Bestsellers on the English Language
In Australia, Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language
is a bestseller. Written by Don Watson, it identifies problems in Australian English usage with the hope many will correct them. He writes, “Managerial language may be to the information age what the machine and the assembly line was to the industrial. It is mechanized language. Like a machine it removes the need for thinking.”
Also selling quickly, Lynne Truss’ book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
. Michael Shmith of The Age newspaper worries that the success of these two books won’t improve anyone's English
“Of greater concern [than the author’s success] is the irresistible thought that, despite brilliant sales and Truss's instant celebrity status, no one will really take the slightest bit of notice of her crucial, essential message: that punctuation is in danger of being rendered obsolete by the inaccurate and the uncaring. Will the fact Eats, Shoots & Leaves sells by the hundreds of thousands cause English greengrocers to reflect on superfluous apostrophes? Will New Year's Eve regain what it has lost? Will the word "only" find its right place in thousands of sentences?”
Maybe I’m idealistic, but I still have the hope that books like this will improve the way we write and communicate. Not that we will reverse the trend of speaking informally, but that we will correct careless errors, e.g. '8 items or less' should be '8 items or fewer.' Writing opens me up for criticism, but I do try to write properly.
In a similar vein, BookBrowse.com
has passed on this anecdote. “If you want to buy the full 20 volume edition of the OED, it's available directly from the Oxford University Press
for the discounted price of $895 (versus the list price of $3,000)! A lot of money, but some would say a good investment - to quote the author Rita Mae Brown
"The first money I earned, $1,000, from my first novel in 1971 bought me the complete OED... One of the wisest purchases I have ever made."
Book on Troubled Dog Unwelcome
A book published in November 2001 has sold close to 400,000 copies. It’s made a few bestseller lists. One copy was placed in a West Salem, Wisconsin elementary school library and checked out by the grandson of a former school board member, according to the Coulee News
. Now, the book may make the ALA’s misguided banned books list, because Walter the Farting Dog
didn’t go over well with grandpa.
The story is as common as dirt. It’s about a dog who—well—needs digestive therapy. He’s adopted at the pound by two kids who discover the problem too late to save their family from air pollution. Enter family strife until burglars are warded off by Walter’s “condition,” and Dad decides to keep the dog after all. Sickeningly heart-warming, isn’t it?
“[The publisher] said the book's depiction in words and colorful drawings of a dog farting didn't strike him as being a problem. ‘I don't think it’s obscene in any sense, not in today's world.” In fact, it’s vulgar enough to generate interest. Walter
is the second best seller this publisher of specialized books has ever had.
Perhaps the worst part of this article is the publisher’s statement, “it's a work of art. And many works of art are of questionable social value.” I’ll grant that the illustrator
has skill and that her work on this book has merit; but the book as a whole is ‘art’? Sit down, Mr. Publisher. Let’s not abuse our terms. You’ve got a vulgar novelty book which you’re marketing as a children’s book. Let’s leave it there. In my opinion, vulgarity counteracts art; the more of the one, the less of the other. The more vulgar, the more likely you will drag the artistic merit into the gutter, making it worthless. The more artistic, the more you must focus on praiseworthy things, leaving vulgarity beneath you.
Grisham, Bush, and the NEA
According to this Charleston newspaper
, author John Grisham endorses John Kerry for president. At a “combination book-signing/campaign stop,” Grisham said, "I think he's electable." Oh, well. Good men disagree on many things, so why should I expect Grisham to be as politically conservative as I am?
Speaking of disagreements, Roger Kimball of The New Criterion
has written in the National Review Online
about President Bush’s proposal to increase the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA press release
says, Bush will ask for an “$18 million budget increase for the National Endowment for the Arts to fund a major new initiative, American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius.” The three-year project will present art and education to audiences in order “to introduce Americans to the best of their cultural and artistic legacy. American Masterpieces will sponsor presentations of the great American works across all art forms, and will reach large and small communities in all 50 states.”
“Everywhere one looks,” Kimball writes, Bush “is supporting some of the most intelligent and dynamic people ever to occupy their cultural posts.” He mentions Dana Gioia (pronounced Joy-a), who heads the NEA, Bruce Cole of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Leon Kass et al of the President's Council on Bioethics.
Kimball believes that conservatives should praise this decision because the NEA has been rescued from the societal cesspool where liberals had enjoyed it. But many conservatives
don’t like federal taxes supporting the arts or cultural events in the first place. That’s where I would naturally fall, but I’m beginning to believe that President Bush doesn’t hold strongly to the limited government doctrine of traditional conservative thinking. I think he may believe that a large government which supports healthy ideas and communities is just as good as a limited government which relies on individuals to take care of themselves and each other for the most part. Therefore, now that the NEA has turned around, it can use more public money. Maybe he’s right.
I don’t think we gain a favorable political image by opposing arts funding. In one sense, we may sound as if we’re complaining about the color of the room when we should be focused on the leaky ceiling. For all of you who are exercised about this announcement, I encourage you to channel your energy into steady complaints to your congressmen about various pork-barrel projects
they pass. I believe the Senate just passed $23 billion in pork spending with the big budget vote they had last week. I know you want all of the spending on these things to stop, but the States aren’t going to pick up the NEA whereas they should be taking care of their own bridges, museums, golf education programs, and amphitheaters.
Joseph Epstein Interviews in World and January
Because I am only your humble blogger residing at Brandywine Books, a meager literary culture and publishing news blog, I don’t get to as many news stories or points of interest as I would like to. Because World Magazine
is a top-notch news source, with an equally interesting news blog
, they get to as many stories as are fit to print professionally. No Blairing allowed. So while I’ve been sitting a link to January Magazine’s
interview with Joseph Epstein, they published their own interview this week. Here are a few quotes which impressed me, but you should read the whole thing
yourself. (If asked to register, you may use brandybuck, password hobbit)
“What is common is the story that ends in what I believe in the creative-writing classes is called an epiphany or oblique, sometimes (in my view) rather too precious insight. In the stories I write, someone usually has to make a decision; this decision gives the stories what drama they possess. And these decisions almost always turn out to be moral decisions.”
“I've long thought that work is one of the things that has gone out of much American and English fiction—and long regretted it. I suspect that one of the reasons is that too many writers have become teachers of creative writing. There isn't too much to learn about the actual world in a college setting, and, because of this, I once claimed that the fiction of the future was likely to be about fancy fornication and new-fangled (and mostly hopeless) ideas.”
“I think it might help a lot if [Academians] could simply debar junky subjects and books from university curricula: no courses in the movies, none revolving around race, class, and gender, none featuring second- and third-rate books, most of them by living authors.”
