Particularly Awesome Books of 2016

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I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted on this blog. And even now that I finally am back here clicking that “Publish” button again, it’s just a reblog from my other blog. But this is something I spent a lot of time compiling, and besides, my 2014 list and 2015 list made their first appearances on Kaleidoscope49. It only makes sense to stick the 2016 list here, too. So feel free to ignore this post or to read it thoroughly and then find and read all of the books that pique your interest. And hopefully, I’ll be back with more new posts sometime soon.

Particularly Awesome Books of 2016

This list has been a long time in coming. Not only have I spent an entire year reading a whole lot of children’s literature and keeping a running list of books that I especially liked, but it’s tak…

Source: Best Books of 2016

Books About OCD

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Multiple ChoiceToday, you blog readers get some personal information about me and a list of books for the price of one blog post. (That is, free.) You see, today’s topic is children’s and teens’ books about OCD, a thing which I happen to have. As the particularly clever ones among you may have guessed, this is not a mere coincidence. My OCD is in fact the reason that it occurred to me to write such a blog post. Interestingly enough, it was a fictional book that first alerted me to my OCD tendencies. I was probably about fourteen or fifteen and I had checked out a book called Multiple Choice from the library. I don’t remember what drew my attention to it. That was before I entered my Scrabble phase, so the Scrabble tiles on the cover didn’t have much to do with it. But for whatever reason, I checked out that book, and I identified with the main character so closely that it came as a shock to me when I looked at the Library of Congress Subject Headings on the title page and saw “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” and “Mental Disorders”. (Yes, I went through a phase where I always checked the Library of Congress Subject headings in books I read. I guess I was always meant to be a librarian.)

This post has been a long time in the writing, because it took me a while to find and read a bunch of fictional books on OCD. Despite the frequent manner in which the phrase “OCD” is thrown around, there isn’t a whole lot of literature on the actual disorder. My original intention had been to evaluate each book on its accuracy, but what I did find was all quite descriptive and accurate. Each of the authors either had OCD themselves or had done thorough research on the topic. So my discussion of these books will mainly consist of plot summary. I’m also rating them on a five-point scale.

Ten Turtles on Tuesday by Ellen Flanagan Burns, 2014.

This book teaches its readers what OCD is by relating the experiences of a girl named Sarah. Sarah counts obsessively, and when she tells her parents, they take her to a therapist. By the end of the book, Sarah has learned how to ignore her compulsions without becoming anxious. On the one hand, Sarah’s story is very informative in the way it describes her symptoms and treatment. On the other hand, it doesn’t make a very interesting story. There’s really no plot aside from Sarah’s OCD. Also, the book looks like an easy reader in terms of its format and illustrations, but is written at a second-or-third-grade level and is much longer than an easy reader. As a general rule, independent readers don’t like books that look like little-kid books. So this is not a book I would recommend, even though I think it’s nice that there’s a book out there that describes OCD in a way that young children can understand.

Reading level: About 2nd grade

My rating:  Two points

Total Constant Order by Crissa-Jean Chappell, 2007.

It’s early in freshman year of high school when Fin is diagnosed first with depression and then with OCD. Her mother doesn’t want Fin on medication, so Fin takes the medicine in secret. But she is so bothered by the side effects that she quits, not realizing that the withdrawal effects of psychiatric medications are even worse than the side effects. Meanwhile, Fin turns to a new coping strategy: graffiti. This book is more about the relationships Fin has with her mother and her friend Thayer than about Fin’s depression and OCD, and it wasn’t exactly my kind of book, but I’m going to give it a middling rating anyway, because it was pretty well written, if not especially memorable. One thing that I liked about it is the stream-of-consciousness narrative in the opening chapters. Fin’s out-of-control thought process shows the reader a very clear picture of how she experiences OCD symptoms.

Reading level: 7th grade and up

My rating: Three points

OCD Love StoryOCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu, 2013.

The first time seventeen-year-old Bea meets Beck, he’s having a panic attack during a power failure. The second time she meets him is when she’s diagnosed with OCD and starts attending group therapy sessions, and he’s in the group. Bea’s obsessions take the form of being excessively careful while driving, saving disturbing news stories,  and listening in on a couple’s therapy session before her session. She thinks she’s a little less OCD than Beck, who is compulsive about exercise, cleanliness, and the number eight. And she perceives herself as being much more functional than Jenny, who pulls her hair out, or Rudy, who picks at his face and makes hostile remarks in group. But as the story progresses, it becomes more and more clear just how much Bea is affected by her disorder. She isn’t just a little obsessive; she’s a stalker. This book is one of the best ones on the list, both because it’s well-written and because Bea’s thought process does such a good job of depicting OCD. I really related to Bea even though my own experiences with OCD have been extremely different than hers.

Reading level: High school

My rating: Four points

Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser, 1998.

As a description of what OCD is like, this book is great. As a novel, this book is mediocre. It doesn’t have a plot beyond the narrator Tara’s description of what OCD feels like and how it impacted her preteen and early teen years. Most of the characters are stereotypes, and in fact, Tara’s friend Keesha is such a stereotypical token black friend that it’s borderline racist. One perk about this particular book, though, is that it includes some pretty specific information about what exactly OCD is. I feel that I actually learned something about how the brain works. Although I do take issue with the way the characters describe OCD as a problem in chemistry rather than a psychological disorder. Psychological disorders are abnormalities in brain chemistry and neurological processes.

Reading level: 7th grade and up

My rating: Two and a half points

Mr. WorryMr. Worry by Holly L. Niner, 2004.

I hadn’t really expected that there would be a picture book about OCD, but there is, and this is it. Kevin worries a lot and has a very specific bedtime routine. Just as in Ten Turtles on Tuesday, the plot consists entirely of Kevin beginning therapy for OCD and ends with him overcoming the symptoms. It’s not the most fascinating book out there, and it’s a little text-heavy for a picture book, but I actually quite liked the illustrations, and I felt that it was pretty thorough about describing what OCD feels like. In fact, there were two aspects of Kevin’s situation that really resonated with me that I haven’t seen in other places. When Kevin is told to do something, he feels compelled to double-check with adults to make sure he’s doing it right. When I was a kid, I sometimes would ask permission multiple times just to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood. I usually would laugh it off, saying that I forgot if I had already asked. It never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about that. The book also shows Kevin being afraid that his mother is an alien, which is an oddly specific fear that I also had as a child, although for me, it was part of a longer and complex narrative. Again, it had never occurred to me that such a thought was an OCD thing. The point of all this is just that I thought that this book was quite informative, despite its relative lack of plot.

