Holy Cow

Simon Rich’s Book Bag: 5 Blasphemous Reads

The writer Simon Rich, the author of the new novel What in God’s Name, which depicts the Almighty as a retiring CEO, picks his favorite impious, sacrilegious, ungodly books, including by Philip Roth and Douglas Adams, and a lost, scathing gospel—all in good fun.

Goodbye, Columbus (1959)by Philip Roth

“Conversion of the Jews,” Roth’s classic tale of Jewish hypocrisy, was recommended to me by my sixth-grade English teacher. The story undermined my entire Hebrew-school education and sucked all the pleasure out of my bar mitzvah. It also introduced me to Philip Roth, though, so on the balance I’m glad I read it. Thank you, Mr. Marks!

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984)by Douglas Adams

In the fourth installment of Adams’s classic “trilogy,” Arthur Dent travels to the far side of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains and discovers God’s Final Message to Creation: “We apologize for the inconvenience.”

God’s Favorite (1974)by Neil Simon

This one’s technically a play, but I wanted to include it anyway because I think it’s the most underrated Neil Simon show. God’s Favorite is a modern retelling of the Book of Job, set in a mansion on Long Island. The protagonist endures all kinds of tests of faith, including hemorrhoids, stupid children, and an inexplicable case of tennis elbow.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (2nd century CE)by Thomas the Israelite

This text was meant to glorify Jesus by portraying him as a “trickster God” in the tradition of Hermes or Isis. From a contemporary vantage point, though, the book seems pretty insensitive. In one scene Jesus murders a boy in cold blood for accidentally bumping into him. He also kills a kid for spilling his water. When the neighbors complain about the mounting death toll, the young God blinds them, using magic. It’s a shame this one didn’t make it into the canon.

An untitled cartoonby Farley Katz

My “Book Bag” has gone so off the rails, with so few of these picks even counting as actual books, that I’m going to completely blow my assignment and devote my final slot to a single, un-anthologized cartoon. Of the gazillions of God jokes that have been printed in The New Yorker, I think this one, by Farley Katz, is the best.