The Plague

COVID-19 virus

Hic incipit pestis.
Here begins the plague.

At least two authors have gotten an increase in attention (and perhaps sales and readers) because of the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

It probably seems obvious that sales of Albert Camus‘ 1947 novel La Peste (English title The Plague) have moved up in sales since late February. Sales are up 300% in France. These increased sales make a lot more sense to me than the current run on toilet paper.

The Plague is set in Oran, an Algerian town, that is sealed off by quarantine because of bubonic plague. That’s a real city and a real disease but the novel isn’t science, science-fiction or terror. It’s not really about a specific disease. It always seemed to me to be more mythic. This community becomes isolated and falls under this invisible siege. This scenario has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen in the future.

Like other fiction, Camus uses characters to represent groups. The good doctor Rieux is all those who help in a crisis. Cottard becomes depressed and suicidal-but changes as the novel progresses. Tarrou, an outsider, is the humanist. Some in the government are unwilling to call the plague a plague (Sound familiar?) because they don’t want to alarm the public. That approach never succeeds.

Camus wrote The Plague three years after the real city of Oran had an outbreak of the bubonic plague. As with much of great literature, each age finds its own lives in a story that is not of their own time or place.

Camus’ post-WWII audience may have viewed the pestilence as “the brown plague” of German occupation. Since then, it has been interpreted more generally as an ideology that spreads like a virus. It has been seen in the 21st century as the spreading of terrorism and hate.

In these kinds of pandemics, there are always people offering solutions and falsely preventative measures and taking advantage of fears. Silver solutions don’t prevent COVID-19 and the peppermint lozenges in the novel do nothing for the plague.

plague bed
flea-infested plague bed

In William Shakespeare’s time, the plague was the most dreaded disease. It was carried by fleas living on rats, but they didn’t know that and had no way to stop it. Not that they didn’t try.

I don’t recommend any of their treatments: rubbing onions, herbs or a chopped up snake on the boils, or cutting up a pigeon and rubbing it over an infected body, or drinking vinegar, taking arsenic or mercury. Less dangerous and no more effective was sage, rue, briar leaves, elder leaves, ginger, strain with white wine and a good spoonful of the best treacle and drink it morning and evening.

The plague swept through London in 1563, 1578-9, 1582, 1592-3, and 1603. But 1563 and 1603 were the worst years, each time killing over one-quarter of London’s population.

Shakespeare was born, lived and wrote through all of those years in his life from 1564 to 1616, so it’s not surprising that it came into his plays.

Where the infectious pestilence did reign,
Sealed up the doors
So fearful were they of infection.
Romeo and Juliet

In The Hot Hand, Ben Cohen looks at the history and science of “streaks” which we probably think of related to sports and gambling. One of his tales is how Shakespeare was influenced by the plague, especially during his “hot hand” streak of hit plays.

But Will’s plague story starts in 1564 when the plague had wiped out a sizable portion of Stratford-upon-Avon and surrounded his home on Henley Street.  His parents had already lost two children to previous plague outbreaks and 3-month-old Will didn’t have good odds of survival.  But he survived. Maybe he developed childhood immunity because he survived the subsequent plague outbreaks.

The plague wasn’t really a topic for an entire play.  It wasn’t material for comedy or tragedy.  Londoners tried to escape plague reality by going to plays – as Americans did with movies in the Great Depression and we are doing with TV and streaming movies during the current pandemic.

But he did use the plague in the plays. For a number of years, I taught Romeo and Juliet and I needed to teach the plague when I taught Shakespeare’s time.  Romeo and Juliet are actually ripped apart not by their feuding parents but by a twist of the plague.

I’m sure if you read or saw the play the plague line you would recall is Mercutio’s curse on the feuding Capulets and Montagues:  “A plague on both your houses!”

The plotting Friar Laurence was to send a letter via Friar John to Romeo in Mantua where he has been exiled. The letter will explain Juliet’s sleeping potion and faked death and then they can escape Verona, marry, and we’ll have a comedy – in that all’s well that ends well.

But Friar John never delivers the letter to Romeo because he can’t get to Mantua due to a plague quarantine. Therefore, Romeo thinks Juliet is really dead and kills himself before she wakes up from her drugged “death.” Juliet wakes up, sees dead Romeo and also kills herself. There is a lot of coincidence in Shakespeare’s plots.

