Anthology focuses on courtship through many lenses

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“Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar” lets us listen in at a symposium of thinkers from the Western and the Jewish traditions as they ponder the best way to get from love to marriage.

Editors Amy A. and Leon R. Kass, who are professors at the University of Chicago and have been married for more than 50 years, want us to understand one thing from the get-go: Marriage is not a breeze.

To end up married one must go through stages of preparation and testing — generically known as courtship. This process is so difficult that for most of human history, no couple attempted it except with the help and approval of the culture around them. The form of courtship was handed down by tradition. It could be a marriage contract between parents, or a Saturday-night date, but whatever it was, the rules were known.

These days, the rules are not so well-known. To help fill the gap, the Kasses offer us a guide with the thoughts of philosophers, clergy, authors and anthropologists on the subject of courtship. The book is an outgrowth of a course the Kasses have taught together for many years. Leon Kass, a bioethicist, headed President Bush’s advisory panel on stem-cell research. Amy Kass lectures in humanities.

To consider courtship, one must consider what love is and what marriage is. One must consider the reasons to get married and the best methods to achieve the goal. One must look ahead to married life and inevitably, one must ask, “What about sex?”

The Kasses have sections on all these topics. One need not read the book straight through; it’s meant to dip into and flip through the pages. You can read the Song of Songs and then skip to Shakespeare’s sonnets, or compare a love letter of Benjamin Franklin to one by an obscure Civil War soldier. Works of Aristotle, Rousseau and Robert Frost are all present.

But while the writers often disagree, they all agree on one thing: Courtship is good work and marriage is a good goal.

Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying” edited by Amy A. and Leon R. Kass (636 pages, University of Notre Dame Press, $15).