Brandywine Books
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
London Auction Sells Tolkien Books for $3,800
The estate of William Adams, an accountant and book lover, sold his private collection on the auction for $270,000 today, according to this AP story. Among the books were some rare Tolkien volumes, notably signed second editions of Fellowship and Two Towers, sold for $3,800. Of more interest to me, "a collection of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales containing engravings by Eric Gill attracted the highest bid of $7,500." They also auctioned off an edition of Joyce's Ulysses, illustrated by Henri Matisse.

Adams' family didn't know he had collected so many books until they looked into his house after his death last summer. From the article, "Sandy Burnett, a lawyer who handled Adams' will, said he was amazed to find that every room in Adams' Edinburgh house was filled with books. 'They were not just on walls, but under the bed, in the cupboards and in drawers,' Burnett said. Adams' family said he never married, choosing instead to devote his time to his love of literature and Wardie Parish Church, where he was an elder for 50 years."
Other News: Astin Promotes Literacy
From "'I believe the greatest gift you can give your child is the legacy of reading,' Sean Astin said. 'That is why my role as the National Center for Family Literacy's Verizon Literacy Champion is so important to me. It gives me the opportunity to encourage others to start a family tradition of reading to their child everyday.'" Sean Astin played Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings.
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
An Honest Liar
You’ve probably heard about Richard Clarke’s book, Against All Enemies, in which he apparently writes that the Bush Administration should have done more to address terrorists’ threats to our country, even though if he had done everything Clarke recommends, 9/11 would still have occurred. In an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross last week, Clarke said 9/11 would have occurred regardless, but the President should have talked about the intelligence he had at the time far more than he did. He compared Bush’s activities to Clinton’s, praising the former president for his frequent meetings with cabinet officials and advisors. The talk was good, he said, but why that administration refused to take Osama bin Ladin from the Sudanese four times over he did not say. Perhaps, talking is all he wanted.

The White House approved the release of a background transcript where Clarke contridicts his present accusations. Clarke’s response is that because he was working for the administration at the time, he spun his words to be in accord with their policies. So, he lied during the background session. And now that he’s independent, we are meant to believe him. And buy his book.

In their review, USA Today describes Clarke “as impatient and sometimes angry with everyone who disagrees with him, including the CIA (except for Director George Tenet) and the FBI (particularly former director Louis Freeh).” They continue: “Clarke says his goal was to provide factual descriptions of important events, not to attack anyone. But he says Bush and his team ‘had no real interest in complicated analyses; on the issues that they cared about, they already knew the answers.’ If Bush is re-elected, he says, ‘One shudders to think what additional errors he will make in the next four years.’” Yet the man claims 9/11 would have occurred no matter what the administration did in their few months in office before, so what are the shuddering errors?

Doug Clifton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer believes Clarke did lie during the briefing, but the larger question for him is why we know that he briefed at all.

“On one level, that's understandable [why Clarke lied]. Haven't we all defended the institutions we work for out of loyalty, obligation, self-preservation? On the other hand, when does principle trump loyalty, obligation, self-preservation? ... Should he have availed himself of the other time-honored Washington tradition, leaked his real feelings -on background - to a well-placed reporter?

At this point that's all academic and a cloud remains over the credibility of Clarke's testimony because he played by the rules of Washington. He spun on background in support of the administration he worked for and expected the conventions to be honored. In so doing he forgot the more basic rule of Washington, first described by Harry Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.’”
The 12th Book
Glorious Appearing, the 12th book in the LaHay-Jenkins’ Left Behind series, is being released today with several hundred thousand books already sold. Assist News Service reports the series has sold 60 million books since the first one was unleashed in 1995. “Over the next year, Tyndale has an aggressive publishing plan of ‘spin-off’ products that include eight more installments in the best-selling Left Behind: The Kids Series, the introduction of a new political thriller series End of State that parallels Left Behind and the continuation of its new hit military End Times thriller series Apocalypse Dawn.”

Book Adaptions Are Hard So Be Grateful
Iam Hamet has written again on The Lord of the Rings, saying the movie is so incredible that book loyalists should calm down about the variations. He quotes from the Producer/Writers' commentary with bits I have not heard. Now, I will let the matter rest. The films are wonderful, especially their depiction of The Shire and Rivendell. What else is there to say?
Place Your Bets! Red Sox to Win World Series
Ron Hogan of reports on Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King's plans to watch the Red Sox and journal the passion, the pain, and the pathos of the season. Their diaries will be published by Scribner at the end of the year. The AP records O'Nan saying, "I just got back from spring training, and the guys are ready. I'm ready. Everyone's ready. This is the year. It's do-or-die time." And when a horror writer says it's do or die time, I think we can assume he has a fair grasp of what kind of death he means.
Monday, March 29, 2004
Sandstrom on Reviewing Political Books
Concerning the critics, know this: The good ones appreciate the mandate to be fair. They know their credibility is best proven when they can find something laudable in the work of someone with whom they disagree or criticize poor work by someone they admire.

In a perfect world, noteworthy political books would be given fair consideration by readers from every point on the political spectrum. This being a loud, angry and imperfect world, I'm battening down the hatches and praying for a sci-fi renaissance. -- Karen Sandstrom, Cleveland Plain Dealer
'Renaissance'--which reminds me that Asimov's I, Robot is coming to a cinema near you, starring Will Smith. (My, that's a nice promotional website! Wait, that's not the only promotional site.) And that's reminds me of something else. Are they still writing Foundation books?
Some Are to be Eaten Slowly
From The Writer’s Home Companion (out-of-print, Penguin Books, 1987):

