Brandywine Books
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Barna Says, "Americans Still Read Books"
On Tuesday, The Barna Research Group announced the results of their study of which Americans have read at least one of seven diverse spiritual best-sellers in the past two years.

In general, "three out of four adults (73%) claim to have read at least one book from cover to cover. The people most likely to do so include women, college graduates and evangelicals." Less than half of respondants claimed to have read a book which was primarily "religious or spiritual in nature." Check the report for stats how readers from different religious backgrounds read. Readers of these books were mostly evangelicals; the least, atheists.

On American reading styles, Barna has found:
While reading has not succumbed to digital and visual technologies, the terrain has changed significantly. Americans read fewer books than they used to and, according to a study conducted several years ago by The Barna Group, people usually do not finish the books that they start to read. . . .Evangelicals are a small sector of the population – just 7% of all adults – but they are among the most voracious readers of any population group we have studied.

Robert K. Tanenbaum, True Justice

I first discovered Robert K. Tanenbaum around the time he came out with his first legal/action thriller about Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi, back in the 80’s. At the beginning both characters were working in the New York City District Attorney’s office. In the course of that story Marlene opened a letter bomb addressed to Butch and lost an eye and some fingers. She is still, we are informed, extremely beautiful, but she tends to comb her hair over the bad eye.

I read a couple of the novels, then dropped them. Although Tanenbaum is a compelling writer, and his books are both moving and funny, the language in the dialogue started getting pretty foul and I decided they weren’t worth the trouble. But I tried another book a few years back and found that Tanenbaum and his characters had both grown.

Butch Karp is a high-level prosecutor now, although he’s not enough of a politician to keep (or at least hold) the top spot. He’s a laid-back, peace-loving sort, alternately bemused and terrified by his volatile (perhaps crazy) wife, Marlene. Marlene gave up the law and, discovering herself to be a natural markswoman, started a security service specializing in the protection of battered women. She quit that work recently though, having trouble with the level of violence she seemed to attract to herself.

They have three children. The youngest two are male twins, one of whom went blind in a recent book. An increasingly important character in the series is their daughter Lucy who, we are told, is a language prodigy on a level unseen for centuries. She collects languages as other girls collect stuffed animals, only in larger numbers.

Lucy is also a devout Catholic, not only observant but mystic. She puts in time at her church’s soup kitchen, and from time to time has visions of saints. (Her father is a secular Jew; her mother a lapsed but guilty Catholic.)

I’ve been much impressed with the moral tone of Tanenbaum’s recent books (though the language can still be rough). Of them all I appreciate True Justice, which came out in 2000, most. In this one Tanenbaum tackles the question of maternal infanticide, and I have to say I approached it nervously. A bad book on pro-life issues has been known to turn me forever off an author I liked, and I feared what Tanenbaum would do with it.

The novel’s resolution isn’t precisely what I’d call pro-life, but it’s not what I’d call “pro-choice” either. What it is, is responsible. I was so impressed with it that I wrote to Tanenbaum to tell him I’d be recommending it to people. Which I did.

And now I’m doing that again.

As a bonus, and with Phil's patient help, here's a picture of that knife I told you about:

Lars Walker
Is It Really a Haven?
I have a small language question from the news. If Iraq is a 'haven' for terrorists, sign me up for a tour of their 'hell.'
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Personal Meme

Thanks to David Scott for this interesting subject matter.

1. What were three of the stupidest things you have done in your life?

Somewhere, I read that when a man takes a risk and succeeds, he is called visionary and brilliant. When he takes a risk and fails, he is called stupid.

So, what are 3 relatively stupid things I have done?

  1. I drank a milk-based protein shake when eating Ramen noodles for breakfast. The aftermath was not yummy.
  2. I bought my sweet wife some attire and lotion at Victoria’s Secret one Valentine’s Day and hoped it would be a very special day. But no. I don’t remember what I did exactly, but I do remember I got angry and successfully ruined it. And the attire I picked clashed with her hair, so she returned it. I am grateful that she does not remember it being as big a disaster as it seemed to me.
  3. I’m not sure I can describe the third event that comes to mind. I was friends with a girl who was falling for me while I was falling for the girl I would later marry. I didn’t choose my words carefully somehow (insert stupidity) and hurt my first friend’s feelings. When I described this to a third friend, she slapped me.

2. At the current moment, who has the most influence in your life?
Probably my wife, but I could be wrong. It may be the Lord Jesus, but it may be someone else.

3. If you were given a time machine that functioned, and you were allowed to only pick up to five people to dine with, who would you pick? Ooo, if I had answered this more quickly, I wouldn’t have trouble picking. Shakespeare, Milton, Hawthorne, Dorothy Sayers, and Jesus. (But man! What about Spencer, George Herbert, GM Hopkins, W Percy, O’Connor, Calvin, Knox, David . . . assuming we could all talk together.)

4. If you had three wishes that were not supernatural, what would they be?

For me: To read like the wind, and to write with mastery and imagination.

For the west coast: To be saved from its cultural and spiritual self-destruction and begin to live as if there’s more to life than money, sex, and fame.

5. Someone is visiting your hometown/place where you live at the moment. Name two things you regret your city not having, and two things people should avoid.

This is such a negative question, but now that I think about it, it may reveal some strong truths. For instance, why doesn’t Chattanooga have Wi-Fi access throughout downtown? Oh, wait. It will have that soon. But the city could make use of its riverfront properties. No, it does make use of them--the Riverwalk and Bluff View Art District are beautiful. We could at least have a decent coffee shop. Okay, we have a few great coffee shops; but what we don’t have is a presidential library! We’ve been stiffed by The Man on that one!

And the things people should avoid? Well, Ruby Falls isn’t as spectacular as you might think before you visit, but it can be pretty interesting if you’ve never been in a cave before. There’s a sinkhole on Shallowford Road you should avoid too.

6. Name one event that has changed your life.

I can’t say I’ve had many life-changing events. I know that I have felt something was going to be life-changing, but it wasn’t; that is, alone it did not change my life. Together with other epiphanies, it may have changed me, but that doesn’t answer the question.

I do remember that I decided I wanted to be a writer at age 16, and a few times in my teenage years, my teachers told me I was or could be a good writer. I distinctly remember being praised by my freshman comp teacher, and a time in 10th grade when I impressed my class with a small assignment. You could say those were life-changing.

Is there a seventh question?

Logic problem

Here's a brain teaser.

We are told by our "moral betters" that it would be terrible for us to generalize about the Muslim world in any way. We must not be insensitive to their feelings, we are told.

But when Muslim spokesmen call for "Death to America" and jihad, and say that Americans are dogs and infidels, and our women are all sluts, we are told that we must not take offense. This, we are informed, is simply the way they talk in their culture.

What that says to me is that our moral betters expect a lot more in the way of sensitivity and good manners from us than they do from them.

But if you expect more from someone, it implies that they have more to offer. If you expect a higher moral standard from someone, you're assuming that that person is capable of better things in the moral realm.

In other words, the implication is that we are morally superior to them.

But our moral betters insist that we are not morally superior to them.

I think our moral betters are playing a logical shell game on us.

Lars Walker
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
The Intellectuelle
This looks like something good. A group blog composed of sharp, Christian female bloggers. They are The Intellectuelle. New today.

Memes: Menaces or nemeses?

Blame David Scott at Pererro for this one.

