Brandywine Books
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Baker Wants to be Like Wodehouse

In a 1999 interview with Powells.com, Author Nicholson Baker (see next entry) makes this observation about writing and writers:
Baker: I wish that I could be like P.G. Wodehouse or something. It seems to have given him pleasure to have roughly the same plot each time. And slight variations. Like Mozart or something. Sub-dominant chords. It seems like a healthier way to approach writing, to make small variations each time. And maybe over thirty years, from the first book to the last book, there's a considerable movement. But my way seems to be to completely turn the telescope in another direction. It doesn't seem like the way a pro would do it.

DW: Are you still worried about being a pro at this point? Still questioning yourself in that regard?

Baker: Don't you think most writers are secretly worried that they're not really writers? That it's all been happenstance, something came together randomly, the letters came together, and they and won't coalesce ever again?

DW: But you could make the opposite argument that your career has developed in a Wodehouse sort of way. You have that fascination with detail and the digressive style which lets you incorporate huge ideas in small fields. So your focus changes, but you keep the style, which itself has developed and evolved.

Baker: That's a better way to look at it.

DW: I'm just trying to put a positive spin on it.

Baker: Well, I certainly don't feel tortured in any way.
 

To Kill A President Or At Least Talk About It

Did you hear about Nicholson Baker's little book on assassinating President Bush? It's called Checkpoint, and though 60,000 were initially printed, less than 7,000 have sold. Baker appears to care less about story than idea. His most notable book, which is the book most reviews and articles mention when describing him, is Vox, a long, erotic, phone conversation. Checkpoint is also a conversation. This time, it's between a school friend and a wacko who plans to kill the president with flying saws or smart bullets.

If that sounds dumb to you, I think you're in good company, and I'm wondering if that's the point. In this freelanced review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Critic John Freeman writes, "The goal of 'Checkpoint,' it seems, is to take the internal combustion of hatred and anger and make it visible. Baker does so brilliantly. Jay's speech begins slowly, then it meanders, then it turns frantic and finally breathless. By the novel's conclusion, it's as if he has used up every possible molecule of oxygen in the room. At the peak of his anger his voice comes out in bursts and squeaks, with no logic whatsoever."

Another critic, J. Peder Zane of the Raleigh News & Observer, says, "Instead of rising to the challenge by creating an artistic work of high moral seriousness, Baker serves up a sensationalistic piece of gimmickry unworthy of its explosive premise. . . . Baker draws so heavily on common arguments that it is tempting to believe he is engaging in a rear-guard action, subtly lampooning liberal attacks on Bush. However, he and Ben seem wholly sympathetic to the thrust of Jay's criticisms."

"Wholly sympathetic," yet the book concludes with the would-be assassin looking ridiculous, squeaking "with no logic whatsoever." That makes me want to read the book to see if the parody, intentional or unintentional, plays out. Maybe Baker has revealed the silliness of the outraged left. Democrat spokesmen H. Dean and M. Moore have said no less ridiculous things than Jay probably does.
 

A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards

I'm passing on a recommendation. If I didn't have a couple Edwards books unread, I'd be itching for this one. Ooo, ah, what's that feeling in my back?

"No man is more relevant to the present condition of Christianity than Jonathan Edwards."
— D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

About A God Entranced Vision of All Things

"Jonathan Edwards knew and preached the beauties of heaven as much as the terrors of hell. He was a humble and joyful servant, striving to glorify God in his personal life and public ministry. This book investigates the character and teachings of the man who preached from a deep concern for the unsaved and a passionate desire for God." (source, which has chapter excerpts)
 
Monday, August 30, 2004

Reading Is Real Life

Blogging is too. Some readers and bloggers speak as if reading, writing, and blogging are non-real and other activities are real, therefore real life is out there, making a meal, cleaning a toilet, earning a paycheck; but reading puts real life on hold. I disagree.

You and I are alive now, and we are doing what we have chosen to do. Perhaps our motives are conflicted so that after we finish here we will tell ourselves we should have been doing something else, something more productive maybe. But conflicted motives do not make this part of our lives less real.

