Brandywine Books
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Which Book Will Last?
[By way of Arts Journal] An article by Books Editor Tom Walker in Monday's Denver Post describes what items make books last for generations. "Moby Dick sold only 3,000 copies" while Melville lived, Walker writes, and its reviewers called it "So much trash" and "purposeless extravagance." Yet several years afterward, readers praised it and raised Melville to the literary icon status he has today.

Why? Relevance, primarily. That insight into the truth of people, politics and community which resonates with readers. Also "exemplary writing, writing that asks basic questions about human existence," will give a book endurance. But whether a classic is recognized as such in the years after it's written depends on teachers and critics.

Walker reports, "A lot of what is being taught - or ignored - on campuses depends to a great degree on the professors who select the books they will teach in their courses. And they are influenced by the times in which they live."

He quotes a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who says, "Sometimes it will take the critical establishment - book reviewers and academics - a long time to understand what someone was trying to do, which is why a lot of books get lost."

Walker includes a sidebar list of possible classics from modern authors whose books are taught to today's hapless students. What do you think about his list? The only one I’m familiar with is Toni Morrison's Beloved, which I thought was beautifully written on a strong subject. Her seed thought seems significant to me, that slavery in the Southern States was oppressive, not because of physical abuse, but because it treated people as animals.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Ice Cream for Literacy Night
I just learned through that Baskin-Robbins is holding Free Scoop Night to support First Book, a children's literacy program. I don't know if First Book is a strong program, despite the good cause, but I do know that from 6-10 p.m. , you can get a free 2.5 oz scoop of otherwise expensive ice cream.
Most Influential Books
Following Colonel Strauss’ lead, I have been thinking about the most influential books in my life, hoping I would come up with ten of them.

1-2. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
This epic fantasy captured my imagination at a young age. I still cannot hike through Tennessee forests without thinking of hobbits, elves, and rangers or the songs Tolkien wrote. I need to walk or hike this spring and summer. I’ve avoided it for too long. The Lord of the Rings is an easy choice, of course. It influenced the whole publishing industry, so naturally it influenced me. It has affected readers who barely know a thing about it, particularly those of us who have actively used the Internet for years.

3. As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen
I was given this little book by an elder in my church as a high school graduation gift. He didn't know what the book was really about. The Christian bookstore from which he bought it probably didn't either. The author urged me to live the Christian life without Christ, and I wasn't used to challenges to my faith. I wondered if he could be right. But after arguing it through, I remembered that the Christian life is impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit, so Allen's advice to get my mind right in order to live my life right is misguided. Still, I think this is an influential book for me because it helped mature my faith.

4. The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges
5. Let Go, by Fenelon
Two books which shaped my understanding of grace and my responsibility to the Lord. I recommend these to everyone reading this blog.

6. Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, by W. Gary Phillips, William E. Brown
This is the book which was written and taught by my worldview professors at Bryan College.

7. The Christian Imagination, edited by Leland Ryken
This is the most recent book to influence me strongly. It probably has a role my decision to start this blog, and it's references have become part of my recommended reading list.

8. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
This book may be more representative of Hawthorne's influence over me than being influential itself, though the scene where Hester cannot leave the symbol of her sin behind her and remain Hester Prynne has stayed with me a long time. Hawthorne's other stories, though didactic often, have molded my thoughts of early American life, the devil, grace, and mankind.

9. The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene
Greene's style in this impressive story of grace inspires me to follow his lead.

I don't know if I can list a final book (or final two books, depending on how you count them). I want to list one I have not read but which I'm sure has influenced me (maybe the Koran would work). Perhaps I should list Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev for a stylistic and topical influence. Perhaps Toni Morrison's Beloved is the same, though a different topic. I don't know.

If I were to stray from books to other art, I would credit Dvorak's New World Symphony and others of his work for enchanting me as well as the Hudson River School artists and those who followed them. But I should stop all this before I ramble too long.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
NYTimes on Passion and Anti-Passion
Here are a couple posts criticizing the New York Times' reporting on "The Passion of the Christ" from two respectable blogs. First, Bill of the Thinklings points to an article on how the Times totally misunderstood or mischaracterized everything about the movie. Second, Blog9 notes that the Times has been generous to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, by contrast. Yesterday's article on the 10+ books, being released this month and next, that argue against the false history in Code "leaves the reader feeling that Brown must be on to something."

Here is the something you may be left with: "There is evidence that Mr. Brown's novel may be shaping the beliefs of a generation that is famously biblically illiterate. Michael S. Martin, a high school French teacher in Burlington, Vt., said he decided to read the novel when he noticed that his students were reading it in Harry Potter proportions.

"'We like conspiracy theories, so whether it's J.F.K. or Jesus, people want to think there's something more than what they are telling us — the they in this case being the church,' Mr. Martin said. 'The church has a long and documented history of really trying to crush the whole feminine side, the pagan side. I think that's really hard to debate.'"
Heavy Book Culture Defines Itself
(I'm late to blog this, but please pretend you're interested.) As if to prove my point about Heavy Book Culture, the day after my post Applebuam's complaint came an NPR report on Brazilian best-selling author Paulo Coelho, who seems to want the prestige of Brazilian literary elites as well as a strong readership. These elites call themselves "The Immortals," and readers in Brazil could care less about them, as I understand it. They are the Heavy Book Culture in their part of the galaxy. Coelho wooed their favor recently and now hopes to sell well in the American market. His latest effort, Eleven Minutes, isn't going to get him there, if Publisher's Weekly is a good judge of American readers' tastes. Their review describes a nasty story about a Rio-born prostitute, concluding with "At the end, the story boils down to a rather predictable romance tarted up with a few sexy trappings."

Despite this, John Baker of Publisher's Weekly, says in the NPR report, "The American publishing market is very broad and very shallow. They don't read all that much and are satisfied with what they get at home."
Clinton Memoirs to Add to Glutted Market
The political memoirs or books as newspapers keep coming. A few may be good for reading, like Karen Hughes' Ten Minutes from Normal. Most probably aren't, like Joseph Wilson's diatribe. Former President Clinton will add to the glut with his memoirs in late June. Clinton's publisher, Knopf, says, "It is the fullest and most nuanced account of a presidency ever written, and one of the most revealing and remarkable memoirs I have ever had the honor of publishing." I suppose we should expect a publisher to say this, and I'm sure the initial printing of 1.5 million will not languish in bookstores, not that the books will be read.

