Monday, January 01, 2007

Bad Run

Okay, December has been a craptastic month in more ways than one. We could start with the illness (1) that kept me from doing most of my favorite holiday activities (2) or any particularly thoughtful Christmas shopping (3). The extremely unpleasant culmination of an extremely unpleasant workload makes (4). I have such high hopes for January, but mostly because December was so hard.

But more on-topic, it was a horrible, horrible month for books! I started some ill-fated outings this month, and I only finished about four books. And one was the audiobook I've been listening to for who-knows how long. I finished two books in the first couple days of the month, and then I just slogged through a bunch of CRAP for the rest of the time. I'm really feeling off-center because of this, though I'm trying to use the "fresh start" feeling that comes with January 1 to clean all the fog from my brain and start fresh.

So, what shouldn't you read? Well, first of all, my outing into the nun aisle at the library led to some bad stuff as well as the good stuff. There was the history of nuns' habits, which turned out to be less what I expected (a history of nuns as told through the lens of their clothing) and more of a history of scapulars, undergarments, and coifs. Sleepy stuff. Unveiled, however, was a great book, a really frank look at modern nuns, how they reinterpret a lot of the old vows to make their lives both modern and religious. In the end, I think the nun aisle paid off; since I abandoned The Habit in the middle, you can't say I wasted a lot of time on it.

But every one of those abandoned books adds to my emotional load. Like How We Believe: The Search for God in the Age of Science. This book seemed to really promise a skeptic's examination of faith, and reading the first few dozen pages, it seems to be a really fair and reasonable look at how people choose their beliefs and how they think about them. The author talks about letters he's gotten from people who argue that faith is horrible, and he seems to find those letters misguided. I felt confident.

About halfway through, though, he really revealed his attitude as something besides what I had expected. Maybe I'm not a great logician, but I feel like you can't argue with a person's personal experience of God. You can argue about the truth of the history of Jesus, the philosophical proofs that the watch implies the watchmaker, etc. And you can absolutely get into a fistfight about how your beliefs impact your behavior in the world and how you interact with others (and, usually, try to curtail their freedoms). But if someone says that the only reason they're sure God exists is because they've felt God's effect in their life, you can say you don't believe that, but you can't say "stop believing that, because I can't replicate your feelings." The standard that if you can't replicate it, you haven't proven it works for a system, but I really don't think it works when you're talking to a person about their ongoing experience.

I've completely quit reading this book. He's getting smugger and smugger, and he's not here to smack so it's all I've got. I really thought it was going to be "your beliefs are different from mine. How did you arrive at them, and how do you live with them?" But it turned out to be "oh, I see--it's because you're ignorant."

So that was a waste of time. There's also Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote's first novel. Wow, talk about a book in which nothing happens. It's sort of a coming of age story, with a lot of eerie Southern gothic trappings. I ended up skimming it--I'm not even sure I've ever done that before. It wasn't even horrible, just long and boring and yes, yes, I know there are a lot of plants in Louisiana, STOP DESCRIBING THEM PLEASE.

So that's been my Christmas. We'll see what comes up next--I'm trying Jon Katz's A Good Dog, which, while I'm not much of a dog person, seems promising. Also some of the many lovely books I got for Christmas, and the library books I couldn't resist. I need a vacation.

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