Truth be told, I am a slow reader. I suppose this can be a liability for an editor. It certainly makes it difficult to finish books that I pick up for enjoyment or to stay abreast of the scholarship I am interested in. I am questioning my decision, then, to start in on two rather thick books at the same time. I tend to read novels at night and something in biblical studies or theology in the mornings. These are the only times I’ve found to get any personal reading done—after the boys are in bed and before they get up in the morning. A few weeks ago I started reading for intellectual stimulation Francis Watson’s Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (679 pp.) and for entertainment Iain Pears’s An Instance of the Fingerpost (735 pp.). It’s been slow going.
I’m only about a third through Watson’s doorstop. It didn’t take long for me to realize this is an important book. The first part, “The Eclipse of the Fourfold Gospel,” is a thorough introduction to early Gospel studies (from pre-Augustine to the Lessing/Reimarus trajectory). I recommend those first 100+ pages to any and all students of the Gospels. I’m in the middle of Part Two, “Reframing Gospel Origins,” wherein Watson is making the case against Q and will argue for a more literary heritage to Gospel formation. It is not always easy to follow, but on the whole the argument has been convincing. I look forward to the third part (probably in a month or so!), “The Canonical Construct.” Others have completed the book and written helpful reviews. And the publisher has posted a lengthy interview with the author.
I’ve got about a third of Pears’s larger doorstop left. I’ll let Wikipedia summarize the plot for you:
A murder in 17th-century Oxford is related from the contradictory points of view of four of the characters, all of them unreliable narrators. The setting of the novel is 1663, just after the restoration of the monarchy following the English Civil War, when the authority of King Charles II is not yet settled, and conspiracies abound.
Most of the characters are historical figures. Two of the narrators are the mathematician John Wallis and the historian Anthony Wood. Other characters include the philosopher John Locke, the scientists Robert Boyle andRichard Lower, spymaster John Thurloe, and inventor Samuel Morland. The plot is at first centred on the death of Robert Grove but later takes in the conspiracies of John Mordaunt and William Compton (of Compton Wynyates), and the politics of Henry Bennet and Lord Clarendon. Furthermore, the characters that are fictional are nonetheless drawn from real events. The story of Sarah Blundy incorporates that of Anne Greene, while Jack Prestcott is involved in events based on the life of Richard Willis (of the Sealed Knot).
As far as novels go, this one is slower going than most. Pears is an astounding writer. But the story itself and the 17th-century writing style keep the reading at a slower pace. Despite that, I’ve become a Pears fan. I’ll read more of his work, and I recommend this one highly.
It struck me the other day that there is some confluence in my two reads, namely the wrestling with different takes on the same story. It get’s complicated.