Brandywine Books
Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Road to Middle-Earth, or How Tolkien Wrote a Smashing Good Narrative

Deb reviewed The Road to Middle-Earth by Tom Shippey over on "The View from the Foothills."
This book has been on my shelf awhile. Part of me rebels against analyzing Tolkien's work since I think it should be just read and enjoyed for it's own sake. On the other hand, after reading this book some of what I found puzzling in Lord of the Rings makes more sense than it did before. Shippey wrote this book as an answer to the critics of Tolkien making an argument that it is a much more scholarly work than it appears on the surface to be. And it was the genius of Tolkein that he could write stories with very scholarly roots that hold lasting appeal to the mass market.
Read on. Drops House of Bush/Saud

Did the 9/11 Commission's report make Random House and now Amazon's UK division squeamish over Craig Unger's book which warns of a dangerous link between the President's family and the Saudi royal family? Yesterday, The Guardian reported that will not distribute the book Random House will not publish in the UK. It is still available through Amazon's US site, presently ranked at 83. The Guardian reviewed the book today.

From "Lord, With Glowing Heart I'd Praise Thee"

A hymn by Francis Scott Key
Lord, this bosom’s ardent feeling
Vainly would my lips express.
Low before Thy footstool kneeling,
Deign Thy suppliant’s prayer to bless:
Let Thy grace, my soul’s chief treasure,
Love’s pure flame within me raise;
And, since words can never measure,
Let my life show forth Thy praise.
Friday, July 30, 2004


World Blogger Amanda Stassner has a good post and discussion on media bias here.

Students Choose Between Candidate's Book Recommendations has learned female students prefer book recommendations from John Kerry and male students prefer recommendations from George Bush. The internet bookseller surveyed students, ages 16-30, through their TextBook Central page over the last couple months. Over 2000 students completed the survey.

Their press release offer these must-read statistics: Abebooks is based in Victoria, British Columbia, with offices in Germany. That may put a spin on their which students buy from them; but really, who cares about these students? How would answer these questions?

1. From which candidate would you prefer a book recommendation?
2. Which literary character would like as your neighbor or friend?
3. How often do you buy books?
4. How often do you sell or release books?
5. Bonus: How many books do you have on loan from a friend?
Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Christy Awards

Winners of this year's Christy Awards were announced last month. Some of them are Songbird, by Lisa Samson, winning the contemporary category. From the website: "In a novel rich with heartache, deeply felt spirituality, and down-to-earth humor, a talented woman dares to face her demons—as a secret from the past threatens the love she’s fought so hard to keep."

Winning the First Novel category: Welcome to Fred, by Brad Whittington. "In January of 1968 Mark and his family arrive in Fred, Texas, where his father is serving as a pastor. After four years of alienation, he places all his hopes for fulfillment on the family vacation to Los Angeles. In his journey he finds more than himself; he finds his faith."

Suspense: Thr3e, by Ted Dekker. "Imagine answering your cell phone one day to a mysterious voice that gives you three minutes to confess your sin or else he’ll blow up the car you’re driving. So begins a nightmare that grows with progressively higher stakes—a powerful novel of good, bad, and all that lies in between."

Awards are given to books which "nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishing of fiction for Christian readers."

Fear of Libel Prevents Publication of One, Makes Changes in Another

Random House cites the strict libel laws in the United Kingdom as its reason for backing out of publishing House of Bush, House of Saud, the book Michael Moore credits as his source for "Fahrenheit 911." A small publisher named Gibson Square Books will take the book up for British readers.

The Telegraph reports that Random House paid "in the mid five figures" for Author Craig Unger's book and is publishing the U.S. paperback edition soon along with several translations in other countries; but the British edition isn't worth pursuing apparently. According to the paper, "the publishing giant abruptly pulled out of publication of the UK edition, blaming the trend for foreign litigants to indulge in 'libel tourism' and British courts which 'are the most draconian and plaintiff-friendly in the world.' It was apparently concerned that one or more of the Saudi nationals named in the US edition of the book for funding al-Qa'eda terrorism would seek relief in the British courts."

No one has made any libel threats yet; so some observers are scratching their heads over what they see as paranoia despite the discrediting of some principle claims in Unger's book.

Random House did not pull out of publishing Mr. Clinton's memoirs in the U.K., but it did modify the text a little for the same strict-law reason. Several references to Kenneth Starr were changed, such as the places which accused the prosecutor of urging witnesses to lie for him. "Those references in the British version were tweaked to read Starr's efforts 'to prosecute those who refused to tell him what he wanted to hear,'" reports the AFP.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Rare Tolkien Book Tossed in Charity Book Box

A charity near Cambridge, England, found a first edition of Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring at the bottom of their donated books box, according to the Cambridge News. It sold for £480 at auction. A volunteer said, "We get some really interesting books in but never anything this rare."

NY Times: "Of Course, We're Liberal. Objectivity Was Just a Tease."

From The Opinion Journal:
"Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?" asks the headline of yesterday's column by the Times' "public editor," Daniel Okrent.

The answer: "Of course it is."

All we have to say is that the timing here is awfully suspicious. The Times sat on this story for decades, and finally reports it yesterday, when it's sure to be buried by the Democratic convention.
From the New York Times:
These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed.

But if you're examining the paper's coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn't wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you're traveling in a strange and forbidding world.

Start with the editorial page, so thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right. ...

Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. doesn't think this walk through The Times is a tour of liberalism. He prefers to call the paper's viewpoint "urban." He says that the tumultuous, polyglot metropolitan environment The Times occupies means "We're less easily shocked," and that the paper reflects "a value system that recognizes the power of flexibility." He's right; living in New York makes a lot of people think that way.

