Brandywine Books
Sunday, February 29, 2004
O'Connor on Violence to Communicate Christian Ideas
Gene Edward Veith of World Magazine gives us a good quote from Flannery O'Connor which applies to the discussion of Mel Gibson's use of violence.
The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these apear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to asume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock--to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.

March 2 is Dr. Seuss’ 100th Birthday!
Dr. Seuss died in 1991 while I was in college. I remember dressing in black with some friends on a cold and gray-saturated day after we heard the news. We read from one of his books at the top of a hill when the rain gave us a opening. We meant it to honor the man though we were only half-serious. Maybe I should say that one of my friends and I were half-serious. I think the others were with us, but none of us were grieving or confused about Seuss’ eternal destiny. We just loved his work.

In this AP story, Dr. Seuss’ widow, Audrey Geisel, gives her thoughts on the Seuss franchise. She hated last year’s movie version of Cat in the Hat so much that she will not allow another story to be adapted for live action. And she says the author didn’t like children because they were too unnerving.

What's your favorite Dr. Seuss story? I remember that my favorite story while growing up was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. Maybe his hats had the panache I admired as a kid, the same I admired in Cyrano de Bergerac. I don't know, and I'm not sure that One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish isn't my favorite now. What's yours?
Boorstin of the Library of Congress Dies
Daniel Boorstin, 1974 Pulitzer Prize winner and 12-year Librarian of Congress, died last weekend at the age of 89. He is reported to have cautioned against the culture of celebrity and fame for fame’s sake. I heard a friend of his on NPR this morning say that he came up with the quip, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.” When I searched to verify this quote, I learned of another one.

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance - it is the illusion of knowledge.”

This AP story claims his most important book is “The Image, published in 1962. Years before such concerns were common, Boorstin wrote that the combination of mass media and corporate power had transformed the 'language of ideals' into the 'language of images.' News had become dominated by public relations, by 'pseudo-events' staged for the sake of being reported. Our heroes were celebrities, people famous for being famous."
"'He was a university unto himself,' says David McCullough, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and a close friend of Boorstin's, 'and he was an ever delightful companion. But you had to be on your toes when you were with him. He didn't tolerate your saying the obvious or the banal. At his offices at the Library of Congress, he would serve a full-scale lunch and have eight to 10 people. He would sit at the table like a headmaster and he would pose a question and go around the table. He liked the give and take. He liked the sparks to fly.'"
Thursday, February 26, 2004
I haven't bothered to warn you that I won't blog today or tomorrow, because my blogging is often slow. I run up a backlist of links to write about every week of interesting or potentially interesting articles which I neglect to mention here in a timely manner. I hope I have not run anyone off doing this. This week I've been part of the moving crew at my day job, so I am tired now, was yesterday and the day before, don't know when I'll be able to blog tomorrow or even this weekend though I may be able to squeeze something in Saturday. Get some sleep. Oh, that would be advice for me. Feel free to write or comment while I'm away.
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Early Thoughts on The Passion of Christ
Just after Midnight today, Terry Teachout blogged some thoughts (certainly not all of them) on screening The Passion of Christ yesterday at the Brill Building in New York. He wrote the crowd “were New York media types, not the viewers I had in mind when I told Janet Maslin the other day that ‘most of the people who see The Passion of the Christ will regard it as a film about something that actually happened. That's something that a lot of the people writing about it are apt to misunderstand.’ We live, after all, in an age when ostensibly serious art critics for major newspapers and magazines can get away with turning up their noses at the Metropolitan Museum’s El Greco retrospective because of its subject matter. … Even so, there wasn't a whole lot of chatter to be heard in the lobby, or the elevator, as we left to write our stories. "So, was it intense?" one person waiting for the next screening asked. It was. And—just for the record—I’ll be very much surprised if it isn’t a very big hit.”

To introduce his post, Teachout linked to the Ebert and Roeper article in the Chicago Sun-Times. Those critics loved it, and they aren’t fans of ‘religious’ movies. “Both Ebert and Roeper emphasized the movie's message of redemption. ‘It focuses relentlessly on the price that Christ paid for redemption,’ Ebert said. ‘And it emphasizes that Jesus wanted this to happen. His death was the instrument of his purpose, and we should be grateful to him instead of critical of those who were the instruments of his will.’

“Added Roeper, ‘And this film does all of that in such a powerful and effective way. The Gospels are the most widely read works probably in the history of civilization and the most widely misinterpreted. And people are going to be doing the same thing to this movie.’”

I’ll blog my thoughts once I see the film myself, but I know that Jared will beat me to it with more comprehensive, if not merely more interesting, thoughts of his own. He is currently blogging thoughts on past Jesus-focused films, starting with The Last Temptation of Christ.

What do you expect from The Passion? I’ve seen stills and the wonderful trailer. Honestly, I’ve thought that while the blood and horror will be strong the reality may have been worse. Jesus hung on the cross beyond recognition as a man. His back was torn to shreads with a barbed lash. When I’ve meditated on this in the past, I’ve wondered if he looked more human than humanoid. But I do know this. My tears swell when I remember his torture and betrayal, when I think of the disciples fear and Peter’s rejection. If while viewing this movie I begin to think of what I would have done had I lived when he lived physically on earth, I doubt I’ll be able to stop crying.
Saturday, February 21, 2004
Best-selling Grammar Book
Remember that grammar book we talked about? Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots and Leaves has earned £5 million by selling nearly half a million copies. There are 700,000 copies in print. Both author and publisher are surprised. According to BBC News, the spokeswoman for the publisher said, "No-one thought you could write about such a potentially dry subject in such a fun way."
Showing and Telling the Truth
"But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed." – Isaiah 53:5

I’m looking forward to seeing The Passion of Christ. I may even try to work out a babysitter for my three, precious children so that my parents, my wife, and I can see the film together. The trailer and everything I’ve read about it build my confidence that it will be worthwhile. I hope it’s successful too, but that remains to be seen. Several churches throughout the nation have purchased tickets or rented theaters in a grassroots campaign for the film. I’ve heard of one church in Iowa which has purchased 600 tickets to give away through its congregation. My impression is they and many like them hope this film will be a life-changing experience of the Gospel for everyone who sees it.

