Teresa of Avila edited by Peter Tyler and Edward Howells (Routledge £85). St Teresa of Avila’s capacity to fascinate scholars shows no signs of flagging and in this book we learn a great deal about the sources of Teresa’s thought and spirituality, her immediate influence on Christian theology, and the ways in which her vision continues to inspire and provoke debate. Fascinating as it is to learn more about Teresa and Augustine, or Teresa’s contribution to thought on the Eucharist, however, special mention must be made of the chapters by current members of Teresa’s order who can speak better than anyone about the Carmelite charism in the 21st century.
Clerical Households in Late Medieval Italy by Robin Cossar (Harvard University Press, £40). The notion of 14th-century Italian priests with concubines and illegitimate children immediately has one reaching for phrases such as “moral laxity”. Cossar’s extraordinarily well-researched volume certainly reveals how such clerics were breaking the rules. But it also explores the often very stable households they oversaw. Cossar’s analysis of this “hybrid” state between the lay and clerical realms is a major contribution to the history of the family and of late medieval Church reform.
Tragic Shores by Thomas H Cook (Quercus, £20). Suitably subtitled “A Memoir of Dark Travel”, crime novelist Cook’s non-fiction volume is certainly one of the strangest travel books you’re ever likely to read, but also one of the most moving. Cook, with wife and daughter in tow, travelled to the world’s various sites of atrocity, horror, suffering and salvation. From Auschwitz to Lourdes, Father Damian to Gilles de Rais, Cook writes with a tender precision about how witnessing history’s evil can make us better people. This is a stunning and revelatory book that will haunt you for months to come.
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje (Picador, £8.99). A welcome reissue of what is perhaps Ondaatje’s best novel, a lyrical almost phantasmagorical parable shot through with scintillating prose and dark intimations. Set in 1920s Toronto, the novel is part coming-of-age tale and part poetic meditation on cities and space. Written in limpid yet hallucinatory prose, In the Skin of a Lion is one of those novels that engulfs you in its magical world. For fans of Ondaatje’s subsequent book, The English Patient, there’s the first appearance of two of its main characters in this novel. Highly recommended.
Your Brain is a Time Machine by Dean Buonomano (Norton, £17.99). Time is perhaps the most mysterious subject of scientific exploration. Does time even exist or is it just a framing device for our experiences? Buonomano, a neuroscience professor at UCLA, starts to unpack our commonly held beliefs and then looks at the problem of why it is that we experience time when physics and scientific experiments keep telling us that time does not exist. An important, wide-ranging and thought-provoking journey.
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