“The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Their Favorite Bible Passages” edited by Andrew Blauner, Simon and Schuster, 298 pages, $27. This is by no means an original idea. In fact, it’s not even close. From time to time over the last few decades, gifted and fearless editors will convene a congregation of writers – usually very good ones – to comment on favorite books or passages from the Bible.
I don’t think that Andrew Blauner’s array of writers in this incarnation of the venerable publishing idea is consistently on the same level as the much larger “Congregation” edited by David Rosenberg but it is often very good on its own – not to mention eccentric, even perverse. Is there any source material which gives writers more to say about the course of Western Civilization than the Old and New Testaments? Not that most of us know of.
You know the era you’re in here when Andre Aciman’s essay is called “Deuterogeniture Or How I Killed My Grandmother.” But, importantly, you also know that the broad scope of the contributors extends far outside the confines of accepted “literature” when you encounter Cokie and Steve Roberts’ essay “The Best Jew In The Family” and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Why Psalms Are My Favorite Book.”
But ask yourself where else will you encounter such essays cheek by jowl with Lydia Davis’ “A Reading of the Shepherd’s Psalm” (i.e. The 23rd Psalm) and Colm Toibin on “The Beloved Disciple” (i.e. The Book of John, converted into fiction by the author of “Brooklyn?”(
Brauner’s scope is superbly inclusive from a generational standpoint – Edwidge Danticat, Daniel Menaker, and Tobias Wolff climaxing with 83-year old Robert Coover’s splendidly cranky and autobiographical “The Bad Book,” which gives the book a remarkably ornery and wayward finale. The author of “The Origin of the Brunists” and grandson of a Methodist preacher tells us that when he first became a serious writer, he read the Bible in entirety. He now writes “I found the porn holier, Beckett wiser.” ”So much for the “most outworn conventions” of biblical thought, should anyone be worried. A “humorless so-so book at best” he calls it now “a bad book mostly getting worse as it goes along.” A singular assortment here.
– Jeff Simon