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Category: Religion

Tom Perrotta adapting his next novel, 'The Leftovers,' for HBO

Tomperrotta_2011Tom Perrotta has had good luck with Hollywood -- the movie version of his 1999 novel "Election" got one Oscar nomination and became a cult favorite starring a perfectly annoying Reese Witherspoon and a beleagured Matthew Broderick. The more serious "Little Children," which involved infidelity and danger in a small town, starred Kate Winslet and was nominated for three Oscars.

Perrotta's newest book isn't even out yet and it's already captured Hollywood's attention. "The Leftovers" -- his take on the idea of being left behind after the Rapture -- is being published Aug. 30 by St. Martin's Press, but Perotta is already at work on a dramatic series based on the book for HBO. Variety reports:

HBO is developing a series based on author Tom Perrotta's upcoming novel "The Leftovers."

Hourlong drama explores the Rapture and how the sudden disappearance of loved ones in a suburban town affects everyone left behind. Perrotta, who is writing the pilot, will exec produce with Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger.

The author has Hollywood connections, having written "Little Children" and then adapting the screenplay for the Kate Winslet-Patrick Wilson starrer. Earlier in his career, Perrotta wrote the novel "Election," which was turned into Alexander Payne's feature starring Reese Witherspoon. Both pics were Oscar nominated.

HBO seems to be embracing literary authors lately -- it's got a project in developement with novelists Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. And then there's this little show you might have heard of called "Game of Thrones" -- it's been nominated for 13 Emmys.


Lit geeks and 'Game of Thrones'

The last-minute Rapture reading list

Book review: 'The Abstinence Teacher' by Tom Perrotta

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Tom Perrotta. Credit: Mark Ostow / St. Martin's Press

Janet Reitman's 'Inside Scientology' is well-researched and compelling

Dianetics Many religions are built around spreading their gospels, on sharing the good word and telling their stories. Not so with Scientology, the religion founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, which has kept its core beliefs under wraps except for the core few who reach a state worthy of enlightenment.

Janet Reitman, who wrote about the Church of Scientology for Rolling Stone, expanded that piece for the book "Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion," out now. Kim Christensen writes that the book, which tells the story of Hubbard and his successor, David Miscavige, is "a well-researched and compelling read." Our review continues:

Intertwined with the church's history is that of Miscavige, who spent his teenage years as one of Hubbard's cadre of young aides. He was 25 when he assumed control in 1986, when "LRH" died as a paranoid recluse on a ranch in Creston, Calif., under investigation by the IRS. Miscavige went on to be instrumental in ending "the war" with the IRS and securing the tax-exempt status that deemed Scientology a church, a financial boon.

Sometimes called "the pope of Scientology," Miscavige in the book lives up to previous reports depicting him as a small but intimidating leader, an occasionally unhinged little tyrant alleged to have frequently whomped his top execs....

Some of the material comes from previously published reports, including a 1990 L.A. Times series and a 2009 series in the St. Petersburgh Times, which Reitman credits. She also includes new research;  Scientology watchers may be interested to see the results of her new research, Christensen writes, singling out the details on the death of Lisa McPherson, a "clear" church member who died in the church's care after suffering a breakdown. Christensen continues:

It would be easy to deride or dismiss many of Scientology's more eccentric elements, such as the long-held secret story of Xenu, the evil tyrant leader of the "Galactic Confederation." Only after reaching an advanced level are Scientologists taught that he killed his enemies with hydrogen bombs 75 million years ago and then captured their souls, or thetans, and electronically implanted them with false concepts. These altered thetans later glommed on to human bodies, the story goes, causing spiritual harm and havoc for mankind.

Even Tom Cruise, the most famous Scientologist, "freaked out" and was like, 'What the …?''' when he learned of it, according to one former member. But in a nice touch of fair play, another ex-member reminds readers that more mainstream religions also have stories that require a long leap of faith. Water into wine? Raising the dead? How plausible are those?

Although the stories of Xenu have been a closely guarded secret, Scientology does spread some of its lessons far and wide. L. Ron Hubbard's book "Dianetics" has been a longtime bestseller.

-- Carolyn Kellogg


The Last-Minute 'Rapture' Reading List

It's simple. You want to know about the "rapture"? Read the Bible. Turn to the Book of Revelation.

