Archives for April 2007


Speaking of the Godsbody correspondents, The Manhattan Lawyer sent this one along. Thinks me it’s worth fisking:

A woman kept her secret for nearly two decades. Finally ready to confess, she turned not to a minister, but to her computer.

[I’m thinking that’s cuz her minister has never asked to hear her confession. Maybe because he would refer her directly to the Mercy Seat of Jesus. Also, maybe, because her minister can’t offer absolution – the forgiveness of sins through action in persona Christi.]

”I am sorry God for not keeping that baby,” her anonymous confession reads. “I had an abortion and had kept that secret for over 18 years. I feel so ashamed. Please forgive me!”

[Can I just say that there is no small amount of comfort in Jesus’ promise about holding sins bound and loosing them (at least in this instance)? If the priest tells me I’m forgiven, I don’t need the pleading note of “Please!” Not trying to sound all Catholic triumphalist here, just grateful. It’s almost like Catholicism makes a certain amount of psychological sense.]

The confession appears at, a website launched by the Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City. It’s one of a growing number of such sites across the country — some secular and others church-sponsored — that offer a place to spill out ugly secrets or just make peccadilloes public.

[Of course, the desire to spill out ugly secrets is hardly restricted to the religiously minded. Post Secret knows this – and while we’re mentioning Post Secret, here’s a particularly chilling entry. Confessing doesn’t always have more of a point than simply getting something off your chest, but in a religious context, perhaps, just maybe, it ought to?]

”I think it helps people understand . . . that we’re not here to point out people’s screw-ups, that we’re here to help them,” said lead Pastor Troy Gramling, whose nondenominational church launched the site on Easter weekend. “The church is made of skin and flesh and people that have made mistakes.”

[Just as an aside, and not at all snidely – isn’t it amazing that this has to be pointed out?]

The 6,500-member church created the site as part of a 10-week series on the ways people mess up — in marriage, parenting, finances and more. The goal of the series is to help congregants learn from their mistakes.

[And anonymous online confession helps congregants learn from their mistakes how? Again, not trying to be Catholic triumphal, but it sounds a little like trying to give meaning to confession without granting the meaning proposed by the Church – the meaning that endured for not a little while. “No, no – it can’t mean that. But it clearly had some worth. Maybe as a teaching tool? Yes! Helping folks learn from their mistakes!”]

So far, more people are reading the confessions than posting them.


The site gets about 1,000 hits a day, with about 200 online admissions.

Lust, pornography and a litany of sexual transgressions top the sinners’ hit parade. Theft, lying and alcohol abuse also make frequent appearances.

[No! Alert the Today in Porn people! Oh, wait.]

One person confesses: ”I have done enough drugs to make Keith Richards envious!!!!!” Another admits wishing death on her enemies. The posts are poignant and heartbreaking and occasionally frightening, like the accounts of teenagers ravaged by eating disorders and others who have contemplated suicide. A 23-year-old man who posted on the site told a reporter in a telephone interview that he was struck by how many people wanted to spill their “dirty little secret. I think there’s a feeling that you’re not the only one that’s out there that has messed up before and there’s other people,” said the man, who declined to reveal anything about himself or his confession.

[Ah, human solidarity. The final title for Book Two, just before it got axed, was The Communion of Sinners.]

The Miami Herald contacted the church, seeking confessors, but found none willing to be identified in print. The 23-year-old who gave the interview said he is a Protestant who doesn’t belong to the church but was turned on to the website by a friend who is a member. ”It was very cathartic,” he said.

[Which cartharsis, of course, need not have anything to do with anything religious.

The anonymity of the site is key to its appeal. He said he hadn’t turned to anyone in his church about the confession he posted and wasn’t sure whether he would feel comfortable. ”When you don’t know someone, you can’t trust them; it takes time,” he said.

[That’s why we have the screen! Sort of.]

Online confessionals are a natural outgrowth of Internet chat rooms ”where people have this habit of telling secrets to strangers,” as well as blogs and MySpace pages, said Janet Sternberg, associate chairwoman of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University in New York. ”Online was made for this stuff,” Sternberg said. “It’s the perfect environment for people telling secrets anonymously.”