A newer theory of how Shakespeare wrote is that many of “hits” came in streaks and those streaks came during plague years. Why would that be true?

For example, in the book The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, the author says that Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. And the answer to Why is that plague closed London’s playhouses for the same reasons that theaters are being closed in 2020. Shakespeare’s King’s Men left plagued London and headed out into the English countryside doing shows in safe towns. William stayed in London (or perhaps went home to Stratford – we don’t know for sure) and had lots of time to write.

So while the plague was never the subject of a play, it certainly figured in his writing life.

Letters from John Irving

John Irving by Kubik 01

I wrote about author John Irving earlier and when I was researching that piece I found his Facebook page.

I thought it was interesting that he posted several “letters” to his readers.

This first one is about his new novel that comes out in the fall and gives you some insight to his process.

 

Dear Readers,

I’ve just titled the 37th chapter of my novel-in-progress, Darkness as a Bride. I love titling my chapters — if you look at my past novels, you’ll see I’ve always done it. My predilection for chapter titles is yet another influence of those 19th century novels I love. Moby-Dick has 135 chapters, all of them titled. Chapter titles are not just a writerly quirk.

A novel develops in units; chapters, to me, are like mini-novels, with their own architecture. When you put a name to each unit of the story, the reader can recall the most salient aspects of each section. I hope something of each chapter’s architecture is suggested in its title, and the architecture of the novel as a whole becomes more tangible with the accumulation of chapter titles.

Among my favorites in the 37 chapters I now have:
“Smallness as a Burden”
“The Snowshoer Kiss”
“What the Stone Sparrows Saw”
“I Saw Me in Your Eyes”
“My Second Most Unmarriageable Girlfriend”
“Where Have the Bananas Gone?”
And, because I’m writing a ghost story, “Melancholic Enough.”

These titles say something about my main character, Adam, and parts of the narrative can be gleaned from them. A reader might think of them as signposts along the journey.

Each time I write a novel, I try to have one chapter title that contains a semicolon. I like this title from Darkness because I managed to sneak in two semicolons: “A Little Behind Girls Her Age, Socially; Definitely Ahead of; Definitely Behind.” Well, my thing for semicolons may be just another influence of those 19th century novels I love. It’s certainly more than a quirk!

A second letter there is about his decision to become a Canadian citizen.

Dear Readers,

There have been a lot of questions about my decision to become a Canadian citizen — questions I’ve tried clear up in interviews with the Toronto Star, with the Washington Post, and, in the interview excerpted here, with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton.

I think I see the U.S. more clearly from abroad than I did when I was living there. The perspective of home can be a little exclusionary, when you’re at home. It has always been a necessary perspective for me: to see my country through the eyes of others. Not unlike writing a novel — when the objective is to put yourself (and the reader) in someone else’s shoes, or to see the world from someone else’s point of view. And I care deeply about what happens in the U.S. — three generations of my family are still there. There’s never been a more vital time to vote, as an American, and I intend to keep voting.

Yet I fell in love with and married a Canadian woman. After more than 30 years, it was time for her to return home. Just as it is important to participate in the democratic process as an American, it’s important as a long-time resident of Canada to have some influence in decisions that affect not only my life but affect the lives of more vulnerable people in my community. The route to civic responsibility involves citizenship. Dual citizenship, while not formally recognized by the U.S., is permitted and accepted, and it’s important to me.

— John

Ten Years in Twisted River

My Goodreads profile told me that I was reading Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving for the 3rd time, but that’s not accurate. I read about a third of it in 2010 when it was a new book and gave up. But a friend later recommended it and I was able to grab it on Audible so I thought I would restart it in that format. I listened to about another third in 2017 and then stopped again. It’s not a good sign when I can’t finish an audiobook.

Last Night in Twisted River received mixed reviews, but I don’t read a book or not read a book because of a review. In late 2019, I put the book on my To-Do list to finish. I went back an hour in the audiobook from where I had left off in 2017 and decided to listen in short sections while I did my walks. That was October 2019.  I finished listening to it this month. I have spent ten years in Twisted River.

Last Night in Twisted River is Irving’s 12th novel. It covers a half-century including the President George W. Bush years and the 9/11 attack.

It’s difficult to summarize his novels because a lot happens. It’s about a cook and his son who are on the run. That son becomes a famous writer and gives Irving a lot of opportunities to talk about writing and the writing life.

