Brandywine Books
Saturday, August 30, 2003
How not to write a research paper
I found a blog recently through Academic Blogger Cranky Professor. It’s by an English professor at Wheaton, Michael Drout, who is teaching, among other things, a 400 level course on Tolkien and LeGuin. (I wonder if I can take that course by extension.) His edited volume of Tolkien’s Beowulf and the Critics won a Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies for 2003. He blogs at “Wormtongue and Slugspeak.”

In this entry dated on the toes of July, he advises graduate students to avoid reading the bibliography before written on their subject. “To be original, you need to interact with the poem first on your own, then write down your ideas, then read the bibliography and work your argument into the critical conversation. . . . I always know when someone has fallen into this trap when he or she begins a conference paper with four minutes of summary of scholarship.”

These are ideas he writes after asking a lowly slave (that is a student worker) to collect articles on the Ruin, “a movingly beautiful poetic description of a ruined city. The poem is accidently made more complete and beautiful by the fact that time and ill-use have damaged the manuscript quite badly at this point, and so The Ruin has itself become an inspiring and elusive ruin.” I quote here from h2g2, a BBC guide to “life, the universe, and everything,” or something just short of that.
August was Book Fest month in Scotland
The beautiful city of Edinburgh hosted an international book festival for most of this month. I wish I could bring you an eye-witness report, but from what I’ve read, it looks like fun. This years festival, with over 250 sold-out events, drew in 185,000 people, 15% over last year.

In an Edinburgh Evening News article, Director Catherine Lockerbie said, "This year’s festival has been notable for the very high level and quality of involvement and participation by the public."

The Evening News reported, “The festival’s experimental five-night series with George Monbiot, where the audience were invited to set the agenda of the night, proved a major attraction and sold out throughout.” Apparently, people discussed current events during these times, giving air to their own opinions.

More than 17,000 children visited the tent village in Charlotte Square Garden to see authors, attended workshops, and buy or beg for countless books from Lloyds TSB Scotland. The book fest web site boasts of a story-writing time with Vivian French. “Vivian will do all the writing, just be ready to have your imagination tickled and teased into writing a masterpiece!” That’s sounds like a lot of fun.

Of course, the adult events do too. P.D. James was there to meet fans, and many authors spoke on the love of words, the craft of fiction and poetry, Scottish literature, Shakespeare, current events, etc. Something for everyone, as they say—that is, as I say, or said just now. I wish I could plan to go next year, but I am bound to my small spot of earth for the foreseeable future. I am a man of means by no means.

Here’s more on how great everything was:

Man! That last statistic gets you right in the heart, doesn’t it? Sniff. Over a tonne. . .
Friday, August 29, 2003
If not the whole nine yards, at least 8.5 of it
Gideon Strauss introduced me to The Phrase Finder, another helpful etymology web site for understanding the origin and true meaning of clichés and phrases. Now, before you stop reading and rush to the site, let me tell you about the phrase you’re going to look for, “the whole nine yards.”

The phrase means “all of it or as much as can be.” If you went the whole nine yards to get something done, you did as much as anyone could do. How did the phrase come about? The Phrase Finder says, “No one knows the origin, although many have an fervent belief that they do. These convictions are unfailingly based on no more evidence than 'someone told me'.”

There are several possible origins, but not enough evidence to back up any of them conclusively. I like what Evan Morris, the inimitable Word Detective, has to say on this. He says he likes the theory that nine cubic yards is the most a cement mixer can carry. He argues that this theory has the advantage of being concrete.

Read on from The Phrase Finder.

Speaking of the Word Detective, let me point you to the question I asked him earlier this year on thumbing one's nose. It's a small, fleeting thrill to have a question published in your better's column. Being a small man, I've been quite proud of myself for months.
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Monument Moved to Private Spot, 10AM Today
The decalogue monument in Montgomery, AL, has been moved to another location within the court house in compliance with the federal ruling. Apparently, the Constitution's establishment clause is satisfied by merely moving the stone-etched Scripture verses to a private location in the court house. I don't know if tourists will be able to see it in the future or not. It doesn't make sense to me. Why does the monument risk government-established religion in a public place and not in a private place? How does a monument or memorial risk establishing religion at all? I don't think the separation-of-church-and-state argument as made by liberals, who seem to oppose Christian and Jewish expressions of faith and ignore other expressions, makes sense at all. Until an authority says that we must believe something specific in order to comply with the law, he hasn't established a religion. Setting up a monument with verses on it is a far cry from them. And hasn't the second half of the religious freedom part of our first amendment, the part saying Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, been violated dozens of times?

