20 episodes from the first season is scheduled to release. I'll write at length about the package when I have seen this second "volume." Needless to say, we have already devoured the first 19 episodes. (So has Slavoj Zizek, as I learned over dinner a few days ago with the Slovenian philosopher and several professors from Wheaton College, the occasion being a Zizek lecture on campus.) If you have on your Christmas gift-list anyone who grew up watching the incomparable Raymond Burr & Co. every week, this is a can't-miss choice.
I work at a place where we meet every Monday morning, share prayer requests, and pray together before going over the week's schedule. Sometimes I wonder what an outsider would make of it all. And there are moments—we all have them, I think—when I feel like an outsider at prayer myself. Like every year, 2006 has brought shelves of new books on prayer. A couple of the most noteworthy will be reviewed by Lauren Winner in the January/February issue of Books & Culture, Philip Yancey's Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Zondervan) and David Crump's Knocking on Heaven's Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer (BakerAcademic). But there are others worth reading to which we may not be able to give adequate attention. Let me mention two of these in particular, both of them collections of scholarly essays. The first is Liturgy in the Life of the Synagogue: Studies in the History of Jewish Prayer, edited by Ruth Langer and Steven Fine (Eisenbrauns); the second is The Phenomenology of Prayer, edited by Bruce Ellis Benson and Norman Wirzba (Fordham Univ. Press).
Again I apologize for mentioning a book not yet available. Some of you, like my friend and colleague David Neff, may have one of those hand-held gizmos on which everything in your life is scheduled, including pub dates of forthcoming books. And some of you, like me, may use a primitive little notebook (in this case a gift from my son, Andrew) in which you jot down such information. In any case, for April 2007 mark down Paul Davies' new book, Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life (Houghton Mifflin). I prefer the British title, The Goldilocks Enigma, which sounds rather like a parody of Robert Ludlum, but whatever it's called, this is a book worth reading. And alongside Davies, or maybe in the meantime, consider reading an older book (from the 1960s, reissued a few years back by Notre Dame University Press), one of my favorites, which I have recommended before: The Lord of the Absurd, by Raymond J. Nogar, a Catholic scholar.
Just out from the University of California Press is Yosemite: Art and Icon, with essays by Amy Scott et al. and superbly illustrated, a beautiful job of bookmaking all round. When I was a boy, my mother and grandmother and brother and I made a number of trips to Yosemite, often with my Uncle Ed and Aunt Ardith and their kids, our beloved cousins. I hated camping, and hated the ride, in part because I regularly got carsick, though there were compensations (not least, conversation with my uncle, who was extraordinarily patient and talked with me as with another adult). And Yosemite stamped itself indelibly on my memory—so much so that I haven't wanted to return as an adult. (A couple of the essays in this book reminded me of Walker Percy writing about the Grand Canyon and other such "sights" in The Message in the Bottle, another of my favorite books.)
Another ravishingly well-made book that offers instruction along with delight is 100 Caterpillars: Portraits from the Tropical Rain Forests of Costa Rica, by Jeffrey C. Miller, Daniel H. Janzen, and Winifred Hallwachs (Harvard Univ. Press). Here is a wonderful example of "restoration ecology" at work. I can't imagine a better book to highlight during this Thanksgiving week, when we celebrate the magnificent excess of our triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And thank you for reading.
John Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture.
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