This feature (for now in the custody of sarah.of.a.lesser.god) is our way of sharing those book titles, both fiction and nonfiction, that have been standouts in recent reading, and hopefully getting some from our readers in return. The focus is primarily, but not necessarily exclusively, on books concerning women and feminism, and/or written by female authors.
My Pick: Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary by Miri Rubin. This was just published earlier this year, and I spent the past week reading it. Rubin does a terrific job illuminating the earliest writings and polemics surrounding the Virgin Mary, then tracing the history of Mary’s significance up until about 1600 C.E. One thing that Rubin does not explicitly mention, but that I certainly noticed, was that — surprise! — almost all these scholarly tracts on Mary were written by men. Rubin is refreshingly aware of how gender norms and misogyny have affected views of Mary, whether she’s noting that “Images of Mary are always affected by contemporary ideals of female beauty,” or quoting anti-Marian screeds that say Jesus had to be defiled by being carried in a woman’s “polluted” womb. Mother of God also contains excerpts of the writings of women like Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth-century German nun who wrote famed musical compositions celebrating Mary, something that I found particularly interesting in terms of how Hildegard played the story of Mary off that of Eve. The featured illustrations are gorgeous and occasionally heartbreaking, particularly the work of 20th century American artist Delilah Montoya, who illustrates how Mary was used as a powerful instrument to spread Christianity throughout Central America and reminds the viewer of “the historical context of oppression and violence.” Above all, the book is a terrific study of how Mary’s role in Christianity served to bring the importance of a woman’s “purity” to new heights.
So, having put in my two cents, what is everyone else reading and recommending these days? And what was the best book you read all year?