Brandywine Books
Saturday, November 27, 2004

Releasing A Book to be Free

Last Saturday, the Anchoress blogged about a frequent conversation she has with her husband, "It's time to do something about all the books." The rhythme of their dialogue is amusing, but now she has decided to act. She plans to release some of her books into the wild.
I have many times blessed the man or woman who left the book behind - for me it became a treasure trove of riches; it introduced me to the greatness of those who had before been little more than iconic names (George Washington and Groucho) and it taught me to revel in the ordinary greatness found in the heroic or eccentric people who live and die among us, unsung except by their loving sons (Rosten’s essay about his father will bring tears) or their patient friends. When my own children were old enough to appreciate the essays and were showing some aptitude for writing I gave them the book to read, saying, “A good writer is a good reader.” They too have come to love these essays.
I told her about Book Crossing, and she plans to follow their lead.

Because Some Ideas Are Flat Dangerous

World reports on a Reuters article:
Principal Patricia Vidmar of Stevens Creek School near San Francisco has handcuffed fifth-grade history lessons, barring the use of any document making reference to God – that includes George Washington’s journal, John Adams’ diary, Samuel Adams’ “The Rights of the Colonists,” William Penn’s “The Frame of Government of Pennsylvania” and, of course, The Declaration of Independence. Teacher Steven Williams is suing Vidmar for such censorship, claiming he has been singled out for his lesson plans that were going to use those documents because he is a Christian.
I'm glad Judy Blume addressed ridiculous censorship recently. I'm sure incidents like this will become more rare as Americans and our education system matures.
Thursday, November 25, 2004

Many Thanks

The Thinklings, nominated for the best group blog in this year's Weblog Awards, offers many thanksgiving post this morning. Shrode lists reasons for thanking the Lord.
?On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on your behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many? (2 Cor 1:10-11).
Bill offers personal thanks, saying, "I've been blessed with a great family. Last night, sitting in the movie, holding Jill's hand, listening to my kids laugh, I just realized it more than I normally do. God has been too good to me. And for no good reason - just because He is full of grace and lives (and died) to redeem us. Even one like me."

Jared gives two seasonal hymns as it were (first, second), if it's appropriate to say thanksgiving is seasonal, not daily. Shrode also throws in some seasonal trivia.

La Shawn Barber, whose blog is nominated for multiple weblog awards, directs our attention to 1 John following her trip home.

Terry Teachout writes of friendship and aging just before his home.

Last in my list, World reminds us to thank the Lord for the men and women who protect us.



Watching the parades drinking an apple cider.

True, true. . . What?
Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Reformation Study Bible reports The Reformation Study Bible, the latest incarnation of The New Geneva Study Bible, will be available next year in the English Standard Version. He says The New Geneva "was edited by R.C. Sproul and contributors included J.I. Packer, Wayne Grudem and James Boice, some of the finest Reformed scholars around. It had been supplanted by the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, which while a great study tool, was available only in the NIV translation - something that was a bit odd for a Bible aimed specifically at Reformed people who generally prefer a more literal translation." The New Geneva is the Bible I use for reading and study, and I've admired the ESV for a while. This combination of the two is good news.

"Now thank we all our God"

Amid the darkness of the Thirty Years' War, German pastor Martin Rinkart is said to have buried nearly five thousand fellow citizens and parishioners in one year, including his young wife. Conducting as many as 50 funerals a day, Rinkart’s church was absolutely ravaged by war and plague, famine and economic disaster. Yet in the midst of that dark year, he sat down with his children and wrote the following lines as a prayer for the dinner table:

Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In Whom His world rejoices.
Who, from our mother's arms,
Hath led us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us still in grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills,
in this world and the next.

To be thankful in all things is to make the bold confession that encountering the presence and glory of God far outweighs everything we encounter in this life.
This is from Jill Carattini's essay published by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Continue reading

The Future of Jewish Sci-Fi

Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy & Science Fiction, 1974, is still in print. So is its sequel from 1981, More Wandering Stars. Daniel Oppenheimer writes in, "Jewish writers such as Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, and Joe Haldeman were instrumental in establishing science fiction as a legitimate genre, but their great works lack Jewish specificity. There is a developing tradition of Jewish science fiction, but it's not yet a deep one. Not only is market demand meager, but little of what has been written is really good."

I find it interesting that one of the stories described in this article is a 1985 novel in which Jews flee through space from their enemies, France and the United Nations.