John Steinbeck’s Irish setter puppy, Toby, chewed up the only draft of the first half of Of Mice and Men. “Two months of work to do over again,” Steinbeck wrote. “I was pretty mad at the time but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically.” [After weak early reviews, he said,] “I’m not sure Toby didn’t know what he was doing when he ate the first draft.”
Ogden Nash autographed a second book for radio director Tom Carlson after the first was chewed into nirvana by Carlson’s dog. Nash returned the book with the dedication, “To Tom Carlson, or his dog—depending on whose taste it best suits.”
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Used Book Buys
I went to McKay's Used Books on Lee Hwy. today and tried to trade several unfriendly non-fictions for some exciting, friendly books. I failed in that they took one or two of my offerings and rejected the rest. Despite this credit set-back, I returned home with these interesting finds.
  1. Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, by James Finn Garner
    If you are unfamiliar with this tiny volume, here is a sample from "Little Red Riding Hood."
    The wolf said, "You know, my dear, it isn't safe for a little girl to walk through these woods alone."
        Red Riding Hood said, "I find your sexist remark offensive in the extreme, but I will ignore it because of your traditional status as an outcast from society, the stress of which has caused you to develop your own, entirely valid, worldview."
  2. A small study book on Emily Dickinson's poetry, to cheap to pass up
  3. Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
  4. A Passion for Books, a book lover's treasury
  5. Norton's World Poetry Anthology, published in 1998
Thursday, March 25, 2004
I Write Remarkably
This post originally recorded my surprise to the reputable Ian Hamet's response to my criticism of The Two Towers here. I quoted the two paragraphs which surprised me, and Ian has since retracted those comments. His post is here. I plan to remark on some of Ian's comments and Will's comments in the future, which is just around that sign post up ahead.
Secularism Can Destroy a Nation
To follow-up on an earlier post which mentioned the importance of reading old books, let me point you to this post on World's blog about David Brooks NY Times column for March 23. He addresses a problem with the secular argument against our pledge of allegiance before the Supreme Court. "If you believe that the separation of church and state means that people should not bring their religious values into politics, then, if Chappell is right [in his book A Stone of Hope, a history of the civil rights movement], you have to say goodbye to the civil rights movement. It would not have succeeded as a secular force."
Whether you believe in God or not, the Bible and commentaries on the Bible can be read as instructions about what human beings are like and how they are likely to behave. Moreover, this biblical wisdom is deeper and more accurate than the wisdom offered by the secular social sciences, which often treat human beings as soulless utility-maximizers, or as members of this or that demographic group or class. Whether the topic is welfare, education, the regulation of biotechnology or even the war on terrorism, biblical wisdom may offer something that secular thinking does not--not pat answers, but a way to think about things.
"Oops! That's a bit of a cliche."
(by way of World) The Plain English Campaign of England surveyed Britons to learn which phrases most irritate them. "At the end of the day" was reported to be the most irritating verbal smack in the face. Many offensive words or phrases look like business jargon to me, which probably shows Capitalism's evil influence on the mush-minds of the world. If only businesses would stop forcing their so-called services on the innocents around them, we would all speak purer English. Wouldn't we?

The survey reports, "Other terms that received multiple nominations included: 24/7; absolutely; address the issue; around (in place of about); awesome; ballpark figure; basically; basis ('on a weekly basis' in place of 'weekly' and so on); bear with me; between a rock and a hard place."

For an interesting side note to this, David Mills of Touchstone Magazine said he can spot writers who use Word Processors rather than pens. Writing with a pen, he said, slows you down enough to filter some of your thoughts and phrases out. You think more clearly by taking longer over your words. I wish that held true for me.
Calvin & Hobbes on Journaling
Here's today's Calvin & Hobbes, originally published in 1993. "History will thank me for keeping this journal at such a young age," Calvin remarks. I wonder how much I think similiarly pretentious thoughts when I write in a journal, blog, story, or article. My penchon for this pride is what makes Scripture's admonition not to consider ourselves wise and to think of other more highly than ourselves a difficult meditation for me.
Monday, March 22, 2004
Voltaire Was a Heavy Drinker
I just learned from Mental Floss magazine's "Hooked on Books" daily calendar, a gift from my kind sister, that Voltaire drank 50-75 cups of coffee every day. At first, I thought this was earlier in coffee's history, so maybe Voltaire was drinking a substance not entirely unlike coffee today; but I believe I was mistaken. He probably drank something akin to french press coffee, thick with oil and granuals. Voltaire would have been drinking years after coffee usurped beer as New York's City's favorite breakfast drink (1668), probably around the time Bach composed his Coffee Cantata (1732). "Partly an ode to coffee and partly a stab at the movement in Germany to prevent women from drinking coffee (it was thought to make them sterile), the cantata includes the aria, 'Ah! How sweet coffee taste! Lovelier than a thousand kisses, sweeter far than muscatel wine! I must have my coffee.'" (trivia source)

I have also learned that most of Voltaire's body was stolen years after his death, that his heart has its eternal resting place in the Paris National Library, and that "his brain was passed around over the next hundred years but has since disappeared after an auction." Care to guess where his soul ended up?
The Creation of Wealth: Recovering a Christian Understanding of Money, Work, and Ethics by Fred Catherwood

I’ve been putting off a review of this book because I didn’t want to criticize it unjustly or out of ignorance. While Sir Fred Catherwood has plenty of experience for a book like this—a CEO of an international company, a member of a government trade committee, and a member of the European Parliament for Cambridgeshire, England—he hasn’t written a strong book.

From his preface, he purports to examine the reasons some countries are wealthier than others. “It is easy to see why Christian respect for the dignity of the individual could lead to democracy; but why, when Christians are taught not to set their hearts on riches, is Western society ten times richer than the rest of the world? Why, too, after half a century of aid, have poor countries not even begun to catch up?” He points to the Bible commentaries of John Calvin for revealing Scriptural truths to Western countries in a more applicable way than the Catholic church had done—perhaps even more than it currently does. The Bible teaches principles such as the holiness of common work, trust and honesty in the marketplace, and our duty to care for the poor, orphans, and widows among other things. Those are principles even modern Christians need a better handle on.

