Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew by Bart D. Ehrman

Well, this one sat on the nightstand for a long time, but it’s actually a really accessible book on the subject of Gnostic Christianities, although I must say for an outstanding introduction to Gnostic Christianity, someone would be best off to begin with Elaine Pagels’ most excellent, The Gnostic Gospels. However, Ehrman’s book is very readable and he takes time to explain unfamiliar concepts within the text in a very comprehensible way. For example, he explains that docetism “. . . was the view that Jesus was not really a flesh-and-blood human but only “appeared” to be so (the Greek word for “appear” or “seem” is doceo, hence the terms docetic/docetism).” He examines the earliest forms of Christianity and provides a compelling lineage of Christian philosophy from its Jewish roots through the development of the orthodox Christian philosophies. I especially enjoyed learning about Christian Ebionites and the Marcionites, two groups I had never heard of prior to reading this book, and even more interesting was the war of texts between the Gnostic Christians and the Orthodox Christians to establish Christian doctrine.

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The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Every once in awhile I find a book that puts me into a quandary.  Do I keep reading, discovering what’s around the next corner (or page as the case may be), or do I ration it out, chapter by chapter, prolonging the enjoyment?  This book caused me just such a dilemma.  Margaret Lea,  an unassuming,  intellectual young woman, receives a letter from the reclusive and mysterious author Vida Winters, and is summoned to her remote estate.  It seems Miss Winters is finally ready to tell her life story, and she has chosen Margaret be her biographer.  Little by little, the story is revealed with a cast of characters reminiscent of a Bronte novel and, in fact, there are many references to Jane Eyre within The Thirteenth Tale.  Characters include the master of the house, Charlie, driven mad with incestuous passion for his sister, the impetuous and free spirited Isabelle, the feral twins Emmeline and Adeline, bookish Margaret who has her own secrets, eccentric Miss Winters, and an abandoned baby boy, Aurelius.  The crumbling house itself, Angelfield, is also a major character in the book, along with its ghosts.  The story reminded me of a C. S. Lewis quote, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  Highly recommended.

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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Moving can have very real benefits such as when I opened a box of long forgotten books and rediscovered Geek Love.  From the moment that Olympia Binewski opens her tale all the way to the twisted end, I could not put this book down, not the first time I read it, nor the second time, nor for what is now the third time.  Olympia (Oly) is a hunchback albino dwarf, one of the more “untalented” children born of “Crystal Lil” and Al Binewski, who in an effort to revive Binewski’s Fabulon, create their own family of freaks with the aid of illicit drugs and other questionable means.  Arturo the Aquaboy and Elly and Iffy the Siamese twins are the real stars of the show, but it is Oly who tells a profane familial tale of Shakespearian envy, greed, love, and murder with such stark honesty that this story will ratchet itself into your brain and not let go. The horrors that Oly exhibits for us aren’t about the revulsion of being a side-show freak; instead she shows us how the dreadful ramifications of our actions can bring about a downfall, even when those actions are committed in the name of love.  This one is high on my list of all time favorite novels.

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