I wonder if many "reluctant readers," using a term from Karen Sandstrom's article on Why Read? by Mark Edmundson, [by way of ArtsJournal] believe this odd notion that reading puts life on hold. They don't see value in it. But I suggest it has as much real value as anything we do and more than some of those things. Reading is a joy; it's a pleasure, just as walking through the country and hiking to a mountain peak is enjoyable. Are walking and hiking only good means for physical exercise? Well, reading is mental exercise; but don't cheat yourself into believing that productivity is the only measure of an activity. Experiencing goodness and beauty is worthwhile in itself, and reading or blogging can be that experience.

Author Mark Edmundson said, "It makes sense to recognize that for some people, reading isn't their game, and they'll achieve self-awareness through other means. But most people stand to grow quite a lot through reading. Words have a magic. If you change the way people talk to themselves and to the world at large, you change the way that a person lives. Words have amazing power. A liberal education uses books to rejuvenate, reaffirm, replenish, revise, overwhelm, replace, in some cases (alas) even help begin to generate the web of words that we're defined by. But this narrative isn't a thing of mere words. The narrative brings with it commitments and hopes. . . . A new language, whether we learn it from a historian, a poet, a painter, or composer of music, is potentially a new way to live."

That's called soul food, isn't it?
 
Saturday, August 28, 2004

Sound Historical Research Refutes Gnostic Claims

Will worked his way through Eusebius' History of the Church over the last several months. If more people understood this history, would The Da Vinci Code be as successful as it is? Will writes:
So what did I learn from Eusebius? First, that the canon of the New Testament, although still somewhat fluid even up to the end of Eusebius' life, was nevertheless pretty well thrashed out. All of the books we currently have in the New Testament were well-known to Eusebius and his sources, many of which date from the first and second centuries, and were liberally quoted by them. In Eusebius' day there was still some controversy about Revelations, Paul's Letter to the Hebrews (Eusebius maintained that it had indeed been written by Paul, but in Hebrew, and was translated into Greek by Clement of Rome), and some of the so-called "Catholic" letters. On the other hand, the various "gnostic" gospels so beloved of certain scholars these days as holding hidden knowledge--the Gospel of Thomas, for example--were also well known to Eusebius and his predecessors, and were generally dismissed as bogus. (The discussion often involves comments on the style of the various authors; it sounds quite contemporary to my ears.) In short, the New Testament was too well known and too widely quoted in earlier times to be the work of Constantine, as Dan Brown would have it.
 

To End All Wars Is Pure, Praise-worthy, and True

On Friday night, my wife and I watched the 2001 limited release film, To End All Wars. If Gibson's The Passion of Jesus Christ lacked context or irked some who argue over the Second Commandment's application to film projects, this film avoids the argument and provides a large piece of the context. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his soul? To End All Wars powerfully contrasts mercy with vengeance, which some call justice; but true justice is not besmirched in the process.

The story is of the horror a Scottish regiment experienced in a Japanese labor camp between 1942-1945 while building a railroad. Ernest Gordon begins by explaining his reasons for quitting school, where he was studying to be a teacher, and joining the Argylls, a group he called the last line of defense. They are captured. Of course, they think about escaping at first, but change their minds when it appears they have no hope of survival outside the camp. After the railroad project begins, some prisoners ask Gordon to teach them about the meaning of life, despairing of hope in the Thailand jungle. He refuses at first, but after almost dying of sickness, he changes his mind. He teaches them Plato's understanding of justice. A friend, Dusty, teaches Biblical concepts of mercy and justice, and another man teaches Shakespeare.

I'll stop the summary there, because retelling the plot won't truly describe the film. The power comes from the heart of each character interacting with the others in the horrible face of evil. I'm grateful to say mercy wins, but it wins in part because those charged with carrying out justice do their job while mercy works. This is where some misunderstand Jesus' teaching. He says his followers should turn the other cheek and love their enemies, praying for those who persecute them for righteousness? sake; but he also teaches that justice has its place. Personally, we are to seek mercy, but governments and kings are to uphold justice and use the sword when needed. Ernest Gordon was able to tell his story because while he sought mercy for his Japanese abusers, the Allies sought justice on the Japanese emperor. V-J Day partially rewarded Gordon for his perseverance.