In his chapter on wealth, Catherwood describes his core principle.
Practicing Christians are likely to be richer than their neighbors. We are taught to work harder, be more trustworthy and responsible, and develop our talents to the full; we are not to gamble or waste our money on conspicuous consumption—it would be odd if all this did not put us ahead. And looking around the world, the Western democracies, rooted in this ethic, all have personal incomes far greater than anywhere else. If those with the skill overspend, leaving no capital to invest, then the rest of the world will suffer. The West is the dynamo of the world economy, and we have no right to squander all the wealth on ourselves. The rich should not get richer by making the poor poorer (p 40).
As a practicing Christian, I agree with his estimate, though there are many believers who are not following even these simple principles. I also agree that some American businessmen are increasing their wealth off the backs of poor and middling-waged workers, both domestic and foreign. But I don’t agree that our general working environment helps the rich get richer while pushing the poor to be poorer, especially using the definitions often used by those who employ these words. Based on this assumption, Catherwood argues that employers must protect their workers and treat them fairly so that wealthy businessmen cannot build their empires on the bodies of poor laborers. He reminds us that 19th Century Christians fought for laws which would guarantee some safeguards for workers against employers who may exploit them. But I throw out a caution flag when such mandated protections become overbearing on the employer. They cease to be worker protections at that point and become the entangling entitlements of a socialist state. Is it not better to keep such protections at a minimum and enable workers to protect themselves to best of their ability, thereby freeing both employer and employee to use their incomes wisely?

Using income wisely is another of Catherwood’s themes. In the above quote, he says the world will suffer if the West squanders its wealth instead of investing it; but elsewhere in the book, he explains why foreign aid doesn’t work. “Corruption is the main single reason why income per capita in most countries is only a tenth of that in the industrial democracies” (p 54). Without the moral basis for good business and sound government, foreign aid will continue to throw good money after bad. So, why does the author generalize about squandering wealth? Maybe he is encouraging us to give generously to those ministries and organizations that teach a moral basis.

Generosity is one of the good ideas present in The Creation of Wealth along with frugality, saving, and investing. With them, however, the author praises the American media for its truthfulness, urges Christians to “protest” the environmental misuses causing global warming, and calls for supporting the taxation needed to fund public education and health care. I doubt these latter reasons will sit well with many conservative Christians and will prevent them for recommending the book to their friends.

Writing about money, work, and politics is controversial ground without trying to apply biblical concepts, so I suppose I should anticipate conflict when reading this book. And I think that controversy, if not the subject alone, inhibits the book’s wider acceptance. I have no doubt there are thousands of Christian businessmen who do not have an adequate understanding of how to apply God’s Word to their specific business decisions. This book may not be the one for them. It may be one for non-Christian, though religious, businessmen, but I’m not sure about that either.
On Hasty Reservals and Film-Writing Techniques
It has long been old news that the script for The Two Towers introduces a new character as Faramir. In the current issue of Mars Hill Audio, Tolkien Scholar Ralph Wood wonders why. He speculates that the writers don’t understand the strong virtue in Tolkien’s Faramir which distinguishes him from his brother, Boromir, and contributes to his father’s disfavor. He may be right; but the reason the writers give for introducing this new character is the One Ring’s influence, which I believe shows their commitment to certain film-writing ideas or formulas which can work against good storytelling.

In the DVD commentaries, Boyens says they have built the case for the corruptive power of the Ring throughout the films, so they couldn’t have a character show up to say, “I wouldn’t take this thing if it lay along the highway.” Faramir doesn’t change or go on any kind of journey related to the Ring, so he had to be replaced. He needs to show that he is wooed by the corrupting power and resists it. The problem with this reason is the undermining it receives when played out. Sure, Faramir feels the power of the Ring, hauls Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath, only to release them after realizing Boromir died trying to do what he was doing. There’s his journey, but what about this men? The hobbits and Faramir speak openly about the Ring in front of many soldiers, something Tolkien’s Faramir avoided for fear of the Ring tempting them. In the film, the men think nothing of it, never asking, “What’s this about?” or “Why would you release the hobbits in the middle of a battle?” The result of this new Faramir’s journey is the obvious non-journey of all of his men. Where is the Ring’s corrupting influence in that?

I think the desire to depict this moral journey shows a commitment to certain film-writing principles which standardize many stories coming from Hollywood. The writers believe it is more dramatic to have a character choose the wrong course until some revelation turns them around. The characters say, “All is lost. All is lost. But wait! Maybe we have one, slim chance.” This idea, I suppose called a ‘reversal,’ can gut a story’s richness. In this film, you see it at its worst in the subplot about the Ents. Treebeard talks a good bit about how Ents are not hasty and take a long time to decide anything. So the Ents gather to discuss Saruman’s threat and their role in the war outside Fangorn. They spend a couple days, I think, talking about their responsibilities and gradually decide the war is not their problem. Not hasty at all. But because Pippin asks Treebeard to drop off close to Isengard, the old Ent sees the pillage of the southern forest, regrets the lost lives of the trees, and roars to the other Ents to war against Saruman to avenge this outrage. The Ents, ever faithful, rush to his aid and tear down Isengard’s war machine. My goodness, that’s hasty.

Both with the hasty Ents and the new Faramir, the reversal concept outweighs good storytelling. How is it more dramatic to contradict Entish nature by having them decide against the war until they are beset with outrage? It strikes me as a subtle anti-war statement, that wise beings will not decide to war out of love for their neighbors or to defend justice. They must act on outrage. They must react to a slap in the face. And they have no opportunity to sing Tolkien’s exciting Ent war march:
To Isengard! Though Isengard be ringed and barred with doors of stone;
Though Isengard be strong and hard, as cold as stone and bare as bone,
We go, we go, we go to war, to hew the stone and break the door;
For bole and bough are burning now, the furnace roars – we go to war!
To land of gloom with tramp of doom, with roll of drum, we come, we come;
To Isengard with doom we come!
With doom we come, with doom we come!
So, in answer to Ralph Wood, the writers may misunderstand Faramir’s strong virtue, but I think they are more committed to these script-writing ideas than they are to anything else. That commitment lead them to write many wonderful parts in their rest of the three movies, so I doubt those ideas are all bad.
Saturday, March 20, 2004
Identifying Good Writing
I’ve been slow to point out Will Duquette’s thoughts on C.S. Lewis’ interesting little book called The Abolition of Man. Will offers a good summary of an idea relevant to issues we discuss today, which should go without saying because as there is nothing new under the sun so almost all of our modern discussions are only variations on those discussed and fought over in the past. If you ever catch yourself believing that we know more about the human heart (or soul, spirit, psyche, whichever word you wish to use) than our forefathers because of some advancement or evolved sophistication, then trade at least 10 of your modern books for at least 5 books written prior to 1900. If you’re completely illiterate in ancient thought, find a Bible (the King James translation still has the ancient flavor, but several other translations communicate more readably the ideas first written in Hebrew and Greek) and maybe a world literature anthology or something of Plato, Milton, or Confucius.

