Takeaway: Skip the audio and do this book in print.
Four years ago, I was very favorable toward How (Not) to Be Secular, since then I have read a number of books that have interacted with Charles Taylor, although none of them have attempted what Jamie Smith has attempted here. In How (Not) To Be Secular, Smith is attempting to summarize Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age while at the same time critiquing some of A Secular Age’s weak points. Other very helpful books have talked about broad ideas or using A Secular Age as a jumping off point. In some ways, it is easier to understand Taylor if you do not have to take the full range of ideas and the full development of Taylor’s argument.
After four years and a number of books about Taylor, I have decided that this fall I need to start reading Charles Taylor directly. I have a couple reasons for that, but primarily what I am interested in is Taylor’s work on how we create identity differently in our current world and how faith works in created identity. I am going to be reading Taylor with a strong eye toward how minority (both racial and other) identity works in his system of understanding the world around us.
Charles Taylor is intimidating, and not just because of the page lengths. Too many people that I know, and respect as smarter than I, have talked about how difficult Taylor can be to understand. I picked up How (Not) to Be Secular as a preparation. I tend to change formats with second readings. And because the audiobook of How (Not) to Be Secular was released recently, I picked up the audiobook.
Audiobook is not a format that works well with this book. The narration was fine. But this is a book that is constantly referencing something else, whether Taylor or another author or subject and the constant reference without the visual cues of what is being referenced make comprehension difficult. Also the constant references to pages of A Secular Age, which make sense in print, do not make the same type of sense in audio. There were paragraphs that referenced specific pages number 4 or 5 or maybe even more times, which made the ability to follow the point difficult.
I really do appreciate that Eerdmans has been releasing a number of their books in audiobook format lately. However, so far, none of them have been synced to the kindle edition. The problem with the lack of syncing is that I cannot alternate back and forth easily and I cannot easily find print form of a text if it is difficult to understand in audio. I have no idea how hard it is to sync the audio and kindle versions, but I do hope that Eerdmans and other smaller niche publishers can learn how to do it and see it as a valuable tool for the reader.
I did listen to all of this and it did help me remember parts of the book that I had forgotten. It has not made me more comfortable approaching Taylor directly because it was so hard to understand in audiobook format. But I am going to go ahead with starting with Taylor by picking up one of his older books, Multiculturalism, since it directly addresses one of my questions about Taylors project.
Some of the other books reviewed on Bookwi.se directly about or interacting with Charles Taylor
- Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor
- How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (first reading)
- Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age by Alan Noble
- How to Survive the Apocalypse by Robert Jourstra and Alissa Wilkinson
- Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for the Doubters and Disenchanted by Richard Beck
- You Are What You Love by James KA Smith