1. What were three of the stupidest things you have done in your life?

Since my Internal Critic informs me that everything I’ve ever done was stupid, I’ll have to be selective. I guess my stupidest period was my radio period. It opens up like one of those nested Russian dolls, to reveal a surprising number of idiocies within.

Getting into radio in the first place was a bonehead act. I had the idea that radio was a fairly easy job, involving mostly reading copy, which I’m pretty good at. It turned out that radio was a job of long hours and low pay, involving a lot of duties I'm bad at. I used to tell people, “If I’d wanted to work ten hours a day, six days a week for minimum wage and get no respect, I could have just become a migrant worker and saved the expense of broadcast school.”

I missed the chance to get into voice-over work. One of my instructors at radio school tried to help me break in, and I made a feeble attempt to produce a demo tape, but I lost my nerve and didn’t have the guts to ask him for help. Which is the story of my life, as you’ll have noticed.

After I’d been (deservedly) fired from my first radio job, I got an offer for a job in a town in North Dakota. After I’d agreed to take it, I found out I had a prospect for a job I would have preferred, and I backed out of the deal. This was a totally inexcusable act on my part, a betrayal of a trust, and I can’t think about it to this day without burning shame. Because there’s justice in the universe, I didn’t get that other job, and I spent another couple years unemployed.

2. At the current moment, who has the most influence in your life?

Tough one. I should say Jesus, but that would sound sanctimonious and (worse) dishonest. My dad’s dead, and I’m my own supervisor at work. I’d probably have to say my pastor and my therapist.

3. If you were given a time machine that functioned, and you were allowed to only pick up to five people to dine with, who would you pick?

Erling Skjalgsson, Olaf Trygvesson and St. Olaf Haraldsson (assuming the Universal Translator is working). (If you don't know who the first two are, you haven't read The Year of the Warrior. St. Olaf comes later.) Then Lewis and Tolkien, who would enjoy meeting real Vikings. And Sissel Kyrkjebø. Maybe we could get her to sing.

4. If you had three wishes that were not supernatural, what would they be?

Would it be supernatural to ask to have my social anxiety removed? I could really do a lot of good stuff if I didn’t stand in my own way.

I’d like a wife. If the first wish were granted, I could probably do that on my own.

I’d like Lileks to plug my books.

5. Someone is visiting your hometown/place where you live at the moment. Name two things you regret your city not having, and two things people should avoid.

Minneapolis/St. Paul has pretty much everything, as far as I can tell. I guess I regret that our historical sites only go back to about 1830.

Avoid both cities in the winter, unless you’re into snow and ice sports.

6. Name one event that has changed your life.

My mother took my brother Moloch and me to Minneapolis one year in December (I was about nine), to see the Christmas displays. When we got off the bus in a nearby town and picked up our car to drive home, Mom noticed a young woman from our own town in the station. She offered her a ride. On the way home I talked to the young woman, just chattering about things that interested me. The next day Mom told me how humiliated she had felt listening to my stupid chatter all the way home.

That was where I learned to never talk to people.

7. Tag 5 people.


Lars Walker

Shelby Foote, 1916-2005
One of the Southern writers I admire and want to learn from, Shelby Foote, died yesterday at age 88. He had a strong mind and good literary voice, being compared to William Faulkner in positive ways.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
Foote worked on the Civil War history for 20 years, using his skills as a novelist to write in a flowing, narrative style.

"I can't conceive of writing it any other way," he once said. "Narrative history is the kind that comes closest to telling the truth. You can never get to the truth, but that's your goal."

Though a native Southerner, Foote did not favor South in his history or novels and was not counted among those Southern historians who regard the Civil War as the great Lost Cause.
Jim Auchmutey, writing for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says, "Foote's career was a wry commentary on fame. A promising young novelist in the early 1950s, he turned his back on it all for a lingering conversation with the past. It took him 20 years to complete his opus; it took TV 11 hours to make him a folk hero.

"Foote was the star of the show, . . . looking like Lee and sounding like sippin' whiskey as he spun his yarns of courage and character. For the 14 million viewers who watched the series, he became the face of the South."

For more on Foote, Google Print has a collection of interviews with the author called Conversations with Shelby Foote, published in 1989 by the University Press of Mississippi. The first interview, which is from 1950, reports on a tempting idea for me. It says Foote didn't launch his writing career "until he decided that the only way to write was to settle down and write." He quit his copy-writing job and began fiction writing. He may have lost weight in the process. "I didn't have nickels for coffee," he said. That would hurt, but I wonder if cutting all ties in order to write is The Right WayTM to do it.
Reading the New and the Old
You may know the popular quote from C.S. Lewis on reading an old book between each new or modern book you read so that you retain your perspective. He wrote that in an introduction to Athanasius' On the Incarnation. Here's another quote from that introduction which has been repeated in many ways by Bible teachers and students who may not remember Lewis said it too:
It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire. This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself. Now this seems to me topsy-turvy.
Monday, June 27, 2005

Travels of a land Viking

Part of the purpose of living history groups is to give the participant some vague idea (pretty darn vague, the way I do it) of what life was actually like in the designated historical period. My Viking experience over the weekend confirms to me that the Vikings, (especially the old ones) were tired a lot of the time.

I got an early start on Friday morning and arrived in Moorhead, Minn. about 10:00 a.m. I’d hoped to get together with blogger Roy Jacobsen of Dispatches From Outland, but we didn’t make the connection. So I suited up, set up a pile of copies of The Year of the Warrior for sale, and got to work on my Viking trade, which is tooling leather. It’s the kind of repetitive work best done by the feeble-minded.

We had a beautiful spot for our encampment. Our picturesque wedge tents were pitched under a spreading tree, giving us ample shade. The weather on Friday and Saturday was San Diego perfect.

The Heritage Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead is worth a visit if you’re ever in the area. Back in 1974 a guy named Bob Asp began building his own replica Viking ship in a potato warehouse. He finished the project with the help of his sons, but died in 1982 before they could begin their planned ocean crossing to Norway (Hjemkomst means “homecoming”). The sons and their crew made the voyage in their father’s memory (despite the fact that a war ship like this one wasn’t really intended for transoceanic travel, and that Leif Eriksson only sailed from Greenland). The ship is now on exhibit in the main hall of the center. A newer attraction is an exact replica of the Hopperstad stave church in Norway, built by another obsessive Norwegian, Guy Paulson, whom I’ve met.

My own book sales were not stellar, but I believe the Viking Age Club’s book and bead sales weren’t bad over the weekend. Attendance was good.

I got to meet actor Rolf Stang, who actually knows Sissel Kyrkjebø (we drank a toast to her birthday on Friday night). He’ll be in Minot for the Høstfest when she sings there in October (I already have my ticket). My devious plan to fascinate, ensnare and marry Sissel is clearly on track.

The most interesting day was Sunday.

We were worried about Sunday. Weather forecasts said storms were coming, and would probably last through the day. We were really, really not keen on the prospect of folding up wet canvas when we took our tents down.

But when we arrived at our camp that morning (none of us chose to sleep in the tents this particular weekend) we found that Nature had solved the problem for us. That beautiful spreading tree we’d appreciated so much had lost a large branch overnight. It fell partly on one of our tents. Fortunately there was no damage. Oddly there hadn’t been any high winds that night, though there had been storms in previous days. A close look at the broken place showed considerable rot.