In The Abolition of Man, Lewis starts off with a good point about an English grammar book written by men whom he names Gaius and Titius.
In their fourth chapter they quote a silly advertisement of a pleasure cruise and proceed to inoculate their pupils against the sort of writing it exhibits. The advertisement tells us that those who buy tickets for this cruise will go 'across the Western Ocean where Drake of Devon sailed', 'adventuring after the treasures of the Indies', and bringing home themselves also a 'treasure' of 'golden hours' and 'glowing colours'. It is a bad bit of writing, of course: a venal and bathetic exploitation of those emotions of awe and pleasure which men feel in visiting places that have striking associations with history or legend. If Gaius and Titius were to stick to their last and teach their readers (as they promised to do) the art of English composition, it was their business to put this advertisement side by side with passages from great writers in which the very emotion is well expressed, and then show where the difference lies.

They might have used Johnson's famous passage from the Western Islands, which concludes: 'That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.' . . . A lesson which had laid such literature beside the advertisement and really discriminated the good from the bad would have been a lesson worth teaching. . . . What they actually do is to point out that the luxurious motor-vessel won't really sail where Drake did, that the tourists will not have any adventures, that the treasures they bring home will be of a purely metaphorical nature, and that a trip to Margate might provide 'all the pleasure and rest' they required. From this passage the schoolboy will learn about literature precisely nothing. What he will learn quickly enough, and perhaps indelibly, is the belief that all emotions aroused by local association are in themselves contrary to reason and contemptible.
Lewis’ larger theme is worth shouting from a street corner, that if feelings and morals are only subjective reactions based on the nothing more than habit and conditioning, that if science is our only avenue for knowledge and the metaphysical is merely imaginary, then when scientists successfully explain away the universe and human nature, they will have abolished mankind itself.

But on the smaller, literary point, what makes writing good? Since advertising is in Lewis’ example, I’ll stick to it. Is it good writing for Coca-Cola to bid us simply, “Enjoy”? I think so, but if you’re the copy writer for Double Cola, how do you find a suitable variation? “Enjoy” exceeds “you deserve it” messages from many over vendors. But I’m thinking philosophically again and about advertising no less. In the book arena, what makes some sentences better than others after they clear certain grammatical hurtles? Savor, when the words taste good to read? Elegance, when they walk smoothly to their own cadence?

Consider this example: “The only gospel I had taught was the gospel of good manners. I had pounded the Golden Rule into my children’s heads. True, there are worse gospels to preach, but it fell so short of the real one. Over the years people had commented on how polite my kids were, and I had always taken this as a badge of success. I had stressed good morals, but morality was part of my general creed of courtesy, nothing more. As I glanced down now at the Bible on the seat beside me, which Margaret had given me before I left her house, my heart ached to realize what I had withheld from my children. This was a major omission. And I had wanted to be such a good mother.” (from this book)

And consider this one: “Getting here with even the bare minimum was a trial. Just when we considered ourselves fully prepared and were fixing to depart, lo and behold, we learned that the Pan American airline would only allow forty-four pounds to be carried across the ocean. Forty-four pounds of luggage, per person, and not one iota more. Why, we were dismayed by this bad news! Who'd have thought there would be limits on modern jet-age transport? When we added up all our forty-four pounds together including Ruth May's--luckily she counted as a whole person even though she's small--we were sixty-one pounds over. Father surveyed our despair as if he'd expected it all along, and left it up to wife and daughters to sort out, suggesting only that we consider the lilies of the field which have no need of a hand mirror nor aspirin tablets. (from this book)

I’m not capable of pointing to the spots of good prose and contrasting them with the bad; so in a kind of postmodern fashion I give you these examples with scant direction and bid you to enjoy.
Added to the Links List
I added a few sites to my reading links in the righthand column. Some are book club sites targeting Christian readers, which I learned about through World's blog. I am not recommending these per se, but I thought they may scratch your itch. Other links are to literary websites, 'Beatrice,' 'Sarah Weinman,' and 'Reading to My Kids.'

I may be too cautious when I consider to whom I link. I don't want you to browse through one of my reading links and read someone praising the immoral or advocating foolishness; but bloggers aren't spotless and the larger my readership grows, the greater my risk of feather-ruffling. I'm not against ruffling feathers, mind you, but I want to avoid a certain kind of ruffling, the kind that degenerates the heart. The Internet is wild, as you should know by now; so whether it's my list or someone else's, what where you click.
And Now, These Headlines
I just was reading Reuters story (via Worldmagblog) about Mel Gibson's interest in the Book of Maccabees, when I saw these Reuters headlines in their Entertainment section:
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
J.I. Packer on Writing & Christian Fiction
"When would-be writers ask me for advice on fulfilling their ambition, I warn them that there is more to it than Enid Blyton's formula, going broody over a typewriter, might suggest. I tell them there are three essentials: first, something to say, something you have seen and want to share; second, enough technique to enable it to find its own best shape on paper; third, a strong bottom on which you can sit for hours together handcrafting sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Sometimes my advice stops folk in their tracks. How much real wisdom it contains others must judge; I only know that this is what has come home to me during the twenty-five years of trying to write myself.

