Book bits

This week: A post-9/11 interfaith dialogue, three books about ancient Rome, and where to find out-of-print books online.

The Faith Club, By Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

After the twin towers fell in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, many New Yorkers yearned to express their compassion. Among these were Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner, authors of The Faith Club.

The three women, a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew, sought each other out in the aftermath of the terrorist attack for the purpose of writing a children's picture book to explain their different faiths in simple terms. But what they ended up with was an interfaith dialogue that spans 19 chapters.

Ranya, a Muslim, feels a deep connection to the divine but eschews a head scarf and isn't at ease in a traditional mosque. Suzanne, a Christian, is active in her church but struggles to embrace neighbors. Priscilla, a Jew, sees her heritage as part of her identity yet questions God's existence and is skeptical about attending temple.

For the first several chapters the traditional stereotypes play themselves out. Priscilla and Suzanne duke it out over Jesus. Suzanne calls Ranya's story of the prophet Muhammad (and later Jesus) going to heaven on a white-winged horse a fairy tale. Ranya and Priscilla debate the Palestinian-Israeli standoff.

As each woman defends her beliefs she must search her own soul. Eventually each grows in her understanding of faith and doubt, life and death, individualism and community. These moments of conviction and real friendship offer tangible hope for a peaceful humanity.

Some Muslim, Christian, and Jewish readers may feel uncomfortable with the way their religions are represented. But the point is that the women were willing to bless a middle ground. In many ways they succeeded. The book ends with instructions on forming your own faith club. At the website (www.thefaithclub.com) readers can participate in interactive questions.

Kendra Nordin

3 books about ancient Rome

The classical world is back in vogue this fall with a number of big book releases. Garnering strong sales almost as soon as it became available last month has been The Aeneid, a new translation of Virgil's masterpiece by Robert Fagle, professor emeritus at Princeton University. Fagle earned acclaim a decade ago for his translation of "The Odyssey."

Another noteworthy title is the new biography Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy, military historian and author of "The Complete Roman Army." Goldsworthy gives a thorough account of Caesar's military accomplishments as well as painting a vivid portrait of both the man and the power-hungry world he inhabited.

From the rubble of Pompeii British historians Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence have fashioned a lively re-creation of this ancient Roman town and its inhabitants. Their new book Pompeii: The Living City relies on archeological evidence, written accounts, and fictional imaginings to give a sense of the commerce, society, and daily life of the town's nearly 30,000 citizens who were killed in the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Sixteen pages of color photos add to the vitality and immediacy of the narrative.

Books online

If you love the treasures found on dusty bookshelves but don't have a grandmother's attic or good used-book store nearby, you might enjoy a virtual browse at www.elephantbooks.com. The site specializes in rare, out-of-print, and used books in 12 categories including children's literature, cooking, mysteries, and fiction.

It meets a need if you're lamenting the passing out of print of an old favorite (the 1975 "Craig Claiborne's Favorites from The New York Times," available for $5), are looking for a hard-to-find item (the New Testament in Welsh, $31.50), or are seeking a collector's item (a first edition, illustrated version of the Jack Kerouac biography "Lonesome Traveler," published in 1960, $86.54).

One disappointment, however, particularly when it comes to children's books, is not to be able to view book covers. For those with a passion for lovely old children's books, try a gander at the catalogs listed on a site like www.loganberrybooks.com.

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