"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Talking to Authors in 2019: Highlights

Far and away the most interesting and rewarding part of this blog for me is the chance to interview authors of new books. I know these authors would be glad of extra Christmas sales so reacquaint yourself with their works and see which would be appropriate gifts for those on your lists.

In 2019 we had a wide array of new books on very diverse topics, and I was able to interview nearly a dozen authors and editors.

We started off in January with an interview of Barbara Crostini and Ines Murzaku. They are the editors of Greek Monasticism in Southern Italy: The Life of Neilos in Context, a scholarly collection of international articles that function in some respects as the companion volume to the recently translated Life of St Neilos from Rossano,

In March it was my real delight to draw attention to a book that, as I said then and have not tired of saying since, you should send to every married cleric in your life of whatever church. That book was authored by my good friend Bill Mills, author of Losing My Religion. It is a funny, moving, and searingly honest portrait of parish ministry and the toll it takes on priests.

Another of my good friends, Nicholas Denysenko, is an extraordinarily prolific fellow. I recently drew attention to the accolades for his book on the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, for which I interviewed him in September of last year.

Within weeks of the appearance of that book Nick had another one out, The People's Faith: The Liturgy of the Faithful in Orthodoxy, fascinating as much for its content as for the pioneering methods and questions. In May of this year we had a chance to talk about this new book.

The summer was busy with three interviews in August.

Michael Martin sat down with me to talk about his latest work, Transfiguration: Notes Toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything.

That month, for Catholic World Report, I interviewed Stephen Bullivant, author of the new and important and challenging Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America since Vatican II. With a background in both sociology and theology, he is uniquely able to make sense of a good bit of sociological data on shifting practices among those who once identified, and those who still identify, as Catholic. The picture is more complicated in some ways than might be expected.

Finally, August also saw me interview A.E. Siecienski. He's the sort of fellow who is incapable of writing a dull book or, until now, a short one.

His two previous books are utterly invaluable studies, the more recent being The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate (interview here), which does so splendidly much of the historical work I said in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy still needed to be done.

The earlier book, which followed a very similar format for Oxford University Press, was The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (interview here).

Now for the same publisher he is out with a book in a different series--OUP's Very Short Introductions, in this case Orthodox Christianity: A Very Short Introduction. I dare say that if I were a priest running an inquirer's class or something similar, this would be a very easy book for me to assign: brief, cogently argued, affordable, and written by a superlative historian who doesn't mess around.

In September it was time to sit down with George Demacopoulos to discuss his new book, Colonizing Christianity: Greek and Latin Religious Identity in the Era of the Fourth Crusade It usefully and insightfully brings post-colonial theory to bear on the Fourth Crusade in particular, shedding light on the various dynamics, including the historiographical.

November opened with an interview with Carrie Frederick Frost, whom I was delighted to be able to meet and have dinner with at IOTA all the way back in January now. She is the author of the new book Maternal Body: A Theology of Incarnation from the Christian East.

Shortly thereafter I was able to talk to Christiaan Kappes about his second major blockbuster book blowing up so many faulty ideas and received nostrums (in both East and West) about the epiclesis, the Council of Florence, and perhaps especially Mark of Ephesus: The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence. I do not think I am being brash in predicting that this is the sort of book people will look back on in half a century and say of it--as we still say of Dvornik's book on Photius--that this was the treatment that righted and "rehabilitated" Mark in the eyes of those who had elevated and traduced him for apologetic purposes in both East and West respectively.

Finally, just at the beginning of this month I was able to talk with Pia Sophia Chaudhari about her deeply fascinating and very welcome study, Dynamis of Healing: Patristic Theology and the Psyche. If I'm allowed to highlight one of these books as singular, it would be hers. For while all the others rightly and importantly challenge one to think differently--about cosmology, councils and crusades, about liturgy and the like--hers is a book that moves one to pray differently too. It rightly takes its place as the most important and sophisticated theological engagement of depth psychology yet undertaken by an Eastern Christian.

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