[Where it doesn’t really mean anything, because there’s no real person-to-person contact. It’s all just a bunch of ghosts. Confession emptied of significance. Online confessionals may be a natural outgrowth of this world, but they shouldn’t be. There ought to be a point to telling someone this stuff. Something more than providing grist for the anthropologists. Or maybe I’m just being grumpy.], an evangelical church that broadcasts services to 11 locations, including one in Palm Beach County, started the site nearly a year ago. More than 6,000 people have posted confessions and millions more have logged on to read the stories, said Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and innovation leader at The church has received some criticism, Gruenewald said, from people who think that “we’re trying to encourage people to confess to a computer instead of God. We just believe it is a catalyst to have people open up to family and friends and God. I think sometimes it can be misunderstood.”

[Okay, now I’m being snide. Do these people really believe that it’s a catalyst to get people to open up to family and friends? Do teens come to their parents with the same stuff they put on their MySpace blogs? Again, this just sounds like trying to lend significance to a thing once the original significance (absolution, etc.) has been rejected. Because if you’re already forgiven, you don’t need to seek absolution…]

The Catholic Church is among those who reject the idea of confessing online. Confession is ”the opportunity to confess sins to someone ordained as a priest who is a representative of Christ,” said Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the Miami Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

[Well, thanks for that. The Catholic Church – bastion of human understanding and psychological sympathy. But you’d never know it from the newspaper.]

The websites, with their voyeuristic appeal, may fulfill people’s need to feel better about their own behavior or moral values.

[Love the honesty.]

“What makes it so popular is not so much the people confessing but people going to read all these things, saying, `My life’s not so bad,’ ” said Greg Fox, who runs the site

[Again with the solidarity. Again, not criticizing. But is it enough?]

“It’s kind of the car wreck you’re driving by. You can’t help but watch. It’s kind of the car wreck of life.”

[No comment.]

Fox started the site in 2000 while he was working as a writer, producer and director for The Walt Disney Co. The launch was ”my therapy,” he said. ”Everything was pixie dust and fun and nice and nothing bad ever happens,” he said. The site, which averages about 1.3 million hits a day, was ”my way of getting back in touch with reality,” he said. People have written on the site about contemplating suicide and abusive relationships, and Fox said he has tried to give those people the resources to get help. Others have threatened the president, prompting Fox to call the U.S. Secret Service.

[The Secret Service? We’re a long way from I Confess.]

He reviews all of the posts before they make it to cyberspace and has a backlog of about 4,000 confessions. Fox said the confessions are completely anonymous and that he has no way of tracing them. “What I hear is it’s a lot easier to tell the `truth’ in complete anonymity. You can get feedback and find out you’re not so weird. You’re not the only one who feels that way or has this phobia.”

This Just In

Thank heaven for the Godsbody correspondents. This is from the Poet:

Flannery O’Connor’s letters to be opened

ATLANTA –After two decades of waiting, Emory University is unsealing its collection of hundreds of letters between author Flannery O’Connor and one of her longtime friends.

The collection was given to Emory by Elizabeth “Betty” Hester, who began corresponding with O’Connor as a fan in 1955. The relationship developed into a close friendship lasting until O’Connor’s death in 1964. Hester donated the letters to Emory in 1987 on condition that they remain sealed for 20 years.

Edited versions of some of the letters were published in a 1979 book, but this is the first time the public will be able to read the entire collection. The letters will give fans and scholars of the famed Southern writer a glimpse into O’Connor’s feelings on religion, society and culture, said Rosemary Magee, vice president at Emory and an O’Connor scholar.

“They engaged in a theological and philosophical conversation,” said Magee. “To get further insight into her as a thinker, as a person and as a writer is just an amazing opportunity for anybody who has read her literature.”

O’Connor, a Georgia native, lived much of her life in Milledgeville, Ga., on her family’s farm, called Andalusia. She graduated from Georgia State College for Women — now Georgia College & State University — and received a master’s degree from the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Her work includes the novels Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away. She also produced numerous short stories, including A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

Hester, a file clerk in an Atlanta credit bureau, lived a reclusive life, but she was an avid reader and intellectual. She also corresponded with British writer Iris Murdoch. Her identity as one of O’Connor’s confidantes was kept secret until Hester’s death in 1998.

