Sunday, February 5, 2012

Afterlives of the Saints by Colin Dickey

Have you heard of hagiography? It's a genre referring to the writing of the lives of the saints. Honestly, I didn't know about this genre until I read Afterlives of the Saints by Colin Dickey.

To Colin Dickey, "saints exist not as a medium for God but as a lens for humanity". Hence, the book Afterlives of the Saints looks at a few saints that have impacted Colin Dickey for a few reasons: through their writings (Part One), because of the art and literature they inspired (Parts Two and Three), or because of the wide range of beliefs they encompassed (Part Four) and those that are un-canonised for various reasons (Part Five).

Honestly, I'm very unfamiliar with the world of the saints. I wasn't even aware that there were saints of libraries, of laughter and even cheese. But reading this book introduced me to the background behind them, the stories that made them famous.

For some reason, this book reminded me of Malcom Gladwell's What The Dog Saw because each chapter is a separate story, able to stand on its own. In fact, the only common thread throughout the whole book is that each saint is a Catholic saint. Other than that, the topics explored are quite vast, from libraries to art to death. In fact, the book doesn't even focus on the saint. More often than not, the saint is used as a launching board to delve into the history and the different views of the topic.

To me, this book was very interesting. I felt that the subject was dealt with fairly respectfully and appropriately. The book treats the saints as humans and doesn't venerate them. Instead, it looks at their background, and why they behaved the way they did. He notes that "saints are defined almost exclusively by their bodies, by what they did with them and what was done to them." and it is the reasons behind and the consequences of the acts that they do that the book explores.

All in all, this is a very interesting book. I recommend it for those wishing to expand their general knowledge, especially knowledge of the times when the Catholic Church was a major influence (socially and culturally).

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my free and honest review.

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