Brandywine Books
Saturday, June 24, 2006
It's late in the day, and dawn has come.

I've decided to abandon Blogger and Blogspot for my own web space, URL, and a new blogging software. Thanks to Bill Roberts of Out of the Bloo and Thinklings for the cool, but still in alpha version, software with which Lars and I will be blogging at I'm not sure if using an alpha version software is especially risky, but it feels good so far. Maybe we should back-up the posts regularly.

I haven't added all the links to the blog rolls yet, and I'll still have to make blog directory changes, let the ecosystem know where to find us, call the state department, etc. There are plenty of old posts to repost (I guess), but I don't plan blog here again. Please change your blogrolls, if you link here, and let us know what you think of the new blog. It should be more useful all around. Have a good weekend! - phil
Friday, June 23, 2006
lw: Don't be sour, be a sower

I performed prodigies today. I took a second pass through the Mystery shelves, coming at the missing accession numbers from a different angle. I checked each book against its database record. I found that in many cases two different books have been given the same accession number. So I assigned new numbers and cleared those. I also found that in a number of instances the computer and the list thought we had only one copy, but there were in fact two copies. Again I assigned new numbers and cleared the books.

My pile of corrected books now boasts considerably more copies than the Mystery shelves do. In fact the Mystery shelves are now down to one shelf and change. I took some satisfaction in a job well done.

But only some.

Because in my world, Walker’s private Gehenna, successes last about one second. Once they’re in the past they’re dead history, inert and impotent as an old Drew Pearson column.

But the books I still can’t clear—ah, those books are important. Those books Matter. They glower at me from their shelves, a silent indictment of my failures as a librarian, as a man, and as a vertebrate.

That was how I was raised, you see. It never mattered what I’d done. What mattered was the imperfections, small and hard to find though they might be. They were always located, and always punished. (If you’re wondering how that relates to my statement the other day that my dad was patient—well, the problem wasn’t Dad.)

So that’s how I think. I could never do one of those really vital jobs, like being a policeman or a fireman or a doctor, because a mistake that meant a life lost would absolutely destroy me.

It’s a bad attitude for a Christian.

Jesus said:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop, a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9, NIV)

An important lesson of this story, one I think is often overlooked, is the optimism of the sower. One presumes that the sower knows his work, has done this before, and knows that three-quarters of his seed is going to be wasted.

And yet he scatters the seed anyway, confident that the one-fourth that finds good soil will yield enough to make it all worthwhile.

That’s faith raised to the level of heroism.

Lars Walker

PW:Red, The Color of the Dawn
Laurie Bertrand, the designer of the stealthy Teensy Ninjas, has a beautiful photo of red books on her blog, Liquid Paper. I'd like to take photos like this, but I'm sure I can't. No, no--it's beyond me.

But red is the color of the dawn, you know, and there's a new dawn coming to Brandywine Books. I hope to tell you about it tomorrow. - phil
PW:Box of Interviews
Ella of Box of Books is on vacation, and she's lined up several interviews with lit-bloggers to have posted while she's away. She explains her idea here. Fourteen days of good interviews with people you may be reading online and offline, even me later on. - phil
Thursday, June 22, 2006
lw: Hard-boiled librarian

Today I did detective work. Not the vital, sometimes dangerous kind done by policemen, but the sort of detective work librarians do, which is about all the excitement I need, thank you.

When I took over as Autocrat of the Stacks, the staff was at work on a barcoding project, affixing little sticky labels with barcodes and numbers to the covers of the books, with an eye to a future date when we’ll be able to do check-out and check-in electronically. The barcode numbers are the books’ accession numbers. They're recorded by hand in the books themselves and in a series of looseleaf binders, and also in our cataloging database.

As might be expected, there were glitches. I have a couple shelves in the workroom devoted to books for which no proper barcode label can be found.

My job, when I choose to give it time, is to figure out what went wrong with those books. I find it stimulating work, offering the challenge of a mystery without the complications of physical danger or icky human contact.

The most common problem seems to be that of transposing numbers. Somebody sees the number 1845, and his brain registers 1854. That creates an obvious problem when the real 1854 comes up, so that book ends up on my Mystery Shelves.

Another popular mistake arises from propinquity. The library asssistant reaches for 1845, but, somehow, his hand lights on 1846 without his noticing it.

Sometimes there’s been a problem in recording the numbers. The number in the book may not match the number in the computer. The original accessioning librarian may have written the book in on the wrong line in the binder, or accidentally assigned the same number to two books.

All these common mistakes give me routes I can follow to identify the problems and restore decency and order to my realm. I was able to fix the problems on about a third of the books I went through today, and that’s a good batting average.

But there remain the Universal Mysteries, the books whose barcoding problems admit of no rational solution. Sometimes as we go through our inventory we discover those books, and their errors are incomprehensible. A label for 20422 placed on a book numbered 17365? Why? How did this happen?

Without suggesting any kind of equivalence, I believe this is the same kind of thing real detectives face. There are some crimes that make no sense and can’t be reasoned out, cold cases that have to be filed away, leaving only heartburn behind. Sherlock Holmes never solved the Jack the Ripper murders. Not only because Holmes was only a fictional character, but also because the Ripper murders weren’t solvable by pure reason. Some human actions result from the intersection of plain evil and pure chance. Reason need not apply.

As a Christian I agree in large part with the rational view of the pure scientist. Like him, I believe that the universe is essentially logical (though I believe it for a different reason).

But God made things messy when he introduced into the experiment beings not wholly rational. People don’t always act sensibly, or even for their own benefit. Fear injects variables, as does principle. The world gets messy, and lots of questions are left unanswered.

I guess that’s one reason I like to read mysteries. I like seeing reason triumphant, loose ends tied up.

It’s not quite like real life, but if I want real life I can hunt down barcodes.

Lars Walker

Wednesday, June 21, 2006
lw: Some things are as lovely as a tree

I actually had another spot of good luck yesterday, which I neglected to mention.

As Lord and Master here at Blithering Heights, I’ve been concerned, since the snow melted, about my tree cover. Specifically the single large tree in my front yard (I think it’s probably an ash, but I’m not much good with trees. My only other tree is a big fir [or something] in back). The front yard tree drops a lot of small, dry branches, and it didn’t leaf out very well this spring. On top of that, it has a sort of soggy spot on the trunk, where it appears a branch was lopped off long ago.

So I called an arborist last week. His wife answered the phone, took my number, and said he’d get back to me. A diagnostic visit would cost $65. He never called me back.

Yesterday I called another arborist. He listened to my story and told me he could come out and do some tests ($50), but his recommendation was that I should call my City Forester, who’d look at it for free. The downside of that approach would be that if the Forester condemned the tree, there’d be no appeal. But he didn’t think I had a terminal problem, judging from what I’d told him. He also suggested pounding in some tree food spikes, available at any hardware store.

