Saturday, 2 June 2012

State of the project - how hard is it to write a book?

Seeing the Psalter - the Cover (a fractal
for the tree of Psalm 1
and the ice and snow of Psalms 147-148
I knew it was hard to write a book. I have 'finished' it. These past 15 days [Update: proofing and correction continued for 7 more months.] I have been proofing my work, making sure that when I said verse 5 I meant verse 5 and not 6 or 4. But 250,000 words is a lot of proofing and I scarce can say how many errors remain or how many more months the pot must simmer.Delivery to the publisher will be [and was achieved] on Aug 31, 2012. (I almost wrote 1012, perhaps allowing me to identify with Ethelred the Unready.)

I compared the proposal I made for support for my project to the University of Victoria, Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, in January 2011. You would scarcely know that the author of that chapter on Psalm 8 was the same person writing today. It really is astonishing to me how the design, the approach, the translation, the notes, and the content have changed in 18 months. Yet in comparing the chapter with the chapter today, I found a sentence that was incomplete - the remnant of a thought where perhaps I was interrupted for some reason. Today's technology makes slaves of us and introduces classes of error that would not happen with pen and paper. I can scarcely name the many classes of error I have corrected. (And of course, I need other eyes to tell me what errors remain that I have not yet seen!)

But what do I have? I have the book I wanted to teach me the poetry of the Psalms in their original language. I have a complete English-Hebrew and Hebrew-English glossary for all the words in the psalms including their root forms. I could have bought one, I suppose, but this is one I developed from seeds.

Anyway, I am going to rest next week - or something. My wife has edited my English in Book 1. I hope she has time to finish her critiques this summer [she did and so also did the publisher]. And there are 10 readers out there, though 95% of the feedback to me so far has been Diana's or my own. But the very fact that there are readers makes me read differently. And some have been very encouraging, laughing where they should laugh, making me focus where I must focus, and asking - how did you do this? - we want to know the technique.

  • 526 pages, 55 of these are index, in 7 parts: 1 Torah, 2 Prophets, 3 Writings, 4 New Testament, 5 Names, 6 Themes, 7 Other, and glossary (Hebrew English and English Hebrew for every word in the psalms with references).
  • 150 chapters + about 20 excursus and summary / intro sections. 
  • There are introductions for 
    • Technique, 
    • for each Book of the Psalter, 
    • and Excursus on things like Acrostics, 
    • Paired consecutive psalms, 
    • Hell (for the enemies of course), 
    • On the Good, 
    • An allegory of Love, 
    • Foxes (or Jackals if you prefer), 
    • Vengeance, 
    • Music,  and
    • Inscriptions. 
  • many brief summaries of the story in sequence, designed to help memorization,
  • a structural overview for the Psalter as a book, 
  • and acknowledgements - including UVIC CSRS of course, Oxford 2010, St Andrews 2006, (and some of you, dear readers and teachers and bloggers from the last 10 years)
  • and a brief bibliography.
  • Each chapter (from 1 to 20 pages depending on the length of the psalm, mostly 2 or 3) has 
    • Very readable Hebrew-English text side by side. If you are learning Hebrew this is a marvellous way to read. The English is to raise questions, not to be definitive or speculative  about answers. You can have your favourite translation or commentary nearby to help raise more questions.
    • Word count and percentage word recurrence for each psalm.
    • Brief notes by verse, sometimes many, sometimes none, including the relationship of the text to the NT or to TNK, particularly to other writings like Job, the Song, Lamentations, and Qohelet, (and my favourite prophet, Jonah) or to other Psalms, Torah and Prophets based on word usage.
    • Tables of the patterns of word usage, always one, sometimes many, sometimes comparing psalm with psalm or even a whole group of psalms.
    • Extended notes interpreting the tables and briefly noting the point of view for each section. Here is where I have tried to focus on the text and not on confession or opinion.
    • Some personal comment (limited).
I have laid out in part how I have done my close reading. As R. Jonathan Magonet says, read with a set of coloured pencils. But here is how to read a poem and construct a relatively objective table of its internal structure from the point of view of word usage.
As you read the poem (in Hebrew of course), for each word, decide what the root word is. As soon as you see a repeating root, make a column for that root. Number the column and write the root also as column header. At the end of the poem, you will have a table with as many columns as there are repeating roots. Then read the poem again to fill in each row with the word and verse and mark the relative place in the poem with an X as you fill in each column in sequence.
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