Longest English Words?
According to Ask Oxford
, from the Oxford U.P., "Most of the words which are given as 'the longest word' are merely inventions, and when they occur it is almost always as examples of long words, rather than as genuine examples of use" i.e. 'pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,' which is supposed to be a lung disease. Of course, there are real words of extreme length. A couple good examples of these superduperlong words are 'antidisestablishmentarianism' and 'pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism.' They just roll off the tongue, what?
For the trivia nerd or engineer in your family, Ask Oxford explains, "The formal names of chemical compounds are almost unlimited in length (for example, 'aminoheptafluorocyclotetraphosphonitrile,' 40 letters), but longer ones tend to be sprinkled with numerals, Roman and Greek letters, and other arcane symbols. Dictionary writers tend to regard such names as `verbal formulae', rather than as English words."
The Hanged Man (Or What It Means to be Mostly Dead)
While driving around Amazon.com, I ran over a review of this book, The Hanged Man : A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages
, by Robert Bartlett, published by Princeton U.P. Rob Hardy of Columbus, Mississippi, a Top 50 reviewer, writes:
It was probably in 1290 that William Cragh was hanged in Swansea. William Cragh was perhaps merely a "notorious brigand," but in the words of the English rulers of his region he was one of the rebels "in the war between the Welsh and the lord king." In fact, he was hanged three times. The first time, the rope broke. The second time, the gallows from which it was suspended broke. The third time seemed to have worked just fine. His body was taken down and carried to a house in Swansea for preparation for burial. Its face was black, its eyes bulging, its black and swollen tongue extended. The son of the baron who had condemned him confirmed that William Cragh was dead. But he gradually came back to life. This particular revivification was fraught with religious meaning. William Cragh on his way to the gallows gave a prayer for his life to Thomas de Cantilupe, the recently deceased Bishop of Hereford. Thus, his return to life had the makings of a religious miracle, and an inquest had to be done to make sure. The interrogation of witnesses is the backbone for Bartlett's book. Along the way, we learn about attitudes towards saints, the means of measuring distance and time, and other details of the way the participants lived.
Why is 'blogger' not in the Blogger spell checker? What do you think about the term? Do we blog as bloggers? Do we write on blogs as writers?
More on the Seattle Library
I blogged last evening about the new Seattle Library designed by Rem Koolhaas. My source material was a guest post on City Comforts' blog, written by Donald Padelford, so reader John Massengale asked the principle blogger and author of City Comforts
, David Sucher, if he intended to fully endorse the post. He didn't, fully. Here are some of his thoughts (edited).
No, I do not necessarily agree that "the Living Room is Seattle's great interior public space." He may well be correct. But I have no opinion of the inside of the building as I haven't been there.
You know my very negative opinion of the sidewalk-level exterior, at least based on review of plans and model. You know my indifference to the Library as a large object, a Very Large Scale Sculpture. You know my feeling of revulsion and contempt for the giddy hero-worship which accompanies this object and its black-garbed starchitect of obscure words.
As one who has read many hundreds, maybe even thousands, of books from cover-to-cover, I can tell you that the last thing that a reader wants is a room which is in direct sun-light. The very idea is preposterous. Perhaps the glass used for the Library is of a type which softens and filters harsh natural light and so all is well.
His phrase, "Very Large Scale Sculpture," reminds me of Terry Teachout's openness to abandoning the idea of books-as-art-objects. That's one to remember. Often I revere the object, wanting it to be strong art as well as whatever its purpose, book or building.
The New Seattle Public Library
[By way of The Native Tourist] Have you seen Seattle's new library
? It's, um, well. I’m sure I'm not a good critic of architecture, but I'll take a stab at it. The Seattle Times says, "During a brief, rush-through of the 11-story building, the details stood out: The cool functionality of cement, glass and steel joins with ecstatic rushes of ardent color; vast expanses of wide-open space intersect with the rhyming grids of pattern in floor, ceiling and railing panels. Everywhere you look, there is something wonderful to see, and the artists responded to the distinctions of the building design. They made artworks that reflect their own sensibilities as well as the character of the place — a testament to the power of site-specific art."
That's once you get inside. From the street, the library looks like, well—again the Seattle Times suggests it could be "a Rubik's Cube cinched by a corset" or "a crystal frog poised to leap at the staid federal courthouse up the hill." Meaning, it looks ugly. From one angle, I think it looks like a giant wad of crumbled paper. Donald F. Padelford
writing on City Comforts blog
calls it a design "Darth Vader would approve of."
But there are good parts. Look at the photo gallery at the Seattle Times site. That 10th floor reading room is stunning. The book circulation device sounds great. And the "Living Room" appears attractive, as Padelford said it was. He said other things too.
"The floor in the Living Room is white wood, which was trashed within hours of the library’s opening. The bathrooms (or at least the men’s) have lime-green floors, ceilings and walls and make you feel kind of sick as soon as you enter them (maybe that’s the purpose?). The acoustics in the Auditorium, which is open to the Living Room, are just abominable and bleed noise into that space."
