Alex Rose is a co-founder and editor of Hotel St. George Press. He is the author of the The Musical Illusionist and Other Tales, praised by Library Journal as “a potential cult classic” and the Village Voice as “uncanny.” His stories and essays have appeared in the Reading Room, McSweeney’s, the North American Review, the Forward and the Providence Journal, among others. As a filmmaker, Rose’s short films and videos have screened in over two dozen festivals worldwide, as well as on many television networks, including HBO, ShowTime, Comedy Central, the BBC and MTV.Of the many atheist manifestos to hit the shelves within the past few years – among them, The End of Faith, Breaking the Spell, and God is Not Great – none have been so deliciously rewarding as The God Delusion, by the world-renowned evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins.It’s to his credit that Dawkins has never been concerned with the tactics of the science vs. faith debate, with strategic savvy and political niceties, but simply with determining what is true. He believes that the “God hypothesis” falls in the realm of science in much the same way that other matters, such as the chemical composition of stars, or the mechanics of visual perception were once considered unanswerable until clear-headed investigation proved otherwise. Similarly, he claims, if we are genuinely concerned with the universe, with what exists and what does not, we should want to use modern methods and reasoning to reach a conclusion, as we do with nearly every other practical endeavor, rather than resort to myths, atavisms and soothsayings.Because he is smart, Dawkins is careful not to state unequivocally that no omniscient deity could exist, only that the likelihood is so low that one may just as reasonably presume the existence of Zeus, Thor, or the “flying spaghetti monster.” The case he makes for this position is exhaustive, factoring in countless examples from biology, philosophy, history, politics and human rights.As punishing as he can be, however, Dawkins is no provocateur. Indeed, his approach is neither superior and exasperated (like Hitchens and Harris), nor apologetic and kiddy-gloved (like Dennet). Not since Bertrand Russell has the balance between criticism and tolerance, between intellectual rigor and deeply felt compassion, been so masterfully struck.More from A Year in Reading 2007
As I did three months ago, I once again delved into Barnes & Noble’s quarterly conference call to get some insight into the latest book industry trends. Here are the highlights:CFO Joseph Lombardi is cautious but guardedly optimistic about sales in the all-important fourth quarter, saying that “the hardcover book business has improved” but there have been “some recent mixed retail sales reports.”Following a slow second quarter, the third quarter saw a turnaround in sales. CEO Steve Riggio said that the increase in sales began with Bob Dylan’s new CD, Modern Times.Diane Setterfield’s The 13th Tale was “one of the most successful new hardcovers… The wonderful ghostly tale was our number one bestseller the first day it went on sale, and the book went on to break all previous Barnes & Noble sales records for a first-time novelist. Almost 60 days after publication, the book is still one of our top-selling titles, due to its word-of-mouth appeal.”Fiction bestsellers for the quarter were Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story, Nicholas Sparks’ Dear John, David Baldacci’s The Collectors, and “rising fiction star” Vince Flynn’s Act of Treason.On the nonfiction side, the bestsellers were John Grisham’s The Innocent Man, Bob Woodward’s State of Denial, Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, and Richard Dawkin’s The God DelusionLooking at the fourth quarter, “Among the season’s best gift books, the standout is clearly Annie Leibovitz’s A Photographer’s Life, but Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook is off to a great start, as is the magnificent coffee table book called Rainforest.”In October, Barnes & Noble upped its discounts for shoppers who belong to its member program. The company expects this to help sales, but its inability to say just how the numbers might work out made investors nervous, the issue being that this plan could put a serious dent in the bookseller’s profit margin.Having said that, Barnes & Noble also noted that “margins continue to benefit from lower purchasing from book wholesalers, increased sales of our own publications, and an overall more efficient supply chain.” – i.e. those books published by Barnes & Noble are quite lucrative for the company.
The Guardian looks at the trend of books by secular skeptics, who take various angles as they pick apart religion. Leading the charge is Richard Dawkins, whose book The God Delusion has become a bestseller if the #3 ranking on Amazon is to be believed. The other books mentioned in the Guardian sport impressive Amazon rankings as well. Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris is ranked #10. Daniel C. Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon is ranked #227. But Dawkins is undoubtedly the headliner of this trend. For a taste of what he’s all about, the curious can read his recent essay at the Huffington Post.The coverage of the Dawkins book has been varied. Publishers Weekly’s review expresses alarm at Dawkins’ notion that “religion generally is ‘nonsense.'”The New York Times (setting aside Levi’s complaint) finds Dawkins to be compelling, but over the top in his rhetoric:The book fairly crackles with brio. Yet reading it can feel a little like watching a Michael Moore movie. There is lots of good, hard-hitting stuff about the imbecilities of religious fanatics and frauds of all stripes, but the tone is smug and the logic occasionally sloppy. Dawkins fans accustomed to his elegant prose might be surprised to come across such vulgarisms as “sucking up to God” and “Nur Nurny Nur Nur” (here the author, in a dubious polemical ploy, is imagining his theological adversary as a snotty playground brat).At the Philly Inquirer, Frank Wilson writes that Dawkins’ characterization of God and religion “amounts to caricature.”Dawkins’ rhetorical excesses aside, what interests me more is the larger trend, which, I hope, is representative of a recognition of how much violence in the world, now as ever, is committed in the name of religion. Beyond that, I’m wondering if people have grown weary so much being couched in religious terms these days, the battles over gay marriage, stem cells, and abortion, a president who is doing God’s work. It seems to me that a backlash may be building among people who don’t want religion’s reach to extend quite so far beyond the church, temple and mosque. It also interests me to see how book sales can be an indicator of the broader cultural trends in our country.See Also: HarperCollins Chief Says Religious Books Selling Poorly