Which Book Would You Memorize?

[By way of A Passion for Books] In Fahrenheit 451, rebels memorized books in order to preserve them for posterity, after their current society, which burns books, has passed. What if we had to memorize books in the face of an oppressive society? What book or two would you want to devote yourself, with which to fill your mind so that you could repeat it flawlessly to another generation? I’m not asking which book do you think is the most important or even your current favorite. I’m asking about a book’s influence and value to you and others. If we were taking refuge in catacombs or hiding within the anonymity of the cities, what books would we hold so closely no one could take them away?

Since I’m choosing first, I think I would have to choose the Bible. One of us has to memorize it, so I might as well get that option out of the way. For a follow-up choice, I may go with Spencer’s The Faerie Queen, though if I’m going to take on the Bible, I may want something far shorter as a second project. So, mark me down for Hamlet. What about you?
Saturday, July 24, 2004

Zobel Wins Bulwer-Lytton Award for Bad Writing

Dave Zobel wrote: "She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight ... summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail ... though the term 'love affair' now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism ... not unlike 'sand vein,' which is after all an intestine, not a vein ... and that tarry substance inside certainly isn't sand ... and that brought her back to Ramon."

With that, Zobel, an author and software development director, clinched the annual bad-writing award hosted by San Jose State University.

The AP reports: "'I never won and wasn't expecting to this year, but to be honest I'm a little jealous of people who won dishonorable mentions because that title would look better on the resume,' [Zobel] the father of two told The Associated Press. He won $250."

The award is named after Victorian Author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who wrote the following opener for his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

9/11 Commissioner Feels Mugged

[by way of Slings & Arrows] In National Review Online, Rich Lowry writes on a 9/11 Commissioner's impression of Dick Clarke's book and promotion of it before the commission.
"We were mugged by Viacom," Republican commissioner John Lehman says, referring to the owner of the publisher of Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, and the owner of CBS, which broadcast a long, loving segment devoted to Clarke just prior to the release of his book.

"I think we were mugged by Viacom," Lehman told NRO in a phone interview on Thursday afternoon. "Because they changed the release date of the book and geared up 60 Minutes to launch his book to time them with his testimony and they edited his book to take out all of the criticisms of Clinton from his [original private] testimony. Because they wanted to make it a jihad against Bush."

Lehman says that Clarke's original testimony included "a searing indictment of some Clinton officials and Clinton policies." That was the Clarke, evenhanded in his criticisms of both the Bush and Clinton administrations, who Lehman and other Republican commissioners expected to show up at the public hearings. It was a surprise "that he would come out against Bush that way." Republicans were taken aback: "It caught us flat-footed, but not the Democrats."
Regardless, Lehman maintains the commission's report is solid, serious, and devoid of the partisanship seen in the public hearings.
Friday, July 23, 2004

Currently Titled Otherworld

Jen has blogged a review of Jared Wilson's yet-to-be-published book, Otherworld. She gives a run down on her likes and dislikes, praising it overall.

So Many Books, So Little Market Share

[by way of ArtsJournal] The Chicago Sun-Times asks if there too many books on the market in light of the NEA's report that Americans are reading fewer novels, plays, and short stories.
"Absolutely," said Albert Greco, a Fordham University professor and publishing industry analyst. "In a market where people are reading less, not more, there are 20 books published every hour in the day, every day."

Why the outpouring of books? "For some reason, everybody thinks they can write a book, and book publishing seems glamorous to them. But there's no way the market can absorb all those books."
But Random House Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Karp argues that American culture is fragmented, so more books appeal to a wider span of diverse interests.

Regardless, American publishers don't produce as many books per capita as British publishers do. "Andrew Grabois, a senior executive at R.R. Bowker, the firm that issues ISBN numbers in the United States, noted, 'We're publishing 175,000 books for a U.S. population of close to 300 million. In the United Kingdom, they're publishing 125,000 books for a population of only 60 million.'"
"All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass whithers,
And its flower falls away,
But the word of the Lord endures forever." -- Isaiah as quoted by Peter
Thursday, July 22, 2004

Actual, Honest-to-Goodness Writing

You aren't writing unless you're typing words. You can alter that for long-hand preferences by saying, you aren't writing unless you're penning words. Same meaning. Writing is what I'm doing now, typing words into sentences which will form paragraphs. I'm not planning. I'm not meditating on my subject. I'm not outlining. I'm not researching. I'm writing.

Maybe this firm confession is what I need to overcome my irrational fear of doing what I am doing now.

This definition is not original with me, but I don't remember who say it or where I read it. Vonnegut, maybe?
Tuesday, July 20, 2004

A Scream for Jeeves

Will has reviewed A Scream for Jeeves, by P.H. Cannon, which is a parody of Lovecraft and Wodehouse. He didn't like it as much as he hoped, but it still may be worth looking at. The best part of Will's review is the bit of applied imagination he gives to a couple lines Bertie and Jeeves might have said. Read on.

C. Peacock's New Way to Be Human

Jared has reviewed New Way to be Human: A Provocative Look at What it Means to Follow Jesus, by Charlie Peacock. He says, "New Way to be Human is what would result if Dallas Willard had a Calvinist's theology and an artist's soul. A standout section in the book is dedicated to laying a theological foundation for Peacock's perspective, that of entering the Story of life inside God's radical kingdom." Read more of the review here, and read a excerpt from it here.
Monday, July 19, 2004

Library Thief Caught After Brief Car Chase

A Syracuse, NY, man fled police in his car over sidewalks, through parking lots, and against traffic in order to escape with his five purloined books on Jewish faith which he lifted from Syracuse University's Bird Library. He drew attention to himself by running a stop sign near the library.