To End All Wars earns an R-rating for war violence, which I thought was well-handled. It was awful, but not gratuitous. And it probably puts the teeth in the theme, which is one to speak at every table to everyone who will listen. "And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."
 
Thursday, August 26, 2004

Christian Authors Didn't Have Reader Permission

From The Seattle Times, Aug. 16:
A decade or so ago, said Clint Kelly, a Seattle-based writer who is part of the new generation of authors, Christian writers didn't feel free to grapple with Biblical teachings in novels.

"It's sort of like we have permission now," said Kelly, who works at Seattle Pacific University, a Christian liberal arts college. "People of faith are now seeing it as another way of coming at our faith — it's OK to ask questions. It's not heretical."

Today's Christian-themed fiction is a bona fide cultural trend that keeps pushing boundaries. Kelly, for example, said the Bible fascinates him "as much by what it doesn't say as what it does say." His novels try to fill in the blanks on well-known figures in the Bible such as Noah.

"The challenge for me was to try to put more flesh and bone on the figure of Noah," Kelly said. "How did his friends and associates speak of him? What kind of warnings did he give them? What kind of agonies did he go through as a man?"

Kelly brings these issues up-to-date using scenarios that are closer to our own time; his books are concerned with how people maintain their humanity and hope in adverse circumstances and periods of doubt.

...

Christian authors like Bette Nordberg, a Puyallup-based writer, are reveling in a newfound freedom to tell interesting stories that tackle spirituality head-on through characters in the midst of crises.

"The characters — some of them, not all of them — are overtly Christian and they are trying to figure out how to make the tenets of their faith work in their everyday lives," Nordberg said. She also said she was an adult before she ever held a Bible in her hands and took religion seriously. "The more flawed they are, the more readers seem to love them."

Her latest book, Season of Grace (Harvest House), tells what happens when a woman answers the front door one day and finds her long-lost brother, who's dying of AIDS.

Nordberg's next book is about a white woman who is faced with raising the mixed-race child of a friend who is killed in car accident.
 
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Heart-Warming, Like Hearing a Relative Complimented

From So Many Books: "I feel that favorite writers are our friends.
I thank Flannery O'Connor deeply for her honesty." This is from a short praise of O'Connor which I found by linking through Terry Teachout's list of worthy sites. I don't know what it is, but I like the thorough Southerness of South Carolina's (or is it Georgia's) Flannery O'Connor and I like hear her praised. So I'm passing this bit o'praise on to y'all.
 
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Book of the Year

The prolific reader John Wilson of Books & Culture suggests Ira Foxglove by Thomas McMahon may be the best book published this year, though it was written earlier. The book describes itself this way: "A posthumous novel by a writer who has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Kurt Vonnegut, IRA FOXGLOVE is a tale of the heart ? both real and imagined ? that revolves around a talented scientist whose own heart has been broken physically and spiritually. In an odyssey to repair both Ira ventures on a fantastical journey by blimp to try and recover his fractured family."

Wilson also suggests a possible loser for the honor of best book:
When he is good, he is very, very good, but when he is bad . . . We're speaking, of course, of Philip Roth, very good in The Human Stain but off the rails in his latest novel, The Plot Against America, due in October from Houghton Mifflin. The premise is an alternative America in which Lindbergh trounced FDR in the 1940 presidential election. Lindbergh's agenda is not only isolationist but also anti-Semitic, and for American Jews things turn ugly fast. When I read this book in galleys, I kept thinking I was missing something, beyond what appeared to be a leaden and?for me?never faintly plausible parable. (Is that the dark figure of Ashcroft hovering in the background?) The whole book felt terribly forced. Had Roth been so enraged by the state of the nation that his characteristically acute literary judgment deserted him? I will be very interested to hear what the reviewers have to say.
Well, Publisher's Weekly calls it "stunning," a "mesmerizing" creation, and "hilarious" in parts. They say, "In the balance of personal, domestic and national events, the novel is one of Roth's most deft creations, and if the lollapalooza of an ending is bizarre with its revisionist theory about the motives behind Lindbergh's anti-Semitism, it's the subtext about what can happen when government limits religious liberties in the name of the national interest that gives the novel moral authority." Kirkus Reviews says it's "unbelievably rich." Ah, well, maybe this is one of those fence-sitting books; a reader must judge it from his side of the fence.
 

