People of the Book

While some people make impulse buys at the supermarket checkout line, I kinda do the same whenever I visit the local library. I see something that looks remotely interesting and I grab it. Of course the problem is I usually end up with a huge stack of books by my bed and it takes me forever to get ’em all read. That’s how I ended up with these two particular books-

The Qur’an:A Biography by Bruce Lawrence and God’s Echo:Exploring Scripture with Midrash by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso.
Whenever I lump two or more books together in a blog entry I try to write about the things those books might have in common. In this case both books deal with the encounters people have had over the years with sacred scripture.
Bruce Lawrence, Director of Islamic Studies at Duke University and editor of  Messages to the World:The Statements of Osama bin Laden, uses the Qur’an as his point of departure. His book is part of an ongoing series by Atlantic Monthly Press devoted to “books that changed the world”. I’ve read two other books in this series. Karen Armstrong’s book on the Bible was excellent while Simon Blackburn’s Plato’s Republic:A Biography was OK, but nothing earth-shaking. Compared to those, I would probably put  Lawrence’s book somewhere in the middle. Good, readable with a good deal of interesting material especially towards the end, but nothing exceptional. His chapter devoted to the inclusive scriptural exegesis of  W.D. Mohammed was particularly good, and shows how scared scripture can be interpreted beneficially in a modern, pluralistic context. I also liked his chapter on the Qur’anic inscriptions that adorn the Taj Mahal. But when it is all said an done, the first half of his book covering the birth and early centuries of Islam are dealt with in greater detail and with better insight by writers like Karen Armstrong and Reza Aslan.
God’s Echo was a short, readable and on the whole charming book on the Midrash. One could think of the Midrash as a kind of commentary on the Torah. So I guess Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s book is a commentary on the commentary. Writing about her faith in accessible language using frequent anecdotes, she reminded me a bit of a Jewish Anne Lamott, although slightly less gonzo, (gonzo in the Hunter S. Thompson sense of course).
Well, that’s two books from the stack read. Now on to finish the rest…

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