Once they caught up this biblioklept, the police were disappointed. The Syracuse police spokesman said, "We assumed it was drugs or guns the way he was driving. We even brought in a canine to go through the car."

Byron Haynes (who is only the alledged thief because, despite the above, we are supposed to assume he is innocent until he is proven guilty) tried to ditch the stolen books by pitching them out the window. Police recovered him and the books. [from the AP]

Well-Meaning Revisionism?

I recently learned about an email and webpage which claims to correct our understanding of America's Christian history. You can see a copy of what I saw here. It isn't original with that site, I don't think; but I don't know who first wrote it or his intention. I found variations of it on other sites.

The history email professes to give us the context of Patrick Henry's famous words, "Give me liberty or give me death." For the full context, read this; for a list of sentences pulled from his speech, refer back to the email. I don't mind altering a person's quote in order to clean it up, perhaps to make it more powerful, as long as the message is clearly unchanged. If a speaker says something with several 'uh's or a backtrack, things which if removed leave the strong statement he intended to say, I don't think we are wrong to quote the man without the extras. Attribution is what's important. Conversely, if I said, "Strong statements carry powerful meaning," without attributing it to a speaker and when asked defended myself by saying the speaker actually said, "Strong statements, when you cut away excess which people go into, somewhat like this lengthy explanation within a paragraph in American history, carry powerful meaning," you would think I stole my statement from the speaker. Wouldn't you?

However when this history email claims to offer context for Patrick Henry, but actually pulls individual sentences from his eight paragraph speech, I don't think my quotation leniency applies. Henry did say each of these sentences:
"An appeal to arms and the God of hosts is all that is left us. But we shall not fight our battle alone. There is a just God that presides over the destinies of nations. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone. Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death."
But not back to back like this. In part, he said:
Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and
in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any
force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, we shall not
fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the
destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our
battles for us. The battle is not to the strong alone; it is to the
vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, we have no election. If
we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from
the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our
chains are forged. Their clanking may be heard on the plains of
Boston! The war is inevitable; and, let it come! I repeat, let it
Read the whole, exciting speech here.

This is a small point compared to what the history email claims about Thomas Jefferson. Reading this part prompted me to investigate the facts, and I hope this blog entry can help anyone searching the web for information in light of whichever email version he received. The email reports:
Consider these words that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the front of his well-worn Bible: "I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our Creator." He was also the chairman of the American Bible Society, which he considered his highest and most important role.
Now according to the American Bible Society website, "John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was elected president of the American Bible Society;" but Thomas Jefferson never had anything to do with the society. I called the ABS in New York and verified this. Also I could find no verification for the statement supposedly written in front of his Bible. Similar things were said in an 1803 letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, but not exactly. I don't think the writer of the email understands what Jefferson meant either. Jefferson did not believe in the supernatural, so he didn't believe Jesus was the Son of God. He wrote, "I am a Christian, in the only sense [Jesus] wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other."

That's the truth, as I was able to discern it. I wish emails like this, which seem to be well-meaning revisionism, would spend more time in research.

The Silmarillion, The Myths Behind Middle Earth

I wrote this a couple years ago before beginning Brandywine Books. Thirty-three shoppers have found it helpful. Perhaps, you will too.

Exciting, Beautiful History of Middle Earth
I've been reading this tome aloud to my wife, and I'm surprised I love it so much. Having enjoyed The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit since I was a boy, I thought the history of the Silmarils, which is the meaning of the word Silmarillion, would be interesting, if not overly tedious. I confess after the first four chapters, the text bogs down; I skipped ch. 14 all together. But the stories I now understand, the history of certain characters, the doom of the elves, and the full tale of their songs, I wouldn't want to have missed.

I love the Ainulindale, the story of creation, where Eru, whom the elves call Iluvatar, sings through the voices of angelic beings to create the world and foretell its history. It's a beautiful spin on the Genesis story. Once the official history of the Simarils begins, the details begin to pile up; but worthy is the reader who perseveres for the tales that follow build in excitement. For Lord of the Rings fans, are you curious about the doom that plagues Elrond and his family? Did you know that Galadriel was hundreds of years older than Elrond and was born in Valinor, the western haven to which the elves go in their white ships? Do you want to know how Sauron become the Dark Lord, and what Gandalf meant by covering the land in a _second_ darkness? All of those answers are in this book.

Tolkien gives us a powerfully beautiful world in Middle Earth, and this book magnifies the wonder seen in the Lord of the Rings. Why do Dwarves and Elves distrust each other? It stems from the bloodshed over the Silmarils, jewels crafted by Feanor, the most gifted and most headstrong of any elf who made by God. The jewels captured and radiated the light of the two trees Yavanna planted to give light to the world. They captivated the heart of anyone who saw them, and when one of them was set amid the Dwarf-cut gems of a spectacular necklace and worn by Luthien, the most beautiful elf to ever live, the light of heaven shone radiantly on earth for a short while. That and many more stories await you in this exciting history of elves and men in Middle Earth.
Sunday, July 18, 2004

The Dictionary of Dark Natter

McSweeney's plans to publish a dictionary of sorts so that "a great number of American writers and artists to voice their displeasure with their current political leadership, and to collectively imagine a brighter future." The Future Dictionary of America has almost 200 contributors and is sold with a CD of new and rare songs. Proceeds will go to the Sierra Club, Common Assets, and "groups devoted to expressing their outrage over the Bush administration's assault on free speech, overtime, drinking water, truth, the rule of law, humility," and wrong-headed liberal sensitivities. I know the hypocrisy card is played too often in political discussions, but "rule of law"? Did any of these contributors root for the San Francisco's mayor law-breaking in the name of gay rights? Did any of them say perjury in the last administration was understandable? Though not addressing these issues directly, Slings and Arrows chart on what is seen as good and bad illuminates my point here.

