Friday, January 14, 2011

Because Atheism Has No Holidays

“But, my dear Sebastian, you can't seriously believe it all.”
“Can't I?”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea.”
“But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea.”
“But I do. That's how I believe.”
—Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited

This month’s book salon topic was novels with religious characters or settings. Salonista selections were quite varied and ran the gamut from anti-religious to reverential: Cain (José Saramago), Death Comes for the Archbishop (Willa Cather), The End of the Affair (Graham Greene), In This House of Brede (Rumer Godden), The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco).

Preparing the discussion questions took me back to the fabulous “Theology and Literature” class I took in college, where I first read Graham Greene, Gilgamesh, and Shusaku Endo’s Silence. This theme provides so many avenues for discussion (and there are so many novels on its list that I want to read) that I think we could totally do it again in the near future. Following the meeting, I am most intrigued by Cain, read in Spanish by La Maratonista Minimalista. Sadly, a quick search of Amazon, Goodreads, and the San Francisco Public Library leads me to believe it might not be available in English yet. If you believe otherwise, let me know.

Unfortunately, before our meeting, I had only read about 300 pages of my selection, The Name of the Rose; however, I don’t feel too guilty, because one conclusion I came to while reading it is that it is probably a better fit for next month’s topic, Books and the Bookish. For, although the novel takes place in a fourteenth-century monastery, it is really more about language, learning, and books, than about religion. But I do need to finish it by the end of the month since it’s my challenge book for January. And, even though the book salon concept means that it’s not really crucial to finish a text before meeting, I much prefer it, and therefore I need to get started on Possession soon, which, from what I recall, should be an interesting follow-up to the Eco.

Speaking of challenges, how is everyone doing on The Great Unread? Please post below, whether you’ve only just picked your January book, read a fair amount, or finished your selection. Depending on your outlook, you have only have half a month left, or you have half a month left.


Amy Garvey said...

Yikes. I picked up both Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Strain, and have made roughly zero progress on either. I think I'll stick with The Strain, and see where I get in the next few days.

It's odd because the beginning was a quick read for me, so I'm not sure why I put it down.

Stasia said...

Love BRIDESHEAD REVISITED and fondly remember many G'town lit classes. Good luck with THE NAME OF THE ROSE! I'm reading like crazy for the 2011 debut author challenge so those on-the-shelf books will have to wait awhile. Two martinis, btw, sound fabulous. I'm drinking one of my kid's unfinished grape juices from breakfast.

Tamara Skaredoff said...

I've settled on The Windup Girl as my Great Unread book for January and I am just about to start it (as soon as I get off the computer).

I think you are right, as I recall The Name of the Rose is pretty seriously about books and only about religion to the extent it relates to books (and reading and writing and copying and librarianship).

LifetimeReader said...

What a fascinating reading theme for a salon! And I've long loved Bridehead Revisited, despite the fact that I guess I'm disappointed that Charles seems to have misplaced his atheism at the end. I've just been reading another Waugh which does not discuss Catholicism at all, but religion and tradition play a role nonetheless. Interesting.

Sylvie said...

I really need to re-read Brideshead at some point, but not right now, when I really just need to finish something, anything. I've started 6 or 7 books since December (and read almost 200 pages in most of them) but can't seem to finish anything. It's frustrating to say the least.