The January interview
mentions a September 2002 NYT op-ed piece (available here
for $3) where Epstein urges the 81% of Americans who think they have a book inside them to leave that book where it is. According to a sermon I found (because I didn’t pay the $3 and I didn’t find it for free), Epstein says those would-be writers don’t have good motives. They read a middling book and believe they could do better, and they hope to become immortal through publication. Do better? Maybe, with hard work. Immortal? Stop being silly. With thousands of books published each year, the successful essayist and short story writer is quoted saying, “most of them [are] not needed, not wanted, not in any way remotely necessary.”
Readers disapproved of Epstein’s opinion at the time, saying he was throwing a wet blanket on general creativity. They believed he was an angry old man telling the next generation to sit out of the game because they aren’t as good as he is. Maybe I should read the whole essay, but my initial reaction is that he’s right. Some people believe writing is as easy as walking. They speak the language everyday, so sure they can write. Do they also think that if they sing to themselves everyday they could probably sing professionally? Do they think that since the walk they can dance? Those skills take work and training, not mere effort and opportunity. So I think Epstein may have been urging rank amateurs to work much harder and for the love of language and story before submitting their work for publication. Of course, publishers must take full responsibility for the mediocre books they unleash on the public, and I think I can understand the difficulty of their decisions. What is the definitive check list for a good book, that is, one worth reading and recommending to friends?
Cold Publishing News and a Question
The Time Warner Book Group, which placed 10 books on the NY Times Bestsellers list, gain 3% in quarterly revenues, 2% gain for the year, despite losing $29,000,000 in Time Life sales operations. The news comes from the company's financial report released this week. Time Warner owns Little, Brown and Company, Bulfinch Press, and imprints with the name Warner in them.
The AP reports
that Amazon.com succeeded in earning a profit. 2003 is the first year the Internet retailer who would all things to all people successfully spent less than it earned. CEO and Pioneer Jeff Bezos credited perpetually free shipping for this accomplishment. Regardless, Amazon shares are down slightly.
Now, about the NYT bestsellers list, when will we cease to care about? Why isn't the ABA list or the Publishers Weekly list favored more highly than this one? I assume it is primarily the NYT's reputation of a great newspaper, but the last two years have shown serious flaws in its coverage, and now their book review department has thumbed its nose at its most interested readers. If this persists, I hope the NYT is dethroned from its place in public opinion in 5-10 years.
Rewriting Lord of the Rings
I saw on Maud’s blog
a link to Teemings, an e-zine from the Straight Dope. It was a long list of variations on parts of The Lord of the Rings as if written by other authors. Blasphemy! you say? No, no. It appears to be wholesome fun. Take this submission by jiHymas parroting Wodehouse: “The trouble with writing an epic, I find, is knowing just where to begin. So here I am, quill and parchment at the ready, a full bowl of pipeweed and, dash it, have great difficulty in beginning! That's the trouble with epics, as I suspect old Treebeard himself would say, and wasn't he a one for insisting that every story begin at the very beginning - of time, that is, and it takes all one's memories of school training to be polite to the old boy when you're rushing to catch an Eagle.” Read more
Or this one from Simon Grubbe Nielsen mimicking Auster: “Three days into the thirteenth month he met up with the man who called himself Strider. It was one of those random, accidental encounters that seem to materialize out of thin air – a twig that breaks off in the wind and suddenly lands at your feet. Had it occurred at any other moment, it is doubtful that Frodo would have opened his mouth.” Read on
There are many, many submission, but I found two of the three imitations of A.A. Milne a bit lacking. This is the good one
. Therefore, I submit my own version mimicking Milne’s fun-loving style.
From The Two Towers, in which Sam and Frodo make their way into A Very Dark Place
Frodo turned back and found Gollum wasn’t there. “Smeagol!” he called out, “Where are you?” No answer. He called again and again, but no answer came. The longer Frodo called the more Gollum wasn’t there. “I wonder where he’s gone. I hope he didn’t go on without us.”
Then there was a loud rumble, like a crash just beyond the bushes.
“Did you hear that?” Sam said, shuttering.
“Hear what?” Frodo said.
“That noise. It was like a rumbling something.”
“Maybe that was my tummy. Do we have any more to eat, Sam?”
“No, you ate all the Lembras bread already. Oh! There it is again!”
“I heard it this time. Are you sure it isn’t my tummy? I need something to eat very badly.”
Sam was trembling. “Do you – do you think it’s – it’s a –Heffalump?!”
Frodo thought that maybe it was, but he didn’t have time to say so because just at that moment, a huge animal burst through the trees, striding the bushes and rushing passed them as if behind schedule for something.
Frodo and Sam screamed.
“Run! Run!” cried Frodo.
“Don’t let him hurt me!” shouted Sam.
The two scampered through the wood, not thinking about where they were going, only what they were leaving behind, and by doing so, running and running as fast as their legs would carry them, until they ran smack into a tall man with a bow and sword.
“Well, what do we have here?” the man said.
Frodo and Sam stood still and stared at him, not knowing what to say.
The man called to other men, all with bows and swords, though some had axes instead of swords, and none of them looked to have any food on them. “What are you doing here? Are you on your way somewhere?”
“No,” said Frodo. “We were just Taking A Stroll.”
“Out for some fresh air, you know?” said Sam.
“You will have to come with us,” the man said. “We will be going to a Secret Place. Normally, I would have you blindfolded, but if you promise to not tell anyone where we go, I won’t do that.”
“No, no. We won’t tell anyone anything,” said Sam.
“I won’t remember a thing about it,” said Frodo.
New York Politics in Crowded Theatres
Okay, I don't want to focus on politics in Brandywine Books. You can get enough of that elsewhere, a thousand times over. But James Panero in "Armavirumque" has a humorous note about New Yorkers and the non-separation of stage and state. "What is it about the New York theater and George W. Bush?" he writes. Read on
Mr. Clinton Hopes to Release His Memoirs This Summer
Somehow, I think this story is funny. This article
from the February 2 issue of Newsweek begins, “If all goes according to plan, Bill Clinton—not John Kerry or even Howard Dean—will be the Democrat in the headlines in the weeks before the Democratic convention this summer.” I believe it. Why should the former president share a well-deserved spotlight because some unqualified senator is trying to win the position for himself? For pete’s sake, he should still be president no matter what the law says. The law didn’t stop him from other things. Why should it in this case?
The report describes the current draft as "really long and searching." It says he can’t decide what to include and exclude. “The writing has been taxing both ‘physically and psychologically,’ says [a friend].”
“[Sources] predict that if he misses the window between the end of the primaries and the political conventions [for unleashing this tome on the public], the book could be held until after the election year.”
Someone save us from this horror.