From the AP article on the dictionary, here are some samples:
Under the entry "dubyavirus," fiction writer Thisbe Nissen imagines that President Bush (news - web sites) has been indicted as a war criminal, thus ending "an aggressively invasive and tragically widespread disease." Another fiction writer, Paul Auster, defines "bush" as "a poisonous family of shrubs, now extinct."

Joyce Carol Oates presents "dark natter," which she labels "continuous chatter of an ominous sort." Stephen King contributes "sloudge," his term for the endless political opining on cable television. "Most sloudge," King writes, is conducted by "overweight white men" seated around "shiny tables" and mouthing off against the liberal state.
At least, we now have a useful term for half of the deluge of political books published in the last several months, including this one--dark natter.
Saturday, July 17, 2004

The Hulk Sues Mickey Mouse for Back Payments

From Reuters,--"Marvel Enterprises has sued Walt Disney for about $55 million (29 million pounds), accusing Disney's ABC Family group of channels of shortchanging Marvel on payments for cartoon series of 'Spider-Man,' 'The Incredible Hulk' and 'X-Men.'" This is the same kind of thing that happened over Winnie-the-Pooh, but that lawsuit was set back "after the court ruled Disney's foes had tampered with evidence and lied, undermining the legal process."

Quote: A Novel

"A novel is what you dream in your night sleep. A novel is not waking thoughts although it is written and thought with waking thoughts. But really a novel goes as dreams go in sleeping at night and some dreams are like anything and some dreams are like something and some dreams change and some dreams are quiet and some dreams are not. And some dreams are just what any one would do only a little different always just a little different and that is what a novel is."

Gertrude Stein, How Writing Is Written, quoted in the Columbia World of Quotations

Growing Up on the Edge of the World, by Phil Callaway

Terry Anderson, the twelve-year-old narrator of this book, lives in a comical family, which, if they weren’t fictional, would go toward proving that comedy comes out of pain. His mother deteriorates slowly from an incurable disease. His father makes little money as a mechanic. His oldest brother smokes, perpetually trying to quit and feeling cold shoulders from their legalistic church.

None of that works to build Terry’s ego, but neither do his own decisions. So when Terry discovers a jackpot which could turn his hard, North Dakota winter into one long Christmas, he does what any pre-teen might do. He fills his pockets with candy and lies about the money. Of course, the longer he delays his confession, the more trouble risks.

Speaker and Author Phil Callaway is a humor-monger, who has written non-fiction on laughter and Christian living. Thus, this book is funny. Not Wodehouse funny, but light-hearted, warm, and occasionally funny enough to laugh out loud. The back cover boasts of colorful characters, and they do raise their heads here and there, but more interesting than Mayberry-style locals are the fine, upstanding hypocrites who attend Anderson’s church. Callaway doesn’t refrain from briefly describing a few people whose spiteful whispers surprised me in their indifference to the pain of fellow believers who were in the room though out of earshot.

Some heavy-handed application does sneak in. The town is named Grace because the story is about grace. There’s even a little story to the town’s naming—pioneers, Indians, and a miracle, you know. But Growing Up is an enjoyable book which should find a good audience. Callaway says he is working on a sequel.
Friday, July 16, 2004

I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

I recently finished this collection of nine stories published between 1940-1950. Of course, I took it down from my shelf because of the Will Smith movie coming out today, but I’ve learned that the movie is only loosely based on the book’s central ideas, primarily the three laws of robotics.

I like Asimov, even when he bashes Christianity or religious faith in general. I have a volume of Hugo award winners, which he edited by request. Before each story, he introduces the author, if not something unrelated, and I love the humor he employs, such as, "If Arthur C. Clarke had more hair and were considerably more handsome, he could easily be mistaken for me."

The Fact Index states that I, Robot was originally titled Mind and Iron and a bothersome publisher changed it over Asimov’s protest. None of the stories are narrated by a robot, so why a
first-person title? But then, Mind and Iron sounds like asteroids.

The stories follow the development of robots and their human interaction from their birth in 1996 to 2052. Dr. Susan Calvin is being interviewed by the narrator for a series of articles for the Interplanetary Press. That’s the framework around the nine stories, which are basically problem-solving tales where the humans try to understand why a new robot is doing something wrong. Well, eight of the stories are that way. The final story, “The Evitable Conflict,” is simply dialogue, almost a philosophical
explanation of the world after robots have replaced God. It makes a disappointing end. The eighth one, “Evidence,” would have made a better finale, being the most exciting. It describes a mayoral candidate who is accused of being a robot and isn’t inclined to jump through the hoops to prove he isn’t.

None of these tales would make a good movie. They are thinkers and talkers, interesting characters talking through an interesting problem. Eight of the nine are fun.