That list doesn't include the escalator, designed by Tony Oursler. The Seattle Times reports
that "Oursler aimed to startle with his escalator tableau, its odd disembodied faces muttering away like the building's resident ghosts." How long before that part gets intolerable old?
to see the library's floor plan and you'll understand another part of Padelford's complaint. The "Mixing Chamber" is where to find book information and the reference desk. It's two floors above the highest street level entrance on 3rd floor. Elevators, stairs, and a direct escalator will get you there. But the meandering "Book Spiral" designed to let you stroll between the primrose bookshelves begins on the 6th floor, one story above you. You can take the escalator straight to 7th floor, or from there straight to the 10th floor, but if you stroll down to the 6th floor and decide to leave the building, you may think, as Padelford writes, "'Hey, how do I get out of here?' There is no down-escalator and no stairs from anywhere in the Book Spiral to the Mixing Chamber. If the elevator are running slow, well too bad. The only other alternative, which was opened up for the library opening, is an emergency stairwell ('Alarm Will Sound'). This flunks a fundamental tenet of architecture 101: you have to be able to get from here to there."
Oh, well, at least the building does not have any right angles. I hate that. And it has lots of books. I love that.
Dr. Gene Edward Veith has an interesting post today
on World's blog regarding Greek mythology in Homer's Illiad. He writes:
Some Democrats and even Republicans are complaining about the Justice Department's warning about terrorist attacks this summer. Some say it's just political. Others say it just scares people. But a news story on the controversy quotes the assistant director of public affairs for the FBI, who insists that the new warnings are important. What gives a person pause is not what she says but her name: Cassandra Chandler.
In one of those ironies in which real life outdoes what would be plausible in a work of fiction, her name is Cassandra. That was the name of a Trojan princess, one of the many great Homeric characters inexplicably left out of the movie "Troy." Cassandra had been cursed so that she would always know the truth, but no one would believe her. She warned her people about the Trojan Horse, but everyone thought she was just being political and trying to scare people.
I think those critics who claim the warning is purely political posturing are revealing more about themselves than the warning or the White House. They should sit down, because we know they will be the ones to complain when something terrible happens.
Doctorow Booed at Hofstra University Graduation
In her column yesterday
, Peggy Noonan describes and explains Hofstra's negative reception of graduate speaker, E.L. Doctorow. She writes, "Newsday reported that Mr. Doctorow--or, as Newsday put it in the first paragraph, 'E.L. Doctorow, one of the most celebrated writers in America'--gave a 20-minute address 'lambasting President George W. Bush and effectively calling him a liar.' It didn't go over too well. . . . (By the way if he were a conservative, Newsday would have described him as 'conservative writer Ed Doctorow, who had a bestseller in Ragtime
in 1974,' not 'one of the most celebrated writers in America.')"
Students and parents hated Doctorow's political-rant-as-gradation-speech. Hofstra faculty loved it.
Noonan explains why the author was booed. "It was not, as he no doubt creamily recounted in a storytelling session over drinks that night in Sag Harbor, that those barbarians in Long Island's lesser ZIP codes don't want to hear the truth. It is that they have class.
"The poor stupid people of Long Island are courteous, and have respect for the views and feelings of others, and would not dream of imposing their particular views on a captive audience that has gathered to celebrate--to be happy about, to officially mark with their presence--the rather remarkable fact that one of their family studied and worked for four years, completed his courses, met all demands, and became a graduate of an American university."
Doctorow's most recent book is Sweet Land Stories
, published by Random House. Peggy Noonan's most recent is A Heart, a Cross, and a Flag : America Today
, published by Free Press.
More Influential Books
has given us his interesting list of influential books from his life, and he seems to have an interesting blog
Dunkin Donuts Will Sell Ice Lattes
Dunkin' Donuts, the world's largest coffee and baked food chain, "selling 2.7 million cups [of coffee] a day, nearly one billion cups a year," is offering "lattes, cappuccinos and espressos," according to a press release
issued today. "As we continue to rally against the tyranny of espresso oppression, our new iced lattes are a declaration of the rights of all coffee drinkers to enjoy cool and delicious lattes that are well priced and served democratically," said the over-dramatic CEO Jon L. Luther of Allied Domecq Quick Service Restaurants, which owns Dunkin' Donuts. That is, the inside reporter who drafted this press releases claims he said that. That reporter went on to write, "No longer will Americans be frozen out of enjoying thirst-quenching iced lattes by long waits, high prices and social inequality."
Heh, heh. Press releases continue to carry the banner for good entertainment. I hope it goes well for D'D. I've always liked them, though I don't think I've had one of their doughnuts in years and never their coffee.
In other news
, Dunkin' Donuts has worked itself into Walmarts. Ten stores will be opening in the northeastern States in the next several weeks. Some of them will offer Baskin-Robbins ice cream as well as coffee, doughnuts, etc.
Recommended Children's Books
In this article
in World, Susan Olasky recommends some great children's books, one of which is an illustrated abridgement
of The Wind in the Willows
. I'm sure this is a wonderful book, but I remember listening to the full tale read from an audiobook, and I hoped my two little parrots wouldn't catch Rat and Mole's frequent label for Toad and each other. Rightfully so, they call Toad an ass. Rat may not get it from Mole, but Mole gets it a couple times, making me a little nervous. 'Ass' is not a polite word, just as being a jackass isn't a good thing to say to someone who is playing the fool, which is why the little storybook of Disney's Pinocchio uses the word 'donkey' instead of the word used in the original cartoon.