“I think Betty Hester was the most important correspondent in Flannery O’Connor’s life,” said Steve Enniss, director of Emory’s manuscripts, archives and rare books library where the letters are housed. “These letters help tell with great fullness the story of O’Connor’s own life that is so intertwined with her stories.”

The collection of 274 letters will be opened to the public May 12.

A Day in the Country

In Julian, to be exact. Second Son found some Wild Turkey feathers, and spotted a snake. Meanwhile, Daddy found the Wild Turkey…

Spellbound Dream Sequence

The best exploitation of the pleasures of amnesia occurred in Hitchcock’s Spellbound where Gregory Peck had amnesia and Ingrid Bergman was his psychiatrist. For the moviegoer there occurred first the pleasure of the prospect of a new life and the infinite possibilities the self as represented by Gregory Peck. The second pleasure is the accidental meeting with Ingrid Bergman, who is sensitive to the clues that Gregory misses, and who is a reliable guide, his Beatrice, who can help him recover his old life — for even amnesia, if prolonged, can become as dreary as one’s old life.

— Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos, (1) The Amnesic Self: Why the Self Wants to Get Rid of Itself

Prayer for Amy

O almighty and everlasting God Who through the operation of the Holy Christ, did prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin Mary to be a worthy dwelling place of your divine Son; and, through the operation of the same Holy Spirt, did sanctify Saint John the Baptist, while still in his mother’s womb; hearken to the prayers of your humble servants who implore you, through the intercession of Saint Gerard, to protect Amy and her child and bring them safely through this perilous time that they may experience the abundant life you promised and the joy of your salvation as they continue on their journey. Amen.

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Get Ready to Get Lost in the Cosmos

Gearing up for Korrektiv 101: Lost in the Cosmos? Need to get your hands on a copy of the textbook, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, by Walker Percy? Try the handy links provided below. And while you’re at it, check out what Godsbody and Transcendental Musings have to say about our proposed reading.

Update: Thanks to Mark Shea for giving us a plug at Catholic and Enjoying It! And thanks for the follow-up from Edmund C. at Mission Territory.

From the dark archives, 1998: Potter questions Percy’s semiotic

From the dark archives, 1998: Potter gets tangled up in gnosticism.

The Crying Game

My wife cries at the drop of a hat. She cries when she says goodbye, she cries when she says hello, sometimes she even cries when saying, “See you later this afternoon.” She’s an easy target for sappy movies and Hallmark moments. Whereas I haven’t cried in years. Until lately, that is. A couple of weeks ago, I cried at the end of the movie, The Children of Men. The week before that, I cried at the end of Stranger Than Fiction, when the character played by Emma Thompson decides not to kill off the hero because “he’s the kind of person you’d like to keep around.” In both instances I asked my wife, “Did you cry there towards the end?” And she said, “Uh, no, not really.”

Hmm… either I’m too sensitive … or else I’m gettin’ soft, I thought. Or maybe it’s just that what triggers my tear gland (is it a gland?) is different from what triggers my wife’s. But then this morning an odd train of thought occurred which once again caused the emotion to well up in me and seep out a bit. I was thinking about not having my glasses on. I wear them irregularly but with increasing fequency since I got my subscription updated recently. For some reason this caused me to hark back to my grandpa, who died when I was eight, and how he had glasses which, maybe, he also wore irregularly, and how he and I are similar fellows in some ways, prone to germanic goofiness (with a twist of Scotch-Irish in my case). Then it hit me, a pang of grief and longing for my grandpa and how I wished I could have known him as an adult.

Okay, now THAT I didn’t need to see…

Is The Wife in cahoots with the spambots? You be the judge:

Today in Porn, What Could Possibly Be Left After This Edition

“I know! We’ll profile ‘what is arguably the country’s most successful fetish porn company!'”

And hey! There’s a Catholic hook!