Patricia Cornwell, Kay Scarpetta, and Ruth B. Graham

On Wednesday, July 14, in the "Hooked on Books" calendar from, the writers give us this bit of trivia:
Writer Patricia Cornwell probably wouldn't be around today if it hadn't been for her mentor. Her father left her family after having an affair with his secretary. Her mother had a nervous breakdown. Patricia battled anorexia and bulimia, a drinking problem, manic depression, divorce in her first marriage, and rape. She survived it all with the help and support of a lady who lived just down the road from Cornwell when she was a youngster--Ruth Graham, wife of evangelist Billy. In 1997, Cornwell published Ruth's biography.
I hope my link is to the biography they mention. I see that a book called A Time for Remembering: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham by Cornwell was published in 1983. Entertainment weeklies review of the 1997 book says that Ruth Graham "resembles the tough, self-reliant Kay Scarpetta" of Cornwallis books.
Thursday, July 15, 2004

English Literary Group Recommends Your Next Selection

Have you seen It’s a Flash-based book recommendation site, asking you what you feel like reading and queing up suggestions. “Queing,” not lining; this is a British website.

With software developed by Applied Psychology Research Ltd and concept developed by Opening the Book Ltd, a reader development organization, gives you several options for finding your next read. About how happy or sad would you like it to be? Funny or serious? To what degree? Would you like a book which is safe or disturbing? Unpredictable? Beautiful? Violent? Optimistic or bleak? Choose four or less attributes and see what they return.

How about a book about a black man in the Mediterrainian? suggests The Stone of Light: Nefer the Silent, by Christian Jacq.

I asked for an unpredicatable, beautiful, and somewhat happy book. A good match was Amaryllis Night and Day, by Russell Hoban. There were fair matches beneath it.

I wondered about a funny, disturbing book with no sex. Araby, by Gretta Mulrooney.

An unusual, demanding, yet optimistic book? Salamander, by Thomas Wharton, which it labels a ‘fair match’ and gave me no good matches.

How long is the title list for According to the site, “The books in the database are all fiction and poetry in paperback written in or translated into English and published (with very few exceptions) since 1995. Some library services are endeavouring to purchase all the titles in the database.”

That may not be many books, but recommendations don’t seem predictable. The very first pick I asked for, something in the ‘unpredicatable, beautiful, happy’ category, returned The Princess Bride. I couldn’t find that pick again. It wasn’t written after 1995 either, so maybe their selection is expanding. When I chose ‘sad’ and ‘larger than life’ and varied the degree of ‘demand,’ I was given several different titles. Yonder Stands Your Orphan, by Barry Hannah, The Clay Machine Gun, by Victor Pelevin, and The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. Each of those titles may have been lower on the list of fair matches, but I looked at the top picks primarily.

What do you think about this site?
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Politics, Anyone?

From The Minneapolis Star Tribune: If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats In Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It, by Hugh Hewitt. A radio talk show host and columnist for the Weekly Standard, Hewitt pretty much sums up his call to arms in the title. (To be Released July 22 from Nelson Books)

"What you don't know about politics in America could get you killed. In fact, it could get me killed. It could get tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or, yes, even millions of Americans killed.

"The Democratic Party has lost its collective will and collective ability to take the national security of the United States seriously. This is not treasonous or unpatriotic behavior, just selfish and stupid behavior. But the irresponsibility of the Democratic Party extends to every major issue affecting national security."

Neil Uchitel on Writer's Block

I enjoy noticing who links to Brandywine Books watching my status in the Blogspheric Ecosystem. Through those backward links, I discovered Composer Neil Uchitel's blog and this interesting post on writer's block.
My view is: If you don’t want to write (like Aaron Copeland at the end of his life), then don’t. If you want to write, then write. Who cares if it’s trite or unoriginal? Just write. If you want to write, but are so concerned about being original all the time, then trade your word processor in for a shovel and go dig for a living, because it’s probably already been said, and maybe better. Originality, besides being elusive, is overrated anyway. Bach was hardly original, from a stylistic point of view at least. The reason the Baroque period ends with Bach’s death is because Baroque music was the tired old style of yesterday that nobody was interested in anymore. Nevertheless, Bach’s name is synonymous with the style itself, and this isn’t because he was a hack. My opinion is, you don’t necessarily have to be original, you just have to be timely. Ralph Vaughn Williams said it best: “Why should music be original? The object of art is to stretch out the ultimate realities through the medium of beauty. The duty of the composer [or writer, or artist, or poet] is to ?nd the mot juste. It does not matter if this word has been said a thousand times before, as long as it is the right thing to say at that moment.”

He goes on to list several ways of overcoming the inability to write or create, telling artist's to stop taking themselves so seriously and push through the malaise. Thanks for the encouragement, Neil.

Writing through the Fear

Emerging Author Jared Wilson and I emailed about creative writing yesterday. I asked if he struggled with fear over his writing. He said he didn't in general. This is the resulting post. If you are one of the 14,000,000 Americans dabbling in creative writing lately, how about commenting on your emotions when writing on Jared worthy blog?
Saturday, July 10, 2004
Not Just in War
From Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth, of which I saw an abridgement several days ago. Here is a charge which applies to everyday living as well as a war against the Dauphin. From Act 3, scene 4:

King Henry: Go therefore, tell thy master here I am:
My ransom is this frail and worthless trunk,
My army but a weak and sickly guard;
Yet, God before, tell him we will come on,
Though France himself and such another neighbour
Stand in our way. There’s for thy labour, Montjoy.
Go, bid thy master well advise himself:
If we may pass, we will; if we be hinder’d,
We shall your tawny ground with your red blood
Discolour: and so, Montjoy, fare you well.
The sum of all our answer is but this:
We would not seek a battle as we are;
Nor, as we are, we say we will not shun it:
So tell your master.
Montjoy: I shall deliver so. Thanks to your highness. [Exit.
Glocester: I hope they will not come upon us now.
King Henry: We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs.