It starts in 1954 in the small logging settlement of Twisted River on the Androscoggin River in New Hampshire. A young logger has drowned on the river when he fell under floating logs. Dominic Baciagalupo is the camp’s cook who lives above the kitchen with his 12-year-old son, Daniel. We find out that the river also took Dominic’s wife, Rosie, 10 years earlier when Dominic, Rosie and a friend, Ketchum, were drunk dancing on the frozen river, and she fell through.

The accidents that put the novel into motion aren’t over. “Injun Jane”, the kitchen’s dishwasher and girlfriend of Constable Carl, is having an affair with Dominic. One night, Daniel sees the pair having sex and mistakes Jane for a bear attacking his father and Daniel kills her with a cast-iron skillet.

The father and son stash the body at passed-out-drunk Carl’s house thinking he may wake up and assume he killed her (He often beat her up.) and confiding only in Ketchum the pair runs from Twisted River. Their running from Carl and their fear that he will find them and kill them in revenge make up most of the novel as they move to Boston, to Vermont, and Toronto. Carl is really in pursuit and he is also always imagined to be nearby. Ketchum takes up their protection as a mission in life.

The young Daniel is the protagonist but coming of age is very difficult for characters in Irving novels. They lose things, including people they love. They have scars physical and mental. Irving fans see and expect to see certain things repeating in his novels – from bears and odd dogs to loved ones dying in strange ways, people losing parts of their body and the death of children,  For example, in Twisted River someone dies in a car accident while driving and receiving oral sex which echoes a similar scene in Garp.

John IrvingIn interviews, John Irving said that he started thinking about the novel in 1986 but it took 20 years to form. (So maybe my 10-year read makes sense?)

Irving likes to start his novels with the last sentence and work his way back. That’s how Daniel, who uses the pseudonym Daniel Angel for most of his career, also writes his novels. Irving says that he found the last sentence for this novel when in 2005 he heard Bob Dylan singing “Tangled Up in Blue” and this lyric caught him:

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell

Irving published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968. He has been nominated for a National Book Award three times and he won for the brilliant The World According to Garp which is one of my all-time favorite novels.

Garp was the first of his novels I read. After that, I worked my way backward and read his earlier novels: Setting Free the Bears (1968), The Water-Method Man (1972) and The 158-Pound Marriage (1974) all of which show themes that are elevated in Garp.

My wife and I read each of those books at the same time and would have our own book club discussions about them. It became our habit to do that with each of his novels and we did the same thing with John Updike’s novels. The two Johns were sometimes confused by readers, which makes no sense to me as their styles are very different.

I loved the film of Garp (I think Irving was not as big of a fan of it) and that surprised me because is a big book that didn’t seem like it could be filmed. It would be perfect for a mini-series and I once read that Irving was working on it for HBO. But the film, with the wonderful Robin Williams and Glenn Close as his mother and the fabulous John Lithgow, works very well.

He followed up this big best-seller with three very good novels: The Hotel New Hampshire (1981) and then The Cider House Rules (1985), and A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989).

Five of his novels have film versions: Garp, Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules (with a screenplay by Irving), A Prayer for Owen Meany (with a title change to Simon Birch at Irving’s request because he did not believe that his novel could successfully be made into a film – and he was corect) and The Door in the Floor (based only on the first third of his 1998 novel A Widow for One Year.)

I am definitely an Irving fan and had been reading each book as it was published, but he lost me in the 1990s.  Though my wie and I read A Son of the Circus (1994), A Widow for One Year (1998), and The Fourth Hand (2001), they didn’t grab us as the earlier books had done.

I never read Until I Find You (2005), but my wife bought Last Night in Twisted River (2009) and I gave it a try. You know how that went.

Since then, Irving published In One Person (2012) and Avenue of Mysteries (2015) and he has a new novel, Darkness As a Bride due out this fall.  I feel like I should return to one of the three unread Irving novels and start again, or wait for the new one and start fresh and work my way back again.

But the next book on my started-but-long-unfinished list will be Infinite Jest. Yeah, I have the audiobook.

Our Love-Hate Relationship with Classic Novels

Twain quote

As an English major and teacher, I have read a lot of novels. I have also forgotten many novels old (classic) and new. Mostly, I have enjoyed and sometimes loved those I have read. So, when I saw an article about the most loved and hated classics (according to Goodreads users), I had to give it a read.

