Brandywine Books
Friday, December 31, 2004

More Review of the Year’s Books

In March, J.K. Rowling addressed phony signed copies of her fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. On her website, she wrote, “I have never done a book signing for ‘Phoenix,’ so signed British copies are very rare, American copies even rarer, and other foreign editions (so far) virtually non-existent.” She explained that the demand for signed copies is too much for her, though she does sign some for charity and special occasions.

In June, The National Endowments for the Arts issued “Reading At Risk:
A Survey of Literary Reading in America.”
While the primary indicators for reading, income and education, In an interview with Ken Myers in the Mars Hill Audio Journal, v70, NEA chairman Dana Gioia, said, “I would venture that the definitive new form of American narrative is the video game. The video game gives you a power fantasy. It allows you to triumph and destroy your adversaries in a kind of virtual heroicism.” He is worried by reports that 4-5 year-olds are playing video games for an hour a day, a fact he believes largely responsible for the rapid drop off in the reading of boys and men. Our natural need for stories are being met cheaply by shallow games and movies.

In the summary of the NEA report, Gioia wrote, “While oral culture has a rich immediacy that is not to be dismissed, and electronic media offer the considerable advantages of diversity and access, print culture affords irreplaceable forms of focused attention and contemplation that make complex communications and insights possible. To lose such intellectual capability – and the many sorts of human continuity it allows – would constitute a vast cultural impoverishment.”

In September, Susanna Clarke’s first novel, a type of historic fantasy, raised its head above the crowd. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was called ingenious, spellbinding, and several other positive words by many readers and critics. On her website, Clarke credits boredom and imagination for motivating her to write.

Neal Stephenson concluded The Baroque Cycle with The System of the World. Also Stephen King finished his seven-book Dark Tower series with The Dark Tower. You probably knew these things, but did you notice the publication of L. B. Graham’s Beyond the Summerland? It is squarely Christian fantasy, being based partially on Isaiah and written by a Bible professor, but I still think it may be good. Quite good. I’ll let you know when I get my hands on it.

A Terrible Book has a review of Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy, a rather long review, but he doesn't try to hold his conclusions for the, um, conclusion. He doesn't like it. "I consider it, in terms of content, one of the worst I have ever read and it stands as damning evidence of what passes for Christian reading in our day. Though it was easy to read, and even enjoyable at times, throughout the text Brian McLaren has consistently, deliberately and systematically dismantled historical Protestantism." McLaren's book, subtitled, "Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN," is an effort at interdenominational, intertraditional, and interdoctrinal consensus. Or something like that.

The Year in Books, A.D. 2004

What comes to mind when you reflect on the books published or discussed nationwide in 2004? Heresy and politics are first for me.

Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was 2003’s best-selling novel, remains a bestseller for 2004. It’s currently #3 on the American Booksellers Association list, having been on the list for 92 weeks. I received Brown’s book, Deception Point, for Christmas, and I was surprised to read the strong praise he received from the critics. They said he was a master, a genius, the best thriller writer of our day. It’s the kind of praise I expect to see for James Patterson, Michael Crichton, or John Grisham, who has a new one out next month. But it took The Da Vinci Code, which the Library Journal called “mandatory reading,” to put Dan Brown’s name on everyone’s tongue. The reason is its apparent based-on-a-true-story value and the fact that the story argues, as St. Paul said, all Christians are hopeless fools.

Laura Miller, writing for Salon with no respect for the book, says when readers corner her at a party to discuss it, they “usually can’t even remember the names of the novel’s two main characters or anything that happens to them. What entrances these readers is the possibility that a secret society has protected a religious and historical secret for almost 2,000 years, a secret that could undermine Christianity as we know it.” You know, it would bug me to finish a book without remembering its fundamentals, like character names.

Sidenote: Brown told the Australian Sun Herald how he was inspired to write his thrillers. "In 1994, while vacationing in Tahiti, I found an old copy of Sidney Sheldon's Doomsday Conspiracy on the beach. I read the first page . . . and then the next . . . and then the next. Several hours later, I finished the book and thought, 'Hey, I can do that.' Upon my return, I began work on my first novel - Digital Fortress - which was published in 1996." Reading a book page by page? Remarkable. Is that how a book is read?

While recent news reports suggest the theology of LaHaye and Jenkins’ Left Behind is heresy, many honest believers hold to the ideas behind their fictionalization of the end of this age. Glorious Appearing, the thought-to-be-final novel in the series, came out this year. Their next book, a prequel called The Rising: The Antichrist Is Born, is due this March. Somehow the subtitle for this three-book series, “Before They Were Left Behind,” looks to me more like a mockery of the series than the subtitle it is.

The AP’s Hillel Italie reports 150,000 titles were published this year, almost 1000 of them on politics. In a broad-brush article, Italie suggests feelings, rather than language or logic, motivated sales. Perhaps that’s an apt conclusion, since Jon Stewart’s America tops the end-of-the-year best-selling list and Publishers Weekly named it Book of the Year. By what criteria, I don’t know, but surely Philip Roth’s or Marilynne Robinson’s books would have been better choices. America is in the news this week for outselling Clinton’s memoir at Barnes & Noble.

Philip Roth’s fantasy, A Plot Against America, seemed to express the political left’s feelings that their country had been taken over by fascists better than many non-fiction, perhaps distorted, works did. Better even than Checkpoint, which dealt with a would-be presidential assassin and caused more stir when talked about than when read.

Political titles dominated Amazon’s customer favorites list. The scorned and ballyhooed testimonial Unfit for Command comes in just behind Clinton’s My Life, and The 9/11 Commission Report is fourth. Even Maureen Dowd and Dick Morris make the top 50 list, both behind a book on black homosexuals who live double lives.

This year’s readers also enjoyed Chernow’s biography on Alexander Hamilton, Bob Dylan’s memoirs, Chronicles, and Tommy Franks’ American Soldier along with similar books from Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, and porn star Jenna Jameson. This kind of dichotomy makes some, as in this USA Today article, argue that Americans are hypocrites.
“It’s called ethical relativism, professed morality vs. real morality,” says Lynn Bartholome, president of Popular Culture Association, a group of some 3,000 pop-culture professors. “Remember Jimmy Swaggart? We’re dealing with that sort of a duality.” In other words: We talk a good puritan game but still enjoy a little sex and violence in the privacy of our home theaters.”
I’ll grant that many of us, maybe most of us, have this relativism; but America is a big country. Are the same people reading both sets of books? Are they publicly praising The Passion of the Christ and privately enjoying Desperate Housewives? If we are talking about Americans in general, we Americans both favor and oppose abortion, capital punishment, higher taxes, and the war in Iraq. Are each of us happily dichotomized in the head? I don’t think so.

Speaking of The Passion, John Piper’s thin book, The Passion of Jesus Christ, addressing questions raised by the Mel Gibson’s film, sold over 1,000,000 during the weeks surrounding the film’s release.

And before I go, let me note that USA Today’s book editors chose English grammarian Lynne Truss’ fun book on commas and verb tenses, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, as their 2004 favorite. Is it better than Kingsley Amis’ 1997 book, The King’s English: A Guide to Modern Usage? Maybe we can take time this year to decide.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Corporations Give Millions for Disaster Relief

This afternoon, I saw CNN report that American corporations have given $70M to help people in Southern Asia. Some businesses were untallied by the reporter because they did not want to announce a donation figure, but I have tracked a few details on the businesses related to subjects discussed here.

"In Thailand, Starbucks coffee shops are donating all of Wednesday's profits to the relief effort. The company also made an initial contribution of $100,000 and will donate $2 for every pound of certain coffees (Sumatra among them) sold in January in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany," reported the AP.

