Monday, August 31, 2015

Mudhouse Sabbath

Mudhouse Sabbath

An Invitation To A Life Of Spiritual Discipline - Study Edition

By Lauren F. Winner

Published by Paraclete Press, August 2015

Although I have the audio-book of the first edition of Mudhouse Sabbath, I was delighted to have the chance to review this expanded study version courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

Lauren Winner was born into an Orthodox Jewish family and converted to Christianity as an adult, revelling and delighting in her new spiritual home, yet missing many of the observances of Orthodox Judaism which punctuated every day with rituals designed to bring the presence of God closely to mind. Her life has changed substantially since the first edition and she is now an Episcopal priest as well as having gained her Ph.D, and there are new insights in this new edition as well as extensive discussion questions/statements at the end of each chapter.

The book deals with some fascinating topics, discussing how both faiths have affected her feelings, knowledge and understanding, and how in many respects she finds that they complement each other. Christianity can certainly draw more deeply on its Jewish roots without compromising doctrinal orthodoxy, in her opinion.

Starting with the different ways Christians and Jews experience and celebrate the Sabbath,  she covers the meaning of keeping Kosher and fasting, mourning traditions, the obligation of hospitality, the practices of prayer and candle-lighting, the body and aging, marriage and mezuzot, thoughtfully describing, analysing and outlining her thoughts and beliefs in a clear and incisive manner.

 I have several books about Judaism, but this one is unique in its approach, engaging and enjoyable, and have no doubt I will be referring to it regularly.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Living Well with Chronic Illness

Living Well with Chronic Illness
By Joanna J. Charnas
Published by MSI Press,LLC, August 2015

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is never easy; being told you have a disease which will affect you long-term - and possibly for the rest of your life  - can be a real body blow. This book is designed to help with the acceptance of such news and motivate you to make the very best use of the resources that are available in order to take the greatest possible care of your emotional and mental health as well as your physical health. It covers all sorts of topics, including protecting your close personal relationships and maintaining intimacy, accepting your new limitations in daily living  and finding new ways to have fun and enjoy life, as well as exploring complementary medicine to enhance mainstream medical treatments.

Many of the suggestions may seem obvious, but it is all too easy, when stressed, anxious and drained,  to forget how truly essential it is to stay well-hydrated and well-nourished, to get into a proper sleep pattern, to ask for help and to plan ahead to minimise the stress and difficulties that a really bad day can cause you. Family and friends need to be aware, to know how best to help and support you and it is an extremely good idea to join a support group for whichever illness you have, to find out how others manage to maintain their lives as normally as possible in the face of  sometimes very heavy odds indeed.

Although geared towards the American health and benefit systems, this book still has a great deal to offer readers in other countries too, and I found it to be an excellent little primer on living *with* your illness, rather than letting your illness control you.

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Looking Rather Than Reading

My copy of Terry Pratchett's final novel, The Shepherd's Crown, arrived on the same day as my copy of the new Chris Ryan military thriller, Hellfire. I still have not read either, and not simply because of the size of my book pile or the timescale demands of books I have been given to review. Hellfire will require me to adopt a mindset which is at odds with the way I feel at the moment.

I knew that I would find it hard to motivate myself to read the new TP, however much I love his books and the magnificent Discworld he created for our enjoyment, and I knew exactly why. To get to the last page of the last book he ever wrote will be an acknowledgement of the fact that part of my life has changed irrevocably.

 No longer will I be scanning the internet to see what his new book will be called, or when it will be published, or wondering which of the main characters it will revolve around. Would it be Rincewind, Tiffany Aching, the Witches, Sam Vimes or the Patrician? What new technology will be inflicted on Discworld? And once I get to the last page, I am immediately wondering what the next book will be about....

And there's the rub. There will be no "next" book :-(

That is why I have looked at it, greatly admired the cover, read the blurb on the back, opened a page at random and read a single sentence - before carefully closing the book, stroking the cover, smiling wistfully and putting it on the top of my "To Read" heap, where I can see it each time I walk through the dining room to the kitchen.

Looking, rather than reading.

 I'm not ready to close that chapter of my life just yet.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Georgian Menagerie

The Georgian Menagerie: 
Exotic Animals In Eighteenth-Century London
By Christopher Plumb,
I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, August 2015

I have vague recollections of reading about a collection of exotic animals kept at the Tower of London in one of Miss Heyer's Regency novels,  (I believe it was Mr Chawleigh taking Lydia Deveril  to see them in "A Civil Contract") but I had absolutely no idea that  in reality, the Georgians took their interest in exotic animals to quite inordinate lengths. 