Mark Twain (who wrote some classics) said that “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” The author of the article compares reading classic literature to “going for a 6am jog. It has its loyal fans but few enjoy it. Most people want to tell others they do; sometimes people experiment with it, but mostly, people just don’t like it at all.”

As a teacher, it pains me to say that some classics that might make your “hated” list were probably required reading in a classroom. But some of the most popular classics are also assigned in American schools.

“Required reading” is not the way you really want someone to encounter literature, but if some of these novels were not required, people would never experience them.

These are also often the titles that students turn to cheats as a substitute for the actual book. In my student days, those cheats were Cliff Notes and Monarch Notes, but now the Internet gives them Spark Notes and even websites where they can buy or just download essays.

The novels on both the loved and hated lists are all good books, though they won’t be loved by all. I learned long ago that with books (fiction and non-fiction) and films, you hated book or movie is someone’s absolute favorite.

When I was in my most rabid reading days (ages 11-19), I devoured books like I eat potato chips and popcorn now. I would read a favorite author’s entire works. That was easier with Salinger and Fitzgerald and harder with Hemingway and Steinbeck.

I’ve written before about the Classics Illustrated Comics that I loved in my youth. They exposed me to many classic novels. Some of those readings led me to the novels. Moby-Dick is definitely an example of that. Many of those classic novels were way over my ability in elementary school but I made my ways through them and probably benefitted as a reader and writer.

I know the comics led me to read some novels by H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau) and Jules Verne (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea) and Arthur Conan Doyle (lots of Sherlock Holmes and also The Lost World)

The Lost World comic, novel and feature film (1960 version) were the Jurassic Park of my (and Michael Crichton‘s) youth and had a big impact on my reading and thinking about science, if in a fictional and theoretical way.

I suspect that there are some classics that I think I read that I only actually read in comic book form.  I certainly had read a lot of comic book Shakespeare well before I read Julius Caesar in sophomore English class. I could speak pretty well in high school “cocktail-party conversations” about Macbeth and Hamlet if ever came up.

Novels become classics over time. I was once told that the book had to be 25+ years old but there is no rule. The Godfather makes the list looking a bit out-of-place to me next to the other titles. (Though I will always question a book or film labeled as a classic when it only came out that year.)

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville is my best example. It is a book I love and have read multiple times. I would hesitantly recommend it though. It is not an easy read. The vocabulary and style are quite old-fashioned.  It takes on all the biggest themes. I would never want to teach it in a class where it was required. I would love to discuss it with other readers who enjoyed it. Still, despite my hesitation, should it be dropped from reading lists? That may be the only way people will encounter it. Perhaps, it should be one of several choices along with other classics. I used to give students such choices and groan when someone chose the shortest book. A short novel that you hate is much more painful than a longer one that you enjoy – though young students rarely accepted that as true.

Like Moby-Dick, Melville’s contemporary, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. also appears to be hated. It’s a lot shorter. So is Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but that doesn’t mean easier.

Given a choice of what to require in a classroom, I would go with East of Eden or To Kill a Mockingbird if it meant that my students would actually read the book and leave it with a good feeling. When I taught middle school, I taught The Outsiders many times, not only because it is a well-written novel and totally appropriate for that age group, but because they loved it despite it being almost a historical novel for them today and it having a good and pretty faithful film version (the media cheat) that they also loved but didn’t choose as a substitute.

The article also notes that Don Quixote (1615) is the first classic in the data and the next is Robinson Crusoe which came out in 1719. Where are the classics in between?

The top classic-producing authors are Jane Austen and Charles Dickens on the other side of the pond and Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck in America. But in this love/hate thing, quantity does not mean quality to readers.

Charles Dickens (who I mostly like/love and have taught with mixed success) gets average scores.

Jane Austen (who I was required to read and never enjoyed) has multiple truly beloved classic novels and has rabid fans for the movies and TV versions too.

Hemingway (who is very high on my loved list) is pretty much hated across all his novels. I would teach his “classic” short stories before attempting the novels.

Steinbeck (who I read voraciously in those teen years without ever being required to read) only gets some love for East of Eden. I suspect that being assigned The Grapes of Wrath wins it no love (but it is a great novel) and no one is assigning enjoyable his short novels like Cannery Row or Tortilla Flat. I taught and had students who loved Of Mice and Men. The Red Pony is short. I liked it and I taught it once. And only once.

