August 22nd, 2011

church

August Books 21) Early Christian Lives, ed. Carolinne White

Six biographies of important figures in early monatsticism - Athanasius' life of Anthony, three short biographies by Jerome, Sulpicius Severus' life of Martin of Tours and Gregory the Great's life of Benedict. They all live holy lives and perform many miracles (often involving expelling demons from the possessed). Arians and other heretics are at least as bothersome as the pagan authorities (and more so after the early fourth century). Devils take on physical form and wrestle with our heroes. I had come across some of this material in Gibbon (who hates monks and all they stand for) but it was interesting to see it in its own context.

I do find it striking that the Christian tradition links spiritual excellence so closely with self-denial. I know that this is the case for some others as well - the heroes of the Ramayana are forever performing feats of asceticism - but now that I have read Rumi, it is pretty clear to me that this is a policy choice rather than a necessity for spirituality. Christianity missed out by not balancing the ascetic school with institutionalised pleasure.
rebus

August Books 23) The Naming of the Dead, by Ian Rankin

This is a particularly good book in the Rebus series. Rebus and Siobhan Clarke find themselves investigating an apparent serial killer and a dead junior government minister in the week of the 2005 G8 summit and the 7/7 bomb attacks in London; very often when mystery writers try to fold real life events into their novels they fail, but this works brilliantly, as Rankin takes us to meet well-meaning protestors, dodgy defence contractors, obstructive special branch officers and a local politician on the make, combining it with a final twist reminiscent of Agatha Christie except frankly rather better executed. I am getting a bit tired of Cafferty always turning up, but otherwise this is very strongly recommended.
ireland

August Books 24) Jewels of the Sun, by Nora Roberts

I got hold of this because for some reason I had got the impression that it belonged on my list of sf and fantasy books set in Ireland. But apart from a couple of friendly ghosts, this is basically a bog-standard romance where the American heroine realises that her destiny is to drop her independent academic career and marry the sexy Irishman so that she can be a barmaid in his pub. Of course, he has to ask her very nicely first. Not really recommended.