November 23, 2009

On My Stereo X, On My Bookshelf I



I just finished Mordecai Richler's The Street. It was wonderful.

I recently ran across this excerpt from Richler's Joshua Then and Now:

His father, pulling another marker free of his Bible, told him about Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his only son, Isaac, to God, which apparently pleased Jehovah enormously. “Quote, for because thou hast not withheld thy son, That in blessing I will bless thee, in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, blah blah blah, unquote. Now we’ve got this covenant with God, time-honoured, and going on forever and ever. But if I had to sign on the dotted line today, I don’t know that I would. God’s always needling, testing, his wrath waxing hot. He’s a real blowhard.

Back in Egypt, for instance, when we were in Bondage, he could have got the Hebes paroled with only one plague, but no, after each one he hardened the Pharaoh’s heart so he could display his whole bag of tricks. And afterwards, once we were sprung, he never once talks to Moses that he doesn’t remind him - “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt”. Now in your life if hard times come and you have to borrow money, never take it from anybody like that, they drive you crazy reminding you every day what they did for you. I don’t care for such types.

What's on yours?


Jon Coutts said...

I've got nothing consistent on the stereo right now. Sounds like I'd like to read that book by Richler, and at the same time wouldn't like to read that book by Richler. I find it so fascinating to try to put a face on the stories of the Old Testament, as a way of empathizing, and yet there is so much risk of projecting ourselves anachronistically and therefore veiling precisely the one whom we claim to be empathizing.

I just hope Richler's not also saying God doesn't do enough to show Himself as God.

Leif said...

I'm listening to Ronald Jenkees:

And I just finished reading The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers, which is actually a good read in spite of Oprah's endorsement.

Next up: The Colour Of Magic:

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


Yeah, fashioning a narrative is complicated. Did God show himself to Pharoah seven times because he's a cruel showoff, or because he wanted to ensure no one would be able to question his role in it later)? Or both?

We complain that God won't show himself, and then when he does, we complain that he showed himself too much. I get it.

What I enjoy in Richler's retelling is that we get to hear something other than the official party line. Obviously Richler's character's perspective is as biased as the writer's of the Old Testament were, but it's refreshing. And funny; which is more than I can say for most of the Old Testament. And it made me think about the history of Israel and the Jews in a new way -which I didn't think anyone could do anymore.

I think 'Joshua Then and Now' is going to be my next novel. Maybe.

I figured you'd respond to that excerpt. I'm glad you did.

Jon Coutts said...

I wonder if we have begun to goad one another with our posts? I'm not sure that's a good thing or a bad thing.

To be clear, I enjoy that kind of narrative too, I suppose as long as we can think through it. You might really like Fredrick Buechner's Son of Laughter. Its about Isaac, and while Buechner is a Christian, he does a lot of what it sounds like Richler does (except for my money perhaps even better). It is an astounding novel. Pretty graphic. Pretty brutal about the emotional scar Isaac might have carried, etc....

I like that Norway song. You've mentioned them before I believe.

Jon Coutts said...

also to be clear, in no way would i want to gloss over the difficulty of that Pharoah/Egypt/Moses saga. In fact, I'm not sure anyone really gets that passage until they grapple with it as Richler seems in some way to be doing. Much of the Bible I think is meant to be a confrontation, an assault on our tired ears. Its not just that, and I am not content to leave it at that, I want to question the passage and understand it, but the one thing I won't do is understand it if the first step I make is to gloss over its offensiveness to me today.

Boyda said...

Interesting discussion.

On my bookshelf: Henry Miller's Nexus, for awhile now. It's fun, lots of sex and a mad protagonist, who's partially based on Miller himself. I read it on the bus.

Art Spiegelman's Maus. I'm about 4 pages in. It's my first graphic novel, so we'll see.

A 17th-century biography of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, written by his devoted, playwright-wife, Margaret.

On my stereo:
Bibio, Bibio, Bibio (and I say that for emphasis)
Low, revisted - it's been awhile

What is that song you posted?

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

I hear good things about 'The Colour of Magic,' though it's not really a genre I know my way around. Thanks for the suggestions.

Quite a list. A biography written by the subject's spouse. Wow. Scary thought.

Nexus? I've never read Henry Miller, and now I'm curious. Thanks for that.

Bibio. Yeah! I especially love his song 'Abrasion.'

Have we been goading each other? Yeah, I guess. Ha. Though I don't get the sense either of us is looking for a full-on debate at this point.

Is it good or bad? I dunno. It's bad if it turns into an adversarial back and forth (at least that's bad for me, 'cos I'm bored of that approach), but I think it's good if it can mean a sharing of perspectives.

I don't know. Mostly I'm just glad we're talking. The ocean separating us be damned.

You've mentioned Son of Laughter before. I will read up on it a little. I'm curious.

You said you'd never understand the Bible "if the first step I make is to gloss over its offensiveness to me today." I'm glad to hear that; that you're trying -as much as possible- to pull your own prejudices out of the reading, and letting it hit you fresh. It's a shame that with a book that old (and from another culture, in a different language...etc) it takes so much work to get yourself to the point where the freshness can occur. By the time you understand enough of its context to read scripture well, you're in danger of having forgotten that the words probably weren't as carefuly written as they are now being carefully read.

Looking for meaning in the Bible, for me, means pushing past a thousand veils of previous interpretations, and another thousand of my own hangups. The words hang blurred in front of me. If you know what I mean.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

Except with Ecclesiastes. Which almost always seems clear and fair and good.

Anonymous said...

Great talks,

The apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz; Great Bear - A Journey Remembered; Probiotics for Good Health; The Silent Thief - Strategies to prevent and treat Osteoperosis; August 1914; Lost in Yonkers

Beat that. (I realize challenge is unnecessary)

Stereo: Joy division complete BBC, Alela Diane, Massive Attack, Chopin

Dave M said...

On my stereo - Tom Waits new live album Glitter & Doom. How perfect a title is that.

Books - Well Hud is pretty enjoyable, they say words like 'fellers' in it.

Jon Coutts said...

Yeah I know what you mean Matthew. But then something breaks through too, and I love that.

I'm just glad to be talking too. "Separation be damned" indeed. (That's a thoroughly Christian statement by the way! But I'll put down my goad.)

Stereo was consistently playing Ryan Adams & the Cardinal's Cardinology yesterday. For some reason it has fascinated me lately more than when I first bought it.