McCall Smith Publishes Serialization in The Scotsman
Mystery Novelist Alexander McCall Smith, recently mentioned on this blog as a favorite of many, has published the first installment of a novel in today's The Scotsman
newspaper. According to the BBC
, five issues out of seven will have an 850-word portion of McCall Smith’s story, 44 Scotland Street
. The Scotsman
claims this “daily novel” is “something no British newspaper has ever offered its readers.” Sounds like a great way to boost circulation to me.
From the Mars Hill Audio Reference Materials
The evangelical suspicion of tradition developed in America's formative years and persists in contemporary culture. In the November 2003 issue of Christianity Today, Christopher Hall, professor of biblical and theological studies at Eastern University, addresses the suspicion in order to help tame and appropriate it for wiser evangelical exegesis of Scripture. In the published interview, "Don't Read the Bible 'Alone'," he affirms that Scripture welcomes and guides all believers while also affirming the Church's need to listen to what its Tradition has said regarding the text of Scripture throughout the ages. "I think that evangelicals sometimes go wrong by thinking they don't need the church because it's just me, my Bible, and a radio preacher. Many think they don't need to know the history of the Holy Spirit's working within the church—and I'm including the Spirit's work in the Orthodox church and the Catholic church. . . . We've made too many mistakes by acting as if the text of Scripture has just been dropped out of the sky for this generation."
From Terry Teachout Today
I've abridged a paragraph of his found here
. "It’s true that novels have become increasingly peripheral to the cultural conversation
(such as it is). But it also seems to me that arts blogs might possibly be changing that state of affairs for the better. . . . The blogosphere is still very young. But it’s already stirring up conversation and controversy all out of proportion to its actual size, and that’s a good sign, an indication that we’re not fad-snuffling eccentrics but 'early adopters' who comprise the leading edge of a full-fledged cultural shift."
Reading as a WMD
Through Cup of Chica
, I found this hilarious statement in a Village Voice review
of The Butterfly Effect.
"Compared to its predecessors, The Butterfly Effect
is breathtaking in its, um, simplicity. In this version of the universe, Ashton Kutcher discovers that he can inhabit his child self whenever he reads aloud from his journals and squints really hard. You have to, if not love, at least not mind a movie in which the very act of Ashton Kutcher reading is enough of a cosmic trauma to rip a hole in the fabric of space-time."
Why Does Non-fiction Outsell Fiction?
I've read that American vacations are heavily influenced by our historically strong work ethic. Many of us believe we must be productive in order to justify our time away from work; so we take educational vacations to historic landmarks and museums. If we learn something, then we spent a lot of money on ourselves for good reason. I wonder if the same reasoning works into book-buying and reading. I separate the two because I know that some of us enjoy the possession of a book more than reading it, as if owning something equals understanding it.
I wonder about this tonight in light of the news
that the NY Times Book Review
will run even fewer reviews on fiction. Do we read for education only? Can we learn nothing from fiction, books like Left Behind
and The Da Vinci Code
—just kidding—books like Auster’s Oracle Night
, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair
, Morrison’s Beloved
, or Shakespeare’s anything? It’s a great subject for discussion with the Sensus Plenor feature. For now, I found a good quote from Fantasy Author Terry Brooks in a Random House interview, possibly in 2000.
What are your goals as a writer?
Well, I think that as a country, we've drifted away from appreciating the importance of imagination. Nonfiction outsells fiction almost three to one. We are obsessed with true-crime stories and tabloid journalism, and we're fascinated by tell-all biographies. We forget that what matters begins with the imagination. Writing fantasy lets me imagine a great deal more than, say, writing about alligators, and lets me write about places more distant than Florida, but I can tell you things about Florida and alligators, let you make the connection all on your own. I want you, as a reader, to experience what I experience, to let that other world, that imaginary world that I have created, tell you things about the real world. I want to kick-start your imagination and let you discover the places it can take you.
Brandywine Books, v1.3
Thank you, John Bush and Will Duquette, for encouraging me to add comments to this otherwise wonderful blog. Thanks also to Jonathan Barlow for providing the service. Last October, I commented on a thread
at a laudable blog called Thinklings which referred to my entry on The Middle Mind
, saying "I'm glad no one has commented because it validates one reason not to add comments to Brandywine Books." Well, I've retracted that reason. I hope y'all this new feature, and don't keep me up at night worrying about you.
I'm not a fan of Carol Moseley-Braun or her politics, but I feel compelled to give you this quote printed in World Magazine
"I respect books too much to throw one together."
This came in response to a question on the reason she had not published a campaign book as all the other candidates have done. World gives context with this quote from former presidential aide Stephen Hess. Most campaign books are "cut-and-paste jobs of speeches and position papers."
Addicted to Love—No, Spuds—No! TV!
Did you hear the one about the guy from Wisconsin who wanted to sue his cable company for giving him over 100 channels free for the last four years? It’s true. He said that his wife gained 50 pounds, and he picked up smoking and drinking; but “the reason I am suing is they did not let me make a decision as to what was best for myself and my family and (they have been) keeping cable (coming) into my home for four years after I asked them to turn it off.” He and his family were addicted to Cable TV.
"'Freedom of choice is my No. 1 issue, and they didn’t give that to me,' Tim Dumouchel said. 'It’s all about them depriving you of choice.'" (source
Fortunately, he has been embarrassed into dropping his intended law suit. At least, that’s make take on it from reading this article on Greater Milwaukee Today
. I suspect he still believes his rationale, unless it was an opportunistic stunt, in light of which I submit this public letter.
Dear Mr. Dumouchel,
Opportunity does not equal coercion.
has replied to a fun question about comfort reading. In light of this post by Mm. Duquette
on linking books to another website, here is Terry’s list. Read his post for context, and use this list, which I copied from his post, for more information.
- O’Brian, whose Aubrey/Maturin novels I just finished rereading in their entirety.
- Wodehouse, usually the Jeeves novels (I don’t like the short stories nearly as much)
- Anthony Trollope
- Raymond Chandler
- Rex Stout
- Donald E. Westlake’s Dortmunder and Parker crime novels (the latter are written under the pseudonym "Richard Stark")
- William Haggard’s Colonel Russell political thrillers—virtually unknown in this country, alas, but I own them all
- Barbara Pym [also here]
- Jon Hassler
- Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time
For myself, I find comfortable reading in P.D James
, P.G. Wodehouse, J. R. R. Tolkien, A. A. Milne
, and other authors who go by their initials. I could never get into Stephen King partly because I can’t seem to take an author named Stephen seriously. Not really. A far better reading list can be derived from "The View from the Foothills," linked above and on the right, and perhaps others will answer this question on their own blogs or in comment sections.
