The Godless Gospel by Julian Baggini
Here is a fascinating experiment: strip away the religion and the miraculous from the Christian Gospels and are you left with a practical moral code for living, with Jesus as its teacher? The philosopher Julian Baggini examines such subjects as the renunciation of wealth and the self, family values and sexuality, the law and justice, and finds Christ’s words to be nuanced, sometimes contradictory, often radical. He suggests that as more and more people struggle with the idea of Christ’s divinity, they should recast him as a moral philosopher.
Granta, 291pp, £16.99
The Historians by Eavan Boland
This is the final collection from the renowned Irish poet Eavan Boland, who died in April this year. It is, as came to be expected from Boland, filled with stories of ordinary Irish women, sensitively rendered in her understated verse. In revisiting the otherwise erased experiences of her subjects, Boland asks us to reconfigure our own understanding of the past, though she acknowledges the difficulties of that, too: in “The Barograph” her characters are “unable to understand events,/only the weather/in which they happened”.
Carcanet, 67pp, £10.99
The Last Good Man by Thomas McMullan
Towering over a village in Dartmoor is a wall covered in writing, some of which is awfully violent: accusations of wrongdoing anonymously daubed by villagers who demand punishments. Into this eagle-eyed community enters Duncan Peck, who has travelled from the city after an unnamed apocalypse, in search of his cousin. There, he discovers that no one escapes the whispers of the wall for long. This is a visceral and disquieting debut novel about the power of words, and should be read by anyone who uses the internet.
Bloomsbury, 320pp, £16.99
Crap by Wendy A Woloson
If objects are culture in material form, then those that best represent the way we live now are not the beautiful artefacts likely to find their way into museums, but the mountains of crap littering our homes and languishing in landfill sites: tacky trinkets, novelty gifts, useless gadgets, disposable fashion. Since the consumer revolution of the 1700s, an abundance of cheap goods has enabled us to buy pointless stuff; but all of this crap comes with environmental, economic and spiritual costs, explains the academic Wendy A Woloson in this rich and expansive cultural history. It asks: surrounded by all these “what-nots” and “thingums”, have we ourselves become crappy? The University of Chicago Press, 416pp, £23.99
This article appears in the 18 Nov 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Vaccine nation