What are your feelings about classics loved and hated,
and how much does it have to do with required reading assignments?
Did you discover some classics after your student days that you love?
Comments welcomed!

MOST HATED

MOST BELOVEDloved books

 

The Mystery of Nancy Drew’s Death

nancy drew dead cover
Nancy DrewNancy Drew is dead. We won’t see her peering at clues with her magnifying glass any more. And she just might have been killed to benefit the detectives now trying to solve the case – Frank and Joe Hardy.

Nancy was getting up there. She’s turning 90 in people years, though she’s still a teenager in the comic book world.

Of course, in the world of comic books and comic book movies (big bu$iness), heroes who die often miraculously come back. How many times has Superman and Batman died?

This news comes to me via a new monthly comic series, called Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys: The Death of Nancy Drew. The publisher, Dynamite, had put out in 2017 another series, Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie. That series started with the teenage Hardy Boys being accused of the murder of their detective father. They team up with Nancy Drew to prove their innocence.

They have teamed up before. In ABC TV’s The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (1977-79) and in a joint novel series, Super Mystery, they spent a decade working to solve crimes and attract both male and female readers.

The Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie writer returns for the new Hardy Boys minus Nancy series. Anthony Del Col was someone I came across when a friend lent me another series he wrote called Kill Shakespeare. (The Death of Nancy Drew is drawn by Riverdale artist Joe Eisma.)

My friend assumed as an English teacher and Shakespeare fan I would be interested. In that very dark series, some of Will’s characters (Hamlet, Juliet, Othello Falstaff) battle his villains (Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Iago) and try to kill a wizard named William Shakespeare.

Green Lantern fridged
Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) comes home to find that his girlfriend, Alexandra had been killed and stuffed into a refrigerator. (Green Lantern #54, 1994, written by Ron Marz)

Nancy Drew has been fridged.  That term (short for “Women in Refrigerators” or WiR) comes from a website that was created by a group of feminist comic-book fans that listed examples of female characters being injured, raped, killed, or depowered as a plot device – often to push a male superhero’s story forward. The term alludes to the scene in a 1994 Green Lantern comic shown above.

Nancy Drew was originally meant to be a feminine (feminist?) counterpart to the Hardy Boys. Nancy may have outdone the brothers because she has had so many incarnations in novels, comics and on the screen.

Sill, killing Nancy Drew seems to be a lousy way to mark her 90th birthday/anniversary story.

I have written before about Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. and their “authors,” Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon, because the books were ones I really devoured in my youth.

There are Nancy Drew adventures for computers.

Simon & Schuster is still printing both Nancy Drew novels and Hardy Boys adventures, including ones for younger readers, all with ever-changing cover art to make them more contemporary.

There are still TV tie-ins and Nancy has a CW Network show (you can currently stream it) that followed the lead of the popular Archie comics TV version, Riverdale, and much darker The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (which started at the CW and moved to Netflix) that also came from a much lighter comic series.

 I still have some of my original Hardy Boys books and the ones my sister bought but that I read. I hate to see Nancy get fridged, and I hope that she gets unfrozen in that magical comic book manner and returns in her perky eternally-teenaged form. Hopefully, she won’t return in some dark “Nancy Drew and the Undead” format.

Nancy Drew cover


Joans of Arc and Arcadia

I noticed on the almanac on January 6 that it was the birthday of Joan of Arc. It so happened that I had just watched an old episode of the TV series Joan of Arcadia. These synchronicities happen sometimes. They are not coincidences.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d’Arc) was born in 1412 to peasant parents in Domrémy, France. Nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” she is considered a heroine of France for her role in the Hundred Years’ War.

She began seeing visions when she was 13 and believed that Saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret were urging her to defend France against the English.

Joan cut off her hair to pose as a boy and joined the troops of Prince Charles, eventually leading the troops to victory. She was at the prince’s side when he was crowned King.

Amber as Joan
Amber Tamblyn as Joan of Arcadia

The television Joan is an American teenager, played by Amber Tamblyn, who sees and speaks with God and performs tasks she is given by God. It ran for two seasons from 2003-2005. Joan Girardi and her family lives in the fictional city of Arcadia, Maryland.

Joan’s visions are quite real and God appears to her as people recurring in her world – a child, a student at her school, a guidance counselor, an old woman at the park, etc. God gives her assignments or tasks that initially seem silly or useless but ultimately have positive outcomes for her or other people. Each episode has a lesson.