But the deed is done, and a ball may be rolling. In Houston, a freedom-from-religion woman is suing for the removal of a King James Bible from a court house memorial dedicated to an influential and oddly enough religious man. The open Bible violates the establishment clause, her lawyer says. That's ridiculous! Why do some believe that faith or religion is a hobby like sewing, which can be done by its loyalists in their own little homes as much as they like without bothering anyone else? Why do they not understand that Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddism, and the other religions of the world are methods of interpreting life? They are public and private perspectives. They are all-encompassing philosophies. To say that the US Government must be secular, free from all signs of faith-based influence, is to promote a religious philosophy in itself. It may not feel religious, but if it touches on the meaning of life, the purpose of community, and the office and person of God, then it is religious in nature. No philosophy worth its salt avoids these subjects, though some don't seem to enjoy declaring their positions on them.

As I said, the deed is done. I hope Justice Moore is reinstated in his position in the Alabama State court. Personally, if Moore loses his position to rule over his state, especially if he is replaced by a secularist who does not respect the rule of law and individual freedom as much as he does (or did), then the battle over the decalogue was too costly. It's more important by far for righteous judges to parse the law properly than for a good monument to stand somewhere. If Bill Pryor, currently Alabama's Attorney General, is denied his judicial position, for which he has been nominated and filibustered, because of this battle, then it will have been too costly. It's better for good judges to rule over a people who have lost their common sense than for a good monument to stand somewhere. Of course, respectable people disagree -- but enough about them.

Update: I wish I'd said it this way myself. Rush Limbaugh was talking about this battle on his radio show this afternoon, and he said, "Never forget what this is all about. The objective isn't to display these things. The objective is for as many people as possible to understand them." That's why Christians and God-fearers have disagreed over Judge Moore's battle tactics. Of course we want to correct the misapplication of the first amendment, and that would allow a decalogue monument in a state court house; but at the end of the day, we aren't fighting over the display. We are fighting for an understanding of who God is and the obedience of His law.
Monday, August 25, 2003

Let the Decalogue and All His Little Friends Go Free

In The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, Editor E.D. Hirsch, Jr. writes, “No one in the English-speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible. . . . Far from being illegal of undesirable, teaching about the Bible is not only consistent with our Constitution, it is essential to our literacy.” That’s a message I’d like to hear more often in our public debate on religion’s place in our lives, schools, and government buildings. The Bible and Biblical verses etched in stone for public display can be as much educational tools as the books, letters and quotes from sources displayed in museums, in living history locations, on monuments, and in government buildings.

The debate over Chief Justice Roy Moore’s Decalogue monument in the Montgomery, Alabama state court house fails into this category. Should a monument to the Ten Commandments of Exodus stay in the state court house? I think it should, though I don’t know how I would fight the legal battle to prove I’m right. That’s one of the many ways I don’t understand our present world. If a judge rules poorly, you can appeal to a higher court for justice (if you have the money to do so); but when the highest court mis-rules, what happens? Why do we adjust to a bad interpretation of the law? Is it only because everyone’s interpretation varies, so only certain justices’ opinions carry the authority for enforcement?

In this case, we have a poor interpretation of the first amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” When did that come to mean government officials cannot exercise Christianity or sufficiently Christian reverence for the country’s founders? When did it come to mean that the Bible cannot be publicly alluded to in a credible light? It doesn’t say those things. Posting the ten commandments does not establish them as a religion to anyone whose faith isn’t the liberal political machine. I think they should be allowed wherever they are desired.

Does that mean that Justice Moore has fought for that principles properly? No, and I don’t know if he has. I can only hope so.