We All Leave Tracks

"Professor Norman Sherry said Graham Greene admired his early work Conrad and His World, a biography of Joseph Conrad for which he had moved to Singapore to do direct research on the background of the novel Lord Jim. He went to the Congo, too, in search of the central character in Heart of Darkness.

"'I learned with Conrad that wherever we go, whatever we do, we all leave tracks, and you can find them, even eighty years later,' Professor Sherry said," in this article from the PR office of Trinity University. Sherry finished his third volume of The Life of Graham Greene this year.
Monday, November 22, 2004

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The book bares the title its narrator would have given it, being a Holmesian title for a mystery about a murdered dog. That’s what Christopher began to write when his school suggested he write a book and being an autistic teenager--highly observant, strong in mathematics, and a fan of mysteries—he stuck to that with which he was most comfortable. Of course, he gets in trouble right off the bat. When he saw through his window the neighbor’s poodle, Wellington, dead with a pick-fork through him, he walked down to see it closer. He liked the dog, couldn’t imagine why someone would want to hurt him, so he picked him up and hugged him for several minutes, blood and all. That stopped when the neighbor discovered him.

It’s a great hook for a story that isn’t really about the dog. Christopher describes his autistic thoughts and feelings clearly enough that they make sense albeit still quirky. He hates being touched by people because it hurts, and he will hit them or bark at them to get them away. The subway makes so much racket he can’t think. He enjoys sitting in the airing closet in the bathroom because it’s dark and quiet in there. Quiet solitude is one of his best friends; uncertainty one of his worst enemies.

I don’t know if Haddon’s book appeals to me more because my nephew is mildly autistic, but I felt familiar with some of the behavior descriptions. Christopher would be difficult to live with, of course, but being inside his head is interesting reading. His memory of conversations and details clearly defines the pain his parents endure, mostly by their own choices. (That’s what the story is about.)

I should say that I read a condensed version of “Curious Incident.” Why? you ask. Because that’s what came into my hands, and I felt you should know. I read the condensed version of Erich Segal’s Love Story on vacation one time, and when talking about it later, a friend said she the excessive foul language prevented her from enjoying it. I missed all that in the cond. ver. so I hope “Curious Incident” isn’t a similar book.

Rape of Nanking Author Honored

On Saturday, the family of author Iris Chang joined hundreds of fans in multiple ceremonies remembering her life and work. Chang was found dead of a gunshot on November 9, a presumed suicide.

US Representative Michael Honda wrote a tribute which was read at one of the ceremonies. "Her fierce pride of her Chinese-American heritage empowered others with the certainty that they were truly Americans despite their ancestry," the tribute said.

Chang wrote the 1997 bestseller Rape of Nanking, "which details the slaughter of Chinese civilians by the Imperial Japanese army that occupied China in the late 1930s," to quote the AFP.
Saturday, November 20, 2004

Brandywine Links

Yes, I'm opening a blog-related golf course. Well, what I mean to say is, no, I'm not. Let me start over sans silliness. I don't think I have many readers. Though a few hundred folks meander through every week, only a handful appear to read the posts. Maybe the others are trolling for photos. I don't know. Despite this, I am surprised and honored, sometimes confused, at the links I have. No, Glenn Reynolds has not linked here; but several good literary or art sites have.

The Internet Public Library has Brandywine Books on a short list of book blogs. "An homage to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy, this blog by book lover Phil Wade of Chattanooga, TN, gives book news, reviews, and usually book-related digresses. It also offers a number of other book blogs and links." Usually book-related digresses, hmm. I guess that's true enough. It's a little more encouraging than the Complete Review's "Limited number of links, but posts generally include extensive commentary," but far less a shot in the arm than the Complete Review's permanent link from their weblog, The Literary Saloon. Thank you.

Also, the worthy literary blogs of Waterboro Library and Golden Rule Jones link here as if I have something interesting to relate or say. I'm blessed. I need to reciprocate their generosity. You'll find these and other new links in my sidebar. Thank you to everyone on that list who considers Brandywine Books interesting enough to link to. Happy Thanksgiving.