Author Tom Clancy No Longer Support Iraq Effort
First seen at World
. He is quoted saying that Bush made a mistake. This AP interview
reports, "His latest book, Battle Ready
, is a collaboration with another war critic, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni. Battle Ready looks at Zinni's long military career, dating back to the Vietnam War, and includes harsh remarks by Zinni about the current conflict." Clancy appears to agree with Zinni who said removing Hussein was not worth the price.
Do Hussein's tens of thousands of Kurdish victims, killed in the 90s, figure into that price? Do the CNN Baghdad Bureau
employees killed and maimed under silence from Mr. Jordan figure in too?
Following Deb English's
suggestion for a good post, let me ask this question. How do you buy books? When you're browsing your favorite store or visiting a new establishment while on vacation, how do you choose books to present to the cashier? I think I am afflicted with literary grandiose. When I see a book I recognize as a classic, I lean toward it. Usually. I know about some "classics," some Pulitzer winners, and I don't want to dip into them until I'm stuck on a desert island. (I may look at them while stuck on a dessert island, but I'm not sure.)
But I have looked at new books before. Take The Known World.
I saw it at Books-a-Million, saw that it was nominated for the National Book Award, and somehow the cover, which showed a black man with a boy on a horse-drawn carriage, appealed to me. I guess I'm from the South and want to read the best Southern literature published. I can't think of another reason I was and still am attracted to that book.
Another time, I saw Sean Russell's The One Kingdom
on the shelf. It caught my eye with a hook, as it were. It must have been the cover image which promised an epic adventure. I don't like most of the images on mass market paperback fantasies. They seem to offer something about a sultry sorceress enemy and the harnessing of demons for a noble work. But this one looks good, and Will recommends it, so I'll have to lay my long fingers on it someday.
What about you? How do you buy books?
Xians in Culture
Jared has a long and interesting discussion
of Christian responsibility in culture on his blog, Mysterium Tremendum.
On This Day in History
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
was born on this day, May 22, in 1859. According to this article
, Conan Doyle grew "weary" of Sherlock Holmes stories, thinking they kept him from more important work such as his historical novels
Also on this date, Poet Langston Hughes
died in 1967. In an essay, Hughes wrote, "We younger Negro artists now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they aren't, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too... If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either."
Tenure As Re: God the Father, Almighty Creator
[By way of Erin O'Connor
] One of Prof. O'Connor's readers gave her this list:
Twelve top reasons why God can't get tenure
1. He's authored only one paper
2. That paper was in Hebrew
3. His work appeared in an obscure, unimportant publication
4. He never references other authors
5. Workers in the field can't replicate His results.
6. He failed to apply to the ethics committee before starting His experiments on humans.
7. He tried to cover an experiment's unsatisfatory results by drowning the subjects.
8. When subjects behavior proved his theory wrong he had them removed from the sample.
9. He hardly ever shows up for any lectures. He merely assigns His Book again and again.
10. His office is at the top of a mountain, and He doesn't keep office hours anyway.
11. When He learned that His first two students sought wisdom, He had them expelled.
12. His exams consist of only ten assigments which most students fail.
In response, another reader submitted this list on why God did receive tenure.
1. The one publication was a Citation Classic.
2. The Hebrew original was widely translated courtesy of the author.
3. Being written before journals existed, references were hard to come by.
4. Original treatises that found a new area often require their own monograph.
5. Although research has been sparse since the Creation, the professor has taught a number of courses: Human anatomy 212; Ancient Middle Eastern History 101, 102; Hydrology 207; Human Development 350; seminar on Egyptology; extended field trips to the deserts between Egypt and Palestine; Politics of Theocracies 277; Military Science Special Topic: Use of Voice as a Municipal Assault Weapon; Criminology 114; guest lectures in the Vet School: Digestive Anatomy of Whales; Wisdom & Ethics 550; Special seminar: Fertilization without sperm; Winemaking 870; Healing by miracle 987; Theology 101, 102, 230, 342, 350, 466H, and 980.
6. The substitute teacher (son) was highly committed to his work.
7. The substitute teacher cancelled the original ten requirements.
8. The twelve teaching assistants formed numerous discussion groups.
9. The substitute teacher knew students names without an attendance sheet.
10. The professor's weekly Sunday lectures by surrogate instructors are attended by 974 million students.
World Wants Parodies of Christian Fiction
World's blog has called for parodies
of Christian fiction after asking for reader opinions
on the term. I submitted something which attempted to be Wodehouse writing Left Behind and I want to submit another, shorter piece more in keeping with the other entries. I'll publish both here, "realizing that perhaps the second one has not yet been written"--to misquote Atrus of Myst.
Ask anyone at the Drones, and they will tell you that Bertram Wooster is a fellow whom it is dashed difficult to deceive. Old Lynx-Eye is about what it amounts to. I observe and deduce. I weigh the evidence and draw my conclusions. And that is why two minutes after watching a few dozen people disappear like vapors, leaving their clothes behind, I, so to speak, saw all.