World magazine has a cover story on this in next week’s issue, and Cal Thomas offered his opinion last week.
Friday, August 22, 2003
Since We Hadn't Gotten Out of the Neighborhood Yet, We Thought We'd Come Back
"The Book Guys," a radio show out of Washington D.C., talked to Joyce Carol Oates last week about her new book, The Tattooed Girl. The show is #0333, dated 8-14-03. Since we recently read about JCO and her amazing production of books, I thought I'd share an anecdote on her which the hosts shared after she left. Host Allen Stypeck said a friend of his, Larry, is a friend of JCO. (That makes this a third or fourth hand story, which will probably get it stamped as an urban legend.) Larry said that during seminars, after a session had concluded, JCO would write. Stypeck said, "She spent the entire time with Larry writing." She is obsessed with writing, not that it's a bad thing. She understands the craft very well.
It's Because Black Hats Are Easier to See
Evil acts are more demonstrative than good ones. To show an evil man, an actor can berate someone, hit someone, or steal something, taking a few seconds. To show a good man, an actor can depict faithfulness, self control, or generosity, but even evil men can appear to do these things for a time. The goodness of a man shows by his consistency do these things over time and in spite of personal loss. A movie can give you a good impression of a character in minutes, but it takes a while to convince you of his moral character. Even an evil man can speak politely, love his wife, or play with his children for a while.

So if evil acts deliver their intent more readily than good ones, action-based entertainment will tend to depict evil more often than good. And naturally, evil acts build suspense. Conflict drives a story. This was the fear J.R.R. Tolkien mentioned when talking about dramatizing his Lord of the Rings myths. He believed the darkness and evil of the stories, and any good myth for that matter, would naturally dominate the drama.

Speed or keeping the story moving is the reason character elements are most often cut from movies, and when you have a movie that’s all about good characters in relationship problems then you have a slow (and perhaps quiet) movie. But develop those characters in a well-written novel, and you’ll have a great story, if not a classic. When reading Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev, I was amazed that I was so interested in such a slow story. I seemed as if nothing was happening, yet I was riveted to the book. That wouldn’t happen in a film adaptation of the same tale. In fact, that story is essentially un-filmable. Well, maybe I shouldn’t write “essentially,” because perhaps the story of a young artist living in similar circumstances could be dramatized for film, but it would only barely resemble Asher Lev’s story in this book. I’d bet the story would be as different from the original as Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter is to the Demi Moore version.
Papa Writes Books Sometimes
Speaking of Hawthorne, Erin O’Connor describes a recent publication of a new discovery in the life of that great early American author. The post is interesting in full, but for those of you who want the preview or briefed version (and that’s what culture blogging is all about, isn’t it? Briefing other articles and adding comments), O’Connor says that A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession focuses on the dream of every literature scholar, finding a new something or new way of considering an age-old author. He refers to an New York Times article on a story which Hawthorne wrote during a three-week time when he and his five-year-old son lived alone. His wife and daughters were away. The title is all I know about its contents, “Twenty Days With Julian & Little Bunny by Papa.”
Thursday, August 21, 2003
I had hoped to write more than I usually do this week, with Teachout being on vacation, but I became sick. I still feel lousy, so no post tonight. Take care of yourselves.
Saturday, August 16, 2003
Brandywine Books has been added to the "sites to see" list of Terry Teachout's excellent blog on! Perhaps you should follow his example and add a link to your blog or website.
How Can You Tell a Critic is Compromised?
In last week’s Sunday Herald, Chris Salmon reports his interview with Dido, a singer whose first album “No Angel” has sold 12 million. I’ve been interested in Dido as an artist since I read World magazine’s music critic say that the album has “Lush, ethereal pop framing vocals that blend and often surpass those of Enya, Dolores O’Riordan, and Sinéad O’Connor.” I doubt I would love her music, but this recommendation combined with hearing “Thank You” on the radio stirs my interest. I’m interested in excellent art of almost all styles.

But I link to this story for Brandywine Books readers because of its comments on criticism. Dido and Salmon say that she didn’t receive bad reviews until her underground album sold over a million. “'No Angel' was an album by a part-time backing singer with a tiny budget and no label. Sure, the album’s gentle instrumentation and songs of love and defiance sung in a cracked-crystal voice might not be to everyone’s taste, but then neither is Kathryn Williams and she doesn’t attract anything like the style-police scorn Dido does. The main difference? About 12 million sales.”