My gut feeling is that though Clinton's book will outsell another Knopf publication, Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America, by Robert Reich, the latter is the better book. Reich can be funny and personable, at least he can in various radio settings and I hope it translates into print. Clinton will be Clinton, dishonest and self-serving. Was Mrs. Clinton's memoir ready worth reading, or was its primary in resale? Mr. Clinton's book will echo it.
Irish Toast
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again, may God hold
You in the hollow of his hand.
Saturday, April 24, 2004
Continuing Discussion of Christian Fiction Publishing
World magazine's blog linked to my thoughts on Christian fiction earlier this week, which began a interesting discussion. A senior editor of Harvest House chimed in, wondering if those of us who complain about poor quality writing continue to dip into some books to see if the stories are improving. He claimed that Christian fiction as a whole is maturing, though it still has a way to go.

That discussion thread lead to an email interview with Brandywine Books, which I am pleased to present to you here.

Interview with Nick Harrison, Senior Editor of Harvest House
BB: 1. What case can be made for modern Christian fiction publishing? Is it primarily clean entertainment? Is it primarily evangelistic?

NH: I suppose it depends on the publisher. Some Christian publishers are willing to be more edgy than others, though even then they risk offending some customers. Remember, fiction, as a category in the Christian bookstore has only been prominent since Janette Oke's books from Bethany House started the ball rolling. Prior to that there was virtually nothing other then Grace Livingston Hill romances.

And frankly, there IS a huge need for quality Christian, or even just moral, fiction, as secular fiction continues to get darker and darker. One prominent editor of secular fiction once told me how, after sending her mother in Minnesota copies of the fiction she was editing, her mother asked, "Don't you ever publish anything that isn't so dark?" And the editor had to confess, no, they didn't. And yet, the would-be readership for positive, WELL-WRITTEN fiction is HUGE. Secular publishers just don't get this. It's like watching Hollywood's astonishment at the success of "The Passion." No doubt they'll try to jump on the bandwagon, but they'll fail miserably, unless they learn to have the same sensibilities as their audience. My whole point, though, is that it is possible to write fiction from a positive Christian worldview and have it be extremely well-written.

BB: 2. You said in our literature discussion on World's blog, "Most writers only use their characters and sometimes their plots to carry out the pre-determined message of their novel." Why do you think they do this? Could it be a failure of Christian colleges and maybe churches to teach young artists properly?

NH: Wow, what a question. Where to begin? First, I don't believe that everyone who wants to write fiction should necessarily do so. Very often when I ask a new author about their novel, they'll start right in on how this novel teaches the reader to _______. And you can fill in the blank. Trust God. Evangelize. Get through tough times. The answer I'm looking for when I ask a fiction writer about their work is for them to tell me about a person. About the characters in their book. Not the message. Not even the plot. Although I think many secular writers do the same thing, I think the fact that we, as Christians, do have a message we want to spread makes us more susceptible to this problem.

Also, I will admit once in a great while a message-driven novel can work. But very, very rarely. No, I don't fault colleges or churches.

BB: 3. When you say that Christian fiction isn't producing the quality it should, can you point to that desired quality in novels from other publishers? Would you say a novel like The Power and the Glory is where Christian fiction should be? Maybe The Violent Bear It Away? Perhaps another way to put this is to ask what do you want the fiction you edit to be when it matures?

NH: I'm leery of setting up comparisons. Graham Greene was Graham Greene. Flannery O'Connor was who she was. And every writer, in my opinion, must be true to the unique way they have of writing fiction. Fiction writers shouldn't aspire to be the next Graham Greene or C.S. Lewis. Nor should they aspire to be a Christianized version of Stephen King or Dean Koontz. They may indeed turn out to be that very thing, but if so, I think it should come as a result of finding their own voice as an author and staying true to that voice.

BB (addition): This is a great point for amateur reviewers like myself, despite the publishing industry's encouragement to think this way about new writers. This year and last, we have heard about potential successors to J.K. Rowling (as if she was washed-up already), and frequently Christians will ask about the next C.S. Lewis. As Harrison says, writers are individuals, gifted by the Lord to accomplish certain things, both as artists and as people in their communities. Comparisons probably miss their intended point.

BB: 4. In a previous email, you wrote, "For women's fiction, I think they are excellent." I take that to mean the literary quality for that market is less than another market, say men's fiction. Would you clarify that qualification?

NH: I didn't quite mean that the way it seems. The books I mentioned are excellent fiction period. But they're not on a par with Graham Greene or Tolstoy or, to be more contemporary, Anne Tyler. But in my opinion, they're better than some of the commercial secular fiction that's out there. They don't set out to be Greene, or Tolstoy, or Tyler.

BB: Harrison copies a reader review from for the Roxanne Henke book, After Anne. "Keep in mind," he repeats, "Roxy just wants to write good fiction, not be Flannery O'Connor. Also, I must tell you, that Roxy has TONS of letters and e-mail from readers who love her fiction."

The November 11, 2003, review from "lovetoreadbooks," a top 500 reviewer, praises the book while claiming to dislike Christian fiction in general.
This is one of my all-time favorite reads--much to my surprise! I didn't realize this is an inspirational book. Normally, I don't read those because of poor writing, but this book has exceeded all expectations. It is a story of two women who became friends in an unlikely way. It is a discovery of truths on one woman's part and the facing of uncertain future on the other woman's part. It is an exploration of friendship and love that only two women can experience. They become closer friends than sisters.

This story is rich in details. Olivia is a mom and a banker's wife. She endures trouble with her teenage son and pretween daughter when she meets Anne. Anne is a soon-to-be mom in her late 20s who discovers a lump on her breast. Together, they share their lives. Their friendship is the one that every woman secretly dreams of having--and while it strengthens Anne's walk with God, it introduces God and his word to Olivia. However, that is done in a beautifully-written way, not a preachy way. Anne lived her faith. Olivia learns about it just from watching Anne.

I just love this book. I relate to Olivia so well though my babies aren't grown yet. I relate to Anne and her fears and uncertainties of the future--and it's just a beautiful, heart-warming story. It is definitely one of the best-written stories on friendship that I have ever read. . . .

This is a definite book to buy for your best friend or wife or daughter. It's not emotionally mushy though in some places you will need a Kleenex. It is just beautifully-written--and so true. It makes you stop and think. It is one of the must-reads for the coming year if not tomorrow.
BB: If I understand Harrison's perspective, I can summarize it by saying all fiction is not written equally. Reviewers and critics should make comparisons cautiously, because an author may write a realistic story of a Southern family without trying to usurp Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. That should temper criticism, but it doesn't answer the need for strong Christian literature. As Harrison said in an earlier email, " Christian fiction is on a journey." We have yet to arrive at our final destination. We have yet to fulfill all our dreams. Someday, one of us will write a story steeped in Biblical perspective with strong literary merit, and the rest of us will say, "Where have you been?" And I hope we see it long before that author dies.
Understanding The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
I'm reading Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to my five year old as a bedtime story. She has a good patience for stories, always has, even when I've read more difficult books to my sweet wife. My three year old has no patience for them. She wants things to be on her level, perhaps so that she can memorize them better. She's like a tape recorder.