Amazon has collected $5.4M for the American Red Cross as of this afternoon. Google has a link on its home page to help direct donations, and AOL members have donated $1M, I believe, through corporate efforts.

Commenter Jayfromcleveland made an interesting suggesting in a World blog post on a misguided NYTimes editorial. He suggested that all subscribers to the newspaper, 1.1 million for the dailies and more for the Sunday edition, could give $30 and by doing so exceed the U.S. government's announced contribution. If the newspaper and its advertisers kicked in as well, you'd soon be talking about real money, so to speak.

New Releases: V. S. Pritchett

Literary biographer Jeremy Treglown has two new books on an strong English writer of whom I have never heard (story of my life). First, V. S. Pritchett: A Working Life. “Long considered the English Chekhov, V. S. Pritchett was described by Eudora Welty as 'one of the great pleasure-givers in our language.' Here is a true literary event: the first major biography of this extraordinary writer, who for most of a century ennobled the ordinary, and the affecting story of the two tumultuous marriages that fueled his art.” Second, Pritchett's Essential Stories. In this volume's introduction, Treglown writes, “In his daily walks through London,” notes Jeremy Treglown in his Introduction to this collection, “Pritchett watched and listened to people as a naturalist observes wild creatures and birds. He knew that oddity is the norm, not the exception.”

Susan Sontag 1933-2004

New York-born author and activist Susan Sontag, 71, died of leukemia this week. She won the National Book Award for her 2000 novel, In America, which she said she wrote from a foreigner's perspective because she found it more observant than a domestic perspective. I don't have any original thoughts on Sontag, but Kevin Holtsberry has a couple good links for us. He quotes Roger Kimball, saying, "Having immersed herself in the rhetoric of traditional humanistic learning, she is expert at using it against itself."


In what could be a perennial post for any admirer of Jonathan Edwards, David posts a reference to Edwards' long list of inspiring resolutions.
Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

These are two I've been thinking about lately, as I know I often do things halfheartedly, rather than with all my might. And none of us know when we will die, or when Christ will come back -- so how am I living now? Would I be doing as I am today if I knew it would be the last day of my life?
Wednesday, December 29, 2004

That Wordsworthian Mill

Popular reviewer A. J. starts off a recommendation of a George Eliot book this way. "Allowing myself the use of a preciously rare adjective, I will call George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss a Wordsworthian novel in the sense that it is a deeply personal work to the point of being semi-autobiographical, adores nature with imaginative poeticality, and shows a great affection towards a sibling. Like all of Eliot's major novels, it is a masterpiece of form, developing from a pastoral about childhood into a brooding love story concerning five young people who are motivated by a complex web of emotions involving pity, loyalty, and spite."

As long as Amazon leads the market on democratic, smart reviews like this, they will sell their books, music, movies, and more effectively. I don't know that they should try to sell kitchen sinks and patio furniture, but what do I know? Nothing, that's what. I have little business sense. If I did, I might start a bookstore.

Applying the Bible to Tidal Waves

On Monday, I ordered a mid-sized cup of Sumatra Manhelding coffee at Books-a-Million in Birmingham, not recognizing the bit of irony in my choice until minutes afterward. Being away from the Internet and radio since Christmas, I heard only a little of what happened in Southeast Asia, which a major general from the area calls "truly devastating."

Coastlines washed to the muddy ground; 50,000 Indonesians dead. I’ll bet a commentator somewhere has used the phrase “of biblical proportions” to describe this massive earthquake. Many people turn to their idea of God or to the Bible when catastrophes occur. Some will say this is a judgment from humanity’s final judge. Some will say God did not want this, and Satan did it. Let me tell you what I think, and you can judge it for yourself.

The Lord is governor of the universe. He is reality’s CEO. Nothing happens without his approval, even the painful things. The Bible doesn’t give us any reason to think God is all spring flowers and roses but feels compelled to let nasty ol’ Satan have his way every now and then. So, Satan, who hates all of us equally, may have wanted to whip up a tsunami in order to cause suffering and death; but the Lord God is the one who said it will happen for his own purposes.

So why did God stir up this earthquake? The Bible tells us the primary purposes for all of his actions are to glorify himself and redeem his people. He accomplishes this in many ways: sometimes by the dramatic judgment of sin, sometimes by sin’s subtle corrosion, sometimes by the dramatic display of grace or mercy, and sometimes through blessing. God does nothing for simple reasons, especially large scale events like this. For every life effected by this quake, God has a motive for using it. It may be judgment for some and mercy for others. It may be a trial through which his grace becomes clear. It may be another avenue in which he loves some people through others.

In an email sent today, author and teacher John Piper writes on God’s complex motives for difficult actions.
[Calamities] mingle judgment and mercy. They are both punishment and purification. . . . The clearest illustration of this is the death of Jesus. It was both judgment and mercy. It was judgment on Jesus because he bore our sins (not his own), and it was mercy toward us who trust him to bear our punishment (Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24) and be our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Another example is the curse that lies on this fallen earth. Those who do not believe in Christ experience it as judgment, but believers experience it as, merciful, though painful, preparation for glory. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope” (Romans 8:20). This is God’s subjection. This is why there are tsunamis.
I don’t intend to imply that this is a simple idea. It isn’t. God isn’t simple. To take from C.S. Lewis' description of his Narnian Christ-figure, Aslan, the Lord God is not domesticated. He is wild, but he is good, trustworthy, and loving. Even in the midst of a catastrophe.
Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas!

I hope you are enjoying your family, friends, memories, or in some fashion honoring the birth of the Christ this holiday. I will be away from my desk until Tuesday at least. I would be honored to read any thoughts you have about books this year, the coming year, the blog, the blogosphere, reading, writing, or your life in general. Leave any remarks you wish in the comments box.

If you need one, here's a question to consider. Is there a book published this century that has not received the praise you think it deserves? We've seen several titles win awards or make the best-selling lists, but perhaps you read something recently and wondered why it didn't have a book club sticker on it or why it didn't make the lists. Tell me about it.

And while I'm thinking about questions, would you be interesting it having a little group fiction writing on this blog? It could be a bloggers' fiction carnival, to give it a label. I could start a storyline and take email submissions everyday or two for a fortnight or longer. I choose one submission to carry the story forward, and if the writer has a blog, his post will link to it. Just an idea. What do you think?

It's All True

Peggy Noonan writes, "I sat there, closed my eyes, put my hands over them, and tried to imagine the first Christmas. And I saw it. I saw it like a movie. It was a blue black night and there were people on the road and I saw the man and the woman, I saw them going from house to house and being told there was no room. Then they went to a rocky place on a little hill just beyond the houses. There were some trees and bushes and a sort of wooden shanty with hay on the floor. Then there was the cry of a child. Animals came and stared and their breath warmed the air. It was starry. Mary's blanket was Joseph's cloak. And I thought: It's all true. It's not just a story, it's true, it really happened. This struck me like a thunderbolt."

Yes, it happened, and the world turns on that fact.
Another Quote: Here's a quote passed on by a smart-looking book blog I added to the Links:Reading list on the right (or if your back is to the monitor, to your left). The blog is Mental Multivitamin. A while back, the author passed on this by Jeffery Williams of Carnegie Mellon University and The Minnesota Review:
The promise of smart is that it purports to be a way to talk about quality in a sea of quantity. But the problem is that it internalizes the competitive ethos of the university, aiming not for the cultivation of intelligence but for individual success in the academic market. It functions something like the old shibboleth "quality of mind," which claimed to be a pure standard but frequently became a shorthand for membership in the old boys' network. It was the self-confirming taste of those who talked and thought in similar ways. The danger of smart is that it confirms the moves and mannerisms of a new and perhaps equally closed network.