Nurtured by Fantasy

Madeleine L'Engle has written on the blessing she found in George MacDonald's stories when those people in her life alienated her. Christian History & Biography magazine has excerpted that essay for an article in a recent issue.
Above all, it was these fantasies that opened up for me a wider world. The curtain is often pulled aside when things are most difficult or painful, for it is during these times, I have learned, that Christ is closest to us. "The Son of God suffered unto death," MacDonald wrote, "not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his."
The idea of our suffering Lord is reminiscent of Chesterton's theme in The Man Who Was Thursday, which is wonderfully fun.
 
Quote: "Work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven." -Walter Benjamin, critic and philosopher (1892-1940)

This is the x-bonus quote from Wordsmith.org, a wonderful site for your entire family. The quotations aren't listed in the archives.
 
Monday, August 23, 2004

So Many Books, And Yet . . . There Are So Many Stinking Books!


[by way of ArtsJournal] Robert McCrum of the Sunday Observer opines that while there are many, many books out there, the reader's good taste will prevail.
If the image had not already been used to the point of exhaustion, I would say that, upon opening the Sunday 18 July 2004 edition of the New York Times, I found myself, like stout Cortez on his peak in Darien, lost in silent contemplation of a new world.

Forget 100,000 books a year, forget the pines of Norway or the cappuccinos of Covent Garden; according to the New York Times, there's a new book published in the United States every half an hour, and - wait for it - that's just fiction. RR Bowker, the company that compiles the Books in Print database in the USA, has calculated that no fewer than 175,000 new titles were published in 2003. That's one book roughly every 20 seconds.
In my opinion, I personally think publishers should cut back on production in order to give better time to better books and avoid those with sentences like this one. How would I know whether to give Sagan's Idlewild a chance if I had not read something about it? I wish I had the ability to take a chance on books like this, but I don't. I'm left in a funk, repeatedly asking myself, "I'm sure it's half-way decent, but do I want to spend the money?" Libraries are growing in appeal for me.

I agree with McCrum's conclusion, and who couldn't? The good books will endure. We all know that, but which book should I read now?
 

A Student-Teacher Drink with Tolkien

On NPR's "[Some] Things Considered," a recently retired MIT professor of linguistics talks about drinking a beer at Oxford with J.R.R. Tolkien. What I've read about Tolkien's interpersonal skills, he preferred solitude, but generously gave his attention to students and readers.
 

That Marked Up Paper May Be Purple Instead of Red

[by way of CNSnews.com] Many teachers are using purple pens for correcting paper instead of red ones, according to the Boston Globe. A health and Phys. ed. teacher told the Globe, "If you see a whole paper of red, it looks pretty frightening. Purple stands out, but it doesn't look as scary as red." I'm sure this is something like the reason some of my teachers used green and other colors on my tests and papers. I doubt they thought through this rational dandy: "A mix of red and blue, the color purple embodies red's sense of authority but also blue's association with serenity, making it a less negative and more constructive color for correcting student papers, color psychologists said. Purple calls attention to itself without being too aggressive. And because the color is linked to creativity and royalty, it is also more encouraging to students."

That warms my heart; but do the students learn that the United States is an experiment in self-governing which will fail if we cannot disciple ourselves by moral laws higher than those legislated?
 

Return to office

I am back. Thank you for any thoughts you turned my way over the last week. I appreciate being one of your sources for entertainment, discussion, literature news, or whatever it is you hope to find when you link here. Be sure to tell your friends about this blog too. If they are as clever, good-looking, thoughtful, and fun as you are, then I’m sure they would enjoy the links and thoughts found here almost daily. So send them along. There’s plenty for everyone.

I enjoyed last week at the beach. Having a TV (make that three TVs) in the condo reminded me again why I’m glad I don’t have one at home. It’s too easy to sit down and scan the channels for something moderately interesting. Most of a movie. Part of news story. I can do the same thing on the Internet and feel just a lousy afterwards.

