Brandywine Books
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
PW:Why Buy a Bestseller?
A post by Bud Parr, "The Culture of Impatience And The Real Market," makes me wonder why we find popularity appealing in a book (any artwork or entertainment I suppose). Does a story seem more interesting to you after you learn thousands of others--faceless, nameless readers--bought it and, by inference, liked it?

I think it lends credibility to it for me. For instance, The Kite Runner and The Time Traveler's Wife have been on bestseller lists for a long time. When I notice them again, I think they must be halfway decent, maybe even good. I want to read them sometime, and since I'm a slow reader and buyer, sometime takes a while.

But The Da Vinci Code is working against this feeling. The more I'm exposed to it, the more I dislike it, so when I see it again on a bestseller list, I am reminded that even lousy books sell big if they push the right buttons. This cooperates with my growing distrust of bestseller lists in general, and at the end of the day, I go to sleep unimpressed by any title I saw on any list.

And yet--great books will sell, won't they? Quick readers will rejoice over a new, wonderful novel and tell their friends who may buy it soon and influence someone's list, and thus Gilead sold 345, 000 or so last year. Word of mouth is how books are sold, right? Maybe bestseller lists are the faceless equivalent of hand selling or personal recommendation. Attention: This week, hundreds of readers like you bought Mama's Gravy Is Too White, by Amos Picklebeer. It may be the one you are looking for. Give it a try for 10% off. - phil

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PW:Fatherhood and The Buddha
I listened to couple podcasts today, one from Chronicle Books. Professionally nice, funny, dealing with the protocol for vomiting on the rollercoaster and details of a travel guide to the no-doubt lush paradise of Phaic Tan. While browsing the Chronicle Books site, I found a book on fatherhood called, Crouching Father, Hidden Toddler.
Experienced dad and aspiring guru C.W. Nevius expounds on the ancient concept of wu wei (i.e., going with the flow) as well as some handy tips picked up from kung fu movies. An array of short essays ponder on such koans as what is the sound of one child napping?
Deep. What is the sound of one child napping? I feel peace washing over me simply as I'm trying to remember it. - phil

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lw: Even more than chocolate?
I forgot to mention the weirdest thing of all about my Live Steel Weekend. I forgot to eat.

I'd be sitting in the camp in the evening, after the festival visitors had dispersed, and I'd realize "I haven't had a meal today."

The Skjaldborg guys said it's common for them to forget to eat.

That's something that's never happened to me before. I'm not one of those people who forget food. Ever.

We're talking about deep, murky waters of psychology here. You already know I'm not normal. And I'm well aware that my delight in swordplay admits of numerous embarrassing Freudian explanations.

Personally, I think Freud suffered from Sword Envy.

Lars Walker
PW: I Think I'll Name My Next Child Damien
Kim Riddlebarger, senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, says, "Let the 6/6/06 Madness Begin!" His new book, Man of Sin, which deals with the biblical statements on the Antichrist, is now available. Looks like a great book. There's certainly a need for clarity on this subject. - phil
PW:Austen, Austen, Everywhere in the UK
Jane Austen's Persuasion is raining from the skies in Portsmouth, England, and the Hampshire County Council loves it. "Richard Ward, the head of libraries, said: 'This is a simple, but brilliant idea and hopefully will get people reading and encourage people into our libraries.'" - phil

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006
PW:Dan Brown
John Zmirak reports on a conversation:
But Ted didn’t rise to the bait. He just shook his head. “Dan Brown’s not anti-Christian. He’s not anti-anything. I doubt he’s pro-anything, either, except pro-Dan Brown. That book has as much of an agenda as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hockey. Dan Brown doesn’t have enough conviction to make a decent agnostic. . . . But he wanted to be a novelist. He kept pestering me about it, so finally I gave him this paperback, Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman. It’s a paint-by-numbers guide on how to write a page-turner.
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PW:Vote for the Great American Novel
Power Line has picked a fight over the greatest American novel. Many have chosen to jump on Steinbeck.

But you, yes, you can vote every 24 hours here in the sidebar poll. Will you choose The Sound and the Fury? My Antonia? To Kill a Mockingbird? Let me know. I choose Moby Dick, but seriously, I don't know nothing about voting for no novels. [by way of Books, Inq] - phil
lw: Living by the sword

I’m back, undamaged and in better spirits than previously. The improvement in my morale can probably be best explained by linking to some pictures of the event I attended, already posted on the Viking Age Club website by the ever-resourceful “Jarl” Eric Anderson.

Here’s a picture of John Chadwell, leader of the Skjaldborg live steel combat group, giving us preliminary instructions. I can be seen in the background, looking swashbuckling in a red garment known as a “gambeson.” The gambeson is a padded shirt you wear under your mail. Mail by itself (as often seen in movies) is a very bad protection, almost worse than no armor at all.

Here’s a picture of three fearsome Vikings preparing for battle in a shield-wall. I’m the one on the right. The shield wall was the primary Viking battle formation. They would attack in tight order, with shields locked like this. Then both sides would hack at one another until one wall broke, at which point the side with its wall intact would have all the momentum.

Here’s a view of a shield wall (different personnel, though I’m still anchoring the left end) advancing on the enemy. Every man is banging his weapon on his shield to intimidate the other side (which is doing precisely the same thing).

And finally, here is the picture I want to be remembered by when I’m dead.

You’ll note that I look as if I’m enjoying myself. That’s because I am.

(What’s really weird is that that picture is, in all its essentials, just like the pictures of Viking battles I used to draw, my paper hidden behind my books, during classroom lectures in junior high and high school. I feel like a drug user going psychotic. My imagination seems to be becoming my reality.)

The weekend as a whole was a mixed experience. It’s about a six hour drive to Elk Horn, Iowa, which is closer to Omaha than to Des Moines. One of the guys in the club brought an extra tent along, the personal tent of one of our founders, for my use. It was something of an honor to be entrusted with it. The weather forecast called for hot and sunny weather. I’m not a lover of sleeping in tents, but I figured the lack of rain would help.

On Friday night we were hit with a powerful thunderstorm that took out power in the town, smashed down a large section of a nearby tree, and blew in through the tent flaps and dripped from the ridge pole, forcing me to get up several times to try to reconfigure my stuff to keep them in what seemed to be dry places.

Not that that interfered with my sleep. I wasn’t sleeping in the first place. I didn’t even sleep the second night, when I was exhausted and it didn’t rain.

The second challenge was male companionship. I’ve always been nervous with other guys (I’m even more nervous with women, but for different reasons). My unfailing policy in male groups is to bring out the self-deprecating humor from the start, as a verbal substitute for the behavior of the low-ranking wolf who presents his undefended throat to the alpha male: “Hi! My name is Poindexter, and I’m no threat at all to you!”

When the evenings grew dark, and the drinking got serious, and the conversation around the campfire grew more… shall we say, unvarnished, I would retire to my tent. Where I would try to sleep and fail.

But the fighting. Oh, the fighting.

First we did minimal drilling in one-on-one attack and defense methods. I still don’t feel I’ve got those down completely, but I’ve made a start.

“Live steel” combat is essentially fighting theater, kind of like professional wrestling except that the element of genuine competition remains. The mayhem is (mostly) simulated, but you don’t know who the winner will be beforehand. Part of the training is learning how to attack and defend, but a lot of it is learning how to do it safely. Many useful and potentially successful moves are prohibited because they’re just too dangerous. Our weapons, naturally, are blunted.

