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Archive for August, 2017

511nu60ABAL._SS300_The concluding section of Tori Bortman’s The Bicycling Big Book of Cycling for Beginners  makes the claim that ‘teaching, bicycles, and writing are Tori Bortman’s passions’. By the time the reader encounters this line, the truth of it has become clear.

Bortman has provided beginner (and, I would say, that face-saving term ‘advanced beginner’) cyclists with a jargon-free, highly readable companion for the first thousand miles on thin rubber tires.

These pages contain no in-house tech talk meant to bolster anyone’s credentials and squeeze the newbies into their corner. Instead, a gifted teacher who really wants her students to love the sport as much as she does builds our understanding from the ground up, step by step, brick by brick, ride by ride.

I’m finishing my first thousand miles and cannot think of a more amiable companion that The Bicycling Big Book for Beginners and the ambitiously empathetic voice it channels to riders whose gasping lungs and pumping legs are just beginning to know their strength.

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51kRhvdn8QL._SS300_Leland Ryken’s Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible (2nd edition) has endured a longer wait on my reading list that any other book I can recall. Unexpectedly, the book did not meet my long-pent-up expectations.

When offering an unflattering comment on a work that is clearly an authorial labor of love, I owe an explanation. It will without doubt be highly subjective.

Ryken was writing at a time when approaching the Bible first (not to say primarily) as a literary work was not ‘the done thing’ in evangelical circles, which is the ambience from which Words of Delight emerges. There is a polemical note against ‘biblical scholars’, understandable in its moment, that now makes Ryken’s line of approach seem quaint. He can hardly be faulted for writing in and for his moment, so this is an observation rather than a criticism.

More to the point, Ryken appears to this reader to have substituted one lens for another as he peers at Scripture. The lens he has largely laid aside is the historical-grammatical lens, with its concentration on the smaller matters of language and the sometimes myopic probing for history that might lie behind the biblical text. The lens he has privileged is the literary lens, which begins with the assumption that the Bible represents admirable if not breath-taking literary prowess and finds confirmation of this assumption in the reading of it.

Removed from the fracas, we can appreciate that these function best as complementary routes of access to the text, rather than one-or-the-other alternatives.

More importantly, Ryken appears to employ his chosen lens with a certain woodenness. He has not moved from reading the Bible through a fixed paradigm to reading it on its own terms so much as he has substituted a literary paradigm that gives pride of place to the canons of literary genres as these began to be identified in classical literature and have been utilized to interpret (Ryken prefers ‘to explicate’) literature in the modern period. I come away finding that this biblical passage or another has, in Ryken’s hands, been forced into the literary forms that are the pillars and the beams of this approach.

Still, I recommend the book. How so?

It dawned on me late in the reading of Words of Delight that the book is best received as the lecture notes of a gifted professor of English, which is what I suspect they were before being polished for publication. Could it be that I have been the genre-bungler, rather than the author of this love’s labor.

Perhaps.

Read in this way, the 23 chapters that comprise the work’s four sections (‘Biblical Narrative’, ‘Biblical Poetry’, ‘Other Biblical Literary Forms’, and ‘The New Testament’) offer valuable counsel for approaching a certain biblical genre or text in the manner of a competent ‘reader’s guide’.

When I allowed myself to relax and read Words of Delight on these terms, my expectations adjusted. I came away believing that few readers would not be helped by accessing the chapters of this book in such a task-oriented way. Indeed, Ryken—a much loved emeritus professor at a high-standard Christian college—allows this kind of reader the occasional flash of brilliant insight, without the crankiness to which I found descending when seeking the more thrilling panorama.

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