New: The Flame Tree compiles a list of new and noteworthy books from independent & university presses. I suppose that doesn't guarantee weird, unreadable material, but I'm sure some of that makes the list, which was published November 11. One item I consider noteworthy: The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis. The publisher, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, describes it: "Isaac Williams, twelve-year-old son of American doctors at a mission hospital in Java, Indonesia, is certain that his friendship with Ismail Sutanto is as solid and enduring as the majestic flame tree in the yard. But the haven of their small world is shattered when a fundamentalist Islamic organization begins to threaten the hospital. Terrorists infiltrate, the State Department orders an evacuation, bombs explode, and Isaac is taken hostage. The experience embitters Isaac. He knows that he should forgive those who have hurt him, yet he doesn't think that he can. His life is changed forever, but will it be forever crippled by his bitterness? Set against the backdrop of September 11, 2001, The Flame Tree is a fierce novel of friendship, faith, and forgiveness. Richard Lewis tells a story that is at once timely and timeless, one that has the power to move hearts and open eyes."

Publishers Weekly says the book may have some descriptions too graphic for its intended young-adult readership, but its themes are worth the risk. "The author (himself the son of missionaries) reveals links between two seemingly opposed religions and explores reasons that many Islamic people resent Americans. Showing how religious ideas and ideals can breed atrocities against humanity, he creates a riveting read."

Sounds interesting to me. From the author's website, I found this little myth about flame trees. I enjoy fables and myths like this:

A good botany book will give you all the scientific stuff of good old Delonix regia, but this is the real story of the flame tree's creation. After there'd been several generations of humans upon the earth, God noticed that many boys and girls were climbing trees they had no business climbing. Too high, branches too small and weak, too many fire ants and other nasty critters. God decided He'd better make these kids a climbing tree. Now he could have created a tree that was perfectly safe, such as one that parents might design, with handrails and safety nets, but He knew that part of the joy children got in climbing trees was to demonstrate their bravery. So he made a tree that was mostly (but not altogether) safe, with smooth bark and stout limbs and leaves that fire ants couldn't nest in. But the devil wasn't happy and complained to God that he hadn't had any role in designing the tree. God thought about this and said, "All right, then, my fallen angel, you can decide what color the blossoms are."

Blogger Turn Author

Here's a new book coming from Random House, possibly chick-lit or memoir. The author is a blogger going by Breakup Babe. She announced herself like this:
Breakup Babe: "Look at me - I am so calm. Sitting here in my windowless office telling you that I SOLD MY BOOK.

Thank you mom, dad, Li'l Sis! Thank you all you noncommital boys - you know who you are! Thank you Geeksoft for letting me come in at noon! And thank yooooouuu you-know-who for begetting The Great Unpleasantness and the ascendancy of Breakup Babe. I never knew how well I could write until I got my heart smashed into a zillion pieces, thenn stepped on, and ground into dust (then again, you always did believe in me when I didn't believe in myself).

No! I'm not gloating! Really. "

I doubt I will read, scan, or even approach this book at the bookstore, I wish her well. Being published is a good thing in itself.

In other news, John Bruce has been publishing his writing for months now, all of it In the Shadow of Mr. Hollywood.
Thursday, November 18, 2004

Running the Stark Numbers

In the report on last night's NBA awards ceremony, Nonfiction Judge Katherine Newman is quoted saying, "We're living in a society that could possibly be characterized as fascinated by reality videos and other mediocre public entertainment, so to find 450 very serious, thoughtful books made me very proud to feel part of an active literary culture."

Talking about judging last year's nonfiction, Terry Teachout says, "We considered 436 books (some of them very, very briefly, but they all got talked about at some point in the past few months). . . Yes, it was hard work, and I really wish the NBA would break up the nonfiction award into at least two parts: it isn't easy or fair to directly compare histories, biographies, and memoirs, as we had to do."

As I understand them, the five judges for each panel read all 400+ books for their category or lie that they have done so. Perhaps, some skim or skip or give it a number of pages before nixing it. That's what I'd have to do. No, I'd have to read the jackets only to get through so many in a few months.

But I point out these numbers because of their contrast with yet another number. 520. Our Girl in Chicago quotes a comment from a new book blog, which says the writer reads about two books a month which will be about 520 for her lifetime. "My own expected number of books-yet-to-be-read is higher than 520," she blogs. "But that doesn't make it any less stark, wherever it may fall. This is why I want to know if Critic X didn't think a book was the best of the year as reputed, and why I don't want critics to pull their punches. It doesn't mean I implicitly trust any one critic's judgment, but I do want as much varied input as possible, and I want critics to write with readers, not authors, in mind. The 2003 Booker showed me that awards committees can be every bit as fallible as critics; I hasten to add that the converse is also true."