Reading level: K-2nd grade

My rating: Three and a half points

Multiple Choice by Janet Tashjian, 1999.

This book is pretty dated, and it’s old enough that it’s a bit hard to track down, but I thought it belonged on this list since it’s the aforementioned book that introduced me to OCD and made me wonder if I was OCD. Fourteen-year-old Monica Devon worries and obsesses about everything, but she thinks she’s found an escape when she invents a game that entails making decisions based upon randomly drawing Scrabble tiles. But sometimes, the Scrabble tiles lead her to unkind or unwise choices, and Monica’s mental problems compel her to act on those choices anyway. Based on what I wrote about it above, I think it’s pretty obvious that I found it to be well-written and memorable, and that I think it’s an extremely accurate depiction of what OCD is like. However, after reading all of these other books, I now feel that Multiple Choice is just a little emotionally flat.

Reading level: 6th grade and up

My rating: Four points

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten, 2015.

Almost-fifteen-year-old Adam Ross is in love with Robyn Plummer, the new girl in his OCD support group. This book tells the story of their developing romance, Adam’s experiences with his OCD symptoms, and the family drama and trauma that fills Adam’s sophomore year of high school. I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s well-written with a memorable and likable cast of well-developed and believable characters. It’s also very engaging and very emotional, especially near the end. As a YA romance, it’s an exceptionally good book. On the other hand, I could tell before I got to the Q-and-A with the author at the back of the book that she herself doesn’t have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’m not discounting the extensive research that she did, or the knowledge that she picked up from knowing OCD people. But the way she describes Adam’s thought process doesn’t always ring true. Another thing that bothers me about this book is that the main characters show an extreme lack of empathy for people whose symptoms vary slightly from theirs. For example, Adam can’t comprehend eating disordered compulsions, and is very annoyed by a group-mate’s hypochondriac obsessions. But I’m willing to concede that it might be the character’s perceptions rather than the book itself that poses a problem for me. So, all in all, I would definitely call this a good book, but not one of the more informative ones on this list.

Reading level: 7th grade and up

My rating: Three and a half points

OCD, The Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn, 2013.

Danielle is a high-school senior at a special school for students who struggle academically despite having normal IQs. In Danielle’s case, the issue is OCD, ADHD, and (spoiler alert) trauma from witnessing the violent death of a friend when they were in eighth grade. The story of Danielle’s senior year is told through a collection of her English assignments, letters to and from various people, and journal entries. I didn’t exactly love this book and I can’t quite put my finger on the reason for that. Because Danielle has ADHD as well as OCD, her experiences and symptoms are very different from what I’ve experienced, and I don’t think I know quite enough about what it’s like to have ADHD to try to gauge its accuracy.

Reading level: High school

My rating: Three points

Don't TouchDon’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson, 2014.

Cadence Finn—known to family and friends as Caddie—is going through a lot of changes. Her parents have recently separated, and she is switching to a performing arts high school. There, she reunites with Mandy, her ex-best friend and fellow actress, and joins Mandy’s social group. She even gets cast as Ophelia in Hamlet. Anyone would feel a little stressed, but Caddie is completely overwhelmed by anxiety. Her fear of touching people becomes so intense that she must wear gloves at all times, and if anybody does get through her barriers and touch her, she has to “wash it off.” It isn’t until more than halfway through the book that her problems are specifically described as OCD, but it’s pretty clear all along. There are so many things I love about this book. For one thing, Caddie has things going on in her life besides her OCD: school, acting, friendship drama, a crush on her costar, family drama… It’s so much more realistic than books in which the characters’ mental and emotional problems are the entire plot. Also, this book takes place in Birmingham, Alabama, which is where I went to college, so, for me, it was a nostalgic reading experience. It’s a great book from a literary standpoint, too, because the characters are distinct and well fleshed-out, there’s notable character development, it has the emotional depth that’s characteristic of good YA fiction, and the pace and writing style are just right to make Don’t Touch a pageturner. But, for the sake of this blog post, the main thing I want to point out is that Caddie’s thought process really resonates with me, and probably with any other readers with OCD. Even though I’ve never had the particular obsessions and compulsions that Caddie does, I am happy to give it my stamp of accuracy. (Metaphorically speaking, because I don’t actually have a stamp of accuracy. That would be so cool if I did.)

Reading level: High school

My rating: Five points

2 AM

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Night blogging“2 AM isn’t a place, it’s an emotion,” a night blogger once said on tumblr. And then others replied and pointed out that 2 AM isn’t a place at all, and yet others added, “That’s because it’s an emotion.” I was not that particular night blogger, nor do I know him/her personally, so I cannot say whether the use of the word “place” instead of “time” was a mistake or a philosophical statement or a decision based upon the aesthetic sound of the sentence. But I do know that the statement as it stands is true. 2 AM isn’t a place. It’s an emotion.

It is considered typical to sleep at night and to be awake during the day. 2 AM is not a time for typical people; it is a time for people who have odd schedules, whether by choice or because they genuinely like it better that way. 2 AM is a time when there are few sound waves in the air, but a great many metaphorical sound waves over the internet. 2 AM is full of ramblings that are either ridiculous or profound, and sometimes both. At least online, 2 AM belongs to the night bloggers and the overworked students, two groups of people who are (or at least should be) notorious for blending extreme genius and utter nonsense in one pithy remark.

At 2 AM, the internet is the only way to express the thoughts that run through the mind of the fatigued and overly creative mind of the night blogger. At 2 AM, the real world doesn’t exist, and the internet is all there is. At 2 AM, a blinking cursor on a computer screen or a page full of densely packed words offer greater possibilities than anything that a night blogger ever gets to see in the daytime. Thoughts don’t count for much if they can’t be formed into letters and words, and they count for nothing at all if they are formed into spoken words that are forever gone as soon as the sound waves fade into the oblivion of the motionless air which fills the place that we call Real Life. But on the internet, a fleeting random thought can be preserved in visible form so that fellow night bloggers or tomorrow’s day bloggers can see it and be duly amused by its absurdity or impressed by its profoundness or confused by its randomness.