Christopher Plumb has painstakingly collated references to exotica ranging from canaries to lions, rhinoceroses and just about everything in between, covering those owned by individuals and organisations, from a single animal or bird to zoological collections. He describes how they were kept as pets, or used for entertainment, food, medicinal resources, sport, science experiments and research.

 Interest in these animals was widespread across all social classes; even the working classes could in time hope to afford a singing canary and as for the wealthy, well, wherever in the world English ships could sail, expeditions could be mounted to capture and import increasingly rare and unusual creatures. Highly collectable creatures were sought after and obtained by any means possible, both legal and illegal.

Sadly, many animals and birds did not survive for long, being fed, housed and treated in inappropriate places and ways, and it makes for sobering reading to think that not much has changed in the ways that humans still so often treat wildlife in the intervening years.  The undercurrent of sadness this book produced means that I cannot in all fairness categorise it as entirely enjoyable to read, but it certainly is a fascinating, informative and enlightening book indeed.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Grammar Of God

The Grammar Of God

By Aviya Kushner

Spiegel & Grau/Random House, August 2015

Aviya Kushner is an Orthodox Jew who loves language, poetry, literature and history, and has used her original Master's thesis on how the languages used affect the Biblical text to produce a remarkable book which is the product of a decade's work. She has read, spoken out loud, learned and loved a variety of translations, finding out just how Biblical translation has affected Jews and Christians alike  - and continues to influence us - right up to the present day.

It's not just the simple act of translating words, concepts and ideas; even the very rhythm, rhyme and resonance of the original Hebrew can affect the way it is understood. Ironically, when translators inserted punctuation where there was very little in the original Hebrew, yet another layer of obscurity was added to the sacred text rather than serving to enhance or enlighten the reader or the auditor. Translation does not convey the cultural or historical detail and understanding of those reading in their native language, and she does her best to give us an insight into how much difference this really does make.

From the Creation to laughter, from the books of the Law to the songs of the Psalms, from travel across Germany to the deepest meanings of scheduled Torah portions, from her family history to education, from her beloved Jewish heritage to her respectful fascination with how Christians view the Bible, this is a book which I found utterly absorbing, from the very first page right through to the last.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Signs of Lancaster County

Signs of Lancaster County
A Photographic Tour of Amish Country
By Tana Reiff
Schiffer Publishing Ltd, June 2015

A slender volume, but filled with so many delightful photos! 
Tana Reiff has photographed just about every type of sign you can imagine: historic plaques, street signs, traffic signs, schoolhouse and church signs, warning signs, signs advertising shops, businesses, food, quilts and farm produce, signs which have been hand-printed, hand-painted, stencilled, commercially produced - all as varied as the people, whether Englisch or Amish, who live and work in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Complete Francis Of Assisi

The Complete Francis of Assisi: His Life, The Complete Writings, and The Little Flowers
Edited, Translated, and Introduced by Jon M. Sweeney
Paraclete Press, August 2015

I vividly remember being enchanted by the stories of St Francis and his followers when I read "The Little Flowers of St Francis" by Brother Ugolino when I was in my early teens but I did not know of any modern biographies about Francis nor of any works written by him, or I would have read those too!

Book One contains the biography by the French Protestant minister Paul Sabatier, originally published in 1894 and edited and annotated by Jon Sweeney for the modern reader.
 The biography actually ended up on the RC church's prohibited book list (the Index Librorum Prohibitorum) the same year it was published, but that did not stop the book being translated into many different languages and becoming a serious bestseller. It is relatively short but crammed full of interest - Sabatier sees Francis as an early forerunner of the Protestant reformers in his zeal for change, and his very real affection for Francis is tempered with a slight scepticism of some of the traditional stories about the Saint. Sweeney's annotations in the sidebars of the text are extremely interesting and helpful.

Book Two contains the essential writings of the Saint, prayers and canticles, monastic rules - including a rule for Third Order lay members -  and a number of letters including one to Brother Anthony of Padua, who became a canonised saint himself.

Book Three contains Sweeney's careful rendering into modern English of the text of  "The Little Flowers Of St Francis", along with an introduction and annotations. It has been re-ordered into a  chronological form and is immensely readable.

Jon Sweeney has produced a great resource by bringing all this together in one substantial volume, which will be of interest to a large audience. There is a good bibliography and suggestions for further reading, and the whole book has been carefully indexed with an excellent table of contents for each of the three parts. This is a superb book which will be eagerly read by all  who venerate St Francis of Assisi.

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