Frankly, I doubt it will be. The Gospel is a wonderful story, but it can easily be just a story, regardless the truth of it. Just as any historical account can be faithfully portrayed on film without the viewers understanding its application to today’s events and politics or their personal relationships, so the Gospel, which is the good news of God Himself, can be misunderstood or seen as a mere story.

From her article in World, August 23, 2003, Janie B. Cheaney writes:
At this moment, Mel Gibson is producing a movie version of Christ's Passion that promises to be the most graphic and confrontational ever filmed. Mr. Gibson is depending on the power of the image to speak truth, so much so that he doesn't want to impose subtitles over the Aramaic dialogue. [He has rescinded that decision. - phil] Miracles have been reported on the set. Miracles may be reported in theaters also, but I'm skeptical already: Without a clear command to repent and believe, viewers are unlikely to make a connection between themselves and the Man of Sorrows. Believers may be confirmed in their faith, but to unbelievers it will be just a story, however gut-wrenching. They can bring to it nothing beyond what they already know, and they can't know what they have not heard, and how will they hear without a preacher?

None of this is to say that Christians shouldn't make movies, or see them, or talk about them among ourselves or with non-Christian friends. But we should never fool ourselves into thinking that movies evangelize. Art can show, but it can't tell.
I think she’s right. It doesn’t prevent us from praying that the Lord will save many in part through this film. In fact, I would rather hear that Christians were praying en masse for the Lord to save people from their bondage to sin than hear that they were buying and giving movie tickets. I know both can be done and probably are being done by some, but if I understand the state of the American church correctly, we tend to buy tickets rather than pray faithfully, all the while telling ourselves that prayer is the most important thing we can do.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Warren on the Sound of Crows
From Deborah Warren’s “Cause Célèbre,” a bit about crows. (Quoted in Bawer’s Hudson Review article mentioned earlier this week.)

The reason for the din?
Who knows? The thing that counts is being loud.
I do know this: If one voice does outweigh
another one, it’s always overridden
by the harsh opinions of the crowd.

More of Warren's poetry is in the last winter's Paris Review.
To Parody Yourself
I read an anecdote in The Writer’s Home Companion, a fun, out-of-print book with plenty of that sort of thing. I hoped to find the story online for your enjoyment, and behold, I have done so. From the Spectator 175th Anniversary Issue comes this report on their call for parodies of Graham Greene. The winner wrote this:
At usual the Euston train was 20 minutes late by the time it reached Berkhamsted. Through Watford, King’s Langley and Boxmoor, Sergeant had picked thoughtfully at the sore place on his lower lip until the blood was running down his chin. What did the General want, he wondered with impatient affection? What could he want so many years since the mugging in Belize?

At Berkhamsted station he walked rapidly along the tiled passage smelling of urine, like an elongated public lavatory, and came out into the misty Hertfordshire rain. Under the weeping willows on the canal bank a child was crying and a dog barked. Driver was waiting for him on the canal bridge. How much time, he thought, the General must have spent all those years ago on acquiring a sergeant called Driver and a driver called Sergeant. ‘Whom are we to kill this time?’ he asked, almost cheerfully.
The story I searched for followed the wrap-up article.
"Graham Greene, so it is said, once won a Spectator competition with a parody of his own work. It was partly in the hope that he might attempt to do so again that in April ‘Jaspistos’ set a similar competition asking for an extract from an imaginary Greene novel. There was a large number of entries, some of them extremely good. But was any one of them from Greene himself? The winning entry was sent in under the name of Sebastian Eleigh. Sebastian Eleigh, we have established, was none other than Graham’s younger brother, Sir Hugh Greene. In third place was a contribution from a certain Katharine Onslow, who, so it turns out, was in fact Graham’s sister, Mrs Elisabeth Dennys. So the family acquitted itself remarkably well. But what of Graham? We felt sure that he had entered. Our suspicions, for a number of good reasons, came to rest upon an entry under the name of Colin Bates, which, I am afraid, was not included among the five best that we printed."
Readers on Anne Tyler
I mentioned Anne Tyler last month by referring to a review on her latest book, An amateur Marriage. World Magazine's blog mentioned their own brief take on the book, because it made their Top 5 list compiled from multiple best-selling lists though not the NY Times list. Some Tyler readers offered their impressions of the author's style in response to my comment: "Speaking of Tyler's book, I have read that it's boring, because the characters are making their own lives bland. One of their children runs away from home, but whatever shock they may have is deadened by the heavy malaise which covers everything they do and feel. Any thoughts on that?"

Mandy said, "Her pulitzer-prize winning book, 'Breathing Lessons' was thought by some to be boring, because in it the characters' situation essentially stays the same. But what a lot of people missed is that the characters' perspective on their situation is what changed. Basically, Ann Tyler is a character-driven author, not plot-driven (that's not a critique of plot-driven authors, I like them too). So the reader has to know that going in."