So I picked up some spikes tonight, and I’ll be installing them later this evening. If that doesn’t help, I’ll call the Forester.

I selected this arborist because, although his ad didn’t feature any telltale fish symbols or anything, his choice of business name suggested he was a Christian. He certainly does business as we like to think Christians do (and are too often disappointed).

Maybe civilization isn’t coming to an end right away after all.

Lars Walker

Tuesday, June 20, 2006
PW:The Macavity Awards
Sand Storm has a list of nominees for the Macavity Awards from Mystery Readers International.
PW:Ups and Downs of Book Club Sales
Tess Gerritsen, who was recently nominated for an award from Mystery Readers International, blogs about book clubs in this post from last Friday. She says book clubs can launch your career:

It’s what happened to me, back in 1996, when my very first hardcover, HARVEST, was a Literary Guild Main Selection. Back then, I was unknown to booksellers, just a former paperback romance author. But when the Literary Guild chooses your novel as a Main Selection, the publishing world takes notice. Suddenly, you’re not just another new hardcover author; you’re the writer of that month’s Big Book.

So, what’s the down side to being a book club pick? Well, there is the possibility that it may dent your sales in the brick-and-mortar stores, because so many readers are receiving your book in the mail instead. And book club sales aren’t applied to any bestseller lists. A million book club readers may have chosen to receive your book, but it won’t get you on the New York Times list.

Still, the real secret to building a bestselling career is word of mouth. And when hundreds of thousands of book club members are reading your book and talking about it, you can bet that will boost your sales in bookstores as well.

lw: The Uncanny, by Andrew Klavan

This seems to be my lucky day, in terms of shopping.

I needed a new briefcase for work. The latch broke on my old one. So naturally I made a detour on the way home to my vendor of choice, the local thrift store.

They didn’t have anything remotely like what I needed, unfortunately. But they did have one of those fold-up bookcases that were in vogue a few years back. Since I already have several of those in my basement office, and I needed more, I figured I’d pick it up. $14.95 isn’t a bad price.

When I got to the check-out, the lady rang it up for $11.94. I looked at the tag quizzically, and she said, “Twenty-five percent off on Tuesdays.”

Sometimes lucky is as good as smart.

So I proceeded to the office supply store to buy a briefcase, retail. I intended to get a vinyl one. But hello! The leather ones were on sale at the same price as vinyl. So I’m spiffy in leather now.

I should have gone shopping for something else, just to keep the streak going. But I figured I’d saved all the money I could afford tonight.

Any more good luck might have made me cheerful, and we can’t have that.

Yesterday I panned Andrew Klavan’s The Animal Hour. Today I shall soften the blow to his ego (since I’m sure he follows this blog) by praising his horror novel, The Uncanny.

I kept thinking as I read The Uncanny, “This book is almost perfect. I wish I’d written it.”

I’d like to see it done as a movie, but only if they respected the text. Obsequiously. Because this book is like a fine Swiss watch, all its parts rotating and ratcheting together, making a small, regular “tick-tick” sound (which, by the way, is a recurring theme in the book).

The book begins with a short story called “Black Annie,” a note-perfect pastiche of a Gothic horror tale. The reader then discovers that it is being read aloud by Richard Storm, a Hollywood producer who has made a pile of money with a series of horror flicks, but has moved to England due to a personal setback.

He reads it at a London party, and when he finishes it a woman drops a glass. That brings about Storm’s first sight of Sophia Endering, a lovely, lonely, emotionally damaged heiress and art-gallery owner, with whom he falls immediately in love.

But Sophia has other things on her mind. A man spoke to her one night in the street, imploring her to watch to see who will buy a certain obscure painting at an auction. The man who buys it, he says, is the devil. He can’t do it himself, he says, because he’s going to be murdered. Which prediction comes true.

And Sophia is deeply troubled, because her own father has instructed her to buy the painting for him. “At any price.”

Richard is advised in his assault on Sophia’s defenses by Harper Albright, the proprietress of a magazine devoted to supernatural phenomena. Harper is an interesting character, a resolute skeptic whose life is centered on a kind of affirmation of faith.

As he gets embroiled in Sophia’s perils, Richard finds that his own dreams—even his movies—seem to be entwined with the diabolical plot he uncovers, bit by bit. Other old stories, a ballad, and a memoir punctuate the story, and it all comes together in a climax worthy of Hollywood (as Richard can’t help noticing).

It’s a thriller and it’s a parable (a Christian book, I think, though there are no Christian characters). Women will enjoy the love story; guys will enjoy the adventure and thrills. I loved it.

Lars Walker
PW:Only Dull Art Has Merit
London Museum rejects an artist's laughing head sculpture for its exhibition but accepts the stand made to support it. "The plinth and hastily carved wooden support were, according to an official statement, 'thought to have merit.'" - phil
PW:Say It Again, In English
The Literary Saloon points out the oddities of an announcement in the Chinese press of a book which was written in English but published first in Chinese. I hope the Chinese readers make it through the "transitional period of hardships." I may be in one of them myself. - phil
Monday, June 19, 2006
lw: The Animal Hour by Andrew Klavan

Had three stops on my way home tonight. Bookstore, grocery store and drugstore.

In the (second-hand) bookstore, the owner had apparently noticed that I’d started buying more books lately, after being kind of scarce for a while. I told him I’d bought a house and cancelled my cable, and so had considerably more time for reading.

“We cancelled our cable about six years ago,” he said. “But then we got it hooked up again so we could get a discount on cable internet access.

“But we don’t have it plugged in.”

I’ve been gushing over the books of Andrew Klavan recently (found one I hadn’t read in the store tonight—hurrah!). However, I feel obligated to warn you about one of them.

I finished The Animal Hour the other day (I won’t link to it). It’s one of Klavan’s earlier books, and I get the impression it was a kind of an experiment.

In my opinion, the experiment didn’t succeed.

It starts out with a great hook. A young woman in New York City goes in to her job and starts to settle down at her desk, when another woman comes into her office and asks her what she’s doing there. The conversation becomes a confrontation, and soon a number of employees have gathered. It quickly becomes clear that no one there has ever seen her before.

That’s a terrific start. Unfortunately, at least to my taste, the rest of the book doesn’t live up to it.

The mechanics of a great thriller are all there. Suspense mounts, and mysteries abound.

The problem is with an element that’s usually Klavan’s strong suit—the characters. There were very few characters in this book who raised my sympathy much. Most of them were creepy in one or several ways.

Also the gore level was high.

Also Christianity didn’t come off looking very good.

