Building a Mystery

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How did Jesus, an itinerant preacher with a few followers in a Roman backwater, become God? As Bart Ehrman in How Jesus Became God posits, there are two answers to this question. One is the spiritual, and the other is the history of the spiritual. Ehrman, a former Christian fundamentalist, is very upfront about his agnosticism but makes […]

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Negotiation Tips from the Undersecretary for Thugs

Bill Richardson

Whatever you make of Bill Richardson’s politics, he can tell a good story and seems to enjoy it immensely. In fact, How to Sweet-talk A Shark seems to be less the book on negotiating techniques it claims to be and more an excuse to tell some hilarious and hair-raising tales from Richardson’s time in public service. That said, […]

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Beware a Dashing Man

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  England, 1961, is in a full post-colonial hangover. Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is sixteen and full of dreams of Paris and the wider world. She gets them for a brief time by becoming the girlfriend of an older man, David (Peter Sarsgaard). David is dashing, glamorous, good looking, and rich. How he gets his money is a bit unscrupulous, […]

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Everybody Loves Bernie

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Need a favor? Any favor at all? In Carthage, Texas, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) is your man. While he is especially good with the performing arts, his vocation is as a funeral director, and he will even sing at your final ceremony if you ask. Bernie is especially good with widows, calling on them with care packages, which is how he […]

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The Midwife of Venice and the Harem

Roberta Rich has written only two books so far, but I enjoyed both of them immensely. In The Midwife of Venice, Hannah Levi, a midwife of legendary skill and confined to the Jewish Ghetto, makes a decision to help a countess in natal distress. She takes along her “birthing spoons”, a form of forceps, with her despite the […]

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Afghan Women Breaking the Mold

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Though the past decade and a half has brought enormous change to Kabul and other cities in Afghanistan, very little has changed in the villages, especially for women. Nadia Hashimi’s The Pearl That Broke Its Shell tells the parallel stories of Shekiba, a woman at the turn of the last century, and her great-great-granddaughter Rahima just after […]

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Between the Unspeakable and the Unknowable

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After the Holocaust, many of the surviving European Jews went to British Palestine, soon to become the nation of Israel. However, the forces that destroyed their families often destroyed their vital documents as well, so those without official papers or family already in Palestine were put in detention camps until things could be sorted out.  Anita Diamant […]

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Sarah Waters Tells Some Tales

Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters hit the mainstream big time with The Little Stranger a few years ago, but she was already a superstar among lesbians and historical fiction buffs for her novels depicting gay and lesbian life in England. Her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, is a picaresque tale that combines Charles Dickens with Henry Fielding.  Sheltered Nan […]

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Seven Magpies

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I have had a girlcrush on Anjelica Huston since I saw her in Addams Family and Addams Family Values when I was a teenager. I wanted to look like Morticia, say witty things like her, and generally subvert the dominant paradigm like her. I have matured somewhat, but I still think Ms. Huston is one of the best actresses […]

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Living with the Complexities

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Axie Muldoon wants: nice clothes, a big house, a meal in her belly.  As an orphan on the streets of 19th century New York, these things seem out of reach. And yet, by the time she is thirty, Axie (AKA Madame Beausacq) has them all. Along the way, she rides the orphan trains, delivers her mother’s baby, apprentices […]

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