Is this normal for music critics? Does success foster distain for most of them, or are there a few influential ones for which this is true and they lead the rest of the pack? Or is it that certain i’s must be dotted and select t’s crossed before these critics feel comfortable praising an album?

I have two impressions of the mentality of most critics. First, some of them need to stand apart regardless of the subject. Do most of the others love it? Then they hate it or find troubling flaws that lessen its influence on their sensitive emotions. Their need to be contrary and separate themselves from their peers heavily influences their judgment. I think I’ve seen one or two critics admit this, saying that if he praised the piece there would be no point in writing about it, but I don’t know where I would find an article for an example. Second, critics, like some journalists, seem to have templates by which they view everything, and when an artist doesn’t follow a pattern or fit a mold, then the critic must find a plausible reason for disliking his work. Dido sold too many albums for an underground record. Or it is too popular to be really good. Either way, this template critic begins with a negative assumption and builds an argue to support it.

I wish I could resign these impressions to a block of people, to a tidy package I can tuck away in order to get on with my quiet (and hopefully increasingly literary life), but I know that many of us--layman, professionals, scientists, officials, students, and miscreants—form our conclusions before building our arguments. (related link to 2Blowhards blog) I suppose we all need to seek wisdom, “considering others as better than ourselves,” be on guard against improper prejudices, and watch how we describe our impressions. Of course, some news commentators would be jobless, but we all have some price to pay for gaining and using wisdom.

Andree Seu on Writing and Faking It
This week’s issue of World Magazine includes another great essay by one of my favorite essayists/columnists/journalists (whichever label fits best) Andree Seu. She says, “Writers know that you can find a source to say anything you want, so they move heaven and earth to scare up an expert who agrees with them.” That and the pressures of marketing, whose goal is to turn a profit, makes some reporting and even fiction writing an exercise in building a pre-determined product. For some news sources, the stories they report are meant primarily to earn them money, not inform their readers. The right to know, if it exists, is subject to the desire for profit. She ends her essay expressing disappointment over the fact that Tom Clancy doesn’t write all of his novels. “I keep wondering about the poor schmo who writes for Mr. Clancy and doesn't get his name on the jacket,” she says.

A couple years ago, Ms. Seu told me that she was preparing her essays for possible publication in book form. Whether that pans out, that is to say if it’s in the cards she’s been dealt (I love American gambling and gold rush metaphors), I hope she has a book of some sort published while I’m still around to read it. I'm sure it will have more heart and thought than at least half of what's published that year.
Friday, August 15, 2003
Trinity College Library, Long Room Photo
This is the kind of image what warms me heart. I love rows upon rows of books. Take note of the doorway on the right. The walkway goes deeper and deeper.
Barely literary: More on Peckman's Peace Plan
This morning, I realize that I was too serious in my last post. This story from the LA Times adds the kooky details needed to make Peckman’s idea appear as ridiculous as it is. He has recommended Indian music in city offices, meditation sessions, and better nutrition in schools. I assure you that my curriculum suggestion would work far better than this to combat school time angst (though I have to confess that when I was in fifth grade and I found no potato in my tater tots, I could barely control my outrage; I don’t what they were passing off as hot dogs).

Peckman says, “certain music and ‘primordial sounds’ have been proven to support plant growth and reduce disharmony in humans. And school cafeteria food can cause aggressive behavior.” “Proven” is far too strong a word, but I’ll agree that good music (which I’m not sure is the music he’s talking about) does uplift the heart. He claims his ideas have helped lower violence in Israel and Lebanon. Now, that’s a ringing endorsement! But back to the music. If Peckman wants to saves his city from the evils of stress and he believes his type of music helps, he should sponsor weekly concerts downtown. The city council may go for that. Every Tuesday at Noon, Peckman’s Stress-free Indian Band and distinguished guests should perform their own brand of soothing tunes. Businessmen could open their windows to allow the peaceful melodies to waft in on the gentle breeze. The crime rate would fall. Budgets would balance. Fat children would ask for nutribars instead of those nasty milkshakes. Ahhh! I feel better just thinking about it.