I don't mean I saw all of them either, if you see what I mean. Without proper attire, you know, au natural. What I mean to say is these people had not suddenly caught the notion they would give Western ideas of decency a thumb in the eye, shed themselves, and leg it into the country before a forced introduction to the Bobbies. They vanished, as if they were flames extinguished.
"Ha!" I said.
"Yes, sir?" asked Jeeves who had glided up behind me after having parked the car.
"I said, 'Ha!' Jeeves, and I meant, 'Ha!' Did you see those people?"
"Yes, sir. If I may postulate a hypothesis—"
"They vanished as if flames extinguished."
"Yes, sir. If I may postulate—"
I raised the hand. "No need, Jeeves. I have see this for what it is, the work of the Nazi bomb." I met silence, but I carried on. "I have read that recalcitrant Nazis have been working on a bomb which would vaporize clothing, leaving the victim indisposed, as it were. This is clearly the result of the reverse. They got their formula wrong, if you see what I mean."
I could see he was unimpressed. "If I may say so, sir, I think what we've seen has been called 'The Rapture of the Church.'"
"Yes, sir. Faithful believers have been caught up to heaven, leaving the rest of us behind in a sort of tribulation period."
I was stunned. "Jeeves, I'm stunned. You expect me to believe that the religious have been sucked up the heaven and hell will break loose on Earth, here, in London? And that in the face of my brilliant deduction that--"
I stopped short, not entirely because of the excessive whining surrounding Jeeves and I from those who had crashed into unmanned cars or been run over by them, nor entirely from those who had seen their financial benefactors smoked into the heavens and would now have to beg from stingy Uncle Delisal. I stopped short because I heard a sound which could fairly resemble a stygian inundation. My Aunt Agatha was bellowing my name.
From Psalm 49
"Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,
when the glory of his house increases.
For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
his glory will not go down after him.
For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed,
--and though you get praise when you do well for yourself--
His soul will go to the generation of his fathers,
who will never again see light.
Man in his pomp yet without understanding
is like the beasts that perish." (source
Notes on Sayers' Essay "Oedipus Simplx"
When I found the lists of books on and influencing C.S. Lewis, I also found these notes from Kathryn Lindskoog
on Dorothy Sayers' essay, "Oedipus Simplx: Freedom and Fate in Folklore and Fiction." She says:
"The story of Oedipus is one of many stories about man's vain attempt to cheat the oracle. Perhaps the Greeks felt that it is wrong to try to cheat the oracle. Perhaps their view of morality was that if one submits to fate with cheerful piety, then there will often be a trick fulfillment of the prophecy that is benign. An example of this kind of fulfillment is found in the third book of the Aeneid . . .
The only safeguard against the future is to fix one's heart upon something that is not endangered by time.
We have a built-in appetite for inevitability combined with surprise. We seem to desire a future both foreseeable and unexpected. We want our will to be both bound and free. Most people are equally offended by complete randomness and by complete determinism, which would reduce all actions and emotions to nonsense.
For artistic enjoyment we need a theory of time and fate that combines necessity with freedom--necessity as to the final results, and freedom as to the means by which they come about. (This is true of many kinds of stories in which we know the villain will be caught or we know the boy will win the girl, etc.)
To everyone looking for good moral fiction or criticism, I heartily recommend Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957). Learn more about her and her-related things here
and about several of her books your favorite book review site and blog
Review of After Anne by Roxanne Henke
My sweet wife read this 2002 novel
from Harvest House and told me about it. The story describes the friendship of Olivia and Anne, both in their thirties, who meet during a high school football game. Olivia instantly dislikes Anne, but Anne is attracted to Olivia, whom she calls Libby despite Olivia's attempts to dissuade her. Because Anne's husband travels and they are new to the town, Anne prays for a friend. She hopes she has found that friend in Libby.
Opportunity for building acquaintance comes when Olivia's daughter Emily wants to learn the piano and Anne is the only piano teacher in Brewster, North Dakota. Olivia gives Anne as much distance as she can, but Anne's friendliness and generosity eventually win her over, and they become friends as close as sisters.
My wife says the book is set up in a weird way, jumping first person viewpoints between the two main characters; but that doesn't disrupt the story. Henke writes well, keeping my wife's interest more than she thought she would. Sarah was with me in having a low opinion of Christian fiction.
depicts that kind of friendship every woman craves. Henke reveals her character's deep emotions without caricature. "The emotion doesn't seem fake," my wife said. It rings true and penetrates emotional calluses a reader may have raised through suspicion of the genre (that being contemporary Christian). But "it's a woman's book. A man would not appreciate or enjoy it." Well, we'll see about that when I get around to reading it myself.
Other lists of books
The Discovery Institute's September 2000 edition of their magazine also published lists of books
about C.S. Lewis. The lists are labelled, "The 25 Best Books Written about C.S. Lewis," "The Worst Books Written about C.S. Lewis," "Best Books about C.S. Lewis You've Never Heard Of," and "Most Attractive Books by and About C.S. Lewis."
C.S. Lewis' Top Ten Influential Books
In keeping with a recent trend in this part of the blogosphere, David Mills of Touchstone Magazine
posted a link to two lists of books
which influenced C.S. Lewis most.