I had not read the Wizard of Oz before this, but I had read that it was full of political meaning. Dr. George Grant, who is respectable scholar and teacher in Tennessee, explained the relationship on his blog last year in an entry called, " There Is No Place Like Home"
The recent re-release of The Wizard of Oz in a new digitized format on DVD should prompt more people to read the even more wonderful book. Their reading pleasure will be enhanced by understanding that L. Frank Baum wrote the book as a fairy tale or perhaps more accurately, as a parable whose point is more poignant today than when it was published in 1900--that modern political wizards are more often than not a bunch of confidence men running a wild-west medicine show scam on the little people of America.

Though he worked within the conventional forms of the traditional European fairy tale, Baum drew the book's symbolism from his own contemporary political ethis: William Jennings Bryan's populist campaign for the national government to back its paper money with silver as well as gold."
He says Oz is something of a Grover Cleveland, the Wicked Witch of the East is Wall Street, and so on.

I was comfortable believing this explanation until I decided to look it up because Grant had cited no sources for his ideas. I found this site which is dedicated to the OZ books. They write that Baum did not write a political allegory, but that Henry Littlefield devised the relationship between Baum's book and turn-of-the-20th-century politics in order to teach his students. He wrote an article in 1964, linked from this site, but wasn't not popularly accepted until Gore Vidal mentioned in 1977. " Some of these interpretations have been embraced by college professors and other academics as the "true" meaning behind The Wizard of Oz. Littlefield took pains to say, then and later, that he does not believe Baum had a political agenda in writing The Wizard of Oz, and that his observations were allegorical, not theoretical."

Oh, well. I suppose it isn't an allegory, and had Baum tried to make it one, it probably would have become a forgettable story.
Online Chat with A.S. Byatt
Professor O'Connor has directed my attention to an author chat at with her favorite novelist, A.S. Byatt, and quotes the good stuff related there. Here is the transcript. O'Connor quotes from it and praises the author's mind and heart, calling her closer to George Eliot than any modern author. "Byatt's work is some of the smartest, least trendoid literary work out there," she blogs.

In the discussion Byatt says:
"I knew that as a little girl. I knew I had chosen a profession for old people. I hated being a novelist when I was 20--I had nothing to write about. So my life now is a kind of small window of having the knowledge and not dying."

"A novel would have to provide more resolution, whereas the short story has the right to cast you off into a terrible unknown future."

In response to a question on the purpose and importance of storytelling and whether we have lost a sense of it: " I think we had lost the sense of the importance of storytelling, and certainly the English novel went through a long period of just describing personal feelings or being symbolic. But I think recently there has been a huge surge of interest in non-realistic storytelling, such as fairy tale or adventures. I admire the work of two young British writers, Lawrence Norfolk and David Mitchell, both of whom are flamboyant master storytellers. It is also true that Freudian psychoanalysis is a form of storytelling. People tell the story of their own lives, including the dreams, in order to understand them. But I am increasingly interested in stories that move beyond one person's experience. I think we had lost those and are getting them back. In England, there is an increasing art of storytelling for children out loud, both old traditional stories and new ones."
Another Christian Fantasy from Britain
On Tuesday, April 27, G. P. Taylor's U.K. best-seller, Shadowmancer, will be released Stateside by Penguin. An editor describes this new children's story as " An apocalyptic battle between good and evil" which is "vigorously, violently fought."

Taylor is the Vicar of Cloughton in Yorkshire, England, and according to an article today in the Yorkshire Post, the author grew up in Scarborough, "was a school drop-out, a punk record-plugger, a social worker and a policeman" before taking a call to the serve the Anglican Church. Taylor gives credit to this newspaper for igniting Britain's interest in his book last year.

Publisher Nancy Paulsen says in this press release for the multi-book contract she signed with Taylor, "It's unusual to be contracting for additional titles a month before publishing even the very first. But I have met Graham and I have just finished working with him on his second book, Wormwood. Like Shadowmancer, it is seeped in atmosphere and is suspenseful storytelling."

Amazon reviewers call the story of a vicar who hopes to dominate the world through black magic "scary," a little difficult to get into at first, and "simply wonderful." Carol Bicak of the Omaha World-Herald is less enthusiastic. She echoes the bit about being difficult to get into and goes on to say the characters are less full, the action less moving than she prefers.

Last year's Guardian review praises the book. "There are brilliant scenes: when a golden raven digs its talons into Thomas as it prepares to strip his bones of their flesh; or when the imprisoned children watch helplessly as, in the mist-filled garden, Demurral summons evil Glashan from the cracked earth."

The publisher is pleased with what she calls Taylor's "unique and fertile imagination." American readers will have to judge for themselves.

Taylor has sold the movie rights for £2.2 million and hopes Sean Bean will play the lead adult role.
Friday, April 23, 2004
Happy Birthday, Shakespeare. Sorry to See You Go
Today is William Shakespeare's day of birth in 1564 and death in 1616. I have been told by sources close to Shakespeare that if you read a mirror reflection of the witches' lines from Macbeth by the light of a candle in your bathroom, complete them at the first stroke of midnight and then dunk your head in the toilet before the last stroke sounds, you may have an hallucination of Shakespeare performing Gilbert and Sullivan on Broadway. Wow! You wouldn't know this stuff if not for folklorist like myself.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
Books That Shape Us
Gideon Strauss has picked up an admirable blog idea. He has described ten books which shaped his life over the years. I remember World Magazine published something similar from a ministry leader, and the book Indelible Ink is about this subject. Take a look at Gideon's list and consider what books have shaped you over the years. I'll do the same, and blog my list when it's ready.
Quote: "People don't read Woodward's books. Most people don't read the books they buy anyway. They want to be seen buying them or to have them seen on their shelf, especially if a reporter is coming by." -- Rush Limbaugh
Nauseous Means "Sickening" But Many Argue About That
Jane D. commented on World's blog that I used 'nauseous' correctly in an earlier post. Thank you, Jane. You've inspired me to blog on the matter.

