Feb 11, 2009

What are Book Reviews For?

On a flight last week, I caught up on my Books & Culture reading. As I was reading Miroslav Volf's interesting piece on Nicholas Wolterstorff's important new book Justice, I caught myself really, really enjoying the experience of reading his take-- on Woleterstorff's take-- on various others' take-- on Justice.

I don't know Dr. Volf (see, not even on a first-name basis). He has, however, been an encouragement and a help to me over the years. Not exactly a friend, probably, since we've never met and he doesn't know me. But sort of. Like a friend, he's helped me think about stuff. He's helped me decide what to read. And what not to read. I've read some of his essays and articles, and I've heard him talk to other people, and I've read other people talking about his books. And it was fun to hang out with him last week as he was talking about justice-- mainly somebody else's views about justice.

That's pretty weird, when you think about it. And I have tons of almost-acquaintances like Dr. Volf (may I call you Miroslav?), who like to muse about other people's thoughts and share them with me in book reviews and essays.

I've often wondered why I get more joy-per-minutes-invested in review essays than from any other reading. I suppose, for starters, that they're a pretty efficient way to get smarter-- I can read them in in one sitting and learn about two interesting points of view at once. In addition, reviews give pretty solid guidance on where to spend my limited reading resources (both time and budget resources are fairly scarce). But I think the thing I enjoy most is that the experience expands my community. I find new almost-acquaintances and run into old ones all the time in the pages of B&C, Touchstone, Christianity Today, First Things, and the Sunday book section. Maybe book reviews serve the same function as cocktails at a reception: they give you something to hold onto and loosen up the social joints while one attempts to make friends-- get to know people, talk about stuff, encourage others, relate.

Sure my joy is incomplete-- see 2 John 12-- but it's a pretty cool sort of joy, nonetheless.

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