What I’m Reading in August

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A couple of weeks ago we went to see the Celts exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland (fascinating, and on until the 25th September if you haven’t seen it), and so I’ve been reading The Celts by Nora Chadwick. It is an old book – I got it in a secondhand bookshop – and scholarship has moved on a lot since then. I’m not sure that we would want to measure cultural advancement by the yardstick of Classical civilisation these days, and there is a lot more material to draw on, but this is the book that raised the bar on Celtic Studies, and has given me a good place to start from as I get deeper into the subject.

At a different tangent I’ve read The Secret Life of God   by Alex Klaushofer, which  deals with non-conformist religious observance among  in Britain of all sorts, from Catholic nuns to Islamic and pagan groups and solitaries. It’s an easy read, thoughtful and respectful of all the groups the author meets, and it becomes clear that while religious structures and institutions are having some serious problems, spirituality itself is thriving.

I’ve also read If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie. It’s not quite the book I thought it was going to be. It isn’t a survey of Celtic myths and stories from a woman’s point of view, though it does contain some well-told stories, and it isn’t a workbook for women to go on a spiritual quest themselves,though there is a short summary of the ‘heroine’s journey’ at the end, but a themed autobiographical account of Sharon Blackie’s own spiritual and geographic journey, paralleled by the stories of several other women (some of whom I know and admire greatly). It’s a well-crafted book, and a satisfying read, but —–

I think, because my journey is almost entirely the reverse of hers, from almost drowning in domesticity and earth-consciousness to the practice of my creativity and intellectual skills, I’m a bit wary of the earth-mother archetype. It can make a great excuse for women to be prohibited from education or public life. It can become a prison as surely as the relentless grind of working for the man. I’m not really convinced by this book at all.

I have a lot of poetry to be reading too – Clare Pollard’s Ovid’s Heroines, which I’ve just started and Falling Awake by Alice Oswald. I went to see her read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and the event was unforgettable. I’ve never been at a reading where there was such a complete silence, and the applause was like thunder. I may review these books soon. On the other hand, words might fail me.

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