From the American Heritage Dictionary, ed. 2000, comes this usage note: "Traditional critics have insisted that nauseous is properly used only to mean 'causing nausea' and that it is incorrect to use it to mean 'affected with nausea,' as in Roller coasters make me nauseous. In this example, nauseated is preferred by 72 percent of the Usage Panel. Curiously, though, 88 percent of the Panelists prefer using nauseating in the sentence The children looked a little green from too many candy apples and nauseating (not nauseous) rides. Since there is a lot of evidence to show that nauseous is widely used to mean 'feeling sick,' it appears that people use nauseous mainly in the sense in which it is considered incorrect. In its 'correct' sense it is being supplanted by nauseating."
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Literature, the Study Thereof, and Blogging
Our Girl in Chicago has written smartly and concisely of Gioia's piece this month New Criterion and transitions into the literary blogging discussion taking place on Professor Erin O'Connor's blog and the group effort, Crooked Timber. Interesting stuff. Some of it backs up my critique of Applebaum earlier this week, in that her writers of "heavy books" are not interested in real discussion or readership.
P.G. Wodehouse In Full and All That
For newcomers to Brandywine Books, let me direct you to an exit door so you may enjoy another site. Will Duquette of the excellent blog "The View from the Foothills" has written recently on some Wodehouse books: Leave It To Psmith, Mulliner Nights, and Thank You, Jeeves. If you are so unfortunate as to be unfamiliar with Wodehouse, I encourage you to read these reviews and as many more as you can stomach on Will's blog. For a quick, insufficient summary of Wodehouse's Bertie & Jeeves stories, click the colored text.
Gibson Asked to Make Movie of Francis of Assisi
A community of New York Franciscans are petitioning Mel Gibson to follow his blockbuster, "The Passion of the Christ," with a realistic portrayal of Francis of Assisi. An online petition is at Father Glenn Sudano believes the time is right "for a realistic portrayal of Saint Francis."

"'They dip these people in plaster,' Father Glenn said about perceptions of the saints. 'They are much more powerful, more interesting, more engaging, much more human.'"

I've always liked Francis of Assisi, and I think a film is a good idea, but since he was an immoral man in his youth, the film could be uglier than many Christians would hope.
Poets Die Young, Sort Of
James Kaufman of the Learning Research Institute at California State University at San Bernardino published a report in the Journal of Death Studies which suggests poets die younger than other writers. This Reuters article quotes him saying, "On average, poets lived 62 years, playwrights 63 years, novelists 66 years and nonfiction writers lived 68 years."

Kaufman researched almost 2000 writers for this worthless study, neglecting to figure in cause of death. He said, in paraphrase, "It could be because poets are tortured and prone to self-destruction, or it could be that poets become famous young, so their early deaths are noticed." If he had looked at the reason these poets died, maybe he would have a more conclusive report.
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
New Bret Lott novel
A Song I Knew by Heart is Professor Bret Lott's latest publication. Lott, who will soon begin editing "The Southern Review" and teaching at Louisiana State, gained national attention with his novel Jewel, picked by Oprah for her first book club devotees. This story is a retelling of the biblical history of Ruth, which Lott says has interested him for a long time.

By way of, Booklist describes the book like this: "In this highly emotional depiction of grief and its aftermath, Lott (Jewel, 1991) expertly avoids the sickly sweet sentimentality that often torpedoes books of its ilk, such as Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie (1997) or Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook (1996). Instead Lott brings gravitas and a biblical cadence to his story of seventysomething Naomi, a widow forced to confront death once again when her son, Mahlon, is killed in a car accident."

Lott will be on tour in for several days. His current schedule is available from his publisher, Random House.
Monday, April 19, 2004
Heavy Books vs. Mass Media: A Yawn to the Death
[by way of Collected Miscellany] Washington Post Editor Anne Applebaum writes an article on what she calls the great divide between high culture and popular culture. (login brandybuck, password hobbit) She says the writers being honored at two awards ceremonies felt a hostility from the outside world despite the praise they received inside the room. She says there are "writers of heavy books on one side, mass media on the other," and she doesn't know how that fire was started. Though she doesn't say it directly, she is asking why her Pulitzer prize-winning non-fiction isn't a bestseller.

Well, prizes are awarded and books are purchased by the different criteria; I don't know what goes into the former, but the latter is mostly reader interest. Applebaum's book, Gulag: A History, doesn't strike me as the type of thing that will sell fast enough to make the lists.

So she scans her Amazon ranks in vain (she ranks in the high 300s tonight), but I think I understand. Daily, I look for new comments and links to my blog. I hope I find a sign of increasing interest. I recently evolved from amphibian to reptile in the blogospheric ecosystem. That's good news to me.

So Applebaum's book isn't selling as well as she'd like; but does she think that a grand force is hindering readers from buying her book and the books she considers on her side of the fence? Perhaps it is, and if it exists, it is named Interest.

Now, she blames it on mass media or pop culture. I agree we have a nauseous commercialism which masks trivial thinking as serious, encouraging us to be discontent with the old and to ever seek the new. Involvement with it is one of the many reasons Christian fiction readers settle for what's being published. Television has a way of making a good story stink by nauseous repetition with only slight variation, and if your tastes are matured on the sludge of prime time and movies ala television, then you may be unable to see the beauty in good literature.

But by drawing a line of demarcation, Applebaum is aligning herself with those who share the blame for her problem. The Heavy Book Crowd (HBC) may award their prizes, and they may praise many worthy tomes, but they aren't the all-knowing gods they would like to be. For example, I don’t believe The Color Purple should have won a Pulitzer. I don't think Ulysses is the best novel of the 20th Century which is The Random House Modern Library's claim, or that Nabokov or Lawrence should be in the top 10. As I understand it, the HBC publishes some very boring, narcissistic books which don't care enough about readers to warrant much of a following. I've also been lead to believe that some authors don't intend to be read. They want their peer's praise—that's all. I've read that some works are scorned because they are popularly accepted. That may be only in the academic world, but perhaps it applies to fiction as well. If the New York Times Book Review is any measure, the HBC enjoys being boring and doesn't care what books are read in Tennessee. What do Tennesseans know anyway?

So my answer to Applebaum is a gentle pat on the shoulder and the encouragement to get over it. If I knew hers was a fine book, I'd praise it; but I can't. Despite that, winning a Pulitzer is a wonderful achievement, especially if only 1,000 people will ever read it. She should take pride in that, and forget pop culture or whatever it is. It can hop in a handbasket and go somewhere.

