Staff Pick

The aim of Garry Wills’s powerful little book, What the Qur’an Meant (Viking, $25), is to teach readers about the real Islam as it is laid out in the Qur’an. “Living with fear is corrosive,” Wills writes. “Ignorance is the natural ally of fear.” He finds beautiful parallels between various canonical writings, as well as some poignant differences.  Many Hebrew prophets appear in the Qur’an, with Abraham figuring prominently as the rebuilder of the Kah-bah shrine in Mecca.  In the Qur’an, Adam and Eve are both tempted together. But Eve is unnamed, as are all other women, with one exception: Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Qur’an considers Moses and Jesus to be the two most important prophets prior to Muhammad, who stresses peace between the three faiths as well as obedience to one God.  It is Allah who works through all of them. Conversely, Jihad is found nowhere in the Qur’an and the word Shariah appears only once, in reference to Muhammad following Allah’s path. This is a scholarly but thoroughly absorbing book which will make an unusual gift for anyone seeking new ways to revive their faith over the holiday season.

What the Qur'an Meant: And Why It Matters Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101981023
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Viking - October 3rd, 2017

Staff Pick
Raised Modern Orthodox, Mirvis saw the religion as “more than what we believed—it was the enclosing walls of the house, its sheltering roof, its steadfast foundations.” So when she left both her husband and Orthodoxy, Mirvis felt homeless. She’d lost her identity and had nothing to ground her. She was shunned by former friends. In this honest, painful memoir,  Mirvis recounts  how she’d lived for years by the rules of “don’t say what you really think. Don’t name what you really feel,”  and how, little by little, she did speak and feel things her religion didn’t sanction.  Her rebellion started small—driving on the Sabbath. Eating non- kosher pizza. Writing novels not entirely flattering to the Orthodox community. With each new transgression Mirvis felt she was  punching small “air holes” in the box she was trapped in. When she finally broke out—she was terrified. With so much internalized guilt, she expected harsh judgment, and the echo of The Book of Revelation in her title is likely intended.  Instead of doom, however, she slowly found freedom, and her memoir is a beautifully written account of how she left one world and established herself in another—one where Orthodoxy is “a place I visit but where I no longer live.”
The Book of Separation: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9780544520523
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - September 19th, 2017

Staff Pick

We go to religion to discover why we are born, why we die, why we suffer—and to find out if there’s anything after. The record of different approaches to these mysteries, from animism to myths to monotheism, is the ongoing quest Richard Holloway traces in his engaging A Little History of Religion (Yale, $25).The seventh in Yale’s series of brief overviews of complex subjects, this was inspired by E.H. Gombrich’s 1935 A Little History of the World and is designed for both adults and younger readers. Holloway’s focus on etymology, for instance, gives a solid introduction to terms like apocalypse, karma, and ecumenical, while also clearing these tenets of accumulated and misleading assumptions. As a former Bishop of Edinburgh who resigned after fourteen years of growing doubts, Holloway is familiar with both the allure and the elusiveness of spiritual fulfillment. “You don’t have to believe or accept any of this,” he says, “but if you want to understand religion, you have to get your mind into its way of thinking.” Religion’s way is artistic and interpretive; grounded in stories, symbols, and ritual, it deals in emotional truths. In Holloway’s even-handed treatment, each different faith is like one of the blind men describing an elephant in the Jain tale: they get at best an accurate, but incomplete picture of the whole. The problem isn’t the partial vision, but a faith’s failure to understand that it is partial, and Holloway laments religion’s tendency to make itself the “strange god” people worship instead of the divinity it claims to represent. But if some sects calcify, fresh ones keep rising, as if religion itself is caught in a cycle of death and rebirth, always hoping finally to get it right and reach Nirvana.

A Little History of Religion (Little Histories) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780300208832
Availability: Out of Print in This Format
Published: Yale University Press - September 27th, 2016

A Little History of Religion (Little Histories) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780300228816
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Yale University Press - September 5th, 2017