I myself am not known for the kind of posts that show up around 2 AM, although I am occasionally responsible for a nonsensical insight that may or may not be worthy of remembering. One of the more recent of these (although it occurred well before 2 AM) is the concept that real life is nothing more than a frame narrative for everything that one reads or writes. This may perhaps be more true of my life than most people’s lives, especially this semester, since I am taking a class that involves reading five to seven YA novels a week, which is rather a lot of fiction reading when you’re a full-time student who also has a job and also feels compelled to find some time and mental effort for other reading and writing in addition to schoolwork. But the fact remains that many people, especially among the demographic that is most likely to be on tumblr in the middle of the night, spend much of their time and conscious thought on fiction, whether in the form of novels or television or other mediums. And I would argue that many types of nonfiction should also be taken into consideration in this matter, because non-fictional narrative prose often resonates in a reader or viewer’s mind in the same way that fiction does. It seems to me that it is no exaggeration to say that our lives are largely dominated by stories that are not our own.

As any avid reader or writer knows, the frame narrative is never the important or interesting part. The good bits of the story are always saved for the innermost tale. The frame narrative is simple and straight-forward and sometimes quite dull. If Real Life is a frame narrative, it sadly does a good job of following this standard. Some people claim that the enjoyment of fiction is a form of escapism, and I think that this is entirely true, but not quite in the way that they mean. An avid reader is not completely ignoring his or her own life. An avid reader is using the fictional lives of others to justify the fact that his or her own life is too empty and simple and straight-forward and dull to have much of any significance unless it is simply a framework for which other stories can be metaphors.

 But 2 AM is when the frame narrative of reality goes on hiatus. Typical people use this opportunity to sleep. They spend many hours lying perfectly still and resting their minds so that they can wake up in the morning and spend the next day of their real lives doing all of the real-life things that they think make their real lives important. But those of us who are awake at 2 AM, whether because of homework or because we like 2 AM, experience a view of the world that normal people miss. There comes a time of night when reality pauses itself and its place can be taken by fiction or by rambling words of incoherent wisdom typed on a computer screen by a fatigued night blogger who didn’t even necessarily mean it the way it sounded.

2 AM isn’t a place, it’s an emotion, and like other emotions, it is exhausting and incapacitating if it is felt too strongly, too frequently, or for too long a period of time. I myself would prefer to be asleep at 2 AM if my life allowed for that to be an achievable goal. But when I am awake at 2 AM, it occurs to me that people don’t know what they’re talking about when they spout cliches about living life to the fullest. Living life to the fullest doesn’t mean going out and doing crazy, exciting things. If that’s the way you’re looking at it, you’re forcing yourself to choose between craziness and normality. Living life to the fullest means taking advantage of the wondrous opportunities offered by books and the internet to experience excitement even while your own real life is filled with the mundaneness of not being the sort of person who goes out and does crazy, exciting things.

2 AM is where you can have it both ways. 2 AM is where it’s crazy and exciting just to be conscious and to have the wonderful ability to preserve your conscious thoughts in written form or to experience other people’s written thoughts without being interrupted by reality. 2 AM is where the frame narrative meets the cooler inner story because there isn’t any need to keep the two completely separate. 2 AM is where things don’t need to make sense because sense isn’t the most important thing around here.

Come to think of it, maybe 2 AM is a place after all.

There’s this Book I’m Reading, episode 7

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Da Vinci CodeA number of years back, I read something in the newspaper that has stuck with me ever since then. Unfortunately, I don’t remember when or exactly where I saw it, so I can’t properly cite it. I don’t even remember whether it was a review or an opinion piece or a column, but it was about The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. It began by quoting the opening sentence of George Orwell’s 1984, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Although there’s nothing unrealistic or fantastical about the idea of a clock that doesn’t start over at twelve, it’s just jarring enough to alert the reader to the fact that the story isn’t set in the real world. George Orwell is introducing a fictional reality. It isn’t characterized by magic and mythical creatures, but they count hours slightly differently than we do, so we are aware from the outset that there is a disconnect between the book and the real world. As the book progresses and the reader gradually learns about the historical events that were made up for the book, the reader remains conscious that those facts are part of the story. The Da Vinci Code, the newspaper writer said, lacks this subtle acknowledgement that it’s not based in reality. And unfortunately, the result is that many people believe the alternative historical facts that were made up for the book. My teenage self found this point to very profound even though I hadn’t read either 1984 or The Da Vinci Code at that point. But I remembered that statement last winter when I did read 1984 and again this autumn when I did read The Da Vinci Code. And I still think that it’s a significant point.

OrwellIt seems to me that Orwell’s 1984 is actually considerably less fanciful than The Da Vinci Code. The historical facts that Orwell fabricated were, from his perspective, near future. The historical facts that Brown invented are distant past.  As I indicated in this blog post from last year, I think that Orwell’s imagined version of the 1980s was a fairly realistic possibility of the direction that the late twentieth century could have taken. When it comes to Dan Brown’s fabricated history, it doesn’t matter whether or not his facts are realistic because he wasn’t guessing about the future; he was writing about own version of historical events that have already happened.

I really enjoyed reading The Da Vinci Code.  Both as a recreational reader and as someone with a degree in English, I thought it was interesting and well-written. The plot is exciting and engaging, the characters are believable and likable, and there are a number of interesting themes and motifs. An additional appealing factor is that it involves historical details from a variety of time periods, which gives it the tone of a time-travel story even though most of the novel takes place in a single night. It’s highly intellectual for a sensational bestseller, and it’s very fast-paced and eventful for a novel that is essentially about historical research. Not only is it a gripping page-turner, but it raises the kinds of intellectual questions that leave you thinking long after you finish the book. What is the relationship between a symbol and a symbolized idea? If a symbol needs to be decoded, does that make it more meaningful or less meaningful? When it comes to ancient artifacts, is it more important to preserve something or to bring public awareness to it? What is it about human nature that makes us believe that secrets are meant to be discovered and revealed, and is that an impulse that should be followed? From an academic perspective, is it more important to debunk mistaken beliefs or to allow the continuation of a historically rich religious tradition?

