Books

new england literary news

Exhibits of Gilded Age Bostonian’s collected books and memoir of black family caught in cult

Top: Image of “The Lord Speaking to Joshua” from
Top: Image of “The Lord Speaking to Joshua” from

The art of manuscripts

Isabella Stewart Gardner and other wealthy Bostonians who traveled abroad during the Gilded Age frequently came home bearing beautiful books. Over the years few members of the public or scholars had access to the full wealth of treasures scattered among more than a dozen Boston institutions. That has changed now with “Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections.” On display at three sites, the exhibit features more than 260 manuscripts and books dating from the ninth to the 17th centuries.

Each of the exhibit sites has a different focus. Harvard University’s Houghton Library focuses on the centrality of books to monastic life. The lay library and the place of books in medieval society is highlighted at Boston College’s McMullen Museum, and Italian Renaissance books will be featured at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The McMullen’s is the biggest exhibit with more than 150 works on display. It is also the inaugural show of the McMullen’s new venue at 2101 Commonwealth Ave. The Harvard exhibit is on view now through Dec. 10, the McMullen exhibit through Dec. 11. The Gardner Museum exhibit is on display Thursday through Jan. 16, 2017. That exhibit will include Isabella Stewart Gardner’s own rare, first Florentine edition of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” illustrated by Botticelli. It dates to 1481.

Among the talks being offered in conjunction with the exhibits are “Gold on Parchment: How Manuscripts are Made” by Patricia Lovett, professional scribe and illuminator, at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at Houghton Library (admission is free) and “A History of the Renaissance in Six Books” by humanities professors Stephen Greenblatt and Ramie Targoff at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Gardner Museum. Tickets are $15 and include museum admission.

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Details at beyondwords2016.org.

‘World in Flames’ author

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The title of Jerald Walker’s new memoir, “The World in Flames: A Black Boyhood in a White Supremacist Doomsday Cult” (Beacon), sounds like it was ripped from the front page of a supermarket tabloid. Yet this was his life growing up in Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s.

Walker, a writing professor at Emerson College, is one of seven children. Both his parents lost their sight in childhood accidents and Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God gave them hope that their sight might be restored and that they had been chosen for a better afterlife. Struggling to make ends meet, his parents sent tithes to Armstrong even when they needed the money for heat and food.

After “60 Minutes” aired an exposé of Armstrong and his lavish lifestyle, Walker and some of his siblings left the church. His parents did, too — for a while.

Walker will speak about the book at 7 p.m. Friday at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge.

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“World in Flames” is Beacon Press’s first title to be simultaneously released as an audiobook.

Coming out

“How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight”

by Julian Guthrie (Penguin)

“Treyf: My Life as an Unorthodox Outlaw” by Elissa

Altman (New American)

“The Winchester: The Gun That Built an American Dynasty” by Laura Trevelyan (Yale University)

Pick of the week

Becky Dayton of the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, Vt., recommends “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles (Viking): “Through Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov’s life inside post-revolutionary Moscow’s Metropol Hotel, where he is under house arrest, Towles deftly guides readers across a century of Russian history. Grandiloquent language and drama reminiscent of Tolstoy give way to action and tradecraft suggestive of le Carré in this entertaining novel about one man’s determination to maintain his dignity and passion for life, even after being stripped of his title, belongings, and freedom.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.