Jane D. said she thinks Tyler is an excellent writer, "Yet I have chosen not to read any more of her books, because I don't think they're good for the soul. While her insights on human nature are excellent, the aura of pointless hopelessness that pervades them is deadening. Where hope is found, it is in things that I know (and maybe the characters know? I'm not sure) cannot last. For some reason, it's not the 'life is hopeless without Christ but it doesn't have to be that way' feeling that I get from some other unbelieving authors; it's simply blank hopelessness, that drives me in the direction of despair."

I hope a few more readers chime in, but these two comments are worth the link. I think World Magazine, which is a top-notch news weekly, 5th largest subscription base of US news weeklies, is leading the pack with their blog, if I understand the blogosphere well enough. World has nine editors and writers blogging in their main section and nine "Generation W" bloggers, who are students and journalists around the country, blogging in sub-sections of their own. Is anyone else doing this? Are the risks understood and balanced? Well, I hope they succeed as a magazine and group of blogs. I'd love for them to take up the mantle of literary or arts critique.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Yale is as Bad as Whalers
Also from Dean Abbott's blog, he says Yale is educating the best and brightest in extra-cirricular ideas of the highest nature. They held something called 'sex week' recently. Click here for details and snide remarks.

On seeing this, I remembered that Herman Melville's Ishmael said a whaling ship was Yale College and Harvard. Maybe Yale is trying to return the compliment by becoming like a whaling ship.
Interview with Gibson
Critic, Author, and All Around Nice Guy Jared of the Thinklings offers some good thoughts on Mel Gibson's interview under Diane Sawyer's spotlight. I will add nothing to it. I see that Dean Abbott will give us his take on it also.
What We Learned from Willy Wonka
The other night, I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with my small family, and I noticed the opening message was terrible. Maybe I should expect it from a movie that’s essentially about winning a lottery, but there’s more than one way to approach windfall success like this.

Charlie lives in a very poor family—no father and four grandparents who have been bed-ridden for the past 20 years. They have a positive attitude about their situation, despite Grandpa Joe’s remark that without the hope of winning a golden ticket from Willy Wonka, Charlie had no hope at all. He does have a newspaper delivery job and brings in his first paycheck at the movie’s beginning. When the golden ticket contest begins, Charlie believes he will win because he wants to win more than anyone in the world. Then comes the ugly message and from his mother no less. When four of the tickets have been claimed by the nasty children of the world, Charlie despairs of finding one even though he has purchased only two bars. His mother sings (this is a musical, remember), Cheer up, Charlie, someday things will change. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

She could have said that she supported him and they loved each other, so they would endure this hard time and hopefully climb out of poverty through their hard work. Charlie has his whole life ahead of him, and many things are more important than a lifetime supply of Wonka’s chocolate. But she said, don’t despair now because the future will be kinder to you. Well, that’s a lottery-style message, isn’t it? That’s why state lotteries are an irresponsible tax on the poor by offering them riches for no work and little investment. "Just one ticket could put you on easy street. You don't make enough to pay taxes, so donate to the government and maybe with a little pixey dust you'll win the million dollar jackpot. If you believe you can, you will; and we, your faithful civic leaders won't have to pay a political price for raising your taxes for whatever reason." -- But I digress.

Fortunately, the message from that part of the film probably gets buried under the message from the latter part. After the other children rebel and suffer obvious consequences, Wonka denies Charlie and Grandpa Joe their reward for their less obvious rebellion, drinking Fizzing Lifting Drinks without permission. Wonka is absolutely right to hold them accountable, and Grandpa Joe’s indignation is ridiculous; but the conflict gives Charlie the opportunity to return his Everlasting Gobstopper which was the overall moral test Wonka had given him.

In an interview, Gene Wilder said that children want to know what the limits are, and this movie shows them a candy-maker who boldly enforces his limits. But our children are suffering the consequences of their actions, the parents yell, actions which we encourage them to do by nurturing them to be the rotten little characters they are. Do something! To which Willy Wonka says in a soft voice, “Help. Police. Murder.” We’re not used to Wonka’s style of righteous sarcasm, but then in the real world, he would probably have a few lawsuits and a hundred lawyers beating on his gate after those nasty children and their parents were restored to the health. The real world doesn't always defend the one with the moral rightofway.

Speaking of Casablanca, which I did, I watched it for the first time a few weeks ago, two weeks after watching To Have and Have Not for the first time. The latter film followed the former by two years, and I’m told its screen play, co-written by the South’s William Faulkner, barely resembles Hemingway’s novel from which it was derived and too closely resembles Casablanca. I haven’t read—probably won’t read—the book, and it did resemble Casablanca; but it was more light-hearted and had a klutzy little scene where a brave French man refuses to sit down for fear of being discovered. He’s rewarded by catching a bullet. The rest of the film was fun.

I love the bit where Bacall and Bogart kiss for the first time, and she says the experience was acceptable, but he needed to shave his day-old beard before they continued. A knock at the door and Bogart is needed urgently. The man asks, “What are you doing?” “I need to get me a shave,” Bogart says with a bit of wild surprise in his eyes.

My wife thought Casablanca described deeper emotions than To Have and Have Not. She said its denial and loyalty was more stirring than the latter’s straight love story. In Casablanca, Ingrid Berman, who may be the most gorgeous actress I’ve ever seen, plays an immoral woman who gives herself to Bogart in an affair to console her pain of missing her husband, whom she thinks, but does not know to be dead. He isn’t, and her loyalty to him and his cause is stronger than her passion for Bogart. That’s nice. I guess it’s deep. The pain Bogart expressed felt deep—“You played it for her. You can play it for me. Play it!” At least, he didn’t say, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” again.
The Lord of the Rings as The Cat in the Hat
Will Duquette is working on a revision of The Great Fantasy in the style of Dr. Seuss enjoyable poem, recently made into a deplorable movie. He writes:

We had no time for adventures
We had smoke-rings to tend.
It was time for some pipeweed
At the door of Bag End.