Quote: "[Think of] a coffee percolator. The water goes up a small tube and drains down through the coffee grounds. After enough cycles, the flavor of the coffee beans has been transferred to the water, which is then called coffee. So it is that Christians need to cycle their thoughts through the grounds of God's Word until they start to think like God and then act godly."

Instruction for meditation: Psalms 1:2, 27:4, 63:6, 143:5, 145:5; Joshua 1:8.

from Richard Mayhue in Think Biblically! Recovering a Christian Worldview.
Thursday, December 23, 2004

English Is a Pulchritudinous Thing

The Oxford University Press website, in recognition of a new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, asked its readers to vote for their favorite quotations from a list of 100 "most resonant" selections. Votes numbered 900, and of course, the winning quote is a familiar one. "It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph" (Edmund Burke). In second place, W.B. Yeats is quoted, "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

The editor of the dictionary says, "We often think of today as a sound bite culture, but a survey like this reminds us that personal expressions of key ideas can reach across centuries, to give us just the words we want today."

The Word Detective, Evan Morris, has a new book published by Simon & Schuster called, From Altoids to Zima : The Surprising Stories Behind 125 Famous Brand Names. "Once upon a time, naming a product was as simple as taking the name of its maker and adding a short descriptive tag line, like in the case of Smith's Pure and Effective Cough Syrup," the book reports. At some point, illiteracy kicked in, and marketers began thinking of symbols and catchy words to lock their products into our brains.

Morris is working on a new book and calling for submissions from word lovers. My Favorite Word will be published next year with favorites from actors, diplomats, polyglots, curmudgeons, and other public figures. If you want to submit a favorite word with an explanation of your choice, go to And feel free to copy your answer here in the comments box.

I don't like to think in terms of favorites, to be quite honest, frank, and above board about things. I have a few favorites which have come to me naturally, but I don't label most things in terms of highest preference. So what would be my favorite word? One I enjoy using? One that thrills me to deliver to a listener? The right word for the moment thrills me most, and that word can't be defined as absolutely right for all occasions. I do like the sound of filch, and I've enjoyed employing abscond in the past.

From the Favorite Word website, I see that Ashley S. Moore has recommended fop, which I think is a fun word too.

"I don't carry Dapper Dan, I carry Fop. . . . If you want Dapper Dan, I can order it for you, have it in a couple of weeks."

"Well, ain't this place a geographical oddity. Two weeks from everywhere!"

Doppleganger is a nice word, but it has an ugly denotation. And saying conundrum makes you feel as if you're in one, doesn't it? But I don't know what word I would choose for a favorite or what reason other than pronunciation I would give for choosing it. Sing, faith, pop? Savor, maybe? Scared--I mean, sacred? What do you think?


Books for Boys, Ages 7-11

Sherry is writing a booklet about books for boys and calls for suggestions. She starts with The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe and Encyclopedia Brown. Others, whom you may know, have suggested Baseball Card Adventures, Johnny Hangtime, Time Warp Trio, Captain Underpants, and By the Great Horn Spoon among others. I commented on this post yesterday, but I must have made a mistake while distracting myself with work or whatever it was, because my comment didn't take. I'll have to comment again.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Christmas Poetry

Promptings has at least seven posts of seasonal poetry, called "A Night Not to Be Silent." Here's a bit from the first entry:
A subtle thing
one simple moment to the next
a rhythm, a pulsatile beat
and the heart of God
takes on a mortal cadence
[by way of the Christian Carnival]

Differing Opinions on Best-sellers

W. Somerset Maugham, author, in A Writer’s Notebook: "No one can write a best seller by trying to. He must write with complete sincerity; the clichés that make you laugh, the hackneyed characters, the well-worn situations, the commonplace story that excites your derision, seem neither hackneyed, well worn nor commonplace to him.... The conclusion is obvious: you cannot write anything that will convince unless you are yourself convinced. The best seller sells because he writes with his heart’s blood."

Logan Pearsall Smith, essayist, in "Art and Letters": "A best-seller is the gilded tomb of a mediocre talent."

Rebecca West, author, in The Strange Necessity: "The writer who keeps his tongue in his cheek, who knows that he is writing for fools and that, therefore, he had better write like a fool, makes a respectable living out of serials and novelettes; but he will never make the vast, the blaring, half a million success. That comes of blended sincerity and vitality."

Time Magazine: "Some men kiss and do not tell; they are called gentlemen. Some men tell but do not kiss; they are called liars. Some men kiss and tell; they are called best-seller writers."

[taken from The Columbia World of Quotations, available at]
Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Short news: Irony, Resale Value, and Quad Centenary

Missing the Point: A British literary magazine awards an annual honor for bad writing about sex. If you haven’t heard of it, good for you. You haven’t wasted any brain cells on it. This year, the award goes to Tom Wolfe for passages in this book on immoral college life, I Am Charlotte Simmons, passages the author claims are bad on purpose. He says the passages were meant to be ironic, not erotic. That’s why he used the word, otorhinolaryngological. "There's nothing like a nine-syllable word to chase Eros off the premises," he says.

"There's an old saying - 'You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her sing'," Wolfe told Reuters. "In this case, you can lead an English literary wannabe to irony but you can't make him get it." (quoted in the Guardian)

Writing about the novel, Marvin Olasky of World magazine says, “If what Mr. Wolfe says about life at the university is correct and if it becomes known, taxpayers would cut off their subsidies, donors would stop giving, parents would refuse to pay tuition, and all that would be left of once-noble institutions of higher education would be their sports teams.”

Buying Updike’s Collection: Author John Updike sold a slew of books to the owner of Manchester by the Book in Massachusetts, and some of the books will resell for up to $1000. The added value comes from marginal notes jotted by the Pulitzer prize-winning author.

Don Quixote: The world will hold cultural events and a traveling exhibit in honor of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, first published in 1605, 400 years ago. It was the world’s first best-seller.

News! News! Harry Is Back! Oh, Rapture!

J.K. Rowling announced today that she finished writing the sixth book in her wildly acclaimed series, and the press went wildly--I mean, they sucked it up. The book is called "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Perhaps you’re sick of such news, but I think it’s hilarious that the Potter books receive so much attention. The press may as well be talking about former President Clinton returning to the White House and his plans to save the world as soon as he can remove the stains from his blue supersuit. “Honey, where’s my supersuit?” “Why do need to know?”

Of course, Barnes & Noble says they have 500,000 emails asking when HP6 will arrive, so I suppose the press has reason to get excited. Reuters reports:
"I know you all expected this to happen on Christmas Day, but I was sure that those of you who celebrate Christmas have better things to do on the day itself than fight your way into my study, whereas those of you who don't celebrate Christmas would definitely prefer not to wait until the 25th," Rowling said in a message on her website, accessible only after fans solve several riddles.


This Week's Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival will be at the Patriot Paradox this week, Christmas theme, of course. I am unable to submit something on that theme, but I don't mind have a post rejected, which I don't think they do.
Monday, December 20, 2004

Crichton's State of Fear

In his most recent book, State of Fear, Michael Crichton takes on global warming, a sacred* cow for some scientists and politicians. James M. Pethokoukis in U.S. News & World Report points to a speech on Crichton’s website to summarizes the author’s views. “Scientific consensus,” he argues, has been wrong on plate tectonics and other theories. It appears to be wrong here too.