Navel-gazing at the CBA

In the post referenced below, Amy Welborn quotes Os Guiness from Christianity Today:
The Contemporary Christian Music and the Christian Booksellers Association are multi-billion dollar industries incredibly contained by their success. Many of them are now driven by the market, not by mission. So instead of the church being salt and light, you've got Christians writing books to other Christians.

I walked through CBA last year with one of the heads of one of the leading publishing houses. He said, "You know, 95 percent of these books are all about me, my, and that sort of stuff." Narcissistic. Very little of it is serious Christian books engaging the culture.

I love C.S. Lewis's idea of resistance thinking. He said if you only adapt the gospel to what fits your times, you'll have a comfortable, convenient gospel. But it'll only be half the gospel. And it'll be irrelevant to the next generation.

Whereas, if you follow resistance thinking—or looking into the gospel for things that are difficult, obscure, or even repulsive as he says—then you're true to the whole gospel. And secondly, you're relevant to any generation.

And the Spirit Gave Him the Skill to Accomplish His Will

In a kind of ricochet post, I direct your attention to Lilac Rose's quotes from two reports on Christianity in the Arts.

From the Washington Times, Susan of Lilac Rose quotes:
Instead of focusing on evangelism, Mr. Davison would rather have artists who are Christians correctly represent the worldview they attest to believe. Further, since he says only a person can be a Christian, he doesn't use the word "Christian" as an adjective. He tries to discourage his students from becoming involved in subcultures, such as "Christian music" or "Christian dance."

"In an effort to engage in popular culture, we get 'love songs for Jesus,' " he says. "They think the text of the songs are conveying a biblical truth, but it's not a biblical truth. These songs may be fun to sing, but what does the song really say? Does it say a truth we believe about God?"
Afterward, Susan directs our attention to commentary on the Christian Bookseller's Asso. by Author Amy Welborn:
Last year, we had a lot of discussion about Thomas Nelson's magazine-style repackaging of the New Testament for teen girls called "Revolve." In the year since, they've come out with one for boys called "Refuel" and now one for women called Becoming.

Here's an advertising bit for it: "Part Bible, part 'zine--The Bible meets Oprah with a twist of InStyle! Becoming is the complete New Testament using the New Century Version, but it wouldn't be a culture 'zine if it didn't address men, beauty, fitness and food!"

I picked one up and spent a lot of time looking through it on the trip back. I found it, on one level, incredibly insulting (as a woman), but that's par for the course for me. I tried to look at it objectively, discerning what it told me about what the Christian life is all about. Answer: men, beauty, fitness and food!
Later, Ms. Welborn, a Catholic, addresses that British paraphrase called The Street Bible.
But it's a paraphrase. A full-scale, abridged paraphrase, which means, I thought that human beings have been about the business of interpreting the Scriptures.

Whenever I'm confronted with such a book, I of course turn to the Last Supper accounts to see how "Bible Only No Interpretation" these folks really are. Here ya go, the passage based on Luke 22:14-20, subtitled "Symbolism on the menu."
He picks up a wine cup, thanks his father for it and says, "pass this round, let's all drink from the same cup. It'll be my last till God's world is more than just talk."
Then he takes a bread loaf, thanks his father again and rips it into pieces; each of the team gets a chunk. He says, "this bread symbolizes me, my body It's be ripped apart for you. I want you to re-enact this as a memory trigger. Don't forget me. They finish the meal and Jesus picks up the wine cup, deep in thought. He says, "This wine cup is the New Contract sealed with my blood. Blood that'll hit the ground for you."
This kind of stuff is not noncontroversial in the evangelical community. Nor is Becoming, nor is even Christian pop music. But nonetheless, it's what dominates. And it irks me, frankly, because it expresses to me what so many evangelicals do without realizing or admitting it - looking to mediators, embracing human interpretation of God's Word - the very things they preach are so wrong with Catholicism.
Zonderzan defends the book by putting bible in quotes. "Far from just a book, the word on the street is a bible--lowercase 'b'--that Lacey hopes will intrigue people with the Bible--big 'B.' The word on the street is also the script for Lacey's 60- and 20-minute stage shows, performed with a two-person backup band. He also does a three-minute performance of the whole Bible at breakneck speed. Lacey's goal? Make the Bible a page-turner again."

I'm not convinced calling this "The Bible as 'Performance Art'" a 'b'ible is enough to defend it. It's seems to be the same publishing error as rewording Shakespeare for modern, limited vocabularies. It doesn't turn the original into a page-turner; it replaces the original.
Friday, July 09, 2004

Kenneth Starr on what Clinton left out of His Life

[From OpinionJournal]: "Mr. Clinton glosses over this enduring lesson about the role of the independent counsel, as well as sliding by many of the investigation's undisputed findings. His epic-length reflections sweep aside not only the flinty facts, but the vital importance of history and tradition in our constitutional architecture. That impoverishment in the presentation reinforces the unfortunate sense that only personalities and (alleged) motivations count in modern public life, when in truth, it is the integrity of ideas and principles that have lasting consequences.