I’d skip this one.

Lars Walker

PW:Interesting, Not Informative, Sales
Brent Sampson reports on Amazon's sales ranking provides "marginal sales data at best." Through field testing, he determined that the top 10,000 books are ranked hourly according to how they sold compared to each other, and then "a trending calculation is applied to arrive at a computerized sales trajectory. So, hypothetically, a book that held a ranking of 2,000 at 2pm and 3,000 at 3pm, might hold a 4,000 ranking at 4pm, even if it actually sold MORE books between 3-4 than it did between 2-3."

So, Wodehouse's The Mating Season may have sold one or two, jumping in rank from ~53,800 yesterday to ~22,500 today, whereas Joy in the Morning hasn't sold anything, dropping from ~37,300 to ~65,800? Is that about it? Does this scuttle my idea to send one book's rank skyrocketing by getting a few people together to buy a total of 25 copies within the same hour?
[seen on Return o'the Reluctant]

- phil
PW:Are Art Awards Worth Anything?
Terry Teachout asks: "Has there ever been a prize in the arts that was worth having? Is it possible for any institution to give an award for artistic achievement that has real significance?"

As a reader, viewer, or listener, I think of awards as knowledgeable recommendations and resume enhancements for the artists. - phil
Saturday, June 17, 2006
PW:Overloaded Market
In a lengthy post on the problems with submitting fiction, Finn Harvor describes an email sent to journalist Laura Miller which received this reply in part:
Books, especially fiction, are unfortunately something that many, many people want to write and relatively few people want to read, at least not in commensurate amounts. (See last year’s NEA survey, “Reading at Risk.") People tend to point their finger at the part of the process where the book they’ve written has gotten stuck. If it doesn’t make it to the agent, it’s the agents’ fault; if it doesn’t make it to a publisher, it’s the publishers’ fault; if it doesn’t get reviewed, it’s the press. But, in reality, the whole system is overloaded. Everything that most people dislike about the system really derives from this fact. If people were as enthusiastic about reading (or rather, buying) books as they are about writing them, the industry overall would not be in the poor economic situation it’s in now.
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PW:Movies: Pride & Prejudice, X3
Do you remember talking about Dawn Treader’s impression of Pride & Prejudice based on the most recent movie version? I saw that version a few days ago, and don’t blame Dawn Treader one bit. I was prepared for a very short story adaptation, but I felt the director, script writers, and whoever was responsible for the story didn’t understand the book or characters. The point of the Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice came through in the minutes of emotional cinema focused on Elizabeth Bennet--the swing in farmyard, the rain on the meadow, standing on cliff—beautiful to watch, but unessential to the story.

Besides the story's brevity being a fault, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley didn’t look like themselves. Darcy’s face seemed consistently blank, his lines delivered in a rush. Mr. Bingley came across like a nervous teenager, not a good-hearted, energetic man. And why did they do that to his hair?

In summary, Pride & Prejudice was an attractive film I don’t care to see again.

Last night, my sweet wife and I enjoyed X-Men: The Last Stand (I suppose the fourth movie will be called, “Episode 4: A New Hope,” and feature the minor character Fluke Piehawker who spreads happiness by putting a pie in your face). It’s about as good as X-Men United, though a little more complicated. Why are critics saying it’s impersonal and a bit dumb? The lines delivered by the movie’s U.S. President are dumb, but the movie as whole isn’t. Ok, the more I think about it, the more I could complain: Some characters say things I think are inconsistent with their personalities. Some of the fighting is clearly for dramatic effect and consequently looks dumb; but then if you start imagining these characters in a realistic environment, none of the stories make sense. Why doesn’t Magneto bring cases of bullets with him to strike through his opposition?

Still, I enjoyed the movie. The PG-13 rating was unneeded. I think it could have risen to PG and gained critical praise by replacing the foreplay between Jean Grey and Logan with more psychological struggle within Jean, but I shouldn't give film advice. If I made films, they would probably be too slow.
lw: About my dad

This is a picture of my dad, Jordan Walker, in his prime. I'm not sure if it was taken before or after his brief stint in the army, when he served in the occupation forces in Japan. My guess would be it was after the army but before his marriage (roughly 1948), but I don't really know.

He's standing with his car, prudently equipped with tire chains, in front of the house where I grew up. That window at the top belongs to the first bedroom I would share with my brother Moloch, before I got my own room.

I remember the sweater well. Its color was maroon. I never saw him wear it myself. I don't think he cared for sweaters much. Since his birthday was December 4, this may be him modeling his birthday present, the first and last time he ever put it on. It got preserved in a cedar chest and passed on to me when I was a teenager. I liked it fine.

I learned self-deprecation from Dad. He dropped out of school when he was twelve, taking over running the farm for his father, whose health was failing. He wasn't really sorry to drop out. He wasn't a scholarly type. Still, you could tell he was ashamed of his lack of education. He frequently made jokes about being "just a dumb farmer."

Kick yourself first. It usually disarms people, and it hurts less than when somebody else does it. That was the lesson I learned from my dad.

He ran his farm, essentially single-handed, for almost forty years (my brothers and I didn't help him much, for reasons I may explain someday). If his pickup or tractor broke down, or if there was a wiring job to do or a cow having a hard time calving, Dad could generally figure out a way to handle it. He wasn't dumb. He was what they used to call "a man of his hands."

I was his firstborn son, and I must have been a major disappointment to him. Low birth weight, bad health, fussy from the beginning. Slept badly and puked a lot. And as I grew up I didn't gravitate towards sports or fishing or engines--things he understood. I liked books and the indoors. I'm pretty sure he wondered more than once whether he was raising a pansy.

We spent a year as each other's best friends, in Florida after Mom died. We went to Norway together. He was generous and funny and patient.

I miss him every day.

Lars Walker

Update: My uncle informs me that, based on the car (which he bought from Dad later) the picture must be from 1945, before Dad entered the army. So that's what it is.
Friday, June 16, 2006
lw: Even Vikings have tedium
Back to the Ramada Hotel, nee Thunderbird, today, for Day Two of the Sons of Norway District Convention. Less challenge today. Even Scandinavians learn where to find their caucus rooms eventually, so aside from a brief mobilization to direct traffic in the lunch room (you try to stand between a Norwegian and his ham-and-cheese hoagie, and then talk to me about Thin Red Lines), we mostly sat around the hospitality suite, telling people to come in and have some coffee, nosh a few cookies.

Talked Norwegian history, immigration and (perhaps surprisingly, but not uncharacteristically) the Civil War, with other Vikings. One of the guys proudly showed off his thumb, with its recently severed first joint (a table saw casualty), just out of the bandage. It certainly doesn't reduce his effectiveness as a Viking reenactor. I'm sure there were plenty of missing and partial digits in Harald Hardrada's armies.