The festival organizers quickly agreed that it wouldn’t be prudent to have visitors hanging around that tree, and so they found places for us inside the center (in fact we were all around the Viking ship, which was pretty cool). We packed our tents up dry and worried no more about them. The rains came as expected but had no effect on us (I prefer my adventures indoor and dry, thank you).

A couple came around with a small, decorative “Viking horn” that had clearly been made in the 19th Century. They were trying to find someone who could interpret its inscription, and having no luck. To my surprise I understood it right off. It was written in the old Dano-Norwegian spelling (all Norwegian was written in Danish in the 19th Century, due to historical conditions I won’t bore you with now). I told them what the thing said, and explained a reference to “Harek of Tjotta”, a character from the Heimskringla (the sagas of the kings of Norway). I fetched my copy to show them some of his story.

That was gratifying. But I’m surprised they couldn’t find anybody else there who understood Dano-Norwegian spelling. Maybe they’d have had better luck consulting with one of the Danish groups on hand.

Later a man came by with a carved Norwegian knife. Someone had told him I might be able to help in identifying the carving style. I’m not sure why. I suppose they assumed that, because I was tooling Viking patterns in my belts, I might be an expert on Norwegian decorative design. Unfortunately I’m not.

But I sure appreciated the chance to examine the knife. I wish I could figure out how to upload a picture in this blog; I’d post one of the photos I took. The knife handle and the wooden sheath were hand-carved in acanthus leaves. At the end of the handle was a man’s head; at the tail of the sheath was an animal head. An inscription around the mouth of the sheath said (if I remember correctly; my photo is unclear), “Fogden Skyts,” with a year (1901 I think, but I don’t retain numbers well). I told him the word “fogden” was a military rank (my memory was fuzzy; it actually means “bailiff”), and that I assumed “Skyts” might be the officer’s name. On reflection I now suspect “Fogden” may have been the name of an artillery piece (that’s one meaning of “skyts”), but it’s all guesswork. It was a pleasure to see the knife though. The man told me he’d plowed it up in a field near the Red River around 1950. It had been wrapped in something and buried in a boot. Its condition was, nevertheless, almost perfect.

We wrapped up at 4:00 and I drove to Mayville, North Dakota for a necessarily short visit with my friend Dale Nelson, a professor at Mayville State University, who (the blogger bragged) is working on an entry for the forthcoming Tolkien Encyclopedia.

Then I drove home, listening to Sissel CD’s, arriving around 1:00 a.m.

I think I went back to work today, but I don’t remember clearly…

Lars Walker

Friday, June 24, 2005
Book-Related Sites
Before I link to a few book sites, did you hear that Snapple tried to erect the world's largest ice pop in Union Square the other day? They didn't. The 35,000 lb., 25 foot tall Kiwi-Strawberry pop melted too quickly in the hot June 21 sun--all over the streets. Certainly not as bad as the whale that exploded on the streets of Tainan, Taiwan last year. But Americans can't excel at everything.

So, I learned about a couple book-related site this week
  1. One A Day Books, a site and email service which appears to give a brief comment after a book notification.
  2. Connect Via Books, which appears to be a friendship or dating service focused on books.
Hey, would you have learned of those sites anywhere else but here? You can't this kind of thing with Phil Johnson. (You can get many things more worthwhile, but not This Kind of ThingTM). But I have failed to draw attention to another book site which is worth our repeated attention and may be a good opportunity for you. Mind & Media Publicity, which is at, is a network of book review bloggers hoping to draw attention to some of those good books which go unnoticed by other outlets. I'll have to write more about it later.

- phil
Thursday, June 23, 2005

Collected Miscellany Story Contest

There's about a week left in a story contest offered by Collected Misc. The prize? An autographed copy of Michelle Herman's little book, Dog.

In honor of our focus on Michelle Herman, and her new book Dog, we are asking for submissions of a short story (800 words or less) that centers on a dog or dogs. The distinguished panel of judges (me, Phil, and whoever else we can rope into this convince to join us) will pick the winner and any honorable mentions. The winner will receive a free autographed copy of Dog and have their story published here (and hopefully linked to by the literary blogosphere thus insuring Internet immortality). Those honorable mentions picked by the judges can also have their entries posted here if they so choose.

Here are the details:

  • Only one entry per person please.
  • Please submit the story in the body of an email to contest[at] and include your mailing address so we can ship the book to you if you win.
  • The story must be an original unpublished work but the author retains all the rights, etc.
  • The deadline is midnight Monday, July 4 (Just in case you want to spend your holiday weekend writing an "award winning" short story).

So there you have it. A chance for fame and fortune - well at least a few minutes of passing notice - and literary achievement. I know it isn't much time but it is only 800 words after all. So get writing and send in your entries.

That's right, folks. Step right up and give us a dog story. True, false, or urban legend (which is in the truish falseness category). - Phil
The great poet Czeslaw Milosz has a final collection called Second Space. From Publishers Weekly:
The title's second space comprises heaven and hell, which have "vanished forever"; without them the blessed cannot "meet salvation" and the damned "find suitable quarters." In mourning, the poet exhorts: "Let us implore that it be returned to us,/ That second space." The Nobel laureate, who died this past summer in Kraków at 93, is preoccupied in this collection with establishing that space through words, but also finds it in carnality and in "the unattainable Now."
One Amazon reviewer quotes this line from a poem called "The Old Women": "May the day of your death not be a day of hopelessness,/ but of trust in the light that shines through earthly forms."

Jared has copied some good poetry on First, this poem from Bach (I didn't know he wrote any verse) on worshiping the Lord while smoking. Heh, heh. Then, a quote from Psalm 31:
How great is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you,
which you bestow in the sight of men
on those who take refuge in you.
This is followed by a strong quote from a great theologian. "If, thinking of your frailty, you hold yourselves cheap, value yourselves by the price that was paid for you." - Augustine

posted by Phil
Gone a-viking

I'll be away through Sunday, playing Viking with the Viking Age Club at the annual Hjemkomst Festival in Moorhead, MN.

Thought for the day: We've been fortunate in not getting a lot of trolls on this site (yet). But I've certainly seen their spoor elsewhere. These paragons of tolerance and inclusiveness like to apply the rhetorical techniques of ridicule, Hitler comparisons and obscenity to the examination of difficult theological and moral questions. I've seen them in Christian chat rooms too -- they like to come in and tell us that Jesus performs this or that deviant act. They hang around and repeat the performance for long periods of time, apparently not having any friends of their own to spend time with, and so feeling it necessary to make sure no one else can hang out with their friends either.

The question that occurs to me is, "Do these people, in their zeal for atheism, do the same thing on Muslim websites and in Muslim chat rooms?"

Somehow I expect not.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Lars Walker
Are Newspaper Book Reviews Worthwhile?
Stephanie Merritt of The Observer's World of Books contest a column by Scott Pack which says book reviews in newspapers are pointless. "Don't get me wrong," he says. "Reviews can sell books, and should do. When you get several positive reviews of a book around publication it can help to stimulate interest and hopefully sales. The problem is that this so rarely happens."

Merritt replies that she loves positive reviews and hopes The Observer's reviews promote sales. "I would add," she goes on, "that they should also cut through hype and act as a filter for literary culture, offering an objective appraisal of what is good and what is not. That books pages - and individual critics - very often fail in these noble aims is an ancient complaint, and there is never any shortage of new literary magazines being founded in the name of 'pure' criticism to counter the vendettas and hidden agendas perceived to exist in the mainstream reviewing culture."