The great fun was the battles (seven warriors in all were present, so we had a wall of three against a wall of four). I “killed” Gary, the most fearsome Viking in our group (a decorated Vietnam Special Forces veteran) in the first battle. I suspect I succeeded because it never occurred to him to worry about me.

I “killed” two guys, I think, in the course of the fighting, and ended two or three battles still standing. I learned that I’m basically a defensive warrior, not bad at keeping alive but less aggressive than one might wish. Which surprises no one.

It felt great. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time. I’m grateful to everybody who twisted my arm to get me to go down there, and I look forward to working out my frustrations this way frequently in the future.

Gotta go now. I need to stare at that picture some more.

Lars Walker

Also from the NY Times article on literary fiction, Jonathan Galassi, the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, states the bottom quarter of a publisher's list is "where much of the best writing is, the work of the odd, uncooperative, intractable, pigheaded authors who insist on seeing and saying things their own way and change the game in the process. The 'system' can only recognize what it's already cycled through. What's truly new is usually indigestible at first."

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PW:Publishing the Literary Stuff
What does it take to sell literary fiction? This NY Times articles reports the system from publishing house to bookseller is "impatient."
In a market dominated by the big chain stores, if a novel doesn't sell a healthy number of copies in the first two weeks after its publication, its chances of gaining longer-term momentum are slim.

"In the post-9/11 world, we've found it has, until very recently anyway, been more difficult than previously to get the common reader to take a chance on new writers," said Jonathan Galassi, the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which publishes Jonathan Franzen and Nadine Gordimer, as well as Marilynne Robinson. "The pressures on literary books are growing, as an ever smaller number of books continues to sell more and more broadly."
I'm not a good test case for the market, because I'm a slow reader which contributes to being a slow buyer; but with books and movies I like, I don't want to run out at get them. Rarely do I feel strongly about a book or movie that I want to buy it soon after its release; I almost never act on that feeling. So booksellers are not serving me by demanding fast sellers, which is another reason I must rely on blogs for my literary understanding. [by way of Arts Journal again] - phil

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Monday, May 29, 2006
PW:Those Cartoons Again
The June issue of Harper's Magazine reprints those inflammatory cartoons again with a few related one, and Canada's biggest bookseller pulls the issue from its racks. For a bit of context, The Globe and Mail newspaper reports that the founder and CEO of this bookseller pulled Mein Kampf off the shelves, calling it "hate literature." [by way of Arts Journal] - phil
PW:I Am Fierce; Hear Me Squeek!
Somedays, I feel like this Siberian Tiger. I'm sure he's wise beyond his years and has something very important to shout about. [alternate link] - phil
PW: Dada Da Duh
Dadaism was a nihilistic movement from the early 20th Century. “The literary manifestations of Dada were mostly nonsense poems—meaningless random combinations of words—which were read in public,” according to the Columbia Encyclopedia.

In honor of this foolishness, I submit this poem culled from the blogosphere. My methods were to choose the second word from the first entry on a blog found by clicking the eighth link in the blogroll of the preceding blog. I began with this blog. If I ran into a blog twice, I chose the sixteenth link in the blogroll. If a blog won’t load, I clicked randomly. After a bit, I changed my methods entirely (Why do some blog have not blogrolls?)

This bosses the suggests think Geographic
Washington dogg eu em gasolina
Companhia many book towards Down
Weman probably its USS Neverdock
To haven’t you're difference am curriculum

Inspiring, no?

Perhaps a blog mutation of Dadaist poetry is random linkage. Let me run with that thought a bit. I just searched for a good quote from Bertie Wooster and found this instead. One thing lead to another . . .
PW:Have a Happy, Happy Day
On this holiday weekend with the summer approaching and daily schedules potentially changing, Sherry offers a list of 100 happy, double plus good things to do. In case I sound too silly to be serious, get out the list. It has many great ideas. I know my girls would so enjoy building fairy houses they would do it inside and outside for a year.

Another time-filler I've enjoyed on occasion is Dadaist poetry. I don' t think poem will resemble you at all, but it can be fun to see the hints of meaning in random words. I'll post an example in a few minutes. - phil
PW: The Da Vinci Code Breaker, by James Garlow
Even though I am predisposed to dislike The Da Vinci Code, reading James Garlow’s The Da Vinci Code Breaker has given me many more reasons. The book is an easy dictionary for names, places, and terms referenced in or related to Dan Brown’s novel. Though it appears to be written for the reader who is already familiar with the novel, I haven’t read it yet and didn’t find The Code Breaker less easy to understand.

I do have a copy the novel, because a colleague who enjoyed it pushed it my way. I’m not sure I will be able to handle working my way through it. After reading just the opening pages, I heard myself asking why would a professional assassin decide to shoot his victim in the stomach and the head instead of the head alone. It was his decision to make, the victim pinned to the floor in front of him, and he thinks he should use two bullets to kill him instead of one. Then the narrative makes a big deal about the evils of dying from a stomach shot.

James Garlow is more impressed with Brown’s writing, saying “his novelist skills are strong.” On Brown himself, Garlow says he seems “extremely bright.” But Brown attempts to pass off historical hoaxes and poor research as fact and many readers have believed him.

From the history recorded in The Code Breaker, I think Brown’s infamous “fact” page should read:
The Priory of Sion is a hoax imagined by French fascist Pierre Plantard in the mid-1950s. Plantard fabricated documents, Les Dossiers Secrets, and hid them within the Paris National Library, attempting to establish the fiction of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene and their bloodline which led to Plantard being in the family. Plantard admitted under oath that he created the Priory of Sion, but I, Dan Brown, think it’s a cool idea, so I am running with it in this novel.

Opus Dei is a lay-oriented Catholic organization founded by Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer in 1928. It has 80,000 members around the world, and the founder wrote a book with some freaky statements in it (I think Roman Catholics are all flakes anyway), I’m making them the bad guys in this novel. Get a load of their expensive new headquarters in New York City.

I have not read Holy Blood, Holy Grail in preparation for this work, and I do not acknowledge a book by such a title exists. I think it's a hoax.
Garlow says that hosts asked him during interviews for his preceding book, Cracking Da Vinci’s Code co-authored with Peter Jones, why he was attacking a work of fiction. The reason is Brown claims that only the story is fiction. All the historic details, he says, are true. Garlow says the average reader can’t tell the fiction from the fact, which I can understand completely because so many tiny details are untrue.
  1. Do you know who founded Paris? A Gallic tribe called Parisi. Brown gets that wrong.
  2. Do you know how many glass panes are in Le Louvre Pyramide? It isn’t 666. The museum reports 673.
  3. Brown describes La Pyramide Inversée as having a tip “suspended only six feet above the floor”; below it is “a miniature pyramid, only three feet tall.” The tips of these two structures are “almost touching.” Doesn’t a yard’s distance seems a little far for “almost touching”?
  4. That miniature pyramid is described as coming “up through the floor,” but a close observer can see that it actually sits on the floor and can be moved aside for sweepers.
  5. Leonardo Da Vinci did not name his famous painting Mona Lisa, so he wasn’t sending a message through the title. Brown says L’isa is an alternative name for Isis. The Code Breaker states that it isn’t. The English name Mona Lisa was given to the painting by a Da Vinci biographer many years after the artist’s death.
  6. Leonardo made notes while painting The Last Supper in which he refers to the figure at Jesus’ right hand as a man, clearly from the artist’s context to be the Apostle John, not Mary Magdalene.
Details like these wouldn’t make up the text of many books if Brown hadn’t boasted his accuracy at the start of his novel and in interviews afterward. I don’t doubt he believes the hoax and that he thought he got many minor details right; but The Da Vinci Code and his other novels suffer, at least a little bit, from careless research.