Peckman! The answer to peace you’re looking for is introduced in the Bible, starting with Acts 17:16. Start there and read for a while. You may want to skip over to Philippians after that, and then the gospel of John. The first chapter of John is beautifully poetic, a great passage for meditation.
Peckman Pushes Peace for Denver, Recommendations Offered
On Tuesday, The Denver Post reported, “A ballot initiative sponsored by Denver resident Jeff Peckman is headed toward the November ballot … to force a public vote [on the adoption of] peacefulness programs that lower ‘societywide stress’ as measured by reduced crime, accidents, warfare and terrorism.” Apparently, the law ties the city council’s hands, so the ballot initiative must go forward despite its idiotic assumption that a city government can design such programs. Peckman is quoted saying, “Give peace a chance.” Well, Peckman, if you’re out there, read on because the blogosphere will doubtless ridicule your poor thinking and give you several decent (and indecent) options to suggest to the city should your voting peers agree to pass your initiative.

I’m tempted to blog theological now, explaining that peace is the fruit of love and what love truly is. But this is literary blog, and I want to offer you, Peckman, some literary-minded suggestions on how to step toward peace. Not reach it and live in peace; you won’t get there without Divine intervention. But you can stumble toward it.

  1. Draft a transition plan for converting all public schools to classical/Great Books curriculum within five years, if possible. If you want peace, Peckman, you have to respect children’s minds and hearts. A limited, hamstrung education as is taught in many of the nation’s public schools fosters discontent; so I recommend requiring a classical education for every child in government-run schools. I don’t know what Denver’s population growth rate is now, but I assure you it will blossom when people understand the societal renewal taking place because you, Peckman, the people’s hero, pushed through a good education for Denver’s children.

  2. Regulate television usage. Have the city council use the heavy hand of government to strangle TV abuse. Commercialism and sappy entertainment leads to discontentment, old man. You’ve got to find a way to keep people from burning themselves out on excessive TV viewing.

  3. Close shop every Sunday. Peckman, if you’re serious about giving peace a chance, you’ve got to slow life down so folks have time to reflect. Encourage the city to close all but essential stores on Sunday. Urge your peers citywide to reorganize their lives to relax on that day, read books, and reflect on life and family.

  4. Build your public library. Make Denver's public library the envy of ancient Alexandria and the NY Metro. When parents and children begin understanding the great ideas of classical literature, they will be eager to read more good ideas and more enjoyable, well-written stories. They'll also be eager to express themselves in other art forms and common hobbies, so look out for a buzz of peaceful activities throughout the city.

  5. Bibles for every resident. If you’ve gotten this far, you’re a miracle-worker already. You might as well plot a way to provide good, readable Bibles (like $20 copies of the English Standard Version) to all city residents. I’m sure a ministry would love to fund part of this cost, and the people ought to pay a little something, if they can. Get your fellow peacemakers to read this best-selling book over several months and years, and you will have a new city.

  6. That should cover it, Peckman. Peace will be in your grasp, if you accomplish these simple steps. All right, I'm being sarcastic, but you're life will improve if you take these steps to heart for you and your friends. Should you want to throw in something a little extra, something easy for a government, let me suggest dropping tax on St. John’s Wart, Chamomile tea, and Vitamin B complex. Maybe even subsidize those items. It couldn’t hurt.

Sunday, August 10, 2003
City of Orange May Drop Public Library
According to this story in the Orange Leader, the Orange city in Orange County, California, may close its public library due to cash flow problems.
City Manager Sam Kittrell said the city might have to close the library in October 2004 if city finances don't improve. Closing the Allie Payne Road fire station, to leave two stations in the city, could be another option in the future. "Either we grow the city or we have a drastic change in the services we deliver," he said. "It's got to be one or the other."
Orange's tax rate of 84.6 cents per $100 valuation is one of the highest city rates in the state. "We have reached a point where we can't ask more of our citizens or commercial interests within the city in the form of higher taxes or fees," he said.

The city has steadily lost is population over the last several years though the county's population has remained the same. Is it possible the city is driving away its people with high taxes? Would lowering taxes increase their revenue in the same way it does our nation?