"My neighbor was the most encouraging," our friend said. "He told me I'm now qualified to teach high school shop."

Lars Walker
Thursday, June 15, 2006
lw: Call for prayer
I just found out (and verified it on his web board) that Jim Baen, the publisher who published my four novels, has had a massive stroke and is hospitalized in very grave condition.

Unless something has changed greatly since we parted company, he is not a believer. Your prayers for him would not be amiss.

Lars Walker
PW:A Creation Hymn
Since Lars brought up creation, I'll direct your attention to Psalm 104, a poetic account of the Lord's powerful work at the beginning of time.
O LORD My God, You Are Very Great
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.

He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth. . . .
That's beautiful. Read the rest from the English Standard Version here. - phil
PW:Books Against the War
For a list of books against the free world's war against terror, see this USA Today article. I don't understand the lose-at-any-cost crowd, especially with the success we've had in the past couple weeks. - phil
lw: Lost your way? Ask the nearest Viking
Back around the 9th Century, the Emporer of Constantinople, impressed by an abortive attempt by an overoptimistic Viking captain to conquer his city, decided to create a personal bodyguard made up entirely of these tall, warlike northerners. So several generations of Scandinavians (after the Norman conquest it became mostly Englishmen) got the opportunity to spend their youths in the palmy south, keeping the Empire in order.

This does not resemble my experience today much at all, but it's the first analogy that comes to mind. I took a vacation day today (and will Friday too) to help the Viking Age Club provide window dressing and traffic control at the Sons of Norway District Convention, held at the Ramada Hotel (formerly the Thunderbird Motel) in Bloomington (hard by the Mall of America, which is just like the Hagia Sophia, only bigger and less tasteful).

I'm saddened that the old Thunderbird has been swallowed up by a chain, but at least they hung on to the place's traditional decor, which is what the French might call "Le Mode Indiaine." A huge totem pole marks the entrance, and wherever you go on the inside there is Indian art, art about Indians, Native American art, art about Native Americans, and artifacts of the First Nations (for the sake of you Canadians). The only thing missing is a casino.

Back in the '70s there were demonstrations outside the place, with Indian activists screaming that Thunderbird was an offense to their traditions. White America, apparently, was expected to expunge all memory that Indians were ever around here. The management came to an accomodation with them in time, and I believe they got rid of some of their more questionable stuff. The atmosphere today is obsequious (if occasionally kitschy) Noble Savageism. If any Native American ever spoke rudely to his mother or grabbed more than his share of the buffalo steak, you won't learn of it at the Ramada.

Our assignment as Vikings was to loiter in high traffic areas, looking for people who seemed lost. This can be tough, as Norwegians generally look lost at the best of times. We would then ask them if they needed help, and direct them to the places they wanted to go.

It went pretty well, really. I did not, to my recollection, put anybody wrong. And yet the nagging voice mutters in the back of mind, "You messed it up. People found you abrasive. You made mistakes, and somebody probably got lost and had a heart attack from the stress, perishing in some deserted hotel corridor, his plaintive cries unheard."

But that's just what it means to be me. If I listened to those voices much I'd become an agoraphobe.

Plenty of time for that next year.

Lars Walker
PW:Rare Book News
Speaking of really old documents, Rare Book News has several interesting headlines, including the sale of articles by Albert Einstein for $42,000 and some attention to Scotland's National Booktown, Wigtown.

"Run your fingers down my spine. You know how much you want to." Oh, my. - phil
PW:300,000 Tiny Fragments
The University of Manchester's Center for Jewish Studies is using digital imaging to assemble thousands of manuscript fragments found in a Cairo synagogue. Libraries around the world have pieces of the work of Moses Maimonides, "a scholar and writer whose findings were hugely influential on modern Judaic thought," according the AP. The Center plans to assemble the fragments without physically bringing the pieces to Britain. [seen on Nextbook] - phil
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
lw: Book devaluation

Today in the library I pulled out a box I’d found yesterday. Inside, in a plastic bag, lay one of the oldest (though not the very oldest) books that I’ve found in our collection. It’s a large book (about a ten inches tall and three inches thick), printed in Norway or Denmark (I’m not entirely sure) in 1840. It’s the second volume of a collection of Luther’s sermons.

The leather binding has very obviously been repaired by hand. Someone carefully tacked thin bands of steel (or tin, I’m uncertain) around the edges, and repaired a split in the spine with an over-and-under stitch in the leather. He (I assume it was a man) took enough pride in his work to affix triangular plates to the front and back covers, with what I assume were his initials embossed in them with a punch.

I imagine him as a farmer, perhaps one who made a side income repairing kettles and coffee pots for his neighbors. Thick, scarred, callused fingers, surprisingly gentle when he worked at delicate jobs. I imagine he was probably a Haugean pietist (my people), because they were the great booklovers among the common Norwegians in those days. This may have been the only book he owned; the great treasure in his home.

Later on I turned to our library inventory project. My assistants did yeoman work with that this year, making far more progress in a few months than I ever expected. Today I finished the books in the main section. Next I’ll hit the reference, which ought to be somewhat easier, since many of the volumes will have been acquisitioned in sequence.

I was at the tail end of the Library of Congress classificatiaon. Ours is a specialized collection, so the books run out rapidly once you’ve finished the “B’s” (the religion section). Today I polished off “R” through “Z” (Science, Medicine, Engineering, Business, many subjects probably entirely unrepresented).

Found an old Dell paperback about UFOs. “Who acquisitioned this?” I wondered. Not even a Christian book on UFOs (I suppose there are such things), but just a common mass market paperback potboiler.

It was an early acquisition. I don’t know who ran the library that far back. Maybe she (I assume it was a she. Could be wrong) had an interest in the subject. Maybe less discretion was employed (or thought necessary) in those days.

And then I thought of the unknown Norwegian who’d repaired the Luther book. What would he have thought of the idea of wondering whether a book was worth having? “Throw a book away?” he’d have thought. “Would you throw away gold and diamonds too?”

Which doesn’t really tell me much, except that times have changed, there has been major Book Inflation, and I’m rich beyond my ancestors’ most covetous dreams.

Lars Walker
lw: Today is Flag Day
For the United States. Just in case you'd forgotten.