Her final point is strongest, in my opinion. If Pack, who is a buying manager for Waterstone's, wants to promote better reading, he could stock and display more diverse books, like those which have not won awards or been seen on TV.

But what about those "vendettas and hidden agendas" believed to taint newspaper reviewers? Maybe those are not the best words to describe it, but reviewers do have a point of view and so do editors. And to hear the complaints about the NYTimes and LATimes, if they are not vendettas themselves, those viewpoints do not inspire readers. Thus, we blog.

But what if "mainstream reviewing culture" doesn't have a hidden agenda? What if they are thoughtful readers like many who don't review books? I suggest it does not matter. Influential book reviewers have the trust of their readers. If that trust is lost, regardless the reason, their reviews will be just another drop of rain in the field. Ignorable. - Phil
Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Book as Art?

Maybe it should be Art as the Book. This exhibit at The Israel Museum offers many works in the theme, "Beauty and the Book."
Book-lovers know that a considerable part of the experience of reading has to do with the liberation of the imagination. Holding a book in one's hand, one can soar towards unfamiliar lands, or plunge into the labyrinth of the hero's very soul.
[by way of the Literary Saloon]

Binding of the Blade

While you're waiting for Harry Potter #6 to be released (and Books-a-Million claims you will not get it faster than to pre-order through one of their local stores), you may want to dive into the latest fantasy in the Binding of the Blade series from L.B. Graham. Book #2, Bringer of the Storms came out this month from P&R Publishing. The JollyBlogger called Book #1, Beyond the Summerland, "one of his favorite books." Sample chapters are available on the book's website.

Spotted: On Becoming an Artist

As seen elsewhere, Ellen Langer's book on creativity and awareness may be worth notice.
All of us can express our creative impulses — authentically and uniquely — and, in the process, enrich our lives. Why then do so many of us merely dream of someday painting, someday writing, someday making music? Why do we think the same old thoughts, harbor the same old prejudices, stay stuck in the same old mud? Who taught us to think "inside the box"? No one is more qualified to answer these questions than Dr. Langer, who has explored their every facet for years.

"Langer encourages her readers to recognize how fear of judgment, unnecessary self-comparisons and preconceived notions about talent impede artistic expression. Art, in her view, is a process rather than a product." Publishers Weekly
Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The legend of the Black Book

I blogged a while back about the “magical” aspect of literacy – the fact that books are a form of “necromancy” by which the living get messages from the dead. Or so, at least, it seemed to our ancestors.

One evidence of this superstition is the legend of the Black Book, along with the associated legend of the Black School. This story was pretty generally believed by commoners in Scandinavia (and, I believe, elsewhere) for many hundred years.

Our ancestors believed (because they’d heard it from reliable sources) that however humble and pious the local priest (or pastor; it’s the same word in Norwegian) seemed to be, this man with the women’s gowns and the uncanny skill of reading was in fact a wizard, a magician. Somewhere in his house he had a Black Book (also known as the Cyprianus).

The Black Book contained spells that enabled the priest to obtain anything he wanted. But he’d had to sign his soul away to the devil to obtain it.

The priest was well known to have studied at the Black School of Wittenberg (or Paris. Or some other city).

The Black School was run by the devil. It was located in a cave deep underground, and the students were not allowed to leave the cave during the entire course of study (some said it was three years; others said seven). All the books in the school were written in fiery letters so they could be read in the dark. Fur-covered arms reached out of the cave walls to serve the students their food.

All the devil asked in return for this educational experience was the soul of one student – the last one to leave the cave on graduation day.

“Our priest”, it was generally understood, was very clever. He had volunteered to be the last one out. But just as he was climbing the ladder out of the cave and the devil was reaching for him to snatch him away, a shaft of sunlight had cast his shadow on the wall. The priest had pointed to the shadow and shouted, “I’m not the last one out! Don’t you see him?”

The devil had reached for the shadow and the priest had scampered away.

Which just goes to show why all that book-larnin’ is dangerous.

Lars Walker

Monday, June 20, 2005

Alternative Reading

Jared has a fun literary post today, which asks for alternatives to nonficiton books from the Inspirational shelves: "So you know those music charts CCM used to put out where they'd say something like, 'If you like Nine Inch Nails, then you might like Christian alternative Circle of Dust'? Think of this as that the literary version of that, only this time both options are ostensibly 'Christian.'" Read on

Phil Wade

Another self-indulgent personal post

Went under the knife today. Fear not; my prognosis is good.

What I did was get a skin tag removed from my face, near my eye. It wasn’t very big, but it loomed large in my consciousness, and it showed no sign of getting smaller. I instructed my physician to excise it, root and branch.

Among my numerous unmanly characteristics is an obsession with my physical flaws (of which there are many). Most guys seem to be different. I see them running around unshaven, in tee-shirts that are too small and baggy shorts that show off their skinny legs and varicose veins, and if I ask them why they dress that way they look at me with the (not unreasonable) suspicion that I’m insane and say, “It’s comfortable!”

Me, I’m comfortable when I don’t think I look like a moron.

It goes back to my teenage years, I think. I remember clearly the day when I decided I didn’t want to go to the local swimming pool anymore, an activity I’d enjoyed in the past. The realization had struck me that I didn’t look like the other guys in a bathing suit, and I didn’t seem to be catching up to them.

I suppose that explains my obsession with things like hats and dressing up for church.

When a woman asks, “Do these pants make me look fat?” I know just how she feels.

I shall now go and eat nachos while surfing channels in my underwear. I expect I'll belch too.

Lars Walker

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sort of a L’Abri memory

Phil’s mention of L’Abri brings to mind my own foremost L’Abri memory, which isn’t properly a L’Abri memory at all. It’s about the Great Love Of My Life (not to be confused with my one Wild and Beautiful Moment, about which I blogged earlier).

Her name was… well, I’ll call her Milady. She was the daughter of missionaries, willowy in build, and her face brought Mia Farrow to mind. She came into my life in almost the only way a woman could – by being dumped there by God.

I first knew her as the neighbor of a friend and his wife. She was in college then, as we all were, and one day she said to my friend, “I’m taking a directing class and need to produce a one-act play for a grade. I need actors. Do you think Lars would be willing to play a small role?”

My friend, knowing me well, said, “No, I don’t think so. But if you have a large role you haven’t cast, he’d probably do that.”

So I played Creon in a heartlessly truncated version of Antigone, and in the course of the production fell desperately in love with Milady.

You must bear in mind how socially stunted I was. I was 23 years old, and I’d never had a date. Although I’d had feelings for various girls, I’d never had the courage to ask one out.

Our senior year my friend and his wife moved out of their apartment, and I and a friend moved in. It was a below-code upstairs students’ apartment with plumbing held together by plastic tape, and squirrels gnawing on the wiring in the attic. The landlady downstairs was nosey and pushy, and prone to threatening people with lawsuits. She was liable to call upstairs any time, day or night, to get our help in rearranging her furniture.

But it was college guy’s heaven, because it possessed one amenity usually seen only in movies – four beautiful female neighbors, right next door. Chief among whom, in my mind, was Milady.

And one night, in perhaps the bravest act of my life, I picked up the phone and called her, and asked her out.

We went out four times in all. Pretty dull dates by most people’s standards. I never kissed her. But in my deprived emotional life, this is the golden romantic period.

