I don’t read as much as I used to — well, not as many books as I used to — but I still read a lot.
Here are a few books I started and didn’t finish, but should have, and probably will, eventually.
A couple of months ago, I finally started Lost Prophet: the Life and Times of Bayard Rustin by John D’Emilio. I only got as far as 1959, when Rustin went on a 7-week trip to India both to learn and to teach. (And it was this trip that led me to believe he became a vegetarian after that — but apparently I was wrong; Lost Prophet said nary a word about vegetarianism, as far as I read.)
I didn’t finish this book for two reasons: I was having a bad attack of a lifelong bad-news allergy, and you don’t get to read the life of an angelic troublemaker without many helpings of bad news.
And then, of course, I took thorough notes as I went — which I will distill for a later series of posts. It slowed me down, though.
I will lay this book down again with a quote from one of Rustin’s mentors, A. J. Muste:
Our only valid objective is the transformation of society, not the building of a shelter for the saints.”
…”A nonrevolutionary pacifist is a contradiction in terms, a monstrosity.”
Nelson Kraybill’s Apocalypse And Allegiance looks like a good read for the connoisseur of church history. I was curious about the premise, which the subtitle describes thus: “Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation.” The extravagantly servile language of Revelation was, in its day, subversive and shocking; it was all taken from publicly sworn oaths — to the Emperor. Today’s rightwing evangelical pledge of “allegiance to the Christian flag” is nothing like it, because of that movement’s allegiance to what might be called Imperial America. No, it is much more as if a modern Neo-Pagan were to say, loudly, clearly, and in public, “I pledge allegiance to the Goddess, and the Holy Earth for which she stands: One Cosmos, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The other major shocker is the revelation that the church was not trammeled by three solid centuries of universal persecution. There was just enough, however, to inspire the church to carry on the centuries-old Jewish tradition of spiritual resistance, which still sustains Christian prophets — prophets of justice — in the modern era.
There’s a good deal of charm in this book, which nevertheless contains much old news for anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with modern Bible scholarship. Also, Kraybill keeps stepping aside to talk about semiotics and things; it’s the technician’s appreciation of the beauty of the underlying structure, I suppose. But if it doesn’t make pictures in your head, it’s awfully tempting to skip over those parts.
One reason it’s hard to finish borrowed history books is that I’ve been avoiding the pains of history for so long; in particular the American South. So I get plunged into an unfamiliar setting populated by crowds of strangers, and thus totally disoriented by page 10.
Robin D. G. Kelley’s Hammer and Hoe is one of these — and one which I will definitely return to soon. This is the history of the black, Southern, working-class, Depression-era, devoutly Christian Alabama Communist party. The few white members ranged “from ex-Klansmen to former Wobblies, unemployed male workers to iconoclastic youth, restless housewives and renegade radicals.” The story unfolds against a background of systematic and deliberate labor oppression which began a couple of generations before.
This might be the book that I pick up first, when I come back to these particular loose ends.