This AP article notes that State of Fear has a five page message on global warming and a fourteen page bibliography. “Crichton's author's statement is new even for Crichton. In it, he argues that a political agenda, not scientific evidence, is the foundation for predictions that the planet's climate will warm by 4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. World powers, he says, use global warming to keep citizens in a state of fear, just as they did with the Cold War. But Crichton is noticeably vague about who these powers are.”

Bryan Curtis of thinks Crichton just has it out for environmentalists. He calls it “a 600-page tirade” of “propaganda.”

Alan Cheuse, writing for the Chicago Tribune (for access: brandybuck, password: hobbit), calls it a “jumpy, 600-page page-burner,” which doesn’t sound like a compliment to me, but the context shows it is. “What with all the footnotes sprinkled throughout the story to corroborate the science spouted by some of the characters, the novel could have the same effect on readers as the bite of that tiny octopus [an Australian octopus which can paralyze]. It had the opposite effect on me.”

Marta Salij in the Detroit Free Press says, “It's actually better and more thought-provoking than his last, ‘Prey,’ which was loosely about the perils of nanotechnology.”

*personal note: 'sacred' is spelled s-a-c-r-e-d, not s-c-a-r-e-d.

Another Holiday Book Quiz

The Guardian has a literary quiz for the season, asking us to identify lives from novels and poems as well as a few story details from this and that. I scored 9/15, which is the same as the ArtsJournal editor, so I feel I'm in good company.
Sunday, December 19, 2004

See Google Print. Print, Google, Print

Everyone's talking about Google's new book service, providing the content of books in their online searches. I experienced it for the first time last week when I searched for the title of Michael Chabon's book, The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Google offered a three page excerpt, much like Amazon does with almost every book. There are also links for buying the book on the lefthand side of the screen. I have also learned that Crossway Books uses Google Print to allow full-text search of 101 of their books, including John MacArthur's The Pillars of Christian Character: The Basic Essentials of a Living Faith, Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness, and Francis Schaeffer's Death in the City.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Attention Last Minute Shoppers

Still looking for that special gift for the booklover in your life, the one whom you love with all your heart, the one without whom you could not enjoy anything at all, not even a gripping horse race after a few belts of scotch and soda sans soda? Well, let me tell you that Peter Harrington Antiquarian Bookseller of Chelsea, London, has a complete set of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books in beautiful burgandy morocco leather, all first editions. Under $8500. Merry Christmas!

Southerners Like to Talk, So They Write Too

Fannie Flagg has a Christmas story out this year at the encouragement of her publisher. It's called A Redbird Christmas, and Bookreporter has an interview with her.
BRC: When you write, do you have a clear outline with a beginning, middle and an end, or do you start with an idea and see where it takes you?

FF: I do not start with an outline. I usually have some vague idea of the beginning and the end when I start a book, but I have no idea what will come in the middle or how I will get to the end. I am always surprised at what happens in between.

BRC: Like many other writers of your region, you are a natural born storyteller. Why do you think Southerners have such a flair for storytelling?

FF: I think Southerners love to talk, and writing is just a natural extension of that. I like books that are positive and make me feel better. I don?t want to read about the dark side of life; I can look at the news for that.
The interviewer notes that Eudora Welty encouraged Flagg to write her first novel, but I have learned that someone with Harper & Row helped too. Flagg won a short story contest at a writer's conference in Santa Barbara, 1978. According to this profile at Barnes &, "A Harper & Row editor approached her about expanding the story into a full-length novel. 'I just burst into tears and said, "I can't write a novel,"' she told The New York Times in 1994. '"I can't spell. I can't diagram a sentence." He took my hand and said the most wonderful thing I've ever heard. He said, "Oh, honey, what do you think editors are for?"'"

Charles Wesley

December 18, 1707 is the birthday of English preacher Charles Wesley. The Columbia Encyclopedia records that he and his followers "formed a society, sometimes referred to as the Holy Club, of which his older brother John Wesley became the leader in 1729." Their critics called them "methodists," because of this focus on righteous living. Charles wrote over 6500 hymns, including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

I mention this in part because it reminds me of a history book I've wanted to read for years, England: Before and After Wesley - the Evangelical Revival and Social Reform (alternate link). Though I disagree with the Wesleys' theology, I can't deny their influence on their society. We could use more men like them today.

Are You an Avid Reader?

Mr. Standfast notices that the NEA's Reading at Risk report labels those who consume over 49 books in a year as avid readers. I didn't notice this when I looked at the report before, and I now I wonder if I'll ever be an avid. Fifty-two books would make one each week, wouldn't it. I wonder what "reading a book" actually means.

In his Saturday book post, Standfast recommends Leif Enger's Peace Like a River. "I've only just started this one, but I've got to say that the opening page really hooked me. This book's voice is utterly winsome. I can usually tell whether I'm going to like a novel or not by page 5 at the outermost. This one I know I'm going to love. I knew it from the opening sentence." I've been interested in this book too.

I have to say that whenever I visit, I start singing, "Mr. Standfast, bring me a dream ..." I'm silly, I guess.
Friday, December 17, 2004

The Twisted Perception of Intimacy

Dinitia Smith, writing in The NY Times, describes a new book which argues Abraham Lincoln was homosexual, based on descriptions of close friendships and the fact that he often had male bedfellows. G. E. Veith of World Magazine labels this "Queer Theory," where "every great figure of history" will eventually be found homosexual.

Evidence for Lincoln's proposed inclination comes with winks and nods. Biographer Carl Sandburg describes him and a friend as having "streaks of lavender, spots soft as May violets." Lincoln's stepmother said he wasn't very fond of girls. One man remarked that Lincoln's thighs were perfect. Nails in the coffin, as you can see for yourself.

The article seems to support the book's conclusion, but it does often opposition quotations. "In frontier times, Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald wrote, space was tight and men shared beds. And the correspondence between Lincoln and Speed was not that of lovers, he maintained. Moreover, Lincoln alluded openly to their relationship, saying, 'I slept with Joshua for four years.' If they were lovers, Mr. Donald wrote, Lincoln wouldn't have spoken so freely."

Veith mentions a additional point, "the almost universal practice before the middle of the 20th century of people sharing beds, a practice that did not then imply sexual intimacy. Thus, Jane Austen has been proclaimed a lesbian because in the small parsonage where she lived she shared a bed with her sister!"

I try to avoid anger or frustration over twisted ideas like the ones in this book. I can be zealous or exercised over far better things than the many bad, even destructive, ideas in the world. But foolishness like this book wars against our understanding of fidelity and genuine intimacy. Close friendship, even if it is expressed affectionately, is not sexual by definition. Loyalty and love between men or between women is not naturally sexual. Sex cannot--must not--dominate our relationships. It has its place, and that isn't everywhere. If we take it everywhere, like this biographer has done with Lincoln, we strip human relationships down to mere caricatures and miss the depth of real intimacy.

Ideological Criticism of The Polar Express

[Correction: I failed to catch the joke, but I'm told the political manipulation of The Polar Express in the post linked below was for fun, not profit. Forgive me for misunderstanding.]

I loved seeing my sweet children's eyes light up when I said, as we boarded our car, "We going to the North Pole, children. This is The Polar Express." But that's another matter.

Yesterday, Will pointed out a post on Tightly Wound in which a bedtime story turned into a political critique. Santa's Boots are Big and Black for a Reason, the husband said, because he's a fascist, polluting the air from his toy factory, enslaving the elves who probably couldn't form a union without Santa jackboot stomping their necks.