There’s something about spending over an hour building a sand castle, chiseling terraces and gardens into a miniature mountainside, warding off small children who love smashing the outpost you’ve just erected, all the while knowing it won’t be there tomorrow. It can remind you of the permanent things, like the children growing brave enough to venture into the surf. American life offers too many opportunities to build another sand castle. You and I must remember the important things, like doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with the Lord. That’s one reason we love books and art, isn’t it? But we have to remember to avoid getting a big head over it.
 
Friday, August 13, 2004

Out of Office

I didn't intend for this week to be slow on Brandywine Books, but I thought it might be. I've been writing fiction more steadily and working on some websites and having a wedding anniversary and preparing for a vacation. Hurricane Charley looks like so much fun I'm going to run to Florida to catch the end of it. I'll be away next week.

In the meantime, you may want to consider O'Connor's discussion on reasons we do and should read.

Deb English reviewed a book from which I hope to get a lot, The Well-Trained Mind.

Author Andrew Careaga has a blog based on his book, Hooked on the Net. The book may have some useful warnings for those of us who spend a good bit of our lives online.
 
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Great American Novel of Kavalier and Clay

Jared of Thinklings.org has declared Michael Chabon?s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, to be the Great American Novel of our generation. It is "a beauty of a book that is rich and deep and brilliantly written." He writes:
The book is full of magic and art, of Hitler and Houdini, of comic books and radio serials and the growth of television, of Jewish folklore and cultural identity, of patriotism and jingoism, of love and life and the pursuit of happiness. It begins with dreams and ends with the harshness of reality (yet still somehow dreamlike).

Did I mention I really enjoyed the book? Aside from the gay subplot, I really liked it all, and it is ? as I said ? the great American novel I?d been waiting for. Philip Roth?s American Pastoral was too cynical; Paul Auster?s Mr. Vertigo (which one critic said was nothing less than the story of America itself) was not epic enough. Michael Chabon?'s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is an epic tale the captures the wonders and the perils of the American dream lived out by our ?greatest generation.?
I wonder if some of that cynicism comes from writers' communities. I'm glad when I fail to see it wherever I happen to look.
 
Monday, August 09, 2004

Literary Community as Modeled by Toddlers

Rebecca Dunham, an intern at The Missouri Review, writes about toddlers' parallel play and its potential for literary community.
Parallel play allows toddlers to feel themselves part of a community of the like-minded—other kids who understand the virtues of eating soup with their fists, for example—and allows them to pick up new skills and fresh ideas, seemingly without effort. It is just in the air around them, waiting to be absorbed and processed. They are constantly learning. It is the kind of environment in which writers thrive and which can be increasingly difficult to recreate as university jobs disperse writers around the country. . . . I've begun to really recognize the possibilities of such a community online. I vowed to e-mail some poems to friends in other states, and to spend more time visiting literary websites, which have the potential to become the literary enclaves of the future, albeit virtual ones. It is this kind of immersion in a literary milieu, after all, which helps us learn how to stretch our own capabilities and have fun while doing so. Just because it feels like "play" doesn't make it unimportant.
This is a point for us to consider, but it isn't the whole word on it. I found more in this 2001 article on community in the Guardian. "'What a wealth of material becomes accessible to a writer who can so simply proclaim a sense of community!' exclaims Updike, nostalgically investing Narayan's Mysore [the Malgudi of his novels] with the attributes so strikingly absent from most American and English writers' habitual milieu." Critic Robert McCrum continues:
The writer who writes with 'a sense of community' engages the heart as well as the mind. As the American novelist Roxana Robinson put it the other day in the New York Times, 'the terrestrial world is warming up [and] the literary world is cooling down... an icy chill has crept across the writer's landscape.'

So the novels that attract the most attention are the novels that, positively bristling with bravura displays of technical virtuosity, remain at heart quite bereft of feeling.

This line of argument, of course can quickly degenerate into a reactionary hymn of praise for the nineteenth-century novel, for a good tale well told, characters you can believe in, sentences with subjects, verbs and objects blah blah.

