Feb 28, 2009

Fool, by Christopher Moore

Brilliant. That one word sums up Fool, a hilarious retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear. Yes, I know - that play isn't known for its humor. But Christopher Moore is, and he lives up to his reputation in this new book. Being the first book I've read by this author, I am duly impressed, and greatly look forward to reading every other book he has written.

Pocket, the eponymous fool, is as witty as I wish I were. Being the king's jester, he is blessed with the ability to say exactly the truth about everybody, no matter whom, without fear of retribution. But when the good King Lear goes mad, all but banishes the only real friends Pocket has, and his two eldest daughters seek to sink their power-hungry teeth into the old coot, Pocket has no choice but to do what no fool has done before: play at politics. And a damn good job he does at it. Accompanied by his tremendously well-endowed, half-witted apprentice, Drool, and a disgraced yet loyal Earl of Kent, Pocket does his best to protect the old king and get his friends back.

The book is bloody and vulgar, despite there being no actual descriptions of sex (shame, that). Without Moore's wit, the book would fall completely flat. As it is, I laughed out loud more than once, and read the whole thing in three days. I cannot wait to get my hands on all of Moore's other books.

The Oxford History of Britain, ed. Kenneth O. Morgan

This book of essays encompasses nearly two millennia of British history, and it does a surprisingly good job. The essays, by necessity, are about 60 pages each, and the length of time covered shrinks with each successive piece. The essays, though old (this particular edition was published in 1988), cover a huge amount of ground without seeming shallow or imprecise. Culture, politics, religion - all are given due consideration, and in the connected, all-encompassing sense in which all historical essays ought to be written.

The only drawback would be the editing. Nearly all of the chapters contain at least a few errors, and one in particular was nearly chopped to death. Entire halves of sentences are missing; one hopes that these problems were resolved in later editions of the book. The errors can become rather distracting, though the essays are good enough to forgive (somewhat), the horrendous editing.

Feb 15, 2009

Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, ed. Edward Peters

This collection of primary sources documenting heresy from early Christian times to the fifteenth century is invaluable for those who are interested in medieval heresy. Peters' introductions are well written, easy to understand, and good analysis and summation of the historiography of the subject. The theme of the book is easy to follow, as it goes chronologically. The pieces Peters selected are (mostly) relevant and worth reading, though, as he notes rather sadly, they are nearly all written by members of the Church, so it is difficult to parse out what might actually have been true and what was common rote on heresiarchs. That said, there are some pieces here that I had never read but that would greatly aid anyone looking at medieval heresy. A great collection, well edited and well selected.