But this book has raised other issues that aren’t about the questions and experiences of the characters, but rather about the relationship between the author and the reader. Dan Brown’s goal was to create a fascinating story with religious themes, and in that, he succeeded. It seems to me that he also was deliberately expressing his distaste for religion in general and Christian beliefs in particular. He succeeded in that, too. In the process of writing a novel that has sensational appeal, raises the intellectual and academic questions that he wants to bring to readers’ minds, and expresses his negative views of Christian theology, he alters historical facts. This is something that fiction writers do all the time to make a point or to tell a good story. Historical fiction often tends to be wildly inaccurate because the writer is not only trying to bring history to life, but also to tell a story that is interesting and original. Since readers know that fiction is, by definition, made up by the author, it isn’t necessarily immoral for an author to alter historical facts in order to tell the story that he or she wants to tell. But does the author have a responsibility to make sure that the readers know which facts are made up? Is it immoral for the author to put fabricated details into the mouths of academically respected characters? Is it wrong for the author to write about altered versions of actual people and organizations?

booksIn general, I’d have to say that the answer to the above questions is no. An author who writes a fictional story shouldn’t have to be responsible for ensuring that readers don’t accidentally believe that the story is true. If it’s okay for Margaret Mitchell to tell us that there was a woman named Scarlett O’Hara who lived in Georgia during the Civil War, if it’s okay for people like Thomas Malory and T.H. White to tell us stories about a medieval king named Arthur, if it’s okay for the BBC to tell us that there’s a man from the planet Gallifrey who travels through space and time in a blue box, then it should be okay for Dan Brown to tell us that there was a man in first-century Judea named Jesus who was married to a woman named Mary Magdalene and that religious leaders have since then gone out of their way to keep this union a secret.

But there are a couple things that make the situation regarding The Da Vinci Code a little different. One is that Jesus wasn’t just any historical figure; he is the basis of a large religious tradition that Dan Brown is undermining and discrediting when he makes up stories about Jesus that he hopes readers will believe to some extent. I gather that Dan Brown himself is not a Christian and that he doesn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, so from his own perspective, it’s no more heretical and immoral to fictionalize Jesus than it is to fictionalize any other historical person. But even if we are to take this issue from Dan Brown’s point of view and leave Jesus’ divinity out of the debate, it seems to me that it’s still awfully irreverent and insulting to write a story that knowingly and deliberately contradicts other people’s faith while presenting the fabricated details in a way that attempts to persuade readers of their legitimacy. I know that Dan Brown himself has said that The Da Vinci Code is just a story, but he makes all of his characters academic experts and cites imaginary sources that sound real.

That brings me to the other problem, which is that Dan Brown tries too hard to hide his imaginative hand in his version of Jesus. Sure, any intelligent and discerning reader knows not to believe everything that he or she reads in a novel, even if it involves a real person, but people are going to have a harder time distinguishing fabricated facts from actually true background information when both kinds of details come from the mouth of characters who are described as leading experts in their fields. It’s not unreasonable for readers to subconsciously assume that, when a fictional expert states a historical fact, that the author has done research and verified the truth of that fact. When Leigh Teabing, a fictional scholar in ancient documents concerning Jesus, claims that there are 80 extracanonical gospels and implies that they are consistent with each other, it’s only natural that many readers will take it for granted that this is true, when in fact Dan Brown exaggerated the number to make his point seem sensible, and that the extracanonical gospels are not at all in unity with each other. When Robert Langdon, a fictional authority in the field of symbols, interprets almost everything as a symbol of the sacred feminine, it’s only natural that many readers will take it for granted that it’s true that a surprisingly large amount of famous artwork and literature contains hidden allusions to Mary Magdalene and/or pagan goddesses and/or a vaguely theistic concept of femininity itself. When a prose passage that is evidently Robert Langdon’s train of thought says that the word “Jehovah” is a blend of the Hebrew words for the sacred feminine and for the Hebrew male God “YHWH”, it’s only natural that many readers will think that’s true and totally forget that “Jehovah” is a Latinized spelling of “YHWH”, not a combination of another name with “YHWH”. (That one struck me as being particularly absurd. The worship of YHWH did not involve the belief in the existence of a corresponding goddess or an abstract divinely female entity, and if there was such a female divine being, her name wouldn’t have begun with the letter J or a Hebrew equivalent of it, because there was no Hebrew equivalent of the letter J.)

Fabricating JesusIt would be an interesting project to go through the book and meticulously factcheck each piece of information that is presented as a nonfictional fact. It wouldn’t surprise me if some authors have actually done so, since I know that The Da Vinci Code has sparked a phenomenal amount of discussion. I do know of one book that dedicates a fair amount of time and space to explaining where Dan Brown got his ideas. (The book is Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels by Craig A. Evans, and I would recommend it. Although it isn’t absolutely unbiased, it’s less biased than most for-the-general-public books on the topic. He isn’t deliberately making up sensational theories for the sake of making a name for himself, which is what some of the “modern scholars” who he mentions have done.) Interestingly enough, not all of Dan Brown’s made-up facts are actually original. It seems that he did do at least a little research on some of the most extreme ideas that historians have suggested about Jesus and the early church. Evans lists some of the fabricated facts that Dan Brown uses and points out the lack of credibility in those sources. In theory, as a fiction writer, Dan Brown has the prerogative to pick a few radical and bizarre theories and create a story in which they are true. But this makes his misinformation particularly insidious, because it gives him the ability to frame his imaginary facts in a scholarly context.

Admittedly, there’s a very fine line between making up facts to tell an interesting story and making up facts that fool readers, and it has more to do with the readers’ perception than the author’s intention. But I do think that Dan Brown went too far. I lost count of how many times while I was reading The Da Vinci Code that I suddenly realized that it was responsible for the spread of a blatantly untrue fact that I’ve heard people say time and time again. (For instance, it’s absolutely false that the gnostic gospels were favorable towards women and were hidden by the Roman Catholic church because the popes were sexist. The four gnostic gospels that I have read are far, far more sexist than anything in the Bible.) People don’t even need to have read The Da Vinci Code themselves to have heard and repeated these falsehoods. Then these things get passed around as fun facts or as ammunition against Christianity, and few people are going to feel the need to look them up and see if they’re accurate.