But if we parse the logic of Updike's observation, many contemporary novelists are, indeed, only too profoundly detached from 'a community of neighbours', often from no fault of their own.

Typically, a successful young novelist today, someone who has published, say, two or three well-received novels, becomes quickly shackled to a literary treadmill: campus readings, bookshop appearances, Arts Council trips to Bruges or Barcelona, dinners with booksellers, launch parties, press interviews, overseas publicity tours promoting translated editions, and so on.
 

Pictures of Old Books

I don't know why I enjoy these things, but I do. And this too. They are pictures of old books, some of the Geneva Bible--the predecessor of the Bible from which I read, the New Geneva. The second is an image of a printed page. I suppose this marks me as a bibliophile.
 
Saturday, August 07, 2004
Quote: "A novel is like a machine, it either runs or it don't." -- Flannery O'Connor, Southern Author (1925-1964)
 

Jack Kerouac

"I like too many things and get all confused and hung up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion." -- Jack Kerouac

Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac (1922-1969) was born in Lowell, Massachusetts to French-Canadian immigrants. The Kerouac Foundation reports: "On the Road and Jack's other novels have made a significant impact on American literature. His 'spontaneous prose' told tales of the Beat generation, making him the talented and reluctant spokesman for the hip youth of the 1950s."

I write this post because a previous post on John Kerry was altered by Blogger's spell-checker. It wanted to replace "Kerry's" with "Kerouac," and I accidentally pressed "replace all." I didn't catch one of the changed, so the world noticed my error. But if I hadn't done it, we wouldn't have this interesting post.

"I am going to marry my novels and have little short stories for children." -- Jack Kerouac.
 
Friday, August 06, 2004

A Matter of Character

This is still the year for political books, and a new one released yesterday appears to the counterweight to Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, that is, the way his book was portrayed by the press. For A Matter Of Character: Inside The White House Of George W. Bush by Ronald Kessler "was granted unique access to the West Wing and interviewed the key players of the Bush administration--from Condoleezza Rice to Karl Rove to the president himself. Kessler also interviewed Bush's close friends, college roommates, and former aides.

His surprising conclusion: George W. Bush isn't the most articulate or scholarly president in history, but he scores very high on the factors that count most: character and leadership. President Bush has a more clearly defined moral instinct, management style, and self-awareness than any other recent president. And without question, President Bush is the driving force behind his administration, not the pawn of anyone else."
 

New for Mystery Fans

Patricia Cornwell's next novel will be released next month. Trace describes what Dr. Kay Scarpetta finds when she is called back to Richmond, Virginia. From the book description, "Scarpetta travels to Richmond at the odd behest of the recently appointed Chief Medical Examiner, who claims that he needs her help to solve a perplexing crime. When she arrives, however, Scarpetta finds that nothing is as she expected: her former lab is in the final stages of demolition; the inept chief isn't he one who requested her after all; her old assistant chief has developed personal problems that he won't reveal; and a glamorous FBI agent, whom Marino dislikes instantly, meddles with the case."

Jasper Fforde has a new Thursday Next mystery this month. From the book description, in Something Rotten: "Detective Thursday Next has had her fill of her responsibilities as the Bellman in Jurisfiction, enough with Emperor Zhark’s pointlessly dramatic entrances, outbreaks of slapstick raging across pulp genres, and hacking her hair off to fill in for Joan of Arc. Packing up her son, Friday, Thursday returns to Swindon accompanied by none other than the dithering Danish prince Hamlet. Caring for both is more than a full- time job and Thursday decides it is definitely time to get her husband Landen back, if only to babysit. Luckily, those responsible for Landen’s eradication, The Goliath Corporation— formerly an oppressive multinational conglomerate, now an oppressive multinational religion— have pledged to right the wrong."

Now, I picked up a good impress of Fforde's writing somewhere, somehow; but that description sounds hokey. Anyone care to vouch for Fforde's previous books?
 

