Quick Looks at Books

Here are a few quick descriptions of books I have read recently. Some of these were read before I began the Morris Chair, but they are books which I have revisited and books worth a look!

TIme Out of Mind, by Jane Lapotaire Original Sin - A Cultural History
Abraham's Curse The Brontes

Time Out of Mind

by Jane Lapotaire

I first became acquainted with Jane Lapotaire when I watched the 1983 BBC production of “Macbeth,” wherein she starred as Lady Macbeth alongside Nicol Williamson. Her performance was sensual, visceral, and seductive; her madness and final decompensation as believable as any descent into hell I have witnessed on stage or on film.

I actually picked up and read this book some time ago, but the brain hemorrhage Ms. Lapotaire endured–and survived–is probably her greatest achievement to date. She writes about the awful feelings of incomprehension, the new awareness of her mind’s terrible trauma, and her reawakening to life in a way that makes any paltry issues I am dealing with pale by comparison. Think you have problems? Read Ms. Lapotaire’s story and you will look at life with a whole new appreciation.

Original Sin: A Cultural History

by Alan Jacobs

I purchased this after checking it out of the library because it is truly a book that needs to be reviewed and reread. Having grown up with the notion of original sin–a mainstay of Catholicism–I have frequently harbored concerns about the view of humanity that this presents. Are we all, in fact, tainted by a primal weakness inherited from our first parents and thus in need of redemption? This book is a work of scholarship that addresses the evil that men do and examines the possible explanations: are we, in fact, inclined to sin because of the sin of our parents? Or are we, as some teach, basically good and made evil by circumstances? Does the fault lie in the stars, or in ourselves? This book examines the responses that derive from the various answers to these questions, and makes a convincing case for our essential inclination to evil–whether it’s due to some parental flaw that passes on like a case of pre-natal HIV, or whether it’s “in our genes.” Thought provoking and well worth discussing.

Abraham’s Curse: The Roots of Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

by Bruce Chilton

The story of how Abraham could, without question, pack up his son, firewood and a knife and march out to sacrifice Isaac has always bothered me. A test? This book examines the story from Genesis, and an analogous story from the Koran; and the fact that it prefigures the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (who, like Isaac, carried the wood himself). The impact of this story in our history, in which we continue to sacrifice our young on the altar of Democracy, is a work of scholarship that is well-written and easily understood even by non-scholars. This is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the primal urge to sacrifice, and how much of what we have taken from the story may have been a mis-interpretation: one that has cost millions their lives. Highly recommended.

The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of Three Sisters, by Juliet Barker (Pegasus, 2012, 1184 pages).

If you loved Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, you may have sought information about the young women who wrote them. Search no more. Juliet Barker, an Oxford Ph.D. and former curator of the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England has written what is probably a definitive, 1100 page book about the dysfunctional Bronte family. The parson, the alcoholic brother Branwell, Emily, Charlotte, and Anne lived out their lives in a setting almost as bleak as the heath that Cathy and Heathcliff wandered. Most biographical writings have heretofore focused on one of the sisters; this book examines the whole tragic family dynamic, from which would spring two very gifted and avant garde writers. This scholarly book is only for the ardent, however. Also, it is not new. It is a rehash of Barker’s The Brontes, a 1000 plus page book that first appeared in 1994. A reviewer on Amazon referred to the earlier book as “Long, somewhat ponderous, but informative.” Pretty well sums it up. But if you want one book in your collection that will suffice for just about anything you or anyone would want to know about the reclusive Bronte sisters, this is the one.

Note: Another movie version of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights has just come out. See my posting of July 26 concerning this latest adaptation.

Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris

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