Books

Briefly noted

Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey (DLT, £9.99). Subtitled Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, this candid and humorous book explores the common experience of feeling that nothing is “quite right” and that “nothing is where it belongs any more”. Bessey, a Canadian, married with four young children, uses incidents, setbacks and lessons from her own life to reflect on how faith interacts with normal human vicissitudes and moments of grace. Having rediscovered her faith as an adult, she recognises she had to “build a bonfire in my own backyard and throw a few cherished beliefs and opinions right into the flames.”

The Little Book of Advent by Canon Arthur Howells (William Collins, £4.99). Canon Howells, a retired priest of the Church of Wales, has put together a collection of reflections for every day of Advent. They are culled from many sources, including Henri Nouwen, Timothy Radcliffe, Delia Smith and Justin Welby. A particularly moving excerpt comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and member of the Confessing Church, who was hanged by the Nazis in 1945. He writes with profound hope: “For a Christian, there is nothing peculiarly difficult about Christmas in a prison cell.”

What Are We Waiting For? by Richard Leonard (Alban Books, £6.99). The author, a well-known Australian Jesuit and writer, has written a timely series of reflections on Advent and Christmas, reminding us of the spiritual significance of the season. Written for the general reader and including many personal anecdotes to illustrate his themes, Fr Leonard provides a useful tool for readers who want guidance in navigating this part of the liturgical year. Christian joy, he reminds us, is about “knowing where we have come from, why we are here and where we are going. That should put a spring in our step.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley by Jacqueline Mulhallen (Pluto Press, £12.99). Shelley is destined to be remembered for his poem of impotent empire, “Ozymandias”, and for his wife Mary, who wrote Frankenstein; but there is a lot more to the poet as this fine book demonstrates. Mulhallen is mainly interested in Shelley’s politics, which were often at the forefront of his poetry, and tended towards the revolutionary. Shelley was angered by the exploitation of the poor and oppressed, and disgusted by the corruption of power and cruelty of empire. His poetry was seen as dangerous, seditious and blasphemous at the time.

The Witches by Stacy Schiff (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £20). The story of the Salem Witch trials is well known, mainly through Arthur Miller’s enduring play, The Crucible. Schiff is a bestselling historian and winner of a Pulitzer Prize. She has spent years digging deep into archives and oral history to produce a new history of the trials of Salem in 1692. Using feminist theory, ideas about power and representation and the legal issues of the time, Schiff draws some interesting
parallels with modern times.