My friend Kara often wonders, "Why can't the believers and the non-believers all just get along?" Rebecca Goldstein's new novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God seems to ask similar questions. Although the title is a bit misleading since the book features an appendix where each of the 36 arguments is laid out and then immediately refuted.
The novel is set around the life of Cass Seltzer, a university professor who's first book, The Varieties of Religious Illusion is a hit. Now Seltzer is being courted by Harvard and he appears on a variety of media shows where he's been dubbed "the atheist with a soul." Cass is a likable character whose personality unfolds over the course of the book, and you eventually realize that nice guys can make it big. He's sentimental about love and relationships. He maps out the paradoxical problems associated with saying "I love you" first. And one of his girlfriends notes that he likes to cuddle so much, he even cuddles in his sleep, spawning one of my new favorite terms, "sleep cuddling."
Cass is a perfectly written character. In fact Goldstein is surprisingly adept at writing believable characters who speak with equally believable dialogue. Take Jonas Elijah Klapper, the blowhard of an academic whose religious ideologies are respected the world over. His outrageous lectures packed with alliterations are worth reading twice. And Cass's friend Roz is a loud and outrageous free spirit that I'd love to have as a friend. Goldstein also introduces us to an insulated community of orthodox Jews. And for a book largely about atheism, this group somehow makes you want to believe.
Goldstein is an academic with some impressive educational credentials in everything from philosophy to science. Maybe that's why this book is so believable. It's also a book made to be read on the Kindle. It's packed with obscure words. Goldstein has a vocabulary that spans literary, scientific, and philosophical realms. So my Kindle dictionary got a big workout.
This may be my favorite book I've read so far this year. Great characters, telling great stories, about issues that seem relevant to the time in which I live. I'm giving this book a great, big Read It! rating.