Sketchy Bible study with a self-indulgent, frisky class.

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54 WRITERS AND ARTISTS WRESTLE WITH THE TORAH

Some young writers and artists offer, to varying effect, their original takes on traditional study of the Hebrew Bible.

The Torah, the Jewish Holy Scripture, is composed of The Five Books of Moses. It is divided into 54 segments from Genesis through Deuteronomy; for millennia, it has been read in sequence and studied assiduously each week of the Jewish calendar. That continuing scholarship is fundamental to the religion in all its forms. Bennett, the co-founder of the Jewish organization Reboot, enlists 54 writers, most with day jobs in the media/showbiz world, for comment on each particular portion. "Consider this...as a book of unorthodox Divrei Torah," he writes, "offered up in the spirit of the rabbinical assertion that there are infinite interpretations of the Torah and that everyone who stood at Mount Sinai saw a 'different face' of the text." Unfortunately, the exercise in casual exegesis doesn’t equal the sum of its parts. The amateur theologians, undeniably talented in other venues, demonstrate that biblical hermeneutics is a special calling, one not usually using sophomoric shtick, no matter how sincere. Each portion begins with a summary of the original narrative—most entertaining, perhaps, for newcomers to the Old Testament—followed by contributions of short stories, dramas, comedies, graphic novellas, poems, monologues, photos, memoirs, riffs, takes and bits. The humor often comes in the format of a script for a show unlikely to be seen anywhere. Certainly, there are a few short stories that might stand alone and some heartfelt kernels in all the chaff. But what may be aimed at a market for lightweight gift books contains scant insight and less teaching. Among others, some of the big-name contributors include Aimee Bender, Rebecca Dana, Joshua Foer, Adam Mansbach, Sloane Crosley, Sam Lipsyte, Ben Greenman, A.J. Jacobs and Dana Shapiro.

Sketchy Bible study with a self-indulgent, frisky class.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7611-6919-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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