Lars Walker
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
PW:Classic into Pulp Fiction
Slate solicitied some artists to compose covers for classics in the garish style of pulp fiction. See the salacious results here. [First seen on Sacred Fems] - phil
PW:CS Lewis, a Writer of Pulp Fiction?
Writer Rod Bennett believes “[C.S.] Lewis was heavily influenced by his many early experiences with ‘trashy’ literature.” He calls him a pulp fiction writer and lays out his case in four posts, quoting from Lewis’ letters where he confesses his enjoyment or exposure to Amazing StoriesAstounding and , both pulp sci-fi rags, and many other works considered “trashy” by critics. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Bennett says. In fact, it was through Narnia that Bennett found interest in Mere Christianity.

Lnks to the series on Bennett's blog: one, two, three, four

If Bennett’s premise raises the eyebrows of any Lewis fans, I think the trouble may be in the words “pulp” and “trashy.” I don’t think Bennett thinks Lewis’ science trilogy is trashy, but influenced by mass market stories of his day which were thought to be trashy by those who claimed to know what good and bad literature should be. But calling Lewis’ stories “pulp” may be the same as calling them “trashy” for some. Pulp fiction is lurid, tantalizing material written for commercial gain or cheap entertainment--nothing of lasting value. Again, I don’t think Bennett is arguing that Narnia and The Space Trilogy are cheap little thrillers, but that may be what comes across in the word “pulp.” - phil

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lw: God and genes

I’ve been kind of surprised that I haven’t read more about this story.

Dr. Francis Collins, the man who headed up the Human Genome Project, which successfully mapped the human genome for the first time in history, says he sees the orderliness of DNA as evidence of the existence of God.

On closer examination I see two reasons why Christians haven’t been shouting about it more. One is that (contrary to my original understanding of the story) Dr. Collins was not converted to belief through this research. He has been a Christian for a long time.

The second reason is that Collins isn’t a Creationist. He sees no problem believing in Christianity and evolution at the same time.

I won’t argue that point. I hope we can agree that it isn’t necessary to be a Creationist to be saved.

I salute Dr. Collins’ courage in going public with his belief. Although I’ve never been a scientist (or even very good at science) I have an idea his stand hasn’t made him many friends in his profession.

A lot of people are honestly puzzled over the Christian insistence on reconciling our beliefs with scientific fact. “You’ve got science, and you’ve got faith,” they say. “They’re two different things. What does one have to do with the other?”

For some religions (perhaps most, if you count each religion, rather than going by comparative membership statistics) it wouldn’t be a problem. They do, as suggested, separate the physical and the spiritual into two distinct, water-tight compartments. Hindus and Buddhists have no problem there, nor did the ancient Greeks.

But Christianity is different. We have these venerable creeds that proclaim that God “became Man” in Jesus Christ, “was crucified, died, and was buried,” and “rose again on the third day.” The center of our religion has never been Christ’s moral teaching (which was 99% unoriginal, as all true moral systems are), nor in supernatural visions or ecstasies. The center is the belief that God became Man, died, and rose again. In history. In an identifiable place at a (substantially) identifiable date. Christians proclaim that God came into space and time, in a physical body.

Orthodox Christianity permits no disconnect between the physical and the spiritual. The two realms are separate, but they have commerce with one another.

“Be reasonable. Separate them and give it a rest,” the secularist would say. “We’ll all be happier.”

Which translates to, “We’ll divide Reality into two realms. The first realm will be called Fact, and will contain everything that really exists. The second realm will contain everything else. We’ll call that Faith, and you can have it.”

There are two problems with that.

One is that it would be heresy.

The other is that if the early church had embraced it, modern science would never have been invented.

Lars Walker
PW:How Much Is That Cat on the TV?
From Reuters--"Ten cats in search of owners will spend the next 10 days in a New York store window, their every move caught on camera for a reality TV show on which they will compete for best sleeper and mouse-catcher."

Would you buy that for a dollar? - phil
Monday, June 12, 2006
PW: Another Popular Book Award
That great little online bookseller, BookBrowse, has announced their annual readers' choice awards. The site reports: "In April 2006, BookBrowse's subscribers rated their favorite books of 2005. 942 respondents cast a total of 5,631 votes." The three winners, based on a weighted point system, are:
Most Popular Book: The Closers by Michael Connelly

Most Popular Debut: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

Most Popular Category Winner: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Votes for these awards were cast on the list of favorite books from 2005, which includes Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down, Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of The Mind, Harlan Coben's The Innocent, and Sue Monk Kidd's The Mermaid Chair. - phil

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PW:Bambi Movie Untrue to Book
I suppose if you suspected Walt Disney or his team did not write the Bambi story on their own, you would also suspect they didn't hold true to the original tale. That is Disney's reputation. David Rakoff has looked into that tale, written by Felix Salten in 1923:
Salten's writing has not a trace of anthropomorphized cuteness. Bambi's forest is peopled (creatured?) with characters by turns arrogant, venal, gossipy, and engaging—as flawed and varied as the cosmopolitan fauna Salten must have encountered daily in his life in Vienna.
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lw: Kellerman on the human mind

Just finished Jonathan Kellerman’s Over the Edge. The story involves the investigation of a serial killer who targets homosexual prostitutes. I was preparing myself for some preaching about “gay” issues, but was pleasantly surprised.

I was even more pleasantly surprised by the following passage. Here the hero, Dr. Alex Delaware, is talking to a young female student, Jen, one of whose schoolmates has been arrested for the murders. They are discussing the suspect’s apparent psychosis, and the question of whether it might have been induced somehow by a personal enemy.

Jennifer drew her serape around her and talked animatedly.

“At first I approached the issue from a purely cognitive perspective. Could you scramble someone’s mind using purely psychological techniques?”


“Yes, but relentlessly—to the point of severe psychosis. Like what Charles Boyer tried to do to Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight. But that’s movie stuff. In real life it wouldn’t work; stress by itself isn’t enough. I mean, think about the greatest stress a person could go through—the Nazi concentration camps, right?” Her lids lowered and closed for a moment. “My dad spent his adolescence in Auschwitz, and lots of his friends are survivors. I’ve talked to them about it. The trauma affected them for life—anxieties, depression, physical problems—but none of them actually went crazy. Daddy verifies that. The only people he remembers exhibiting psychotic symptoms were those who were psychotic when they entered the camp. Does that square with the data?”

“Yes. And with clinical experience. Over the years I’ve seen thousands of children and families under incredible stress, and I can’t recall a single instance of stress-induced psychosis. Human beings are remarkably resilient.”

She considered that, then said:

“And yet it’s pretty easy to elicit psychoticlike behavior in rats and monkeys with stress. Dr. Gaylord’s shown that. Electrify the floors of their cages, prevent escape, shock them at random intervals, and they just curl up, defecate, and withdraw. Do it long enough, and they never recover.” She stopped and thought for a moment. “Human beings are a lot more complex, aren’t they? As organisms.”

“Yes.” I smiled. “As organisms.”