When old Bilbo left town
With a bang for a joke,
He said we should always
Think of him and smoke.
"Somebody, SOMEBODY
Has to, you see."
Then he picked out two somebodies,
Samwise and me.

Continue reading
Monday, February 16, 2004
More Folks Read than Barbecue in Their Leisure Time
From an AP article on US Census data comes this report,
Forty percent of adults said they read books for leisure during 2002, compared with 27 percent who surfed the Internet for fun. That's reassuring to publishers worried about the state of reading as electronic amusements multiply.

"There's something kind of comforting about a book — the texture of the paper, you can dog-ear the corners — it's like a comfort food," said Pat Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers.
Well, this is interesting, but it does not provide enough detail to satisfy my curiosity, so I looked at the data myself for a more complete understanding of how Americans are spending their leisure time.
Calvin on Business and Economy
I love Calvin & Hobbes, so I am genetically determined to share a recent reissued comic with you. Calvin is selling lemonade and talking business with Susie. It's so smart.
It’s a Book on Words. Just Words. Okay?
My favorite linguist has a new book, released in time for St. Valentine’s Day. Making Whoopee: Words of Love for Lovers of Words by Even Morris looks to be a fun skip through the etymology of words related to the merry season. Perfect for the cynics in your life, so rush out and buy a few copies and through in some dark chocolates thins to [bitter]sweeten your generosity. USA Today offers the review.

From the book: Love apple: "A 16th-century term for a tomato. Probably a literal translation of the French pomme d'amour, reflecting the belief, common at the time, that tomatoes are an aphrodisiac. Today we know that this is only true if they are baked into a pizza."
Quote: "Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things." — Blaise Pascal, Pensées
Friday, February 13, 2004
A Slow Week
Please forgive me for the slower-than-my-usually-slow blogging this week. I’ve been commenting on other blogs and enjoying St. Valentine’s season. But tonight before bed, let me give you a few things. Grace and Peace. – phil
Valuable Reviews of Mass Market Airport Books?
Our Girl in Chicago offers some context for quoting a hilarious review of a ‘Business Class trash’ book. Thanks for sharing, OGIC.

Pushing away from the computer, he slapped his knee. “Why didn’t I think of frisking the teddy bear when I first saw it? Jonesy hasn’t seen the last of me!”
Andrea Barrett May Be a Bit Research Poor
The Paris Review, Winter 2003, is finally online. I know it’s a quarterly and I don’t remember how many months ago it was when I looked at the website first, but I’ve checked it for updates several times since only to be turned away disappointed. No longer. In their excerpt from an interview with Andrea Barrett, the author of Ship Fever talks about the development of her short story, “Theories of Rain.”
The story was shaped as well by coming across the characters of John and William Bartram, early on in my reading about dew. Although the story is fairly short, and there are just a few pages about the Bartrams at the end, in writing it, I probably read as much about those two men as anyone who's not a Bartram specialist. William Bartram shows up, mentions some frogs, speaks about his pet crow, and then he's gone—that’s it. So why did I need to read everything that both these naturalists wrote, and why did I need to go visit their house in Philadelphia, and why did I need to go look at all those paintings, and why did I need to read not just their correspondence with each other but with another naturalist named Peter Collinson, and then his correspondence with all sorts of other people? Why do I do that? I don't know. Not much of it's in the story, but somehow amid that swirl, the story grows.
Isaiah on Justice
From an archived issue portion of The Paris Review, Author Patrick O’Brian remembers a line from the prophet Isaiah which sounds not entirely unlike American civil commentary. “As for the rest of the [French legal] code that is associated with Buonaparte's name, it is so slow, and often so harsh to the accused, that one might almost prefer the English jungle, which does at least preserve some ancient customary law: though indeed Isaiah dismisses all human systems in a line that the Vulgate renders et quasi pannum menstruate universae justitiae nostrae and the Douay Version all our justices as the rag of a menstruous woman.”
Poems from the Proletariat
From Bruce Bawer’s essay in The Hudson Review, Winter 2004, “A Plague of Poets.” (article in PDF)
[Sam] Hamill plainly wants his anthology [Poets Against the War, Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books 2002] to have a democratic flavor, so there are plenty of folks here you never heard of—including several children, whose contributions are scarcely worse than those by many of the adults. Here’s a quick test. Read this poem: “Wet bodies of those who have fallen / Afghanistan blown to pieces! / Right on target—the men, the women, / the children, crying, mommy, mommy!” Now read this one: “I’m sorry that your mom was killed / When a missile struck your home / You were only three, and innocent / Your mother too was innocent.” One of these works is by an eleven-year-old; the other is by a woman of thirty-five. Guess which is which. And while you’re at it, ask yourself this: What does it mean to profess the inestimable value of the poet’s role in society (“there are things learned from poetry,” Hamill insists, “that can be earned no other way”) and then to suggest that even an eleven-year-old can fill that role?
Thursday, February 12, 2004
Quote: "In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia." -- unknown
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Quote: "And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." -- Paul of Tarsus in a letter to the Corinthians
Newsweek on the Gospels and Gibson's Passion
This entry by Dr. Albert Mohler on Newsweek's cover story, "Who Really Killed Jesus? What History Teaches Us," is probably all you need to know about the rants against Gibson's movie, due to release on February 25. In short, those who claim the movie is anti-Semitic do so on their belief that the Gospels themselves are also anti-Semitic. The writer believes that these four books, which are our best--almost sole--source on the life of Jesus Christ, are fictious and that verses which have been misused to stir up hatred against Jews in the past will do so again.