"That is why we as a nation, over two centuries later, remembered once again not only Independence Day itself, but the ideas at the Founding given powerful voice by Thomas Jefferson when he and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and their 'sacred honor.' These principles, more fully anchored in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the post-Civil War amendments, have stood the test of time and will extend far beyond our own passing age of celebrity."
Thursday, July 08, 2004

NEA Reports Adult Literary Readers Are Out-numbered

World’s blog notes a NY Times story on today’s National Endowments for the Arts survey titled, “Reading at Risk.”
Buried in the final paragraph of a recent New York Times story documenting a dramatic decline in book reading among American adults was the following sentence: “The one category of book to rise markedly (in 2003) was that of religious texts, with total sales of $337.9 million, 36.8 percent over the previous year.” The overwhelming majority of those religious texts being Christian, might a return to the highly literate culture of Reformational Christianity be at hand? Or, more cynically, do such bestsellers such as the “Left Behind” series and “The Prayer of Jabez” merely reflect an intellectually and theologically shallow Christian culture?

The growing market for Christian merchandise stretches beyond books, including music and art as well. Like their textual counterparts, these items often fall well short of lasting quality. Out of the abundance -- or lack thereof -- of the heart, the mouth sings, the hand paints, the pen writes. During the Protestant Reformation, Christians created a wealth of books, hymns and pieces of art that not only outclassed the greater European secular culture of the day but also remain relevant, beautiful and popular even now.

The NEA report says literary reading has dropped 10% overall “from 1982 to 2002, representing a loss of 20 million potential readers.” Overall, less than 50% of American Adults are reading novels, short stories, poems, and plays. NEA head Dana Gioia calls this a crisis. “Reading develops a capacity for focused attention and imaginative growth that enriches both private and public life. The decline in reading among every segment of the adult population reflects a general collapse in advanced literacy.” And as we lose reading, we lose cultural life.

The reading decline accompanies a rise in creative writers. Fourteen million confessed to creative writing which is up 30% from 1982. Also, the report claims, “Literary readers are much more likely to be involved in cultural, sports and volunteer activities than are non-readers.”

Gioia doesn’t blame any one influence. The problem, he says, is comprehensive and must be addressed throughout society. If we are to remain an “active, independently minded” people who govern ourselves their proper representation, we must read our own art and enjoy our own culture.

Too Good to be Acceptable?

This from Nicholas Clee of The Guardian is fascinating, but I don't fully understand it.
(May 29, 2004) I have been reading a rather wonderful memoir. Much as I like it, though, I cannot condemn the hundreds of literary agents and publishers who declined to take it on. It is called Ginny Good, and it is written by Gerard Jones, who came to my attention with his website,, a listing of more than 2,000 publishers and agents in his native US and in Canada, the UK and Ireland.

He has sent them all samples of his writing; you can read some of the rejection letters at the site. However, an agent did sign him up eventually, and sold Ginny Good to a small, new US house called Monkfish. After I had used the site several times, I decided that I should click Jones's "send me money" donations button; in return, he sent me a copy of his book.

It is the story of his life in the hippy culture of the US West Coast in the 1960s and 70s, and of his relationship with Virginia Good, a volatile child of that era. It is direct, funny and touching. Getting published should have been straightforward, surely. But the problem is how to market this book. Yes, he is a gifted writer, but that is a hard quality to sell. There is also the matter of precedent. In the time I've been writing about the book trade, I've come across quite a few memoirists such as Jones, dismayed that publishers have failed to appreciate their work; none of them, before him, has had any talent. It's difficult to prove yourself the exception.
I'm sure that's a difficult task; but it's difficult for me to understand the strength of the excerpts I've read. Feel free to decide for yourself, if you like. If I wish I could register a strong opinion, but maybe the ugliness of the subject holds me back. Is it wrong to prize beauty over almost every other part of literature?
Preferences: My TCCI Number

When I first saw the list, I said that preferences weren't my thing, and they still aren't. I'm probably a shallow thinker or maybe priority-inhibited, but I label most things as liked or disliked. I don't usually grade within those categories. So, while I may have a favorite Shakespearean play . . . That is, while I may like each of the Shakespearean plays I've read or seen, I haven't picked a favorite nor declared which ones I dislike more than others. For example, I dislike Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" now. It feels old and simple, despite the full version with chorus being superior to the orchestral version. Do I dislike it more than Grofe's "The Grand Canyon Suite," which also feels simple and old? I don't know. I don't care to find out either.

But many have picked up the TCCI, so I'll follow them. My TCCI is 67%, which is also the percentage of questions I could answer. Now that I know so much about Mr. Teachout, I don't know I can remain in his company any more, he liking hot dogs and all. He does get a few things right (ducking), for example:
"Are there other critics whose taste is as predictable as [a simple label, like conservative or liberal]? Sure—bad ones. And how can you tell they’re bad? Precisely because they are that predictable. Taste is not an ideology. It’s a personal response to the immediate experience of art. If your responses to new or unfamiliar art are wholly predictable, it means that instead of allowing experience to reshape and refine your taste, you’re forcing your perceptions into the pigeonhole of your pre-existing opinions. That’s the opposite of what a good critic does. . . .

My point is that when it comes to art, I’m not an either/or thinker. Alas, such thinking holds powerful sway in America today, especially now that our political discourse has become so intensely oppositional. . . . G.K. Chesterton said the last word about that poisonous style of thinking: "‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’"

Eventide Author Will Write More about Colorado

Kent Haruf, the successful author of Plainsong and Eventide, has endeared himself to the novels' Colorado town, Holt. He plains to dwell on that community in future work though not main characters. From an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Holt remains with Haruf even now, though he feels he's said goodbye to the McPherons. "I feel I'm done writing about the McPherons," he said. "I've been thinking about them for 10 years. I think I'll feel lost without them, but I've begun to think some about another novel, got itches but haven't made any notes yet." He doesn't know what the new novel will be about, but he thinks he's "stuck in Holt" for a while yet. Though Holt is a fictional town, it's "certainly very real to me," he said. It stays with him in part because it's an amalgamation of "three little towns I grew up in."