But The Code Breaker reveals more disturbing errors or hoaxes which many people will assume to be true. Why make up stuff like this?

  1. The Vatican, which Brown says ruled Christianity and suppressed the true accounts of Jesus’ life in the fourth century, existed only as a simple church at that time. It was not building its new power base, as Brown claims.
  2. The books and letters which make up the New Testament were not declared God’s Word by a council. Most of them had been accepted by disciples of Jesus since the time they were first circulated.
  3. Brown says English is a pure language, free from the corruption of the Vatican. This is idiotic. The English language comes to us from the German language, so wouldn't German be far more pure than it? Also, many English were imported from the Norman French.
  4. Finally, in a section which makes me laugh from a literary perspective, main character Robert Langdon states the church burned five million women as witches over several centuries. The Code Breaker points to sources which record only 55,000 witch trials which resulted in executions and over 20% of the convicts were men. Many of these trials were done by common people, not the Catholic Church.
The Da Vinci Code Breaker calls itself “an easy-to-use fact checker,” and I agree. Not only does it include corrections to the novel, but it also describes why the Gnostic writings were rejected, how the Bible was assembled, and other writings or recordings on the issues distorted in The Da Vinci Code.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006
PW: Review of The C.S. Lewis Chronicles, By Colin Duriez
The latest biography from C.S. Lewis scholar Colin Duriez impresses me as a blog-style work. It does not have a flowing narrative which attempts to tell the story of Lewis’ life or, worse, attempts to reveal “the secret” of his success. The C.S. Lewis Chronicles, subtitled “The Indispensable Biography of the Creator of Narnia; Full of Little-Known Facts, Events and Miscellany,” has the feel of third-person diary.

Duriez offers many details from Lewis’ life in the chronological order they occurred with few contextual notes from the past or present. Each chapter is labeled with the years it covers, and after several paragraphs introducing those years, the biography flows according to the date. He includes plenty of historical context in each section, noting the deaths and births of pertinent individuals and events of that year, which may be valuable to literature students who need to be reminded no author writes in a vacuum.

The CSL Chronicles has other context too, lists mostly. For example, the January 31, 1919, entry notes: “This evening, upon invitation, Lewis joins a literary and debating society of the college, the Martlets, as secretary. Membership is limited to twelve.” For context, an explanation of the Martlets with a list of papers delivered by Lewis to the group is on the following page, including this note:
There was another but short-lived undergraduate society, called the ‘Inklings’; in the 1930s its name was transferred to the later famous circle of friends around Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis and Tolkien did attend the original undergraduate ‘Inklings,’ but only as invited dons.
Duriez leaves many details unwritten, perhaps an irritation to readers who already know a good bit about Lewis; but I think this biography is respectably complete. I know I’ve learned some things (but this is also my first Lewis biography to read). For instance, I was disturbed when, earlier this year, Lars referred to sadism in Lewis’ letters before 1918, but a note in The C.S. Lewis Chronicles suggests it is evidence of the impact of the abuse Lewis suffered while in boarding school under the care of madman. Such perversion was a part of his imagination as it were.

I recommend this small, fragmented biography to readers interested in Lewis or his Oxford friends. I think it would be especially useful to trivia fans. - phil

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PW:Excerpt from The C.S. Lewis Chronicles
March 11 (Wed), 1936
Charles Williams receives his first letter from Lewis, in appreciation of his novel, The Place of the Lion. Lewis invites him to attend an Inklings meeting (the first recorded use of the name). Williams, who has been delighted by the proofs of The Allegory of Love, replies immediately: "If you had delayed writing another 24 hours our letters would have crossed. It has never before happened to me to be admiring an author of a book while he at the same time was admiring me. My admiration for the staff work of the Omnipotence rises every day. . . . I regard your book as practically the only one that I have ever come across, since Dante, that shows the slightest understanding of what this very peculiar identity of love and religion means. . . ."

Spring 1936
Lewis and Tolkien discuss writing time and space stories. Tolkien recalls in a letter [no. 294] that Lewis had one day remarked to him that since "there is too little of what we really like in stories" they ought to write some themselves. "We agreed that he should try space-travel and I should try time-travel. . . . I began an abortive book of time-travel of which the end was to be the presence of my hero in the drowning of Atlantis."

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PW:Silly Saturday Surveys
I hope to blog a good bit today, though as usual it may turn out to be at the end of the day. In the meantime, I could dig up more sword imagery. Instead, I'll offer these Internet quizzes for you.

Many people ask me--they even approach me on the street--out of the blue, "What Stars Wars Character Do You Think You Would Be?" I always give them the same answer:

I am Qui-Gon Jinn
Overall, I'm a pretty well balanced person. But maybe I focus a little too much on the here and now.I should think about the future before it's too late.

Qui-Gon Jinn
Lando Calrissian
Han Solo
Mace Windu
Darth Vader
Obi-Wan Kenobi
Boba Fett

(This list displays the top 10 results out of a possible 21 characters)
Click here to take the Star Wars Personality Quiz

It may be the long cloak I always wear and the saber-like device I carry.

And on the theological side, bands of men in red capes often stop me to ask where I stand in their little theology survey. I think they're with the area lodge, but they never offer me any almond logs or parade tickets. The answer I give them is stand up:

John CalvinI am a Reformed Evangelical. I take the Bible very seriously because it is God's Word. I hold to TULIP and am sceptical about the possibilities of universal atonement or resistible grace. The most important thing the Church can do is make sure people hear how they can go to heaven when they die. John Calvin is my man. I think the biggest problem with most churches is they make a big deal out of minor truths or half-truths.

Reformed Evangelical


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Neo orthodox


Roman Catholic






Modern Liberal


Classical Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with
I found both of these quizzes on Gid's blog. [Let me also say officially in an authoritative way that I am proud of the fact that I have published this post 6-7 times. Hello, you wonder RSS readers!!]
Friday, May 26, 2006
PW: The Dane
With Lars going to the Tivoli Festival this weekend, I submit this Medieval Danish style two-handed sword for your enjoyment. The Dane: a limited edition from Albion Swords, "a sword made for armoured fighting . . . very stiff, nasty and aggressive." There's only conceptual art available at this time.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
PW:Christian Fiction in Print
Mr. Bertrand links to the few print journals that publish Christian fiction and announces that he will be editing fiction submission for a new journal, called Relief, A Quarterly Christian Expression.

Speaking of journals, I plan to review a new one, called GrendelSong: a Fantasy Magazine of folklore and mythology after I receive the review copy of the first issue in a month or two. - phil

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lw: There is nothing like a Dane

Fie on wireless routers, for the time being. In my presumed capacity as an emancipated adult, homeowner and taxpayer, I declare the subject moot until after the holiday. The only thing I actually can’t do with the present configuration is access my DSL from my laptop, and I can live without that for a while. Especially since I don’t expect to use a computer over the weekend.