Self-Publishing Can Work
Again from WSJ, Andy Kessler
, who wrote and published Wall Street Meat,
has written about this experience in publishing. When his agent was unable to sell his early draft to a publisher, he ventured into publishing the book himself through a local printer at $2/copy. “I had been warned against self-publishing. One hundred thousand books are published every year, so you need an imprint to stand out from the noise. Being naive, and used to being treated like Rodney Dangerfield, I decided to publish my book anyway.”
He discovered he couldn’t get traditional reviews, but he was able to stir up short plugs and brief praise. “I also hit the Web. Nice pieces showed up in a bunch of daily e-mails sent to financial types. Author Michael Lewis said some nice things in a Bloomberg.com column, and the book shot up to No. 26 on Amazon.”
And his book sold well, really well after a spot on CNBC. I doubt a work of fiction would have had the same opportunities Kessler’s work had; but I believe a well-written novel can find a readership. That’s why self-published books are ignored by reviewers—or at least, it’s one reason; the style of writing or storytelling isn’t as good as it should be. If a publishing company is not willing to stake a claim on a certain book, assuming enough of them were given a fair chance, then why should a reviewer who has too many books to look over as it is spend his time on it?
Despite that risk, I remember reading that Dr. George Grant read many books at least a few chapters deep before deciding to continue. He knew whether he would think the book worthy of a review or valuable to himself by that point, and if it wasn’t, why should he read deeper? Maybe that’s a strategy for an enterprising book professional. Maybe certain publications should consider hiring someone to read a few chapters of the suspicious, fringe works, giving it a few words if he deems it worth a deeper look. It's probably a natural job for a blogger.
Kimball on Propaganda as Art: Criticize, Don't Vandalize
Roger Kimball of The New Criterion
writes this for The Wall Street Journal
regarding an exhibit of sympathy to terrorism masquerading as art.
For some time now, we in the West have acted as if to call something art is to exclude it entirely from moral scrutiny. Already in the mid-1940s, in an essay about Salvador DalÃ, George Orwell observed that in many quarters there existed an unspoken assumption that "the artist is to be exempt from the moral laws that are binding on ordinary people. Just pronounce the magic word 'Art,' and everything is O.K. Rotting corpses with snails crawling over them are O.K.; kicking little girls in the head is O.K.; even a film like L'Age d'Or [which shows among other things detailed shots of a woman defecating] is O.K."
Of course, it isn't really OK.
A Dreary Though Delightful Marriage
There many reviews in the news about Anne Tyler’s latest, The Amateur Marriage.
The plot sounds common enough, and I think that may be the point. The characters of the novel, Pauline and Michael Anton, may learn nothing about each other and how to improve their sorry lives in order to pose as a mirror for the lives of Tyler’s readers.
The New York Times
said, “The melancholy melody that threads through many Tyler novels is more pronounced in these pages; a sense of loss and mortality more insistent. The cloying cuteness that has curdled some of her recent fiction is largely absent here, and so is the tetchiness of her last novel ("Back When We Were Grown-Ups") that pushed its characters perilously close to caricature.
Lisa Frydman of the Chicago Sun-Times
said, “The novel was difficult to embrace in the beginning. I forced myself to keep going at a torpid, 10-page-a-night pace.” She admits she enjoyed it more after a while, but the story had her rooting for the Anton’s divorce instead of a healthier alteration of their dreary marriage
But most interesting to me is this comment from Karen Sandstrom of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
. “The rewards of this novel come sentence by sentence. … It's more a portrait than a narrative, and because the object of study is an unhappy marriage, it has a dour quality not found in the author's earlier work. Tyler remains one of America's great storytellers. But A-plus telling can lift a C-plus story only so high.” Sandstrom says the book is “often delightful to read,” but she was disappointed with the characters or their actions.
So I think this novel may actually be boring. In fact, Tyler may have meant it to be.
Paul Auster on Fresh Air
Yesterday, NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross
had an interview with Paul Auster, more about him than his book recently released book Oracle Night.
I fear I may be tainted by Curtis White’s critique
of the show. I found myself wondering when a perceptive question would come (there may have been a couple) and how much time Gross had to prepare for talks like this. One unperceptive question which surprised me: “Do you think there are two types of people in the world, those who have these close encounter (near death or close to death) experiences and those who don’t?” Auster answered that he thought these experiences were more common than he had first thought.
Fortunately, Auster had the time to say a few interesting things. He said that he enjoyed the “magnetic field” produced by placing a small story inside a larger one, which many of his novels apparently do. The two or more stories rub against each other, providing contrast and calls for reflection from the reader. He also read an actual news story which he wrote into Oracle Night, a story about a crack-smoking woman who gave birth over a toilet and stabbed her partner later that night over an argument. Auster said these are stories we should remember. We must remember that humans can do horrible things, he said, or we risk misunderstanding human nature.
Here, here. Regardless the context, the truth often feels good to hear. We are not a wholesome people, “everyone turning to his own way.” And our way, if you remember the proverb, seems right, but leads to death. That’s why we must find our hope from someone unlike us.
"The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new." – Samuel Beckett
Don Quixote on Tape, or What to Do after You Have Earphones Implanted
The Literary Saloon
has a humorous take on a Philadelphia Inquirer
audio book review. The reviewer must not have been prepared for listening to a very long, 17th century novel. From the Inquirer article:
For years, I had read about this splendor of a novel, this Gargantua of writerliness, this exquisite philosophical depiction. And so, it was with a quickening pulse and more than a mote of enthusiasm that I awaited the release of the new recording - gargantuan itself, at 40 hours on 35 CDs - of the new translation of the venerable Don Quixote.
This "timeless masterpiece" by Miguel de Cervantes, "beloved for centuries," "a literary landmark that no person should miss" (and so on) was spiffed up and made a bit more modern by translator Edith Grossman. . . .
I suppose this novel was called "picaresque" because the term slapstick hadn't been invented yet. All the mishaps were fun and funny for a while, but nothing seemed to develop. Clearly Cervantes, who composed the novel in debtor's prison, had some time on his hands. I began to wonder who could have been so gung-ho about this? I decided it was published in an era when storytelling was big.
But that’s just from the article. Look to see what the writers of The Literary Saloon have to say.
Tolkien Put C.S. Lewis into Fangorn
Tonight, I watched the Tolkien documentary on "The Two Towers Special Extended Edition" DVD and learned that Treebeard's wonderful hrums and hroms were inspired by Lewis' deep voice and mannerisms. TheOneRing.net mentions this in a footnote to an article by Maureen McKittrick Stewart
. "It is rather delightful to realize, if you aren't already aware of it, that Ransom [from Lewis' book Perelandra
] was not identical to, but patterned after Tolkien. Tolkien returned the compliment in his portrayal of Treebeard's manner of speech. (Apparently Lewis was fond of interposing lots of hrums and hroms in his conversation and had a very deep voice.)"