Commonly Re-read Books

[by way of World blog] The American Library Association has studied which books are most frequent re-read. Not counting the Bible and Qur'an, oft-read books include The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little House on the Prairie, The Color Purple, A Christmas Carol and Winnie the Pooh. From the AP report:
For professional writers, re-reading can be as much for education as for pleasure. Susan Minot, whose books include the novels "Monkeys" and "Folly," said she likes to go back to the works of William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. She doesn?t read the whole book necessarily, just enough to remind her of why those writers matter.

"They were probably the earliest authors who blew my mind, and so they're the ones I'll check back with, getting reacquainted with the voice," she says.

Richard Ford, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Independence Day, said he likes to re-read Walker Percy's The Moviegoer in a "a purely sensuous way." Jeffrey Eugenides, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, says he re-reads Saul Bellow's Herzog obsessively, almost continuously, calling it his "literary caffeine."

"The language of that book, which is to my mind Bellow's greatest achievement, reminds me of what I'd like to be doing," Eugenides said.
Herzog is one of those books that has sat on my shelf, unread, for years. I hope to enjoy it someday.
 

Popular Creativity

I think this is a popular link in the blogsphere, but y'all may not have seen it: Hugh Macleod's "How to be creative." I haven't read it all, but main points a good for thought, if not sound advice. In order to be creative, he advises us to ignore other people's advice. "You don't know if your idea is any good the moment it's created. Neither does anyone else. The most you can hope for is a strong gut feeling that it is. And trusting your feelings is not as easy as the optimists say it is. There's a reason why feelings scare us."

He urges us to work at our ideas, because success is born in labor, sometimes painful labor. That's one reason to keep the day job. No matter what movies may suggest, we can not live in spacious New York flats while we wrestle with the angst of young artists. Hugh has a good cartoon on this point, which tops the blog essay. The man says, "I can't decide what I want to be: a millionare or an artist." The woman replies, "Can't you just compromise? Become a millionare artist or something." Isn't that the crux of it all? We don't want to be writers or artist; we want to be serious, money-making, opinion-turning, life-changing writers and artists. (That reminds me of Andree Seu's column about writers being fakes in general.)

Hugh writes: "6. Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with books on algebra etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the creative bug is just a wee voice telling you, 'I’d like my crayons back, please.'"

And: "10. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props. Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece on the back of a deli menu would not surprise me. Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece with a silver Cartier fountain pen on an antique writing table in an airy SoHo loft would SERIOUSLY surprise me." Read on
 
Wednesday, August 04, 2004

From George Will's "The demise of literature"

When journalists in 1910 asked an aide to Teddy Roosevelt whether TR might run for president in 1912, the aide replied, ``Barkis is willin','' and he expected most journalists, and their readers, to recognize the reference to the wagon driver in ``David Copperfield'' who was more than merely willin' to marry Clara Peggotty, David's childhood nurse. Exposure to ``David Copperfield'' used to be a common facet of reaching adulthood in America. But today young adults 18-34, once the most avid readers, are among the least. This surely has something to do with the depredations of higher education: Professors, lusting after tenure and prestige, teach that the great works of the Western canon, properly deconstructed, are not explorations of the human spirit but mere reflections of power relations and social pathologies. (link)
 

Amanda's Literary Grievance (or Confessions of a Literary Blogger)

The illustrative Amanda Strassner took George Will's column on American reading habits as an opportunity to file a grievance against the public conscience for failing to maintain a literary sense. G. Will writes, "Even allowing for the ['Reading at Risk'] survey's methodological problems, the declining importance of reading in the menu of modern recreations is unsurprising and unsettling." Stepping up from that, Amanda lists examples of literature unfamiliarity from her peers. "It irks me," she says, "that when I say, 'usually, in most cases,' very few people are familiar enough with their Machiavelli to know that I'm making fun of someone nearby. I can forgive the fact that no one in my Milton class knew their Old Testament well enough to understand the reference to Jael (Judges 4). But I wanted to beat my head against a wall when I found myself explaining King David and John the Baptist - from scratch. That is just not acceptable."

I respect her opinion; but I'm afraid I would disappoint her if we were to share offline life. I confess I know far more about books than I do the books themselves. A local friend who made get around to reading this blog told me of her disgust with something on Sesame Street regarding A Streetcar Named Desire. She assumed I was familiar with the play. I am, but only by name and playwright. I haven't seen or read it, so I didn't get the reference. Her story drew a blank on me.