In 1962 The Christian Century asked C. S. Lewis "What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?" His answer was this famous list:
1) Phantastes by George MacDonald
2) The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton
3) The Aeneid by Virgil
4) The Temple by George Herbert
5) The Prelude by William Wordsworth
6) The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto
7) The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
8) The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
9) Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams
10) Theism and Humanism by A. J. Balfour
There's a second list which you'll have to see by following the link
. Have you read any of these? I'm surprised Wordsworth made his list, but these may not be his favorite books, just the ones which influenced him.
What do Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's initials stand for?
For fans of Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
, I offer this bit of trivia heard this morning on NPR's Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. McCall Smith said that while he would not write it in one of his novels, he would tell NPR listeners confidentially that Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni goes by J.L.B. because he is embarrassed by the B. The letters stand for John Limpopo Basil.
Do you review books on Amazon.com or other bookselling websites? Why or why not?
Walker's Year of the Warrior
I'm becoming a bigger fan of View from the Foothills every day. Will has published a rave review
of Lars Walker's The Year of the Warrior
. He writes that the book is "a fascinating, inspiring (and frequently humbling) story. On the one hand we have Erling's political and religious struggles, and as Erling is (after his father's death) one of the great men of Norway during a tempestuous time, that's an exciting tale indeed. And then, on the other hand, we have the personal story of Ailill, failed monk, who must perforce grow into his faith and his role as priest, and learn to care for the flock that God has sent him. And perhaps best of all, Walker doesn't attempt to whitewash history."
According to Walker's website, he has two novels awaiting publication, currently entitled West Oversea
, which continues the history described in Warrior
, and Death's Doors
And Now, These Headlines
John recommends Henry James
. "Henry James has had nearly as many books turned into movies as Stephen King."
Eve is hosting a recipe contest
. She tells readers to send her mixed drink recipes which align with certain titles, like "APOLLO AND DIONYSOS," "A CLOCKWORK ORANGE," "A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME," and "A FAILED SOUTHERN LADY." Suggestions for drink titles are also acceptable.
Editor Marvin Olasky of World Magazine is pulling out thoughts from Walker Percy's strong Southern book, The Second Coming
. See his quotes here: first
Finally, I just stumbled over a list of 50 most significant books
in science fiction and fantasy from a book club which sells some of them. I don't know how they made the list, but you may want to look it over. With the Lord of the Rings, Foundation, and Dune as the top 3, it seems to be headed in the right direction.
Tolkien Studies Annual Journal
An annual academic journal dedicated to Tolkien and his work has released its first edition. Read more here
and at tolkienstudies.org
. Author and Professor Michael Drout writes about getting the journal published. "We immediately ran into the chicken/egg problem: scholars didn't want to contribute unless we had a guarantee of publication. We couldn't get a press to pick up the journal without a complete issue (and then we ran into problems getting a press). But Tom Shippey and a few others believed in us, agreed to send work, and the rest was just an unbelievable amount of hard work -- editing, sending things out for review, working with authors, soliciting for more articles, etc."
One of the articles in this issue is called "Frodo's Batman." Movie rights, anyone?
Wodehouse as Chandler
I'm slow to blog this, so you may have seen it on Terry Teachout's
inestimable blog. One of Terry's readers writes:
Your quote from Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister ("She reached a quick arm around my neck and started to pull. So I kissed her. It was either that or slug her") put me in mind of the following, from P.G. Wodehouse's story "The Castaways" (1933):
Even when he ached for Genevieve Bootle, some inner voice told him that if ever there was a pill it was she. Sometimes the urge to fold her in his arms and the urge to haul off and slap her over the nose with a piece of blotting paper came so close together that it was a mere flick of the coin which prevailed.
Fascinating, is it not, how two superb writers express a similar idea in two very different and very idiosyncratic ways?
As you may know, Chandler and Wodehouse were students at Dulwich College at the same time!
Terry questions that point of trivia and learns it is false. I looked it up too and uncovered this link
from the college. It shows that these literary figures attended Dulwich: Raymond Chandler (class of 1905), C S Forester (C L T Smith, class of 1916), A E W Mason (class of 1884), Graham Swift (class of 1966), and Wodehouse, D.Litt (class of 1900). Chandler and Wodehouse missed each other by a few months.
David Shields, as interviewed by Nextbook.org
Re: Shields' essay collection
, Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine
Q: One essay in Body Politic takes on sports films, and how many of them are basically Christian allegories, and yet you find yourself drawn to them, moved by them.
Shields: The resurrection-sports movie is your chance to be a covert Christian in the same way I think being a Yankee fan functions that way for many Jewish New Yorkers. I get in serious debates with friends who live in New York who are Jewish and who are Yankee fans, which is, like, it's so disgusting to me. I yield to no one in my hatred of the Yankees. And it's just so weird to me how these otherwise rational Jewish men just want to be Mickey Mantle, they want to be Derek Jeter. I certainly have my own version of it, but the Yankees have always functioned that way for Jewish New Yorkers.
I'm doing this thing with Jonathan Lethem at this bookstore in SoHo on why sports are a force that gives us meaning, and I feel like Jonathan and I became friends when he told me that he was a Mets fan. Not that I really care, I don't really follow baseball anymore, but to me, you've got to root for the underdog, and the idea of rooting for the Yankees seems to me so bizarre. You don't want to root for the majority culture, it seems to me not a tradition out of which I come.
