Of Many Things

All things are relative, as they say. With the domestic fuel supply dwindling and neither the president nor OPEC budging from the status quo, we have been told to expect at least a $2 per gallon automobile gas price by June. But then, as a local radio commentator remarked recently, just imagine the cost if our vehicle required a different kind of fuelsay, Tropicana orange juice ($7-8 per gallon) or our favorite cologne ($25-$50 for a few ounces!).

In reflecting on the book scene for spring, on the sheer number of titles and quantities of each being printed, I couldn’t help wonder how many trees it takes to make all that paper, a lot of it wasted paper at that. But an alternative fuel to making a book hum has finally presented itself: the stand alone e-book. A 66-page novella by Stephen King was published in mid-March (Simon & Schuster) via the Internet only. The two largest online bookstores reported selling (for just $2.50) or giving away well over a quarter-million copies within the early hours of its publication. I don’t understand all the technology, but the process of downloading can take upwards of an hour (got a tangible thriller to read while you’re waiting?).

Question: Does this signal a trend? Many publishers hope so. I don’t. Which confronts me with an ethical-ecological dilemma (I like trees). Anyway, some paper was put to very good use in producing this season’s books. You’ll read about several of them in this issue, as well as others in coming issues. In this space I wish simply to call your attention to a few others.

The big news on the Catholic book scene for spring is the publication of the (long-time-coming) Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (United States Catholic Conference, $24.95 hardcover, $14.95 paperback). It is especially big news for Our Sunday Visitor Books, which has been designated by the U.S.C.C. as the primary trade distributor. (This arrangement represents a departure from the first trade edition of the catechism, which had several Catholic co-publishers supplied directly by the U.S.C.C.) I’ve learned, though, former co-publishers are ordering copies from O.S.V. and will be able to provide the catechism to their own readers.

According to the press release, the second edition incorporates all the final modifications made in the official Latin text and includes a more extensive analytical index and a new glossary of terms, as well as Pope John Paul II’s decree promulgating the official Latin text. It’s also 100 pages longer and costs $5 less than the original edition. Significant textual changes (reflecting the way teachings were explained) deal with the death penalty, organ transplants and homosexuality, among others topics.

Other books on the spring horizon offer an excellent and thoughtful combination of religious commentary, theology, spirituality and other subject areas. Among those I have been reading with great personal satisfaction are these: Politics, Religion, and the Common Good: Advancing a Distinctly American Conversation About Religion’s Role in Our Shared Life by Martin Marty (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 240p, $22.50); Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope by Jonathan Kozol (Crown Publishers, 400p, $25); The Journey: A Pilgrim in the Lands of the Spirit by Alister McGrath (Doubleday, 160p, $17.95); and Reconciling Faith and Reason: Apologists, Evangelists, and Theologians in a Divided Church by Thomas P. Rausch, S.J. (Liturgical Press, 144p, price not set). These are definitely trees worth befriending.

Still, until more publishers’ engines are fueled by books derived from recycled paper or a yet-to-be-invented synthetic materialor are limited to electronic form (perish the thought!)may trees forgive us. I’m sure Henry David Thoreau would agree with such a sentiment, as these lines from his Tuesday (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers) suggest: This poor globe, how it must itch in many places! Will no god be kind enough to spread a salve of birches over its sores?

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