That's not all. Starting with Amanda's list, I make this confession:
I have not read Machiavelli.
I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov for the first time this summer.
I have not read That Hideous Strength or To Kill a Mockingbird, though I've often thought I might.
I have not read anything by Sylvia Plath, and I don't plan to soon.
Further, I don't think I've ever cracked a Jane Austen novel.
I have books by Saul Bellow and Sinclair Lewis on my shelf, all unread.
I don't remember if I read Willa Cather in the past, but if I did, it wasn't much.
The Catcher in the Rye, Animal Farm, Tom Sawyer, and The Sound and the Fury, never read them.
So have I disappointed you? We all start somewhere with unique gifts and opportunities. I'm a father of three precious girls, and I still feel as if I'm in the starting block. I hope that as my children grow and love reading (which they seem to do, even the one-year-old, none of them able to read yet), we will read talk about books, plays and stories often. And I suppose I will be able to tell them about publishers, authors, and writing stories when they tell me about discovering Dostoevsky, Austen, Twain, and Milton. Hmmm, that makes my eyes mist a bit.
 

Literature Hoax on 9/11

I got an email today with quotation supposedly from the Koran. The reference to chapter 9, verse 11 reads, "For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced; for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah; and there was peace."

Remarkable, isn't it? So I searched for 'eagle' in a couple of online Koran/Qur'an versions. Nothing. 'Fearsome'? No. Well, what does chapter 9, v11, say? "But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity,- they are your brethren in Faith: (thus) do We explain the Signs in detail, for those who understand."

I could have saved myself time by going to Snopes.com. Perhaps you have seen this email or heard of the verse in a conversation. Now, you have what you could call The Truth Laid Bear.
 

The Latest Paris Review Is Online

The Paris Review interviews offer writers a rare opportunity to discuss their life and art at whatever length they choose; they have responded with some of the most revealing self-portraits in literature. The interviews have met with wide acclaim from writers and critics. Among the interviewees are Faulkner ("If a writer has to rob his mother he will not hesitate; the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies"); Ezra Pound ("I am writing to resist the view that Europe and civilization are going to hell"); Ernest Hemingway ("The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof **** detector"); Vladimir Nabokov ("My characters are galley slaves"); and John Updike, who said, "When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teen-aged boy finding them, and having them speak to him."
(taken from their description page) No, I am not a subscriber, though as with many things, I have thought about it. Their writer interviews are great.
 

Candidate Kerry's 1971 Rant Against Vietnam

Spoken words will come and go, but books remain forever. Sort of.

Support for ruining John Kerry's presidential bid appears to have grown to the same strength of the support to unseat President Bush. I learned today of wintersoldier.com, a site "dedicated to the American veterans of the Vietnam War, who served with courage and honor." They have details on a book which John Kerry wrote in 1971 entitled, The New Soldier. The cover is apparently so inflammatory that Kerry's (not 'Kerouac') campaign has tried to get it out of the public eye for years. It's a photo of what looks like a rally where hippies are mocking the Iwo Gima monument with an upside-down US flag. That's how it was described to me by a Vietnam vet who was offended by it. For contrast, here's how Michael Moran of MSNBC describes it.
The cover of The New Solder, for instance, shows Kerry marching with other members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War with an upside down American flag. Kerry has explained that flying the flag upside down is the military signal for "distress," but unexplained, the photo will strike some Americans as radical, if not downright unpatriotic.
Feel free to judge for yourself as more veterans speak out on their disapproval of Mr. Kerry.
 
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Quote: "Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books." - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
 

Most Literate City

A study out of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater "examines the extent to which residents of the USA's largest 79 cities behave in literate ways - such as buying newspapers and books or checking materials out of the library." (link) Minneapolis wins.

The study also reports: "Old industrial cities support their libraries. Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the library category and third overall, while several Ohio cities also fared well."
 
Sunday, August 01, 2004
Quote: "Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it." -- Russel Lynes (1910-1991), U.S. editor, critic.
 
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