What We're Reading
Theologian and MARS HILL AUDIO guest Nigel Cameron co-edited a new anthology from InterVarsity Press that is concerned with Christian anthropology, technology, politics, and the global market.
Theologian Nigel Cameron was a guest on the very first issue of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal (then called the MARS HILL Tapes). He has since appeared (talking about current issues in bioethics) on volumes 51 and 66. In those conversations, and in his many writings, Dr. Cameron has argued that Christians addressing questions of bioethics need a fuller and richer account of human nature. A new anthology from InterVarsity Press combines the quest for a more developed Christian anthropology with a wise-as-serpents realism about the confluence of technology, politics, and the forces of a global market. The book, Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy, is edited by Cameron and Charles W. Colson. Colson contributes an introductory essay reflecting on C. S. Lewis's 1948 book, The Abolition of Man. Other contributors include Dr. C. Christopher Hook ("Techno Sapiens: Nanotechnology, Cybernetics, Transhumanism and the Remaking of Humankind"); Dr. David Stevens ("Promise and Peril: Clinical Implications of the New Genetics"); and Dr. Nathan A. Adams, IV ("An Unnatural Assault on Natural Law: Regulating Biotechnology Using a Just Research Theory"). Nigel Cameron's contribution to the book is entitled "Christian Vision for the Biotech Century: Toward a Strategy;" in it Cameron examines three distinct phases in bioethics as we have moved from issues of taking human life, to issues of making human life, to the possibility of faking human life: "the capacity of developments in the fields of nanotechnology and cybernetics to manipulate, enhance and finally perhaps supplant biological human nature." Excerpts from the book, along with its table of contents, are available through InterVarsity's web pages.
A new report from the National Endowment for the Arts supplies statistics that demonstrate that the number of readers in America is declining. The report is introduced in an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education titled "Literary Reading Is Declining Faster Than Before, Arts Endowment's New Report Says."
A new report from the National Endowment for the Arts supplies statistics that demonstrate that the number of readers in America is declining. The report is introduced in an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education titled "Literary Reading Is Declining Faster Than Before, Arts Endowment's New Report Says." As the article explains, the report portrays a steep decline in "literary reading" (described as the reading of any type of fiction, poetry, and plays) over the past two decades; it also describes some reactions to the report's findings.
"Reading at Risk: a Survey of Literary Reading in America" reports data gathered from 17,000 adults across major demographic groups categorized by age, gender, education, income, religion, race, and ethnicity. It addresses what and how much those sampled read, other civic activities in which they participate, factors and trends in literature participation, and includes a summary and conclusions. It comprises a preface and executive summary, five chapters, and appendices.
The report's role, says chairman of the NEA Dana Gioia, is not to offer suggestions for a solution to the problem, but to spark debate about how to perpetuate readers and the role of reading in a democracy. In his introduction to the report, Gioia (a guest on volumes 51 and 53 of the Journal) writes: "Reading is not a timeless, universal capability. Advanced literacy is a specific intellectual skill and social habit that depends on a great many educational, cultural, and economic factors. As more Americans lose this capability, our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent-minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose."
While the concern of the NEA report is specific to literary reading and its decline, others quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education article are concerned with a general decrease in reading in this electronically savvy age. In a 1995 interview with Ken Myers, Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, discussed the influence the printed word has on society. In his Volume 13 interview, Birkerts argued that when people read less and thus lose "habits of reading"—such as inwardness, empathy for the lives of others, and a sense of the significance of the past—they understand themselves and the world differently. Barry Sanders concurred with Birkerts in his Volume 17 interview about his book A Is for Ox: Violence, Electronic Media, and the Silencing of the Written Word. Sanders argued that literacy is an historical invention and thus can dissipate in time just as it developed in time. As it becomes extinct, he said, people will begin to lose their conscience, memory, and sense-of-self and regret—all outgrowths of literacy—and thus will no longer be able to recognize others as human beings.
Another guest on the Journal, Robert Jenson, is concerned more specifically with the diminution of the attention given by the community to books in the University and the Church, and the consequential enervation of the vision for knowledge and wisdom at the core of both institutions. Descriptions of the Birkerts, Sanders, and Jenson interviews are available through the MARS HILL AUDIO web pages.
Professor Bernard Lewis has spent several decades studying the Middle East and Islam, and Oxford University Press has recently published several of his essays on these subjects in From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East.
Professor Bernard Lewis has spent several decades studying the Middle East and Islam, and Oxford University Press has recently published several of his essays on these subjects in From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East. The publication of the collection is the occasion for an interview with Lewis in the Atlantic Unbound (the April 29, 2004, edition) in which Lewis offers his thoughts on the region's future, particularly regarding how America is handling its involvement in Iraq: "I'm cautiously optimistic about what's happening in Iraq. What bothers me is what's happening here in the United States." The interview, conducted by Elizabeth Wasserman, is available on-line .
Lewis discussed one of his more well-known works What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response on Volume 59 of the Journal. MARS HILL AUDIO published a full-length version of the interview as Conversation 19, "The Crisis of Islam and the Crisis of the West." [Posted May2004, ALG]
In an effort to meet some of the questions coming from the increasing interest in education and encounters between Christians and Muslims, The Institute on Religion and Democracy has published "Christian-Muslim Dialogue: A Guide for Churches."
