Dating Books

A lovely piece from Wes Hill:

One of the pleasures of recording on the inside cover of a book the date you finished reading it—I’ve been doing that now for over a decade—is that, when you return to it, you can instantly imagine yourself back in time. When I recently opened Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for instance, to start it again, I was surprised to find “June 2004” scribbled on the flyleaf. That was the month after I graduated from college, and seeing that date enabled me to recall some fascinating juxtapositions.

That summer I had also read The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays, a tour of the various canonical voices and a proposal about how their harmonies may be received in contemporary ethical discourse. Hays’s book seemed an appropriate choice because I’d spent the last two years poring over thousands of pages of New Testament scholarship written by Hays’s good friend and comrade-in-arms N. T. Wright, who was then the bishop of Durham. (Hays and Wright see many issues in the same light, and their voices complement one another well, though not to the extent that they simply blend.) In the most recent of Wright’s books that I’d read at the time, Jesus and the Victory of God, Wright gives his interpretation of the so-called historical Jesus. He finishes with “The Return of the King,” a section whose title, Wright tells his readers, is an homage to J. R. R. Tolkien—another author I’d been reading in 2004, having finished The Lord of the Rings for the third time in January of that year.

This confluence of authors—Tolkien, Wright, and Rowling (the last one I’d forgotten about until I glanced at my handwriting in Sorcerer’s Stone)—goes a long way, I think, toward explaining the appeal that Wright’s theology had for me in those days. Having loved the dramatic sweep of Tolkien’s narrative, and having caught a glimpse of a derivative (but no less delightful) arc in Rowling’s tales, I was primed to embrace a biblical theology like Wright’s, whose major buzzwords were “story,” “narrative,” and the associated terms of literary analysis.