Misguided Protesting of Liberal Books at Liberal University
UNC of Chapel Hill chose Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich for their summer reading selection. Apparently, the university invites freshmen to read the book and discuss it at a certain time during their initial orientation week. Last year, they chose a book on the Quran and raised the ire of many conservatives in their community as well as state legislature. This year is a rerun.

I think I understand the reason for protests, especially the Islamic selection coming on the heels of
Sept 11; but I don’t understand the methods. Erin O’Connor of the University of Pennsylvania says that an advocacy group lost a law suit which complained of religious freedom violations if students were required to read the Islamic book. This year, they are complaining of liberal bias.

From this News Observer/AP article, “The Committee for a Better Carolina has spent more than $8,000 to campaign against the selection, taking out full-page ads in The News & Observer of Raleigh on Wednesday and last month in The Daily Tar Heel. The Committee also provided a release citing Ehrenreich's affiliation with the Democratic Socialists of America, as well as book excerpts they say espouse anti-Christian and anti-conservative views.”

Has the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill or anywhere in the state given these people cause to believe that academic liberals were not running the program and choosing the summer reading books? Do the protestors, especially the congressmen, believe that discussing these books is dangerous to college students? I’d be surprised if they did and if they believed similar books would not be required or recommended within a natural course of study. Reading a book for discussion is not religious indoctrination; it’s exposure. The real danger is not being exposed to honest expressions of religion or personal faith on campus; it’s being pressured to believe that all of them are the same (that is, religion is as meaningful as pulling for a favorite ball team). And as far as exposure to liberal bias goes, won’t UNC students suffer through typical liberalism with their professors and textbooks a hundred times over after this summer’s book is forgotten? I’d expect they will.

Parents and conservative lawmakers should reserve this sort of ire for hateful screeds against humanity masquerading as art or intellect, like the former New Jersey poet laureate’s 9-11 poem. (Terry Teachout in describing the role of the critic mentions the kind of “anti-art” to which I refer.) In most cases where distasteful reading is encouraged, I would recommend phone calls and intelligent complaints through the proper channels.
Saturday, August 09, 2003
Is This Where Books Go When They Die?
I just learned of a fun poem from Clive James called, "The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered." It apparently was published in 1986 in a collection of poetry from the previous three decades. If you haven't read, I recommend it. You could think of it as bitter or envious, but I think it's funny.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book --
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,

Also running in book-related poetry, Remy Wilkins posted this poem, Bookwearing, in June. As a book lover, I like it.
Do you quarantine your books on shelves
or closed in closets when not allowed a visiting eye
or let them wander the corridors and rooms
splayed out under the constant tan of light?

I honestly don't feel qualified to praise the merits of poetry, because somehow the concept itself escapes me. I think I can spot very bad poems and even very good ones, but those in the vast middle, both great and mediocre, dodge my ability to judge. I know, you're disappointed. Probably you've moved on to a better literary blog; but I cannot be who I am not.
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
More praise and discussion of Gibson's "The Passion"
Mel Gibson plans to release a film on the final 12 hours of Jesus Christ's physical life on Ash Wednesday 2004. Some critics are complaining, but important critics with strong interests in praising the praise-worthy are defending it. Media critic Michael Medved chatted with the Washington Post Wednesday morning (transcript). He said, "I have seen the movie [unlike some critics]. As a work of film, it's remarkable, though flawed. Most Biblical movies are laughable-- reminiscent of "The Life of Brian" -- but "The Passion" is intense, persuasive, believable. The use of Aramaic and Latin (with subtitles) helps avoid goofy dialogue." Columnist Cal Thomas writes, "'The Passion' is the most beautiful, profound, accurate, disturbing, realistic and bloody depiction of this well-known story that has ever been filmed."

Criticizing the opposition, Author Linda Chavez says, "The Anti-Defamation League now features on its Web site the banner headline 'Mel Gibson's 'The Passion': Why ADL Is Concerned,' which links to several articles questioning whether the film is anti-Semitic or might provoke physical attacks on Jews, like those that sometimes occurred following Passion Plays during the Middle Ages. But none of the criticism comes from anyone who has actually seen the film."