The problem here isn’t the fact that someone wrote a book that isn’t historically accurate. The problem is that our culture enjoys debunking Christianity so much that there are people who are willing to believe anything they read in a fictional book that backs up their arguments, even if they are otherwise intelligent people wouldn’t take that approach to any other topic. Although I am suspicious of Dan Brown’s motives in writing such a book, I certainly wouldn’t argue for censoring his work because of the factual liberties that he takes. But I do think that the general reader population ought to keep in mind that Dan Brown is not a theological expert or a historical expert, that his religious-themed writings are fictional, and that his version of Jesus is not the Jesus who actually existed and who is the foundation of Christianity.

He Knows If You’ve Been Bad or Good: A Story for Christmas

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Note: Although this blog post is written in first person, it is fictional and not autobiographical. Neither the characters nor the events are real.

 Christmas candle

My memories of childhood Christmases are fairly typical and maybe even a bit cliché. I was obsessed with snow, and it was a major disappointment if the grass was visible on Christmas day. My family loved Christmas music and Christmas decorations and Christmas cookies. Our tree had far too many ornaments to actually look tasteful, but we always thought it was beautiful anyway. Every year, my sister and brother and I would try our best to be good and would live in fear of Santa Claus’s judgment. By the day before Christmas, the suspense level had mounted to the point that we didn’t hear a word of the Christmas Eve service, despite the fact that our parents tried their best, year after year, to teach us that Jesus was the point of Christmas. And then, every Christmas morning, there would be presents under the tree and candy in our stockings. Despite the inevitable lapses of good behavior, we somehow seemed to always end up on Santa’s nice list. At least, that was the way it happened for the first few Christmases of my life. But then, there was the year when we didn’t make the cut.

In retrospect, I recall that we had gone overboard in our Santa obsession that year. Mom and Dad had been feeding us “true-meaning-of-Christmas” messages in the form of corny holiday movies and serious talks about Jesus, but we couldn’t help focusing on the all-important goal of being on Santa’s nice list. We didn’t deliberately disregard those lessons, but it’s a little hard to concentrate on abstract notions of joy and love and peace when you’re worried about whether or not you’ll get those toys you want. After all, both Jesus and The Christmas Spirit were around year after year without our active involvement, but those Christmas gifts from Santa required ongoing effort and dedication from us. Naturally, we couldn’t help focusing on the one aspect of Christmas that depended completely upon our behavior.

One of the biggest mistakes that I remember from that year happened about two weeks before Christmas. We were having company for dinner, and Mom had asked me to keep an eye on Susan and Davy so that she could devote her full attention to the fancy meal that she was preparing. The three of us closed ourselves up in the bedroom that Susan and I shared and sat quietly on my bed with a stack of books. We were determined to stay out of the way until dinnertime and to thereby impress Santa Claus with our obedience and dedication to goodness.

All went well for a while. When Mom checked on us, she found me reading aloud from a picture book, with one younger sibling at each elbow. “There you are,” she said, smiling at the adorableness of the scene. “You’re doing such a good job reading, Gloria. Thank you kids for being good and staying out of my hair.” And she was gone again, leaving all three of us proud of our behavior, and leaving me proud of my reading ability.

But I didn’t have quite enough reading skill to keep it up for long, and Susan and Davy didn’t have the patience to sit still and listen to me. The next thing we knew, the floor was covered with crayons and colored pencils and paper and we were busily making Christmas cards, oblivious to how messy the room had suddenly become.

“I need scissors,” Davy announced. “Gloria, can you get me scissors?” I was the only one of the three of us who was tall enough to reach the shelf in the kitchen where the scissors were kept. I should have said no. At that time, my parents had a strict rule against scissors in the bedrooms, which had been instituted a year and a half earlier when I had cut my own hair. Besides that, fetching the scissors was going to be a dangerous mission. I was going to have to invent a reason for going into the kitchen even though I knew that Mom wanted to be alone in there, and then sneak the scissors away without letting her notice. I knew it was wrong to break the rule, but as it so happened, I needed the scissors, too, and the temptation was irresistible.

“Mom,” I said as I entered the kitchen, “Susan wants a drink of water.” I stealthily approached the shelf of interest and eyed my target.

“I don’t want you taking water into your room,” said Mom. “Tell her to come here and I’ll give her some water myself.”

My hand slowly crept across the shelf. I was safe from Mom’s gaze; her head was down as she chopped an unidentified vegetable that I hoped I would be able to remove from my own food when the time came.

“She doesn’t want to come because we’re busy coloring,” I explained. My fingers reached the scissors, and I skillfully snatched them and had them safely concealed behind my back in a split second.

“Well, she can just wait until dinnertime then,” said Mom.

“Okay, I’ll tell her that,” I replied. And thus, I made my exit and returned to the bedroom, scissors in hand.

At that precise moment, Santa Claus wasn’t specifically on my mind anymore, but I still found enough kindness within me to let my brother use the scissors first. He made a couple seemingly random snips in his work and then graciously handed them to me. My project was a little more complex. My older cousin had recently taught me to make paper snowflakes by folding a circular piece of paper into a wedge shape and cutting little bits out of the edges. I was determined to master this art myself. It proved to be more difficult than I had remembered. The first challenge was figuring out how to cut a piece of paper into a circle, and when I finally succeeded in getting one that was good enough to use, I couldn’t get it neatly folded. Once I had more or less mastered that step, I thought I had gotten the hang of making paper snowflakes, but my first two attempts ended with a snowflake that came out in multiple pieces. It took every bit of patience that I had to keep trying until I finally produced a snowflake that resembled my cousin’s work.

With pride and a sense of accomplishment, I held my snowflake aloft for my siblings to admire. Clearly, this work was worthy of a mother’s approval, so I brushed the paper scraps off of my lap and got up to bring my snowflake to her, completely forgetting that I had already committed a misdeed by taking the scissors without permission. At that moment, the error of my ways suddenly became much more serious. As the scraps of paper fluttered to the floor, they were accompanied by little pieces of dark fabric. With horror, I realized that I had unknowingly cut pieces out of my pants.

Davy and Susan stared at me in utter shock. This was the naughtiest thing that any of the three of us could remember ever having done. Destruction of clothing seemed to our immature minds to be an unforgivable vice, and there was simply nothing to be said that would adequately express the gravity of this situation. I did the only thing I could. I quickly changed into a similar pair of pants, rolled the damaged ones up into a tiny ball, and hid them in the back of the closet.