We have only so much time in our lives, and we don't know how much. Everyone's life is short, even the nonagenarian. We will read a finite number of books, stories, and plays, and life isn't all reading, writing, blogging, and reviewing. There's coffee, for one. There's my sweet wife, for another. So I think Our Girl makes a good point, one that others have made and will echo. Let's read the good stuff and learn how to spot it from a distance.

National Medal of Arts: Bradbury's Happiest Day

The White House bestowed two awards to several artists today. The National Medal of Arts went to seven individuals and one foundation, including Ray Bradbury, Carlisle Floyd, Frederick Hart, and Vincent Scully. The National Humanities Medal also went to seven individuals and one society, including Hilton Kramer, Madeleine L'Engle, Harvey Mansfield, and Shelby Steele.

The Washington Post reports on the ceremonies at the White House today. Staff Writer Jacqueline Trescott writes the recipients often feel on the outside of society. At least, Shelby Steele, who is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, feels that way. He says the medal is "affirming."

Bradbury feels even better. Trescott writes that he sat by a window in the White House after receiving the award. "He was taking in the perfect view of the Washington Monument and a sliver of moon. 'This is the happiest day in my life,' he said, gesturing to the landmark. 'I started from nothing. It was a long haul, and now I'm here. Look at that moon, just hanging there.'"

The NBA Winners: Justice Over Commission

The National Book Awards were given last night. The distinguished editor of, Ron Hogan, has a first-hand report. Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice beat The 9/11 Commission Report for the nonfiction slot. Read the other winners on

Judy Blume spoke as the recipient of the 2004 National Book Foundation Medal for distinguished contribution to American letters, the honor Stephen King won last year. (Does anyone else think King looks like a Dr. Seuss character with his beard like it is? I always think of that. Don't tell King, though. I'm sure he gets enough negative feedback.) I didn't hear Blume's speech, but I thought I'd share some thoughts on an NPR interview I heard when the foundation announced she would receive this honor.

She gave two reasons why parents try to remove some of her books from a library. First, some parents believe that exposing their children to something will have them imitating it, like idiots in an MTV 'reality' show. I think this is the reason How to Eat Fried Worms (not a Blume book) makes the ALA's Top 100 Banned Books list. She's right, I believe, and parents who fear this should make their priority the tender nurturing of those mind-numbed children who are so impressionable they will imitate anything they read. I hope they will have chunked their TV first, of course, since I think there are hundreds of worse things there than in the library.

Second, she said some parents believe if their children like something, then it's wrong or bad for them. What parent believes this? Is this the way Northeasterners think? Or is this an excuse made to condemn parents with morals? That's my problem with activist arguments against what they call censorship. Like my sweeping Northeasterner comment, they make generalizations with the apparent intent to ridicule all moral objections, calling every question about age-appropriateness a intolerant rant. Almost makes me want to dig up these parents/teachers/misguided souls to put a human face on them and hear their rationale.

Oh, ho, ho. You Mean, That Aunt Agatha.

There's a mystery & detective bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan called Aunt Agatha's. Funny. That name has a much different context for me.
She sprang it on me before breakfast. There in seven words you have a complete character sketch of my Aunt Agatha. I could go on indefinitely about brutality and lack of consideration. I merely say that she routed me out of bed to listen to her painful story somewhere in the small hours. It can't have been half past eleven when Jeeves, my man, woke me out of the dreamless and broke the news: 'Mrs Gregson to see you, sir.' ...

I dare say there are fellows in the world--men of blood and iron, don't you know, and all that sort of thing--whom she couldn't intimidate; but if you're a chappie like me, fond of a quiet life, you simply curl into a ball when you see her coming, and hope for the best. My experience is that when Aunt Agatha wants you to do a thing you do it, or else you find yourself wondering why those fellows in the olden days made such a fuss when they had trouble with the Spanish Inquisition.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004

New Wodehouse Biography “balance and readable”

Robert McCrum, editor for the Observer, has written a biography on Pelham Grenville Wodehouse which Publishers Weekly says “stands alone” for balance and readability. From the jacket description of Wodehouse, A Life: “Robert McCrum's magisterial biography chronicles the achievements and shadows of a gilded life. The ill-judged broadcasts from Berlin, where Wodehouse was interned during World War II, produced a violent backlash in England and tarred him, unfairly, as a Nazi sympathizer. His long love affair with America was compromised by endless acrimony with the IRS.”

The Guardian calls the book “on target.”