The show had critical praise and won several awards including a nomination for an Emmy Award in its first season for Outstanding Drama Series.

At 18, Joan of Arc went into battle again but was captured by allies to the English. They put on trial for heresy. Her visions were at the core of their prosecution, though it was obvious that she was being tried for opposing the English in battle.

The prosecutors tried to trick her by asking her if she knew she was in God’s grace. Church doctrine said that no one could know that for certain, If she answered yes, she was guilty of heresy. If she answered no it would be taken as an admission of guilt. Her answer was a clever avoidance: “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”

Joan was found guilty. She had no legal counsel. There were forged court documents. Joan, who was illiterate, signed a confession that was presented to her as being something else.  She was burned at the stake in the market square in Rouen in 1431. She was 19.

Joan of Arc was declared a saint in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV, who called her a “most brilliantly shining light of God.” Her story affects people in different ways – as a religious figure, feminist, a symbol of courage and faith and a victim of political powers.

Joan TV series

My wife and I watched Joan of Arcadia during its original run. Both of us used an episode in our classrooms (mine, an English class, hers, a French class). It is available on DVD but on this second viewing, we recorded the series on the DVR as it ran (in order) on the startTV channel. It is still on as I write this.

I  really loved the show during its original run and I dug into both Joans a bit deeper. For example, I discover that Joan Girardi’s middle name is Agnes. That made me check into St. Agnes, a virgin martyr. She is the patron saint of girls and chastity. A good choice for 21st century Joan a girl whose virginity was an issue in the series.

Joan of Arcadia was canceled after its second season. Despite great reviews, it lost a portion of its first-year viewing audience. I think it is partially because the show (and audience) was split between Joan’s stories and those of her family, especially her father.  I also felt that the second season got much darker in its themes.

The final episode (“Something Wicked This Way Comes”) had God telling Joan that her last two years were just practice. It set up for the intended third season when Joan would face off against a man who also talks to God, but seems to have an evil agenda. This perhaps-Devil is charming, wealthy and influential. He saves Joan’s boyfriend Adam and he works his way into her family who doesn’t see anything sinister about him.

I have read a half dozen books about Joan of Arc including one that I read as a teenager written by Mark Twain that probably inspired my interest in her life. Both Joans have things to teach us and I recommend reading and viewing them.

Religion has a tough time on TV.  “That’s what religions are: different ways to share the same truth,” God tells Joan in one episode.

Other people have written that the series (and ones like it) have a place on the air.

Jason Ritter, who played one of Joan’s brothers on the show, later did a similar series called Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. (which had formerly been known as The Gospel of Kevin). I watched that series too and enjoyed the big themes it took on.  Ritter played Kevin Finn, a man who survived a suicide attempt but loses his way in life, who ends up moving in with his twin sister Amy and her teenage daughter. He encounters an “angel” named Yvette who claims that God has tasked Kevin with saving the world. Yvette clearly has some otherworldly powers and does not appear to others and is there to guide and protect him. Kevin is an unlikely candidate for this task.

Kevin is told that in every generation, there are 36 righteous souls on Earth whose existence protects the word. Kevin, she tells him, is the last of them. This idea of 36 righteous people comes from an idea in the more mystical dimensions of Judaism that says that at all times there are 36 special people in the world and that if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end.

That series came to an end after only one season for probably the same reasons as Joan of Arcadia. I think the big themes and any hint of religion scares TV networks – and maybe viewers.

The latest series to take on similar themes certainly owes something to Joan of Arcadia. That is God Friended Me, now in its second season on CBS.  In this series,  Miles Finer is an atheist and podcaster, who gets a friend request on Facebook from an account named “God.” Skeptic that he is, when the account sends him other friend suggestions (so far people living near him in New York City) of people he discovers need assistance he follows up and investigates.  As with Joan, though initially, the friend suggestions don’t make sense, he does end up helping them.

Like Joan of Arcadia, the show also deals with Miles’ family (his father is a pastor of an Episcopal church) and his girlfriend which are subplots that often weave into the friend suggestions. Another plotline that runs throughout the series is attempts by Miles, his girlfriend Cara and his hacker friend Rakesh to find out who is behind the “God” account. All of them believe it is a person, not God.

Now that I have gotten into the series, I hope the jinx of Joan and Kevin doesn’t strike Miles.