"Christian novelists today have a hard furrow to plough. The secular world finds their vision of life unconvincing, and the Christian world lacks interest in their attempts to express that vision in their stories. Part of the trouble here is the prevalence of a different type of Christian fiction, stemming from the 'edifying' tracts and children's stories of the last century, having not the nature of novels but of sermons. As musical comedies tend to embody what P.G. Wodehouse called the oldest plot in the world--boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl--so this type of Christian fiction is usually built round a two-pronged plot formula--someone turns from God and finds trouble, someone in trouble turns to God and is blessed. Unhappily, these moral tales, though not novels, often claim this name, and so spread the idea that this is what 'real' Christian novels are like. The result, both funny and sad, is that when folk fed on this diet read a genuine novel by a Christian novelist (Graham Greene, say, or Charles Williams, or George Target, or Flannery O'Connor, or Fyodor Dostoevski, or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) their appreciation, if any, is overshadowed by regret and puzzlement that the author did not so manipulate his characters as to produce a straightforward moral tale, clearly illustrating the gospel. No suspicion that the novel is a different thing from the moral tale enters their heads." -- J.I. Packer, 1982, in a forward to No Graven Image
Review of Parker's Uncle Sam's Plantation
Reviewer and Columnist La Shawn Barber has written a good review of Star Parker's book-length critique of government dependancy, Uncle Sam’s Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America’s Poor and What We Can Do About It. She writes:
Parker’s charges against the liberal establishment will move readers to challenge Big Government’s plantation system. Tracing the shift in America’s attitude from belief in strong families and hard work to the flawed idea that it’s the government’s role to solve social problems, the author contends that the Great Depression marked a turning point in the American conscience.


The onus was now on society to “fix” poverty. Thirty-five years later, taxpayers are still trying to fix it. But poverty cannot be fixed with money, Parker asserts. Moral bankruptcy, caused by the scourge of relativism, must be overcome. Government “safety nets” allow people to escape the consequences of personal behavior (free health care, abortion on demand, sex education, affirmative action, etc.). As a result, there is little incentive to learn from bad behavior.

For example, by removing the man’s responsibility to take care of his family, the welfare state has freed men to abandon their pregnant women, the author argues. The collapse of morals in America has virtually destroyed the black family.
Barber has written several sound reviews for
"As a lady adjusts her dress before a mirror, a man adjusts his character by looking at his journal." -- James Boswell
Monday, March 15, 2004
What Does Cereal Have to Do with Literature or Books?
If you read my research into Chex® Mix recipes and think, "Why is this on this blog? I came here to read about books," well, my friend, think no further. Literature-themed cereals could be just around the corner. But even without that tie-in, you and I both know everything that rises must converge. Thus, cereal and literature together.
Followup: Gibson's Neighbor's son was stunned
Marla has quoted from a Christianity Today interview with Mel Gibson, in which Gibson tells about a neighborhood boy wandering into their home, grabbing some food, and watching The Passion of the first time.
Viewer Discretion Can’t Be Compulsory
I've blogged positively about Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of Christ, and though I have not seen it myself, I look forward to its continued success. But even good movies can bring out the idiot in people. Jared of has quoted from Stephen King’s article in Entertainment Weekly about watching a young girl see this graphic dramatization. "I kept sneaking glances at Alicia [the name he gave the 8-10 year old] as the movie played. She did okay until the scourging of Christ. Then she did indeed close her eyes, and buried her face against her mother's side. The little body inside the blue dress was all angles, an exclamation mark of horror. Gibson's version of the scourging seems to go on forever as the Roman punishment detail uses first a whip and then a spiked lash to literally peel the flesh from Jesus' body, spattering the cobbles around him with gore." He said she hid from the movie for several minutes, but eventually looked again. "I think she’ll be looking for a long time to come in her dreams," King writes. "In those dreams there will likely be no redemption, no victory over sin, no scripture, no eternal life. I think in Alicia’s dreams there will only be a skinless nightmare Christ with one eye swollen shut."

The discussion thread linked above is valuable for understanding the foolishness of some Christians and parents and the sympathy of their more mature brethren. Asbell leads with a good report from his work in a Christian bookstore. "I'm beginning to feel like some people are proud of having survived the movie, especially those who've gone multiple times. Maybe they should make T-shirts. 'I saw The Passion on Ash Wednesday.' 'I saw The Passion even before Ash Wednesday.' 'I've endured The Passion twice.' 'I've Witnessed The Passion Seven Times.' 'Jesus Died for You, The Least You Can Do is Watch.'"
The First, Original Chex Party Mix
Why do you read Brandywine Books? Because in this over-saturated world, information may be easy to come by, but is it efficacious in your personal life? Well, here at Brandywine Books, we deliver practical information you can use. And remember, our redundancy is guaranteed. Don't ever forget it.

Have you looked at a box of Chex® cereal for their official Chex® Mix recipe and thought, “I don’t remember bagel chips in Mom’s Chex® Mix back in the golden 70s when life was simpler and activist judges weren’t forcing homosexual marriage on us”? Well, the same thing happened to me earlier this evening, so I’ve researched it for us both and found this helpful note from Linda Larsen on Busycooks at “January 19, 2004--I recently received an email from Mark, who told me that my 'original' recipe for Chex® Party Mix isn't the original at all. He found a recipe on a picture of an old Chex® cereal box on the web. Here's the Original Original Chex® Party Mix. I should have known the version I printed as 'original' wasn't, since garlic-flavored bagel chips are not a 1950s product, and Corn Chex® were also not available then.”

The Recipe:
Melt 1/3 cup butter in a shallow pan. Stir in 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/8 tsp. garlic salt (not garlic powder). Add 2 cups Wheat Chex®, 2 cup Rice Chex®, 1/2 cup nuts (peanuts, pecans or cashews). Mix until all pieces are butter coated. Place on a shallow baking pan with sides. Heat 30 minutes in a 300 degree F oven, stirring every 10 minutes. Cool...enjoy!"
Source: Ralston Purina, which is owned by Nestle
Briefly Noted
Where did I read that writing took a little more time than you wanted to give? It’s true.