I’m taking a vacation day tomorrow and driving down to Elk Horn, Iowa for the Tivoli Festival. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Elk Horn before (it’s in southwest Iowa), but I gather it’s a community with a strong Danish heritage (there aren’t many in the U.S. Danes aren’t a major demographic in our diverse republic), and every year they celebrate their heritage with a Tivoli Fest celebration. (Tivoli, by the way, is the name of a famous amusement park in Copenhagen. It, in its turn, was named after a place in Italy of which I know little. Make that nothing.)

Being one-quarter Dane myself, I’ll probably fit in as well as most people present. I’m going down with the Viking Age Club to participate in a reenactment campout. I shall sleep in a Viking tent, rejoicing in roughing it just like my ancestors.

Except that my ancestors didn’t have air mattresses.

We'll be the guests of Skjaldborg, another Viking group based in Nebraska. Skjaldborg, unlike our mob, has a strong emphasis on “live steel” combat, and they’ve promised to give us some opportunity for training.

I look forward to this. No doubt I’ll get hurt (being me, I’ll probably hurt myself), but that’s OK. If I come away with a dueling scar, so much the better.

A weekend of hearty male companionship and sword-swinging may be just what I need. Heaven knows I need something.

Have a good Memorial Day holiday. Stop in if you're in the Elk Horn area. I'll be selling books, if I'm still conscious.

Lars Walker

Wednesday, May 24, 2006
PW:Brought to You by General Electric
Also in the interview referenced below, Raveh Sagi states:
I have an idea for an initiative: I would like to see financial corporations or large industrial firms adopt an author. Let Elite or Strauss or the Israel Electric Corporation be involved in book publishing, even if it's a one-time grant to authors. Like sculpture by an Israeli artist in the lobby of a large high-tech firm - they'll sign on a book that's published.
Anything wrong with that idea? Anything right with it? - phil

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PW: Basic Evil
Raveh Sagi, a new writer in Israel, writes about the Holocaust from the common German's perspective, whom he casts as a victim: "There is a tendency to think the Nazis were monsters; when a father murders his daughter and buries her in the forest, he has to be a monster. He can't be like us, because if he is like us, it means we are also harboring such evil."

But he is like us, he says, and we do harbor similar evil. "
You can't separate the Holocaust from the circumstances in which it occurred. But there is a basic evil in man, and, in my opinion, what makes us human are our constant efforts to block this evil." [by way of]

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PW:The Machine Within You
Several months ago, Steve Talbott wrote:
During 1994-1995 I wrote a book suggesting that the emerging culture of the Internet was infected by a massive and potentially disastrous confusion between our full human capacities and the technical capabilities of the new digital machinery. It's not that the technical capabilities had nothing to do with us. Quite the opposite. The point was that they lived first of all within us: we had to conceive the computer and be capable of thinking like a computer before we could build one. And that's exactly where the danger lay. This thinking and the machine it spawned were extremely one-sided expressions of ourselves. If we continued investing our energies in such one-sidedness, allowing the rapid spread of digital machinery continually to reinforce our own imbalance, then (so I argued) we would eventually descend to the level of our machines without even realizing it. And we would mistake our own descent for a glorious ascent of the machine to a human and then a superhuman level.

The ultimate threat, I claimed in The Future Does Not Compute, was not the operation of the machine "out there" in the physical world, but rather the ongoing amplification and imperial aggrandizement of the machine within us. This is what makes the externalized technology so extremely dangerous.
lw: My life is on hold
I'm in Wireless Router Purgatory.

Lars Walker
PW:Praise for Ann Tatlock
I just noticed this comment in a Publishers Weekly review of Ann Tatlock's Things We Once Held Dear, published this year: "Tatlock is one of Christian fiction's better wordsmiths, and her lovely prose reminds readers why it is a joy to savor her stories." That's the kind of writer I'm looking for. I'm going to have to pick up Things We Once Held Dear. - phil

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006
lw: Klavan on Oprah, Mother Teresa and the Da Vinci Code
Bubbling as I've been with breathless fanboy enthusiasm over Andrew Klavan lately, I was delighted to see this article over at Libertas today, in which he confesses faith in Jesus Christ.

That, no doubt, would explain why none of the retail bookstores in my area carry a single one of his novels.

Lars Walker
PW: Reforming Coffee's Governing Policies
The U.S. Government hopes to reform the international laws of coffee trading. According to this report:
The reforms . . . would prioritise environmental sustainability in coffee cultivation, strengthen the contribution of the private sector and help small producers manage the results of "unpredictable market conditions".

Coffee export prices have fallen more than 65 percent below historic averages in recent years, mainly because of over-supply.

The way I understand it, a country like Vietnam can flood the market with lousy coffee, make a little money, and force poor Mexican farmers to sell their beans far below cost. If the farmers can't make enough on their crop to buy food for themselves, they will consider risking their lives by crossing the U.S. southern border in the hope of finding a decent job.

Everything touches everything else, doesn't it?

In case you are wondering, the U.S. is the world's largest coffee importer.

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Monday, May 22, 2006
PW:Get Caught Reading
May is "Get Caught Reading Month" from the Association of American Publishers.
Some readers are confessing their current titles over on this thread.

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lw: No news isn't necessarily bad news
Since I've been going all drama queen with the Black Dog and all, I felt I ought to just pop in to say that I've been on the phone with tech support for my wireless router all evening. That, and not the B.D., is why the feast of reason and the flow of soul from my corner has been squelched tonight.

I bought the book Wireless Networking for Dummies a while back.

What does it say about you when you can't comprehend a book written for dummies?

It's a rhetorical question. I know the answer.

Lars Walker
PW:Fantasy in Modern Setting
Sometimes I think of how traditional fantasy elements could work in an modern day setting or how new wizardry and ancient weaponry could be woven into a story set in modern America without being cheesy or focusing on the dark side. I don't want vampire romances or werewolves as heros or horror stories in general. I probably want what's called magical realism.

Do you know what I'm talking about? Are stories like this on the shelf at my neighborhood bookstore?

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PW: BookExpo
John Freeman of the National Book Critics Circle comments on last weekend's BookExpo America.

Steve Leary, a librarian in Washington D.C., reports on an abrupt abortion of a panel discussion entitled, "The Best American Fiction Since 1980: Results and Analysis from the New York Times Book Review Survey."

Also the President of the American Library Association gave suggestions to the nation's libraries, one of which being to replace old books with eye-appealing new ones. I know this has to be done at some point, but is she suggesting this needs to be a budget priority?

MORE: The folks at First Book have posted some photos of convention, kids, and authors. If you have any doubts that the cover sells the book, walk the floor with 100,000 books around you. Of course, the cover isn't the only seller, but I think it's the primary one in a place like this.

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PW:Can a Novel Be the Best of All?
On Conversational Reading, I noticed this opinion on ranking books in order to designate one as the best from a professional critic who did not participate in the NY Times Best of the Last 25 Years list. Laura Miller says: "Ultimately, novels are so diverse that once they attain a certain level of quality, they really can't be meaningfully ranked against each other."

