Study Guide

godless

By Pete Hautman

godless Introduction

They say you're never supposed to bring up religion or politics in polite conversation, and disagreement over these topics has been known to lead to both spontaneous mixed-martial-arts take downs and rampant Facebook un-friending. But sixteen-year-old Jason Bock doesn't care a whole lot for polite conversation, and since religion is important to him in godless, he's gonna talk about it.

A lot.

While Jason has plenty to say about the Catholicism he's been raised in, it's his other religion—the one he creates after getting thwacked by the town bully and whose believers worship the town's water tower—that really drives the story. What starts out as a goofy, irreverent way to pass the remaining scorching summer hours turns into a whole different kettle of fish in godless by Pete Hautman. (Side note: Hautman gets to not capitalize the title of his book because his publisher says so; your teachers are unlikely to grant you the same power).

If you're thinking that a book about religion sounds like a pretty dry read, consider this: they don't give National Book Awards to just anyone, but godless earned it in the 2004 Young People's Literature category. And that's probably because it's a funny and adventurous read that also tackles some seriously big questions. The process of kids questioning the faith of their fathers is at least as old as Stonehenge—(our favorite henge, thanks for asking)—but deciding that the water tower must be God instead is a heckofa twist.

Jason's friends come to faith in different ways and for different reasons. But heading a new religion isn't easy, and Jason's spiritual leadership lands him in hot water, with no more answers than when he started. No matter what your relationship is to religion and spirituality, there's something for everyone in these pages.

What is godless About and Why Should I Care?

Okay, so religion is a Big Deal. Believing or not believing is often a defining part of a person's makeup, inextricably bound to their family of origin, cultural identity, and community. And on a broader social level, religious ideology has sparked terrorism, genocide, and war, as well as education, humanitarian aid, and incredible self-sacrificial acts of compassion.

But while religion can be a big topic, it can also be a small, intimate one. In godless we've got Jason Bock, who's not so sure he buys into the teaching he's grown up with. It seems arbitrary—why are his parents Catholic rather than Mormon or Buddhist? It seems made up—why believe anything at all? "None of it's real anyway" (23.36), Jason says. And so he opts out and creates an alternate religion.

Anyone sixteen years of age, approaching sixteen, or who has ever been sixteen is likely to have scratched their head at some point and asked, "Hold on a second, do I believe this for myself, or just 'cause my parents told me to?" This is a huge part of growing up, of becoming your own person, yo.

Lotsa people go on to decide there is truth in the old ways, but plenty of others end up following different paths than the ones their families started them on. Very few decide to arbitrarily designate something in their life as their new god, though—which makes Jason's ride a fun and funny one, in addition to being universal and personal.

godless Resources

Websites

A Few Thoughts About godless, In No Particular Order…
This is from Pete Hautman's website. We like the backstory about where Chutengodianism came from, plus a peek into PH's thoughts.

The Complete Chutengodian Bible
This is the complete Chutengodian Bible. As in all the bits at the beginning of each chapter and a portion from Chapter 10.

Water Tower Facts
A water tower with a restaurant? And where, oh where is the world's tallest water tower?

Articles and Interviews

Nexus interview of PH about godless.
Pete Hautman's realio, trulio thoughts on water towers and asparagus.

Censorship and Book Banning
You must know you've arrived as a provocative author when they threaten to ban your book. Here's Pete Hautman's blog post with his thoughts on censorship in response to some high school parents in Mississippi asking for godless to be removed from a summer reading list.

Video

Pete Hautman on Bullying
This is a vid PH did in 2011 on dealing with bullies.

60 Second Recap Pick of the Week
Jenny Sawyer gives godless a brief, pithy rundown and review.

Faith
An adaptation of Chapter 1 of godless. This brief video was shot by film student Lucas Francy for his director's scene workshop class at SUNY. We especially dig the Shin-esque sketches at the beginning with the voice over of the Chutengodian Genesis.

Audio

How to Steal A Car
Not really. This is a Minnesota Public Radio interview with Pete Hautman about teen readers, stealing cars (and his novel titled How to Steal a Car), and other stuff.

Images

U.S. Cover
As released in the US, godless the shiny American Book Award Winner emblem on it.

Korean godless Book Cover
This is pretty cool. You gotta check out all the detail included.

Pete Hautman Pic
Author photo from his website. He subtitles it: "Pete Hautman smiling. This is what I look like when somebody is taking a photo of me."

T-ball for Giants?
The water tower of Ellsworth, Illinois, is painted like a super-sized baseball.

Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Disney has the Earful Tower
Disney Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World Florida

Rochester, Minnesota's Corny Water Tower
At least it's not asparagus.

Pass the Mustard
Though the Collinsville, Illinois, water tower is in the shape of a giant catsup (ketchup?) bottle, we presume it flows with H20.

St. Louis, MO, Soda Bottle Water Tower
How's about a lemon-lime shower?

The House in the Clouds
The water tower in Thorpeness, Suffolk, UK was converted to a house. We are moving our office there.