Lars Walker

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Saturday, June 10, 2006
lw: Wireless again
I know many of you were losing sleep over my wireless router problems, so I'm happy to report that I'm back online, offwire.

Picked up two Andrew Klavans (found them in the horror section at the second hand bookstore) and two Jonathan Kellermans the other day. To my surprise, I found myself compelled to read the Kellermans first, though I like Klavan better.

The only explanation I can find is that I have an unhealthy compulsion to read about insanity and psychological disorders.

Can't imagine why.

Lars Walker
Friday, June 09, 2006
PW:GodBlogCon 2006
Last year's convention of Christian bloggers sounded like a good time, so I would expect this one to follow suit.

Should be a good time for photos.

Learn more at the GodBlog Conference site.
PW:Literary Contest; $500 worth of prizes
Buy a Friend a Book has coordinated an interesting contest for the start of July. The procedure for entry: solve six puzzles to be revealed on the first six days of July, then use the solutions to answer a question. Three correct submissions will be randomnly selected to win a load of books and a few related literary things. Read some of the details at MetaxuCafe; follow the links for the rest. - phil
lw: Haunted
In spite of my manly reticence on the subject, some of you may have guessed that I'm a big fan of the Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjebø.

I recently picked up her second-to-latest album, "Nordisk Vinternatt" (Nordic Winter Night). As far as I can tell, nobody's selling it in this country (although they're selling the companion album, "Into Paradise," which has an almost identical cover, for maximum confusion). So I have to link to a Norwegian seller from whom none of you will order, rendering this entire post irrelevant.

But I've got to tell you. This album haunts me. It's not my favorite of her albums (at least not yet), but it seems as if every song on the thing embodies that haunting "Northernness" (as in C.S. Lewis' Surprised By Joy) that so delights me in the music of Edvard Grieg. I've got these songs with me as "earworms" all day long. And I don't mind at all.

Had to get that off my chest.

Lars Walker
Thursday, June 08, 2006
PW:Unplain English
King Wenclas criticizes a book review that is difficult to understand. - phil
lw: My reasoned, compassionate response to the death of Zarqawi
"I will sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name."

(Exodus 15:1-3, NIV)

Children will live to be adults because this wicked man is dead. I'm flying my flag today.

Lars Walker
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
PW:Alternative Best Fiction List
Beth Quittman has tallied the results of her blogger poll of best fiction: "The work that received the most votes as the best work of American fiction in the past 25 years is The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster." Leif Enger's Peace Like a River came in second. - phil

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PW:Literary Awards
Ian McEwan's novel Saturday wins the James Tait Black Memorial prize. Judges are calling it a "tour de force of skilful writing." The award is the oldest literary honor in the United Kingdom, started in 1919.

Zadie Smith's novel On Beauty succeeds in taking the Orange prize for fiction by women. Her competition was stiff, according to the report.

The Crime Writers’ Association will hand out Dagger awards next Monday in London.

The Christy Awards for Christian fiction will be announced July 8 in Denver, CO. (corrected date)
PW:Lit Magazines/Journals
This Saturday in New York City, editors and fans of several literature magazines will congregate for readings and drinks. It's the Legion of Lit Mags.

But in case that isn't your thing, The Emerging Writers Network has an ongoing offer on literary journal subscriptions. If you subscribe to at least three magazines, you pay for one subscription less than you receive. - phil

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PW:Field-Tested Books
Author James Finn Garner says, "Summer reading should be, by definition, that which Fall-Winter-Spring reading is not. . . . I set aside Summer to enjoy the things no one is talking about. At my family cottage I have a personal rule to read only books more than 50 years old. In this way, modern novelists and their narcissistic obsessions get the heave-ho . . ."

That's how he begins his report on reading a collection of Damon Runyon stories. Garner is one of many contributors to Field-Tested Books from Coudal Partners. By coincidence, I was reading some of Garner's Politically Correct Bedtime Stories this week--funny stuff.

I learned of these experience reports from Laura Demanski (Our Girl in Chicago) who reports on a series of mysteries chosen by the family for her vacation reading. They made her an offer what she could not refuse, if youse know what I mean. - phil

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lw: Short rant
Hot day today, mostly clear skies. I mowed my lawn this evening, to forestall that inevitable moment when my neighbors surround my house in a mob, waving pitchforks and torches, shouting "The horror ends here!"

I wore jeans as I mowed. Long jeans.

I know that appalls and offends many of you. I'm well aware that in today's America, shorts are considered acceptable (even obligatory) wear from Easter to Memorial Day, in all venues public and private, and especially when you're doing anything remotely like work.

As in so many questions of dress, I'm a social rebel about this shorts mania. I fly my freak flag in the form of long pants, at all times when not in the privacy of my home.

I've always hated shorts. I think it had something to do with my dysfunctional home. I was expected to act like a grownup from the age of eight, and I figured that gave me the right to dress like a grownup too. And in my mind, shorts have always been kids' clothes.

Maybe it's a perceptional thing too. I seem to respond more sensitively than most people to that murderous, mindless force known as Nature. I feel biting cold while other people are still feeling "brisk." The ruffle of the breeze through my leg hair does not soothe or refresh me. It irritates me. I'd rather have my legs cased in good, American denim (made in Guatemala).

(Actually I'd rather have my whole body cased in my house most of the time, but that's not an option.)

And don't even get me started on people who wear shorts to church.

That is my pronouncement.

You know what to do with it.

("What? Oh, down the hall and to the right.")

Lars Walker
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
PW:Norman Rockwell Tried to Tell Us Something
Speaking of secret knowledge, a short documentary exposes a secret society, which included Sir Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare, Jules Verne, and Norman Rockwell, dedicated to preserving a bloodline and protecting the innocent. Learn the truth of The Norman Rockwell Code. - phil
lw: The numbness of the Beast
When I was traveling with the musical group to which I referred in my "Big Snake" story, we met a fascinating young Baptist pastor. He'd been involved with the hippie movement in California, had been mixed up with Wiccans, and had all kinds of fascinating, spooky stories to tell (in fact he was one of the inspirations for the character of Rory Bohannan in Wolf Time).

With time and experience I've come to remember the man with a certain skepticism. But there's one thing he told us that I've never forgotten.

"Talk to anybody about the occult," he said, "and they'll almost always respond the same way. They'll say, 'I don't believe in it. Tell me about it.'"

It's that dark fascination, that sexiness, that seems to me the most important thing to remember when we think about the supernatural, particularly the demonic. And I suspect that the fascination with the number 666 and the Antichrist is not something that's doing Christianity much good, bottom line.