In an interview with James Caviezel, who depicts Jesus in the movie, the actor answers the cover story and nails the meaning of the film and the Gospels.
N: Has the controversy around the film and the fact that Mel's been accused of anti-Semitism surprised you?
JC: It's been the most frustrating thing to watch. I can tell you this much, the guy is not in the least anti-Semitic. I never saw it. Maia Morgenstern [who plays the Virgin Mary] is this beautiful Jewish Romanian actress whose parents were in the Holocaust. Every day he'd say, "Maia, tell me about your traditions. Is this OK to do?" He wanted to make this film very Semitic. Instead of having an Aryan, blue-eyed Jesus, he wanted to have a very Semitic Jesus. Our faith is grounded in our Jewish tradition. We believe we're from the House of David. We believe we're from the House of Abraham, so we cannot hate our own. That crowd standing before Pontius Pilate screaming for the head of Christ in no way convicts an entire race for the death of Jesus Christ any more than the actions of Mussolini condemn all Italians, or the heinous actions of Stalin condemn all Russians. We're all culpable in the death of Christ. My sins put him up there. Yours did. That's what this story is about.
Monday, February 09, 2004
O'Connor Tale in Dance by Bill Jones
Choreographer Bill T. Jones staged a performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, based on Southern Author Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “The Artificial Nigger.” His production, “Reading, Mercy and the Artificial Nigger,” aims to expand O’Connor’s discrimination ideas beyond skin color to every kind of discrimination imaginable. In this interview with the New York Times, Jones says, “You have to ask, are you living in the same world as Flannery O'Connor? Are there niggers on that stage? Or are niggers no longer even the point? I am caught in an ambiguous and ambivalent place. As an artist I say I am past it. I live my life in a completely mixed world. I have the anger of a descendant of slaves. I know my grandmother watched her mother whipped. I have been called nigger. But the fact is I am moving forward. That's my job as an artist. The stage should be a place where that word, an ugly, irredeemable epithet, is tested in a particular fire, in the fire of unbridled imagination.”

Why an O’Connor story? “I always think writers work with something more tangible than dancers do in terms of words and what they mean. For me, dance is free of the literal. But then I ran into a story that stopped me in my tracks because I again realized there was real power in words. I see ‘Artificial Nigger’ as a journey by two characters who are dubious in every sense of the word. Who are they? What do they really believe? They claim to be Christians, but there is a great deal of anger and resentment and fear in them. Mr. Head actually has a moment where he realizes he is a great sinner in having betrayed Nelson.”

I saw this through Mere Comments, the blog of Touchstone Magazine, which has good comments on this.
From "The Artificial Nigger" by Flannery O'Connor
He understood [mercy] was all a man could carry into death to give his Maker and he suddenly burned with shame that he had so little of it to take with him. He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it. He had never thought him self a great sinner before but he saw now that his true depravity had been hidden from him lest it cause him despair. He realized that he was forgiven for sins from the beginning of time, when he had conceived in his own heart the sin of Adam, until the present. He saw that no Sin was too monstrous for him to claim as his own, and since God loved in proportion as He forgave, he felt ready at that instant to enter Paradise.
Brahms "Unfortunately" on Strauss
In case you ever wondered, here’s some background on the great Johannes Brahms from his obituary in The Musical Times, May 1897.
As regards the insinuation that he had secretly inspired attacks on Wagner, we are glad to see him absolutely acquitted of such conduct by that enthusiastic Wagnerolater, Mr. H. T. Finck. The insinuation arose from his personal friendship with Dr. Hanslick and Dr. Billroth, both uncompromising anti-Wagnerians. Brahms was incapable of any mean or underhanded action. He never indulged in newspaper controversy, but kept his views to himself. There is a story of a friend who met him after a performance of ‘Die Walküre’ and asked him what he thought of it. Brahms replied: ‘We must all of us listen to Wagner with our own ears.’ If he did not sympathise with Wagner’s methods, it is known that he recognised his genius, and testified his respect by sending a wreath to Venice on Wagner’s death in 1883.

The catholicity of his taste is sufficiently shown by his immense admiration for the genius of Strauss – in which he shared the views of Wagner and Von Bülow – on whose wife’s fan he inscribed a few bars of the ‘Blue Danube’ with the charming compliment ‘unfortunately not by Johannes Brahms.’ We have left ourselves no space to touch upon his life-long friendship with Dr. Joachim, or on Hans von Bülow’s devoted championship of his genius. Whatever may be the verdict of posterity as to the vitality of his compositions, the lesson of Brahms’s life – in which consistent and unfaltering devotion to the highest aims was the dominant principle – can never fail to exert a stimulating influence on his successors. ‘The example of a noble man,’ so wrote Dr. Parry more than then years ago of Brahms, and the witness remained true to the close of his life, ‘tends to make others noble, and the picture of a noble mind, such as is presented in his work, helps to raise others towards his level.’
Sunday, February 08, 2004
Epstein on Teaching Literature and Creative Writing
Terry Teachout points our attention to an interesting article by Joseph Epstein in the current Weekly Standard. If you don't get to that article or toward the end of it, let me give you a couple paragraphs on teaching, pertinant to the subjects on which we focus here.
Teaching would-be writers, which I have also done, is an especially complicated enterprise. I used to tell students all that I could not do for them: Give them a love of language, make them more observant, teach them a dramatic sense, reveal the mechanics of wit, and much more. All I could hope to do for them was point out the possibilities in prose style, many of which they were unlikely to be aware of, and where their own mistakes might lie. Not, when you think about it, all that much. I used to end this with a little Zen koan of my own devising: "Writing cannot be taught, but it can be learned."

