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Wednesday, Jul 18, 2007
by Ari Y Kelman

Casting Samuel L. Jackson in the role of God says as much about the power of Pulp Fiction as it does about hermeneutics, but imagine a God that sounded like Eartha Kitt…

Denzel Washington, one of the voices in The Bible Experience

Denzel Washington, one of the voices in
The Bible Experience


The 2007 Audie (the Oscar for audiobooks) for “audiobook of the year” was awarded to The Bible Experience, a new 19-CD recording of The New International Version of the New Testament.  Produced by Inspired by… Media Group, The Bible Experience features a full cast of A and B list African American performers from Denziel Washington and Angela Bassett to MC Lyte and Eric Benet (nee Mr. Halle Berry).  Combining the The New International Version of the New Testament‘s contemporary sensibility, lush musical accompaniment, and effusive individual efforts, it is, as the title insists, not just a recitation of the Bible, but a full-blown “experience”.

Since its release in November, 2006, The Bible Experience has become something of a juggernaut, even among other versions of the Bible.  The good book was featured on Oprah, was the subject of a story on NPR, and received coverage in almost every major newspaper in America.  All told, The Bible Experience has sold over 800,000 units in eight months, and it has quickly become Zondervan publishers’ (one of the leading Christian publishing houses in the United States) best selling title.

To become a best-selling title as a version of the best selling-book of all time is itself, no small feat, and I think the popularity of this version suggests something new is afoot in the world of faith, text, media and message.  In effect, it is a revision of the old question about style and substance, but in this case, the stakes seem higher.  And, with all due respect to Mr. Jackson’s powerful Pulp Fiction riff on Ezekiel 25:17, substance generally trumps style in questions of faith.


 


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Wednesday, Jul 18, 2007
by Chris O'Brien

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Harry Potter dies!


No, wait, he lives!


If you’re lying awake at night counting the minutes until Saturday when the final Harry Potter book is released, then boot up the computer and get Googling. Copies of the closely guarded Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may have leaked onto the Internet, sparking legal skirmishes and outrage among fans who are trying to avoid spoilers at all costs.


The apparent leak demonstrates how difficult it can be to keep secrets in a digital age. But the key word is “apparent.” Because amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, there’s one question that nobody will answer: Are the copies real?


So read on, you Muggles. This story is spoiler-free.


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Monday, Jul 16, 2007

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of short looks at books from academic presses which I think might interest a wider readership. In each, there will be first a mini-review, and then a brief interview with the author.—JBJ


Impotence: A Cultural History
by Angus McLaren
(University of Chicago Press, 2007)


Laughing at erections is the province of middle- and high-school humor; laughing at impotence is a more adult entertainment. In the Friends episode, “The One with Monica’s Thunder,” Chandler has a momentary loss of power.  Shaken, he asks Joey if it’s ever happened to him.  Joey says, sure—happens to everybody.  Not a problem.  But when Chandler asks what he does in those situations, Joey’s answer leaves him even more disturbed: “Do it anyway.” 


This brief scene illustrates a central difficulty with conversations about erections and impotence: Questions of definition abound.  What looks like a simple question—am I hard or not?—turns out to have a long and interesting backstory.  Angus McLaren’s new book, Impotence: A Cultural History (University of Chicago Press, 2007), surveys Western approaches to erection, impotence, and infertility since the Greeks.  And these approaches are shockingly different.  An early Christian culture emphasizing celibacy, for instance, is necessarily going to take a very different view of impotence than is, say, a late-Victorian one worrying about the decadence of the West.


Impotence is a fascinating book, one that easily sustains its most basic claim, which is that “every age has turned impotence to its own purposes, each advancing a model of masculinity that informed men if they were sexual successes, and if not, why not.”  Despite the presence of a blurb from Dr. Ruth on the back cover, McLaren is a refreshingly low-key guide to the vicissitudes of impotence.  The book is almost unmissable for its extensive cataloging of tests (“fifteenth-century English courts sometimes employed ‘honest women’ to examine the man”) and treatments (ranging from the implantation of monkey and goat glands, to the construction of mechanical scaffolding, to various forms of pastes, salves, and unguents, applied topically, orally, or anally).


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Monday, Jul 16, 2007
by John McCormick

PORTSMOUTH, N.H.—Stealing a page from Oprah Winfrey—his close friend and fellow Chicago celebrity—Sen. Barack Obama launched book clubs in a dozen New Hampshire towns and online last week.


His life story is the first topic of discussion.


With their assigned reading being Dreams from My Father, Obama’s best-selling memoir that has become his unofficial campaign handbook, a small group of his followers settled in at the SecondRun used bookstore in this coastal city for a two-hour discussion.


The Portsmouth gathering was amid an initial round of meetings that evening that was part of a new campaign initiative meant to better inform people about Obama and build interest in his presidential bid.


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Monday, Jul 16, 2007

Just to keep the Harry Potter-related news onslaught trucking along, here’s an interesting item from The Hollywood Reporter noting that with two films yet to go in the boy wizard’s series, Warner Bros. has already figured out who his replacement is going to be. U.K. author Angie Sage’s projected seven-book children’s fantasy series, Septimus Heap—of which three titles have already been published—is apparently going to get the J.K. Rowling treatment at an unannounced date in the future.


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