“Peter Acworth is 36 and trim, with a pale, boyish face. He grew up in the English Midlands, the son of a sculptor and a former Jesuit priest, and came to the United States in 1996 to get a Ph.D. in finance at Columbia University. He had already worked for Baring Brothers in London and was on track to do analytical research on Wall Street. Then, after his first year, he read in a British tabloid about a fireman who sold pornographic pictures on the Internet. ‘He had made a quarter of a million pounds over a short period doing nothing very clever at all,’ Acworth told me not long ago, pointing to the clipping framed in his office in downtown San Francisco. ‘So I basically just ripped off that idea.’ Acworth has since built what is arguably the country’s most successful fetish porn company, — a fast-growing suite of 10 S-and-M and bondage-themed Web sites, each updated weekly with a new half-hour or hour video segment. Kink has 60,000 subscribers; access to each site costs about $30 a month.”

Nothing very clever at all, indeed. Almost banal, even. Sigh.

Derby Day

With the Kentucky Derby a week away, we are at the official start of Julep season. Novelist Walker Percy noted that Juleps “are drunk so seldom that when, say, on Derby Day somebody gives a julep party, people drink them like cocktails.” A proper cocktail is made with a couple of ounces of liquor at most. By contrast, “a good julep holds at least five ounces of Bourbon,” Percy noted. After folks unthinkingly toss back a few Juleps, “men fall face-down unconscious, women wander in the woods disconsolate and amnesic, full of thoughts of Kahlil Gibran and the limberlost.”

Eric Felten, The Wall Street Journal

It’s Saturday…

…so I’m thinking we can dispense with the intellectual pretense, and get right to the celebrity worship…

I’m thinking that we’re just going to have to forgive the Go Fug Yourself girls for not being comic geeks. If they WERE comic geeks, they would understand that Ms. Dunst’s alarming dress in this photo is a carefully-planned homage to the alien symbiote costume that makes its cinematic debut in Spider-Man 3:

St. Zita

She was born in the beginning of the thirteenth century at Montsegradi, a village near Lucca in Italy. She was brought up with the greatest care, in the fear of God, by her poor virtuous mother, whose early and constant attention to inspire the tender heart of her daughter with religious sentiments seemed to find no obstacles, either from private passions or the general corruption of nature, so easily were they prevented or overcome. Zita had no sooner attained the use of reason, and was capable of knowing and loving God, than her heart was no longer able to relish any other object, and she seemed never to lose sight of him in her actions. Her mother reduced all her instructions to two short heads, and never had occasion to use any further remonstrance to enforce her lessons than to say, “This is most pleasing to God; this is the divine will”; or, “That would displease God.”

The sweetness and modesty of the young child charmed everyone who saw her. She spoke little, and was most assiduous at her work; but her business never seemed to interrupt her prayers. At twelve years of age she was put to service in the family of a citizen of Lucca, called Fatinelli, whose house was contiguous to the church of St. Frigidian. She was thoroughly persuaded that labour is enjoined all men as a punishment of sin, and as a remedy for the spiritual disorders of their souls; and far from ever harbouring in her breast the least uneasiness, or expressing any sort of complaint under contradictions, poverty, and hardships, and still more from ever entertaining the least idle, inordinate, or worldly desire, she blessed God for placing her in a station in which she was supplied with the most effectual means to promote her sanctification, by the necessity of employing herself in penitential labour, and of living in a perpetual conformity and submission of her will to others. She was also very sensible of the advantages of her state, which afforded all necessaries of life, without engaging her in the anxious cares and violent passions by which worldly persons, who enjoy most plentifully the goods of fortune, are often disturbed; whereby their souls resemble a troubled sea, always agitated by impetuous storms, without knowing the sweetness of a true calm. She considered her work as an employment assigned her by God, and as part of her penance; and obeyed her master and mistress in all things as being placed over her by God. She always rose several hours before the rest of the family and employed in prayer a considerable part of the time which others gave to sleep. She took care to hear mass every morning with great devotion before she was called upon by the duties of her station, in which she employed the whole day with such diligence and fidelity that she seemed to be carried to them on wings, and studied when possible to anticipate them.

Notwithstanding her extreme attention to her exterior employments, she acquired a wonderful facility of joining with them almost continual mental prayer and of keeping her soul constantly attentive to the divine presence. Who would not imagine that such a person should have been esteemed and beloved by all who knew her?