In teaching literature, there is the question of whether one ought to be teaching what one does in the first place. Lionel Trilling made this point in his essay "On the Teaching of Modern Literature," in which he quite appropriately asked if it is right to inculcate the dark visions for the young of such standard curriculum writers as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, and Freud. I felt much the same teaching the perhaps less dark but still difficult Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Willa Cather to people at the end of their adolescence, who already had enough on their minds, and in their hormones, without having to worry about, say, Joseph Conrad's essential message that we come into the world, live, and die absolutely alone. Does one really need to know this at nineteen?
A Better Book Review Section
Friday in “Wisconsin’s Progressive Newspaper”, The Capital Times, Book Editor Heather Lee Schroeder gives her thoughts on the New York Times Book Review and the recent statement which has had some of us buzzing for days. Should the NYTBR spend less time on literary fiction and first novels? Will others pick up the slack they drop? She says the newspaper, whose book section is “considered the bellwether of book reviewing,” has made these changes in order to gain a younger readership. She says, “I argue, however, that the readership might be there if only the Sunday book review section were better.” Some of the reviews are “rambling, unstructured gabfests” built around the reviewer, not the book. And they’re dry too. “Readers of any age want reviews that enlighten and engage them, not put them to sleep.”

So, perhaps, she says, authors should not be book reviewers. “Say what you will about the Times' star reviewer Kakutani (and believe me, I've heard some poison spewed in her general direction), but her job is to read books critically. An author's job is to write. In my opinion, it's a conflict of interest for authors to become book reviewers in the genres in which they write. Once you're a published author, the ties that bind you to your community are far too strong, and the issue of objectivity cannot be overlooked.”

As Terry Teachout has said, though I don’t remember that it was regarding the NYTBR, important discussion and promotion of literary fiction and the arts in general may move to the blogosphere over the coming years. If newspapers won’t print book articles, Blogger and Moveable Type will. But I think that a newspaper or magazine could dominate the literary world if it would take a few bold steps toward honest reviewing.

Hire or free an enterprising editor to manage the news and reviews. This person would be a bibliophile who refuses to kowtow to pressure from anyone to praise or raze any book. If he respects good writing, the creative process, and publishing in general, let him work under those convictions. If he has been told he should like something, but doesn’t, he should publish his convictions. He would become the inspiration and shield for the writers who put their names on their reviews.

These reviewers would pen honest opinions from their transparent viewpoints. Politeness is always appropriate, but it should temper a strong, professional opinion in our ideal book section. This team must strive to praise the praiseworthy and criticize the unworthy, printing their own disagreements when they come. Wouldn’t that be fun? Dueling reviews by two trustworthy columnists?

Of course with honest reviews by passionate readers in print, the paper will receive a great deal of criticism. The editor and the editor’s boss will have to defend themselves against hurt feelings and haughty contention from authors, publishing houses, and newspapers. But I think such an effort could revive a passionless literary world and sell more good books to willing readers, which is the most important thing for readers, authors, and publishers, isn’t it?
Saturday, February 07, 2004
The Proper Care & Feeding of Husbands by Laura Schlessinger
In a trick I learned from Cup of Chicha, here are rapid-fire snippets from reviews of Dr. Laura’s recent book.

Cathy Young, Reason Online--"Why does this retro advice resonate with so many women who can't be written off as doormats? Part of the problem is that feminism, these days, offers very little by way of an alternative. Too often (Schlessinger is right about that), it has promoted anger, rancor, and male-blaming instead of equal partnership. The majority of women do want loving relationships with men. If champions of gender equality have nothing meaningful to say on the subject, advocates of wifely submission will fill the vacuum."

Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic--"She's a fishwife and a bit of a kook, a woman given to comically dramatic changes of heart and habit, but Dr. Laura gives some of the best advice about marriage and family life available on the radio, or perhaps anywhere in popular American culture. I say this somewhat wearily, for it is no easy task defending this woman. … I wish there was someone a bit more hip and glamorous than Laura standing up for this simple truth, but in our time and place there isn't."

Publishers Weekly--"While many of her listeners and readers claim her unequivocal advice has salvaged teetering marriages and improved marital harmony, others perceive Schlessinger as a throwback to what many see as years of female oppression in the home."—“Take it from a normal guy. This book isn't that far off.”

“Please! This sounds like some book from the 1950s telling women to be submissive and to please her man. This is total bull.”

“I have given and given to my husband and his children and they have all turned into greedy, self-centered people who have done nothing but take advantage of a great situation.”

“The Key is to Respect and Honor Your Husband: Dr Laura's book is sure to be controversial but for wives who are willing to do whatever it takes to make their marriages work, this book has the answers.”

Perhaps this isn't a book on many reviewers' lists, because I didn't find as many articles as I thought I would. During my search, I found these statements from radio’s health talker Dr. Dean Edell: "People catch me eating prime rib in a restaurant and think they've discovered some scandal. They think I'm a health nut. [Actually,] I'm the opposite. I don't eat breakfast, don't take vitamins, eat nothing but carbs. I'm totally lazy, haven't done a lick of exercise since high school."
Well, I’m Not a Heretic, Like You
It’s funny how topic ripples wash through the blogosphere. While I was considering the following entry, Jared posted referencea to a theological skirmish on a few other blogs. Go there to see point #5 and while you do that, I’ll carry on with my entry.