These are not casual choices, and so whether it's the Yankees or the Mets or the Dodgers or the X or the Y. Friends who have been friends a long time, I mean, we literally have stopped talking because we can't talk rationally about, say, the Yankees. It's just so weird that people really do work through their own personalities through the symbolic narrative of sports loyalty, in a really strange and complicated way.
Nextbook is "a national initiative to promote Jewish cultural literacy in new and innovative ways."
Dostoevsky on Torture
[By way of Eve
] In light of the ugly news from a certain Iraqi prison, Ariel Dorfman of the Guardian remembers Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov
. He writes
[and I abridge]:
Is torture ever justified? It is a question that was most unforgettably put forward over 130 years ago by Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. In that novel, the saintly Alyosha Karamazov is tempted by his brother Ivan, confronted with an unbearable choice. Let us suppose, Ivan says, that in order to bring men eternal happiness, it was essential and inevitable to torture to death one tiny creature, only one small child. Would you consent?
Ivan has preceded his question with stories about suffering children - a seven-year-old girl beaten senseless by her parents and enclosed in a freezing wooden outhouse and made to eat her own excrement; an eight-year-old serf boy torn to pieces by hounds in front of his mother for the edification of a landowner. True cases plucked from newspapers by Dostoevsky that merely hint at the almost unimaginable cruelty that awaited humanity in the years to come.
Ivan's words remind us that torture is justified by those who apply and perform it: this is the price, it is implied, that needs to be paid by the suffering few in order to guarantee happiness for the rest of society, the enormous majority given security and wellbeing by those horrors inflicted in some dark cellar, some faraway pit, some abominable police station.
I have not yet consented to believing the worst of our soldiers in those prisons, but I already agree with this man. We are all the same, regardless our place of birth or parents. We suffer under a weight of sin which we asked to carry and from which we cannot be free unless the God who became man delivers us. As Jonathan Edwards said it, we walk on a shifting slope at the brink of Hell and with each step, we risk sliding over the cliff by our own weight. No one will throw us down. No one needs to. We will fall off that precipice on our own unless someone saves us.
Philip Pullman, as interviewed by TIME
, "Are you an admirer of Tolkien?"
Pullman answers, "Lord of the Rings is a very well told story — my criticism of Tolkien is that the story he tells is not that interesting because it leaves out at least half of human life, namely the sexual element. They've had to beef up the love themes [in the film] as an excuse to have any women in it all. Otherwise it would just be public school chaps and oiks (or Orcs!) fighting. So I don't learn anything from Tolkien about being a human being and that's what's most interesting in a story."
Funny, I thought the purity of Tolkien's fantasy was refreshing, and he included some romantic tension into the background of LOTR and in the drama directly with Eowyn's yearning for Aragorn. Most writers would have directed the future king and warrior-maiden to bed together in Edoras and have Aragorn repent, declaring his true love for Arwen despite his recent actions. But that would have been disgraceful.
Will has written on Christian fantasy
in relation to some of the posts here. He says:
Have you ever noticed that despite being the pre-eminent work of fantasy of the 20th century, The Lord of the Rings contains very little that's actually fantastic? The geography is different than in our world, but the physics are the same. There's elven-magic, but Galadriel cautions that it's not what we'd usually think of as magic. There's nothing particularly supernatural about elves, or dwarves, or orcs, or ents; though extinct, they are creatures just as men are. Indeed, the only really magical beings we see are the wizards Gandalf and Saruman, Sauron the dark lord, and the Nine Nazgul. The Silmarillion makes it clear that Gandalf, Saruman and Sauron are all nothing more nor less than angels; the Nazgul can then be thought of as extreme cases of demonic possession. In any event, all power in Middle Earth derives ultimately from Eru, the One, the Creator.
In short, the mythology of Middle Earth extends Christianity and goes beyond it, but doesn't contradict it. The same can be said for Lewis's work. It's a difficult line to walk, and few have been successful at it. There's Tolkien and Lewis, of course, and Lewis' master George MacDonald; I'm hardpressed to think of any others.
Jared has carried on the influential books lists
in this post. What do these lists do for you, gentle reader? Are they fun reminders of important books in your life, inspirations for one you have not read, or are they about as interesting as lists of personal details? At this point, I should say that Jared is an inspiration to me, in his reading, writing, and teaching. I hope he lives many years with a wellspring of creativity, regardless what he produces with it.
I feel like a definition post. Maculate
, means to stain or pollute as a verb, or as an adjective, stained, blemished, impure. "Maculate the honor of their people," as Sir T. Elyot
put it. Does that knowledge make you feel just dandy?
The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavriel Kay
This beautiful story
begins The Fionavar Tapestry, a fantasy trilogy in which five college students are transported into Fionavar, the first-born of all worlds. Immediately, they meet trouble. One of them is separated from the group and the rest are thrust into a complicated political battle which is aggravated by vying magical powers.
This world has not only that magic channeled through wizards and a priestess, what's called "skylore" and "blood magic," but also "wild magic," the untamable kind. I think that wildness extends to the characters too, making the story both exciting and irritating. Half of the characters have a peevishness about them, gods and kings among them. There are too many flares of anger, outrage at authority questioned. Nobility has withered with the drought which plagues the high kingdom. Some of that weakness is called to account by rebuke or even death, but most isn't. This ignobility strains my affection for the good guys, especially one leader who may choose the proper course, but probably because it suits his interest, not because he sees the rightness of it.
