Books

I mentioned last week that I havenʼt thought in print about what I have been reading lately. So I will do so today. As if anyone is actually interested. I have been indulging in a lot of nonfiction.

First off, I still dabble in the fascinating (and well written) Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by María Rosa Menocal, which I originally picked up at Borders in St. Charles, Illinois, back on March 14 and have mentioned a couple of times on this forum already. I have been reading it not so much because its message is so perfectly apropos in these hysterically Hitlerian paranoid days. (Did everyone hear about how, over the past weekend, Rightist-inspired arsonists attacked, predictably really, the Murpheesboro, TN, new mosque site? And I was supposed to feel abashed at lumping fundamentalist maniacs of every religious stripe together, huh? I hit that bigoted and partisan nail directly on the vacant cabeza.)

I did actually buy Menocalʼs book as research for the Judah-and-Søren story(-ies). I read two more chapters over the weekend, encompassing Sephardic Golden Age Hebrew poets (Samuel ha-Nagid in particular), Ibn Hazm and the origins of the medieval Cult of Love, and Andalusian qiyan (and their “ring-songs”) as the stimulative influence on troubador music and poetry. As a history fan of that period and of courtly love in general (via Arthuriana, Dante, Joseph Campbell — the second and fourth books of The Masks of God [“Amor” versus “Roma”] — and Denis de Rougemontʼs Love in the Western World), I was amused to connect back to familiar things to me (although having read about the Islamic influence on European rhyming verse and Sufi poetry on courtly love, I did vaguely realize the importance of al-Andalus already).

Thanks to her book, however, I may even have finally pinned down the era in which the two swordsmen live — as my sister Margaret had suggested a long time back, the taifa age after the fall of Cordoba. I have deeply enjoyed reading this book when I pick it up, which is very pleasant as I really only purchased it as a reference, to learn about the time and place in which I wanted to set my sword-and-sorcery adventures.

On the other hand, recent mosque nonsense has gotten me interested in information versus propaganda (particularly the insanely paranoid and terrifying ravings of the Fundie haters that permeate the Web). I think I mentioned that I used some Borders bucks to buy a 1934 translation with notes of the Qurʼan, and I have been reading it (along with, more particularly, a reorganized Penguin Books edition I had purchased in 1980). I have been amused and interested to check citations from other books against the Qurʼan (and against “the Koran,” although I mostly have just been reading that book), and to get the translator/annotatorʼs insights on passages and translations into English. It is fun (as my brother Paul learned way back in high school), even when you donʼt know a language (as I do not know Arabic, not even recollecting how to recognize Coca-Cola in Arabic nowadays, which I once learned while we were in Morocco), to compare translatorsʼ versions. For Paul that early scholarship has worked into his theological/Biblical studies becoming a Methodist minister. For me, it is still intriguing.

A few weeks earlier, poking through the cutout/discontinued books displayed at the Dubuque Borders (I really do shop at Barnes & Noble, too, just not so much recently, I guess — no trips to Cedar Rapids or Davenport), I found the large-format, softcover book, The Complete Illustrated Guide to Islam by Raana Bokhari and Dr. Mohammed Seddon (which at the time seemed possible for at least some background on al-Andalus/Sepharad-or-Sefarad and which now provides a reasonable tonic to the web delerium that has so provoked me the past two Fridays). Although only less than a third of the way into it, I have been learning (and clarifying) a lot. Its two-page spread format makes for easy reading now and then when I decide to pick up the book and peruse for a half hour. Every two open pages is one essay on a particular topic (i.e. the childhood of the Prophet, “Marriage to Khadijah” or “Applying Hadith”), with the book organized mostly chronologically but with chapters on beliefs, practices, life in the ummah and other issues/topics. Having covered chapter one, “Muhammad: Man and Prophet,” I am tackling “The History of Islam” next, including one single spread on Islamic al-Andalus (and from what I have read already, I am going to need a lot of supporting research to reach some understanding).

I have also gone to my ancient Time-Life series, picking out the Early Islam volume from the Great Ages of Man. Last Friday and Saturday, I read chapter one and the subsequent photo essay on the Life (and Legends) of Muhammad as verification and further reading on what I gleaned from the Bokhari/Seddon book up to then. Reading it made me check other T-L series, and I have pulled out What Life Was Like in the Lands of the Prophet and Crescent Booksʼ The Moors (probably the most on target for Søren and Judah) to read soon.

Lest the shade of my departed mother think I am now contemplating a recitation of the shahada (“la ilaha illa Allah; Muhammad rasul Allah” — “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet” — or “Messenger” as Bokhari/Seddon would have it; or click the link to see the various Wikipedia translations) instead of the conversion to Judaism she once feared back in the late Seventies/early Eighties, I have also been reading other books (and magazines and websites). I acquired Giles Sparrowʼs The Stargazerʼs Handbook from the cutouts, and I was skimming in that (love the pictures!) on some afternoons, although it hasnʼt been the source for my astrophotos illustrating the various pieces of Stars in Heaven. I also brought out the Norton Annotated edition of The Waste Land on a whim two weekends back to reread the poem and dip into some of the critical essays. The new Smithsonian still has a couple of articles I want to finish, as does Archaeology (which, along with Time, I have to renew now). I also have had The White Goddess out again, having worked through the first two chapters back in March.

Furthermore, I have been reading some fiction. First, having been inspired by the TV series that weʼve been watching Sunday nights, I am on chapter five in I, Claudius by Robert Graves (yeah, he keeps cropping up in this blog). I started Samuel R. Delanyʼs Nova, but then switched to his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, which is about half done, set aside for the spate of Islamic nonfiction briefly/sometimes. Leiberʼs Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are still in the stack by my bedside (I have moved on to Swords Against Wizardry, rereading the very fine “Stardock” so far), and Iʼve still got The Dain Curse to reread out of the complete Hammett. Plus Fred Hoyleʼs Ossianʼs Ride sits in my interior vest pocket for entertainment, if necessary, when I am out and about — just about half reread or a bit more. But maybe I will discuss the fiction some other time.

N.B. All my own scans today, and although begun and mostly written on Monday, I slated it for today to complement the previous Friday rants…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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