Give it up. I happen to know that Santa is the best employer in the world, better than Willy Wonka who saved the Oompa Loopmas from a horrible fate. And global warming is a fatter, uglier fantasy than Santa ever was.
Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Tangled Links We Weave

Jeremy has done remarkable work on this week's Christian Carnival. He linked to all the posts while tying them to sci-fi storyline, beginning with Babylon 5. He relates my post on Jesus' life to a story about telepaths being oppressed by a misunderstanding society.

I also want to thank those who nominated Brandywine Books for a BOB award in the book/literary category. Lili, Jared, I feel honored already. I also notice that the blog has evolved into a marsupial marauding in a pear tree. Good, I think, so long as readers are enjoying themselves.

Le Guin Doesn't Like Earthsea's TV Adaptation

Moorish Girl links to a Slate article by Sci-fi/Fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin, subtitled "How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books." Le Guin says she had a consultant clause in her contract, which usually doesn't mean anything, but the producers of the Earthsea adaptation indicated they wanted her advice at first. "I said that although I knew that a film must differ greatly from a book, I hoped they were making no unnecessary changes in the plot or to the characters—a dangerous thing to do, since the books have been known to millions of people for decades. They replied that the TV audience is much larger, and entirely different, and would be unlikely to care about changes to the books' story and characters." Ha! Did they also say their audience is stupid, shallow, or alternately intelligent? Do the producers think no readers ever watch the Sci Fi Channel? Where's Harlon Ellison to snap back at them?

The story and characters did change, but Le Guin's biggest complaint is over the skin color of her characters. "Most of the characters in my fantasy and far-future science fiction books are not white. They're mixed; they're rainbow. In the two fantasy novels the miniseries is 'based on,' everybody is brown or copper-red or black," with some exceptions. She writes, "As an anthropologist's daughter, I am intensely conscious of the risk of cultural or ethnic imperialism—a white writer speaking for nonwhite people, co-opting their voice, an act of extreme arrogance."

She may be making a bit much of this, because she's a gifted writer who feels passionately about her characters and their worlds. I think any change would have irritated her. But I have no problem believing the producers and directors either didn't care about the color of their actors or believed that making them non-white was bad marketing. Le Guin has a point about the way we view the world. I remember seeing some depictions of the future, say Star Trek 2, that looked so Aryan. Bright whites, plastics, blondes everywhere, and completely unbelievable. That may be a Darwinian vision of the future, but it isn't conceivable from this day in history. We, the people of Earth, of a colorful group, and God made us that way. After all, Adam was red, wasn't he? I'll bet Eve was beautifully dark.

So I side with Le Guin, in part, on the color issue. (I'd rather not call it 'race.' We are all human, just differing in skin color.) Depicting Earthsea as a dominantly white society is a good way to announce that the adaptation is scantly based on the books.

White House Xmas Cards

This is only slightly literary, but since it's a historic point of interest, I hope you'll find interest in it. G.E. Veith on World's blog says the current White House administration is the first to use Bible verses in its Christmas cards. The cards were sent to 2 million people, paid for by Republicans, with Psalm 95:2, "Let us come before him with Thanksgiving and extol him with music and song."


Satire on Non-Christian Beliefs about Christians

I like to acknowledge where I find the information to which I link, but I usually draw the line at one referral notice. I may have noticed one blogger's comments on an article through another blog, but I’m posting thoughts on the article, I will reference the blogger closest to it and ignore the one who helped me find him initially. Since this post is on a bit of satire by Dorothy Sayers, please allow to say that I came to this information by way of Prothesis, who links to 40 Bicycles, who links to Pontifications who quotes from Sayers in her book, Letters To A Diminished Church : Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine published this year by W Publishing. Don’t you feel in the loop, as it were?

Ponti. quotes Sayers catechism for pre- or post-Christian Anglicans, not what they should understand about the truth, but what they probably think of genuine believers. Of the handful of questions, here are three:

Q.: What does the Church think of God the Father?
A.: He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfillment; he is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferes by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favoritism. He likes to be truckled to and is always ready to pounce on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the Law, or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary.

Q.: What does the Church think of sin?
A.: Sex (otherwise than as excepted [in the previous question]); getting drunk; saying “damn”; murder; and cruelty to dumb animals; not going to church; most kinds of amusement. “Original sin” means that anything we enjoy doing is wrong.

Q.: What are the seven Christian virtues?
A.: Respectability, childishness, mental timidity; dullness; sentimentality; censoriousness; and depression of spirits.
In contrast to this, here’s a serious article from Marvin Olasky on a fictitious conversations between two secularists, one of whom realizes that conservative Christians may not be the demonized idiots they were thought to be.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Long List on the Smart and Funny

Terry Teachout asked his readers for suggestions on "short, intelligent, amusing" books, and he received a good-sized list. Included are:
I don't need to say it, but I'll confess I think I know about only the Jasper Fforde book on his long list, and none of the rest.

The Bookshelf Meme

I'm a little late to pick up this meme* from Will's View from the Foothills. It's a list of authors whose books are on your shelf. I understand some of us keep our books in crates and piles; but let's speak freely, shall we? I'll take Will's list and replace names I don't have with ones I do, and the meme continues to your blog or comment thread. Will's list:

William Shakespeare
Stephen King
Lois McMaster Bujold
Terry Pratchett
Guy Gavriel Kay
J.R.R. Tolkien
George R. R. Martin
Steven Brust
Sarah Caudwell
Patrick O'Brian
George MacDonald Fraser

Of course, I can't just replace names. I have to relate the names somehow. So Stephen King becomes Stephen Lawhead. Sci-fi author Terry Pratchett becomes sci-fi author Issac Asimov. Here's my list:

William Shakespeare
Stephen Lawhead
Louisa May Alcott
Issac Asimov
Guy Gavriel Kay
J.R.R. Tolkien
Rand Miller
Saul Bellow
P.D. James
Rudyard Kipling
George MacDonald

Now, you have fun your list.

*meme is pronounced meem, "A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another."

Bloggers Become Authors

[by way of ArtsJournal] The NY Times reports on authors who were first conceived as bloggers. [For access: Brandybuck2, password: hobbit]
Marrit Ingman and her agent, Jim Hornfischer, sold her memoir, "Inconsolable"--a wry, downbeat memoir of postpartum depression--to Seal Press in August, she said. "The blog showed publishers she was committed to the subject matter and already had an audience," Mr. Hornfischer said.

In October Ana Marie Cox, editor of, a racy, often wry Washington-based blog, sold her first novel, "Dog Days," a comic tale with a political context, to Riverhead Books. She said she received a $275,000 advance.

Julie Powell, a Queens secretary who blogged about trying to make every recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 1)" during the course of a year, signed with Little, Brown to write about the experience.

Gordon Atkinson, a minister and blogger known as Real Live Preacher, published a collection of his work this fall with Eerdmans Publishing Company, a leader in religious books. An editor "found my blog only three weeks after I started it and asked if I was interested in doing a book," he said, adding, "I was so surprised I thought he was my friend Larry playing a joke on me."
Monday, December 13, 2004

We Live Before We Write, Sculpt, & Compose

"Life comes before literature, as the material always comes before the work. The hills are full of marble before the world blooms with statues." This comes from Phillips Brooks, the Boston Episcopalian who wrote "O Little Town of Bethlehem." He was born this day in 1835. The Cyberhymnal quotes him saying, "I re­mem­ber stand­ing in the old church in Beth­le­hem, close to the spot where Je­sus was born, when the whole church was ring­ing hour after hour with splen­did hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voic­es I knew well, tell­ing each other of the Won­der­ful Night of the Sav­ior’s birth."

I love this verse from Brooks Christmas Carol:
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Care for a Bit o’ Coffee with Your Beer?

