Thursday, December 31, 2009

RALPHIES 2009 - another best-of-the-year varia post, inspired by Ed Cook, who posts his sixth annual Ralphies here. For past PaleoJudaica Ralphies for 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, follow the links.

These are my favorite items of the year. Your results may differ.

BEST FICTION BOOK: No contest here. Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Published in 2008 but I read most of it in 2009 (my son gave it to me for Christmas 2008). A parallel universe in which, after a technological holocaust and other disasters, nerds are kept in secular low-tech monasteries to prevent knowledge from advancing too fast. Naturally that means that they just discover more dangerous knowledge in even weirder ways. Then something happens to cause the world to really really need their knowledge ... A demanding book that assumes a working knowledge of physics and the history of Western philosophy (all of which is replicated with a completely parallel history and terminology) but well worth the effort. I can't remember ever enjoying an SF novel more. It entered the NYT hardback bestseller list as number one in September of 2008.

I should also note that one of my favorite authors, Stephen R. Donaldson (writer of, inter alia, the Thomas Covenant series - see my 2005 and 2007 Ralphies above) received an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Andrews in 2009. My laureation address, given at the ceremony, is transcribed here.

BEST NONFICTION BOOK: I started some very good nonfiction tomes in 2009, but didn't finish them. Maybe I'll be able to report on one or two of them next year.

BEST SCHOLARLY BOOK: Once again, I didn't get to read nearly as many technical books as I should have or wanted to. I did read some good ones though. I'll settle on the best as Bill Rebiger and Peter Schäfer, Sefer ha-Razim I und II. Das Buch der Geheimnisse I und II: Band 1: Edition (TSAJ 125; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009). I'm reviewing this for the SOTS Booklist, so I'll keep my comments brief. Sefer ha-Razim (Sepher HaRazim) is the most important Jewish magic handbook from antiquity and it is foundational to the later Jewish magical tradition. Rebiger and Schäfer have produced a stunningly executed new edition full of new data. (Observant readers will recall that I only got a copy a little over a week ago, so this glowing note may seem premature. But Schäfer and Rebiger kindly gave me page proofs of much of the manuscript for my work on a translation of the text for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project when I was on research leave in 2008. So I have worked closely with the book for some months and my comments are carefully considered.)

Honorable mention goes to Hartmut Stegemann (late and lamented), Eileen Schuller, and Carol Newsom, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, vol. XL Qumran Cave 1.III: 1QHodayota with incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f (Oxford: Clarendon, 2009), the final volume in the DJD seires.

(By the way, I step down as Head of the School of Divinity, Dean of the Faculty of Divinity, and Principal of St. Mary's College in February of 2010, after a little over three years total (not counting the semester of research leave) in post. It was an interesting experience and I learned a lot, and I think I led the School in good directions, but I'll be glad to be able to go back to spending more time on my research and teaching.)

BEST MOVIE: I spent even less time in the cinema in 2009 than in previous years and nothing that I saw particularly impressed me. I'll pass this year.

BEST TELEVISION SERIES: My vote would have to go to FlashForward. The novel by Robert J. Sawyer had a good concept, but the series actually sharpens it by making the gap between the present and the visions of the future only six months (rather than 21 years) and introducing other complexities not found in the book. Good acting and scripts too (not to be taken for granted these days). After 10 episodes, so far so good. I look forward to the rest of the season in 2010.

I was very sorry that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was canceled last year. (The movie Terminator Four had some good concepts but sacrificed their development with way too much CGI.) Likewise, I'm sorry for the recent canceling of Dollhouse, which has really picked up as it speeds toward its imminent conclusion. But Ashes to Ashes, which had a weak first season in 2008 picked up in 2009 and I quite enjoyed it. My favorite television moment of 2009 was the concluding topsy-turvy and maddeningly multivalent seconds of the 2009 season of Ashes to Ashes. Bolly seems to have her work cut out for her in season three.

BEST MUSIC: I listened to almost no new music in 2009. But in lieu of that, I'll leave you with a recent parody of the in-itself over-the-top 1980s video for Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart. The parody had a very strong viral presence this year. I don't know if it's the funniest video on YouTube, but it's certainly the funniest one I've seen.

Best wishes for a most excellent 2010!