The December issue of This Rock magazine was specifically devoted to book reviews and articles about Catholic publishing. Just what I needed, recommendations for even more books to buy and read. My drivers license photo shows me reading a book so that other would be able to properly identify the half face peering over the book. Regardless one article by Todd M. Aglialoro who is the editor of Sophia Institute Press intrigued me. He was referring to all of the books that get sent in to them and the process for selecting what they hope to be good sellers. Also talked about are the cases where they thought they had a real good book, but the sales never really took off. He referred specifically to a book by Dwight Longenecker called Adventures in Orthodoxy that they felt would do very well and were disappointed at it’s sales. The cover of the book has an Indiana Jones like figure and the title is done similar to the title of Raiders of the Lost Ark. They mentioned that next time around they might give it a different title and or cover since they have had success with this tactic before. Now I had seen this book in the Catholic bookshops before and the cover and title appealed to me though I didn’t pick it up then. So because of what they said about this book in the article I bought it and have just finished reading it.
Adventures in Orthodoxy is both a fun and informative read as it is a Chestertonian romp through the Creed. This book is written as excitedly as orthodoxy should be truly be seen. It is no dry tome of the history of the Creed or a specifically theologically analysis of it. He acknowledges much to G.K. Chesterton and takes some of Chesterton’s paradoxes as a guide to to the Apostles creed. The world view that the Creed is looked at is by Chesterton’s statement “any scene, such as a landscape, can sometimes be more clearly and freshly seen if it is seen upside down.” Mr. Longenecker certainly takes a fresh approach and upside down look at much of the creed and it is an exciting and thought provoking ride as you see elements of the Creed in a new light. This look at the Creed also reminds me of Chesterton’s example in Orthodoxy of a man who gets on a ship and leaves his country. The man returns unaware that he has returned to his native land and thinking it a foreign land sees it as if it was for the very first time. Seeing the Creed though Dwight Longenecker’s eyes is also to see it as new for the first time.
Each chapter of the book starts of with a small segment of the Creed and a Chapter title that makes you wonder what you are in store for in the following pages. One passage towards the beginning I especially enjoyed.
The more tasteful religious executives have efficiently excised the awkward bits, such as a judgmental God, fantastic miracles and eternal damnation, and kept the nice bits such as angels, being good, and making the world a better place.
In doing so, they have watered down the wind and tamed the lion. They have taken a religion worth dying for and made it not worth getting out of bed for.
In the section on the Creed “… born of the Virgin Mary” he says.
You might imagine that such total innocence and goodness would make Mary a sort of Galilean wonderwoman. It’s true that her innocence wa extraordinary, but it was also very ordinary. That is to say that while it was momentous, it didn’t seem remarkable at the time. There is a curious twist to real goodness. It’s summed up by the observation that what is natural isn’t unusual. If a person is really good, he is humble; and if he is humble; he is simply who he should be. There is nothing about him that calls attention to him. Truly good people blend in. They are at home with themselves, and no one is out of place when they are at home. In the same way Mary wasn’t noticed in Nazareth. Because she was natural, she was perfectly ordinary. Therefore, she was both as marvelous and unremarkable as a morning in May.
I truly enjoyed this book and will give it the highest praise that I seldom give books. That is that I am sure to read it again since one reading is not enough to extract all that it has to say. I have another book of Mr. Longenecker’s called St. Benedict and St. Therese: The Little Rule & the Little Way which is now going to be move upward in my book queque on my bookshelf.
As a side note I am happy to see that Catholic writer and blogger Kathryn Lively has been doing book reviews for This Rock magazine. It seems more and more I am seeing names from Catholic blogdom in Catholic magazines. They even let Catholic Ragemonkey Fr. Shane Tharp out long enough for a good guest column in the latest Crisis Magazine.
I totally agree. I have been pushing Adventures in Orthodoxy for a long time. Somehow Dwight Longenecker manages to convey that feeling of exhilaration and excitement of just discovering uncharted territories … you can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner.
St. Benedict and St. Therese is also really thought provoking and I have been meaning to reread it during Lent (except I think I’m going to be sidetracked by Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen). It does not have the “excitement” factor but works in a different way to make you aware of the challenges of being a soldier of God … which is exciting in its own way.
I think placement would do far more for sales than changing the title or cover. If I had seen this book in the bookstore, I would have bought it.
My opinion, for what it’s worth, on the cover/title is this: at first glance, it looks like a parody, not a legitimate theological work. The “Adventures in” hearkens not only to Indiana Jones, but also those campy 1950s serials. When it is followed by “Orthodoxy”, it resonates as if in opposition, something akin to a cowbell and a violin being played simultaneously.
My first gut reaction, if I had to try to put it into words, would be that Orthodoxy commands a sense of respect and dignity, while “Adventures in” seems to detract from that. Now I’m not being rigorist here–consiously I have no problem with the title or the artwork. But in selling a book, or at least getting someone to pick it up, it’s the unconscious reaction that counts.
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