This past summer, I read a lot of literature related to Jonathan Edwards and the history of the book. But I also read some books in the broad category of American religious history that have no connection with my current research projects. Here are some of the highlights:
On the subject of Jonathan Edwards, I recently finished Philip Gura's Jonathan Edwards: America's Evangelical. I decided to take a break about halfway through Susan Stinson's new historical fiction account of the Great Awakening, A Spider in a Tree, and read Gura's biography. If you have read George's Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life, you may not think that there is anything more to say about Edwards's life. At least that is what I thought, before beginning Gura's biography, but I quickly changed my mind. He tells the story of Edwards's life with such elegance and clarity that it feels like you are reading a good novel. And even though I know a lot about this period in history and Edwards, I marveled at Gura's insight on such publications as Religious Affections (1746). I did have a few quibbles, however, with aspects of the book. Gura, for instance, describes Sarah Edwards's ecstatic experience in 1742 as her "conversion" (pp. 106-7), which, of course, is not the accurate term since she experienced conversion much earlier as a child. There is also Gura's suggestion that Sarah Edwards might have been infatuated with the visiting preacher Samuel Buell while her husband was away preaching at the town of Leicester (p. 106). But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan Edwards: America's Evangelical and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read a breezy biography of Edwards.
In the history of the book category, I greatly benefited from Julia Miller's Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings. This is an amazing book for people interested in early book bindings. I can't tell you how much I learned about the surprisingly numerous bindings that have been used since the Gutenberg Press. I found myself rushing to look at the antiquarian books that I own, to study the specific bindings on these books with fresh eyes. A major benefit of Miller's monograph are the color photographs that she includes as well as the separate dvd that comes with the book, providing a vivid list and description of all the images described by her.
Another helpful title on the material aspect of the book that I read is Philip Gaskell's A New Introduction to Bibliography. Have you ever wondered how to tell the difference between a folio, quarto, octavo, or duodecimo size? Gaskell explains such topics as well as the nuts and bolts of how books are put together, and the overall history of book production during the past centuries.
Besides the books related to my current research projects, I also found time for some "fun" reading, including Nancy Koester's Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life. Stowe, of course, gained national attention for her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, but there is much more to her life than her literary contribution to the abolitionist movement. Stowe grew up as a Beecher, the daughter of one of the most prominent ministers in New England (Lyman Beecher), and the sister of "the most famous man in America," Henry Ward Beecher and education innovator, Catharine Beecher. Reading Koester's biography helped me understand the type of Christianity that Stowe adopted. Koester explains Stowe's move away from her father's Calvinism towards High Anglicanism, and, later in life, Spiritism, as she tries to make a connection with her deceased son.