A Gimmick

When I am reading a book and for a variable amount of time after, it’s everpresent in my head.  Not just what I’ve read thus far, but the entire book if it’s a reread.  And the entire series as I know it for books connected to others.  And sure, I can use a refresher now and then…but not nearly as much as you might think in many cases.  I have a good memory for details, which is not a bad thing.  Most of the time.

However, today I have plans that will work best if I can keep my head clear of any books, or even any movies or series that would bring a flood of miscellaneous and unnecessary information into my waking mind.  Which, I thought, would mean I couldn’t read a thing until this evening.  However, as I was wandering around trying to occupy myself, my eye fell upon the perfect sort of book for today.

This is The Brick Testament: Stories from the Book of Genesis by Brendan Powell Smith.  If you’re unfamiliar with this book or its website, let me break it down plainly.  This is a book of bible stories as told with photos of Legos.  The text is straight-up from some English translation of the bible (not sure which offhand because I don’t study this in depth) and all Smith has done is create Lego sets and scenes and photograph them.  It’s a very silly concept.

I picked this book up several years ago in the MCA gift shop.  That’s the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is right near Water Tower Place and the Magnificent Mile in Chicago.  Not a particularly large museum, but certainly a quality place to visit.  They tend to have more creative modern works than the Art Institute of Chicago, and feature artists who push the boundaries of art further.  More of their gallery space is devoted to rotating exhibits than the Art Institute, with a fairly small display of their permanent collection.  I’ve seen some brilliant and horrifying pieces there, and some truly ingenious installations.  And their gift shop, like that of any good art musuem, is eclectic.

Most of the time when I’m in a gift shop, I’ll buy something.  It’s just how I am.  I do try to make sure it’s something worth spending my money on, and sometimes I will say “look, this is just too much money” and pass.  So, spending $15 on a hardcover, if silly, book circa 2005 wasn’t the worst decision I ever made.  Even though it’s mostly to own a silly thing than because I love Legos or really needed another copy of highlights from Genesis.

Let’s be real, I have two Torah scrolls – a dinky one that I got from kindergarten consecration in Sunday school and an eighteen inch one from the b’nai mitzvah tour of Israel I was on in 2000 – and a Plaut.  That last one is a nice, big hardcover copy of the Torah that includes the Hebrew text (with trope, for chanting), the conventional English translation, and commentary.  On every page.  Not to mention a fair bit of other supplementary text for each parshat (weekly portion) and book (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  Although I could be really dorky and refer to all the books by their Hebrew names; Beresheet (don’t talk to me about spelling, transliteration means “however you think you should spell it in a diferent alphabet”), Shemot, Vayikra, Bemidbar, and Devarim.  There’s also Haftarah in here, which is poetry reflecting on the text, and pretty much means that this book is all you need to prepare for a Torah service…minus the standard prayer book but you know what I mean.  I think.  Look, I have a half shelf that is all prayer books and Torah and other miscellaneous religious things.  I know a bit more about my religion than some, but I’m no expert.

Anyway, The Brick Testament.  It’s literally just ten stories from Beresheet.  I’d say ten of the most famous, but I feel like Genesis in particular is the most famous portion of the text, and people are far more familiar with it than Deuteronomy, for example.  Rereading it today, I’m not a huge fan of the fact that Smith chose to use the exact translation he laid his hands on (remember, the Bible was translated into multiple languages before reaching English) instead of adapting the text to be less formal and more comfortable for his audience.  Sure, part of my dislike is the fact that fifteen years ago, gender and sexuality issues were not as big a part of people’s consciousness, and so there would seem to be less reason to adapt the text to be less unkind to women.  But I just feel like someone who would think to create a version of the Bible with Legos would be more on the fringes of society and therefore more open and empathetic?  Well, that’s what I want to think, but I do know that is a naive hope.

Overall, it’s a cute idea, but didn’t go far enough to become more than just a gimmick.


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