“No lover of Wodehouse will want to be without this masterly appraisal of the good life of a good man. Who happened to be a very, very great writer indeed. ”

Guardian Reviewer Stephen Fry asks:
Does McCrum like Wodehouse? Well, perhaps the years of trawling through the master's own thousands of letters have jaded him a little. Considering his subject is a man so celebrated by all those who knew him as modest, benign, utterly good-humoured and entirely self-deprecating (McCrum himself writes, 'one of Wodehouse's most attractive qualities is his modesty') it is astonishing how often he refers to him, while quoting the correspondence, as 'boasting' (once twice in the same paragraph). '"The actual work is negligible," he boasted to Mackail.' '"I don't feel a bit older than I did 20 years ago," he crowed to Townend.' Were he to do a word search on the incidence of 'boast', I suspect he would be embarrassed.


The Godfather Returns

Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, told his publisher he wouldn't write a sequel to his bestselling novel, but that he couldn’t stop them from having one sequel once he was dead. He died in 1999; so Random House held a contest to find an author who would write a little something on the Corleones family. Mark Winegardner is the winner. His novel, out yesterday, is naturally called, The Godfather Returns.

The AP reports that "Winegardner was excited to discover some powerful, unanswered mysteries in the original story: Michael Corleone's desire to legitimize his family and unresolved characters such as Fredo and Tom Hagen. 'Michael's desire to make the family legitimate — that's the thing that drives that character,' Winegardner said.

"In the new novel, Michael ignores an understanding with the Chicago mob and moves his family's interests westward to take control of Lake Tahoe, where he believes the family can someday become legitimate."

Author Amos Oz on a Childhood Desire

From an interview with Natascha Freundel on You write that, as a child, you always wanted to be a book and not a writer. Why?

Oz: It's not just that I was surrounded by books and raised in a bookish atmosphere. It was fear. I grew up in the shadow of a dreadful genocide, and the shadow of an impending next possible genocide for my people here in this country. I wasn't sure if I'd ever grow up to live. And then I thought that books have a better chance to survive than people. You can kill a person, you can burn a book. But if you burn a book, some copy may survive in some far away library in Brazil or in Korea or in Australia. So I wanted to be a book for my safety. I am very glad I am not a book. I don't want to be a book. I want to write books, yes, I want to read books, yes, I love books. But I don't want to be a book. I want to live.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Christian Bookseller Offers Lame Reasons for Working on Sundays

World Magazine reports on a decision by Family Christian Bookstores (FCB), “the largest Christian retail chain in the country,” to open its doors Sunday afternoons. The article quotes FCB President Dan Browne labeling it a “ministry decision” and that they wanted to “reach people when ministry is at the forefront of their hearts and minds.” The company also did a survey which showed over 80% of their customers want to shop on Sunday. World gives voice to some of those who don’t, including a former store manager.

World reports: “FCB President Dan Browne told the Associated Press that his company's decision on whether to remain open on Sundays was different than a chain like Chick-fil-A because FCB sells ‘ministry products.’ ‘No one's going to go to hell for not eating a chicken sandwich,’ Mr. Browne said.”

Yes, and no one is going to hell for avoiding any of Mr. Browne’s products.

Salvation is a gift of the Holy Spirit, given to whom he wishes by his precious grace. The book of Ephesians says no one whom God wishes to save will go unsaved. Everyone whom he has redeemed before the world began will be saved during his lifetime. Pagans may be thinking about the Lord more on Sundays than any other day, but they cannot accept eternal salvation no matter what mood they are in. The Lord must give it to them. No one is going to hell for avoiding anything because the Lord’s “arbitrary will,” to use Jonathan Edwards’ words, is the only thing keeping anyone from it.

Mr. Browne appears to believe that his ministry catches sinners at a good time and convinces them to accept the Lord’s salvation offer, but that is the very thing they cannot do. Salvation is only of the Spirit, which is the reason Jesus called it being “born again,” being born of water and the Spirit.

As for keeping the store closed on Sundays, the New Testament teaches that all of our days are holy, that a Christian’s entire life is sacred, so observing one day out of seven as more holy than the rest is unnecessary. Acceptable and good, but unnecessary as a prescription for all believers. I interpret this, combined with the doctrine of grace, to mean that the fourth commandment teaches important principles about work, rest, and the holiness of the Lord, but cannot be defined by the act or avoidance of select activities.

The commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Going to church on Sunday does honor the Sabbath, but avoiding it one Sunday does not dishonor the Sabbath. Neither does attending regular worship services on Saturday or Friday dishonor the Sabbath. All things can honor the Lord and are holy when done to His glory.

Do Book Awards Carry Weight with You?

The National Book Awards ceremony is tomorrow night, so I want to ask, “Do you care?” In general, do critical awards win favor with you? Does the fact that a book made a best-seller list or book club pick matter when you’re choosing a new title? Would the absence of any critical recognition give you pause?

I think this would only apply to books about which you know nothing. The author is unfamiliar. Maybe even the publisher, but the book design, description, title, or something about it appeals to you. Does it appeal to you more with “New York Times Bestseller” on the cover?

I think it does for me, because I have not reached the point where I can adventurously select novels and essay/story collections with a dew-drop’s hope for an entertaining or edifying read. I pretty much want to know I’ve got something good in my hands. If the National Book Foundation thinks it’s worthwhile, no matter how much I might rag on them in another context, their opinion has weight with me here. That’s probably why I enjoy buying old or previously owned books.

Atlantis Discovered

American Researcher Robert Sarmast believes he has discovered Atlantis. "We have definitely found the Acropolis of Atlantis," he told the AP. He says it's 50 miles southeast of Cyprus. "We found more than 60-70 points that are a perfect match with Plato's detailed description of the general layout of the acropolis hill of Atlantis. The match of the dimensions and the coordinates provided by our sonar with Plato's description are so accurate that, if this is not indeed the acropolis of Atlantis, then this is the world's greatest coincidence," he said.
The chief government archaeologist of Cyprus, Pavlos Flourentzos, reacted with skepticism, telling The Associated Press: "More proof is necessary."

Plato wrote of Atlantis as an island in the western sea, which has been widely interpreted to mean the Atlantic Ocean. An earthquake undermined the island and it was submerged. But societies dedicated to finding Atlantis remain.

For its time, Atlantis was a highly civilized nation and in legend it has become associated with utopia. The English philosopher Francis Bacon called his 1627 book on the ideal state The New Atlantis.
This reminds me of discovery of Troy. Heinrich Schliemann used Homer's Illiad to locate the ancient city in the 1870s.

Stevenson No Longer Needed Birthday

Robert Louis Stevenson, born November 13, 1850, knew a girl named Annie who complained that her birthday, December 25, was overlooked by Christmas celebrations. That just won't do, of course, so in June 1891, Stevenson bequeathed her his birthday, "considering that I, the said Robert Louis Stevenson, have attained an age when O, we never mention it, and that I have now no further use for a birthday of any description." In an official letter, sealed with the names of two witnesses, he gave Annie his birthday "to have, hold, exercise, and enjoy the same in the customary manner, by the sporting of fine raiment, eating of rich meats, and receipt of gifts, compliments, and copies of verse, according to the manner of our ancestors," provided that she celebrate the day "with moderation and humanity" and take on the name Louisa "at least in private." If Annie/Louisa violated his directions, Stevenson directed his birthday to be transferred the U.S. President. The author died December 3, 1894.
Monday, November 15, 2004

These are the times what try men's souls, don't you know

News like this often warms my heart. A woman is suing McDonald's of Moscow, Russia for burns and "moral damage" received when she spilled her coffee on herself while trying to get through a door.

Grammar Quote

Diane Sandford, Director of Library Services for the Washington, DC office of Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP, writes:
Finally, italics are used for an emphatic word or phrase—for example, the book was censored by its own author. Why not use an exclamation point instead? Never use an exclamation point in formal writing. Use italics instead.

Occasionally, it’s appropriate to underline or use boldface for emphasis. The initial use of a word that is defined in technical writing is often boldfaced to make later reference easier. As a joke, one could box, italicize, underline, boldface, change typeface, add quotation marks, highlight in yellow, and circle with a red pencil—all for emphasis. Perhaps the document could also be affixed to the recipient’s door with a dagger. But I digress.

Did Your Book Purchases This Week Make the Lists?

You might think that a bestseller list, purporting to list the titles which sold well in the nation or region during the past week, would have some math behind it, wouldn't you? You might assume that the book in second place on the fiction list sold something like 2000 last week, just under the 2100 sold by #1 and above the 1910 by #3. But it isn't so.

For instance, the NYTimes "doesn't track 'primarily religious books' at all." Nielsen BookScan, which has "70% coverage of all book sales," isn't as influential on the list compilers as phone calls and relationships with far fewer bookstores. Walmart, by the way, isn't figured into anyone's list.

