Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, October 7, 2013

on The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography



My “biography” of the Book of Common Prayer is now available and I hope some of you will buy it. It was a great deal of fun to write — though I have to say, I found it extremely challenging to fit an extremely complex story into the relatively brief format of the series.

Speaking of the series, it’s a wonderful one, created by Princeton University Press’s religion editor, Fred Appel. Fred’s terrific idea was simply this: that all books, but in an especially interesting way religious books, have lives: their story really only begins when they appear, and develops over centuries or millennia as readers encounter and respond to them.

The Book of Common Prayer, unlike many other books in the series, constitutes something of a moving target because it has been revised several times and has given birth to prayer books in countries other than England. I have tried to trace some of those ramifying lines of development, though my chief emphasis has been the English book.

I loved working on this book because it gave me the chance to write about so many things that fascinate me: the Anglican tradition of which I have been a part for almost thirty years; the visual, aural, and written forms of worship; ecclesiastical controversy; literary influence and linguistic echoing; and, not least, the history of books and book-making (though I had to confine a good bit of that to an appendix).

And on that last point: this is my third time working with Princeton University Press, and of all the publishers I know they are the most devoted to the craft of bookmaking. The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography is at the very least a very beautiful little book — as were the two Auden editions I have also done for PUP, For the Time Being: A Christian Oratorio and The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue. I own a great many e-books, but these you’ll want to have in paper and boards if at all possible.

One more thing: you might want to check out my tumblelog devoted to the book — it has some lovely images and even a few relevant words.

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