She was the kind of woman a guy barely noticed at first, but found himself glancing back at again and again, and then thinking about constantly afterwards. She was smart and enthusiastic and drily funny.

I knew she’d be leaving. She’d made it clear from the beginning that she was going back to spend time with her family on the mission field after graduation. I was among the party that said goodbye to her at the Minneapolis airport one evening in June, 1974. About half the group was guys I’d never met, all of whom were obviously as in love with her as I was.

Not long after her departure I got a letter from her. She wanted to be pen pals.

Yes, I would be willing to do that. In the sense that an alcoholic is willing to have one more Bushmills.

I’d hate to read the letters I wrote her today. I hope she’s destroyed them. The meanings between the lines must have been about as subtle as the smell of a corpse in the next room in Baghdad. But Milady put up with it. Eventually I told her my true feelings (surprise, surprise), and she gave me the standard “I just want to be friends” response I’d expected.

But there were strange undercurrents in her letters. She seemed to be seeing a guy, a guy her parents didn’t approve of. And her comments on religious themes became more doubtful, as if she were undergoing a faith crisis.

Then she announced she was getting married. But she still wanted to correspond.

I wrote back that, no, I wouldn’t do that. I didn’t have a lot of self-respect, but even I had my limits.

And that was the end, or so I thought.

Soon news came by way of a mutual friend. Milady had broken her engagement. She’d left the country where her parents lived.

She’d gone to L’Abri in Switzerland.

L’Abri! I’d been an ardent reader of Francis Schaeffer for years. Not as graceful or charming a writer as C.S. Lewis, Schaeffer was a better theologian, and the keenest analyst of contemporary culture I knew of. Everything he said about the nature of our civilization was true. Everything he predicted has come true since, or appears to be on the way.

I had long dreamed of going to L’Abri, to study with Schaeffer and his staff.

Instead, Milady was going.

I was delighted. I wrote her in care of L’Abri. I wired her roses.

I got a letter back, thanking me for the roses. She said she’d write again.

But she didn’t. I next heard, by way of the same mutual friend, that she’d met a guy at L’Abri, had gotten engaged to him, and would soon be married.

She’s a wife and mother of five in a northwestern city today. Her husband is involved in Christian ministry.

I saw her again, a couple years ago, when she came to town. She has a few wrinkles, a few gray hairs, but she’s pretty much as beautiful as she ever was.

I can’t help it. I have the irrational idea in my head that L’Abri owes me something.

But then Schaeffer never had much time for irrationality.

Lars Walker

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Interviews and Other Links

I think it's a common blogging practice to post a series of links. Bloggers who are better than I am do it, but unless I am linked in the list, I generally dislike it. I mean, I like it when it's done well, but I'm still reluctant to do it myself. I know I don't blog often, but I still feel I should give you something readable, something which does not entire rely on you linking to the source article.

Regardless, here's a bunch of links:
  1. Catez interviews Nancy Pearcey, author of an excellent worldview book called Total Truth. She says that Francis Schaeffer's L'Abri was a rich experience:
    The ideas taught at L'Abri were reinforced by the presence of a genuine community where the ideals of Christianity were clearly lived out. Jesus says people will know that the gospel is true when they witness visible love in the Body of Christ. L'Abri addressed the whole person - both the intellectual quest for answers and the emotional longing to participate in an authentic community. . . .

    L'Abri also encouraged the arts, nurturing artistic and creative people, who sometimes sense that they are on the margins of the church. In the Swiss chalets where we lived as students, even everyday events were done with an aesthetic touch, like putting a small vase of wildflowers on the dinner table. Because we are made in the image of the Creator, we are called to be creative in everything we do. You might say that at L'Abri I witnessed a very rich form of Christianity that included the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.
  2. Christianity Today interviews Eugene Peterson on Christian living and spirituality. They ask him, "How should we visualize the Christian life?" In honor of my guest blogger, let me quote his full response:
    In church last Sunday, there was a couple in front of us with two bratty kids. Two pews behind us there was another couple with their two bratty kids making a lot of noise. This is mostly an older congregation. So these people are set in their ways. Their kids have been gone a long time. And so it wasn't a very nice service; it was just not very good worship. But afterwards I saw half a dozen of these elderly people come up and put their arms around the mother, touch the kids, sympathize with her. They could have been irritated.

    Now why do people go to a church like that when they can go to a church that has a nursery, is air conditioned, and all the rest? Well, because they're Lutherans. They don't mind being miserable! Norwegian Lutherans!

    And this same church recently welcomed a young woman with a baby and a three-year-old boy. The children were baptized a few weeks ago. But there was no man with her. She's never married; each of the kids has a different father. She shows up at church and wants her children baptized. She's a Christian and wants to follow in the Christian way. So a couple from the church acted as godparents. Now there are three or four couples in the church who every Sunday try to get together with her.

    Now, where is the "joy" in that church? These are dour Norwegians! But there's a lot of joy. There's an abundant life going, but it's not abundant in the way a non-Christian would think. I think there's a lot more going on in churches like this; they're just totally anticultural. They're full of joy and faithfulness and obedience and care. But you sure wouldn't know it by reading the literature of church growth, would you?

  3. interviews author David Murrow on his recent book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. Murrow argues that the church tends to lean toward feminine expressions of the faith and should work to give men the challenges they want.

    For my part, I'm sure he has a point. Having not read the book, I don't know if how much junk we have to sift through to get to that point, but I'm sure there's a bit of insight to be found. For instance, in the interview he mentions what he calls the 11th Commandment, "Do whatever you want, as long as you keep the peace." That's not biblical leadership no matter what denomination you're in or what you're motives are.

  4. Rebecca shares a recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Pie.

  5. The Standard Bible Society runs a blog for its English Standard Version. That's seems a little funny to me, but who am I to question the use of technology. In this post, Scripture translator Bill Mounce is asked about the Internet in relation to the ESV. "One of the things I've been very encouraged about is the publisher's willingness to share it."

  6. The Diet of Bookworms is a collaborative reviewing effort led by Tim Challies. This week, Tim called for volunteers to review books. There are qualifications, such as "You must be willing and able to read a lot. A bare minimum of a book a week seems appropriate." I can't make that cut. . . . and I'm not going to complain about it.

Celibate musings on Father’s Day

Did some shopping today. Then home, to unlimber the sewing machine.

If you’re a historical reenactor, you either sew or get someone to sew for you. A few years back my aunt Jeanie showed me how to use her machine, and I manufactured my red Viking tunic. When she died, I took the sewing machine away with me. But I use it so rarely I have to reeducate myself in its mysteries every time I start it up.

My mother once told me that her grandfather Johnson was a male chauvinist of the old school. “Dem vomens, dey don’ know nuttin’!” he used to say.

I’m reasonably sure he never tried using his wife’s sewing machine. If he had, his estimation of female intelligence would have taken a shock.

Father’s Day. Thinking of my dad, gone since July 2000, just before my 50th birthday.

My brother Moloch (not his real name) is, as I’ve mentioned, a Lutheran pastor in Iowa. In his last parish newsletter he wrote about an incident from our childhood that I never knew about or (more likely) had forgotten.

One of our neighbors had borrowed a piece of farm machinery and promised to pay Dad “later”.

In time it became clear that no payment was coming.

Moloch asked Dad what he was going to do about it.