Denial by George Herbert (1593-1633)

When my devotions could not pierce  
Thy silent ears;     
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse;  
My breast was full of fears          
And disorder:

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:     
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder          
Of alarms.

‘As good go any where,’ they say,
‘As to benumb     
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come,          
But no hearing.’

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,     
And then not hear it crying! All day long          
My heart was in my knee,            
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung;     
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,          
Like a nipped blossom, hung         

O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
Defer no time;        
That so thy favours granting my request,         
They and my mind may chime,     
And mend my rhyme.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Coming in 2006

Sean Connery to Write Autobiography: "Having always vowed never to write my autobiography, here I am standing on the runway awaiting my journey into a new space," Connery says through his publisher, HarperCollins.
Monday, July 05, 2004

Umberto Eco on That Annoying Question

In a 1994 essay, "How to Justify a Private Library," Author and Professor Umberto Eco describes what he does when asked whether he has read all the books in his home library.
[For] people who possess a fairly sizable library (large enough in my case that someone entering our house can't help but notice it; actually, it takes up the whole place.), visitors enter and say, "What a lot of books! Have you read them all?" At first I thought that the question characterized only people who had scant familiarity with books . . . but there is more to it than that. I believe that, confronted by a vast array of books, anyone will be seized by the anguish of learning and will inevitably lapse into asking the question that expresses his torment and his remorse.

In the past I adopted a tone of contemptuous sarcasm. "I haven't read any of them; otherwise, why would I keep them here?" But this is a dangerous answer, because it invites the obvious follow-up: "And where do you put them after you've read them?" The best answer is the one always used by Roberto Leydi: "And more, dear sir, many more," which freezes the adversary and plunges him into a state of awed admiration. But I find it merciless and angst-generating. Now I have fallen back on the riposte: "No, these are the ones I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office," a reply that on the one hand suggests a sublime ergonomic strategy and on the other leads the visitor to hasten the moment of his departure.
Taken from A Passion for Books, ed. by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan
Writing Is a Solitary Act
To everyone who stopped by to see if I had posted something new or interesting, I thank you. I have tried to accomplish non-blog efforts this weekend. You can get Brandywine Books through your newsreader or by syndication now by looking up

Today, Erin O'Connor points our attention to Hemingway's Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech. It's short, and here's a strong paragraph on the craft.

"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day."
Sunday, July 04, 2004
Quote for July 4th: [link] "In all epochs of the world's history, we shall find the Great Man to have been the indispensable saviour of his epoch;--the lightening, without which the fuel would never have burnt. The History of the world, I said already, was the biography of Great Men." -- Thomas Carlyle. On Heroes, Hero-Worship
Saturday, July 03, 2004

Happy Independence Day!

I hope you are having a good weekend. My mother is having a momentous birthday tonight, so our Fourth o' July celebrations are being upstaged. In case you're online looking for inspiration for a holiday meal or side, let me recommend this recipe from the Global Gourmet.

Chilled Beet and Cantaloupe Soup

Uhh, it's, um, ooo. What does this have to do with literary tastes? I'm glad you asked. Thank you for stopping by Brandywine Books. Be sure to check out the links on the right. Every one of them will get you there.

The Separation of Art and State

Kevin has an interesting discussion about politics and literature in this post: Collected Miscellany - Bush and Books. In short, he says, "I was simply wondering if there is a political dimension to the disconnect between literary authors and the general public, especially those of a conservative bent."

Mark of The Elegant Variation replies to Kevin's concerns by saying, "I don't think there's much to be gained by stuffing literature through the prism of one's politics, whatever your stripe. That's why the contretemps of uptight academics who can't assess a piece of fiction without a recourse to, for example, gender politics, do literature a disservice. Right, left, who cares? Gimme good books and let me figure out the rest."

Dan of The Reading Experience comments, "Honestly, I think there are some conservatives (not you) who have concluded that all 'literary' writers are by definition leftists because they so often deal with disturbing or disquieting material."

I agree, and praise for readers who find the good books and begin figuring. But I still wonder about artists' worldviews and whether dealing with "disquieting material" in a certain way is the main reason readers dislike their books. A politically liberal, American author, like E.L. Doctorow, will probably write stories which praise ugliness (in a broad sense of the word) or refuse to condemn it. If the author believes "evil" is a defunct idea, that all employers oppress their workers, and that sex is for the taking without consequences or that it is liberation for all ages, he will probably write stories that reflect those ideas regardless the skill with which he writes. And subject matter is part of the reading experience (forgive the pun). Most readers don't care how well the story is written so long as it's a good story and it's written well enough to be readable (which is something some liberal works lack).

I agree that it doesn't help to force political or philosophical notions on a literary work, but I think those ideas are attractive or repulsive to readers and go into building readership.
Thursday, July 01, 2004

Non-Fiction for the Modern World

[by way of Jen]This isn't literary or related to publishing, but you may enjoy this short, true story blogged a few days ago by Right Thinking Girl. Love In A Time Of Danger: "Sean does not like it when I call him a 9/11 Victim. He tells me he's not a victim. His coworkers who died were victims. His wife of ten years was a victim. He was just there when it happened."
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