How To Be Good

Publisher
Riverhead

Author
Nick Hornby, best selling author of High Fidelity and About a Boy

Central Theme
In a society without an agreed upon definition of what it means to be good, the task of “being good” has become even more difficult.

Overview
Katie Carr, doctor and self declared good person), has just had an affair. It’s not her faulty she is, after all, married to David: angry, cynical, negative (though undeniably funny) and a real pain to live with. But then David meets DJ GoodNews, an astonishingly effective faith healer and do-gooder of the unbearably smug kind, and now David is good. Too good actually, ¢â‚¬Ëœa liberal’s worst nightmare,’ he starts to put theory into practice giving away their kids toys, reaching out to the hospitals and homeless in a very personal and, for Katie, disturbing way. It seems to her that if charity begins at home, it may be time to move.” Jacket Cover (British version).

Hornby is a witty writer with a serious intention to stare into society’s relativistic abyss and see if he can find meaning there. As one reviewer said, ‘it won’t outsell the Bible but it’s a lot funnier.’ In How to Be Good Hornby not only explores contemporary understandings of the concepts of “good,” but also deconstructs the common paths offered in the pursuit of the good. It is no accident that the new age faith healer has adopted the name “good news” for that is a literal and contemporary rendering of the word ¢â‚¬Ëœgospel’ and Hornby is intent on debunking the gooey claim made by so many new agers that they offer a new and improved version of traditional religion. While Katie’s husband is off exploring new age religion, Katie takes a try at the Anglicanism of her youth and finds the local clergywoman overly concerned with relevance while lacking confidence in her beliefs. Some of Hornby’s most sobering observations are of today’s church it seems clear he has more than a passing knowledge of church and Scripture. In addition to a comical and searing look at religion (new and old) Horny also takes a healthy cut at the ¢â‚¬Ëœbleeding heart” activism of today’s liberal humanitarian and identifies it’s swing from naive and optimistic to ineffective.

This is a book worth reading for insights into the contemporary dilemma, but it is short on satisfactory solutions and ends with Katie’s sense of hope about the future being declared just as she at the wrong moment ‘catches a glimpse of the sky and sees there’s nothing out there at all.’

Beliefs num
–There is nothing new under the sun
–Most people today cannot agree on a definition of ¢â‚¬Ëœgood.’
–The Anglican Church has lost the conviction that it offers truth and so instead substitutes relevance.
–The New Age alternatives offer an initial ¢â‚¬Ëœrush’ but in the end lack substance and staying power.
–Service to mankind is good in theory but ineffective and plagued with problems in practice.
–We ought to stop trying to save the world and focus on our own life and immediate family.
–It seems there is no God, we are alone in the universe.

Questions Worth Discussing num
–What does it mean to be a good person?
–Are humans truly capable of goodness?
–Does religion help people become good?
–Will most young seekers try visiting a church and is it likely they will find what they are looking for there?

Provocative Quotes byline
–Listen. I’m not a bad person. I’m a doctor. One of the reasons I wanted to become a doctor is because I thought it would be a good thing to do.
==Katie, rationalizing about being good while she is having an affair
–You see, what I really want, and what I’m getting with Stephen, is the opportunity to rebuild myself from scratch.
==Katie, explaining why she is having an affair
–I’m a good person. In most ways. But I’m beginning to think being a good person in most ways doesn’t count for very much.
==Katie, realizing she can’t offset her bad deeds with her good deeds
–David has become a sort of happy-clappy-right-on version of Barbie’s Ken, except without Ken’s rugged good looks and contoured body. And I don’t think David has become a Christian, although it is hard to fathom exactly what he has become.
==Katie, reflecting on David’s conversion from a bitter, sarcastic guy to an overly sweet one
–I wanted to be like Luke Skywalker, off somewhere on my own, learning to be a Jedi. I wanted a break from the war. I wanted someone wise to teach me how to do the things I needed to know to survive the rest of my life.
==Katie, reflecting on the attraction of a mentor with answers
–When I look at my sins (And if I think they’re sins, then they are sins), I can see the appeal of born-again Christianity. I suspect that it’s not the Christianity that is so alluring; it’s the rebirth. Because who wouldn’t wish to start all over again?
==Katie, after reviewing her failures at trying to be good
–The vicar is indeed a kindly middle-aged lady who seems vaguely ashamed of her beliefs¢â‚¬¦I have never been to an ordinary church service before. I have been to weddings, funerals, christenings, carol services and even harvest festivals, but I have never been to a bog-standard, nobody there, Sunday service¢â‚¬¦it all feels a long way from God¢â‚¬¦It feels sad, exhausted, defeated; this may have been God’s house once, you want to tell the handful of people here, But He’s clearly moved, shut up shop.
==Katie’s observations when she visits her local Anglican church
–He has reached the end of his tether. Mark takes drugs, goes to see bands, swears a lot, hates Conservatives, has periods of promiscuity. If on meeting him for the first time, you were asked to name one thing that he didn’t do, you would almost certainly choose churchgoing.
==Katie’s shock at seeing her brother visiting church too
–Why are you people so timid? It’s no wonder the churches are empty, when you can’t answer even the simplest questions. Don’t you get it? That’s what we want. Answers. If we wanted wooly minded nonsense we’d stay at home. In our own heads.
==Katie scolds the vicar for not giving a straightforward answer to her question-should I leave my husband
–Maybe that’s what’s wrong with all of us. Maybe Mark thought he was going to find that warmth in church, and all those people on our street who took the street kids in thought they could find it in their spare bedrooms, and David found it in GoodNews fingertips went looking for it because he wanted to feel it once more before he died. As do I.
==Katie realizing we all want warmth to replace our sadness
–My family, I think, just that. And then, I can do this. I can live this life. I can. It’s a spark I want to cherish, a splutter of life in the flat battery; but just at the wrong moment I catch a glimpse of the night sky behind David, and I can see that there’s nothing out there at all.
==Last line of book, in which Katie’s hope is set in a context of aloneness in the universe

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