Hi, Book Reviewer Dana from Glenville!

Do other authors get this kind of review? I can’t imagine most readers do this sort of thing.

I got this mysterious envelope in the mail yesterday.

I’ve blacked out her address, but it’s from Dana from Glenville, MN. I opened it, and this was in it:

I was puzzled at first. It’s sort of a book, titled The Miserable Catholic? But it’s just a lot of lined notebook pages, tied together with string? And it’s all handwritten? Then I turned the page and it sort of murkily became clearer.

It’s a chapter by chapter journal about reading The Happy Atheist. I usually ignore the reviews, and certainly don’t think it worthwhile to rebut them, but Dana put a lot more effort into this than I would have expected, especially since she’s very Catholic and doesn’t actually like the book. So I feel obligated to at least acknowledge that she tried, and she seems to have read every single chapter, even if she just makes comments about how it made her unhappy to read this bit, or this bit was OK, or this section was wrong.

Most of the entries are short.

Sometimes she doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the content.

She occasionally goes off into long Catholic eruptions.

She has a few cryptic bits about who she is and what she’s trying to do.

She also gives me a gift card to Culver’s. Sweet!

I have to respect the effort and appreciate that someone thought I was worth that much effort. Now what I’m going to have to do is put this back in its envelope and file it on my bookshelf — especially since it seems to be the only handwritten copy in existence. I’ll take good care of it.

Thanks for thinking my book was worth reading, Dana, even if it obviously made you uncomfortable. Keep on thinking!


  1. says

    The last image has Dana’s phone number, so you might want to edit that out.

    I admit I laughed at the page where Dana talked about being injured. It wasn’t about the injuries though, I feel for her because that would have been very painful and I hope she’s fully recovered. It was just so unexpected and “It really hurt” sounds like such an understatement.

  2. Sastra says

    She appears to have read the book without actually engaging with any of the reasons for the conclusion, since at the end she still insists on framing the issue as not having enough “heart.” You could read any book on any topic, and if every bit of information is accompanied by an internal monologue about how the writer only believes such-and-such because they don’t know how to love then you’re not going to learn a thing — not on the topic, and not concerning the writer. Which accounts for her confusion regarding atheism. She both went out of her comfort zone and refused to leave it.

  3. cartomancer says

    They’re a sensitive bunch, those Catholics. I discovered this when the Catholic school I was working in decided to upbraid me for doing the Times Crossword during their dreary, two-hour Mass ritual. I pointed out to them that if they didn’t want me amusing myself during their medieval roleplay lets-pretend exercise then they shouldn’t have insisted I join them for it.

  4. says

    #1: Yikes, glad you noticed. I’ve fixed it now.

    #2: Yeah, but I have to respect the fact that she stuck with it, even though her commentary on many of the chapters is basically that she squirmed away from actually thinking much about it. It’s a start!

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    What Tabby L said @ # 1 about that phone number.

    Even though – look at that cheeseburger! – Dana is trying to kill you.

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    The Culver’s gift card seems nice, but someone with your health history should probably not be eating at a place known for its ButterBurgers. Pierce R. Butler may be correct, but it is best not to assume ill intent without further evidence.

    I would offer to take the gift card off your hand, but I am not geographically situated to take advantage of it.

  7. aziraphale says

    chigau, I write in all caps because after decades of keyboarding my joined-up writing is totally illegible, even to me. I think many people do.

  8. jazzlet says

    chigau @ #6
    Huh, maybe, but I know several people that do that, one is so neat that at first glance her writing looks like it’s been typed in all caps.

  9. Hj Hornbeck says

    aziraphale @8:

    I write in all caps because after decades of keyboarding my joined-up writing is totally illegible, even to me.

    I switched from ALL-CAPS because I was sick of my handwriting looking so childish; now it’s more adult-like but unreadable, a fair trade-off IMO.

  10. jacksprocket says

    Let’s see.. you got a parcel… that you weren’t expecting… you don’t know the sender… it’s October 2018… and you OPENED it?
    You got away with that one, just a few papers covered in sad crap. Another time it’s facial surgery at best.

  11. Matrim says

    @11, jacksprocket

    Generally it’s pretty easy to tell if there is an explosive device in an envelope, there is a minimum thickness of certain materials. Even if they used sheet explosives, the weight would give it away. Plus things like blasting caps and det cord are instantly noticeable on touch. And if they wanted to actually do damage they’d need to add shrapnel, and even if they used something like coins that could lay flat it would still increase the weight substantially and probably would still be noticeable by touch. Now, you still might have to worry about things like anthrax and whatnot, but explosives would be unlikely.

    Granted, at a glance I wouldn’t open it. Looks hinky as hell. The multiple postage stickers alone are a red flag.

  12. nomdeplume says

    One of those cases where the writer clearly needs psychiatric help, but because it is religion it is seen as somehow normal.

  13. wzrd1 says

    My block printing looks like a physician’s prescription, my cursive looks like a spider’s web after it was dosed with LSD.

  14. John Morales says


    I have to respect the effort and appreciate that someone thought I was worth that much effort.

    Indeed. Very satisfying, I imagine.

    The Catholicism and piety seems about right to me. Genuine, that is.

