Paul on Baptism by Nicholas Taylor (SCM Press, £19.99). Subtitled “Theology, Mission and Ministry in Context”, this thoughtful study examines St Paul’s theology of baptism and reflects on its practical application today. The author, an academic and Scottish Episcopalian clergyman, writes that his book is “born of experience both as a New Testament scholar and as a Christian minister”. Among the subjects Taylor covers are household baptism, infant baptism and the baptism of the dead. He hopes that the teaching and practice of baptism will become “a more powerful force in bringing about God’s saving purpose in the world”.
Sister Sebastian’s Library by Phil Whitaker (Salt Publishing, £8.99). This novel about two sisters addresses the permanent themes of relationships, loyalty and trust. As one sister, Bridie, leaves her secular Catholic life to become a nun in Africa, and her sister Elodie sets out to look for her when she goes missing, the reader learns of Elodie’s own journey of self-discovery. As she concludes on her return flight: “Down there, somewhere, were human beings doing things out of hatred; many others doing things out of love. And most, like Bridie and her, contending with the mess and muddle that lies between.”
4321 by Paul Auster (Faber and Faber, £20). In the 1980s a new Paul Auster novel was always something of an event. Later novels have been disappointing but now, having turned 70, Auster has written his longest and most complex book. It’s an old-fashioned type of novel, a 19th-century Bildungsroman about growing up in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. What makes it different is that Auster looks at four other possible lives for his protagonist, musing on how chance alters our life’s trajectory. Full of wonderful detail, this is a nostalgic look back on everything that’s been lost, both personally and politically.
A Long Run in Short Shorts by Mary Medlicott (storyworks.org.uk, £8.50). This is a delightful little book, written by a professional storyteller from a Welsh background, which invites the reader to ponder the stories that have given shape and significance to their lives. The author includes references to her personal life and the difficulties she has surmounted – including bouts of serious ill health – as well as humorous anecdotes about the people she has met in the course of her work. Coincidence plays a large part in these narratives, with its implicit suggestion that there is more to life than meets the eye.
Our Israeli Diary by Antonia Fraser (OneWorld, £9.99). Recently unearthed by its author when cleaning out a cupboard, this diary covers a first visit to Israel by the famous literary couple, who stayed at the artists’ colony Mishkenot in May 1978. The diary, typed up daily on a portable typewriter “while Harold had his shower”, alludes to the fraught politics of the country and personalities such as Shimon Peres and Menachem Begin, but doesn’t expand on them. The reader senses Harold Pinter’s tetchiness and his somewhat ambivalent attitude towards his Jewish roots.
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