In case you do not monitor "La Sabot Post-Moderne," John has written some brief reviews of several books. Here he has few thoughts on Oliver’s The History of the Blues, Keegan's Penguin Book of War, and Koch's The Year of Living Dangerously.
And here he has posted a few words on Welsh's Ecstasy, Ha Jin's In the Pond, Graham Greene's Travels With My Aunt, and Jensen's The Paper Eater.

Also World is calling for opinions in a type of mini book forum. They asks “Have you read any contemporary fiction that comes out of a Christian worldview? There is a whole genre, of course, of "Christian fiction" (feel free to mention any of those that are especially worth reading). But there are also "secular" authors who are Christians whose faith shapes their work, even though it might not be explicitly religious in its subject-matter."
Friday, March 12, 2004
I would enjoy reading and blogging for a full day today, being free from my day job; but I have household responsibilities which would bless my wife and family far more than blog entries. Feel free to link through my reading list on the right for good material, both light and serious, and if you are a fan of Book Lust or Sara Nelson's So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading, then you may be interested in Indelible Ink, in which "22 prominent Christian leaders discuss the books that shape their faith." Good day!
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Sure It's a Wild Success! But Is It a Serious Book?
Today, the Book Babes have written about the clash between entertainment books and literary works, what they call Steinbeck vs. Grisham. The discussion their notes from talking to Entrekin of Grove/Atlantic and Applebaum of Random House. In short, the ladies say that book critics such as themselves ought to read more like book buyers, that is with an eye toward an enthusiastic readership. Why didn’t the NYTBR cover Brown’s Da Vinci Code even when “Doubleday was so behind this book that it sent out 10,000 advance reading copies, four times the standard number”?

Ellen writes, “Critics are a conduit between publisher and reader, but it's an open question whether they exercise their clout effectively enough. . . . The most enduring remark I heard all week came from Charles Taylor [who] couldn't help commenting on this curious inversion: ‘Book reviewers can get away with NOT reviewing what people are actually reading.’”

Margo suggests, “What should concern us is how the public is able to learn about the good books that are out there. I agree with Entrekin that there is hardly a lack of them. I also agree with him that ‘more people are reading better books than in the history of the world.’”

That about wraps it up, except to harp on a curious choice of words. Ellen says, “Where Applebaum slaps critics' wrists for elitism, Entrekin says they're letting some big fish (literally and figuratively) get away.” Am I to understand that some critics are trout fishing after hours, maybe while pondering their next critique? What does ‘literally’ mean here if it doesn’t mean actual fish getting away from live critics?
Monday, March 08, 2004
To Check or Not To Check, Patzer!
Tuesday is chess great Bobby Fischer's birthday. He will be 61. A new book on Fischer retells his famous 1972 game against Boris Spassky in a way the Christian Science Monitor calls "highly readable." Authors David Edmonds and John Eidinow have written Bobby Fischer Goes to War for the non-fiction reading public, not only avid chess fans. USA Today says, "The authors have penned a good old-fashioned psychological thriller replete with dramatic political overtones." The NY Times thinks the book drags in the beginning, but picks up the pace once the challenge of intellect begins.

Of course, Fischer alone is a study. "Fischer transcended garden-variety dissent. Sociopathic rudeness was more his style. He was inveterate in his outspoken loathing of Communists, reporters, Jews and women." And what's wrong with loathing reporters, I'd like to know? Monitor reviewer Heller McAlpin writes, "After his victory, Fischer lost any of the glory he momentarily held. 'The achievement of Fischer's only goal destroyed his raison d'être,' [the authors] write. He forfeited his championship to Anatoli Karpov in 1975 by default. In 1992, he emerged for a 20th-anniversary rematch against Spassky in war-torn Belgrade, where he won. But it was 'pedestrian' chess that resulted in a still extant US arrest warrant for Fischer, since he defied UN sanctions by going there. Nowadays, he occasionally comes out of hiding in Japan to conduct anti-Semitic and anti-American radio rants."

So Fischer is a boor, but the book appears to be quite good.
The Beatles, as Our Culture Shifts Beneath Us
In his debut post on a new trio-blog, Rev. Derek Thomas--originally of Wales, recently of Jackson, MS--writes on the significance of the Beatles and the rise of popular culture. "According to Ken Myers (All God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes), popular culture is characterized by two key attributes: the quest for novelty and the desire for instant gratification. Meyers argues that the quest for novelty is not simply a search for new distractions, but a belief that a new thing will be better than the old one."
The Passion and Historical Crucifixion
The AP reports, “The Passion, Gibson's bloody re-enactment of Christ's crucifixion, has grossed $212 million so far in the United States and Canada. The movie is expected to top $300 million, said Bob Berney, president of Newmarket Films, the independent distributor Gibson hired to release The Passion after Hollywood studios passed on it.”

I doubt you can avoid at least some of the fervor over The Passion of Christ. I suppose that’s natural for a well-produced movie on the most influential man in history. Even our calendar is based on his life, making this 2004 Anno Domini or the Year of our Lord. It’s hard to be a secularist when the sacred touches every part of the world.

I write about the movie this morning because a co-worker told me that a deacon at his church said in a brief address to the congregation yesterday that people would not understand the full meaning of the communion meal until after they see the movie. No, that is far from true; but I hope the movie will enrich the faith of many who see it.

I’ve read in at least one article on this that previous movies may have stunted our imagination of what the Lord suffered during his brutal persecution and death. The quote above appears to suggest that Gibson exaggerated history, making it more bloody than it was; but as this letter quoted on World’s blog points out, Roman crucifixion is a very horrible execution and Jesus suffered a great deal before that. The Bible says his beard was ripped out, that he was unrecognizable on the cross. With that in mind, I wonder if The Passion is bloody enough.
Saturday, March 06, 2004
Trading for the Old Masters
Several days ago, I traded several books like something-or-other from Robert H. Schuller and the autobiography of the founder of Holiday Inn for these:

Those are the books I buy most often, ones I’ve wanted to read for long time. Occasionally, I buy those from authors who have impressed me somehow, but usually those works which have already gained recognition as being better than most in their class.

Let me share one of Dillard’s found poems with you. She did not write this, but culled it from The Art Spirit by Robert Henri.
The old masters
Were not so nervous we are.

