Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song by Ted Anthony
The song “House of the Rising Sun,” which became a chart-topping hit in 1964 by the Animals, has a murky history, said to have originated in Appalachia, maybe New Orleans and perhaps even England, as well as having a thriving universal afterlife among cover bands and karaoke singers. Anthony, an editor for the Associated Press, crisscrossed the globe in search of the twisted roots and many spreading branches of this lonesome ballad of unknown origins. The song’s ultimate odyssey began in 1937 when folklorist Alan Lomax recorded a version by 16-year-old Georgia Turner Connolly in Middlesboro, Ky. Lomax published the lyrics as “The Rising Sun Blues” and from there it grew in popularity and was performed and recorded by many, including Bob Dylan on his first record in 1962. The story seems promising, but Anthony’s narrative is an uneasy mix of memoir, dissertation-like detail (with tedious repetitions of multiple versions of lyrics), journalistic feature writing and esoteric trivia. Anthony at times unconvincingly adopts the authoritative voice of an American studies expert, and he also lacks the musical or poetic knowledge to dissect the song. This exploration will be of most value to those who share Anthony’s unbridled obsession with this ubiquitous ballad.
Light in the Dark Ages: The Friendship of Francis and Clare of Assisi by Jon M. Sweeney
She was rudder to his sail and yin to his yang, but the relationship between medieval saints Clare and Francis of Assisi was hardly the love affair depicted in literature and film, as this joint biography makes clear. Sweeney, author of the St. Francis Prayer Book and The Lure of Saints, sketches the true nature of the liaison, which he says was marked by natural affection, but never led to marriage or an affair. There is little reason to believe that Francis and Clare shared any romance other than one that was jointly with God, Sweeney writes of the partners in the spiritual movement that revolutionized Western religion. Relying on early biographies of Francis by Thomas of Celano and Bonaventure as well as more recent scholarship, Sweeney examines Francis’s conversion and decision to marry poverty, showing how Clare, 12 years his junior, fled her family to embrace his radical way of life. Sweeney deals, too, with the controversy and dissension that erupted in the movement after just two decades as some followers softened the radical mendicancy espoused by Francis and Clare. Readers interested in an accurate portrayal of these two powerful figures will find this an excellent introduction to a movement that has captured the imaginations of moderns more than 700 years after the deaths of Francis and Clare.
Blue Sky Thoughts: Colour, Consciousness and Reality by Jamie Carnie
For centuries philosophers have disputed whether the sky really is blue or whether this “blueness” is only in the eye of the beholder. But perhaps there is a better way to think about perception . . .
In this controversial and challenging book, Jamie Carnie introduces a radical new perspective on the way our senses operate, setting out to save our instinctive belief that colors, sounds, flavors, textures, and scents are features of the “real” world and not just mental constructs that disappear the moment we look away. A minimal model of the mind as a virtual machine helps us formulate Carnie’s universe.