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday: Francine Rivers
In observance of Sanctity of Human Life Day
, let me point your attention to Author Francine Rivers’ inspiration for her 1997 book, The Atonement Child
, which according to the publisher, Tyndale House
, “is the first contemporary novel to truly reflect all aspects of this controversial issue from a Christian experience.” I thought Tilly by Frank Peretti
dealt with this in 1988, but perhaps I misunderstand the terms.
According to this 1997 article
in Marriage Partnership
, Rivers aborted her first child in the ‘60s and could not bring herself to tell her fiancé before they married. When she did tell him in their third married year, “Rick was stunned. ‘I'd known Francine practically all my life,’ he says, ‘and she was the most moral girl I knew. But what hurt most was that she didn't trust me from the beginning. I had always been honest [with her]. I think she told me at her folks' house because she figured if I walked out, at least she'd have a place to stay.’”
Rick Rivers used the knowledge against her at times, and Francine may have taken it back if it were possible. She felt justified in her original distrust and fear of what he would do once he knew that part of her past. They learned to adjust to each other. In the mid ‘80s, they began to follow the teachings of Jesus and studied the Bible, in part, to help cope with the grief. So, after learning of God’s forgiveness and healing grace, Francine wanted to write a story about her experience.
As she worked on the manuscript, Francine needed to talk about her intense feelings. But Rick just wanted to get on with their lives. Once he asked her fiercely, "Aren't we ever going to put this behind us? When will it end?"
But two years later, the end is finally in sight. Rick says, "I was wrong about the book. Writing The Atonement Child (Tyndale) not only completed Francine's healing process—reading it forced me to deal with personal problems and past mistakes of my own."
In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday, The States will observe Martin Luther King, Jr Day. In honor of that dynamic minister, let me quote from his famous speech
at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. . . . . Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee."
Peter Mark Roget, Born 1779
The Roget of Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases
was born tomorrow, January 18, 1779. He was a doctor and philologist. Read more about him here.
A Brief Summary Review of P.G. Wodehouse's Stories on Bertie & Jeeves
In this review, I will attempt to give you the gist, the nutshell, the summation as it were of all Wodehouse stories regarding Bertie Wooster and his man, Jeeves. Quotations from Carry On, Jeeves
When Bingo sowed up next morning I had had breakfast and was all ready for him. Jeeves shot him into the presence, and he sat down on the bed. . . .
“Bertie,” he said, “the most frightful calamity has occurred. Unless something is done, and done right speedily, my social prestige is doomed, my self-respect will be obliterated, my name will be mud, and I shall not dare to show my face in the West End of London again.”
“My aunt!” I cried, deeply impressed.
“Exactly,” said young Bingo, with a hollow laugh. “You have put it in a nutshell. The whole trouble is due to your blasted aunt.”
“Which blasted aunt? Specify, old thing. I have so many.” … [The crisis is explained.]
I picked at the coverlet. I had been a pal of Bingo's for many years, and we Woosters stand by our pals.
"Jeeves," I said, "you have heard?"
"The position is serious."
"We must cluster round."
"Does anything suggest itself to you?"
"What! You don't really mean that?"
"Bingo, the sun is still shining. Something suggests itself to Jeeves."
"Jeeves," said young Bingo in a quivering voice, "if you see me through this fearful crisis, ask of me what you will even unto half my kingdom."
[Jeeves presents a solution which eventually succeeds]
I was stunned by the man’s resource.
“It’s brain,” I said; “pure brain! What do you do to get like that, Jeeves? I believe you must eat a lot of fish, or something. Do you eat a lot of fish, Jeeves?”
“Oh, well, then, it’s just a gift, I take it; and if you aren’t born that way there’s no use worrying.”
“Precisely, sir,” said Jeeves. “If I might make the suggestion, sir, I should not continue to wear your present tie. The green shade gives you a slightly bilious air.”
For those of you who read my post about Sir Tim Berners-Lee, I have issued a correction. This being the Web, I didn't feel I needed to post that correction here. I could correct my original and draw your attention to it. In short, Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web; Vinton Cerf invented the Internet.
Skipping Christmas The Movie
I just learned while perusing this books-into-movies list
that Grisham's perennial favorite, Skipping Christmas
, will begin filming in April. It will be released next Christmas season. Forgive me, if this is old news for you or if it comes as a horrible shock. I plan to read the book before seeing the movie, which should give me a couple years.
Amendment: King James May Be Offered as Literature in California Schools
According to the Associated Press
, Matt McLaughlin from Huntington Beach, California, hopes to collect 598,105 valid signatures by May 24, 2004, in order to give Californians the opportunity to vote for offering King James Bibles to state school student as a part of their literature program. “The Bible is literature and many believe to be an educated person that people be biblically literate,” he said. “All of those concerns of separation of church and state have been addressed with this measure. It's all voluntary.”
In an LA Times article
(login using “brandybuck”, password “hobbit”), “’Even if you don't believe its teachings, you'll agree that it includes rich usage of the English language,’ [McLaughlin] said. ‘That's what makes it good literature.’ But critics worry that separating the literary and doctrinal aspects will prove problematic.”
Isn’t that always the problem? In fact, wouldn’t that be the problem with anything, separating the literary from the doctrinal? I don’t understand how state-run schools believe they can educate anyone while echewing certain fundamental ideas. When students pour over Emerson or Coleridge, aren’t they supposed to write what they understand from these authors, to repeat a digested form of their messages? That’s doctrine or philosophy or something which approaches the fundamental ideas on which we lives—ideas about God, each other, truth, and justice. Emerson and Coleridge had definitely opinions about those ideas, which should be discussed in class or on paper if students are meant to be educated.
I don’t know if McLaughlin has an acheivable idea, though I don’t see why his initiative shouldn’t pass if the anti-stress initiative in Denver is any measure. He does have good support for the idea that Americans should understand the Bible, particularly the King James, in order to have a good cultural education. English speakers use metaphors and images from the Bible, such as a David and Goliath situation, the wisdom of Solomon, and the garden of Eden. I saw the third one recently in a print advertisement for a bath tub.
In a history of English literature on Bartleby.com
(which includes many great books like the King James Bible), the writers describe how that translation strongly influenced our language.