Coming this May from InterVarsity Press, two books on a long debated topic of Scriptural interpretation. Why I am Not a Calvinist is written by two professors at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, KY. They say, “Many Christians simply assume Calvinism to be the truest expression of Christian doctrine; but it has some serious biblical and theological weaknesses that unsettle laypeople, pastors, and scholars alike.” Why I am Not an Arminian is written by two professors at Covenant Seminary In St. Louis, MO. They say, “Arminian theology is sweeping through the evangelical churches of North America. In response, the authors contend that aspects of Arminian thought are troubling. The irenic nature and keen insight of this book will be appreciated by laypeople, pastors, and scholars alike.”

Doesn’t that sound fascinating? If you want to read about the debate right now, look into this exchange.
Friday, February 06, 2004
Joyce Carol Oates in Newsweek
Literary icon Joyce Carol Oates was interviewed for last week's Newsweek magazine in connection with the release of her novella, Rape: A Love Story. If that title didn't shock you, reading this review from The Plain Dealer will. The review is about four sentences tucked between quotes from Oates story.

Newsweek asked Oates several questions, and I feel compelled to quote a bit of it.
N: John Updike recently released a well-received collection of his early stories. Can we expect something similar from you?
O: No I don’t think I would do that. John’s a friend of mine. John collects everything that he has written and publishes everything. I don’t have that philosophy. Even James Joyce could edit some of his work. ...

N: Do you have stories, then, that you may never publish?
O: I do have some manuscripts in my archives that I’ll never publish, novels that I just don’t feel that I want to publish. My idea of a book is not like John’s. I think he thinks of himself as a great writer - he is a great writer. He’s a major American writer and he feels that anything that he writes and publishes would be of interest and should be in a book. I have a different position. I think of each book as a work of art in itself and the book in itself has to have an aesthetic shape to it.
Thursday, February 05, 2004
Blowhard on How NYTBR Could Improve, If Anyone Cares to Read It
I spent my blogging time today reading Michael Blowhard's thoughts on the New York Times Book Review and how it might improve itself. Though his thoughts on improving it are interesting, his closing opinion is that it doesn't matter what happens. He said, "It's been three years since I stopped following the book publishing industry professionally, and since I stopped following professional book reviews. And in those years I've become a much happier reader." He and some commenters agreed that professional book reviews are usually boring, possibly pretentious.

In his comment section, I pitched him an idea I've thought of blogging here for a while. What if a newspaper's book section brought in a few passionate writers who have the freedom to champion the books and authors they love and disapprove, even disdain, those they dislike. Beyond the regular publishing and author news a sizable book section may have, this ideal of ours would print energetic columns and conflicting reviews of a single book, both praises and rejections. Being a neophyte, I wouldn't know who or how to draw these interesting book people together, but with the right chemistry, I think that newspaper's book section (or perhaps that monthly magazine) could be the talk of the nation and the industry.
Tuesday, February 03, 2004
Other Literary Notes
Elsewhere in the Blogosphere, Will makes a few observations on C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man. He says there are self-evident truths which help us live, which show us the mysterious richness of life, but they are truths we cannot prove through reason. We can’t argue up to them because they are ground-level observations.

Jonathan, the Elfin Ethicist, describes Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. The gist of the narrative is that “man cannot find purpose or guidance within himself; he knows perfectly well that his own nature will betray him. Isolation is alienation, and alienation is ugliness.”
The Epiphany That Could
I finished a holiday novella recently, called “masterfully crafted” by prolific Christian author Gilbert Morris. The book, Epiphany, One Family’s Christmas Discovery by Paul McCusker, is a nice little fantasy about a father of three grown children, who dies in the first chapter and watches them from the spirit world. They come to grips with their lives and expectations, eventually learning that they didn’t know Dad like they thought they did. has a good summary from the publishers.

Publisher’s Weekly says, “Filled with thoughtfulness, wry humor and the occasional touch of magic,” which is more than I would have said. I like everything I’ve heard from McCusker. He has written many strong scripts for radio, and he has been awarded for his children’s literature. Epiphany is definitely a good little story, but it isn’t deep. There isn’t a stirring headspace from the characters. Only their words and the perception of Richard Lee, the father/narrator who dies and lives to tell about it. A few times the dead narrator trick is taken too far.

The big revelation which changes two of the character’s perspectives on life was not as stunning as it should have been. I would believe that the trouble swelling within the younger son’s heart was enough to drive him to his life-changing moment; but the story uses a small fact about the father’s life as the catalyst. The son says, “I barely knew who Dad was,” all because of this little detail. I’d sooner believe that he forgets that detail in the swirl of his passions.

I knew from page one this tale would have a happy ending, and I wanted that. But I think I would have been more satisfied if one of the characters had continued to be the disillusioned egocentric he was in the beginning. Still, there’s a place for novella’s like this, I suppose, but I think, for Christmastime, I’d rather reread Tolstoy’s “Where Love is God is.”
Happy Belated Chocolate Cake Day!
I have learned too late that January 27 was National Chocolate Cake Day. While I was out enjoying joint celebrations of my niece's birthday and the birthday of the equally talented boy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, I could have been carousing with Chocolate Cake revelers too. What a loss! Well, if you are like me in needing encouragement to workout your disappointment at this knowledge, faint not and follow this link.
Sunday's Halftime Show
In this morning's Breakpoint commentary, Prison Fellowship's President Mark Earley said, "You have to wonder why it is that those who worry that [America's] mere existence offends radical Islamic cultures aren’t doing more to fight this kind of cultural rot?"
Monday, February 02, 2004
On Walden Blog
Yesterday, Terry Teachout blogged fifteen notes on blogging. Since he writes with a solid mind grounded in successful writing for newspapers and journals, his fifteen notes are thoughtful, maybe even daring. Note #4 says that your blog will take the form of what interests you. If you are interested in readers, then your blog will follow their interests. If you are interested only in yourself, then you'll blog egocentrically.