Being a Midwestern writer
Heather Lee Schroeder of the Madison, Wisconsin, Capital Times writes about being a Midwestern writer. “It's a little crushing to realize you're not the Southern writer you'd hoped to be, particularly since Southern writing has been such a hot property in recent years and Midwestern writing is often dismissed as regional work.” She asks Jonis Agee what makes a modern Midwestern writer. “She answered my question enthusiastically. ‘If Southern writing is defined by its connection to loss, then Midwestern writing is defined by its connection to the land and a sense of openness.’”
Yeah, it was good, but let’s give it another go, eh?
When given the opportunity to check the text of her 1967 novel, A Garden of Earthly Delights, for a new Modern Library edition, Joyce Carol Oates revised it thoroughly. “'This is the most extensive revision I've ever seen; it was essentially a new manuscript,’" says Publishing director David Ebershoff.”

Quoted in this AP article, Oates explains herself by writing, “In re-examining Garden, I saw that the original narrative voice had not been adequate to suggest, still less to evoke, the complexity of the novel's principal characters."

The article quotes and refers to other authors like John Irving and Henry James who did or did not approve of rewriting their published work. Publishers often rework a manuscript after the author’s death, which is what Harcourt Brace did with Robert Penn Warren’s All the Kings Men. Oates disagrees with this kind of revision. “[When the book was reprinted while Warren still lived], if he had wanted to revise his novel he would have. It seems morally wrong for a researcher to go back into the files and put together a new edition.”

Oates was the subject of a small article in the London Telegraph on July 29. The journalist seems to be complaining that she is very prolific, over 100 books with three more coming this year. “How does she do it? ‘I have always lived a very conventional life of moderation… I am not conscious of working exceptionally hard, or of `working' at all.’ She starts ‘fairly early in the morning’ and ‘can sometimes work until midnight.’
Monday, August 04, 2003
Tell your friends and blogging buddies about Brandywine Books!

New This Month in Science Fiction/Fantasy
Ryan Miller, who is credited with getting Myst: The Book of Atrus off the ground and work on Cyan Worlds’ blockbuster games Myst and Riven, has published a solo effort about an adventure in Peru called Inkarri. The story deals with an Incan resurrection myth. If anything can be derived from Miller’s collaboration on previous books and games, Inkarri will be an imaginative, enjoyable story.

From web to print comes this sampler of fiction and non-fiction first published on Fantastic Breaking Windows is a “thought-provoking” collection, “passonate and wise,” according to critics. You be the judge for yourself by visiting their site.

More Upcoming Books
Regnery Publishing, the long-time leader in politically conservative book publishing, has signed a deal for publishing the memoirs of House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Regnery has been making money on this kind of book for years, and only this year has Crown and Penguin publishing houses waded into the pool with their own coversative imprints.

Last Monday, Talk Radio Leader Rush Limbaugh took a call from someone asking about any more books he would write. Limbaugh describes some of his thoughts and his lack of motivation to tackle them; but the caller suggested that he write democratic party playbook since he talks about understanding their playbook so often. By Wednesday, Limbaugh sounded as if he had talked himself into writing what would be a small book describing liberal political ideas.
Friday, August 01, 2003
Teachout on Critics
Terry Teachout, newly blogging at an excellent website,, responds to a reader who asks how far should critics go when writing about a real person's artwork. "It's not a popular view among my colleagues," he says, "but I think most of the best critics—not all, but most—have had at least some professional experience in at least one of the arts about which they write." Understanding the effort and skill required to perform or the present your art to public scrutiny should soften a critic's idealism, especially if he cannot produce similar art himself. (more)