Many phrases have grown so common that they have become part of the web of current English speech, and are hardly thought of as Biblical at all, except on deliberate reflection. For instance: “highways and hedges”; “clear as crystal”; “still small voice”; “hip and thigh”; “arose as one man”; “lick the dust”; “a thorn in the flesh”; “broken reed”; “root of all evil”; “the nether millstone”; “sweat of his brow”; “heap coals of fire”; “a law unto themselves”; “the fat of the land”; “dark sayings”; “a soft answer”; “a word in season”; “moth and rust”; “weighed in the balance and found wanting”; even such colloquialisms as, “we are the people” (cf. Job xii, 2). Many more of these might readily be quoted.
Picturesque Book on Grand Canyon Unacceptable by Evolutionists
A book of essays
on the Grand Canyon is available in the Grand Canyon National Park Service bookstore, and a number of geologists want it out. Grand Canyon: A Different View
has essays from Ken Ham, Kurt Wise, Steve Austin, and 20 others presenting aspects of what can be called catastrophism, that the world has been dramatically shaped by a global catastrophe, meaning The Flood account recorded in Genesis. The compiler of these essays has lead rafting tours
of the canyon since 1980.
According to this article on American Daily
, “the presidents of seven science organizations ... jointly signed a December 16, 2003, letter to the park's superintendent urging him to remove the book. Washington based Park Service spokesman David Barna told the Los Angeles Times that each park determines which products are sold in its bookstores and gift shops. The creationist book at the Grand Canyon was unanimously approved by a new-product review panel of park and gift shop personnel.” The article, written by Jeremy Reynalds, quoted Contributor Ken Ham saying, “Since the book shares the conclusion of most Canyon geologists—whether creationist or evolutionist—that most [believe] the Canyon was created in a relatively short period of time, why then shouldn't its visitors be exposed to this view?” In this RNS article
, Barna said park attorneys are writing a policy statement for its bookstores. He said, “It's not so much about this book as it is about what we do with the other views of the way geologic features in parks were created.”
I saw this news on Maud Newton’s laudable culture blog
. She offers one fair, well-written perspective. Here is another. Origin science is less about science than it is about philosophy of science. The battleground between evolution and creation is primarily over how to interpret good research, either from evolutionary assumptions or creationist assumptions.
Scientific conclusions, as I understand them, are the result of interpreting data, and those interpretations come from a scientist’s philosophy. That’s why NASA’s Stephen Squyres, who heads the Mars exploratory team, said he tried not to think about whether life on Mars exists. When asked by NPR’s Scott Simon during the Jan. 3 program Weekend Edition
, Squyres said if he concluded a plausible or desired answer to the question of Martian life, he would bias his interpretation of the information he received. Origin science works the same way. I suspect the question of God’s existence, regardless of who he may be, drives the outrage against books like this. I think scientists fight over origin data primarily because they are both committed to their theological beliefs.
Madeleine L'Engle on Being a Writer with Family
"I also think the stresses and strains of family life were important in developing me as a writer. I would mutter to myself, 'Emily Bronte didn't have to make the beds or do the cooking.' I made sure as soon as my children could stand, they made their own beds. They would say, 'Mother, if you didn't teach us anything else, you taught us to make our beds as soon as we got up in the morning.'" from On Being a Writer
, 1989, Writer's Digest Books
That's Sir Web Creator to You, Squire.
, 48, the inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
, will be made a Knight Commander, Order of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth in 2004, in recognition of his "services to the global development of the Internet."
According to the press release
, "In 1980, while Berners-Lee worked as a consultant software engineer at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, he wrote for his own private use his first program for storing information using the kind of random associations the brain makes. The 'Enquire' program -- which was never published -- formed the conceptual basis for the future development of the Web.
"While at CERN in 1989, he proposed a global hypertext project to be known as the World Wide Web. Based on the earlier 'Enquire' work, it was designed to allow people to work together by combining their knowledge in a Web of hypertext documents."
I know that isn't literary news, but this is a blog on the World Wide Web, so the news relates. Now, when I first published this news, I wrote that Berners-Lee created the Internet, but as the press release says, he created only the World Wide Web. In my mind, the two were the synonymous. But they aren't. So, Berners-Lee came up with the WWW, and Vinton Cerf lead the team with created TCP/IP
which is the fundamental protocol for the Internet. Thank you, Will Duquette
, for clearing my head on this matter.
Now, if you didn't know before, you know who really invented the Internet.
The Tax on Honesty
Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has co-written a book and caused a small stir. The book
, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill
, was released by Simon & Schuster today at the beginning of the election year. It is presently #1 on the Amazon list.
According to O’Neill in his "60 Minutes" interview last Sunday, he wouldn’t know why anyone would attack him or his book, since he was just being honest. Well, I hope he is being honest, though he seems to be naïve or pretending to be so.
Here’s something from an Amazon.com review by Charlie R of Washington. “I find Paul O'Neill a vapid man bent on revenge, and, were he the author of the book, would give it one star. However, given that it was not he who exposed his own stupidity, but rather Ron Suskind (the man to whom Paul O'Neill gave a lot of his records), I feel that Mr. Suskind deserves credit for exposing O'Neill's angry thirst for revenge. Mr. Suskind has created, in my mind, an image of King Lear thrashing about recklessly in the tempest.”
Having not read the book, I can’t verify that, but it is an extention of my impression from news accounts and excerpts. I suppose, if Democrat Presidential Candidate Kucinich is to be believed, one of the ringers in O’Neill’s book is that Bush began to plan for a post-Hussein Iraq in his first security meeting. Isn’t that the strategic thinking we need in the White House, looking ahead for possible problems? Didn’t Clinton say in 1998 that Hussein needed to be removed because he was a lingering threat?
According to this Washington Post article
, O’Neill knew that. He “disputed interpretations of the book suggesting he was accusing the president of doing something wrong, calling the controversy a ‘red meat frenzy. . . . People are trying to make a case that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration. Actually, there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be regime change in Iraq.’” I guess we’ll have to see if he’s lying here by reading the book or enough reviews and excerpts; but this ending quote appears to be back-peddling to me.
O’Neill also responded to a Wall Street Journal editorial today, which described the book as O’Neill’s “heavily hyped memoir” and criticized the former secretary of “impugning colleagues and betraying confidences to sell a book. O’Neill said, “[this is] Ron Suskind's book. . . . This is not my book. I have no economic interest in it, contrary to the inference in the Wall Street Journal [editorial] this morning. I hope people will read it because I think it makes a contribution to illuminating, especially for young people, what I consider to be a bipartisan, broken political process.”
The Treasury Department is looking into whether O’Neill misused documents marked ‘secret’ for his co-authored book. O’Neill said he didn't think he had been given access to anything unclassified, regardless the stamp on its cover.
Regarding Literary Criticism: The Fine Points of Choosing Books to Review
IÂm often at a loss over how to title a post. Sometimes I tend toward ahighfaluting one, like the above, and sometimes I stab at a genuinely funny one. Most of time, I think my titles are ignorable, serving only to announce a new post and maybe its subject. Oh, well. I suppose I am not a headlinist.