If Mom and Dad noticed that I had changed, they didn’t question or comment on it. The original pants stayed safely hidden for a long time, and I actually don’t know what eventually happened to them. At any rate, I never did get in trouble for cutting them. We did get in trouble for making a huge mess and for sneaking scissors into the bedroom, but that seemed like a minor point compared to the pants incident. As far as we were concerned, events turned out in our favor. But, for the two weeks that followed, we couldn’t shake the fear that Santa Claus knew more than Mom and Dad, and that we had gotten ourselves in serious trouble with him.

Then there was the matter that arose at the children’s Christmas program in church several days later. I can’t entirely explain why we acted the way we did that day. It didn’t help that we had been given cookies and candy in Sunday School prior to church, and were consequently all in a rambunctious mood. Stage fright may have also played a role, because that was the first year that I had been given something to memorize and recite in front of the entire congregation, and it was a stressful situation. But I think that the biggest factor in that day’s trouble was the plain and simple fact that we hated Cassie.

Cassie was in my Sunday School class. I hated her partly because she sometimes teased me, but mostly because she was Mary in the Christmas play and I wasn’t. Davy hated Cassie because she had hit him once, or so he claimed. Nobody else could ever remember when that had happened. Susan hated Cassie because she was a very devoted little sister and dutifully hated anyone that Davy and I hated.

The service was about to start, and all the kids were huddled together in a group at the back of the church. We were supposed to be forming two lines to march down the aisle singing “O Come All Ye Faithful”, but it is a plain and simple fact of nature that children are incapable of organizing themselves into lines without the assistance of adults who know where each child is supposed to go. I knew that I was supposed to go behind Tommy and in front of Cassie, because we were in height order. That was the way we had always practiced it and that was the way that the grownups had told us to do it. But for some reason, that wasn’t the way Cassie remembered it.

“You’re behind me,” I whispered at her. My whisper came out too loud and attracted the attention of all of the other kids, but the grownups took no notice. Several of our Sunday School classmates quickly took sides. My friends insisted that I came before Cassie, Cassie’s friends insisted that Cassie came before me, and everyone else insisted that we were being too loud and had to shut up now because church was starting.

It was crowded, and there was no way I could reposition myself in front of Cassie. I focused a dirty look at the back of her head, covered with the envied light blue cloth. The hymn started and the disorganized group of children began moving forward, but I didn’t sing. I was busy trying to formulate a plot for getting into the right spot at the front of the church, despite being in the wrong place in this formation that was supposed to be a line. We passed the pew where my parents were sitting, and they each gave me a look that said that they knew what was going on and were disappointed in me for acting grumpy and childish when I was supposed to be singing “O Come All Ye Faithful”.

When we got to the front of the church, the Sunday School teachers faced the consequences of failing to ensure that our lines were neat. As they tried to herd us into the pews at the front of the church, the grownups in the pews behind us laughed at the cuteness of our disorder. The little kids stood there idly, looking utterly baffled and lost, while the older kids hissed directions at each other under their breath. And Cassie stood there, looking so prim and proper as she waited to make her way into the pew that I wanted to yank her Mary headpiece right out of her hair.

But I didn’t. Davy did. I didn’t see him coming up behind me, and I didn’t see his hand reach for Cassie’s costume. But the next thing I knew, Cassie was shrieking and holding her hands to her head as if she’d been physically hurt, and Davy was standing next to me, giving me a triumphant look as he held the piece of blue fabric. Despite the surprised and amused reaction of the entire congregation behind us, we shared a moment of sibling comradeship. As far as everyone else was concerned, Davy had just done something childish and stupid because he was a little boy in an unruly mood. But from my perspective, he had just done something noble and unselfish in my defense.

Actually, we didn’t get in trouble for that at all. The adults all thought it was pretty funny, and the incident was more or less forgiven and forgotten as soon as the blue fabric was back on Cassie’s head. Even Cassie herself didn’t have anything to say about it after the fact. But Davy and I both knew that misbehaving in church was a serious offense. Later that evening, we discussed the question of whether or not Santa Claus would hold that against us. We wanted to believe that Santa Claus understood that we had to do something to respond to Cassie’s hatefulness, but it seemed unlikely that this was an adequate excuse for being mean to her in front of the entire congregation.

As Christmas day got closer, the pressure to be on Santa’s nice list increased. But, as any kid knows, it is simply impossible to avoid being rambunctious when it’s almost Christmas. There is simply too much energy to burn off, and that’s really all I can say to justify the time when Susan and I were playing catch in the living room. Susan started it, but I was older and supposedly knew better.

As any grownup would have predicted, the ball went off course a number of times. The game should have ended when an ornament got knocked off the tree, but as luck would have it, the ornament didn’t break. Susan gaped at it with her mouth wide open in a silent gasp. She had perfected the art of overly dramatic facial expressions, which served to enhance her natural cuteness. In this particular case, cuteness was not the objective; she was genuinely shocked at the misdeed we had just committed. But I simply picked up the ornament and put it back on the tree. And then I threw the ball back to Susan.

Only a minute or two later, something worse happened. The ball hit the fancy lamp on the little end table next to the sofa. It wobbled back and forth a couple times, while I stupidly stood motionless instead of running to catch it. Then it toppled off the table in slow motion, hit the floor, and dramatically broke into a million pieces. It would have been a spectacular sight if it wasn’t for the fact that breaking a lamp was, as far as we knew at that time, one of the most horrible things that a person could do. And there was absolutely nothing we could do to fix it or to avoid the parental wrath that was sure to ensue.

Instinct kicked in, and I grabbed Susan and hid behind the Christmas tree with her. I was old enough to know that hiding solved nothing, and if I had been thinking logically, I would have known that the safest course of action would have been to quietly sneak away and hope that Mom and Dad would find no evidence to tell them who had committed this crime. After all, they had three children and a dog, so it wasn’t unreasonable to hope that they would have no idea who to blame and would end up blaming no one. But I wasn’t thinking along those lines at that moment, and it seemed logical to hide behind the tree and wait to see what would happen.

Susan snuggled up against me, evidently feeling reassured to have a partner in her wrongdoing. “Do you think Santa Claus saw that?” she asked me.