“Well,” Dad said, “We’re planning to go on vacation this summer. I’ll hire the neighbor’s boy to do our chores while we’re gone.”

So the neighbor’s son did our chores while we took our vacation.

And Dad paid him for his work.

In Dad’s mind, that was a satisfactory settlement of the debt.

That was Dad. Never confront anyone, for any reason.

In some ways that made him an exemplary Christian.

But you know, there were times when we kids needed Dad to take a stand. To defend us. And he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He was very strong, strong enough to kill someone with his bare hands, I’m sure, if he’d needed to.

I think that’s why he never got into a fight.

I know I’ve criticized my parents too much on this blog. A Christian has a duty to honor his parents. Dad was a great guy. Everybody loved him. I loved him, a lot. I miss him every day.

In a way the failures make me miss him more. He isn’t a hero to me, just a guy much like me, afraid of his own anger. Toward the end of his life we were each other’s best friends.

You’re forgiven, Dad.

I hope you forgave me too.

Lars Walker

Friday, June 17, 2005

I decree

When the long-awaited Right Wing Revolution finally arrives, and we stupid-but-fiendish fundamentalists establish the theocracy we’ve schemed for so long, and I am elevated to my rightful place as Chief Censor of the Commonwealth, this will be my first decree:

Hereinafter and henceforth, no work of literature may be condemned on the basis of the actions portrayed therein. Such work will be condemned, however, if it is found to handle said actions in an immoral or irresponsible manner.

Christians walk into an argument trap all the time, because we don’t think our position out beforehand. We attack this or that book “because it’s all about (fill in the blank with the perversion of your choice).” And our opponents reply (with the smuggest of expressions on their faces), “What about the Bible then? The Bible’s full of sex and violence and rape and all kinds of bad stuff. Maybe we should censor the Bible!”

Listen friends, and remember: There is no subject – none in the world – that cannot be handled in literature in a moral and responsible manner. Homosexuality. Bestiality. Serial murder. Nothing.

The difference between moral and immoral literature is in how the material is handled, not in the subject matter itself.

Remember this, and they can’t spring the Bible gambit on you.

Now I must go design my official uniform.

It will certainly include a hat.

Lars Walker

Thursday, June 16, 2005

John Piper in Chattanooga for the First Time

Piper's message tonight was wonderful. You can read notes from it here and the webcast should be available soon.

I learned this week that John Piper was born in Chattanooga, TN. Tonight, he said this was the first time he had spoken here, as far as he could remember. My take-away is to rejoice in the fullness of God through knowledge and prayer.

Taking everything personally

It’s time I blogged about the writing process again. Tonight’s feature: The importance of characters.

There really isn’t a lot to say about this as far as instruction goes. It’s a given that the main character of your story ought to be someone the reader can identify with and like. (Yes, I know, some stories are built on unlikable characters. But that’s showing off. A writer has to be better than most of us to make the exercise work. I’ve never done it.)

It’s difficult to tell someone how to build an appealing character. You have to watch people; examine yourself; learn how people act. If you can’t do this, I recommend going into hard science fiction. It’s a literature of ideas, not characters, which is why I personally never cared for it much. (Not that there isn’t hard SF with good characters. It’s just that you can do without them in that field if you have to, and if your other writing skills are excellent.)

Knowing what you want to do with your story will usually help you build your characters. You want to make your characters the kinds of people who will be challenged by the plot problems you set up. If you’re writing a story about sailing, for instance, an obvious move is to make your main character afraid of water. That way the plot challenges his character, and we get to see how he reacts to pressure. (Remember, the prime task of plotting is to make your character suffer as much as possible.) In the end, he can learn something from facing his fears.

As you know if you’ve been following these essays, I believe that the structure of stories reflects the essential nature of reality and tells us things about reality’s Creator. This is true of Character as well. My belief is that just as character is central to Story, so personality is central to the cosmos.

I talked about the Trinity a while back. This connects to that.

When I was young I was nonchalant about the doctrine of the Trinity. I thought about it casually and said, “Well, we don’t really know that the Trinity is God’s essential nature. Maybe it’s just the way He chose to reveal Himself to us. Maybe He could just as easily have given us another model, since they’re all inadequate to express His infinite Being.”

There’s a name for that kind of doctrine, I learned years later, but I don’t remember what it is, and it’s not worth researching. It’s a sophomoric theology (and, not coincidentally, I believed it when I was a sophomore).

C.S. Lewis shattered that nonsense for me in Mere Christianity. (It’s remarkable, when I think back, how hard a time I had working through that thin book the first time. Everything in it seems so elementary and obvious now. Which all goes to show… something or other.)

I talked about the Trinity in a post last month, “My Favorite Point of Theology”. I was harkening back to Mere Christianity, and Lewis’ argument that the centrality of love is anchored in the reality of the Trinity. So I won’t go over that again.

But I’ve got more to say on the subject. Or I want to say the same thing another way. I worked this into a bit of dialogue in one of my recent books, one which you may or may not ever get a chance to read. One of the characters says, “I think that if there is a God, it's not a person. It must be some kind of great force.”

The other character replies (in so many words), “I think God has to be a Person. If you believe that love is the most important thing, the answer to all questions, then love must have something to do with God. But forces don’t love. Only persons love.”

I think that’s a pretty strong argument.

Lars Walker


Da Vinci Code May Have Changed Christian Evangelism

Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is at 17 on this week's USA Today bestselling list, having been on the list for 117 weeks though has yet to make Human Events' most dangerous books list. What do readers like most about it? Apparently, it's the scandal of Christianity. Could it be true that Jesus didn't die on the cross, but lived on in secret with Magdalene? Don't be ridiculous. But whether they are believing what they're reading, people keep buying the book.

So at this week's PCA General Assembly, Author Peter Jones held a seminar on the book and suggested that The Da Vinci Code has sown seeds of doubt in the Bible. Blogger Rebekah Forman reports, "the most undermining is its challenge to the claims of the Bible as the truest and earliest form of Christianity. If we accept Brown's claims (following the line of those in the Jesus Seminar and those who study the Gnostic texts), the Bible no longer can be trusted."

I'm still not sure how this has changed a believer's witness of Christ in his life, though I can see that it may be encouraging a swell of neo-paganism. Haven't people doubted the Bible's accuracy for years? Perhaps this doubt is more popular because of Brown's book.

Heresy Quote

"Calvin has caused untold millions of souls to be damned" - Jimmy Swaggert

I just read this quote on the blog for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is being held in my home town this week. Author and Pastor John Piper is speaking tonight. Now I don't feel any remorse whatsoever when I call Charles Finney a heretic.

New: Jared noted this post and augmented it with a long quote from Warfield. You know, Christian, grace is a gift, not one that must be received in order to be called a gift, but an act of God free from any obligations.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
From Junk Yard Blog

A review of Blood and Judgment.

Lars Walker

The mystery of my good health

First of, fair is fair. I commented on the Terri Schiavo case a while back, so it’s only right I should acknowledge that the autopsy report indicates that she was indeed brain dead.

That said, I’ll stick my hands in my pockets, slouch, and grumble that I still think the benefit of the doubt should go to the side that wants to keep a person alive. And if it’s true, as I’ve read, that there’s a scan that could have settled the issue of brain death before she was starved, I see no reason why that shouldn’t have been done, to put everyone’s minds at ease.

It appears that she felt no pain as she died, and for that I’m grateful.