As for the meat of this post, Our Girl in Chicago, the inestimatable, who blogs at About Last Night
with Terry Teachout, has written about The Atlantics
editorial stance on book criticism. She writes, Wouldn't it be nice if every organ of criticism took the trouble of laying out its priorities, prejudices, and understanding of its mission? The Atlantic has done just that . . . She mentions the abundance of boring reviews and says, In an ideal world, even reviews of middling books would be fascinating, but this task takes a special kind of ingenuity from a special kind of critica fairly rare commodity that most of us would probably rather see spent on books that are really occasions, or are objects of genuine controversyand that, frankly, very few reviewers are paid well enough to be able to muster, even if that special kind of critic is lurking somewhere in them.
From August: Another Post Which Failed to be Archived
Andree Seu on Writing and Faking It
This week’s issue of World Magazine includes another great essay
by one of my favorite essayists/columnists/journalists (whichever label fits best) Andree Seu. She says, “Writers know that you can find a source to say anything you want, so they move heaven and earth to scare up an expert who agrees with them.” That and the pressures of marketing, whose goal is to turn a profit, makes some reporting and even fiction writing an exercise in building a pre-determined product. For some news sources, the stories they report are meant primarily to earn them money, not inform their readers. The right to know, if it exists, is subject to the desire for profit. She ends her essay expressing disappointment over the fact that Tom Clancy doesn’t write all of his novels. “I keep wondering about the poor schmo who writes for Mr. Clancy and doesn't get his name on the jacket,” she says.
A couple years ago, Ms. Seu told me that she was preparing her essays for possible publication in book form. Whether that pans out, that is to say if it’s in the cards (I love American gambling and gold rush metaphors), I hope she has a book of some sort published while I’m still around to read it.
Non-archived post from August 2003
Some time ago, I learned that Blogspot didn't archive half my posts from August. Here's a short one from that time, pertinent to another post I hope to write tomorrow. Tonight, I'm tied up in a couple chess games.
Speaking of Hawthorne, Erin O’Connor describes
a recent publication of a new discovery in the life of that great American author and contemporary of Longfellow and Melville. The post is interesting in full, but for those of you who want the preview or briefed version (and that’s what culture blogging is all about, isn’t it? Briefing other articles and adding comments), O’Connor says that A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession focuses on the dream of every literature scholar, finding a new something or new way of considering a author who’s been studied more often. She refers to a New York Times article on a story which Hawthorne wrote during a three-week time when he and his five-year-old son lived alone. His wife and daughters were away. The title is all I know about its contents, “Twenty Days With Julian & Little Bunny by Papa.”
James on the Motive for Murder
I didn't mention this when I first read it, so I'm glad the Telegraph has a website with permenant URLs for their articles. This is from an interview
with Baroness P.D. James
, author of several laudable mystery novels.
Is motive a tricky area? "Indeed it is. You must have a motive that seems strong enough for such a terrible deed. In real life, of course, it is often quite flimsy. Anger, drink. An old lady killed for her pension. But the reader has to feel he can understand why the guilty person did it, given his character, background and emotional state. In Agatha Christie's time, A might kill B because A is having an affair with his secretary and B is going to divulge it. Now A might sell the story to the Sunday newspapers. Money is always credible as a motive. So is hatred. So is a sense of injustice."
"Moby Lives" Powers Down
One of the best literary and publishing news blogs, Moby Lives
, has put out the Closed sign. Writer Dennis Loy Johnson did not explain his sabbatical, only writing, "With apologies to our loyal readers, MobyLives is going on a sabbatic of indefinite length. Watch for our return later this winter." I assume the site will remain available throughout the year, and the literary blogsphere will probably greet Johnson's return with deserved accolades and well-wishes. I know I've enjoyed reading Moby Lives, and my interest in it inspired me in part to begin writing here. Mr. Johnson, I hope 2004 is a good year for you. May the Lord bless you and keep you.
On Language & Meaning
In light of the post about the MLA, let me quote from a good interview with Bishop of Durham N. T. Wright in Britain's Independent (article no longer available
Bishop Tom Wright: "This debate is really about the role of reason. We don't do reasoned moral discourse any more. We do, 'I feel strongly about this', 'I feel wounded about that', and 'Let me tell you about my pain'. Victimhood is the new moral high ground. We've slid into a post-modern morass which sounds like reasoned discourse but which is really just an exchange of strong emotions. Feelings matter hugely, of course, but we mustn't mistake them for moral discourse. The debate has become so shrill precisely because we're trying to cover up for the fact that we no longer have any deep moral roots or thought-through moral principles." Which takes us to what Dr Wright sees as the heart of the matter. Homosexuality can't be isolated from wider cultural debate. "There is an implicit pantheism in our culture most obvious in New Age spirituality and it leaves us with no mechanism for dealing with the problem of evil."
We think that we have so many rules and regulations we can stop things from going wrong. We are lulled into a false sense of security. "But then, whether with the two little girls in Soham or the two giant towers in New York, evil is suddenly back and as a culture we don't have the coping mechanisms. But evil is powerful and it matters. In Christianity we have a God who takes the pain of the world upon himself. And thereby provides healing and new life which is a way out of it."
I Remember My Favorite LOTR Quote
Earlier today, a high posting day for me, I refered to Gideon Strauss'
passing on a Tolkien quote. I didn't remember my favorite quote at that time, but I do now, and it's one which made the movie. Another from Gandalf in the Fellowship of the Ring: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." The context is
Gandalf: "Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again."
"I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening."
The Human Stain of the MLA
According to these reports on the Modern Language Association’s
year-end convention, the MLA appears to be striving to make the world safe for the pain and idiocy of The Human Stain. Note this brief from World: “… many sessions showed the increasingly bizarre tendencies of American academia,” such as this topic, “Tortilleras on the Prairie: Latina Lesbians Writing the Midwest.” Here’s the link
. The topic on children’s literature is disgusting.
The first note
in this month’s “Notes & Comments” from The New Criterion criticizes a resolution on wartime propaganda, suggesting that teachers should counter the Bush administration’s “distortion” of “language to legitimate aggression, misrepresent policies, conceal aims, stigmatize dissent, and block critical thought.” Did Noam Chomsky
write a book which isn’t seeing the light of day (or the ink of press)? Maybe the MLA reads Moore and Franken's books as well-documented, thoughtfully researched commentary instead of the wild screeds they are.
This kind of foolishness builds the foundation for college speech codes like the kind described in Philip Roth’s The Human Stain
. Professor Erin O’Connor is very familiar with this subject and has written a good review
of the book on her excellent education blog.