I think I agree, but I don't think it's a part of me yet, maybe because the whole question is out of my league.
PW:Nominated SOB
Successful Blog Award

Thank you, M.E. Strauss, for declaring Brandywine Books a "successful and outstanding blog." Naturally, I agree.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
PW: An Alternate List
Perhaps you are already aware, but in case you aren't, Book of the Day is calling for an alternate list of best books in the last 25 years. She asks anyone who blogs about books to nominate and vote. I think Toni Morrison's Beloved is a good choice from the NY Times list and maybe should be the winner of a list like this, but for other potentials I nominated Walker Percy's The Second Coming and Marilynne Robinson's Gilead.

What do you think?
Friday, May 19, 2006
lw: The Abraham Lincoln Code

Sorry about not posting yesterday. I’ve been having connection problems.

(That’s actually a moral lie, though it’s technically true. I have been having connection problems, but they started after my normal blogging time last night. They did, however, help delay this post.)

(And anyway, I warned you that the Black Dog might be interfering with my posting. Said Dog was in fact the operative cause of my silence.)

Imagine that you’ve picked up a novel about the Civil War. It’s a conspiracy novel. Its premise is that Abraham Lincoln was actually a black man, passing as white. He engineered the Civil War in order to set his people free. But this truth was suppressed by the Federal Government, which was made up of slaveholders who could not endure for the truth to be told. A small group of southern Abolitionists kept the truth alive, but have been persecuted by the pro-slavery Federal Government ever since that time.

“Nonsense,” you’d say. “It was the Federal Government that fought to abolish slavery. The South defended it, by and large.”

But let a thousand years go by, and people might have forgotten enough history to enable them to swallow such a premise.

That, it seems to me, is the sort of thing that’s going on with The Da Vinci Code.

When you run through a list of the reasons modern people hate Christianity, what usually comes up? A few top choices are:

  1. Christians are too exclusive. They think they’re the only ones who’ll be saved.
  2. Christians are anti-Semitic.
  3. Christians think sex is bad

G. K. Chesterton once complained somewhere (I can’t find the reference just now) that it’s rather hard that the world continually accuses the church of teaching things it actually condemned, while at the same time criticizing it for condemning the people who actually taught those things. The Da Vinci Code is a perfect realization of that Chestertonian paradox.

There was a group in Christian history that restricted salvation to a very small group, and hated Jews, and condemned sex as disgusting and evil.

But that group wasn’t the Christian church.

It was the Gnostics.

The same people Dan Brown would have us believe were easygoing, tolerant humanists, almost identical to California New Agers.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the course of some quick-and-dirty research this week:

The Gnostics were not the original, pristine Christians. The Gnostic belief system (which covers a lot of pretty diverse ground) predates Christianity. When Christianity came along, with the extremely attractive figure of Jesus at its center, people who already thought gnostically joined the church and brought these ideas in.

Despite the popularity of Jesus as a personality, many early Christians (especially Gentiles with philosophical pretensions) found the Christian community an uncongenial fellowship, full of people “not our kind.”

The worst thing about it (they felt) was that it was full of Jews. Jews have rarely been popular in history. They've almost always been considered too clannish, too judgmental, and too narrow-minded. The Jews in the Christian church insisted that Jesus was the Son of the God of the Old Testament, and that He had died and risen again as a blood sacrifice for our sins.

“Disgusting,” said the Gnostics. “It’s the worst kind of blasphemy to think that the true God, the ultimate Reality, could have had anything to do with the dirty, smelly, rotting world we live in. God is pure, and untouched by the corruption of our world. This world (if it exists at all in any real sense) was not created by the true God. It was either created by a demon or by some lower-level spiritual being. And Christ, who is the Logos, the Word of God, clearly could not have had a real body. He was a pure spirit. He only looked like a real man. He didn’t die on the cross, and He didn’t rise again. Salvation is not found in His blood, but in learning certain secret teachings which we have been able to discover.”

They taught that only a small, elite group of people were capable of enlightenment. Everybody else was damned, and deserved to be.

The God of the Old Testament, most Gnostics believed, was actually some kind of demon. The snake did a good act in tempting Adam and Eve to rebel against Him, and Cain was a hero.

As for sex, most Gnostics were ascetics, teaching that all sex (especially sex for procreation) was sinful.

A few Gnostics were libertines, reasoning that if the material body was nothing, it didn’t matter what you did with it.

None of the Gnostics considered sex holy.

So here you have it:

  1. Exclusivity: The Gnostics had it.
  2. Anti-Semitism: The Gnostics reeked of it.
  3. Rejection of sex: The Gnostics were famous for it.

So naturally Dan Brown celebrates them as champions of tolerance and sacred sex.

Reports on the film say that its central argument is that the church suppressed the truth that Jesus had children by Mary Magdalene, because that would have demonstrated that He was “mortal,” and thus proved all their doctrines about Him to be a lie.

You see the problem? The Church didn’t deny that Jesus was “mortal” in the sense of being capable of impregnating a woman. We teach that He was “man, born in the world of the substance of His mother, perfect God and perfect man, with reasonable soul and human flesh…” (Athanasian Creed). We've always believed He was capable of having a child. We just have no evidence that He ever did.

Pop quiz: Who actually believed He couldn’t have a child?

Answer: It starts with a G.

Lars Walker

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
lw: May 17th 2006
Today is Syttende Mai, the Norwegian national holiday (not, as I think I explained a year ago, Norwegian Independence Day, but Norwegian Constitution Day).

I set my personal Norwegian flag on a pole out in front of my house today. It continues to fly as I write.

This is the actual reason why I bought the house. Not for the living and storage space. Not for the investment equity. Not in order to have a place to entertain visitors. I wanted a place where I could put out my Norwegian flag on Syttende Mai.

I've had the flag since the mid-80s, and in all those years I've never had a decent place to fly it. It was the psychological pressure of my frustration about that that pushed me over the edge and impelled me to take the irrational step of buying this place.

Now I'm satisfied. I'm ready for the other shoe to drop, for the arrival of the financial blow that will force me to sell the house and move back into a small apartment. Probably smaller than my old one (though more expensive). A serious crack has just appeared in the retaining wall that keeps my yard from burying my neighbor's driveway, and I'm confident it will turn out to be a repair project on a Federal scale.

Oh, by the way, I forgot yesterday the first Andrew Klavan novel I read (actually it was written under the Keith Peterson pseudonym)--The Scarred Man. This is a psychological thriller with one of the best hooks I've ever read.

I love a great "book hook." Perhaps my favorite is the beginning of The Man Who Wasn't There by Roderick MacLeish (a much underappreciated novelist). That book (as I recall--I don't have a copy) began with the main character, who was something of a celebrity, being recognized by a stranger sitting beside him on a plane. Instead of admitting to his identity, he played a trick he liked to play in such situations, claiming to be his own (non-existent) non-famous twin, whose story he made up on the spot.

The next morning he got up and read in the paper that this imaginary twin brother had been killed in a plane crash.

That's a great book hook.

But the hook in The Scarred Man is almost as good.

Michael North is a young New York reporter who accepts an invitation to spend Christmas in Connecticut with his boss. There he meets the boss's daughter, Susannah, and falls hopelessly in love in about a nanosecond.

To entertain themselves, the party members agree to tell ghost stories (I thought of you here, Phil). Michael makes up a story on the spur of the moment, telling a tale of a murderous, undead psychopath with a scar down the center of his face.

Susannah goes hysterical, shouting "Stop it! What are you trying to do to me!" She flees back to school before he can discuss it with her.