Speaking of lives of questionable utility, I saw my doctor today. Good news. My blood pressure, like my weight, is down, and without b.p. medication.

The obvious explanation is that I’m now working in a nice quiet, peaceful library, rather than that vortex of passion and drama, the denominational Home Missions office.

That’s not as ironic as it sounds. I was talking to a relative at the anniversary celebration I attended on Sunday. He’s a semi-retired pastor who used to be head of Home Missions (that’s church planting, if you haven’t guessed) for another Lutheran church group, and he talked about the pressures of that job. “Churches split up,” he said, “and we get their most contentious members. We have pastor problems, congregational problems, doctrinal problems, constitutional problems, zoning problems, money problems, legal problems.” By the end of the litany I was saying the words with him. My old boss and I came on the job at about the same time, and I think we’ve both aged about 20 years in eleven.

An alternate theory for my blood pressure drop is just the feeling of confidence and wellbeing that comes with wearing a hat.

Lars Walker

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Following the Leader

Ok. I'll play along, sort of . . . though this is very similar to a meme I passed by earlier this month.

1. The total number of books and movies I own:
Books? Um, 200 or so, I guess. I've given dozens of them away over the years, so in a sense, I still think of those sent books as mine. Movies? 21

2. The last movie I bought:Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom. Is there a good reason I often want to spell 'phantom' with another 'n' as in 'phantomn'?

3. The last movie I saw: I think it was The Aristocats. Now, what was the last TV show I watched? The Next Food Network Star!

4. Last book I read: What do you mean by 'read'? Finished?

5. Five movies/DVDs that mean a lot to me, in no particular order: Um, uh, five . . . movies . . . 1. To End All Wars is worth seeing. 2-5. I don't know which Doctor Who DVD will mean a lot to me. I need to research that. hmm, mean a lot to me . . . you know, In America is a good drama, and it has Irish immigrants in it.

6. Five Books what mean a lot 'o me: 1. My collection of N. Hawthorne novels and stories 2. Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper is growing in meaning for me 3. I have a leather-bound collection of Shakespeare plays and poems. I doubt it's more valuable than the text, but it's nice to have. 4. Orthodoxy by Chesterton 5. World Poetry anthology

. . . I need to hit the sack. Thanks for dropping by. I'll brew some coffee next time, and if we plan ahead, I can make some biscotti for us.

Why the Sky is Blue, by Susan Meissner

Meissner begins this pleasant debut novel with an intriguing idea. Her lead character, Claire Holland, is remembering the first time God spoke to her audibly. That memory carries Claire through a difficult trial which would dismantle some women. After being raped, she discovers she is pregnant. She wrestles with her emotions, her family’s fears, her husband’s denial, and cutting away the past while holding onto it. In the years the follow, Claire and her small Minnesota family learn to trust God whole-heartedly because of who he is alone.

Meissner has a journalism background, and that reporting-feel delivers this quiet story. As I read, I wanted it to overcome the current obstacle in order to stumble on a new one. I don’t mind slow-moving plots, but slow-moving, straight-foward plots are dull to me. If the characters or prose was more complicated, I would have been more interested.

But I must praise the theme. Why is the sky blue? Claire’s mother explains: “I knew that sometimes God’s reasons for doing things or not doing things are as deep as His character,” she says. “Being supplied with a reason when maybe I wouldn’t have been able to understand it might have made it worse for me. . . . Sometimes asking God for a reason for something is like asking Him why the sky is blue. There is a complex scientific reason for it, Claire, but most children, including you, are content with knowing it is blue because it is.”

Meissner has two more books from Harvest House. The Remedy for Regret is due out in July. A Window to the World, her second novel, came out in January.

A meme? Why not?

Late night at work. I finally finished the PowerPoint presentation I’ve been working on for my (part-time) boss, but I had to stay to 7:00 to do it.

From the Blogger’s Handbook®: “When out of ideas, fill out the answers to some meme somebody sent you (specifically David at Pererro in this case)":

1. The total number of books and movies I own:

Movies: 50 or so? I’m not about to count them, especially since a lot of them are packed away in the boxes I never unpacked when I moved into this tiny apartment.

Books? That’s even worse. Probably over 1,000, if you include the cartons of unsold copies of The Year of the Warrior and Blood and Judgment that Baen sent me as a goodbye kiss.

2. The last movie I bought:

I think it was the special director’s cut of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Amazingly, the added footage did almost nothing to enhance my movie-going experience. It just answered questions it had never occurred to me to ask.

3. The last movie I saw:

A Series of Unfortunate Events, I think, heaven help me. Saw it in a group with my loving family. I was not impressed. In my world, children in peril are not amusing.

3a. Last book I read:

Quiller Barracuda by Adam Hall. Did you know that Quiller wasn’t originally an American in a spy movie, but an Englishman in a series of novels? I remember years back, one of the American networks was experimenting with late-night programming and ran some British TV series. One of those series was based on Quiller. I thought, “Isn’t that strange? They changed him into an Englishman.” Provincial as I was, I did not know that the George Segal movie was based on an English book, and that they changed him to an American for Hollywood (read “inadequate”) reasons. Looking back, I can’t believe I ever trusted Hollywood on anything. Live and learn.

I’m very fond of Quiller. He’s much more complex and believable than James Bond, but he’s not wracked with self-doubt and political ambivalence like a spy in a book today. Quiller is a complete professional, and he believes in what he’s doing. He knows who the good guys and the bad guys are, even if he does sometimes conflict with his handlers.

4. Five movies/DVDs that mean a lot to me, in no particular order:

I dealt with this not long ago, at least in part.

A. Joe vs. the Volcano. An iridescent parable about living life to the full and taking risks. Also Meg Ryan at her loveliest. And the scene where Tom Hanks, adrift on a raft on the ocean, looks up at a moon as big as Michael Moore and prays to a “God whose name I do not even know” will stay with you forever.

B. Local Hero. A fun movie about colorful characters in an environment I’d love to visit (coastal Scotland).

C. The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You know why.

D. The Outlaw Josey Wales. One of the best westerns ever made, set during the aftermath of the Civil War, a period that fascinates me. And Clint Eastwood shoots some really cool black powder Colts.

E. The Three Musketeers (the Michael York/Oliver Reed version). Swords are even better than black powder Colts, and until a good Viking movie gets made (probably never) this one will have to do.

4a. Five Books...

A. The Bible. For the same reason my favorite food is “food”.

B. Heimskringla by Snorri Sturlusson. This is the saga of the kings of Norway, the primary source for Viking Age Norwegian history (though much challenged of late). It’s probably the most readable history book written in the Middle Ages, and not the sort of thing you’d expect from a medieval work. Snorri could have written for the bestseller lists today.

C. That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. Probably the least-loved book of the trilogy, but I adore it for its defiance of everything we think of as PC today, and for the righteous bloodbath at the end. I love it for the way you slog through the sections with the bad guys, only briefly refreshed by time spent with the good guys, until you realize the brilliance of Lewis’ creative accomplishment – he has actually made villains as tedious as they are in real life, and good people as delightful as in real life. This almost never happens. The villains usually steal the show. A tour de force.

D. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. It’s a big book that works in every part, like a fine Swiss watch. I’m not sure what it means, but I love it.

E. The Lord of the Rings. You know why.

I’m supposed to tag five more people with this.

But I won’t.