VELASQUEZ: He must have felt
And willed all that he did.

COROT: The quality of mind
That makes you paint as you do is what counts.

MANET: Notice the meaning of every change.
HOGARTH: The head of a fish girl.

Here is a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci.
I enter this sketch

And I see him at work and in trouble
And I meet him there.
Piper's Book on The Passion Selling Like, Um, Something Which Sells Fast
[by way of World] Wonderful pastor and author John Piper released a small, 128-page book in January entitled, The Passion of Jesus Christ, Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die. According to the AP, 1.6 million copies are in print, with at least 700,000 confirmed as sold by publisher Crossway Books. Wow! If I understand it properly, most of the books sold their Piper's ministry, Desiring God, thus circumventing the bestseller lists. I don’t doubt it will be good reading for many people, though if moviegoers want the best context for what they see on screen in The Passion, I recommend The Gospel of John, found in every New Testament and on plenty of websites.

Hotcakes, anyone?
Friday, March 05, 2004
Accountants Read for Pleasure About Five Hours A Week
[by way of] This article is stereotype fodder, and I love this sentence: “Chefs and teachers come joint seventh, reading for four hours 27 minutes, and both spend a lot of time reading in the lavatory.” But do they wash their hands afterwards?
Publishing Fast and Easy
Here is a worthy contribution from OGIC to which I point your attention too slowly. She quotes from an essay on book publishing from a 1989 edition of The American Scholar. She does so in response to an Observer article on February 22 called, “The curse of the synopsis,” in which Robert McCrum writes:
You might imagine that publishing is about people of taste and discrimination sitting about in armchairs reading typescripts, discussing the classical interplay of pity and fear. Alas, you would be wrong.

In the Grub Street of the twenty-first century, books are traded on less and less material, and almost never on complete manuscripts. First novels are sold on sample chapters; translations snapped up on hearsay. In one notorious recent contract, admittedly for the work of a well-known writer, more than a million pounds changed hands after the publisher had been allowed only to glimpse a few pages of synopsis, cobbled together by the writer's agent. Even with serious fiction, more and more publishers are having to base their offer on just a few pages of outline.

Promoted as having, for example, 'the narrative sweep of Cold Mountain' or the 'narrative urgency of Ian Rankin' and the 'passionate intensity of Alice Sebold', these virtual books are rarely described on their own terms. Some literary agents, who are scarcely superior to conmen, trade on these banal formulae, scattering their synopses/outlines across the publishing landscape like so many snake-oil salesmen. Forget books; in America, synopsis-mania has got so bad that there is already an annual prize for the best one.
What prize is that?
Narnia series to begin in New Zealand with Disney’s help
[By way of World] Walden Media has made a deal with The Walt Disney Company to produce “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” an adaptation of C.S. Lewis classic book. They plan to film in New Zealand, and there is a strong rumor that Nicole Kidman will play a major role in the film to be released during the 2005 Christmas season.

Of course, all parties involved hope the seven films in this series will be as big as the New Zealand based Tolkien adaptions; but you can see from the cyncism on World’s blog what I believe will be the reaction of many Narnia fans until the first film proves itself. This kind of talk reminds me Walt Disney’s adaptation, if you can call it that, of Alice in Wonderland, where affection for the book did not improve watching the cartoon. But to all inclined to fuss about this news, I recommend a wait-and-see attitude. Let the professional talking heads project beyond their knowledge and opine as if they have wisdom. You and I have more common sense than they. At least, let’s pretend we do for today and decide again tomorrow.

As for the Reuter’s reporter in our lead story link, he apparently doesn’t know anything about the series and doesn’t have a good source to help him. “The seven ‘Narnia’ books by C.S. Lewis describe a war in the frozen fantasy land of Narnia pitting the forces of darkness led by the White Witch against the lion Aslan and four children who stumbled into Narnia through a wardrobe closet.” Well, the book being filmed first is something like that, but not the whole series. I wouldn’t call the book, which I’m reading to my five-year-old at bed-time, about a war either, though it is a conflict between the White Witch and Aslan. Maybe they plan to play up the conflict more than Lewis wrote.

If you want to see a live-action dramatization of this story which barely strays from any of the written details, watch the BBC’s version. [BBC Shop, Amazon] Speaking of the BBC, here’s a fun article on Lewis hometown and inspirations.
On Blogging and Linking and Hoping
Terry Teachout has written intelligently on blogging, most recently stirring up dust over giving credit for links where credit is due. His follow-up to that post is here.

On the matter of link-poaching, I know I have been guilty. A handful of my posts have worked themselves out to avoid mentioning where I saw the link. When I conceive the post idea, I plan to give proper credit, but when I actually finish it, no credit is given. That's the discovery part of my writing. I don't have full control over my writing; if I did, I'd write like William Faulkner or Dorothy Sayers. But now that this whistle has screeched, I'll be sure to watch my sourcing for at least the next several minutes.

Big media is talking more about blogs. Jeff Jarvis' Buzzmachine (originally seen through Teachout) has at least a couple posts on news stories related to blogging. Here he says, "Weblogs are a medium of substance, of people who have things to say and of those things catching on (or not catching on) in a wider discussion. That is what makes blogs significant." People who have things to say, huh? I can't tell you number of times I despair that I have nothing worthwhile to say. I feel that way now; but for reasons I don't understand I haven't stopped typing. Maybe I'm stuffing my despair under an illusion of significance.

One of Terry's notes on blogging goes, "If you want to be noticed, you have to blog every day." That's good; but I suggest that daily blogging without substantive blogging will still go unnoticed. Most blogs--that is, I think the hundreds of blogs which I have not surveyed or scanned--are full of trivial bunk or bilious flapjawing, just as a comment after this post states. Daily blogging of empty opinion isn't valuable at all--or maybe I should say, it isn't valuable to me. Valuable blogs inform best when they place recent news in context or thoughtfully analyze a subject. It would be nice if a show like "All Things Considered" would place recent news in context, but they don't seem interested in that and I disagree with what context they would give.