I think a blogger with passion, amateur or professional in writing, will find relative success if he is passionate about a worthy subject. That subject will attract readers who are interested or passionate about it. So political blogs have more readers than art blogs because the former subject interests more people. Pop culture blogs (PCB) interest more than high culture blogs, but are the PCBs actually saying anything worth reading?

Why are you reading this literary blog? What would you like to read here? Feel free to write me at dnifriend at or post a comment below.

Terry's note #9 says, "Within a decade, blogs will replace op-ed pages." Read all 15 notes, if you're a serious blogger.
Dale Peck Has Left the Building
Snarky Reviewer Dale Peck has declared that he will discard the “red pen” of his remarkably phrased, negative book reviews in June with the United Kingdom publication of the book, Hatchet Jobs. In this Guardian article, he gives his reason and describes the thrust of the book.

Peck writes, “The reaction to my Moody essay [in which he called Rick Moody the ‘worst writer of his generation’ for his memoir, The Black Veil] pleased me at first. It also surprised me.” He says he has written passionate, negative reviews since 1996.

“But my pleasure faded as I realised that people were less interested in what I had to say than in the possibility of a brawl. Like schoolboys chanting ‘Fight, fight,’ they let loose their own ripostes,” he says. While they didn’t touch him personally, the reaction crushed “my ability to be read seriously, by which I mean holistically.”

So, he is throwing in the towel for this part of the tournament. And it appears the writers at Armavirumque will miss him.
Bridges’ Pursuit of Holiness, 25th Edition
Jerry Bridges’ wonderful study on Godly living is now 25 years old. NavPress has published a new, attractive hardcover edition of The Pursuit of Holiness, a book which makes a verse like “Be holy as I am holy” applicable to our daily lives, not merely wishful thinking. It’s a serious book for faithful believers in Christ, so if you have not worked through it yourself, I encourage you to do so.
The New Criterion Returning Limbaugh's Call
James Panero of Armavirumque, the weblog of The New Criterion, responded in part to Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of the article in National Review Online from the magazine’s editor, Roger Kimball. His response is brief, but to abbreviate it further, he says that Kimball was praising the support of a good NEA, since that bureaucracy probably isn’t going anywhere. In my opinion, the government doesn’t need to endow the arts; but while it encourages good art, there are many worse things it needs to stop encouraging.
Sunday, February 01, 2004
The Bible as Snack Mix
I’m a Christian, a student of the Bible, a follower of Jesus. I believe I would fall under the label Evangelical Christian, but perhaps the term Confessional Christian would be more appropriate for my education and Scriptural understanding. I’m not sure of the terms nowadays. I’m pretty sure I understand the motivation behind translating and paraphrasing Scripture into various modern editions. NavPress, an excellent publisher, has a modern translation called The Message, the Bible in contemporary language. I’ve read a bit of it, and I respect it.

When I saw an announcement for The Message Remix, I believed this was another marketing angle for getting God’s Word into people’s hands. That’s good. But is it over the top to publish the Snack Mix Limited Edition? The NavPress catalog reads, “Only fine thousand copies of this special lunchbox version are available.” They plan to publish quarterly editions like this, “available for the next generation of The Message readers.” The Snack Mix edition was last quarter. This quarter has the Trail Mix edition.

Is this the right way to get Scripture into teenagers hands? When will the Bible verse temporary tattoo decals come out? I wonder if this isn’t more marketing than honest cultural adaptation. We are talking about the Word of God in English; there’s a depth to which our natural informality can become sacrilegious. We can spin the Bible into irrelevance and irreverence. Maybe a snack mix edition is a step too far.
Personal Comic
I don’t care to blog personal matters on Brandywine Books. I’m sure several of us gather for an evening of coffee and cookies, swapping stories about our children or our houses; but I wouldn’t think you would want to do that here. That’s why I don’t give you small accounts from my day or cute things my three small daughters say and do. Now, I may do that in the future. I may add a personal note here or there in the course of other things. For instance, my older daughters’ favorite poem is “A Trip to Buckingham Palace” from an A.A. Milne collection I bought for Christmas. I love Milne’s childlike style, so I may post a couple verses from that for you.

Having said that, let me blog this personal note. This weekend, I stripped an old Shoe comic from my old computer desk. The desk is my dad’s sturdy creation, built for the Commodore 128 he gave me in high school. I applied the comic strip to the desktop underneath the keyboard in May 1995, according to the date on my Chattanooga News-Free Press paper. (That’s the right name. Long ago, The Chattanooga News merged with The Chattanooga Free Press to make the curiously named newspaper, The Chattanooga News-Free Press. “All the advertising we can fit in print.”)

Back then, Shoe was a great comic strip. Jeff MacNelly had a wonderful comic talent. He drew his comics and political cartoons from original wit, unlike many of his contemporaries. When he died a few years ago, I read that he saw everything as funny in one way or another and was the light heart of the newsroom. The comic from May 19, which I pasted to my old desk, shows Perfesser Cosmo staring at a computer screen nested beneath his mound of papers. “I don’t know. I guess I have writer’s block,” he says. His editor, Shoe, encourages him. “Well, try some creative visualization. Visualize yourself in an unemployment line.”
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