[by way of SmartChristian] Years from now, old gaffers will tell their wee tots about the day an Englishman took his pint of beer out to the sidewalk and ran into a Scotsman toting a mug of coffee. The two drinks jostled together, and coffee beer was conceived. Well, years from now, they may be more creative than that, but someone will make-up a similar story about Alastair Hook’s new idea to brew coffee with beer.

The owner of Meantime Brewery in London uses Fairtrade Rwandan coffee to achieve a "silky, velvety character." So it soothes as it perks. Already popular enough in England, this drink is the gift for the beer drinker in your life, guaranteed to solicit comments, such as, “What the heck did you do to my beer?”

Mr. Hook is quoted by the BBC, saying, "We are the only producer of coffee beer in the British Isles... We are the only producer of Fairtrade beer that I know of." Ah, so many little things for which to be thankful.
Saturday, December 11, 2004

Reading Is Part of a Conversation

Earlier today, Mr. Standfast wrote on reading being a unselfish act in which the author calls the reader out of his life into a large conversation. "Precisely for this reason reading, like art, like all forms of communication, is an open-ended process. . . . Even something as 'big' as, say, After you read his post, ask yourself how you respond to the books you read. With notes? With warm or cold feelings? With letters to the author? Or perhaps you digest the material until it comes up in another conversation.

Understanding Christmas

Here's a wonderful moment in the life of Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate this month, taken from the Gospel of Mark. This is one to meditate on.
And [Jesus] left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. Now [his disciples] had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, "Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod."

And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.

And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?"

They said to him, "Twelve."

"And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?"

And they said to him, "Seven."

And he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?"

Happy Birthday, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a great resource for this type of information. Today, its homepage announces the birthday of great contemporary writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, born on this date, 1918, in Russia. He was awarded the Nobel for Literature in 1970. I believe he still lives in Vermont. The quote below also comes from Bartleby's homepage.
Literature that is not the breath of contemporary society, that dares not transmit the pains and fears of that society, that does not warn in time against threatening moral and social dangers—such literature does not deserve the name of literature; it is only a façade. - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


Merry Christmas, Trivia Lovers

While trying to find a transcript or article quoting a Macy's employee saying that because the New York department giant's corporate bosses prefer "Happy Holidays" to "Merry Christmas" Macy's is now the place "where it is always winter and never Christmas," I found this Christmas quiz from the British arm of Penguin publishers. I scored 5/10, though I think there must have been a technical error somewhere. I couldn't find the fifth one I got wrong. (Who is Slade?) Anyway, as St. Nicholas says, Happy Christmas to all!

And about the Macy's thing, I think Bill Wineke makes a good point. Some are urging us to boycott Macy's because they don't want to say Merry Christmas. Wineke replies, "Let's face it: Department stores are in business to make money. I suppose a boycott might club them into submission - but putting 'Merry Christmas' into an ad won't keep Christ in Christmas. If our faith is so fragile that we have to depend on department store advertising to promote Christmas, then we ought to start questioning what we are doing wrong."

Happy Birthday, Emily Dickinson

[Blogger prevented me from posting this yesterday. Please forgive this delay.] December 10 is the birthday of great American poet Emily Dickinson (1830–86). Just because high-schoolers can sing most of her poems to the tune of “Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” does not diminish her poetic accomplishments. In other words, she was real good, really.’s Colombia Encyclopedia says, “Although she was encouraged by the critic Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who never truly comprehended her genius, and Helen Hunt Jackson, who believed she was a great poet, Dickinson published only seven poems during her lifetime. Dickinson’s mode of existence, although circumscribed, was evidently satisfying, even essential, to her. After her death in 1886, Lavinia Dickinson discovered over 1,000 poems in her sister’s bureau.”

From that poetry, here is a short verse on hope.
WHEN I hoped I feared,
Since I hoped I dared;
Everywhere alone
As a church remain;
Spectre cannot harm,
Serpent cannot charm;
He deposes doom,
Who hath suffered him.

Harry Da Vinci's Rings

Darby Conley's "Get Fuzzy" has focused on great litterture this week. Bucky Katt plans to the right the next-best seller, having studied recent great selling novles. The title, "Harry Da Vinci's Rings." Today, Bucky is having writer's block.

Rob: "Maybe you have writer's block because you're a bad writer."
Bucky: "A bad writer is just a good writer with writer's block."

Sage advice, ain't it? Read Rob's response. As for the consept itself, I think Bucky could possibly might have made a potental mistake right of the bat swing. From my vast experiance in pablushing, a bester title for the next-great novle would be "Harry and Code of the Rings." The selling word is 'code.' Experimental spelling will also be a big-selling point.
Friday, December 10, 2004

Happy Birthday, Emily Dickinson

Today is the birthday of great American poet Emily Dickinson (1830–86). Just because high-schoolers can sing most of her anthologized poems to the tune of “Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” does not diminish her poetic accomplishments. In other words, she was real good, really.’s Colombia Encyclopedia says, “Although she was encouraged by the critic Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who never truly comprehended her genius, and Helen Hunt Jackson, who believed she was a great poet, Dickinson published only seven poems during her lifetime. Dickinson’s mode of existence, although circumscribed, was evidently satisfying, even essential, to her. After her death in 1886, Lavinia Dickinson discovered over 1,000 poems in her sister’s bureau.”

From her now-published poetry, here is a short verse on hope.
WHEN I hoped I feared,
Since I hoped I dared;
Everywhere alone
As a church remain;
Spectre cannot harm,
Serpent cannot charm;
He deposes doom,
Who hath suffered him.
Thursday, December 09, 2004

Ellison to Assault Internet

Harlon Ellison tells Writer's Digest that the Internet is a big headache for him, and Betsy takes him to task for it. The award-winning, remarkable, and perhaps inspirational 69-year-old science-fiction author says:
... that's part of the problem for writers, for establishing a career. Cultural amnesia due to television and the Internet. But, to answer your question directly, in terms of money, condition of work, and approbation, worse. Life is a lot harder for writers now.

WD: Well, do you directly blame it on the internet?

HE: Oh, I guess in substantial measure, I do. The slovenliness of thinking on the web. There is a culture of belief today that everything should be free. The internet is the glaring promoter of such slacker-gen "philosophy," and that goes to the core of my lawsuit.

People have been gulled into believing that everything should be free, and that if a professional gets published, well, any thief can steal it, and post it, and the thug feels abused if you whack him for it. Meanwhile, vast hordes of semi- or untalented amateurs festoon the Internet with their ungrammatical, puerile trash, and they think because this "vanity" publication gets seen by a few people, that they are "writers." Horse puckey!

Here, here for semi-talented amateurs festooning the Internet! I'm probably one of them. But wait, Ellison has more to say. "I wouldn't kill off the Internet; I'd just like to maim the crap out of it." Here, here. I'm sure it would do everyone some good somehow down the road. I'd be out of a job, but I can always find employment as an olive picker.

When asked, "Why don't writers 'get no respect,'" Ellison responded, "Because half the world is illiterate, or hasn't read a book since before Reagan introduced mediocrity as a college-level course; and the other half treads water in the gravy of hubris secretly knowing they can write, if only they had the spare time." That's heartening, what?

But as I wrote at the beginning, Betsy of Betsy's Page takes him to task. She says the Internet promotes learning and has been a boone for history students and teachers. And as for student writing skills, she say, "Hey, I've taught kids before the Internet became so popular and afterwards. And I don't notice much of a difference in their writing skills. They couldn't spell before and their vocabulary was limited."