"Within the Church, Christian-Muslim relations have been largely the concern of a small group of specialists. All that changed on September 11, 2001." In an effort to meet some of the questions coming from the increasing interest in education and encounters between Christians and Muslims, The Institute on Religion and Democracy has published "Christian-Muslim Dialogue: A Guide for Churches." The brochure, the contents of which were originally printed in the summer 2003 issue of the Institute's Faith & Freedom magazine, divides its guidelines for dialogue into two categories: appropriate and necessary subjects and means of communication; and inappropriate and damaging subjects and means of communication. Suggestions in the former category include: "Make sure that the Christians entering into dialogue with Muslims have a firm grasp of an orthodox faith in the mainstream of the Christian tradition." Suggestions in the latter category include: "Play political games inside the Muslim community, elevating leaders that we Christians favor and ignoring those that we dislike." To order "Christian-Muslim Dialogue" brochures from The Institute on Religion and Democracy, call (202) 969-8430 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Institute for Religion and Democracy describes itself as "a non-profit organization committed to reforming the Church's social and political witness and to building and strengthening democracy and religious liberty, at home and abroad." Diane L. Knippers, Alan F. H. Wisdom, and Steve R. Rempe are among those who run the Institute. For more information, visit the Institute's web pages. [Posted April 2004, ALG]
Patricia Owen, a guest on Volume 73 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, offers a list of her top ten favorite Newbery Medal winners.
List courtesy of Patricia Owen.
1928—The Trumpeter of Krakow: A Tale of the Fifteenth Century, Eric P. Kelly
In 1461 the 15 year-old Joseph and his family make their way to the Polish city of Krakow after their farm is burned by bandits. Inspired by a 200 year old legend, he and his father take on the job of playing the trumpet every hour from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary. Alchemists, Tartar bandits, a lovely orphan and a beautiful musical piece, the Heynal, all come together to make this a riveting story full of courage and loyalty. Avid readers 9+
Illustrations by Janina Domanska
1932—Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, Elizabeth Foreman Lewis
Set in pre-revolutionary China of the 1920's, this is an absorbing tale of a boy who moves with his mother to the big city of Chungking and is apprenticed to Tang the coppersmith. Young Fu's vitality and humor shine out as he encounters all kinds of characters and undergoes all kinds of experiences in the process of coming of age and learning what really counts in life. Avid readers 9+
Introduction by Pearl S. Buck. Excellent glossary and historical notes.
1935—Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink
This author writes the stories her grandmother recounted of her own pioneer childhood running wild with two brothers on the Wisconsin frontier of the 1860's. Full of fun and excitement for both boys and girls, with an interesting twist at the end. Great read-aloud, ages 6+
1973 edition with illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman
1946—Adam of the Road, Elizabeth Jane Gray
Adam, an 11 year-old boy walks the roads of England in 1294, in search of his cocker spaniel and his minstrel father. Adventurous and historically invigorating, with a timeless and universally interesting plot. A road's a kind of holy thing, said Roger the minstrel to his son, Adam. That's why it's a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it's home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle. Ages 10 - Young adult
Illustrations by Robert Lawson
1949—The Door in the Wall, Marguerite D'Angeli
Set in medieval England, this story chronicles the development of character in Robin, a young nobleman's son who falls ill and loses the use of his legs. Beautifully told, the story weaves its way through frustration and pain to encouragement, resourcefulness and heroism as Robin follows Brother Luke's advice: Thou hast only to follow the wall long enough and there will be a door in it. Ages 9+
Beautiful illustrations by the author
1954—The Wheel on the School, Meindert DeJong
The little seaside village of Shora, in Holland, has no storks. Lina, and the five boys in her little schoolhouse wonder why and then put their heads together to remedy the situation. Humor, mischief, and a lovely intergenerational sympathy knit together an engrossing story of youthful resourcefulness. Great read-aloud. Ages 6+
1989—Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
When the Nazis occupy Denmark in 1943 and begin to round up the Jews, 10 year-old Annemarie's family takes in her best friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretends she is part of the family. Both girls have to learn new courage and resourcefulness as they live out this deception in a fear-filled society. The truths of the brutal regime are not spared, but they are dealt with in a way that is appropriate for thoughtful children and young adults. 12+
1993—The Giver, Lois Lowry
In a futuristic dystopic community where pain and sadness have been eliminated but also music and books and history, 12 year-old Jonas is picked to be the next Receiver of Memory; in daily visits with the Giver, the oral history of life and experience is transferred to him, enabling the community to remain ignorant, happy and productive. What happens when Jonas begins to think for himself for the first time makes for intriguing, thought-provoking twists of plot and growth in his character. A clear statement against both abortion and euthanasia, and one which raises a wide variety of moral and spiritual questions, this book is definitely for older readers and should be read by parents, grandparents, etc. as well as children. Ages 14+
2001—A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park
A spare but beautifully crafted story about a young orphan who has been nurtured and reared by a homeless cripple living under a bridge in 12th century Korea. The boy, Tree-Ear, longs to become an apprentice to a famous potter and in a long and difficult journey to deliver wares to the royal court, he learns much about courage, persistence, patience, and real love. One of the most subtle and deeply moving descriptions of mutual caring and sensitivity in all of children's literature. A must read for boys and girls 12+
2003—The Tale of Despereaux; Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, Kate di Camillo
A fun, meta-fairytale in which Despereaux the mouse reads instead of chewing the book of chivalric tales in the palace and is then thrown into a series of adventures in the course of which he is challenged, disappointed, and then enabled by the very stories he has read. In spite of the rollicking, jocular tone, themes of forgiveness, true courage, and self-sacrifice emerge in the course of his quest which lend themselves to thoughtful discussion. Ages 10+ [Posted April 2005, ALG]