Later, when he drives up to Susannah's college to talk to her, he pulls into the entrance and sees, in his headlights--the scarred man. When he finds Susannah, she tells him she's been having nightmares about this man all her life.

The great thing is, this isn't a supernatural novel.

Lars Walker

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PW:The Day No One Read a Book
Author Brenda Coulter comments on the report of a day when readership will be far below the level of published books, that is, "Authorgeddon."

In related news, here's a column from a "video game addict." He says he would rather play Call of Duty 2 than watch most movies or TV. Of course, new technology has some disadvantages, such as live audio from "bozos with microphones."
Apparently other lit-bloggers have been receiving new invitations for review books and press releases like I have. I thought they had been getting a steady stream of them already, and I was just wading into the flow. As the profile for Brandywine Books rises, I would think down-and-out publicists and editors in New York, Chicago, and Ringgold, GA, have our name on their lips at least once a . . . um, a week, maybe . . . probably having seen our URL scrawled on bathroom stalls in the Hiltons and Barnes & Nobles and like places. We spare no expense on our advertising campaign.

Have you received more invitations from publicists recently? Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network asked a publicist about these "cold call emails." The answer: it's a challenge to respectably promote the books you love in a world of hype. - phil
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
lw: Grand Klavan

Last Saturday I stopped in at my local used book store to pick up another novel by Andrew Klavan (of whom more below). As I stood in line to pay for my selection, the store owner asked a customer (apparently a friend), “Do you read Danish?” He said no.

So I said, “I read Danish.” She handed me an old paperback volume called Romaner og Galilæer, by a German named Muller, translated into Norwegian (not Danish, though the written languages weren’t far apart back then) published in 1929. When it was my turn at the counter, I informed her that the title meant Romans and Galileans, and that it was a novel about the time of Christ. I gave her my card and said she could contact me if she needed more help.

Today, as I was proceeding with my great Archive Project at work, I picked up a pile of small volumes, and what did I find among them but Romaner og Galilæer?

A remarkable coincidence. Signifying nothing.

I merely note it for the record.

Back in the 90s I discovered an excellent mystery writer named Keith Peterson. His novels about reporter John Wells were exciting and smart, but the thing I really loved about them was that Peterson created characters I could really care about. I think I’ve said this before (and I’m sure I’ll say it again) but sympathetic characters are the thing I most require in a book.

Then Peterson just disappeared. (Actually there were a couple more Peterson books, but I missed them). I looked wistfully now and then at my John Wells novels, which I’d hung on to.

Recently I did a web search on Keith Peterson and made a wonderful discovery. Keith Peterson was a nom de plume for Andrew Klavan, the big thriller writer.

That took me to the used bookstore, and… wow. I mean, wow.

I like thrillers, and I have a short list of excellent authors whose books I watch for on a regular basis. I feel tiny but genuine joy when they’re "new in paperback."

But none of them knows his craft like Andrew Klavan.

Klavan grabs you by the throat, shoves you into his car, throttles it up to 120 miles an hour, and ignores the stoplights as he carries you with him, terrified in the passenger seat(rather like the actual experience of one character in True Crime). Just to keep your attention, he makes sure he has your firstborn child in the back seat, with no seatbelt. I’ve never really found any book un-put-downable in a literal sense, but Klavan comes close.

Not for Klavan the barely believable male fantasy-figure hero, the Travis McGee or the Lucas Davenport. His heroes are very much like you and me (or worse). Steve Everett, the reporter hero of True Crime, works in St. Louis because he lost his New York job for sleeping with the boss’s daughter. He drinks too much and smokes too much, and he’s now sleeping with his current boss’s wife. His marriage (not surprisingly) is rocky, and he’s not doing very well as a father to his little son. When he realizes that the death row inmate he’s been assigned to interview may very well be innocent, he has only one day to find evidence to save the man’s life. He breaks all the rules and many traffic laws in what looks from the beginning like a doomed attempt.

Dr. Nathan Conrad, the hero of Don’t Say a Word, is, to put it plainly, a wimp. He’s a skinny and balding psychiatrist with a bad knee and a bad eye. When his daughter is kidnapped, he’s forced to find a clue in the mind of a female patient, and in the end his intelligence and his love for his family are the only weapons he has against enemies who are genuinely, appallingly evil.

The word “evil” is important here. Klavan knows there is real evil in the world. His sympathy for his characters doesn’t keep him from making moral judgments on them. We may all have our flaws, but there is a line between darkness and light, and we all choose the side on which we stand.

This is a kind of “nuance” that liberal Hollywood doesn’t comprehend. I haven’t seen the movie versions of either True Crime or Don’t Say a Word, but the reviews I've read indicate that the moviemakers couldn’t grasp Klavan’s moral vision and fell, inevitably, into their own stereotypes.

In True Crime (the novel), for instance, the condemned man the hero tried to save was a white man who'd been railroaded because the County Attorney needed a sacrificial lamb to quiet complaints about the percentage of blacks on Death Row. That was one nuance too many for the moviemakers. They changed the prisoner to a black man.

The movie version of Don’t Say a Word starred Michael Douglas. That was the first mistake. Right there they sacrificed Dr. Conrad’s Everyman quality. There’s no surprise when Michael Douglas fights the bad guys.

The cop in that book was a big, fat, flatulent Irishman, lecherous and slightly corrupt. But when the chips were down, he turned out to be just the guy who was needed in the situation.

In the movie they turned him into a Hispanic woman.

Need I say more?

Andrew Klavan is a conservative, and he blogs now and then at Libertas blog. I don’t know what his religious beliefs are. He wrote a novel once (Son of Man) that sounds blasphemous. Ordinarily I wouldn’t forgive that in an author (Shoot, I abandoned Ed McBain forever after one crack about pro-lifers in one of the 87th Precinct novels).

But I’m sticking with Klavan.

I almost have no choice.

Lars Walker

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PW: A Bibliolexicon
Danielle of A Work in Progress notes a list of terms for book-related habits or emotions:
That's the first seven as a teaser, so go to her blog for the rest. While I know I am a bibliophile, I wonder if I am something of a bibliomane and maybe even a bit bibliophobic. Why can't things be simple?
Monday, May 15, 2006
PW: Related to Link Leak Virus
Over the weekend, I lost my internet access at critical moments of free time which spanned the gaps between shepherding my little family, making coffee cake for a Sunday School snack, making chocolate chip oatmeal cookies for another snack option as well as part of the reception food at the ballet recital this evening (my little, tutu-clad girls are the cutest things), a few errands including a birthday gift purchase for the three year old, and reading the exciting parts of L.B. Graham's Beyond the Summerland. Though I saw that M.E. Strauss had linked to BwB as a "Link Leak Virus," I could not respond right away, though I was prepared. Thank you, M.E. Let me mark up a few links myself found during a recent and reckless blog browse.
  1. under odysseus appears to be blogging through the trials in Homer's Iliad using a modern voice.
  2. Bubbles in my Head blogs on writing and literature matters
  3. Toni McGee Causey blogs at electric mist and has a three-book deal with St. Martin's Press to work through.
In related news, a new site, Blogs with a Face, hopes to build the blogger-reader relationship by linking to blogs through images. They picked BwB to one of their first 200 or so links. What do you think of this idea? BwB is in the fourth row on the right. - phil
lw: Sort of like Jurassic Park, except smaller and more wrinkled
Before long you may be able to enjoy the same kind of dates that Jesus ate. Scripps-Howard reports that a seed from Masada in Israel, which had lain dormat for 2,000 years has been successfully sprouted by scientists. These date palms have not been around since the Romans destroyed them all following the Jewish revolt.