David Lewis, A Distinctive Philosopher

Taken from The Crooked Timber:
Lewis’ philosophical interests were broad, as evidenced by the contents of the five volumes of his collected papers published so far: ethics, politics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophical logic, language - he wrote on a vast range of subjects, from holes to worlds, from Anselm to Mill, from the mind to time travel. In everything he wrote he was rigorous, committed, and clear, but perhaps the most distinctive thing about him was his attitude to other philosophers, and especially to criticism: one can scarcely find a book or paper attacking Lewis’ views that doesn’t contain an acknowledgement to him for his help. What mattered to him - what he loved - were the ideas, the arguments, the philosophy, not winning or being right. He was the ideal, the model philosopher; he’s also (and this is a very different matter) widely regarded as being the best philosopher of his generation - perhaps of the twentieth century.
I saw this at The Crooked Timber, which has my vote for its weblog award category, and thought it was worth repeating. The part I copied was also copied from Peter King's website. Speaking of the weblog awards, La Shawn Barber's Corner is less than 1% away from second place as the best conservative blog. I think something should be done about that. I don't have anything against the current second place-holder, Right Thinking from the Left Coast, but it doesn't need to hold second place. I think that's clear to anyone who cares to evaluate the facts. Only extremists and the irrationally biased would argue this. So go vote. Polls close on Sunday.

A Blog Carnival

I've been able to participate in The Christian Carnival a couple time recently. All that's required is a post, written within the selected time frame, from a Christian perspective. This week's list of posts is at Last week was hosted by A Physicist's Perspective. To them and all other promoters and coordinators, I am grateful.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Winston Churchill: "Never Give In"

Somewhere in my not-that-young life, I picked up the idea that the great Sir Winston Churchill addressed a student body in a place like Harvard with five words alone: "Never, never, never give in." I had heard that the pauses between those words were so pregnant with Churchill's determination they spoke louder than the message. Apparently, I was mistaken.

Churchill spoke at Harrow School on October 29, 1941, and while perhaps he spoke slowly so that there were many pregnant pauses, he said far more than five words:
You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period - I am addressing myself to the School - surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.

Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer.
Stirring! I hope that last statement applies to America and its allies today as much as it did to Britain then. Read the full speech here.

Oh, That Treasured Rare Book

The Dover-Sherborn Press reports on a rare book lecture and evaluation at the Sherborn Library in Massachusetts. The speaker was Kenneth Gloss, owner of Boston's Brattle Bookstore, who said, "Many New England homes are treasure-troves of old and rare books that have increased in value over the years ... We invite the public to bring any volumes they want to know about to the lecture for a free verbal appraisal following the presentation." From the article:
Indeed, some treasures did appear. A "very nice" first edition of "Tarzan," as Gloss described it, was brought for appraisal, and turns out to be worth several thousand dollars, according to Gloss, as was an older edition of Robert Frost's poems.

"One couple brought a set of books - five of six volumes - of 'The Life of George Washington' by John Marshall," said Gloss. "I told them the books might be worth something like 20 bucks, but if they could find the sixth volume - and I told them what it looks like - then they might be worth a few thousand."

More than anything else, said Gloss, people tend to bring their "big old family Bible" to his talks, hoping it may be worth something. "What people don't realize is that the Bible is the most widely printed and circulated book there is, always has been and always will be," Gloss said. "I hate to tell people their books aren't worth anything, because they clearly have immense sentimental value."
This is just the sort of thing we need to continue stoking the belief that old is valuable. Do you have a beat-up old book, cool to look at, feels like history? It probably isn't worth much as an object. Old Bible commentaries with bent corners? Its content is worth than its pages. Terry Teachout's personal copy of H.L. Menkin's The American Languagewith handwritten notes in the margins? Now, that could be worth something, provided you didn't tear it up when you stole it from him. I'd guess Leo Tolstoy's handwritten manuscripts of War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Resurrection, which are currently on display in Seoul, Korea, would be worth something too, but who could know?
Tuesday, December 07, 2004

"To Christ" by John Donne (1572-1631)

WILT thou forgive that sinn, where I begunn,
Which is my sinn, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive those sinns through which I runn
And doe run still, though still I doe deplore?
When thou has done, thou hast not done,
For, I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sinn, by which I'have wonne
Others to sinn, and made my sinn their dore?
Wilt thou forgive that sinn which I did shunne
A yeare or twoe, but wallowed in a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sinn of feare that when I have spunn
My last thred, I shall perish on the shore;
Sweare by thy self that at my Death, thy Sonne
Shall shine as he shines nowe, & heretofore;
And having done that, thou hast done,
I feare noe more.

Taken from

New Short Plays from TN Williams

Newly discovered Tennessee Williams' plays are being aired out in New York. The short works are not complete, one looking like the rough draft of a relationship found in another play. Two of them deal with homosexuality directly. The plays were found by researchers David Roessel and Nicholas Moschovakis of the University of Texas.
"It's not as if Tennessee Williams didn't want anybody to see these; we didn't go snooping through his garbage to find them," Roessel says. "We're puzzled by this notion that somehow it's going to take away from 'Streetcar' or 'Menagerie' or 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.' How are we going to know if they're any good if we don't give them at least one production?"

Director Michael Kahn says of the overt treatment of homosexuality in two of the plays: "For Tennessee writing this play when he did write it, I thought that was a political act."

"They were not meant to be brought out as undiscovered masterpieces but as the pretty good works of a young master," Kahn says.

Monday, December 06, 2004

What Do You Observe, Dr. Watson?

There's a new set of annotated volumes of Conan Doyle's classic mystery stories. I learned about it yesterday in an NPR interview with Chicago Sherlockian Leslie S. Klinger. Two of the volumes of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes are currently available. A third will be released next year. Why new volumes when so many love the 1968 Baring-Gould editions? Klinger said Baring-Gould wrote idiosyncratic notes which can leave many readers dry and a few decades of scholarship have passed under the bridge since their release. It seems there was more to observe than Baring-Gould noted.

Speaking of Holmes, as if those volumes are not enough of a inspiration for your Christmas buying, logic-game lovers may enjoy the work of Everett Kaser. He has designed a variety of desktop puzzle games including Sherlock, Dinner with Moriarty, and the newly released Watson's Map. Each of these are closely related to logic puzzles you can play in magazines. Download them for free and play a few levels before deciding to part with $10-$15 for the full package.

Good Reading

Kevin Holtsberry reviews Richard Lewis' The Flame Tree: "Lewis doesn't try to paint a simple picture of sentimental tolerance that papers over differences and slopes toward relativism or moral equivalence between terrorists and missionaries. Instead, Isaac, and his mother, must come to terms with their own faith; they must decide what they believe and how they are going to act upon that belief. Their tolerance comes not from rejecting absolutes but from valuing human beings as God's creations; and from a humility that realizes that some things are beyond our understanding."

There's the new. Here's some of the old. 18th century missionary David Brainerd has a blog, courtesy of Rebecca. The other day, several years removed, he wrote: "Discoursed to my people in the forenoon from Luke xvi. 27-31. There appeared an unfeigned affection in divers persons, and some seemed deeply impressed with divine truths. - In the afternoon preached to a number of white people; at which time the Indians attended with diligence, and many of them were able to understand a considerable part of the discourse."
Saturday, December 04, 2004

New Releases from FSG

The Proust Project
Edited by André Aciman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (November 2004)

"Discovering Proust is like wandering through a totally unfamiliar land and finding it peopled with kindred spirits and sister souls and fellow countrymen . . . They speak our language, our dialect, share our blind-spots and are awkward in exactly the same way we are, just as their manner of lacing every access of sorrow with slapstick reminds us so much of how we do it when we are sad and wish to hide it, that surely we are not alone and not as strange as we feared we were. And here lies the paradox. So long as a writer tells us what he and only he can see, then surely he speaks our language." --from the preface by André Aciman

From the publisher: For The Proust Project, editor André Aciman asked twenty-eight writers--Shirley Hazzard, Lydia Davis, Richard Howard, Alain de Botton, Diane Johnson, Edmund White, and others--to choose a favorite passage from In Search of Lost Time and introduce it in a brief essay. Gathered together, along with the passages themselves (and a synopsis that guides the reader from one passage to the next), these essays form the perfect introduction to the greatest novel of the last century, and the perfect gift for any Proustian.