People like to discover secrets and solve puzzles. They're fascinated by Hidden Knowledge (that was one of the great drawing points of the Gnostics). When Christians diagram elaborate predictions about the End Times, claiming to know when the world will end, or who the Antichrist will be, I believe they're trading in occult sex-appeal at the expense of obeying the Lord's direct commands.

He says (quite clearly, I think), in Matthew 24:36-39 (NIV):
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.... they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."
And in the same chapter, verses 45-46:
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns."
You'll note that the faithful servant is not praised for knowing when to expect his Master. He's praised for being at work.

The whole point, it seems to me, is that the servant isn't watching the clock (that seldom goes over well with employers). He's engaged in his job. The warning of an unexpected return isn't a challenge to figure out the schedule, it's a warning to work every day as if it were the last one.

In other words, a lot of Christians have missed the point of Jesus' warning entirely.

There's a cheesy bumper sticker that says, "Jesus is coming soon. Look busy."

Not a great attitude.

But there are worse ones.

Lars Walker
PW:Plain English
Roy Jacobsen asks, "Why don't people write in plain English?" He offers a few reasons.

In my experience, the worst offenders seem to be covering up the fact they have little to say. You can't write a few paragraphs without saying anything unless you use convoluted language. - phil
PW: Christian Fiction
Kevin Holtsberry is wading into more fiction from the Christian Booksellers Association with a year old network called Christian Fiction Blog Tours. He has reviewed his first novel from the network, The Hidden by Kathryn Mackel. Kevin has written a thorough review as usual and enjoyed it, praising the author for being a good storyteller.

Also in the vein of Christian Fiction, editor Terry Whalin blogs about the book The Making of a Christian Bestseller, which he thinks is mistitled but a great book. His first post addresses the title problem. His second post praises specific points inside the book, including insight from editors who rarely comment in print. [by way of Active Christian Media] - phil
Monday, June 05, 2006
lw: Chasing the Rodeo, by W. K. Stratton

I mentioned Chasing the Rodeo a while back. It was recommended to me by frequent BwB commenter Aitchmark, who’s a friend of the author’s (he’s mentioned in the acknowledgments). I put my money where my mouth was and procured a copy of my own.

It’s a good book. I can’t imagine a better introduction for someone interested in the historical and cultural phenomenon that is Rodeo in America (unless you can find something with pictures. Pictures would have been nice).

But I have to say that it didn’t contribute much to my personal happiness.

It’s a sad book. For two reasons, I think.

First of all, it’s an elegiac book. It’s about the present, but the present is seen in the light of things past and gone forever. We see the today’s professional rodeo, with its glitzy, heavily merchandized, sponsor-heavy championships (not to mention the new extreme sport promoted by the Professional Bull Riders Association, where there’s only one competition and some of the riders wear helmets and Nikes). Stratton compares it to the old days, when there was a lot less money but the riders were by thunder cowboys, not “athletes” from the suburbs. The last rodeo Stratton visits in the book is a small town one, and he feels that the true spirit lives on there. But it’s a very small town, in a very remote location. I can’t say the future looks bright, judging from what I read.

The thread that really ties the book together is a personal one, also sad. Twined among the contemporary reporting and historical information is the story of Stratton’s own search for his natural father, “Cowboy Don” Stratton, a “rodeo bum” who abandoned his mother and never met his own son. Inevitably a romantic figure in Stratton’s boyhood imagination, the evidence Stratton uncovers reveals him to have been a man of little substance, either as a person or as a cowboy. But that doesn’t make the loss easier to bear.

The second sad thing about Chasing the Rodeo is Stratton’s own apparent ambivalence about the story he’s telling, the people he’s describing. This paragraph from Chapter 4 epitomized it for me:

My college reading lists included works by Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin, N. Scott Momaday and Leslie Silko. I’d consume those books and admire their ethnicity. These writers had cultures to write about. As for me, I was just a white-bread American, generic as all get-out. But now I am thinking that I was the product of a culture, a culture that was far removed from Ward and June and the Brady kids, though it was hard for me to see it at the time. Kicker culture.

“Kicker,” of course, is short for a scatological term that wouldn’t be appropriate on this blog. I understand what Stratton’s saying, I think. I can empathize too.

I grew up in the country, not in the West among ranches, but in the Midwest on a farm. I lived with dirt and animal manure and straw dust and hayseed, and I wanted nothing more than to get away from it. Not because I despised the people I lived among. They were good people—good as any and better (I think) than most. But because there was nothing for me there. The town library had a few hundred books in it, and living on a farm I didn’t have access to them anyway. I’d never been in a bookstore in my life. There was all kinds of stuff I wanted to learn that I just didn’t have access to in Goodhue County, Minnesota.

And when you want to sell yourself as a writer, small town origins aren’t much of a recommendation. You can’t help envying the people who grew up in Manhattan. They’ve got instant credibility (paradoxically because they come from a place less famed for honesty).

And here, it seems to me, Stratton tries too hard. In attempting to validate his “Kicker” culture, he tells story after story about the diversity of Rodeo—it’s Mexican origins, its Native American connections, the Hawaiian cowboys who won the Steer Roping championship in 1908, and (of course) Bill Pickett, the great black cowboy who invented bulldogging. “We’ve got diversity too!” he seems to be shouting. “We’re not just a bunch of rednecks!”

He needn’t have bothered. The intellectuals he’s trying to impress rejected his book anyway. There’s only one group left in this country that it’s still OK to despise, and it’s going to take more than one book to persuade Our Betters to give up that pleasure.

If he really wanted respect, he should have written about the Gay Rodeo (there is such a thing).

The day will come, no doubt, when Kicker culture will be appreciated and honored.

But that will be after the last Kicker is safely in his grave.

Lars Walker

Sunday, June 04, 2006
PW:Another Word from You and I'll . . .
"[Your] brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage."

In case you need some choice words for the start of your week, let me point you to the
Shakespearean Insulter.
I cannot be held responsible for what you do with it.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
PW:Like a Hawthorne Romance
I have been offer the opportunity to review a first novel, New Light, which I note has already been reviewed over here. The story looks interesting. I hope to get to it this summer. I bring it up now because reviewer Tim Gebhart says he is confused by the book being described as a Hawthorne-style romance. In case you are also in the dark on this, let me pull out the dictionary:
A tale in prose or verse the incidents of which are hung upon what is marvellous and fictitious. These tales were originally written in the Romance language, and the expression, "In Romance we read," came in time to refer to the tale, and not to the language in which it was told.
So New Light appears to be a magical story, though not in the exact vein as contemporary fantasy, so it is labeled a romance. I look forward to it. - phil
PW: Happy 10 Year Anniversary to
Abebooks, a worldwide new and used bookselling network, is celebrating 10 years of online excellence with a contest and a campaign of non-books, that is books which don't exist because (cue the jingle) if you can't find it at Abebooks, it doesn't exist. Send a postcard with an example of a Not Book such as Whoops. I Was Wrong, by President G. W. Bush. That joke is a liberal favorite, isn't it? I'm looking for News and Other Fantasies, by the editors of the N.Y. Times. - phil
Friday, June 02, 2006
lw: Big snake story

I’ve had another of my insight-free days, so I’m reduced to dipping into my rapidly diminishing stock of “interesting” stories from my past. That’s a little like fishing for potato chip pieces smaller than a fingernail in the bottom of the bag. My life hasn’t been all that eventful.