“Santa Claus knows it was a mistake,” I told her, and hoped that was true.

We didn’t have to wait long before Mom walked into the room and found the broken lamp. “All right, who did this?” she yelled at anyone within earshot. There was a brief silence before she added, “I see you two back there. Come on out.”

There was no way to deny what we had done, so we came out. “We’re sorry,” I mumbled. “It was an accident.” Susan echoed my words.

“I forgive you, but you need to be more careful,” Mom said. “I can’t have you breaking things. Now go away until I get this mess cleaned up. I don’t want you stepping on anything sharp.”

She sounded angry, but she wasn’t punishing us. Susan and I scurried away, grateful to escape from that debacle so easily, and no more was said about it. But it was one more thing to add to the list of reasons that we were scared of how Santa Claus would judge us this year.

In spite of that, we really were relatively good kids. Those three incidents were really the only times we got in trouble for the entire month preceding Christmas that year. There were a few arguments that got a little out of hand, including one time that Davy bit me, and there were a few cases of staying up late without permission or sneaking disliked food to the dog. There were even a couple tantrums. But in general, our good behavior outweighed the occasional bouts of naughtiness. At least, that’s what we thought, and we were pretty sure it was what our parents thought, too. We could only hope that Santa Claus agreed.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Mom and Dad called us together into the living room. They looked so serious that we knew something was wrong. Dad held up a handwritten letter on elegant stationary and shook his head sadly.

“I’m very sorry to tell you this,” he said, “but we got a letter from Santa Claus today, and he said that you aren’t on the nice list this year.”

Even amid the stunned silence, an ambiance of grief suddenly filled the room. Susan started to sniff. “Let me see that,” I demanded.

He wasn’t bluffing. “To the parents of Gloria, Davy, and Susan,” the letter said in perfectly neat handwriting “I regret to inform you that your children have not met my official standards for goodness this year. Because of their behavior, we are unable to put them on the nice list. Sincerely, Santa Claus.” It looked legitimate. If the handwriting was in fact my mother’s, I didn’t notice, and if she was struggling to keep a straight face as I read the letter aloud, I wasn’t aware of that.

Davy let out a wail of sheer despair, and Susan burst into tears. I stared speechlessly at the paper in my hands and thought back to various wrong things I’d done and hated myself for every one of them.

“But we tried so hard to be good,” I said.

“I know,” said Mom. “I guess you just weren’t good enough.”

“I’m very sorry,” said Dad, “but you know there’s nothing we can do about it. Now you all need to go and get changed for church.”

It seemed horribly cruel for them to bring us to church on Christmas Eve when we had nothing to be excited about the next day. We had to sing Christmas hymns without any feelings of joy and we had to listen to the pastor preach about how Jesus is God’s ultimate gift when we were saddened by the knowledge that we weren’t getting any other gifts that year. After the service, people cheerfully wished us a merry Christmas, and Mom and Dad responded with an equal degree of Christmas joy, but the three of us kids were quiet and somber. We came back home and went to bed without all of the chaos and exuberant excitement that normally characterized Christmas Eve. Mom and Dad put us to bed and wished us a good night and a merry Christmas with so much affection that it was slightly comforting, but there was nothing they could say or do to heal the heartbreak of a Christmas without gifts. That night, I fell asleep to the sound of my little sister sobbing quietly, in a way completely uncharacteristic of children that young.

Most years, on Christmas morning, the three of us woke up absurdly early and dragged Mom and Dad out of bed to start our Christmas celebration long before it was daytime by any reasonable standard. But that Christmas, the digital clock on my dresser said 7:38 when Susan woke me up to ask for help with a zipper. I helped her and got dressed myself, and then Davy joined us as we went downstairs to see if Mom had made anything special for breakfast, like she usually did on Christmas. At least that would be one nice thing about today.

“Good morning, you sleepyheads!” said Mom. “Merry Christmas! You certainly took your time getting up today!”

We looked around the living room in amazement. There were presents under the tree. Mom and Dad sat on the sofa, where they had apparently been waiting for us for a while now. They looked happy and excited and impatient to get started with Christmas morning. But how could there be presents under the tree?

“I thought Santa said we were naughty,” Davy said.

“You have been naughty,” said Mom. “You’re naughty every year. Sometimes you’re very good, but that doesn’t make up for all the times you misbehave. But you know what? Christmas gifts aren’t a reward for being good. We give you Christmas gifts because we love you, and we forgive you when you misbehave.”

“After all,” Dad added, “does God only give gifts to people on His nice list? Are any of us even good enough to be on God’s nice list? Or did he give Jesus as a gift to everyone, even though we’re all sinners? We aren’t going to celebrate Jesus’ birthday by punishing you for not always being good. It’s better to celebrate Jesus’ birthday by letting you see that you can’t earn gifts. You haven’t earned these Christmas presents and you haven’t earned the forgiveness and salvation that comes from Jesus. But you get to have them anyway.”

That was the Christmas that I stopped believing in Santa Claus and learned that the presents under the tree came from my parents. But more importantly, it’s the year that I realized what’s wrong with the legend of Santa Claus. Now that I think back on the Christmases of my childhood, the Santa Claus tradition strikes me as being ironic and sad. Why would we celebrate Jesus’ incarnation, which is the ultimate example of an undeserved gift, by teaching children to believe in a moralistic system whereby gifts are a direct result of good behavior? Christmas is a time to rejoice in the knowledge that God gives us gifts even though we don’t deserve them. The most important gift of all comes through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Santa Claus might be a fun little story that is harmless when it’s used for entertainment, but the moralistic message of Santa Claus is completely overshadowed by the salvific message about Jesus Christ. And since none of us deserve to be on any kind of a nice list, that’s extremely good news.

 

 

There’s This Book I’m Reading, Episode 5

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Douglas AdamsI read a lot of stuff. Much of it is for school, but when I can find the time, I like to read just for the fun of it, too, and I have always found that pleasure reading is just as intellectual and conveys just as much knowledge and school reading. For example, here is something I have learned through extensive pleasure reading: Douglas Adams was really clever. He was both a skilled writer and an all-around genius who either had extremely varied fields of knowledge or was very talented at using knowledge he didn’t even have. Either way, reading a book by Douglas Adams is both an enjoyable and an intellectual experience.