Nevertheless, by the appointment of divine providence, for her great spiritual advantage, it fell out quite otherwise and for several years she suffered the harshest trials. Her modesty was called by her fellow-servants simplicity, and want of spirit and sense; and her diligence was judged to have no other spring than affectation and secret pride. Her mistress was a long time extremely prepossessed against her, and her passionate master could not bear her in his sight without transports of rage.

It is not to be conceived how much the saint had continually to suffer in this situation. So unjustly despised, overburdened, reviled, and often beaten, she never repined nor lost her patience; but always preserved the same sweetness in her countenance, and the same meekness and charity in her heart and words, and abated nothing of her application to her duties. A virtue so constant and so admirable at length overcame jealousy, antipathy, prepossession, and malice.

Her master and mistress discovered the treasure which their family possessed in the fidelity and example of the humble saint, and the other servants gave due praise to her virtue. Zita feared this prosperity more than adversity, and trembled lest it should be a snare to her soul. But sincere humility preserved her from its dangers; and her behaviour, amidst the caresses and respect shown her, continued the same as when she was ill-treated and held in derision; she was no less affable, meek, and modest; no less devout, nor less diligent or ready to serve everyone. Being made housekeeper, and seeing her master and mistress commit to her with an entire confidence the government of their family and management of all their affairs, she was most scrupulously careful in point of economy, remembering that she was to give to God an account of the least farthing of what was intrusted as a depositum in her .hands; and, though head-servant, she never allowed herself the least privilege or exemption in her work on that account.

She used often to say to others that devotion is false if slothful. Hearing a man-servant speak one immodest word, she was filled with horror, and procured him to be immediately discharged from the family. With David, she desired to see it composed only of such whose approved piety might draw down a benediction of God upon the whole house and be a security to the master for their fidelity and good example. She kept fast the whole year, and often on bread and water; and took her rest on the bare floor or on a board. Whenever business allowed her a little leisure, she spent it in holy prayer and contemplation in a little retired room in the garret; and at her work repeated frequently ardent ejaculations of divine love, with which her soul appeared always inflamed. She respected her fellow-servants as her superiors. If she was sent on commissions a mile or two in the greatest storms, she set out without delay, executed them punctually, and returned often almost drowned, without showing any sign of reluctance or murmuring.

By her virtue she gained so great an ascendant over her master that a single word would often suffice to check the greatest transports of his rage; and she would sometimes cast herself at his feet to appease him in favour of others. She never kept anything for herself but the poor garments which she wore: everything else she gave to the poor. Her master, seeing his goods multiply, as it were, in her hands, gave her ample leave to bestow liberal alms on the poor, which she made use of with discretion, but was scrupulous to do nothing without his express authority. If she heard others spoken ill of, she zealously took upon her their defence and excused their faults.

Always when she communicated, and often when she heard mass, and on other occasions, she melted in sweet tears of divine love: she was often favoured with ecstasies during her prayers. In her last sickness she clearly foretold her death, and having prepared herself for her passage by receiving the last sacraments, and by ardent signs of love, she happily expired on the 27th of April, in 1272, being sixty years old: one hundred and fifty miracles wrought in the behalf of such as had recourse to her intercession have been juridically proved. Her body was found entire in 1580 and is kept with great respect in St. Frigidian’s church, richly enshrined; her face and hands are exposed naked to view through a crystal glass. Pope Leo X granted an office in her honour. The city of Lucca pays a singular veneration to her memory.

(Taken from Vol. IV of “The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints” by the Rev. Alban Butler, the 1864 edition published by D. & J. Sadlier, & Company) ~ EWTN

Sedation Recommendation

Earlier this week, I went in for a procedure involving the sticking tubes and cameras and various increasingly large objects down my throat in order to stretch out my esophagus. (In one of the collections of letters, by the way, Walker Percy mentions going in for this same procedure, and attributes the condition to drinking too much Early Times during his college days.) Anyway I had this done for the first time about five years ago and asked not to be sedated. After reading the brochure in the waiting room, I hadn’t thought it would be that bad to be awake for the action. And the truth is I didn’t like the idea of “going under” — too much like death, maybe. So I gagged and squirmed as the doc crammed a succession of implements, literally, down my throat. It was unpleasant.