Of course, you won't see anything there about the rapture happening Saturday. But that's the scuttlebutt: The rapture is coming at 6 p.m. Saturday.

As just about everyone knows by now (save for Bret Easton Ellis, who was nothing but confused when asked about it at a reading Thursday night in Los Angeles) the date May 21, 2011, was picked as the rapture by Harold Camping.

Camping, who runs the Family Radio ministry, is a rapture guy. In fact, he once predicted that the rapture was coming Sept. 6, 1994. The failure of the end of the world to arrive at that time only spurred him to revamp his analysis -- and so he came to May 21. A number of Christian believers have been spreading the word that come Saturday, those whom God has saved will ascend to heaven.

As Maud Newton writes in the Awl, people who truly believe that the rapture is nigh make huge life changes; as a child, she was suffused with doomsday fear. NPR spoke to a couple who quit their New York City jobs and moved to Florida to proselytize about the end of the world. "We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won't have anything left," 27 year-old Adrienne Martinez told the reporter. The New York Times reports on a family whose teenage children were trying to make plans for college without the help of their parents, who believe there is nothing but heaven to plan for.

The rest of us sinners will be left behind. Which brings me to your Last-Minute Rapture Reading List.

1. "Left Behind: A Novel of Earth's Last Days" by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Published in 1995, it kicks off a 12-volume series of novels that illustrate the rapture. Worried you won't have time to read them all? Get a taste by watching the 2005 film "Left Behind: World At War" starring believer Kirk Cameron.

2. "The Book of Revelation for Dummies" by Richard Wagner and Larry R. Helyer. The yellow-and-black "For Dummies" series turned its attention to the Bible's Book of Revelation in 2008. But should you take seriously a book about the end times co-authored by a man named "Helyer"?

3. "The Late, Great Planet Earth" by Hal Lindsey with C.C. Carlson. Newton cites this as the granddaddy of end-times novels, and it sets the bar much lower for entrance to heaven than Camping's theology. It was a 1970 New York Times bestseller.

4. "1994?" by Harold Camping. In this 1993 book, Camping predicted the end of the world would arrive in 1994. But just in case he was wrong, he added that question mark to the title.

5. "The Bible." Go back to the source.

6. "The Inferno" by Dante Alighieri. It's the "Scared Straight!" of 14th century epic poetry. After you're done with this, you'll want to be saved.

7. "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" by Tucker Max. If Dante doesn't scare you off sin, the prospect of being trapped in eternity with Tucker Max might do the trick.

8. "Heaven Is for Real" by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. The story of a little boy who sees heaven and lives to tell about it has been burning up bestseller lists. I mean, flying.

9. "God Is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens. End-time reading for skeptics and nonbelievers.

10. "The Survivors Club" by Ben Sherwood. Thinking you'll be left behind? Learn tactics and strategies from survivors of  mountain lion attacks, natural calamities and concentration camps.

11. "The Kama Sutra" by Vatsyayana. If the rapture happens without you, why not enjoy yourself? The ancient Hindu guide for lovemaking includes practical advice for sexual intercourse, including a number of illustrations. It's available for download many places, including Apple's iBookstore, where it's currently No. 12 on its free bestseller list.


Apocalypse when? May 21 and other doomsday dates on film

Five post-apocalypse TV shows to watch while you're waiting for the "rapture"

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Giving notice of the Rapture this week in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Jim Reed / The Tampa Tribune / Associated Press Photos

Todd Burpo on his son’s vision in the book ‘Heaven Is for Real’

What began as a fun family road trip to the Butterfly Pavilion in Denver ended in a nightmare for Todd Burpo and his wife, Sonja, in 2003.

Their son Colton, just two months shy of his 4th birthday, suffered a misdiagnosed ruptured appendix and was rushed into emergency surgery. The situation was grim. They weren't sure if he'd survive. Two weeks later, after another operation, Colton was stable and recovering. Time passed before he nonchalantly mentioned that he had visited heaven during the first emergency operation and met angels, Jesus , a great-grandfather and sister of his that he never knew existed.

Heavenisforreal Todd Burpo recounts his family's journey and Colton's revelations in "Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back." The paperback, written by the Burpos with Lynn Vincent, who  co-authored "Going Rogue: An American Life," and "Unsinkable: A Young Woman's Courageous Battle on the High Seas" (about Abby Sunderland's ordeal), has remained on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list for eight weeks and the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks. With 3 million copies in print, "Heaven Is for Real" has become a bit of a publishing sensation as the family has made the rounds of media appearances including "The Today Show," "Fox and Friends" and "CNN."

