Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What is James J. O'Donnell reading?

Featured at Writers Read: James J. O'Donnell, author of Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity.

His entry begins:
I started reading with the back of a milk carton. At age five, I asked my parents what “homogenized” meant, rather startling them I think. The great tragedy of my life is that eight years later I had a shot at winning the El Paso TX annual grand spelling bee, for a trip to the national championship, and the word I missed was the other one I learned that day at age five, “pasteurize” – “p-a-s-t-u-r-i-z-e”, I said, triggering the fatal ding.

I haven’t stopped reading since, so to ask what I’m reading now requires a definition of “now” measured in femtoseconds. Pick your instant and ask me and I wonder will it be the antiquarian bookseller’s essays on the booktrade on my nightstand, or the little hardcover copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets underneath it that had better get back in my suitcase quick quick before my trip this weekend, since it’s my emergency print-when-the-iPad-fails carryalong ready to delight and absorb me anywhere. It will have competition this time, though, because I just bought a non-Maigret novel of Simenon, Dirty Snow...[read on]
About Pagans, from the publisher:
A provocative and contrarian religious history that charts the rise of Christianity from the point of view of traditional” religion from the religious scholar and critically acclaimed author of Augustine.

Pagans explores the rise of Christianity from a surprising and unique viewpoint: that of the people who witnessed their ways of life destroyed by what seemed then a powerful religious cult. These “pagans” were actually pious Greeks, Romans, Syrians, and Gauls who observed the traditions of their ancestors. To these devout polytheists, Christians who worshipped only one deity were immoral atheists who believed that a splash of water on the deathbed could erase a lifetime of sin.

Religious scholar James J. O’Donnell takes us on a lively tour of the Ancient Roman world through the fourth century CE, when Romans of every nationality, social class, and religious preference found their world suddenly constrained by rulers who preferred a strange new god. Some joined this new cult, while others denied its power, erroneously believing it was little more than a passing fad.

In Pagans, O’Donnell brings to life various pagan rites and essential features of Roman religion and life, offers fresh portraits of iconic historical figures, including Constantine, Julian, and Augustine, and explores important themes—Rome versus the east, civilization versus barbarism, plurality versus unity, rich versus poor, and tradition versus innovation—in this startling account.
Learn more about Pagans at the publisher's website.

Writers Read: James J. O'Donnell.

--Marshal Zeringue