The Christians and the Pagans

Hobgoblin and I returned home a day early to avoid the snow that’s supposed to come tomorrow, and now we’re safe in our respective studies, back at our computers, and all is well. We had a good time at my parents’ place, although Muttboy suffered some because my oldest brother’s dog is more energetic than he is, and whenever she was around, he couldn’t get a moment’s peace. He would stare intently at us, as if to say “get me out of here, please! She won’t stop pacing back and forth and I can’t handle it anymore!” Hobgoblin had to take him outside practically every hour to give him a break.

But otherwise, all went well; the 13 of us hung out and talked, played board games and Texas 42 (a domino game my mother brought from her home state), watched some movies, and read books together. I managed to keep from reverting to my 13-year-old irritable self, the one who can’t handle anything my mother says or does and who glares at people for no reason and picks fights for fun. Having so many people around I didn’t grow up with helped me behave myself — in addition to my six siblings, we also had three spouses and one girlfriend staying in the house, plus two friends/significant others dropping by now and then, and one visit from the local youth pastor. I almost couldn’t help but behave myself.

And yes, the theme song of this Christmas was Dar Williams’s “The Christians and the Pagans”; in fact, my middle brother’s girlfriend had a copy of the song and played it for Hobgoblin and me on Christmas day. It was the four of us, the pagans of the family, plus one sister of whose religious status I’m uncertain, hanging out at home on Sunday morning while everyone else was at church, and again on Monday evening while everyone else was at the Christmas Eve service. We talked about atheism and pantheism and panentheism, our problems with the idea of a transcendent God, and about our experiences with church youth groups, and we looked forward with trepidation to the youth pastor’s visit; I have nothing against youth pastors generally (although I can’t say I’ve met many I’ve liked), but this particular one cornered me last summer at my brother’s graduation party and asked me where I’m going to church these days — an awkward conversation followed, and I haven’t yet gotten over it. But his visit was fine — no awkward questions this time — and just as in the song, “hands were held and prayers were said, sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses.”

And now I’ll tell you about the stack of books I came home with. Hobgoblin gave me two, both of which promise to be very informative: first, Franco Moretti’s The Novel, Volume I: History, Geography, and Culture, a book I’ve been longing for for a while but wasn’t ready to spend the money on. It’s a big, fat book with tons of essays on the novel; the back cover says that it “looks at the novel mostly from the outside, treating the transition from oral to written storytelling and the rise of narrative and fictionality, and covering the ancient Greek novel, the novel in premodern China, the early Spanish novel, and much else, including readings of novels from around the world.” Sounds great, right? He also gave me The Woman Triathlete, which I spent much of Christmas day reading through. It’ll give me useful ideas for training.

From other family members I received Charlotte Bronte’s novel Shirley, which I’m excited about as I’m trying to read some of the Brontes’s lesser-known works; Alan Lightman’s book on science A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit; Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart; Louise Glück’s book of essays on poetry, Proofs and Theories; and Marjorie Agosín’s book of poems Secrets in the Sand. This last book came from my sister who heard the author read at her college and got her to sign my copy.

Needless to say, I’m excited about all these books and eager to have some more reading time over the next couple weeks.

7 Comments

Filed under Books, Life

7 responses to “The Christians and the Pagans

  1. What a wonderful lot of books to come home with. I’ve had my eye on the Moretti as well and I will be very curious to read what you have to say about it when you get the time to dive in.

  2. Glad you’re back without snowstorm. I always have this awkward moment when I feel that some of my inlaws would like to go to Xmas service but don’t dare to because I wouldn’t go. Your family deals with it better than we do I guess.
    Great book pile, I loved Shirley and I think you will enjoy it too!

  3. Glad your time away was nice. I know what you mean about trying not to be your 13-year-old self when you go home. I have the same problem. What nice books you got! I am so jealous of the Moretti book. Can’t wait to hear more about it.

  4. “The Christians and the Pagans” is one of my favorite Dar songs, and I just love your take on this in your own family. Once when she was playing in CT, she told the audience that when she wrote that song, she was envisioning the uncle living in Westport. And aren’t books the BEST gifts? Sounds like you did very well.

  5. Kate — I’m looking forward to the Moretti — there’s so much there — it’s a real treasure trove, I’m sure.

    Smithereens — glad to hear you liked Shirley! I’m not sure my family deals with the religious stuff all that well; we just keep quiet about it — which maybe isn’t a bad way to deal with it after all …

    Stefanie — I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with acting her age around family! :)

    Emily — thank you! How interesting to know a little of the history behind the song!

  6. Glad your back! Sometimes it’s good to have nonfamily members around to keep things on an even keel! Poor Muttboy, though. He needs a vacation after his vacation! :) The books you received all sound wonderful. I hope you like the Bowen–I think she’s a great author! And I’m looking forward to your posts on the first book the Hobgoblin gave you–I always learn so much about the novel here (and I think eventually you’ll inspire me to pick up a book like that to read as well).

  7. Jodie

    Oh dear Dorothy you encourage my book habit terribly (and good for you in an age where British children are leaving school unable to read) and now I have parts one and two of ‘The Novel’.

    I am quite excited that a book of such magnitude is winging its way to my house.

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