Liesl Bradner had a chance to speak with Todd Burpo from his home in Nebraska during a break in his hectic schedule about his family's harrowing, ultimately miraculous experience that included small bits of good news such as, according to Colton: "No one is old in heaven and no one wears glasses."

Jacket Copy: When Colton began talking about his visit to heaven, you initially wrote it off as his having really good Sunday school teachers. What was it that made you finally believe it was more than just his imagination?

Todd Burpo: He first talked about having seen singing angels to me in the hospital after his surgery.  But it was when he said he was sitting on Jesus' lap and could see me in a room praying and his mom on the phone in another room-- which was where we were and what we were doing during his surgery -- that really grabbed my attention.  

JC: How do you address detractors who say that because you're a pastor, Colton was exposed to these religious images and that they were there all along as part of his subconscious?

TB:  At first I thought the same things. Colton would say, "Jesus told me I had to be nice." So I figured he got that from Sunday school. But how he knew my location in the hospital and what I was doing while he was in surgery, no Sunday school teacher could have known that. I don't hold [criticism and doubts]  against people because that's where I started too. One of the biggest complaints we've heard from people who have seen him speak on TV is that "no 4-year-old talks like that." They don't realize that he's 11 now and that he has a whole different vocabulary.

JC: At first, Colton's stories were all positive -- about rainbows, angels and love -- but at one point he brings up a war and dragons.

TB: All the things he shared with us were spontaneous discussions. He'd just start volunteering information. The conversation about Satan came up because his mom was talking about swords. She said, "I bet there aren't any swords in heaven," and he stopped what he was doing and said, "There are too swords in heaven. The angels have them to keep the devil out of heaven." Events would happen that would jog his memory. He shared what he wanted to share.

JC: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

TB: When Colton shared his experiences with us, it was unexpected and over several months. He would reveal things on his time table. When he talked about his other sister, he just came up to my wife one day and said "I have two sisters - you had a baby die in your tummy." This was an incredible moment of healing. We had never told him about the miscarriage. It was a very personal and private hurt. We never knew it was a girl and when he told us that she was waiting for us in heaven -- what a moment that was. For people to read this story, to capture that same peace, that's a wonderful thing. For me, I can see heaven more clearly because of his stories and hopefully other people can too.

-- Liesl Bradner

Images:  At top, Colton and his dad, Todd, taken one week after his release from the hospital. Credit: The Imperial Republican/Jan Schultz. At right: cover art. Courtesy Thomas Nelson

U.S. bishops condemn nun's book on spiritual seeking, 'Quest for the Living God'

A four-year-old book by a prominent theologian, "Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God," has been censured by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The book was written by Sister Elizabeth Johnson, known as a theologian and feminist, former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society and currently distinguished professor of theology at Fordham University.

BeliefNet reports:

The bishops said the book’s “basic problem” is that it does not “take the faith of the church as its starting point. Instead, the author employs standards from outside the faith to criticize and to revise in a radical fashion the conception of God” as taught by the church.

As a result, the book “does not accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points” including the names of God and the Trinity, the bishops said.

Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who chairs the doctrine committee, expressed concern that Johnson’s book would be used as a textbook and students “may be led to assume that its content is authentic Catholic teaching” and could thus endanger readers’ “spiritual welfare.”

The New York Times also reported on the issue, quoting the Rev. Thomas Weinandy, executive director of the bishops’ Secretariat for Doctrine, as saying, "The primary concern was not over feminism or nonfeminism. The bishops are saying that the book does not adequately treat a Catholic understanding of God." Yet the theologians at Catholic universities they spoke with did not agree with the bishops in the matter. One specifcially said the censure was not theological but political.

Johnson said in a statement that the assessment of "Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God" -- her seventh book -- came as a surprise to her.

Of course, authors of all stripes have to deal with negative reviews. But perhaps Johnson can appeal to a higher power.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Then-Archbishop Donald Wuerl, right, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts after the annual Red Mass in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 1., 2006. Credit: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press

James Frey's hipster Jesus


A drinking, pot-smoking bisexual Messiah who lives in the Bronx? That's the setup for the upcoming James Frey book, "The Final Testament of the Holy Bible," his version of the second coming.

