if you came of age in the sixties, as I did, the notion of a Bible issued with the imprimatur of Grove Press may strike you as a bad joke, if not downright blasphemous. In those days of free speech and free love, Grove was known for two things: literary pornography (remember, this was before every Borders and Barnes & Noble outlet offered a generously stocked section of "erotica") and avant-garde literature, most notably the works of Samuel Beckett. (Proustian moment: do you recall the day you proudly shelled out a couple of bucks for your copy of Alain Robbe-Grillet's Jealousy?)
Today Grove is just a name in the corporate maze of Megapublishing, trying to get whatever mileage it can from its history. Hence the mild frisson fiftysomethings will experience when they walk into bookstores this Christmas season and spy a boxed set of a dozen books of the Biblein the King James Versionpublished by Grove Press.
But fiftysomethings presumably aren't the primary target for these volumes, which strive to make the Bible hip (see for example a response to the series in the online magazine Salon.) The project originated in Britain, where the Pocket Canons (as they are called) were published in 1998 by Canongate Books. Each little book came with an introduction by a contemporary writer, and since many of the introducers were far from reverent, the series provoked controversy. It also sold well.
For the American edition, Grove commissioned a new set of introductions. Some of the twelve writers for this first batchcomprising six books from the Old Testament and six from the Neware Christians (Kathleen Norris, for instance, on Revelation); many are not. The books are handsomely designed, with black-and-white photos for cover art and very readable text. They are priced at $2.95 each, $24.95 for the boxed set.
If King James English was good enough for Jesus
So Grove Press has jumped into the niche-Bible business. Why not? Isn't everyone else doing it? Still, you can't help but wish that on the sly, Grove had retained an editor from Tyndale House, say, to vet the introductions for truly egregious errors, such as the howler in the second sentence of the novelist E.L. Doctorow's introduction to Genesis:
The King James Version of The Bible, an early-seventeenth-century translation, seems, by its now venerable diction, to have added a degree of poetic luster to the ancient tales, genealogies, and covenantal events of the original. It is the version preachers quote from who believe in the divinity of the text.
Well, not exactly. The preachers I have heard every Sunday for many years rarely quote from the KJV, but they most assuredly "believe in the divinity of the text," as do several close friends who have given their lives to translating the Bible into languages that lacked a written form before the process of translation began. In short, fundamental differences in belief aside, Doctorow is simply ignorant of the actual use of the Bible in Christian communities.
Similar lapses mar other volumes, but there are also engagements with the heart of Scripture, as in Barry Hannah's potent words on the Gospel According to Mark. And who knows, after all, how many people who end up with one of these little books will even read the introduction? They may simply turn the page, and read, and not stop until they come to the last words. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
John Wilson is Editor of Books & Culture, Christianity Today's sister publication. Books & Culture Corner appears on ChristianityToday.com every Monday. You can read more from Books & Culture atwww.booksandculture.com
Salon had a pretty ridiculous article about the Grove Press Bible last Monday in an article titled, "Second coming | With its hip new edition of the Good Book, Grove Press aims to save the Bible from the fundamentalists."
Read Mordecai Richler's introduction to the "Pocket Canon" Book of Job at Saturday Night's Web site.
Earlier Books & Culture Corner articles:
Everything Old Is on TV | Antiques Roadshow asks, 'What do you want to know today?' By Elesha Coffman
Cockroaches for Jesus | America's most respected newspaper stoops to cartoon history at millennium's end. By John Wilson
1984, 50 Years Later | Stop the spinning, I'm getting dizzy. By John Wilson
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