It was long before many of you children were born—1970 or ’71, I think, which would mean I was twenty or twenty-one years old (it’s handy for a mathematically challenged guy like me to be born in a round year like 1950).

I’d spent the previous year traveling with the musical group I belonged to back then, doing concerts and youth ministry in Lutheran churches, mostly in the Midwest. There were five of us guys, and four of us decided to rent half a double bungalow in South Minneapolis together (the odd man out had just gotten married). I had one year of college left to go, and was taking a further year out to work and save up for that final year’s tuition.

It was a one-bathroom place, but we’d rigged a shower in a corner of the basement. My friend Joel used to get up early in the morning to use that shower before heading off to work.

One winter morning I was awakened by a commotion. The other guys were out in the kitchen, talking. When it showed no sign of dying down, I got up and went to see what was the matter.

Joel told me he’d found a five-foot snake in the basement shower.

“I thought it was a practical joke at first,” he said. “I thought somebody’d put a rubber snake down there to scare me. But then it moved.”

Very cautiously I went down the stairs and took a look.

Sure enough, there was a big snake curled in the corner of the shower.

Joel called the Humane Society, but couldn’t get anybody to pay attention. They assumed, apparently, that he was playing a prank.

So he called WCCO Radio. Back in those days, WCCO was the effective public square for the Twin Cities and quite a few surrounding counties. It featured a lot of non-political talk, as well as middle-of-the-road music (a format that no longer exists. I miss it).

The announcers, hungry for interesting local stories on a slow news morning, mentioned our snake a few minutes later. Within another few minutes we got a call back from the Humane Society, and within the hour a volunteer was out with a specialized device, to catch it and take it away in a burlap sack.

“It’s a boa constrictor,” he told us. “Probably somebody’s pet.”

Joel, in order to be at work on time, took a taxi downtown soon thereafter. The driver asked him if he’d heard the snake story. He told him he was the guy who found it, but the driver didn’t believe him.

Our story was in the paper and on the TV news that evening. We were famous for one day.

The snake’s owner, a former resident of our house, even contacted the humane society and was joyfully reunited with his pet, whose name (we were informed) was George. He'd lost him roughly six months before. George, apparently, had been living in our walls all the time since then.

I have pictures.

I want to say the snake was six feet long, but I recognize the human impulse to exaggerate these things, so I’ll stick with five feet.

Five and a half, at most.

I thought then, and think now, that that’s all the snake anyone strictly needs.

Lars Walker

Thursday, June 01, 2006
lw: Flesh and Blood and Therapy by Jonathan Kellerman

I think it was somebody over at National Review Online who listed Jonathan Kellerman as a thriller writer that conservatives can enjoy. I gave him a try, and am happy to report that I’ve greatly enjoyed the two Kellermans I’ve read to date.

These books were both part of the Alex Delaware mystery series. Alex is a Los Angeles psychologist who consults with the police department. His friendship with Detective Milo Sturgis (of whom more below) serves to get him involved in more cases than would otherwise seem believable.

Flesh and Blood centers on the murder of a young woman, a former prostitute, who was a patient of Alex’s as a young girl. He only had a couple sessions with her, and the end of the therapy was not his choice. Still, he can’t shake the guilty feeling that if he’d handled things better with her she wouldn’t have ended up on the path that led to her violent death. Further investigation and the connecting of dots lead Alex to suspect that a serial killer is at work. The trail leads into the world of pornography (both the “classy” and vulgar sorts), and there is considerable scope for examining the toll that the flesh trade takes on people’s lives.

Therapy, a later novel, concerns the murder of a young couple who appear to have been making out in a car in an upscale L.A. neighborhood. The male victim is quickly identified as the son of a prosperous family. The female remains unknown for the bulk of the story. The investigation stretches to the door of an extremely uncooperative celebrity psychologist, and in the end to an international organization whose culpability will certainly delight the heart of every conservative reader.

I don’t know if Kellerman would call himself a conservative, but he is certainly no doctrinaire liberal. His openmindedness allows him to treat his characters more evenhandedly than many contemporary authors do. It’s a great relief to see something other than “the usual suspects” trotted out when it comes to villains. And even the villains are treated with understanding, as genuine human beings, not just types.

Christians in the books are handled better than I’m accustomed to. Therapy features three characters identified as born-again Christians. One is a young detective who seems to be smart, honest and hard-working, if a little straitlaced. The other two are a couple who briefly come under suspicion. They are open about their faith, but also not embarrassed to say they’re living together outside marriage. Kellerman either doesn’t understand that taboo in our community, or understands too well that that our practice doesn’t always match our principles.

A problematic element (for me) is Alex’s cop friend, Milo Sturgis. Sturgis is openly homosexual, although it’s hard to imagine a less stereotypical “gay.” Milo is big and ugly. He dresses badly, and his opinions, social and political, don’t appear to be such as would be applauded by gay activists. He’s pretty much like any cop, except that he has a boyfriend.

Which is, no doubt, the point.

With many other authors, I’d be suspicious that they were trying to change my mind by inserting a character like that. But Kellerman has won my trust, at least for now. I’ve got a couple more of his books, and I look forward very much to reading them.


Lars Walker

PW:Recent Reviews and Book Points
One of things I don't like about Blogger is its lack of "Recent Posts" or "Top Posts" in the sidebar. I plan to update the template with a "Top Posts" section sometime soon, so that will take care of one of them. In lue of a sidebar item and in case you missed them, let me point out some book reviews or author posts we've done:
  1. The Da Vinci Code Breaker, by James Garlow
  2. The C.S. Lewis Chronicles, By Colin Duriez
  3. Good exposition on Gnosticism
  4. On Andrew Klavan
  5. On Mary Demuth
  6. Dark the Night, Wild the Sea by Robert McAfee Brown
  7. Broken Prey, by John Sandford
  8. The Witness by Dee Henderson
  9. The Empty Copper Sea, by John D. MacDonald
  10. Who Can You Trust? By Howard E. Butt, Jr.
  11. The Immortal by Angela Elwell Hunt
  12. River Rising by Athol Dickson
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