Marina Krakovsky, writing for the Washington Post, has more on the matters behind the lists here. [You may to sign in. Feel free to use 'dnifriend' as username, 'hobbit' as password; or use]

From her article:
Steve Wasserman, the Book Review editor at the Los Angeles Times, doesn't even pretend that his staff's process yields reliable results. "It's a deeply unscientific -- one is almost tempted to call it whimsical -- compilation, which has a veneer of a certain kind of science," he says.

To varying degrees, all the publications refuse to "show their work," especially specifics about weighting schemes and data sources. Publishers Weekly editors spoke candidly for over an hour about their process, but ultimately Maryles said there is no set formula for yielding the rankings. Furthermore, she says, "We don't tell people whom we call; we don't even tell people how many calls we make."

Such secrecy seems absurd to the L.A. Times's Wasserman, who says of his paper that "we're not mysterious about how we arrive at this alchemy -- nor do we regard it as a matter of national security." But he, too, chose not to reveal names of contributing stores.
Friday, November 12, 2004

Christian Apologist Speaks This Weekend at Mormon Tabernable

Ravi Zacharias will speak this weekend at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. Zacharias may have won approval from the leadership of the Latter-Day Saints because of his association with C.S. Lewis. Some call him the “C.S. Lewis of our time.” Mormons are familiar with Mere Christianity and C.S. Lewis apparently because of his broad understanding of the Christian faith.
Thursday, November 11, 2004

From the New Paris Review

Today, The Paris Review has redesigned their website coinciding with the release of the first patch of their author interviews, "Writers at Work" or "The DNA of Literature." Well, the site does have a smart new design, but the interviews aren't there yet. Maybe I'm missing team. Still, I can't avoid pull-quoting this bit from James Thurber's 1955 interview.
You say that your drawings often don?t come out the way you intended?

THURBER: Well, once I did a drawing for The New Yorker of a naked woman on all fours up on top of a bookcase?a big bookcase. She?s up there near the ceiling, and in the room are her husband and two other women. The husband is saying to one of the women, obviously a guest, "This is the present Mrs. Harris. That's my first wife up there.? Well, when I did the cartoon originally I meant the naked woman to be at the top of a flight of stairs, but I lost the sense of perspective and instead of getting in the stairs when I drew my line down, there she was stuck up there, naked, on a bookcase.

Incidentally, that cartoon really threw The New Yorker editor, Harold Ross. He approached any humorous piece of writing, or more particularly a drawing, not only grimly but realistically. He called me on the phone and asked if the woman up on the bookcase was supposed to be alive, stuffed, or dead. I said, "I don't know, but I'll let you know in a couple of hours." After a while I called him back and told him I'd just talked to my taxidermist, who said you can't stuff a woman, that my doctor had told me a dead woman couldn't support herself on all fours. "So, Ross," I said, "she must be alive." "Well then," he said, "what's she doing up there naked in the home of her husband's second wife?" I told him he had me there.

LaHaye 'Disappointed' by Tyndale House

Teacher Tim LaHaye feels "disappointed" by Tyndale House’s decision to publish end-times novels based on an opposing view of eschatology. For reference, I blogged on this last month. LaHaye says, "They are going to take the money we made for them and promote this nonsense. I don't know what science fiction Hanegraaff is reading. We believe the Rapture is going to come, not his nonsense that Christ came back in 68 A.D."

Hank Hanegraaff is the theological inspiration for The Last Disciple, co-written with novelist Sigmund Brouwer.

At, writer Jared W. comments on an article copied here from the Dallas Morning News. [alternate link] He says, “I'm not a big fan of Hank Hannegraaff at all, and I'm probably not the sort of preterist that would most appreciate Hannegraaff's premise, but if his book irks Tim LaHaye that much, it can't be all bad.” Jared has written in opposition to LaHaye in the past.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Faith in The Polar Express

I scanned Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express in a megastore the other day. It’s a good fantasy, simple and well illustrated. I love the idea of taking a train to see Santa Claus.

After the boy takes a train to the North Pole and receives the gift he’s always wanted, a bell from Santa’ sleigh, he rings it with delight. But his parents say the bell is broken, because they can’t hear it ring. The boy grows up and discovers that even friends, like his wife, who could hear it when they were young, can’t hear it now that they have grown out of the Santa Claus myth. Of course, he doesn’t.

