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The Bubbling Book Pile

This is in response to a challenge from another blogger, Pagan scholar Chas Clifton, author of the influential and entertaining blog, Letter From Hardscrabble Creek.

I think a lot of us have a "book pile"--that jumble of nightstand books that we are actively reading on a daily basis, dipping into every few days, reading for recreation/reading for work, or anticipating reading and have just peeked under the cover for the first chapter or two... At any rate, I do. Maybe it's just a reflection of my jumbled mind.

Maybe it's a reflection of my jumbled mind that, though this picture was only taken a day or two ago, the contents have already changed! The fluid nature of my book pile makes it hard for any one snapshot to stay accurate for more than a few days--kind of like pictures of really little children that way.

In my stack, you can see R.A. Salvatore's Dark Elf Trilogy, which I'm reading partly in response to a student reader in my 9th grade English class who loves the series, and partly because I'm enjoying it too. J.R.R. Tolkien's Children of Hurin is in the stack in the picture, though I have since set it aside to wait for summer's more relaxed pace--it's in the style of The Silmarillion, one I don't especially enjoy. I'm only about 20 pages into it, and I keep getting bogged down, so I have set it aside for now.

Not in the stack, but definately on my daily reading pile is Judith Moffett's Penterra, a sort of Quaker-utopian science fiction novel (with some heavy pagan overtones so far) which I'm enjoying in a very different way than the swords-and-sorcery Salvatore novel.

The Quaker classic, Barclay's Apology, in Dean Freiday's "translation" is there because I had to see what all the fuss was about... though I wish the copy our meeting has that is in the original 17th Century English were in circulation, because I don't find that language off-putting at all. (I'm too cheap to buy a copy, though.) I've only just dipped into that.

Lloyd Lee Wilson's Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order is in my stack because, when I'm not finding his Christian language extremely challenging, a lot of his material on the experience of Quaker worship speaks to me strongly. I'll finish with Wilson soon, but it has taken me a long time to read, not so much because I set it down frequently, as because I read it differently than I do most books. In a way, it's a bit like reading poetry; it's not enough to read and understand the surface meanings of the words. I often have to sit with them, and observe their effect somewhere around my solar plexus before moving on from one paragraph to the next.

Quakers in Conflict is in the stack because it's so hard to find good histories of the Hicksite/Gurneyite schism--in part, I think, because even a century later, Quakers are still unwilling to reopen the old wounds. Anyway, Peter and I have both been banging our heads against this one, off and on, all this year. (Unlike Thomas Hamm's The Quakers in America, which we picked up around the same time, Quakers in Coflict is very slow going... some chapters seem like little more than lists of Quakers who were prominent in the disagreements. What, really, they were disagreeing about is much harder to find out.)

Also in a religious-studies vein, I recently picked up again John Michael Greer's A World Full of Gods:An Inquiry Into Polytheism, partly in hopes that it would help me find some words for how I am beginning to conceive of "god-stuff." I'm finding it pretty heady, though--more likely, perhaps, to appeal to my more philosophically-inclined husband than to me--and that he has a relatively un-nuanced notion of both monotheism and polytheism that I'm not finding helpful... he also persists in seeing them as utterly exclusive categories, and since, as a "soft polytheist"--maybe--I'm not finding that very helpful in fleshing out my own perceptions. I may set it aside... or I may dive in again. Not sure yet.

Finally, at the bottom of the book stack are two RPG game manuals, for the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, and for Champions of Valor (I have a weakness for playing paladins and paladin-like characters). It has sometimes occurred to me to wonder if it's possible, really, to mix pop-culture activities like RPGs and Buffy the Vampire Slayer videos with Quaker simplicity--or if it's possible to fully participate in Pagan culture without them. In any case, there's hardly a gamer in existence who doesn't have some kind of a manual sitting on the nightstand most of the time. Since some of my deepest and most meaningful friendships have been nourished over a set of twenty-sided dice, I can't say I feel too much shame to show them to you here.


This is a fine example of the principle of unintended consequences, I have just been debating about Barclays Apology and heart sinking as I know I must read it properly but not wanting to face having to struggle to understand its 17th century context and Theology. Then this Blog came over the feeds and discovered through you that I can now read Barclays Apology in modern english. Although I noticed that it appears to be controversial but if it gets me reading then I can get to the original(english not latin!) later.

