|Jan/Feb 2004 Book Reviews|
E. Brooks Holifield. Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War.
Yale University Press, 2003; 616 pp.
Yale pulls no punches on this tome's opening flyleaf by calling it "The most comprehensive survey of early American Christian theology ever written." And if it's indeed a "survey," it most certainly is. But the key work here is "comprehensive": in over 600 pages of small print, complete with eye-popping endnotes (hundreds of them) and a huge and thorough index, Holifield has written a book so all-encompassing that it is the complete study in itself for almost anybody, even seminarians.
Divided into three sections, which are sub-divided into chapters that each focus, both broadly and then specifically, on major figures, events, ideas and denominations in American theology, Holifield is expertly professional and unbiased in his scholarly treatment of each and all. This kind of writing will seem stolid, boring and tedious to those with no especial interest in the big picture—but if you read the chapter on, for example, your denomination, or one which deals with concerns prominent in a specific period (into Shaker furniture, for example? The History of Slavery in America? Transcendentalist Literature?) you will be sated, thrilled, astounded.
As a professor, I would never assign a book on such a large scale for a class, but I would encourage students to read the Introduction and the Afterword, and focus on a specific aspect for a paper. The same holds true for the "general" reader, although in this case, I use "general" to refer to those who have academic backgrounds and/or interests anyway, and have read a good deal of religion and history.
A full-length review by a specialist in one of these areas would certainly do this book more credit than I can, being neither. However, having read it, I've learned a great many things about a great many subjects—and not just theology, and not just American history, either. While this or any such work by its very nature cannot really be said to be "definitive," Theology in America is as close as it comes to being just that. This is a phenomenal, astounding, breathtaking display of scholarship, and henceforth no one can write on the topics on which it deals without making reference to it.
Doug Tanoury. The Selected Poetry Chapbooks Online.
As Eclectica is an online journal, we obviously feel that literature that appears online should be taken on its own merits, just as literature in print form. As such, mention is made on occasion in these Review pages to sites that include work worthy of it, and while I wish it had a shorter mnemonic (if it does, we'll find out and post it), Doug Tanoury's collections of poetry chapbooks deserve mention.
For years, Tanoury, a native of the Detroit area, has been active in publishing both his own and others' poems in a classy, well-designed online format. The present citation links to Tanoury's own work, and there's a good deal of it: chapbooks on this site alone. But the work is strong, and that's why we mention it.
As far back as 1998, I was asked by an interviewer from the Raleigh News & Observer if I felt online work was somehow inherently less valuable than its print counterpart. My response, then as now, is that the crap on the Net is crap in direct proportion to the crap that's always been out there anyway, which is most of it. Okay?
And whether or not Doug Tanoury's poetry, or poetry in general is your particular Mug of Beer, it's solid, good on its own terms: below every chapbook's artful veneer is a restless pulsing, the life-force of a different lyricism. Sometimes spare while elsewhere fervent and evocative, Tanoury's is an individual voice born of a finely tuned poetic sensibility. While space simply doesn't allow us excerpts and further elaboration, the volumes are available with Adobe as pdf files. Check 'em out. And they're free. And I'm all for it.
Barry Mauer. Paris Museum. Fantasy Life.
Goldentone Records, 2003
In a period in which fewer and fewer original music CDs are produced and/or purchased, those with such merit that they might be discussed as poetry have become even rarer. So when I returned home from a short vacation to find two of the most vital Indie discs I've heard in years waiting for me in my overflowing mailbox, I rejoiced: first that I had them in my possession, and second (related to the first) that these projects had been brought to fruition at all. And when people ask the inevitable question, "What kind of music do you like to listen to," from now on, I'll just tell them that it's that of Barry Mauer.
You probably haven't heard of his music, unless you're in Minneapolis or Orlando or otherwise just especially hip. Yet Mauer has finally gotten 'round to recording and putting out two collections of songs he's been playing for several or more years—and the recordings are excellently produced (by Rob McGregor) and executed, whether it's just Barry and his guitar or with his band, Look Here Sister, with kudos to David Gehler's excellent lead guitar in both places.
When you hear a Barry Mauer record, you'll hear something that feels familiar, like an old friend's homosexual caress. I mean YOU, of course, not me—what *I* hear is a gift package of clever quotes and parodies from everybody and everything from early Rockabilly to punk, coupled with expert and original instrumentation and a friendly voice.
What that voice is saying, however, is not necessarily friendly, although it MIGHT be. Mauer's lyrics could and probably have been called "meta-ironic": he achieves real poignance by obvertly subversive means. This is not easy. The late Beatles did it, the Velvets did it, the Femmes tried it and Wilco sometimes succeeds at it.
Barry Mauer almost ALWAYS succeeds at it. It's funny, sad, joyous and absurd all at once. It's catchy and it's the soundtrack to a movie you see all around you, every day. Oh, you wanted me to quote some lyrics? See—part of the reason this poetry is as effective as it is, is that like the very EARLIEST poetry, it's sung, which adds dimension and texture to its overall intention. Plus, I have the flu, I'm tired, this is Briefly Noted, and I think you should hear it yourself.
Or at least have the chance to. Eclectica is, as a magazine, what its name implies—and as Reviews Editor, the most credible thing I can do is turn you on to some really eclectic stuff you might not have otherwise heard of. And I'm doing it. There's a URL up there, folks, and I strongly encourage you to look into it.
But I've heard the discs and the words on them, and I give them the All-Around-Thumbs-Up. Not that Barry Mauer needs MY help—he's, y'know, BARRY MAUER! Okay?
So visit him online, drop him one, and ask him for a listen. He too hopes you have a Happy New Year.
Or at least he might.