It’s the typical Santa Claus fantasy theme, “If you sincerely believe in Mr. C., he will be real for you.” I think I grew up with the mindset that this was a secularist concept or a weak mysticism. You can easily read a book like this and believe the author is urging you to believe in something, anything—it doesn’t matter—and it will be true for you. Don’t worry about others; believe what you want, because all belief is make-believe anyway. In the movie adaptation of The Polar Express, released today, the conductor says, “It doesn’t matter where you’re going; what matters is deciding to get on.” My gut reaction interpreted this to say it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you do. I guess believing can make you feel better. But faith does not make the imaginary real.

Still, my reaction didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the book, and on the way home from the megastore, I thought of another angle. Faith needs to be nurtured and can wilt over time. The boy in the book grows up, marries, and remembers a time when his wife could hear Santa’s sleigh bell ring. Eventually, he is the only one he knows who could hear the jiggles. He still believes in Mr. C.

Our faith as Christians in the living God can suffer the same fate. We can stop believing, even if we continue to say we believe, even if we follow some habits of belief. We can say God answers prayer and never believe our prayers will be answered. We can say God gives a peace which surpasses understanding to the mind which is focused on him without feeling that peace ourselves or believing we can gain it. For centuries, we have had this definition of faith: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So if our faith is not nurtured, we will lose all that we have on those “things not seen.” Fortunately, it isn’t all up to us. The one who gave us our faith by his grace will not let us go.

“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” (Hebrews 6:17-20a)

Chuck Colson follows this idea in his commentary on The Polar Express at “Often we allow life’s disappointments to make us cynical, and we no longer trust. Or we expect to get something for our faith. But life usually doesn’t work out according to our plans. So yes, what’s important isn’t what God has in store for us or what we are going to get, but that we trust God enough to turn to Him and act.”


What do you call?

What do you call the 9/11 Commission Report being nominated for the National Book Award (non-fiction) and topping’s 50 best books for 2004? A resume enhancement for some unnamed congressional staffers. You can read the report in PDF from the commission's website.
Monday, November 08, 2004
What Are You Reading?
You can see what I'm reading in the right-hand column under "Current Books." Well, that's what I have declared to read, and I try to stick to that list. But enough about me, what about you? What are you reading? A few fall books, whatever those are? A few pre-Xmas books, hmm?

This being a sort post, let me direct your attention to an idea the Jollyblogger is pondering. "[Brian McLaren] says it's not so much that people can't concentrate any more, it's that their minds are the equivalent of a T-1 line and we are trying to feed the information over a phone line." He wonders if the success of large booksellers and distributors show that people still have long attention spans, long enough to read a book or news article while watching TV at any rate.


Early to Bed, Early to Rise, Keeps a Father of Three from Blogging

Not that I'm complaining. Yes, I am, but not that I regret being a father or any of the other things I am. Still, I have not blogged for days. Thank you for dropping by Brandywine Books to check in on me and posts of mutual interest. I appreciate it. Though the plummeting visitors numbers are a little depressing, I appreciate the fact they are numbers at all. Forty-eight visits today with someone or some program from Yale too and I haven't written anything until now. What are you thinking?

When times like these come again, not that they are over now, but when they come again, feel free to drop me a note or comment to say, "What do you think about ______?" I may reply, "Well, I haven't read the thing itself, but I have read what others think about it. . ." Ce la vive or something.

Since this is a housekeeping post, let me clarify for any and all that this blog, Brandywine Books, is not affiliated with Brandywine Books, the antiquarian bookseller near Orlando, Florida; nor is it associated with Pennsylvania's Brandywine valley. The name of this blog comes out of my affection for Tolkien's Shire, the Brandywine river being the eastern most border of that quiet land.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The DNA of Literature

The Literary Saloon notes that the Paris Review will gradually publish all of their author interviews on their website. That's a boon for all of us, because the interviews are rich with details on the creative process and the hard work of writing anything. The journal itself says: "From its first interview with E.M. Forster, the Writers at Work series has, in the words of The New York Times, 'set the standard for literary interrogation.' Now the Paris Review Foundation proposes to make this vast archival resource—what has felicitously been referred to as the DNA of Literature—available online, for free, to anyone who visits the Paris Review website." This project took an NEA grant of $50,000 to get going. The interviews have many subjects such as T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Paul Auster, Ian McEwan, Luisa Valenzuela, and Shelby Foote.
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