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Coffee is a book lover's drink, isn't it? And how to get good coffee should be every coffee drinker's concern. Well in the spirit of free enterprise, meaning I'm not being paid to write this, Brandywine Books heartily supports Greyfriar's Coffee & Tea Company, based in Chattanooga, TN. Browse their wares here at And in coffee-related news, I must link to this story on Seattle, Washington's Latte Tax, that is a 10 cent tax on specialty coffee drinks. "It's a nonsequitur that makes no sense!" remarks a particularly lucid espresso patron. "It should be the other way around," she complains. "People should be penalized for drinking bad coffee, not espresso." The money is supposed to be ear-marked for early learning programs, which makes me wonder if it's more outrageous to raise taxes on anything or to say that particular tax revenue will fund education.
Are Bestseller Lists What You Think They Are?
This month, Michael and Felix Blowhard discuss bestseller lists with enjoyable detail. How much do those lists, particularly the influential New York Times list, tell us about which books are being read, or maybe just sold, across America? Michael argues, “The picture that mainstream books coverage gives of the book industry is often more than a little misleading.” He holds up the USA Today bestseller list as the best of what’s available because it mixes fiction and non-fiction of what’s sold in trade books. A quick comparison of the NYT list (NY) for July 27 to that of USA Today (US) shows Terry Goodkind’s Naked Empire, 8th in the Sword of Truth fantasy series, placing 7th this week on the US list and nowhere on the NY fiction list. To the Nines by Janet Evanovich finishes in 10th place in the US list, nowhere on the NY list (maybe NY’s sources are slow because the August 3rd list shows To the Nines in 1st place). These stats don’t tell you how many books of each title were sold, just that it did relatively well that week. That’s Michael’s main point, that the lists show how fast a book sells in a given week, not how well it sells over its printed life. Annual best-selling lists may be a decent remedy to that problem, but I would like to see the number of books sold, not just how long it has been on the list. That number would, for instance, tell me that Clinton’s Living History has sold well over a million and Coulter’s Treason about half that, both rightfully touted as best-sellers.

The Blowhards long discussion goes around a bit, but to summarize, Michael writes, “Here's what the posting is. Two parts: A) A half-a-dozenish facts about the nature of bestseller lists, followed by B) A humble suggestion that people take a look at USA Today's bestseller list if they want to get a more realistic and representative picture of what book sales are really like in the country.” Considering the best-selling lists the way he does can make articles like this a bit irrelevant.

Blowhard readers have chimed in, giving us this front-line report:
I happen to work at an independent bookstore where I am in charge of reporting our sales numbers to the New York Times. It goes like this: They send over lists of titles broken down into the categories that they use, hardcover fiction, paperback advice, etc. Then I go through our computerized inventory system, track down how many we sold in the past week for a particular book, and write that number on a line next to the title. I then get the computer to print out titles that have sold well in the past week and sift through them looking for things to add to the blank lines below their lists. Often times we sell great quantities of books that do not appear on the lists they send me. Then, finally, I fax them back the list with my quantities. All in all, this process is time consuming, prone to human error or deceit, and not all that different from the old lady who called her friends at various book stores.

Read this and much more here.
Canada, The Bible, and Hate Speech
From a May 16 Reuters story, Canada's parlament is working on hate crime laws which may extend to outlawing the Bible.
An attempt to broaden Canada's hate-crimes laws to include protection for homosexuals has sparked a fierce debate in Parliament over whether the Bible and the Koran could be branded as hate literature. It centres on a bill from gay Member of Parliament Svend Robinson that would make it a crime, punishable by up to two years in prison, to incite or promote hatred against homosexuals.

But his attempt to end gay-bashing has brought warnings that pastors or imams could be thrown into jail for preaching homosexuality is evil and that their scriptures could be banned or confiscated. Robinson, a member of the minority New Democratic Party, dismissed the fears as unfounded.

"There's not an attorney general in the country anywhere at any level who would consent to the prosecution of an individual for quoting from the Bible," he told a House of Commons committee examining the bill. "An attorney general who tried something like that would be run out of town on a rail."

Opponents of the bill point to the Owens court case in Saskatchewan five months ago involving the right to quote the Bible in an newspaper ad against homosexuality. The judge ruled that a Biblical passage in Leviticus "exposes homosexuals to hatred."

The report goes on, and I understand the legislation will debated this fall; but hopefully the quote on attorney generals is right. Laws should refrain from trying to control thoughts and motives, ruling on actions only. I like what President Bush said last year, that murder and assault are hateful enough. The motive, which is what hate crimes legislation targets, doesn't make them more or less hateful.
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