Six Degrees of Separation: Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret

My favourite monthly tag, hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest,  Six Degrees of Separation picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps.

Links in the titles will take you to my reviews where they exist. This month it’s one of Judy Blume’s most enduring titles – Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary! I didn’t read any Judy Blume when younger, although I did read her novel of first love and first sex Forever, as an adult (reviewed here).

You know I like to pick a theme for my six degrees, and I’m going to be a little provocative this month, all my picks have God in the title, although they’re not necessarily ‘godly’ reads. Here goes…

Young God by Katharine Faw Morris

This debut novella packs a punch and a half. I had to read it once Elle told me it was like Winter’s Bone but more so. The story of teenager Nikki, the language is very coarse, the violence and sex and drugs are very nasty, the poverty is extreme. It’s everything you might expect from a tale of poor white trailer-trash folk, but it goes beyond cliché to become something else entirely. You can’t ‘like’ any of the characters, but you have to respect that they have no other way out. Nikki has such strength, you have to admire her for it, as you do Ree in Winter’s Bone. Nikki has a harder edge though, honed by years of abuse, neglect and periods in the children’s home.

When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Another debut with a young female protagonist, Elly’s story goes from her childhood up to the present day – and yes, as a young girl, she called her rabbit ‘God’. In common with many debut novels, it felt like the author was just overflowing with ideas and had to cram them all into this book so they were used and didn’t disappear into the ether. Winman has managed to fill Elly’s first decades with so much life and love in all its forms, one wonders what this girl did next.  Elly’s story has the feel of book that wants to be a family saga, but falls a little short of being the kind of epic that it would like to be. But it was a very enjoyable read.

Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru

I have used this book before, but it so fitted my theme I had to use it again; also it’s a Kunzru favourite (alongside White Tears). At its centre, Gods Without Men is the story of Jaz and Lisa Matharu, and their four year old autistic son Raj. A successful couple living in New York, their relationship has its difficulties due to Lisa being Jewish and Jaz Sikh, and their families not being able to come to terms with that. It’s difficult to go anywhere en famille with Raj, so this is how they end up in a cheap motel outside LA with the Californian desert close by. When Raj goes missing.  Lisa and Jaz are plunged into the media spotlight which soon turns against them as parents. Running parallel to the main event are the stories of a British rock star addled by excess who runs away from the recording studio, and an refugee Iraqi teenager who has a job as a ‘villager’ in a military simulation to acclimatize US troops before their deployment. Their stories converge with that of Lisa and Jaz in the desert out near the rock formation known as the Pinnacles, as do those of many through the ages. We hear from many different people whose stories climax in the desert –  from a Spanish missionary in 1775, to the beginnings of a cult in the late 1950s through to its early 1970s incarnation as a commune dedicated to the Ashtar Galactic Command. This adds up to a rich tapestry of story threads that interweave in and out of each other with the desert as the canvas. The writing is as searingly hot as the dense desert heat and as cool as the starry night-time sky. It’s stunningly good.

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Philips

The Gods are from ancient Greece in this hilarious comic debut which I read pre-blog. What happens if you’re an ancient Greek god or goddess, but nobody believes in you any more? This delightfully fun and ribald novel gives us a new take on the age-old clash between mortals and immortals. The ancient Greek Gods are living out their lives in domestic squalor in London and trying to make enough money to get by – Aphrodite does phone-sex! Artemis decides something needs to be done, so she employs a cleaner, Alice, and this is a life-changing event – for all of them. Great fun!

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

My book group controversially chose this for our ‘Christmas’ read back in 2006 to discuss in Jan 2007! I dutifully started reading it but I admit I got fed up by the middle and skimmed the rest. Dawkins’ relentless exposition of his arguments against the existence of a supreme being started to get boring and rambling, although there were some great quotations in support. The God Delusion is an important book. However, as a personal credo I’m with one of the other reviewers who offers up Jefferson’s appeal for mutual tolerance.

God is Dead by Ron Currie

God comes to Earth in Darfur in the form of a refugee woman, but gets killed, and this changes the world. Lawlessness, panic, and suicide pacts take over for a while – then people with nothing to do on a Sunday now start to worship their children – which leads a to a (further) dumbing down of Western civilisation. Meanwhile, factions develop into worldwide war – the Post Modern Anthropologists versus the Evolutionary Psychologists – different sides of the same coin, and of course now God’s not there, what was all that fuss about intelligent design about!!! But most people it seems, still need something to hang their faith upon.The novel does not have a coherent plot, rather it’s a linked series of episodes each exploring a facet of the impact of God’s death on humanity, highlighting all our failings. Provocative, irreverent, pessimistic, yet poignant in many parts, for a book about the death of religion, it seemed to be almost pro, as the world without God here was an even worse place – at least in the Western world. A case for a sort of benign agnosticism perhaps? An interesting, well-written and thought-provoking read.

My six degrees have taken in many aspects of God, gods, and godliness – both good and bad. How about yours?

29 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret

  1. margaret21 says:

    A great chain which I’ve only – so far read one from – the Sarah Winman which I remember not enjoying, but don’t remember why not! My own chain manages to avoid God completely, though this wasn’t a conscious decision.

  2. margaret21 says:

    By the way, I’ve been trying for ages to try to get on the mailing list for Shiny New Books. I must be doing something wrong as I can’t seem to manage it. Any suggestions please?

  3. Calmgrove says:

    Nice list, and one in which ai even recognise a few of the titles! I enjoyed The God Delusion because, even though at times it hugely overstated its position, the resulting furore showed it had hit one of its main marks, namely the beliefs of extreme evangelicals who hold to the text being the literal truth. But, as an atheist myself, I would say that, wouldn’t I!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Our book group are mostly sceptics and at least agnostic. We’ve lost a member before who couldn’t cope with a book they chose about faith being strongly questioned. Don’t know if we’re proud of that…

  4. kimbofo says:

    I love your thematic 6 Degrees! This is a great one as ever. I loved Young God, it’s one of the more memorable books I’ve read in the past 5 years. It’s so compelling and visceral. I haven’t read any of the others in your chain but I love the sound of Gods Without Men…will definitely be looking that one up in my local library.

  5. MarinaSofia says:

    You are always so clever with your themed chains – and I read Gods Behaving Badly not that long ago, with my love of Ancient Greece, and basekd in its zany weirdness! But it’s the only one I’ve read from your set, other than The God Delusion. (My ex adored Dawkins and had several of his books).

  6. rosemarykaye says:

    What a good take on the starter book. I thought about using god as the link but then couldn’t think of any books (husband suggested The Bible, which I suppose in retrospect could have been a possibility!)

    Until very recently I worked for a cathedral. Being fairly wishy-washy in my beliefs, or lack of them, I was afraid I’d be surrounded by very devout and straight-laced colleagues, but in fact it was nothing like that – almost everyone was quite robust and open minded. It’s a shame that your group lost a member over religion, but I do feel that any faith worth its salt should be able to cope with a bit of questioning.

    And so many books do have something to do with beliefs, even if obliquely, that the subject is bound to come up at some point. When I did English at university I really regretted that I knew next to nothing about the Bible or the Prayer Book, as whether one believes all, some or none of what’s in them, they form the backdrop to so much great literature that I think I missed a lot through not being able to understand the references.

    Sorry for that digression! Gods Behaving Badly sounds great fun!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I may not be religious, but I am glad I got a grounding in the bible as a child and can at least get some references in other work. I also still love all the Greek and Roman myths in particular which stands me in good stead.

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