So what's on the lists this week? From the ABA's hardcover non-fiction:
  1. Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke
  2. The South Beach Diet, Arthur Agatston, M.D.
  3. Worse Than Watergate, John W. Dean
  4. The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren
  5. The Spiral Staircase, Karen Armstrong
These are the fast sellers which have been reported to the ABA by independent bookstores. Of course, two of them don't count really. The South Beach Diet has been selling since Columbus arrived from Spain, and I think The Purpose-Driven Life was written by a traveling companion to the Apostle Paul, so both have dominated the bestselling lists for years, but the others show what else is selling this time of year. Gulag doesn't make it.
Holocaust Remembrance Day
[by way of World] Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Columnist Jeff Jacoby has a good article on the subject which discusses Rabbi Ephraim Oshry's 1983 tome, Responsa from the Holocaust. Summarizing Rabbi Oshry, Jacoby writes, "Violence, humiliation, and hunger will reduce some people to animals willing to do anything to survive. The Jews who sought out Rabbi Oshry -- like Jews in so many other corners of Nazi Europe -- were not reduced but elevated, reinforced in their belief, determined against crushing odds to walk in the ways of their fathers."

And may they continue to walk after them. Regardless the world.

The oft-quoted Viktor Frankl said, "I became acquainted with the last stage of corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment . . . I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry of defense or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers." The same ideas abound in some spots today, so we must not forget their consequences.
Sunday, April 18, 2004
"Christian Fiction is Sedative"
From Christianity and the Arts, August-October 1997, an interview with Walter Wangerin Jr., quoted in The Christian Imagination, Leland Ryken editor. "Only a small group of readers read at a level of subtlety, recognizing the literary qualities of the books they read. We have ceased to acknowledge the complexity of literature. As a consequence, literature has lost its place. We sell by category and classification, and because sales have taken over the literature industry, those who genuinely wish to write literature are embarrassed by it. I'm embarrassed for my publishers when I say I'm writing art because it makes them squirm. . . .

"Much of this fiction produced these days is sedative. It benumbs us and reinforces stereotypes, doesn't move us to new levels."
Why is Christian Fiction in Such Terrible Shape?
Why do Christian fiction publishers print what they do? Jared asks that question in a Wednesday post, giving a good answer and starting a good discussion.

He asks about "the taste Christian readers seem to have for mediocrity? Is it a supply problem or a demand problem? I think it’s both, which means the Christian publishing industry (and Christian retail in general, really) is in a vicious cycle of sorts. Publishers print what sells and until readers start buying substantive literature, publishers won’t produce it. But if publishers aren’t producing it in the first place, then readers don’t even have the opportunity to buy it. . . . (in the Christian bookstore, that is)."

Jared says Christian readers are on "a different literary frequency." They are not tuned to understand classical references or put up with deep character study. They like "fluff," as my wife puts it, or they are content with it for lack of anything better. I agree that Jane Doe, average Christian reader and Xian bookstore patron, is tuned to this lower FM band, but this isn't the whole answer to our question. Why doesn't your local Xian bookstore have three dozen novels which could easily be recognized as serious literature or of strong literary merit that are published from Crossway Books, Thomas Nelson, or another Christian publishing house? Here are two reasons.

1. Many publishers pass over novels in favor of sermon illustrations. I believe we could deduce this from observing the published books, but I've read as much in official publishing guidelines. They want a story which will present the Gospel to an unbeliever or mature the faith of a believer. That's one reason which prompted Jared's complaint that conversion experiences in Christian fiction are flat.

2. Vice must be avoided at all costs. The reason, as I understand it, is to avoid tempting the reader, though that doesn't follow with everything. In his essay, "Christian Fiction: Piety Is Not Enough," Author and Professor Richard Terrell describes the books coming from Christian publishers as parochial, contrived, nice (rather than truthful), and sensational (rather than well-crafted). He describes finding Stephen Lawhead's The Iron Lance in a Christian bookstore. It bore a warning label, "alerting the customer that some parts of the book might be 'offensive' to some readers." After reading it, he couldn't think of anything offensive in Lawhead's book, "except perhaps relatively mild description of the violence of medieval crusaders in Jerusalem. But when I reflect on the warning sticker . . .it becomes clear to me why such a Christian classic as Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, with its vivid description of an axe-murder, might never be sold in such a store."

Terrell goes on. "Here we see how market considerations and the bookseller industry begin to dictate literary values and the process of writing itself. But, if everything is to be so nice, at what point does truth suffer?" It suffers a great deal, he says, and Christian publishers offer us mostly niceness, "lightweight human interaction and scenarios, suitable for people whose cultural perspectives are formed almost exclusively by the environments of Christian bookstores."

The stores are complicit with the publishers peddling niceness under the guise of mature Christianity or family entertainment. They cater to the Christian sub-culture, urging us to squeeze a little bit of faith into our hectic schedules and worship 24-7 with the coolest trinkets and praise CDs while we do everything else.

But what about the readers? Do they have, as Jared describes, "a residual feeling from Puritanism that fiction is indulgent or 'lying,' more interest in things that are practical to the faith or self-helpish, a residual disdain for anything that seems 'intellectual' held over from the early Fundamentalist movement"? Maybe they do. That's why Christian bookselling, both fiction and nonfiction, leans towards women's interests. As I said above, the average Christian book buyer is a woman, and I suspect American men are not socially encouraged to read fiction. It may have something to do with the feeling of indulgence and that non-fiction has the appearance of utilitarian benefits; but I think there's more.

1. Mediocre books are easier to read, and Americans struggle to spend time wisely. Pop culture, that easy to get, always new, formula-driven entertainment, fits into busy lives more neatly than serious literature. In his post, Jared mentions intelligent friends who have no interest in poetry. Poetry is a good example of literature's desire to take a bit of time. I remember reading last year a column, possibly in a British newspaper, possibly by a reviewer, who said he didn't have time to read a poem and wonder what it means. He wanted a story which told him clearly what it means. Who has time to think about what you've read? I understand that. Friday night, I read from that W.H. Auden book and left each poem thinking I didn't understand half of what he said. But I liked it, especially "City Without Walls," and I will read them again. – So what's wrong with me?

I believe this idea has been considered in full in several books over the past few years.
The Death of Common Sense, on how thinking is passé.
Amusing Ourselves to Death, on how thinking takes too long
The Middle Mind, on how we don't think anymore

These books deal with far more than literature and pop culture, but I think they address the problem which has contributed to mediocre books in Xian bookstores. Also see All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture, by Ken Myers

2. Images are replacing words. Aliteracy is rising. It dominates some communities. The Washington Post article to which I linked last week gives evidence of this trend, though that article stumbles in places, quoting irrelevant sources and those who seem to be missing the point. As I understand it, the literature we wish we had in Christian fiction comes from a passion for language and an education in the beautiful works which have preceded us. If an increasing percentage of readers only tolerate language or have no capacity to understand beautiful prose, then publishing houses will close if they print what will not be read. I've been told that the Left Behind books are fun, well-written stories. I don't believe them, but I reply, "Good. I'm glad to hear it." Clearly, 'well-written' is a relative term.