This fills me with hope.

Even after 2,000 years, a guy can still get a date.


(Hat tip: Mirabilis.)

I do not call for an organized boycott of the Da Vinci Code movie. The last thing I want to see is an anti-Brown organization with news coverage and marches and demonstrations, etc. That just provides free advertising.

I merely urge you not to see the movie, all on your own. To find out about the story, read the book. But don't buy it. Borrow it from a library. Better yet, buy a Christian book about the book, like The Da Vinci Codebreaker.

That way neither Dan Brown nor Howard/Hanks will get any of your money.

A guy called Michael Medved's show today and said, "Hey, the movie won't change my beliefs. It's fiction. It's not in the history section at the bookstore. Why get upset about it?"

The reason I (for my part) get upset is because modern people don't know general history, let alone Christian history. When Dan Brown claims, at the beginning of his book, that all the historical facts described are true, people tend to believe him.

If they'd learned any history in school (or in their churches) this wouldn't be a problem. But they haven't.

One of the more aggravating points in the whole controversy (from my point of view) is Brown's claim (according to what I've read) that the Gnostics represented a form of Christianity that emphasized Christ as a human being, and one that was more friendly to sex.

This is nonsense on an extension ladder. This is like saying that the Nazis were a noted Zionist group, or that the English Puritans were famous for their near-fanatical devotion to the Pope.

The Gnostics believed (to varying degrees) that physical matter was evil. They believed bodies were evil. They believed Jesus was a spirit. They believed sex was bad, and women foul.

Marvin Olasky provides a good interview about Gnosticism with historian Peter Jones at World Magazine today. I'll be doing research and saying more later on this week.

Lars Walker
PW: Best American Fiction
NY Times names Toni Morrison's Beloved as the best work of American fiction in the last twenty-five years. I'm not qualified to answer questions like this. I have read Beloved though, and I enjoyed her style, story, everything but the sex.

I see that the Grumpy OB from across the sea doesn't approve, and he links to other big lit-bloggers who likewise complain. "I really cannot be bothered with this. Especially when I find that one of the top dozen or so is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Anyone who thinks that Toole's book is one of the 'best' books of any period longer than three days, in a bad week, is just plain certifiable, and no two ways about it."

Over at the Literary Saloon, editor M.A. Orthofer notes that he reads about 200 books a year, which makes 5,000 books over the past 25 years, "but I've read a mere two of the titles that received multiple votes."

Is this how the classics are determined, the right people casting their votes? - phil

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PW: DV Code Not Changing Many Minds
Barna Research reports that only 5% of Da Vinci Code readers claim the book changed their beliefs or perspectives. One our of four readers said the book was valuable to their spiritual growth (compare that to the same response by three out of four readers of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord). George Barna said that many survey participants said The Da Vinci Code confirmed what they already believed.

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PW:Nonfiction recommendations?
Ella of Box of Books doesn't read much non-fiction and wonders what might pique her interest. Most of the non-fiction I read is boring as she says, but there are points of interest. - phil
Friday, May 12, 2006
lw: A cheery day, chilly and wet
Today is cold and rainy, and I had reason to expect that lousy things would happen.

Instead it's been one of my better days.

Last night, as I prepared for my nightly shower (I've made it a practice since college to shower before bed, because wet morning hair freezes in the winter, up here in the tundra), and my hot water spigot failed to deliver... anything. It was a useless appendage on the tub, a sort of porcelain vermiform appendix.

"Oh great," I thought. "I'll have to call the plumber again."

If you remember my last adventure in this department (and why should you?) you'll recall that I spent quite a lot of money to basically keep my pipes the way they already were. The recommendation was that I upgrade to a modern set-up (it will still have to be done in time, because the galvanized pipes are slowly rusting from within), but I wanted to keep my quaint porcelain hot and cold water handle things (what do you call them? My mind's gone blank).

I figured the day of reckoning had come even now, and I'd have to empty my checking account to pay for the big upgrade. That would require me to dip into my Strategic Reserve to replenish the checking, and the S.R. isn't going to last forever.

The whole idea of owning my own house began (yet again) to look rash and foredoomed. I lay awake in bed, ruminating on my homeless future.

I called the same plumbing company from work. I was certain they wouldn't consider the repair warranted work, but I thought I'd take the chance. I was put on standby. They'd call me when and if a plumber became available.

I got the call about 10:30 a.m., and quickly put up "Tough luck--the librarian's out" signs, shoved the project I was working on in my briefcase, and drove home.

Different plumber this time. Nice guy (not that the first one wasn't nice too). He informed me that I'd destroyed the stopper by cranking it down too tight.

But a Miracle occurred. He still wrote it up as a warranty job. "It shouldn't have been dripping in the first place," he said.

At that point John Williams cued up the orchestra and the Deus Ex Machina theme began to play.

Back at the library, the assistant on duty brought a book to me. "I think you'll want to see this," he said.

It was the library copy of my novel, Erling's Word. A student had borrowed and return it, and left a Post-It note above the card pocket. "Mr. Walker--this book rocked!"

If you think I'm too ornery and jaded to be tremendously bucked by something like that, you overestimate (or underestimate) me.

It's an old game by now--imagining how today's MSM would have covered World War II.

But nobody does it with the authority and panache of historian Victor Davis Hanson over at National Review today.

Lars Walker
PW: More "Reality" TV News
Maybe if I watched the shows posing as "reality," I wouldn't be surprised by the news of upcoming shows; but since I mentioned the superhero wannabe show, I feel more inclined to mention the news of show about singer/actresses who hope to land the role of Maria in a new London performance of The Sound of Music, staged by Andrew Lloyd Webber. "How Do I Solve A Problem Like Maria?" will ask TV viewers to vote on the best person for the role.

Did people not get enough of this in grade school? - phil
PW: Dear Blogger, Regarding Intolerance
Imperfection only is intolerant of imperfection. [This post is taken from Francois Fenelon's letters.]

It has seemed to me that you have need of more enlargedness of heart in relation to the defects of others. I know that you cannot help seeing them when they come before you, nor prevent the opinions you involuntarily form concerning the motives of some of those about you. You cannot even get rid of a certain degree of trouble which these things cause you. It will be enough if you are willing to bear with those defects which are unmistakable, refrain from condemning those which are doubtful, and not suffer yourself to be so afflicted by them as to cause a coolness of feeling between you.

Perfection is easily tolerant of the imperfections of others; it becomes all things to all men. We must not be surprised at the greatest defects in good souls, and must quietly let them alone until God gives the signal of gradual removal; otherwise we shall pull up the wheat with the tares. God leaves, in the most advanced souls, certain weaknesses entirely disproportioned to their eminent state. As workmen, in excavating the soil from a field, leave certain pillars of earth which indicate the original level of the surface, and serve to measure the amount of material removed—God, in the same way, leaves pillars of testimony to the extent of his work in the most pious souls.

Such persons must labor, each one in his degree, for his own correction, and you must labor to bear with their weaknesses. You know from experience the bitterness of the work of correction; strive then to find means to make it less bitter to others. You have not an eager zeal to correct, but a sensitiveness that easily shuts up your heart.