Strangely, I can(and just have)buy it at half the price and get it delivered from the USA then I can from the Uk

many thanks John
I don't know as it's controversial... my impression is that Frieday's version is pretty well thought of. Of course, as a non-Christian, I find the controversies over things like Bible translations a bit befuddling! I like the King James version, because the language is pretty...and I don't care if the translation is authorative or not--that's just not what I use a Bible for, anyway. :)

I'll be interested in what you think of Barclay, by the way--I'll be keeping an eye open at your blog for comments when you have them!
Erik said…
I had the same problem with "Children of Hurin"... it's clearly a product of a period when JRRT was still finding his voice, and it feels too much like an inadequate impersonation of William Morris at his most high-flown. I wound up returning it to the library mostly unread.

Regarding "World Full of Gods" - I think the lack of nuance (and the intellectualism) is intentional; it may help to remember that what he is doing, in large part, is addressing a perceived problem in the academic religious studies community. Two problems, actually:
first, the assumption that persons reporting religious experiences (a) obviously could not have experienced what they say they did, and (b) obviously don't understand it as well as the scholars studying it;
and second, (the real elephant in the room) the unspoken and often-unrecognized baseline assumption that monotheism in general (and Christianity in particular) provides the best model against which all other religions are to be measured.
I think I really picked up the Tolkien for a student I have this year who just adores TLOTR and all things Tolkien. (I think this student was somewhat taken aback to realize that Tolkien took the image of Fangorn forest rushing toward the orcs and toward Isengard from Shakespeare's Macbeth, and not the other way around...)

I know there is a place for Greer's contributions to religious studies, and I have always had a great deal of impatience with approaches to religion that begin with the assumption that Christianity is (of course!) the gold standard by which all religions are to be measured. And I'm grateful to run into someone willing to accept religious experiences as a class of experience worthy of being discussed on their own merits (instead of simply dismissing them as evidence of neurlogicial, sociological, or psychological defects). It's all good.

But since one of the things that draws me to Friends, and often disconcerts me among Pagans, is the tendency to become "notional"--intellectualizing brilliantly about experiences which seem less and less the point--I'm really disappointed to find World Full of Gods to be more of the same. Why, why why is it so hard to find writing that tries to capture the experience of religion, rather than to intellectually defend it or attack it? Even in experientially-based religions, like most modern Paganisms, we so often drop the thread, and put more energy into explaining than experiencing our realities.

Greer is not the problem. Probably the fact that I don't seem to manage to write what I want to write is the real problem... that, and the fact that so few other people manage it either. But since I am currently wrestling actively with what I mean by monotheism and what I mean by polytheism, I do wish I had something to read that was a little more germane... Makes me grumpy!

If you have any book suggestions, let me know! (Was it from your blog I got the Greer title, I wonder? I don't remember now.)
Well... having clearly expressed frustration with Greer's A World Full of Gods, now I have to go on and retract that. I've just finished reading Chapter 7, "What Do We Know About the Gods?" and it is definately along the lines I was hoping the book would be. I'll almost certainly come back to it and reread it--I think it may help me to some language to put into words some of the more muddled aspects of my own perceptions.

At this point, I think all I can really accuse Greer of is not interesting me equally in every one of his chapters... not much of an accusation, in point of fact.
Pagan Quill said…
I suppose I never thought about it: Paganism and role-playing being very very linked. Makes sense.

And I may need to pick up Greer's book. I'm sorta in that stage of quandry you mentioned. Needing to find the language, and all.
Jim B said…
About the nature of god/s. I like to look at the humans who created those gods since it is in their language that those gods speak. How does the human and divine interact to bring forth that god? What does my god say and what does it say about me? How do the gods grow up with the people who created them? What is the Bible but the story of that growth for a people and their god? But do the rest of us have to grow back to their level at the end of the Bible? No, I don't think so. I grow and my god grows with me, or I grow and my god is revealed to me more fully. If I stop, where does that leave my god? If I am stopped by my fellow humans' beliefs what must I do? What if they are my own beliefs? Better yet, what if I outgrow my god? It happens and it happens and I go on.

Peace, Jim

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