Often when I despair that I have any thoughts worth saying it’s on remembering such thoughtful analysis which Teachout, OGIC, the Literary Saloon, and others do so well. Even those small comments which relate their personal experience with the book or ideas or author in question show deeper thought than I have. I feel so limited. I’ve read so little. By blogging, I am trying to get involved in the literary world as a high-schooler might, though I’m years beyond that time in my life without any guarantees on how much time I have ahead of me. I suppose everyone has to start someone, and we all have our part to play regardless the scope of that part. And that’s enough, maybe too much, about me.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Thank you for linking through my reading list in the side bar. Feel free to write a review of Brandywine Books at Blogarama (see the end of the links list).
Thursday, March 04, 2004
Teachout from the Future
It's 10:34 p.m. Eastern Time, Thursday. Teachout has written this fun bit of criticism on Friday, 12:01 a.m.: "Jonathan Miller, who has always struck me as rather too smart for his own theatrical good, . . . may think he’s given us a Shakespearean-style soap opera, but in his hands 'King Lear' comes off more like a slide show on the perils of bad estate planning." How does he do that, blog from the near future, almost 1.5 hours away? I guess some guys I just that good.
Personal Note
Since nothing new is under the sun, I suppose we will always have worrisome events to trouble us into thinking the world is crazy or that evil men are gaining strength to oppress the rest of us. People will say, "Peace, Peace," when there is no peace nor should there be peace when 'wrong' is declared 'right' or when 'hatred' is renamed 'love.' There are, after all, times for striving and cooperating. So I've quietly added some links to my 'Resources' list. Feel free to browse them and the links under 'Reading.' They may prove valuable to you or someone you know. BTW, I animated this one myself.
Tuesday, March 02, 2004
France Fearful of The Passion
[by way of] "The most anti-Semitic country in Europe," France, as Israel labels it, refuses to distribute Mel Gibson's The Passion for fear for anti-Semitic riots. This Sun-Times article reports, "The newspaper Liberation described Gibson's faith as ‘a Shiite version of Christianity . . . imbibed with blood and pain’ which ‘reduces the message of Christ to his death by torture.'" If the anti-Semitic anger has been Muslim-fueled, I don’t see how a depiction of the Gospel would stir them up more. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet, but it doesn’t agree with the Bible’s record of His death and resurrection. I wonder if the French will change their minds after weeks of movie screenings without increasing anti-Semitic rage. I doubt it.

Mark Steyn of the Jerusalem Post finds liberal fears like this curious. (Registration required. You may use ‘Brandybuck’, password ‘hobbit’ to view.)
Benyamin Cohen, editor of the online publication Jewsweek, went to see Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ and came out homicidal: "My first comprehensible thought was this: I really want to kill a Jew."

Maureen Dowd of The New York Times agreed: "In Braveheart and The Patriot, his other emotionally manipulative historical epics, you came out wanting to swing an ax into the skull of the nearest Englishman. Here, you want to kick in some Jewish and Roman teeth. And since the Romans have melted into history...."

Really? You want to kick in some Jew teeth? . . . It may be that elderly schoolgirl columnists at The New York Times are unusually easy to rouse to violence. But I reckon Dowd and Cohen are faking it. . . .

It's true that in Europe "passion plays" often provided a rationale for Jew-hatred. But that was at a time when the church was also a projection of state power. What's happening in America is quite the opposite: One reason why Hollywood assumed Mel had laid a $30 million Easter egg was because the elite coastal enclaves who set the cultural agenda haven't a clue about the rest of the country when it comes to religion. . . So, when metropolitan columnists say Mel's movie makes you want to go Jew-bashing, they're really engaging in a bit of displaced Christian-bashing.
He goes on to describe more liberal silliness, but I must quote one more sentence. After saying that New York Times-style liberals have argued since Sept 11 that evangelical Christians are worse than fundamentalist Muslims, he writes, “Two years on, if this thesis is going to hold up, these Christians really need to get off their fundamentalist butts and start killing more people.”

That’s hilarious. If liberals ever gain full control of the U.S. and act on their bad ideas, they will learn, like France centuries ago, that Christians were the best citizens they had.

Update: Muslim Film Producer Tarak Ben Ammar will distribute the film to French theaters in April. This Reuters story quotes him saying, "I thought it was my duty as a Muslim who believes in Jesus, who respects and was brought up in the three (monotheist) religions, to have this film shown to the French and let them judge it for themselves." Ben Ammar appears to be fairly ecumenical, if that's the word to use, tolerant of the Christian and Jewish faith around him. I'm told Muslims in the Balkans are generally this way.
Young Lady, Watch Your Phraseology
I found a simple dialect quiz on a couple personal blogs (cough, cough) and enjoyed thinking about my pronunciation again. I ranked 87% Southern, though I think I answered the Frosting/Icing question wrong, so when I corrected that answer, I came in 97% Southern. That’s better. I am, after all, a Chattanoogan. (though I live on the other side of the border in Georgia, so I have the opportunity to vote on Georgia’s state flag design. I prefer the current flag adopted in 2003 which closely resembles the first national flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars.)

This got me thinking again about one of my favorite words, “y’all.” It’s short for “you all”, a pluralization of “you” despite “you” being both singular and plural already. I could write directly to you, dear reader, or generally to you, wonderful readers who regularly condescend to read my humble words. But because I am a Southerner and enjoy the wholesome sound of the word, I prefer to write generally to y’all.

I contend that y’all is the only acceptable pluralization of “you” available to American English-speakers. “You guys” is common, but not contractible to one word. (Y’gies?) “You-uns” or “Y’uns” is simply ignorant. “Y’all” is graceful, understandable, and inviting. What more can I say, except that I won’t tolerate dissent.
Monday, March 01, 2004
Happy 100th Birthday to Glenn Miller
Today is Glenn Miller's centenial birthday. There should be festivities all year, so look for them in your area or buy, borrow, steal, burn some CDs for home listening.
For the Cumming Election Year
I've been thinking about language this evening and came across this old favorite by e. e. cummings.
next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
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