3. If a Christian fiction reader wanted to enjoy a work with true literary merit, does she know what to look for? When she thinks of literature, does she think of James Joyce and Kafka? Then it's no wonder she goes back to Janette Oke and Francine Rivers for relief. Most of literature may not be this way, but many praise-worthy books make better reads when with a discussion group. The Sound and the Furycould kill an individual, but a small group may be able to tackle it. When you and I complain about shallow fiction, we should be ready to propose alternatives. And if the alternatives are scarce, I think some of us need to write the alternatives ourselves.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
A Little Blogging Fun
"The more they talked about cubes of water or water that became so solid that people could easily walk on it, the harder the natives laughed." -- I'm Glad You Asked, by Ken Boa and Larry Moody

Follow the herd:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

ed.- I was a little afraid that my book's 23 page would be blank. I saw this on Thinkling's. Others participating are Jared, Jen, Sandman, Robert, and the Elfin Ethicist. Update: I followed the links back to this blog as the starter. I don't know if she began the current meme or just didn't source her leader.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Jordan Says Start with the First One in Wheel of Time
Robert Jordan says his "Wheel of Time" series is really one large novel, each book being a set of chapters within the larger work. "You must start with Eye of the World," he says in this interview with Bill Thompson.

"I write this for me. I'm glad you like to read these books, but I'm writing these books for me. I'm writing what's going to happen, and what going to happen is what I want to happen."
Georgia Wants Students to Read More
The Sunday edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a story on a proposal from the state’s Department of Education on student reading expectations. (Link requires registration. Feel free to type, First Name: Brandybuck, Email: dnifriend at, Password: hobbit) The proposal is called “Reading-Across-the-Curriculum.” From the executive summary of the English Language curriculum revision, the standard will be recommended for grades 6-12. “This standard is intended to meet the requirement that every student read 25 books or one million words per year. Every curriculum area should be involved with this standard because the English language arts teacher cannot meet this standard alone. This standard emphasizes reading in all curriculum areas, discussing books, content vocabulary, and establishing context.”

According to the newspaper, what the summary calls a “requirement” is only a suggestion, and that students wouldn’t have to read 25 actual books, just the equivalent which will be determined by the teachers. Some teachers are complaining because they believe they will bear the weight of the requirement/suggestion, despite the state’s encouragement of spreading it throughout the subjects. Maybe they know their school principals better than the state does.

From the article: “Kathy Wilson, Henry County's secondary language arts and testing coordinator, said she is pleased by the new standard. She said many people don't realize there are students reaching high school who have never read an entire novel. ‘Students should be reading and not just in the classroom,’ she said. ‘Everything they read is important.’”

This sounds good to me, though it is just one of many points in a comprehensive curriculum. I am reluctant to rally behind a single good idea from a state education department, because I don’t know the rest of their requirements and suggestions. I support strong education standards, but schools can juggle only so many good ideas. Maybe this will be a burden on them if they aren’t freed from other things, though I doubt it. I support encouraging Georgia public schools to expect their students to read about 25 books a year. I’m sure it will improve every student’s general education, more so if the books are well-written and interesting. Goosebumps doesn’t cut it. Neither do many textbooks. But there are thousands of stories, fiction and non-fiction, written by authors who love language over formula, that will mature young readers. These books should be recommended by all of our schools, and some of them are better than the classroom teaching.

Now, for the typical liberal response, read this: “Stephen Krashen, a literacy expert and retired University of Southern California professor, said Georgia's intentions are good but perhaps misdirected. He suggests that boosting low-income students' access to books would be more effective. ‘The standard could backfire,’ Krashen said. ‘That's sending a message that people won't do it unless they are forced. But if they pump up libraries, then they won't need it. Everybody likes to read.’”

Everybody like to read, eh? What does Krashen mean by “pumping up libraries”? Put interesting books in them? I guess he thinks that throwing money at them for shelves and books will enable them to eradicate illiteracy and aliteracy by wonderful free market principles. Good books create their own demand, is that it? The child likes to read, but darn it, the TV gets in the way all the time.

According to this 2001 Washington Post article, TV and everything else gets in the way of reading more and more. Aliteracy, the ability to read without the desire to read, abounds. “Some of this shift away from words -- and toward images -- can be attributed to our ever-growing multilingual population. But for many people, reading is passe or impractical or, like, so totally unnecessary in this day and age. To Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, this trend away from the written word is more than worrisome. It's wicked. It's tearing apart our culture. People who have stopped reading, he says, ‘base their future decisions on what they used to know. If you don't read much, you really don't know much,’ he says. ‘You're dangerous.’”

That’s one reason this reading expectation is a good idea. The habit of reading can educate better, longer, than studying for tests can.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Another Trip to the Used Book Store
I went to a couple used book stores again. No, I haven't read what I got last time, and I probably won't over the next couple years, but I recently acquired several books for trading so I've been making a few trips. I'm fond of a small store on the north side of the Tennessee River, A Novel Idea, so I picked my best books for trading there. I returned today, and with the few books I picked up in a second trip to McKay's a few days ago, I now own the following (links are not to the specific editions).
  1. The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

  2. City Without Walls and other poems, by W.H. Auden

  3. An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World, by Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman

  4. The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton

  5. The Reader's Companion to American History, by John A. Garraty and Eric Foner

  6. The Wizard of Oz, by Frank Baum, illustrated by W.W. Denslow

  7. Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, by Shelby Foote

  8. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

  9. The Reivers, by William Faulkner

  10. Jewel, by Bret Lott

  11. The Gulag Archipelag: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (unabridged)
Is Clarke's Book Worth Anything Now?
Richard Clarke's complaint against the Bush administration, which as I understand it is that top officials should have talked about terrorism more than they did, is still #2 on Amazon as I type this post. It is #1 on the American Booksellers' Asso. List and the USA Today list for last week. But is the book worth anything now that Dr. Condolezza Rice and former Attorney General Janet Reno have discounted his testimony before the 9-11 Commission? I recommend all owners of Against All Enemies, unless you manage to get it autographed for keeping in mint condition and passing on to your grandchildren, to immediately take it to your favorite used book for trade on something decent like Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. If you have not bought or read Clarke's book, don't. Wait for the movie, which is scheduled to be "produced by John Calley, who worked on the 1976 Watergate drama All the President's Men at Warner Brothers. 'You could shoot the first 56 pages and have an extraordinary half of a movie, then it goes on to more enthralling stuff,' Calley told the Times. 'If we were able to do All the President's Men with people meeting in garages and whispering in parks, then certainly with someone sitting at a table in the White House we could have a remarkable event.'"
Saturday, April 10, 2004
Happy Easter
from "Before the Throne of God Above":
     When Satan tempts me to despair,
     and tells me of the guilt within,
     upward I look and see Him there
     Who made an end to all my sin.
     Because the sinless Saviour died,
     my sinful soul is counted free;
     For God, the Just, is satisfied
     to look on him and pardon me.
Life More Abundant
[By way of Gideon Strauss] The remarkably skilled artist Charlie Peacock, now going by Charlie Peacock-Ashworth, has written on following Christ in the real world in New Way to Be Human: A Provocative Look at What It Means to Follow Jesus, published last month by Shaw Books. Strauss quotes from an enthusiastic review which says Charlie's "perspective develops the 'purpose-driven life' that so many are seeking, putting actual flesh and bones onto those lofty ideas. His understanding that a serious follower of Jesus will be more human (not less) more creative (not less) more culturally engaged and artistic (not less) and more alive is exactly the sort of passionate message that pushed us into starting our little bookshop; we are confident it can animate and call forth creative initiative and deeper lifestyles in its readers!"

From the publisher comes praise from one of my favorite musicans, Christine Dente. "There is something very freeing in Charlie's words: 'You can still be a student-follower of Jesus and not possess all truth, once-for-all universal certainty, and the answer to every question.' Much of my experience with American Christianity has been like an overly simplistic tract that tries too hard and says too little. This book has inspired me to reread and retell the Story with 'the widest, clearest view.' In sharing the clues he has found along the way, Charlie reminds me that I must humbly embrace what I know for sure, yet hold myself open to the mystery of the bigger story."
Make-Believe Blogging
In a story found through fellow Blogspot user Sarah Weinman, The Guardian describes blogs-as-story and how some writers are composing inventive fiction through the faux-realism of their blogs. This paragraph stood out to me, because I've thought about doing roughly the same thing for years.

"Diego Doval grappled with this in his 'blognovel' Plan B. An episodic office comedy that took readers into the mind of a stressed cubicle jockey, it went online in 2002. Doval says he 'wanted to see what the medium could do' and tried to create a story people could enter at any point and still make sense of. He used links not to connect to real sites but to take readers to details from the back-story that might explain that day's events."

For years, I've casually wondered about the potential of hypertext for non-linear fiction, giving the reader the opportunity to follow his nose through a main story and accompanying sub-stories by clicking on the links provided. If it didn't have a daily format like a blog, it would probably need a main story link for readers to continue to the 'next page' without veering off track or getting trapped in a sub-story. The mastery or shepherding of a printed books is out natural guide through a non-linear story. The Next Page leads us through a sub-story or down a path of thought as far as we need to go to understand the main story or the characters. We don't wonder where to go next because the book has given us that answer in the Next Page. In a hypertext novel, we would make that decision ourselves, trusting that all roads lead to the end somehow by scenic path or shortcut. I think if readers didn't mind reading on a screen, which becomes easier as technology develops, a carefully plotted, skillfully written, hypertext novel could work well.
From Plan B, a blognovel
From the current entry in the blog fiction by Diego Doval linked in the last post:
"Television is the only drug that is both a depressant and a stimulant. It is extremely addictive. It promotes bad eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. It makes you spend money. Simply put: TV is bad. Okay, maybe not everything about TV is bad. . . . Once in a while, it will give us opinions to repeat the next day at work. . . .

I enjoy TV the most when it's muted. The idiocy of the constant procession of nonsensical images becomes obvious. News programs in particular are hilarious. Many times, you can't even tell what are they talking about. And TV is supposed to be about images. Right. Most TV is just radio with visual noise added to it to keep you entranced."

What do you think about that?
Now We Are On the Older Side
A few days ago at the used bookstore, I passed up Now We are Sixty, published in England in October 1999 and in America during September 2001. Publisher's Weekly describes it this way: "English humorist Christopher Matthew (Diary of a Somebody) rewrites A.A. Milne's cherished childhood rhymes to describe middle-age spread, 'Saloon Bar Romeos,' inflation, pensions, tabloid scandals and cell phones: 'They're changing sex at Buckingham Palace,' and so on." It looks funny, especially for a Milne admirer like me, but it may be raunchy in a places. One fans writes that his father "has been talking about it almost every time we have met since. All his friends now seem to be buying copies as well - at least those who know [Milne's Now We Are Six]." Another says, "I stood in the bookshop unable to stop laughing." Maybe I didn't read the right parts in the store, but the book does look amusing overall.

Take this simple example. Milne has a cute little poem called "Happiness" in When We Were Very Young. (I'll skip the space consuming formatting.)
John had Great Big Waterproof Boots on;
John had a Great Big Waterproof Hat;
John had a Great Big Waterproof Mackintosh—And that (Said John) Is That.
Compare that to Matthews' "Cutting Edge."
Tom had a Brand New Personal Computer;
Tom was Plugged On the Internet;
Tom had The Works, But was Techno-illiterate,
And that Was Pretty Much That.
A sequel was released in England last September and in America last month. If Amazon is an indicator, our side of the ocean has low interest in these books. Amazon used the same descriptions for both books.
Friday, April 09, 2004
File This Under Ancient Ideas
Bunnie Diehl has an excellent blog under World Magazine’s banner. Today, Good Friday, she offers a summary of an article by William Cwirla which addresses an old question: "In 'Suffering, Death, and the Hidden God,' Cwirla explains how the question 'Why do bad things happen to good people,' could only be asked by adherents of the Theology of Glory. The Theology of Glory (think Prayer of Jabez) teaches that bad things should happen to bad people and good things should happen to Christians, essentially. It relies on reason and senses to justify the belief that I should get a ferrari." She includes a beautiful image of the crucifixion.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
More of Tolkien as Dr. Seuss
Will Duquette has published more of his wonderful amusement called "The Old Man in the Hat Comes Back." Here's a sample:

"So we tried to be secret.
We tried to be stealthy.
We wandered through swamps
That I'm sure were not healthy.
And the wet! O the wet!
I felt just like a newt!
Sam had moss in his hair,
And mildew on each foot." Continue

Tuesday, April 06, 2004
Quote: "I have always thought myself very big and terrible; yet such small things as flowers came near to killing me, and such small animals as mice have saved my life. How strange it all is!" -- The Cowardly Lion in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Online Bibliographic Resource
I stumbled onto a potentially helpful resource today while searching for something else. Homeville, Bibliographic Resources by William G. Contento, offers indexes of short fiction for many genres. His Mystery Short Fiction list aims "to list all mystery short fiction published in English since 1990."