Lars Walker

Monday, June 13, 2005

Old home town

Drove to Kenyon (my home town and the model for Epsom in Wolf Time and Blood and Judgment) Sunday afternoon. My dad’s cousin and his wife were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. The family held a reception in the school lunchroom.

There are worse ways to spend an afternoon than driving from the Cities to Kenyon. I always think of Kenyon as being located on a featureless plain, because that’s more or less what the terrain is like toward the southwest, where I grew up. But to the northeast, where I drive, there are rolling hills (even some low bluffs) and wooded river bottoms. The rains we’ve been having (though Sunday was an island of sunshine) had plumped all the leaves up nicely, and it was a pretty edenic vista, taken all in all.

I drove past the house that was a country store back in the mid-1950’s, when my brother Moloch (not his real name) and I, on the way home from a trip to the circus with our aunt and uncle, got snowed in and had to spend the night. It was the most memorable adventure of my childhood to date, and I faced it with all the manly impassivity of a Republican senator explaining why he can’t vote to confirm John Bolton.

I bought gas (overpriced) at the gas station where the attendant used to ask Moloch and me, “Kan du snakke norsk (Can you speak Norwegian)?” Eventually Grandma Jensen taught us to reply, “Nei, kan du (No, can you)?” The attendant thought that was a hoot. And thus began my quest to learn to converse in the Norwegian language, a goal I've achieved with only mixed success.

It’s kind of pointless for a social phobic to learn a new language. It just provides wider opportunities for avoiding meeting people.

The lunch room where we celebrated is an extension appended to what was the Elementary School back in my day. They built it on top of the old playground. As I sat with my cake and crackers and punch, I wondered how many times I’d been beaten up and humiliated on that very spot.

The honored couple are pretty old, as you probably guessed. She’s been in a wheelchair for some time, and he’s on a scooter due to a recent fall. But as best I can figure out, everybody in their wedding party is still alive, except my dad.

I’ve been paying more and more attention to old people of late. Today in the grocery store I was watching one old man whose hands shook so badly that he could barely pick up his purchases. An old lady trudged slowly by, leaning heavily on her shopping cart, as if it were a walker.

I said to myself: “Soon. It’ll seem like no time at all and you’ll be just like them. Walker with a walker.”

On the bright side, we bachelors don’t usually live long.

But Sissel sang on the CD player on my way home, and the sun was shining. Let us do the works of the light while it is day….

Lars Walker


What Would Evelyn Waugh Do with the News?

Roger Kimball asks what would the wonderful satirist Evelyn Waugh do with the recent hub-bub over Koran handling at a terrorist prison camp.
He knew first-hand about bureaucratic blundering, about absurd face-saving directives that intervene in a bad situation and make it worse. How Waugh would have loved the story of how the Koran is handled at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. He would have snorted when he read Michael Isikoff's preening fantasy in Newsweek about how nasty, insensitive interrogators were flushing Korans down the toilet. He would have chuckled when, lo and behold, it turn out that no Korans were harmed in the making of this morality tale: it was all part of Newsweek's effort to be fair and balanced, i.e., anti-Bush. Waugh would have smirked when, after the Isikoff story turned out to be false, other members of the Fourth Estate, their pride wounded, rallied around to disclose that, even if the Koran hadn't been flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay, it was placed near a toilet, at least in the same building with a toilet, and moreover a prison guard had urinated near an air shaft that vented somewhere in the vicinity of a room in which a Koran was placed or might be placed or was once placed . . . What contortions we have been treated to in the Koran Abuse Fantasy. (Yes, there has been disrespectful treatment of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay--almost exclusively meted out, as John Hinderaker explains, by the detainees themselves.)
I should point out that Christians have not reacted after the fashion of Muslims upon hearing the news that Bibles are shredded by the Saudi Arabian government or disrespected by others in other ways. I remember old stories of pages of the Bible being used as toilet paper in Vietnamese prisons. In retaliation to such outrages, Christians print more Bibles.
Sunday, June 12, 2005

Popular vs. Literary? How About Both?

Mr. Holtsberry of Collected Misc. has done a remarkable job of focusing on an author living in his area of our grand and beautiful country, that area not being New York City. Michelle Herman has written a few interesting books, each of which have been reviewed over the past several days on the blog. And something a little more interactive may be coming there too, so watch for the news.

In a two-part interview, Herman talks about the way we categorize fiction.
Q: Your writing doesn't include much in the way of plot and seems to focus on the prose and inner though process of your characters. Do you see a bright line between "literary fiction" and "genre fiction?" Where do you see yourself?

A: I hate the term "popular fiction" because everybody wants to be a popular writer. I mean, what would make me happier than look around and see everyone reading Dog right now? I do think that--and I kind of hated it when Jonathan Frazen said no to Oprah and said "I see myself entirely in the high art tradition"--I think there is a difference between artful writing and in-artful writing. Words that are careful chosen and shaped--it is art in the same way that any other art is artful, crafted and thought about and meditated on, really made as opposed to just getting stuff down on a page at its lowest level. You can go back to Aristotle who said that reading at the lowest common denominator was to find out what happens next. He was talking about epic poetry; but still you read to find out what happens next. And as you can tell, I have stripped that almost completely from my work. What happens is really pretty much beside the point. It is just a hanger; it is just a frame for me to hang my characters on . . . So in that way I think there is a difference.

On the other hand I think there are a lot of writers who are artful writers but who are popular, easily accessible, widely read. Nick Hornby, for example, Nick Hornby is a writer I love. And I think in Nick's case, he is interested in beautiful, artful writing, he works very hard at it, but the stuff that interests him, the stuff that compels him, also happens to be interesting to a lot of other people. I think it is true of Ann Tyler too.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Kenneth Taylor, 1917-2005

Author and publisher Kenneth Taylor died on Wednesday at home near family. His son-in-law, Tim Bayly, talks about him and his passing on his blog.

"We were in the room around his bed singing 'Holy, Holy, Holy' when Gretchen noticed his breathing had stopped. We sang the Doxology, read Psalm 91, and prayed together. Mom had been out with Becky at an audiology appointment. When she returned and was told, she responded 'Well, he got home before dark.'"

"Making Scripture accessible for all people was my father's passion," said his son and Tyndale President Mark Taylor in a press release. "Many, many people have told him, 'I became a Christian when I read The Living Bible,' or 'My first Bible was the green padded Living Bible.' Even at 88 years old, his enthusiasm and fervor for his work never waned."

Tim plans to write more, but for now he posts a tribute by Mark:
Ken was known around the world as the translator of The Living Bible, which sold more than 40 million copies. He began his translation work in the early 1950s, when he would paraphrase portions of Scripture for use in the family’s daily devotions. Much of this work was done on the train as he commuted between Wheaton and Chicago. The result of that early work was a book called Living Letters, which was a modern-language paraphrase of the New Testament epistles.
Taylor was partially inspired to paraphrase the Bible by a discomfort with the King James, both for himself and his children.
He couldn’t find a publisher who was interested in the project, so he decided to publish it himself. Living Letters went on to sell millions of copies after Billy Graham began giving copies to his television audience. Ken paraphrased the rest of the Bible over the next nine years, and The Living Bible was published in 1971. It was the best-selling book in America in 1972 and 1973.
Not finding a publisher for his paraphrase also lead Taylor to found Tyndale House. He also founded the Christian Booksellers Association in 1950.
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