I pray you more than ever not to spare my faults. If you should think you see one, which is not really there, there is no harm done; if I find that your counsel wounds me, my sensitiveness demonstrates that you have discovered a sore spot; but if not, you will have done me an excellent kindness in exercising my humility, and accustoming me to reproof. I ought to be more lowly than others in proportion as I am higher in position, and God demands of me a more absolute death to everything. I need this simplicity, and I trust it will be the means of cementing rather than of weakening our attachment.

Thursday, May 11, 2006
lw: Living in the wilderness
Setting out on my evening walk tonight, I turned the corner to go down the cross-street. I noticed, to my surprise, that a fairly large hawk was sitting on a bit of roadkill, about twenty feet from me. A car approached and swerved to miss the hawk, and it flapped over to a stump near a hedge in the lawn on the corner, carrying a portion of its meal with it. A large rabbit, clearly disturbed by all the excitement, hopped away along the hedge. The hawk gave him a look, but apparently thought, "Uh... no. My angle's bad, and this roadkill is nice and tender."

So goes life in the Big Woods.

I just finished reading Loving God With All Your Mind by Gene Edward Veith. Here was a passage from Chapter 6 that taught me something:

Herbert Schneidau [in Sacred Discontent: The Bible and Western Tradition] argues that the openness of Western civilization to change, its refusal to accept institutions or ideas as eternal, the very spirit of critical inquiry nourished by our intellectual heritage, is due directly to the influence of the Bible. Mythological cultures, says Schneidau, are fully integrated and sanctioned by their religious systems.... In such societies, it is literally impossible to criticize the government. There is not even the concept of a transcendent moral law by which to judge the king and his laws....

By contrast, our Western culture has changed enormously in a mere two thousand years, in a mere century, in a decade. The reason, says Schneidau, is the Bible. For societies touched by the Bible, it is impossible to believe that the government is sacred, that the society is holy. Human institutions may not pass themselves off as divine. There is a moral law that transcends the social system. Even the king must obey the Law of God. The one God alone is eternal and holy. Everything else, being transitory, changes; and when it conflicts with the Law of God, it must be changed.

I almost never admit that any thought is new to me, but that one was.

Lars Walker
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
PW: And If Necessary, Use Words
Today, I told someone about that famous saying of Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." I knew I hadn't said it right, so I looked it up later. That's always dangerous, you know, looking into things to make sure you're correct. By looking into this quote, I discovered it isn't a quote of Francis at all.

In this Q&A column, a Franciscan says he heard the quote for the first time after being in the order for 28 years. In 2000, a friend of his asked several scholars about it. No one can link it to Francis despite the statement being very much like one he would make. - phil
PW: I Did Get #2 Right
The Wall Street Journal offers what they call a "moderately difficult quiz" on U.S. Presidents. - phil
lw: The belle of Tombstone
I was reading the latest Smithsonian Magazine today, and found a short article on Tombstone, Arizona. It seems lots of people are moving there with the precise purpose of "playing cowboy". They like to dress in 19th Century clothing and just hang around, adding local color.

(Personally, by the way, I think this is great. I already wear a 19th Century vest to work. If I could wear a frock coat I'd be all over it like condescension on a liberal.)

But what brought me up short was a quotation from a woman named Heather Whelan, identified as a lieutenant in military intelligence from nearby Fort Huachuca. She says, "The military is very cut and dried, you're a professional, you tell people what to do.... And then you go to Tombstone and you're the center of attention and people are buying you drinks and... you're a girl again!"

Did she realize what she was saying?

Is it even legal to say this nowadays?

How did it ever get published in a national magazine?

Where are the gatekeepers????

Lars Walker
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
lw: In which I chastise a dead disabled woman, and forfeit all sympathy from my readers

If you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, you’re certainly familiar with the late Kathryn Lindskoog. She wrote several high-profile books about C.S. Lewis (whom she’d met personally), like The Lion of Judah in Never-Neverland. She sparked a controversy that remains unresolved today back in 1988 when she published The C.S. Lewis Hoax, a book that accused Lewis’ literary executor, Walter Hooper, of exaggerating his relationship with Lewis and passing off his own writings as rediscovered Lewis works.

What I have to say here concerns a mere detail in the whole business, but it looms large in my consciousness. So I lay it out before a candid public and leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

This link will take you to an article of Lindskoog’s, concerning the probability that the Indian Christian mystic Sadhu Sundar Singh (a figure [sadly] almost forgotten today) was an influence on Lewis. The article (a chapter from her book Surprised by C.S. Lewis), in fact, suggests a mystical connection between George MacDonald, Singh and Lewis, a suggestion which (personally) I find less than compelling.

My own focus is on one element of her article. I mean the suggestion that Singh’s book, Visions of Sadhu Sundar Singh of India (full text here), may have suggested to Lewis the basic idea for his book, The Great Divorce.

I do not dispute that suggestion.

In fact, I think I was the one who brought it to her attention.

Here’s what happened. I’m a long-time member of the New York C.S. Lewis Society. In January, 1991, the society’s Bulletin published an article by Lindskoog which appears to be an early version of the “Golden Chain” piece. It was titled, “C.S. Lewis and Sadhu Sundar Singh.” A comparative reading shows that the material is very similar, though much of it has been rearranged. A further difference is that this (apparent) early version features no mention of the Visions book in relation to The Great Divorce.

In response to that article, I wrote a letter to the Bulletin editor. That letter was published in the January 1992 issue (the delay in Bulletin releases in those days was something of an embarrassment). A portion of my letter is reproduced below:

I enjoyed the article [by Kathryn Lindskoog…] on Sadhu Sundar Singh as the original of Lewis’ “Sura” in That Hideous Strength.

I recently picked up a booklet I have owned for many years but never read before, Visions of Sadhu Sundar Singh of India. It was originally published in 1926, and contains a series of teachings on life after death which the Sadhu claimed were revealed to him during ecstatic experiences. He tells of conversations with angels and blessed spirits, and direct visions of heaven and hell and an “intermediate state” between them.

I was intrigued by some apparent similarities between the visions in this book and the scenes in The Great Divorce. The Sadhu pictures the intermediate state as a place where the majority of human souls are met by angels and spirits of saints [and] are given many opportunities and encouragements to believe in Christ and go on to higher and higher states of grace….

…I can’t help wondering whether there is any evidence of Lewis ever reading it. It could have been a spark for his artistic imagination….

I expressed my devout skepticism as regards "intermediate states," and closed with publication information on the edition of the Visions I owned (which, as it happened, was published by Osterhus Publishing, a small press/bookstore within walking distance of my present home).

It would appear that Ms. Lindskoog obtained a copy of her own, because she references the same edition in the final version.

But she makes no mention of my suggestion of the connection in the Bulletin.

I may be mistaken in thinking she got the idea from me. Maybe somebody else pointed it out to her before my letter was published in the Bulletin (it took a year—maybe several people did).

But it looks to me as if she borrowed my idea without acknowledging the source.

Not a major scholarly crime. I was just a non-scholar writing to a non-professional journal.

But it gives me the impression that Kathryn Lindskoog was a little lacking in scholarly courtesy.

Which inclines me to think better of Walter Hooper.

For what it’s worth.

Lars Walker

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