His FictionMags list is meant "to discuss the history of fiction magazines, and to exchange information about magazines which have carried fiction, past or present. Particular emphases are on the 'Gaslight' magazines of circa 1880-1914, the pulp magazines of the first half of the 20th century, the 'Big Slick' magazines of the mid-20th century, the digest-sized magazines of the 1950s and 1960s — and any other areas of magazine publishing which have been important for fiction."

Perhaps you could find short stories from authors you enjoy, stories you didn't know existed. Perhaps this is the website that will clinch your next literary trival pursuit championship. Here's a list of stories by Faulkner. Here are several by Philip K. Dick.
The Known World Wins a Pulitzer
Edward P. Jones is now a Pulitzer prize winner for his book The Known World. From Hillel Italie of the AP:
Jones' The Known World took a decade to write. In the meantime, he lost his job, as a proofreader for the trade publication Tax Notes, and lost touch with much of the publishing world. When he finished, he felt so embarrassed by the delay that he notified his agent by letter, instead of telephoning him.
    The Pulitzer was a shot of energy on an otherwise down day for Jones, author of a previous book, the acclaimed story collection Lost in the City. He was feeling so ill Monday he didn't bother at first to answer his phone. He also was in the middle of moving from his longtime home in Arlington, Va., because of noisy upstairs neighbors.
    "This (award) should give me strength to finish up tomorrow," said Jones, who next week expects to move into Washington, D.C.
I’ve been interested in this book since it was nominated for the National Book Award, losing in a sense to Hazzard’s The Great Fire. It won the Book Critic’s Award in March.

Maybe it’s the subject matter, but I’m looking forward to reading Jones’ novel. I hope it’s worthwhile. I say that because I remember one of my English professors saying that he read The Color Purple (1983 winner) squint-eyed, wondering how such a lousy book could win a Pulitzer. Politics, he supposed. He read Morrison’s Beloved (1988 winner) and felt he had found the genuine article. So, I hope The Known World is more like Beloved than Purple, but it will probably be a while before I find out.
Spam in the Place Where You Live
How much spam do you receive? I use the webmaster inbox with CBMC, which is where I work as a designer, and it gets 4-5 general spam every day. That isn’t bad compared to the 40 or so I receive during the week at my personal address, double on weekends. I’ve read that some tech leaders of both large and small companies receive hundreds a day. Well, despite my small spam volume, comparatively speaking, I think I’m pretty good spotting it before opening it. The return address, the subject—they scream SPAM in most cases. But this morning, I received one in the webmaster box which took me in.

From Carrie Soefel at, comes this [im]personal note: "Hi there! Sorry for an e-mail out of the blue, but I just did a search for the term christian business on Google and found ranked 2. Since I publish a related website about Education (it's strictly informational, so I'm definitely NOT a competitor of yours), I'd like to link to your site.

My site is one of the best resources for info in our category (I think you'll see that my site is pretty clean and high quality, and I only request to link to other quality sites for exchange). Because of this great info, I get a pretty decent amount of if I link to you, your site should get some nice traffic as well."

Carrie failed to give me her URL, so believing this was a legitimate inquiry, I searched for 404 Page not found. Well, maybe that’s not her site. I should be able to find her name online. And I did. On the blog, "Notes," I found a discussion of the same [im]personal note to other sites from someone named Dora Casso. Ugly. This is the decade for spam, but fear not, we will overcome. We will dash it into history. We will be free from its tyranny one day! I hope. [Be sure to click that 404 link.]
Monday, April 05, 2004
Left Behind in a Handbasket
I chuckle when I overhear someone refer to Hell as a certainty when he doesn’t show signs of knowing anything about the place. “Sure as hell” is the phrase that gets me, especially within several sentences strung of profanity. For reasons I cannot divulge, I wondered this week about the origin of the phrase “going to hell in a handbasket.” I wondered about it until I took the time to read Evan Morris’ thoughts at He says he doesn’t know. “Clues to the origin of ‘going to hell in a handbasket,’ meaning ‘deteriorating rapidly or utterly,’ are, unfortunately, scarce as hens' teeth.” The phrase appears to have begun in early 1900s.

Michael Quinion of World Wide Words suggests a phrase for going somewhere or doing something in a handbasket or like device may have been around for centuries. He says that the Dictionary of American Regional English, “quotes a related expression from 1714: ‘A committee brought in something about Piscataqua. Govr said he would give his head in a Handbasket as soon as he would pass it’, which suggests that it, or at least phrases like it, have been around in the spoken language for a long time.” He goes on to say the phrase “going to heaven in a wheelbarrow,” which also means “going to hell,” is dated 1629, so perhaps the idea of “going to ____ in a handbasket” has slowly evolved over the decades until—oh happy day!—the polished, elegant phrase for utter decadence was born.
Left Behind (or Beware the Guy with Red Number Stickers)
I’ve seen this interesting criticism linked from a couple sites already, since I’ve been very slow to blog the last few days. Bill of Thinklings begins a discussion here. Dean Abbott posts on it too. Carl Olsen writes, "I fully expect this latest episode (of what once was going to be just a trilogy) to top the charts and sell a quadrillion copies. This apparent cynicism isn't a matter of theological triumphalism (I believe in the return of Jesus Christ) or literary snobbery. I've enjoyed books by Louis L'Amour, Robert Ludlum, and Wilbur Smith and have never mistaken them for literary giants, although they did have the commendable ability to tell a story, a talent not employed in the writing of Glorious Appearing." He continues: "Although possessed by Satan, ostensibly a being of high intelligence, ol' Nick [the Anti-christ] mercilessly mangles the English language as he tirelessly rallies his troops: "These uprisings shall be crushed posthaste. As we speak, portions of our more than extravagantly outfitted fighting force will peel off to these locations to lay waste to the pretenders. They will regret their insolence only as long as they have breath, and then they will be trampled and made an example of." Meanwhile, the depictions of the Second Coming and the numerous judgments, battles, and confrontations that follow are flat and unconvincing."

Olsen’s quote from that wonderful Southern Author Flannery O’Connor is one for this generation’s Christian authors and artists to remember, which is the reason both of the blog links I have above quoted it. “Ever since there have been such things as novels, the world has been flooded with bad fiction for which the religious impulse has been responsible. The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposed that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. He will think that the eyes of the Church or of the Bible or of his particular theology have already done the seeing for him and that his business is to rearrange this essential vision into satisfying patterns, getting himself as little dirty in the process as possible” (from “Novelist and Believer”).
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