My familiarity with Douglas Adams’ writing is primarily limited to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I actually hadn’t read those books until about the time the movie came out, which Google informs me was in 2005. That means that I was fourteen, (well, thirteen and a half; it was in the spring) and I’m almost a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t already read the books by then. I knew that my father liked them and I seem to recall that he had recommended them to me on more than one occasion, but yet I somehow didn’t read them until there was a movie ready to be watched shortly thereafter. Given the fact that I have always considered myself to be a greater book-lover than movie-lover, I cannot justify the movie-centric priorities that I displayed as a thirteen-and-a-half year old. But this is unimportant, because the point is that I did in fact read the books and I loved them and have since read them many times and continued to love them every time.

Douglas AdamsThis blog post isn’t about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s about another book by Douglas Adams called Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Sadly, it is the only Douglas Adams book I have read apart from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but it has greatly reinforced and increased my high opinion of Douglas Adams and has reminded me that I must find and read more Douglas Adams books, particularly The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was written in 1987, which was three years after So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, (The fourth Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book) and five years before Mostly Harmless (the fifth and last Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book). In many ways, most notably the writing style, it is very similar to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but it is certainly a book worth enjoying, admiring, and discussing in its own right.

Douglas Adams, like great British writers before him, (this is an allusion to Shakespeare, by the way) is remarkable for his skill in characterization. Not only are the characters memorable and interesting, but Douglas Adams is very good at realistically articulating the thoughts of apparently normal characters in ridiculous situations, ridiculous characters in apparently normal situations, and any kind of character in any kind of situation between the two extremes. If I was writing an unreasonably long paper arguing that Douglas Adams’ characterization is just as brilliant as Shakespeare’s, (Oh, why did I not think of that several months ago? That would have been such an awesome English senior seminar paper!) I could take several pages giving textual examples. But I am not writing a paper here and I don’t have a minimum length, but I do have a minimum amount of time to dedicate to this blog post, so I will instead stick to a couple characters in the book I am specifically discussing.

Apparently, there's a movie. I have not seen the movie, but I would like to do so at some point.

Apparently, there’s a movie. I have not seen the movie, but I would like to do so at some point.

Richard and Susan are both pretty normal people. They are talented and notably intelligent people, (Richard works with computers and Susan is a cellist) but they act and think more or less like any other Earth human who has never encountered extra-terrestrial technology or been faced with paradoxes of the space-time continuum. Richard is absent-minded and obsessed with his job; Susan is his girlfriend who wishes he would step away from the computer screen a bit more often. Richard is somewhat in trouble with his boss because he’s behind schedule on certain tasks; Susan is his boss’s sister who is annoyed that her brother leaves long rambling messages on her answering machine telling her to pressure Richard into getting his work done. But somewhere along the line, they get involved in a bizarre course of events that involves a murder and police investigation, a ghost, and inexplicable anomalies in the fabric of space and time, which Richard cannot solve with his computer simulations.

Then there’s Reg, an eccentric and absent-minded professor who reminds me very much of a certain professor I have had, except that Reg is even odder and his conversation is even more convoluted. Like the aforementioned professor, Reg is inherently likable, even though the reader can tell right away that there’s something extremely strange about him. If nothing else, it’s weird that he’s a professor and nobody knows exactly what his field is. The fact that his position is called “the Regius Professorship of Chronology” is a hint, but not a very specific one. Reg’s extreme absent-mindedness, which first appears to be a trait that Douglas Adams uses just for the sake of characterizing Reg according to a stereotype and adding an extra touch of humor, turns out to be part of the plot. That’s another thing about Douglas Adams; many of the most random and silly side-notes of the beginning of the story later turn out to be significant and incredibly brilliant plot twists.

And there’s Dirk Gently himself, a character who cannot be described in any way other than to quote directly from the book itself. When Reg casually mentions Dirk, formally known as Svlad Cjelli, Richard “wondered what had lately become of his former… was friend the word? He seemed more like a succession of extraordinary events than a person. The idea of him actually having friends as such seemed not so much unlikely, more a sort of mismatching of concepts, like the idea of the Suez crisis popping out for a bun.” Richard and Svlad had known each other as undergraduate students, during which time Svlad had spread the rumor that he was psychic by denying it far more vehemently than necessary and then failing to disprove it. This, as Douglas Adams emphasizes, is the best way to make up a convincing story. Now, Dirk Gently is a terribly unsuccessful private detective who believes in the interrelatedness of all things so strongly that he deems it necessary to go sit on a beach in Bermuda while working on a case concerning a missing cat. Dirk Gently is the kind of character who can spout off fascinating theories regarding Schrodinger’s cat that almost make sense in once chapter, admit that he was just saying that to be ridiculous in another chapter, and later yet, say profound and quotable things like, “It is a rare mind indeed that can render the hitherto nonexistent blindingly obvious. The cry ‘I could have thought of that’ is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too. This, if I am not mistaken, is the staircase we seek. Shall we ascend?” I left that last bit in there because I like it and intend to use it in regular conversation whenever possible.

Douglas AdamsThere are many other brilliant things about the book that I don’t have time to describe in any detail, such as the Electric Monk and Richard’s sofa that’s stuck in an impossible place on the stairs. One of the best things about Douglas Adams’ stories is those random details that seem so simple and/or humorous, but required an extreme degree of intelligence and creativity to write. And there are many other wonderfully quotable lines from the book that I don’t have time to quote. Another one of the best things about Douglas Adam’s stories is that they are rife with clever and quotable lines. But I think that the thing I like the absolute most about Douglas Adams is that his writing style is so memorable and even inspiring. Every now and then, I read over something I’ve written and notice a phrase or sentence that sounds a little like Douglas Adams, or even a group of sentences that express a very Douglas-Adams-esque idea. When Douglas Adams’ influence manifests itself in my own writing, those are the times that I am most satisfied with my writing, because he has set the standard to which I aspire. Maybe that’s a little funny, because in some cases, (obviously not the one quoted above) his wording and phrasing is so simple and vernacular and his ideas seem so natural. One reads Douglas Adams and thinks to oneself, “I could have thought of that!” But the fact is that one didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is, too. This, if I am not mistaken, is the staircase we seek. Shall we ascend?