This time, five years later, with the esophagus constricting again, I went back to the same place (a repetition), went through the same process, but embraced the sedation. And, I must say, it was lovely. Not only did I rest in peaceful blankness while being orally probed, but I woke feeling better rested than I have in months, maybe years. I’d had a kink in my neck for at least the past six months, and when I woke from the sedation, there was no sign of it. So I’m a convert. I wish I’d been sedated ages ago, and I hope to be sedated again soon. If you have the opportunity to go under, I highly recommend it.

Mitchell Stephens has a blog…

…called Without Gods:

“The blog I am writing here, with the connivance of The Institute for the Future of the Book, is an experiment. Our thought is that my book on the history of atheism (eventually to be published by Carroll and Graf) will benefit from an online discussion as the book is being written. Our hope is that the conversation will be joined: ideas challenged, facts corrected, queries answered; that lively and intelligent discussion will ensue.”

Along the way, he has a few instances of “Jesuses” – which I’m guessing are striking accounts/descriptions/considerations of Our Lord. And bless his heart, he brings Flannery in on the project:

“‘His black eyes, glassy and still, reflected depth on depth his own stricken image of himself, trudging into the distance in the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus.’

That’s one heck of a Jesus (or at least one that casts one heck of a shadow), from Flannery O’Connor.

And then O’Connor writes (I was led to these quotes by Garry Wills) that Jesus moves:

‘from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark…”

Got to understand, I guess, if you’re in the religion-eradication business, that a lot of the attraction — beyond the charity, the community and the meaning, beyond even the rapture and the rupture of physical laws, the rupture of history — is in the ‘wild ragged,’ ‘bleeding stinking’ madness of it all.

Where is the atheist who jumps ‘from tree to tree in back of’ the “mind”? Do nonbelievers — Shelleyans, most of them — spend too much energy switching on lights? Who whispers — Sade?, Ivan K.? — ‘come off into the dark’?

Is the point that you become — inevitably — the opposite of what you are falsely accused of being? Are nonbelievers so concerned with not being seen as dissolute that they seem dull?”

Not an uninteresting query, that. And give the man credit for looking at what Team Believer has to offer, including this from Benedict:

“The latest to join our dialogue on the nature of disbelief is Pope Benedict XVI. Unfortunately, his comments are a bit obscure:

‘Today, when we have learned to recognize the pathologies and life-threatening diseases associated with religion and reason, and the ways that God’s image can be destroyed by hatred and fanaticism, it is important to state clearly the God in whom we believe….

Only this can free us from being afraid of God which is ultimately at the root of modern atheism… Only this God saves us from being afraid of the world and from anxiety before the emptiness of life.’

His Holyness — at least as interpreted by the New York Times — seems to be aiming for something here beyond mere lucidity. I guess the point is that our fear of God keeps us from accepting His assistance in overcoming our anxious fear of the world and of the emptiness of life.

It’s hard to argue with the Pope on this ‘anxiety before the emptiness of life’ thing. God knows we’ve all had days when stuff seems more than a little random. No doubt a bit of supernaturally imposed good/bad, right/wrong believe that the Son and the Father are consubstantial/don’t belief the Son and the Father are consubstantial might help. Problem is — and maybe this is part of the reason Benedict seems to be having difficulty making himself clear — God Himself often seems more mysterious, shall we say, than clear on matters such as the proper relationship between religion and reason and what we should be doing about Darfur. ‘Who can straighten what He has twisted?’ Koheleth wonders in Ecclesiastes.

And Benedict must be hanging out with a weird bunch of atheists. I can imagine a some haunted sinner running from God and his alleged judgement. But, rather than being afraid of God, the atheists I know are just unimpressed with Him as a concept (or Concept).”

In the words of Not-Ted…


The phenomenon that is Korrektiv has taken as its summer reading club text Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. Percy’s greatest? His greatest folly? We shall see. Everybody knows that Catholics Don’t Read – least of all, Catholically-tinged nonfiction parodies/exemplars from thirty years ago – but really: why not spread the news across the Catholic blogosphere? See if we can get something approaching a literary community? I’m thinking five people read this blog: if those five pass the word on to another five, and so on and so on, we could end up with three or four or even seven people reading this book at the same time. Hoo!