A Reading Diary
by Alberto Manguel
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 2004)

Book description: While traveling in Calgary, Alberto Manguel was struck by how the novel he was reading (Goethe's Elective Affinities) seemed to reflect the social chaos of the world he was living in. An article in the daily paper would be suddenly illuminated by a passage in the novel; a long reflection would be prompted by a single word. He decided to keep a record of these moments, rereading a book a month, and forming A Reading Diary: a volume of notes, reflections, impressions of travel, of friends, of events public and private, all ellicited by his reading.

From Don Quixote (August) to The Island of Dr. Moreau (February) to Kim (April), Manguel leads us on an enthralling adventure in literature and life, and demonstrates how, for the passionate reader, one is utterly inextricable from the other.

Alberto Manguel has written many books, including Into the Looking-Glass Wood: Essays on Books, Reading, and the World and The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

Top ~Ten Best Modern Christian Books

Jared has launched an interesting discussion on essential Christian reading. He asks, "Say someone asked you what ten Christian books he or she should absolutely read, what would your list look like?" Here's what I said:

Maybe my pride tells me I should make a substantive contribution to this thread, if I post anything, and in order to do that, I need to research it. But I can't do much of that in a timely manner. hmm. What ten Christian books do I think must be read, whether or not I've read them yet? Or what would be a ten-book list for an essential modern reading course?

I can only make grain-of-salt suggestions:
1. Moreland's "Love Your God With All Your Mind," which Phil S. mentioned.
2. "Desiring God" or "Pleasures of God" by John Piper, already mentioned.
3. "Let the Nations Be Glad," also by Piper.
4. "Surprised by Joy," as Bill said.
5. "Christ of the Covenants" by O. Palmer Robertson
6. "Passion and Purity" seems like a great suggestion so I'll echo it.
7. I'm not sure if I want to recommend Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" without also calling for "Heretics," which was published in 1905. The former succeeded the latter. But I'm trying to focus on worthy post WWII books mostly, the ones which are hard to call essential.
8. Schaeffer deserves a place here, but I don't know what book. They publish a trilogy with "The God Who Is There," "Escape From Reason," and "He is There and He is Not Silent." If this were the college list, I might list this one to have at least selections from each required. "True Spirituality" is an alternative.

For a list of ten, I would want to achieve some topical balance. I would have to consider a good church history text, maybe "Church History in Plain Language" by Bruce Shelley or maybe a summary biography of great Christian leaders. I may want something like "Reforming Marriage," as Alan mentioned, or something like "Inerrancy" by Norman Geisler or maybe "How to Read Slowly: A Christian Guide to Reading with the Mind." I don't know which of these or others to choose.

As for "The Purpose-Driven Life," I've read some of it and talked about it with others. I'm generally positive on it, but I wouldn't recommend it for study group of mature Christians. It's a foundational book which can open the eyes of some pew-sitters who don't think about the Lord during the week (which I hope is not too harsh a description). Some complain that it's a bestseller b/c the modern church is shallow, but if that's true, we shouldn't complain that some are finally digging deeper in the faith.

[I love this re:Awakening CD I have on now, especially "Jesus, I am resting, resting." The new music has made this old hymn one of my favorites.]

That's what I wrote on his group blog, and it brings to mind the 1999 article in World Magazine called "The Top 40 Books of the 20th Century," with titles like T.S. Eliot's The Collected Poems, Cornelius Van Til's The Defense of the Faith, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression, and Dorothy Sayers' The Mind of the Maker.
Friday, December 03, 2004

99.86% Pure Censorship in the Making

In the past, I’ve criticized people, such as the American Library Association, for ridiculing reasonable moral objection as censorship. I think the ALA’s Banned Books Week blows out of proportion what should be civic responsibility. Some material is unsuitable for children. In fact, some material is inappropriate for everyone, but today’s public librarian may have a difficult time making that distinction.

I write that for context sake, because today I learned that an Alabama lawmaker has proposed pulling certain books from state and school libraries. That’s real censorship.

The Auburn Plainsman reports, “Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, pre-filed a bill in the House of Representatives that could ban literature with gay protagonists or textbooks that present homosexuality as natural.” It quotes from the bill, saying it will prohibit state institutions from “activities that sanction, recognize, foster or promote a lifestyle or actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws of the state.”

“I don’t want someone teaching my children that it’s OK to have an alternative lifestyle,” the congressman said. “Our culture is sick.”

I agree the culture is sick, but I wonder if censoring published works is the way to heal it. When the heavy hand of government restricts books according to moral guidelines, society had better support those guidelines whole-heartedly. Should a state ban the distribution, however quiet, of Lolita, Fathers and Sons, or The Color Purple? I don’t think so. Should publishers have published those books in the first place? I say no for The Color Purple. It devalues the paper it’s printed on. The others, I don’t know. There is worse material out there.

It doesn’t matter much today. The article quotes a professor who says the bill will probably not come to vote because many bills like this are pre-filed for publicity’s sake alone. Even their sponsors know they won’t pass. Still, our country, even democracy itself, was made for moral people who submit to a higher authority than civil government. We are probing the weaknesses of American civil unity by pushing our moral boundaries. Those among us who believe the law defines personal morality, meaning only that which is legal is moral, are asking for dictators to rule them. You and I must do better. We must pursue wisdom with the passion of a newly married groom. We must rejoice in the good and condemn the bad. So in condemning the bad, should we advocate state censorship? Not today.

(By the way, Marla has an interesting post on censorship from Nov. 29. )


Weblog Awards

Wizbang's 2004 weblog awards are up for voting. Participants may vote once a day until December 12. La Shawn Barber and Banana Oil! have my vote for their respective categories. I hadn't seen any of the blog up for the best design award, but looking at them tonight makes me wonder what I should do with Brandyine Books. Maybe I could pursue a Books of Kells inspired theme or maybe something after Aldus Manutius.

New Release: The Double by José Saramago

In an effort to provide you with more substantive entries, I plan to make regular notes of new book releases. I can't recommend those I blog, but I can say, "Hey, look at that," which I suppose makes up the bulk of most blogging anyway. As I said before, what I mention here sparks my interest somehow. Maybe you'll agree.

The Double
José Saramago Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
Harcourt (October 2004)

From the book: "Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is a history teacher in a secondary school. He is divorced, involved in a rather one-sided relationship with a bank clerk, and he is depressed. To lift his depression, a colleague suggests he rent a certain video. Tertuliano watches the film and is unimpressed. During the night, noises in his apartment wake him. He goes into the living room to find that the VCR is replaying the video, and as he watches in astonishment he sees a man who looks exactly like him-or, more specifically, exactly like the man he was five years before, mustachioed and fuller in the face. He sleeps badly.

"Against his own better judgment, Tertuliano decides to pursue his double. As he establishes the man's identity, what begins as a whimsical story becomes a dark meditation on identity and, perhaps, on the crass assumption behind cloning-that we are merely our outward appearance rather than the sum of our experiences."

José Saramago won the Nobel for literature in 1998, but don't let that put you off.
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