Happy Birthday, Professor Tolkien!
On this day, January 3, 1892, British philologist, professor and fantasy writer John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontien, South Africa. There are many wonderful quotes and events in his book, The Lord of the Rings.
I’ve sung a version of “Roads Go Ever Ever On” for half of my life. Here’s a favorite quote
passed on by Gideon Strauss. Last year was Tolkien's eleventy-first birthday for which a toast was prepared on the Tolkien Society website
Also on this day in 1841, Herman Melville
began his South Sea adventure on the whaling ship Acushnet. This 18-month excursion and others like it would give him a foundation for writing five novels including Moby Dick
And Who’s to Say the Cellar Door Ain’t a Beaut Too?
Apparently, J.R.R. Tolkien said the words “cellar door,” when divorced from their denotation, are the most beautiful sounding words in English. Well, maybe he didn’t actually say that. Look at this reference
from the book, The Monsters and the Critics and other essays
. “Most English-speaking people, for instance, will admit that cellar door is 'beautiful', especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful. Well then, in Welsh for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent, and moving to the higher dimension, the words in which there is pleasure in the contemplation of the association of form and sense are abundant.”
Well, The Scotsman asked
several word-lovers about their favorite words, phrases, or “cellar doors.” Read the article for most of the details, but here are some abbreviated answers.
- A.L. Kennedy: “One of my favourite sentences would be ‘Pickled egg, anyone?’ Although I do not like pickled eggs, it always sounds melodious.”
- Janice Galloway: “It’s tempting to rerun the old chestnut that the most beautiful words in the English language are ‘cheque in the post,’ but I won’t.”
- Edith Bowman: “’Stuff.’ I love the general chaos to this word. And ‘chocolate.’ Quite self-explanatory really.”
- Forbes Masson: “’dry boak,’ which means the wretching sound you make when you are sick but don’t follow through. Very onomatopoeic! I’ve actually used it in one of my songs … ‘she smells like a rotten egg yolk, she keeps giving us the dry boak.’”
- Katie Hickman: “My favourite word is ‘weasel.’ It just appeals. It’s such a funny sounding word. My son likes the word ‘cheese-mongers’.”
- Candia McWilliam: “’Timor mortis conturbat me’ (from William Dunbar’s poem Lament For The Makers) or ‘the fear of death upsets me’”
- Jamie Byng: “I like ‘pickled by whispers’. It was what happened to Phlebas the Phoenician in the Death by Water section of TS. Eliot’s The Wasteland.”
- Ali Smith: “My favourite words are ‘Of course’ for multiple reasons. It sounds incredibly positive, and also suggests a cycle, something taking it’s course. Also, it’s just a great way of saying ‘Yes’.”
If these authors, publishers, poets, and songwriters were in Professor Tolkien’s class, I don’t know that they would all get high marks for their answers, if marks could be given for such a question. I’m sure Tolkien was getting after something which is lost on some of these respondants, that is the sound and feel of the words, not their meaning. Consequently, I have no idea what words strike me as better than others, though I have wondered about words like 'beef' and 'abscond,' not for their beauty, but for their origin. If this article has lit a fire within you, look into Tolkien’s lecture, “English and Welsh,” in this book, The Monsters and the Critics
Regarding Alexander McCall Smith
World Magazine’s Susan Olasky
and Christianity Today’s John Wilson
are recommending Alexander McCall Smith and his “The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.” I know I’m intrigued, more so after a little investigation. Amy Tan calls
his prose beautiful, and Smith himself calls it moral—among other things, I’m sure. I get that from Sarah Weinman of Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind,
who quotes from a December Telegraph article which is not online yet. Smith says, “I feel that writing is a moral act. I feel that those who portray an aggressive, vulgar, debased attitude towards life are conniving in that life, and I think publishers should reject them."
What If America Hadn't Been Founded by God-fearing Men?
World Magazine Editor Marvin Olasky passed on reader question about alternative history. "How would the world be different today if the United States didn't exist" as it does today?
"What would the world look like if America had been founded as a socialist nation, an atheist nation, or purely a secular nation?" Speculation ensued, and you'll see my response in the discussion thread as well as here.
I take this question to mean that America was founded by men who followed the French Revolution with admiration instead of learning from it. I suppose our founding fathers would all be cut from the cloths of Jefferson and Thomas Payne, that the spirit of John Adams or Patrick Henry would be absent.
If this unthinkable thing had happened, and it was 2004 in a country without our constitution, then here are my thoughts as a Southern-born English major. I think the American South would be radically different. I interpret the South as an integration of Christianity, agriculture, and slavery. If America had been far less infused with Christian ideas than it was and the South been nominally Christian at best, then slavery may not have been abolished until the early 1900s—if then. The evils of the slave trade would have been greater, and we may have seen a civil war or wars between slaves and free men. Africans may have retained much of the animism from their homeland without the indoctrination (both proper and improper) of the gospel. That means gospel music would not exist as it does today. Jazz may never have come, and Blues would be very different. William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor would not have written any worth reading—probably. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
wouldn’t exist. Neither Gershwin would be who they were, and a raised level of anti-Semitism may have suppressed them and those like them.
But if the Christians who founded America had stayed in England and Holland, may European history would be far better. Maybe Amsterdam would far less decadent. The church would have prospered somewhere, maybe a revival in Germany—maybe Hitler would never have come to Berlin, though an evil man like him probably would have sprung up somewhere else. If America had been like France all these years, maybe Russia would have been spared their Bolsheviks because they would have migrated to the United Socialist States of America. And if that were the case, Eastern Europe would be far better than it is today.
From the 1600s, A Blogger's Poem
"New doth the sun appear,
The mountains' snows decay,
Crown'd with frail flowers forth comes the baby year.
My soul, time posts away;"
Well, I don't know where Time writes his blog, but I know he's involved in mine. It often takes me longer than I'd like to post an entry. I hope you are edified by this blog, my data-mining, my small thoughts on literary news, my inconsequential book reviews. The blogosphere, as is much of pop culture and some of television, is filled mind-numbing material. You don't need more of that here; this isn't an Internet variation on Reality TV.
I assume any regular readers of Brandywine Books are book and art lovers, so if you have not seen Bartleby.com, from which the above poem by Drummond was taken
, go to it and find time to explore it. Bartleby.com has a myriad of literary resources for free use. It's home page has interesting daily content, the kind which we pay for in calendars and almanacs. Look into it.
"Look to that Heaven which never night makes black,
And there at that immortal sun's bright rays, 10
Deck thee with flowers which fear not rage of days!" from William Drummond, of Hawthornden (1585–1649), "Change should breed Change"