Regardless, Kay has written a compelling first part of the trilogy. He introduces and resolves just enough mystery to give a satisfying conclusion to the book while keeping the storyline at full tilt. His original imagination upholds an honest story of friendship and surrender to heart and duty.
One possible drawback may be its similarity to Tolkien's fantasy. Maybe that comes from his experience helping Christopher Tolkien compile the Silmarillion from 1974-75. I forgave him at the beginning when I read the main wizard was named Silvercloak--too close to Gandalf Greyhame--but I was surprised when the elves, going by another name, described themselves in Tolkien-esque terms. They were immortals who eventually would leave that continent by boat to a haven in the West. They were children of the light, had lived in that land before men arrived, sung majestic songs, and so on. Their history didn't detract from the story, but some Tolkien purists may cry foul over this and other echoes of Middle Earth.
One definite drawback is the general immorality. Kay describes the hedonistic courts of his two main kingdoms and follows the adventures of the prince, Diarmuid, who could have doubled for John F. Kennedy with his need for female company. Kay doesn't describe these events in gross terms, but they could be unsettling, especially a scene in the final chapter which contrasts the prince's immorality with the sadistic lust of the enemy. Those few pages set my teeth on edge, but they don't color the entire story, at least they don't in this first book. I'll have to wait to see about the next two.
Thrillers in brief
Jen has briefly recommended
Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island, which probably could be adapted for film, and Jared has reviewed
the film Man on Fire
, which was adapted from A.J. Quinnell's 1980 book
Jared begins with, "You know, as much as Hollywood types like to argue against war on the grounds that violence and revenge are wrong (Give peace a chance, dudes), they sure don’t mind cranking out the revenge movies." Ain't that the truth? Maybe it's evidence that they really don't think entertainment affects behavior. But that argument has always been convoluted. I'll bet they hope The Day After Tomorrow
influences us, so which is it to be? Are we to be influenced only by the entertainment which is intended to influence us?
Jared carries onward. "Man on Fire
is unflinching in its depiction of revenge. Much blood is shed. Creasy threatens, brutalizes, tortures. I won’t share details here, but some of the scenes were excruciating, even for this hardened action movie junkie. But I think that was the point. There is a slick and sanitized approach to cinematic violence taken by many action movies today which, although they may want to spare viewers the blood, may in fact desensitize us more by giving us “clean” death. Action movie deaths play out like video game deaths, which is why there can be hundreds of them but only earn their movie a PG-13 rating. Man on Fire
at least has the honesty to say, This is what revenge – bloodthirsty, relentless revenge – looks like. It is of course not for all viewers (and probably for none of my readers), but I appreciated that the movie had a context for the violence that did not sensationalize or support it."
This could be an interesting movie, but it was more appealing when I thought it was about protection, not revenge. I may get around to seeing it sometime.
Define Christian Fiction
World's blog is talking about Christian fiction again, asking readers to give their first impressions
upon hearing that term. The discussion wobbles off the path a little, but a few interesting things are said. Among them are that most readers don't like it. Comments like the following cause me to wonder how much personal taste and inherited stereotypes help form our opinions on these books. Sally writes, "I don't care for most of today's 'Christian fiction'--it seems cheap, shallow, dashed-off-in-a-few-hours, lacking the beauty of well-written literature. Jamie Langston Turner has written four wonderful novels that fall into the category of 'Christian fiction,' yet they actually transcend the genre. I like them because they are excellent literature, with words that strike right to the heart, characters you want to know in real life, and an over-arching testimony of God's glory and power in the everydayness of this world." Ms. Turner is an author I've targeted in the past for comparison with better writers in order to show the Christian Fiction weaknesses in writing style. I'm sure she's better than some, but I didn't think she was genre-transcending.
Hilaire Belloc, 1870-1953
"When I am dead,
I hope it may be said:
'His sins were scarlet,
but his books were read.'"
Fair Trade Coffee, With or Without the Label
This is World Fair Trade Week
, according to some, so I'd like to mention my discussion with Ian Goodman of Greyfriar's Coffee in downtown Chattanooga. A few weeks ago, I accepted his invitation to talk about fair trade, since we had exchanged a couple emails about it. Goodman is an award-winning coffee roaster who runs a great, local coffeehouse entirely too far from my home.
He told me about his reluctance to sign on with an international fair trade certifier like Transfair USA
because of the cost and bureaucracy when he can accomplish the same goal, that of paying a good price to coffee farmers, by building a personal relationship with them and networking with other bean buyers to decrease distribution costs.
Transfair has a good cause. Coffee, tea, and cocoa farmers must be able to make a living off their work, and the world bean market is low now. Some countries can flood the market with poor quality beans and drive down the price for good quality farmers. If the farmers are unable to negotiate with their buyers, they may draw only a penny or two per $1 cup of joe. According to World Vision
, such low prices are driving more than a few Mexican farmers north of the border to make a livable wage.