Reuters reports, "'The Final Testament of the Holy Bible' tells the story of a second coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah to millions of Christians but just plain Ben Jones to family and friends. Ben, whose real name is Zion Avrohom, is a hard-drinking man who lives in a dirty apartment in the Bronx, New York. He smokes dope and has sex with women and men."

Frey is best known for his not-entirely-true memoir of addiction and recovery, "A Million Little Pieces," which was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club. When she learned of the book's fabrications -- exposed by the website The Smoking Gun -- she called Frey back on her show to demand contrition.

In 2008, Frey wrote "Bright Shiny Morning," a sprawling book about Los Angeles. The New York Times loved it. The Los Angeles Times did not.

"The Final Testament of the Holy Bible" will be published by Gagosian Gallery, an art gallery making an unusual move into publishing. Although an unusual move, this fits Frey's trajectory. He has been moving away from traditional publishing -- he's started what New York magazine calls a "fiction factory," recruiting ambitious creative-writing students out of graduate school to co-author books with his company, Full Fathom Five. His company was behind the book and movie "I Am Number Four."

And Frey, a former Angeleno who now lives in New York, has been keeping company with artists and gallerists. He has published texts for catalogs with Richard Prince, Damien Hirst and others. Cover art for "The Final Testament of the Holy Bible" is by Gregory Crewdson -- see it after the jump.

Artists Dan Colen, Richard Phillips, Richard Prince, Terry Richardson and Ed Ruscha are creating works in response to the book, which will be exhibited at the Gagosian Gallery on April 20 -- along with Frey's original manuscript printed on canvas. "The Final Testament of the Holy Bible" will officially be released April 22, Good Friday. For those who don't get the signed collector's edition (there will be 1,000), or the Crewdson cover in its leatherette slipcase (there will be 10,000), it will be available as an e-book too.

Continue reading »

R.I.P. Reynolds Price


Author and scholar Reynolds Price died Thursday in North Carolina; he had suffered a heart attack on Sunday. Price was 77.

Price was born in North Carolina and, after taking time away in college, he made it his home. He began teaching at Duke in 1958 and lived in his Durham home for more than 50 years. But he didn't think of himself as a regionalist. "I'm an American writer, for God's sake," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. "Price, who is gay, also prefers to be called 'queer,' " Susan Salter-Reynolds wrote in a profile of the author. "Wheelchair-bound since the removal of a tumor in his spine in 1985, he refers to himself as 'cripple' or 'gimp' rather than more polite designations."

Price's notable works include 1962's "A Long and Happy Life," the 1986 National Book Critics Circle fiction finalist "Kate Vaiden" and 1996's "The Three Gospels." He published three memoirs: "Clear Pictures: First Loves, First Guides" in 1989, "A Whole New Life" in 1994, and "Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back" in 2009.

In a news release about the author's death, Duke wrote:

He had a commanding presence in the classroom, using his deep, rich voice to convey the beauty of the English language. For many years, Price taught courses on creative writing and the work of 17th-century English poet John Milton, as well as a course on the gospels in which students wrote their own version of a gospel story. Price’s Halloween reading of ghost stories and poems became a tradition on campus that lasted more than a decade.

Price was born in Macon, N.C., and was a graduate of Duke, where he returned to teach after a Rhodes scholarship took him to England. Read more about Price here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Reynolds Price at Duke University in 2009. Credit: Sara D. Davis / For The Times

Faces we watched in 2010: Where they are now


This Sunday, we select five literary types to watch in 2011. Last year, we picked four. Were you watching? Lots were. This is where they are now.

Rebecca Skloot's book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" came out in February. Maybe you've heard about it: The nonfiction work explores the unknown story of Lacks, her cells and the family she left behind. The remarkable book was selected by Amazon.com's editors as the top book of the year, made best-of lists at many newspapers (including this one), won the Wellcome Trust Book Prize and has been optioned by Oprah and Allan Ball for HBO. Haven't read it yet? Don't worry, it'll be released in paperback in March 2011.

Like Skloot, critic Elif Batuman had published short pieces, but 2010 saw the release of her first book. "The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them" comprises seven essays that merge criticism, personal experience and scholarship. It was singled out as one of the best nonfiction books of the year by both the popular newspaper USA Today and by New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead. Batuman has a knack for tickling the literary zeitgeist: Her review of Marc McGurl's "The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing" in the London Review of Books launched a fleet of online debates about MFA programs, McGurl's version and Batuman's slant on them both.