    The nub (my transcription, lowercase added, underscore replaced by bold):

    I went to confession after this mass to release all my sins away, for I have read your book, or parts of it, distinguishing what is right. It is not good to read a book like that, one that brings you down wo where you’d rather not be. But I did not pick your book out of curiousity, but only to find where your mind might be, and how I can change that, if you are still ‘there’.

    She gazed into the Abyss, the Abyss gazed into her.

    (More Biblically, a seed may not have fallen onto rocky ground)

  15. magistramarla says

    I ate at a Culver’s once, because it reminded me of my college days and my love for Ted Drew’s Frozen Custard.
    It was a huge disappointment, and I had quite a stomach ache that evening.
    Be careful about that gift, PZ!

  16. John Morales says

    Meh. The calligraphy was very readable, the thoughts expressed cogent.

    Good writing for mine.

    Chigau, I disagree. It’s not all-caps, it’s small caps.

    Indicative of someone who values legibility over writing speed, invokes a certain redolence of classical Roman inscriptions.

    I like it.

  17. Curt Sampson says

    You should probably black out the tracking number as well, since that can be used to narrow down the package’s source to a single postal code.

  18. Onamission5 says

    Dana seems nice, if not misguided and a bit befuddled about the content of the book.

    I hereby give Dana permission to go ahead and lay on salty beaches with the sun in zir face, since that is what ze prefers to do, instead of trying to force zirself evangelize the unwilling, which Dana does not enjoy. Do what you love, Dana!

    And do keep reading, keep being curious about others, even if you don’t understand their perspectives. Maybe someday you will.

  19. psanity says

    There is something kind of sweet about this person. She reminds me of people I sometimes get into conversations with in my community. I’ll chat with someone at the doughnut shop or wherever, and get into these odd, earnest, serious conversations about religion or politics that don’t have that adversarial weight. They’re interesting, and of course neither one of us “gets” anywhere – but I think these odd little human conversations are so important. It’s nice Dana wanted to share her experience of your book; most of us atheists, I’m sure, haven’t bothered with more than a quick comment about it here, if that.

    About block cap printing, ians ago I had a job where I had to write out about a zillion shipping labels a day. My handwriting is pretty impossible, especially writing fast, so I adopted a drafting lettering style that is sort of almost connected block caps. If I want anyone to be able to read my writing, casually, that’s what I have to do. I can do a decent turn at calligraphy of various sorts for special purposes, but that’s not really handwriting, and takes a lot of effort. (When I used to write checks all the time for groceries, etc., I carried a fountain pen with a wide-ish italic nib – that slowed me down to reasonable legibility, and random people were fascinated.)

    Dana’s writing looks a lot more deliberate and tidy than anything I could easily manage.

  20. Matrim says

    @19, magistramarla

    You must’ve had bad luck, then. I ate there just this afternoon and it was delicious.

  21. chigau (違う) says

    Recently, my handwriting in 日本語 is far more legible than my handwriting in English.

  22. lanir says

    The handwriting is a really lousy place to go when thinking about this. It’s a cheap poke and that sort of instant write-off is better served to people who have done the same to you.

    I think it looks like an honest and respectful attempt at outreach. One thing I’ve learned from the last couple US election cycles is that such things are valuable even if you don’t find common ground. The point is that you can. The opportunity exists and should be encouraged. Because despite the open and obvious differences between people who divide along lines of religion or politics, there are still many, many issues we can agree on. The only people who profit from close-mindedness are those who have everything they want and don’t want anything to change. And even that’s short-sighted because someone with more resources can always find ways to profit by taking yours.

  23. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    As sad as it is that civility, open-mindedness and intellectual honesty aren’t minimums but are rare enough to be applauded, it’s true, and Dana deserves applause. Thanks for showing us this, PZ.

    What I think so many people miss is how good of an advertisement for their cause people like this women are. No matter what, anyone aware of her now knows one more Catholic who made a good-faith effort to engage with material she sharply disagreed with, even when it was challenging.

  24. John Morales says


    No matter what, anyone aware of her now knows one more Catholic who made a good-faith effort to engage with material she sharply disagreed with, even when it was challenging.

    I refer you to my #16. To the degree that an admitted partisan effort at evangelism constitutes good-faith engagement, I can’t dispute that.


    So. Good faith, sure. Open-minded? Mmmm…

    Still. The dissonance discomfort was evident.

  25. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    John: That’s why I opened with the minimum requirement bit. But I’m being realistic here. People will fight to change their mind on who starred in a movie even when they were wrong. In the real world, the kind of person who actually is willing to read, no matter their biases, and admit to engaging with the material, discomfort or not, is uncommon. It’s simply not fair, as a result of basic human limitations, to expect people to come to a book with a viewpoint they disagree with and change their mind instantaneously, having no assumptions that they bring to their reading. What is fair is to ask people not to spout off about something they haven’t read word one of (e.g. Davis Aurini making an entire documentary about a woman he admitted he hadn’t watched a single video of). Ann may not have acquired some kind of Platonic ideal of objectivity where she could reevaluate cherished beliefs and change her mind instantly, but she was willing to be intellectually honest enough to read about someone she disagreed with vociferously, and that’s the norm that has to be applauded.