Sunday, January 04, 2009
Early Reviewer Book and a First for 2009
While I was enjoying this latest book, a serendipity from LibraryThing, I had never heard of Jonathan Keats. He is a conceptual artist whose most famous project seems to be the Atheon, a temple devoted to science and rational belief, at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California, where he is challenging people to question their conceptions about science and religion.
"When you listen to people like Nobel laureate cosmologist Steven Weinberg, or Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, you hear a lot of talk about how god-based religion is out-of-date," says Keats. "The leading minds believe that science can and should provide a spiritually satisfying replacement. But until recently no one bothered to consider what form that alternative might take."
Keats has admirers and critics, but whether one agrees with him or not, I think most would agree that he has an intriguing mind. Jonathan Keats is at least as interesting as his work.
So, on with the book review! The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty Six brings to life the concept of the Lamedh-Vov, the thirty-six pure souls who must exist at all times to justify humanity, as outlined in Jewish folklore. Coincidentally, I encountered this concept very recently in another novel, called The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss, which definitely influenced my expectation that these thirty-six pure souls would be the most righteous human beings. And yet. Here we are presented with stories of twelve lives, one third of the Lamedh-Vov who were supposed to have existed at one point in time, and these souls are quite a surprise.
Keats's tales are introduced with a fictional foreward by a fictional professor and followed by a fictional editor's afterward, letting the public in on the events surrounding these very controversial stories and the possible fate of the author, who has disappeared.
And this work would be controversial, indeed, since these pure souls are composed of an idiot, a liar, a gambler, a thief, a clown, a whore, a false messiah, a cheat, an idler, a golem, a murderer, and a rebel. But wait, wait--they are here for a reason. Every one of them encounters the worst hatred and cruelty that human nature has to offer, but they respond with kindness and wisdom, improving the lives of everyone around them. Some of these characters meet more fortunate endings than others, and these endings are not predictable.
Of these twelve folkloric stories, my personal favorites are Alef the Idiot, Heyh the Clown, Tet the Idler, Yod the Inhuman, and Yod-Beit the Rebel. This book isn't out yet, but if you should come across it, I'd be most interested to know which tales caught your eye. They are all fascinating; as soon as I started one, I had to finish.
The little sticker on my copy proclaims that it's on sale February 10.
Incidentally, I'm a little chagrined to find that some of the most tempting books coming out in 2009 are young adult books. Actually, a children's book, Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead, sounds very good, but--kids aren't allowed in the pub. Oh, well.