Judas: The Most Hated Name in History.
By Peter Stanford.
Jan. 2016. 320p. illus. Counterpoint, $28
In medieval lore, Judas Iscariot committed
suicide before his Lord died on the cross so
that he could penitently await the Master’s
spirit on the threshold of the afterlife, there
to plead forgiveness for having betrayed Him.
For Stanford, this surprising addition to the
scriptural account of Judas serves as but one
thread in a complex—often contradictory—
tapestry of narratives focusing on the notorious apostle. Stretching from 22 mentions
of Judas in the New Testament to C. K.
Stead’s twenty-first-century novel My Name
Was Judas, that tapestry presents strikingly diverse images of an enigmatic figure:
“son of perdition” in the Gospel of John,
damned soul in Dante’s Inferno, gnostic
hero in heretical scripture, anti-Semitic
caricature in medieval passion plays, misunderstood revolutionary in Enlightenment
and Romantic thought, symbol of Jewish
perfidy in Nazi propaganda, conscience-driven loner in Jesus Christ Superstar. A
fiend in pious centuries, Judas transforms
into Everyman in secular times. Offering no
definitive resolution of the contrary perspectives, Stanford embraces Judas’ ambiguity as
his most irresistibly appealing characteristic.
The Sound of Gravel.
By Ruth Wariner.
Jan. 2016. 352p. Flatiron, $26.99 (9781250077691);
e-book, $14.99 (9781250077714). 289.3092.
Wariner was her father’s thirty-ninth child
(of 42). Growing up in a polygamous Mormon colony in Mexico, she never thought
that life would hold anything more for her
than motherhood through marriage with a
man who would be supporting several families. As she relates in detail in this haunting
memoir, however, her childhood revealed
a dark side to the relationships in her own
family. For Wariner, life in a polygamous
family meant hardship and abuse, which
she describes through the heartbreaking
perspective of the girl she was. Through
experiences such as staying with her grandparents in the States, she slowly learns to
expect more from life. Rather than delving into the particulars of the community’s
beliefs, Wariner reveals them as they arise
during otherwise everyday routines, much
as a child slowly learns the workings of the
world around her. This gives great depth
to the portrayal of her situation and to the
characterizations of her mother and stepfather. With power and insight, Wariner’s tale
shows a road to escape from the most confining circumstances. —Bridget Thoreson
When God Isn’t Green: A World-Wide
Journey to Places Where Religious
Practice and Environmentalism Collide.
By Jay Wexler.
Mar. 2016. 224p. Beacon, paper, $18 (978-0807001929).
If you’ve ever wondered where fronds for
Palm Sunday came from or what to do if
you find an expired bald eagle, your questions will be answered in this illuminating
book. Wexler, inspired by a visit to an eagle
repository in Colorado, began to wonder
how religious practices connect with the environment, and he takes the reader along on
his ensuing journey of discovery. In honest,
funny prose, Wexler describes his attempts
to understand—and sometimes participate
in—rituals that poison waters and clog the
air. As it turns out, certain religious practices around the world have been negatively
impacting the environment for years—for instance, releasing nonnative species of turtles
into the water. Despite his findings, Wexler
genuinely and thoughtfully wrestles with the
tension between caring for the earth and caring for the people who find these rituals so
meaningful. It is a reminder that, for good
or ill, the actions of a faithful few can have a
major impact. —Christine Engel
121 First Dates: How to Succeed at
Online Dating, Fall in Love, and Live
Happily Ever After (Really!).
By Wendy Newman.
Jan. 2016. 320p. Beyond Words, paper, $16
Professional dating-coach Newman, who
met her soul mate on her 121st first date,
offers advice and hope from her own life to
singles of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Focusing on Internet dating because it offers the
largest pool of potential mates, Newman
advises women not to spend too much time
corresponding with men before arranging
the first date lest expectations get raised before compatibility can truly be determined
in person. She alternates between walking
women through the online dating process
and sharing some of her own stories, which
range from the mundane but disappointing
to the outrageous, including a hike with a
felon and a dinner date with a guy who invites her to his house and promptly strips
down. Some of the advice will be familiar to
those who’ve been in the dating trenches for
a while, but Newman has some unique tips
on listening and getting over heartbreak that
even seasoned daters will consider worthwhile. Readers will find Newman to be a
warm, encouraging, and positive guide to
the wild and sometimes wacky Internet dating scene. —Kristine Huntley
Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide,
and the Secret to Saving the World.
By Kevin Bales.
Jan. 2016. 304p. Spiegel & Grau, $27 (9780812995763);
e-book (9780812995770). 306.
Smartphones and shrimp cocktails, wedding
rings and kitchen countertops. When it comes
to the stuff we use on a daily basis, what we actually acquire is not what one sees. The hidden
sources of all the paraphernalia that dominates
everyday life are rooted in a base and barbarous subculture that entraps the most helpless
members of societies and destroys the most
fragile and essential ecosystems on the planet.
Bales (Modern Slavery, 2009), renowned abolitionist and founder of the global antislavery
group Free the Slaves, has traveled the world
from India to Brazil, investigating the insidious
ways in which the most vulnerable members
of a culture are exploited by unscrupulous
slave masters and their corporate sponsors.
Kidnapped and forced into torturous manual
labor, kept in servitude by unconquerable debt
and the rape of women and children, millions
of people sacrifice their lives and decimate precious natural resources to mine commodities
that fuel an often-uncontrollable consumer
economy. Bales’ passionately precise, revelatory, and important chronicle is for every reader
concerned with human rights and global ecology issues. —Carol Haggas
YA: Understanding the exploitation of
teens and children can be a call to action
for students of global rights and resource
By Garrard Conley.
May 2016. 352p. Riverhead, $27.95 (9781594633010).
When Conley is raped by an acquaintance
as a freshman in college, the assailant then
has the remarkable effrontery to call Conley’s
mother and out him. Deeply disturbed, the
parents, in concert with the pastor of their
conservative Baptist Missionary Church,
decide Conley should be sent for reparative
therapy to an organization called Love in
Action, which promises to “cure” him of his
homosexuality, utilizing a 12-step program.
Can anything good come of this? Conley
searches for the answer in this highly introspective memoir. In alternating chapters, the
author recounts his life both inside and outside of therapy, including the difficulty of
growing up gay in the South. Closely observed feelings are the fuel that drives this
complex coming-of-age account. Because
Conley lives inside his head, one sometimes
wishes for more external action and, especially, a more vivid account of his two-week
experience of therapy. Nevertheless, readers
share the author’s agonies and uncertainties,
which result in his ultimate rejection of the
now widely discredited LIA experience. Moving and thought-provoking. —Michael Cart
YA/M: Older teens will be intrigued by
this unusual memoir, which could have
been published as YA. MC.