Garrett Stewart, The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2006).
The process of looking at a picture has been compared to the reading of literature ever since Antiquity. Too often, however, we speak of "reading" an image without further reflection on the implications of the phrase. Beautifully illustrated and admirably written, this expansive essay looks at a genre too easily taken for granted, yet of fundamental importance for the history of literature as well as the history of art: the figured reader. It goes still farther in looking at the many ways in which reading as a metaphor figures in our readings of pictures of all kinds, from still-life images of books to depictions of reading and, not least, what Stewart calls "lexigraphs," images in which the reader is exiled, but in which the figure of reading remains present. A wonderful book for anyone who likes looking at pictures and reflecting on what they see.
Susan Gubar, Judas: A Biography (New York: Norton, 2008).
To recommend a book on Judas may hardly seem in the spirit of Christmas, yet Gubar's account of the life and afterlife of Christianity's essential villain, in addition to charting the course of a central figure in the history of anti-Semitism, documents how he serves as a figure of inalienable aspects of the human condition such as betrayal, fraility, and even forgiveness. In images as well as numerous Latin lives, the Middle Ages painted Judas in unspeakably ugly terms, identifying him with figures as far-fetched as Moses and Oedipus, yet Gubar's broadly-gaugued study of attitudes towards evil and the divine looks far beyond his place in the history of Christianity to consider his continuing ambivalent presence in art, literature and thought today.
Hildegard Elisabeth Keller, Die Stunde des Hundes: Auf dem mystischen
Weg zu Gott. Ein H├Ârbuch nach Heinrich Seuses 'Exemplar'. Z├╝rich (vdf
Today we think of reading primarily as a silent, solitary activity, yet, as this audio book reminds us, there is nothing like the living presence of another voice. In a subtle, seductive combination of modern and medieval German, brought to life by several voices to the accompaniment of music, the three CD's in this beautifully produced companion to the writings of the Rhenish mystic, Heinrich Seuse (ca. 1295-1366) guide the listener along the mystical path traced in the Dominican writer's Exemplar. Accompanied by a substantial booklet that, in addition to reproducing the miniatures in the late fifteenth-century copy of the text in Einsiedeln (Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 710), provides an introduction to the historical context in which the text took shape, this innovative, imaginative reworking of a classic of medieval spirituality brings Seuse up-to-date without sentimentality or gratuitous anachronism.
Jan M. Ziolkowski, Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval
Latin Past of Wonderful Lies (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007).
Who doesn't love a fairy tale? Jan Ziolkowski's book tells a tale of its own, about the medieval precursors of those stories we call fairy tales. A history of an important chapter in modern philology, this pre-history of a modern genre reminds us of the deep roots of things we take too easily for granted with enormous verve and impressive learning. In addition to which, it includes adept translations of some really good stories. Entertainment and erudition between two covers!
Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book (New York: Harper Collins, 2008).
How can a scholar resist a novel dedicated to librarians? In tracing the imaginary history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the great masterpieces of Hebrew manuscript illumination, from its origins to its modern-day survival through a series of wars and conflicts, this book - at once a gripping detective story, romance, and meditation on loss and destruction - offers a compelling and moving act of historical imagination and restoration.