Writing a philosophical book about the idea of the Sabbath might not seem the most direct way to get on TV, but it's worked for Judith Shulevitz. Her 2010 book, "The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time," part history, part meditation, unexpectedly propelled the cultural critic onto CNN and Stephen Colbert. She's also turned up in places more expected -- NPR, the pages of major newspaper book reviews -- but Shulevitz, the third of our 2010 faces to watch, is the rare cultural voice that can make a deep subject accessible through not-so-deep mediums.

Novelist Sam Lipsyte rounded out our faces to watch picks of 2010. After struggling to bring his wickedly funny novel "Home Land" to shelves -- it was published in England before the U.S. -- Lipsyte landed premium publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux for his next novel, 2010's "The Ask." The Village Voice described "The Ask" as "corrosive, obscene, unpleasantly hilarious"; Bookslut found it "hilarious and bleak"; Slate calls him "a fine microbrewer of bitterness." Lipsyte's novel was the kind of edgy book that set some people who read it on edge; others, however, are still laughing.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Henrietta Lacks in 1945; author Rebecca Skloot. Credit: Crown Publishers / Random House

Someone must want it for Xmas: 'The Alchemist' graphic novel

Thealchemist_graphicnovel When a book is released the week of Thanksgiving, it's clear that it's being positioned as a holiday gift. That's the timetable for the graphic-novel version of Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist," which hits shelves Tuesday November 23.

"The Alchemist," originally published in 1988, is the story of the spiritual quest of a shepherd boy. There are dreams to be followed, directions from wise advisors and lessons from the universe.

The book has been translated into 71 languages and sold more than 40 million copies. Whether this graphic-novel version -- adapted by Derek Ruiz and drawn by Daniel Sempere -- will count as No. 72 isn't mentioned on the book.

The look is glossy and warm, with handsomely chiseled heroes and buxom women. Coelhlo himself was the model for the King of Salem, one of the characters who helps guide the shepherd boy.

Although the Rolling Stones sang "you can't always get what you want," Coelho's book carries an inverse message. "When you want something," the King of Salem tells the shepherd, "all the universe conspires to help you achieve it."

The message, quite frankly, is lost on me. No matter: It's certainly resonated widely. And it'll be back in stores, in a new form, just in time for the holidays.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Hitchens will appear at Alabama debate Tuesday


Christopher Hitchens, who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer this summer, forcing the cancellation of his book tour, will appear in Birmingham, Ala., for a debate on Tuesday. The event will be held by the Christian Fixed Point Foundation, which has hosted Hitchens before.

Hitchens appeared on video this summer while undergoing chemotherapy treatments -- at The Atlantic, with Anderson Cooper and Charlie Rose -- looking thin, and, startlingly, mostly bald. 

According to Lori Lenz, who is doing press for the Fixed Point Foundation and who confirmed Hitchens' appearance late Thursday, Hitchens is "bored" with his cancer treatments and is looking forward to going to Alabama for the debate.

Hitchens described his feelings about those cancer treatments in the first of his Vanity Fair columns about his illness. "When you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water."

In the October issue of Vanity Fair, he again writes about cancer, this time about those who have decided to pray for him -- some have designated Sept. 20 as Pray for Hitchens Day. "What if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating," he writes. ".... when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better."

Hitchens is, apparently, feeling well enough to wield his laptop with characteristic style. Writing this week in Slate about Glenn Beck's Washington rally, he recalled attending a "tea party" event earlier this year: "the overall effect was large, vague, moist, and undirected: the 'Waterworld' of white self-pity"

In Alabama, Hitchens will face off against David Berlinsky on the topic, "Does Atheism Poison Everything?" In case there was any doubt, Hitchens will be speaking on the side of atheism.

Tickets to the Fixed Point Foundation debate are $25; packages going up to $125 include a luncheon and pre-debate reception. Those who want to see Hitch in person but can't make it to Alabama might try the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. -- its student government just approved a $15,000 speakers' fee to bring Christopher Hitchens to campus on Sept. 27 for a debate on the Middle East.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Christopher Hitchens at a prior debate at the Fixed Point Foundation. Credit: Fixed Point Foundation


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