Transfair promises to correct that problem, but is their seal of approval necessary? As I found out, individual coffee buyers can apply good ethics on their own. For example, Goodman wrote in an email, "Our coffee we get from Papua New Guinea comes from a plantation that is tribally owned and operated, and a percentage of every dollar I spend goes into a fund for an annual project for the tribe. It was helped off the ground by a missionary couple from Oregon who now helps to market the raw coffee in the US." (I've been drinking some of that wonderful PNG coffee
for days now. I wish I had it at work.) He said he has similar arrangements with several farmers in other countries.
But these places are not certified fair-trade. In fact, another plantation from which he buys sells both certified and uncertified beans because they paid the inspectors only enough to look over a portion of their land. The rest of their coffee is grown, harvested, and sold by the same people in the same way, but the inspectors weren't paid to look at that part of the plantation. So it remains uncertified.
And I don't care. I respect Goodman. I hope he continues to use strong ethical judgment in his coffee business, and I love his coffee, which is available online through rarecoffee.com
, always linked on the sidebar.
Since this is Fair Trade Week, perhaps you should think about where the coffee you buy comes from and whether you should look for those roasters or brands who guard their farmers' livelihoods. If you're a fan of Starbucks
at home, then I encourage you to try a small roaster like Goodman for your next batch of beans.
From Arma Virumque
, "Whatever killed the Dartmouth Bookstore, it's worth noting that the course material changing hands at Wheelock Books does anything but encourage a love of reading. Less DeLillo, more Wodehouse, please!" That's interesting. What is this dissatisfaction with DeLillo? Perhaps, this is part
of the answer.
Is Reading Sexy?
[By way of The Literary Saloon
] PenguinPutnam wants to convince non-readers that reading and carrying a book around is sexy. They ask, "Are you Good Booking?"
If you can stomach that, read on. The current website--another is coming-- reads, "Penguin will make reading more attractive to young men - by making young men who read more attractive to women. We will make reading sexy for the first time, we'll turn books into fashion accessories, grow the market . . ." and ask each other that stupid question. They forgot to list that they hope to make a pile of money.
Would sponsoring a mentoring program or literary outings in the park with free food to young people be too easy? Or is it not sexy enough?
Coffee Personality Type
I've wanted to compose a personality test on quizilla.org pairing responders up with types of coffee. I haven't done it yet, but I did find a real survey in New Zealand
on coffee personalities. This is a video stream from a morning show, so dial-up users may not want to follow the link.
[by way of Beatrice
] Charles Bernstein
writes of his distaste for the poetry promotions last month and suggests an alternative. "I propose that we have an International Anti-Poetry month. As part of the activities, all verse in public places will be covered over—from the Statue of Liberty to the friezes on many of our government buildings. Poetry will be removed from radio and TV (just as it is during the other eleven months of the year). Religious institutions will have to forego reading verse passages from the liturgy, with hymns strictly banned. Ministers in the Black churches will be kindly requested to stop preaching. Cats will be closed for the month by order of the Anti-Poetry Commission. . . .
As part of the campaign, the major daily newspapers will run full page ads with this text:
Go ahead, don't read any poetry.
You won't be able to understand it anyway:
the best stuff is all over your head.
And there aren't even any commercials to liven up the action.
Anyway, you'll end up with a headache trying to figure out
what the poems are saying because they are saying
Who needs that.
Better go to the movies."
I love the idea. It could spark a truly beneficial counter-revolution.
And His Mama's Writing Stinks Too!
Ron Hogan of Beatrice.com has an entry
pointing to Language Log
which echoes the sentiments left today by A.R. Yngve
under an earlier Brandywine post
on Brown's Da Vinci Code
. That sentence is appalling, considering LL's criticism of Brown's writing. He writes,
"Why did I keep [The Da Vinci Code] instead of dropping it into a Heathrow trash bin? Because it seemed to me to be such a fund of lessons in how not to write. I don't think I'd want to say these things about a first-time novelist, it would seem a cruel blow to a budding career. But Dan Brown is all over the best-seller lists now. In paperback and hardback, and in many languages, he is a phenomenon. . . . And he writes like the kind of freshman student who makes you want to give up the whole idea of teaching. Never mind the ridiculous plot and the stupid anagrams and puzzle clues as the book proceeds, this is a terrible, terrible example of the thriller-writer's craft.
"Which brings us to the question of the blurbs. 'Dan Brown has to be one of the best, smartest, and most accomplished writers in the country,' said Nelson DeMille, a bestselling author who has himself hit the #1 spot in the New York Times list. Unbelievable mendacity. And there are four other similar pieces of praise on the back cover. Together those blurbs convinced me to put this piece of garbage on the CostCo cart along with the the 72-pack of toilet rolls."
This confuses me. I thought Brown had to have written a decent thriller, as far as thrillers go. How could it sell so well if he . . . wait. I'm confident some of the Left Behind books are jumbles of words thrown together, yet they sold pretty well. I guess style isn't everything. It may not even be the main thing. "Alas! He hath but as offended in a dream: All sects, all ages smack of this vice."
Be Edifying, You Jerk!
Here's a valuable article
about online discussions and communication in general from Andy Johnson at Razormouth.com. Pastor Johnson dwells on Ephesians 4:29 and following, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. . . ."