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James W. Watts and Yohan Yoo (eds.). Books as Bodies and as Sacred Beings.

The volume, edited by James W. Watts and Yohan Hoo, is a thought-provoking addition to our discipline as it expands the study on sacred texts by looking at them attaining the status of bodies, as well as body practices that merge with the materiality and immateriality of texts. Watts is a professor of religion who has focused on the rituals that surround scriptures. Many of the chapters are grounded on the three dimensions of sacred texts proposed by Watts himself: semantic, expressive or performative, and iconic. The first one refers to textual interpretation; the second to how a text gets materialized through the body by being read, memorized, sung or acted; while the last one refers to the material form and visual appearance of a text. 

Christopher N. Phillips, The Hymnal: A Reading History

Phillips divides the book into three sites of social reading: the church, the school, and the home, primarily in English society of the 18th and 19th Century. The church was a place of social identity where hymns were sung. James Martineau, a British Unitarian compiler and hymnist, recorded in his hymn book the dates that hymns were sung. In schools, the hymn book was a way of teaching reading to children. The hymn, “When I Can Read My Title Clear” was one of the most popular family hymns that helped children to read (106). The home was the place of the “private hymnbook” (185). A title such as Hymns for Mothers and Children traveled from one family to another because of its large size and many illustrations. Today, we would probably call this a coffee table book. Phillips points out that his chapters may be read separately or chronologically to give a sense of history. ☛ ☞

Pier Mattia Tommasino, The Venetian Qur’an: A Renaissance Companion to Islam

Published in the Material Texts series of the University of Pennsylvania Press, Pier Mattia Tommasino’s The Venetial Qur’an is an exemplary work of textual scholarship and a fascinating exploration of the political, religious, and literary milieu of sixteenth-century Italy. Remarkable both for its impressive erudition and refreshing readability, this monograph delves into the history of the (presumably) first translation of the Qur’an from Arabic into a European vernacular language. ☛ ☞