As of a week and a half after its original posting, my latest puzzle has been solved by only two of you. So I hereby give honorable mention to (1) John P., the Spanish Inquisitor, whose brain I didn’t torture sufficiently to keep him from finding the correct answer; and (2) Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, who cheerfully came up with the solution.
Although I’m not going to publish that solution here — in case anyone wants to take the challenge belatedly — I will mention that a part of the puzzle led to the name: Gore Vidal.
And Gore Vidal, as he always does, got me thinking. Since he’s often wordy and long-winded (coming from me, those terms are not necessarily insults), my thinking followed suit. Here’s what I thought:
So many bloggers in the Atheosphere are science professionals, or at least heavily science-oriented. And that’s good. Although I’m not a scientist myself, I enjoy reading well-written books and articles — and posts — aimed at the educated layman. My personal library has an entire bookcase devoted to literary explications of science.
But scientists shouldn’t feel that they’ve cornered the market on nonbelief. There are plenty of us folks in the humanities who also have no faith in faith.
The list of great and near-great freethinking authors, for example, is a long one. It contains, among others, such non-scientists as: Ambrose Bierce, Pearl S. Buck, Joseph Conrad, George Eliot, Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Sinclair Lewis, H.P. Lovecraft, H.L. Mencken, Vladimir Nabokov, George Orwell, Percy Bysshe Shelley, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, the above-mentioned Vidal, Kurt Vonnegut, and H.G. Wells.
I think it’s time we atheists draw some inspiration from literature as well as science.
Now, I’m one of those people who are gifted with incomplete retention, or, to put it another way, almost complete non-retention. When I read a novel, I tend to remember a few snippets of dialogue, some vivid mental pictures, a handful of the most eccentric characters, and the bare outlines of plot. When I say bare, that’s what I mean, naked all the way down to the skeleton. I forget most of the specific events, get the ones I do remember out of order, and sometimes “recall” incidents that would come as a complete surprise to the author.
My lack of better memory is a boon, though, because I can reread any book after about five years, and feel like it’s brand new. I’ve been known to pick up a mystery that I’ve read four or five times before and sit on the edge of my seat trying to figure out who the murderer is. And when I do find out, I wonder: “Was that who did it last time?” Ah, the blessings of premature old age.
Almost two decades ago, I first read Vidal’s Julian, a novel about the late Roman emperor who attempted to eradicate Christianity as a force in his empire. I remembered that I liked it a lot, and not much else. But since I deigned to mention the author’s name in my trivial puzzle, I decided that I owed it to myself to reread a book that made a huge impression on me in the 1980s.
Anyway, I’m about a third of the way through. After each reading session, I think, “This would be a great book for an atheist reading group.”
And so I’d like to propose such a group. My idea is that nine or ten of us — if we can get that many to commit — will read a book every month and a half or so. That’s a long enough time that even the slowest readers, or those with the least amount of time, can participate. We’ll take turns making book suggestions. The only stipulation will be that the book not be an atheist diatribe, best-selling or otherwise.
We’ll target a specific day on which to finish. On that date, or shortly thereafter, each of us will publish a post about the chosen book. (In fairness, those of us who finish reading early may write our posts, but not publish them online until everyone has had a chance to complete the reading.) The post will not be a review or a summary. It will be an essayistic ramble on what the book got us thinking about. Whether we liked the book or not, we’ll use it as an entry point to our own thoughts. If enough people are interested, perhaps we can even publish a Carnival of Nonbelieving Literati a week or so after each target date.
I’d like to propose Julian as our first book, and September 15th as our first target date.
What do you think?