- Alexander Hamilton, speaking of ex-presidents
I've been interested to read one of Margery Allingham's Albert Campion books ever since I saw Peter Davidson's portrayal on a BBC television series some years back. Books in the series have recently become available for Kindle at low prices, so I bought Police at the Funeral.
Albert Campion, the amateur detective of these books, bears a resemblance to Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey, and it's not by accident. Campion began as a parody of Lord Peter, but took on a life of his own. Nevertheless, they're still alike enough to be brothers, except that Campion wears horn rimmed glasses instead of Wimsey's monocle.
In Police at the Funeral, Campion goes to stay in a great house in Cambridge, at the request of a friend, and of his fiancee who is a lady's companion there. The resident family is an eccentric and crotchety assortment of elderly siblings and cousins, all constantly quibbling and chafing under the iron rule of a formidable great-aunt. One of the residents has disappeared, and soon his body is discovered, bound with a rope and shot to death.
The story is perfectly a perfectly adequate example of the "cozy" English variety of mystery, but I found it less interesting than I hoped. Perhaps my tastes have been spoiled by the ugly realism of the modern mystery, or perhaps I just compared it unfairly to Dorothy Sayer's books, which are (in my view) a notch brighter and more interesting.
Not bad, though. I'm sure many of our readers will enjoy it.
Mark Griffiths, a historian and botanist, was writing a book about English horticulturist John Gerard, who was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and decided to work out the ciphers and symbols on a famous book of Gerard's. His study has convinced him that he has found the only known portrait of Shakespeare made during his lifetime. Many clues point in this direction. For example:
A figure four and an arrow head with an E stuck to it. In Elizabethan times, people would have used the Latin word “quater” as a slang term for a four in dice and cards. Put an e on the end and it becomes quatere, which is the infinitive of the Latin verb quatior, meaning shake. Look closely and the four can be seen as a spear.The discovery was published in Country Life, which apparently is enough to make scholars mock its veracity.
“It is a very beautiful example of the kind of device that Elizabethans, particularly courtiers, had great fun creating,” said Griffiths.
First up, Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham.
“I’m deeply unconvinced,” he said. “I haven’t seen the detailed arguments, but Country Life is certainly not the first publication to make this sort of claim.” (via Prufrock)
The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks brings us signs with curious punctuation. There's a sign for a nursing home that people say is "20 minutes from here," a place with (quote, unquote) parking in the rear, ice cream that's "homegrown" somehow, and this notice written by someone who doesn't appear to have any idea what quotation marks are for.
Have you ever seen this kind of thing in the wild? I think I've only noticed misplaced apostrophes.
This reminds me of a note I put in the copy room where I once worked. "This is a Lanier copier," I said. "You cannot 'Xerox' on it."
They loved me for that.
The Museum of Biblical Art in New York will be closing June 14. Founded by the American Bible Society in 1997, the museum needed to find a new venue soon and could not do it.
“I believe that MOBIA contributes a unique element to the cultural landscape of New York and the entire country, and it is with tremendous sorrow that we close our doors,” said Co-Chair of the MOBIA Board of Trustees John Fossum.
Mike Duran states, "It is indeed a tragedy if we can’t acknowledge the Bible and its influence as one of the great sources of modern Western art and culture," but he wonders "whether the mainstream evangelical perspective of art has created an impassable breach." Is a secular museum on biblical art an uncomfortable topic for Americans, particular New Yorkers?
The Atlantic answers this way. "The absence of religious context for religious art in American museums was not, as one might assume, a product of the culture wars or a precocious expression of the new atheism. It was actually the result of several hundred years of aesthetic politics."
They quote Marcus Burk, senior curator at the Hispanic Society of America, saying, "This is just a torpedo at the water-line. It’s an enormous loss to the cultural life of New York and the whole country."
Harlan Coben is a remarkable writer of thrillers. It has been noted that he avoids profanity in his dialogue, and his use of violence is pretty restrained. Nevertheless he is capable of producing books as shocking as any you will ever read, in their own way. The Stranger is Hitchcockian in its portrayal of a very ordinary man thrust into a world of lies and mortal danger, and raises societal and existential questions as well.
Adam Price is no man of action. An easygoing type, he’s a successful eminent domain lawyer, living in a prosperous New Jersey suburb. He loves his beautiful wife and his two teenage sons. He’s “living the dream,” as one of his friends likes to say.
But, as the author is careful to emphasize, “dream” is precisely the word for their lives. Their security is insecure, their happiness fragile. Adam learns this first hand when a stranger sidles up to him after a youth lacrosse league meeting at the local American Legion, and tells him, “You didn’t have to stay with her.” Then he gives him information to prove that his wife has lied to him about something that matters deeply in their relationship.
It’s not just him who’s receiving such messages, Adam learns in time. There are people who search the internet, ferreting out secrets and blackmailing people, self-righteously believing they’re fighting the good fight against hypocrisy.
And they’re not even the worst ones….
Besides questioning our illusions of security and secrecy in the modern world, The Stranger also raises interesting questions about what they call “hacktivism” nowadays. This book is as relevant as anything you’ll read this year.
It drew me in. It fascinated me. It broke my heart. Highly recommended.
Marijuana infused coffee pods are now for sale in select stores on the left coast. One store owner said, "I liken it to a Red Bull and vodka. I had more energy, but I still had the relaxation you get from cannabis.”
Energetic relaxation, folks, can be yours with one special cup of coffee.
I'm late to the game, but I'd like to share some things I was thinking a couple weeks back, when everybody was talking about "Draw Muhammad Day" (is that the acceptable spelling this week? It's hard to keep track). Chances are you've thought similar thoughts, but I haven't seen the argument framed in exactly the terms I'd wish.
First of all, I'm all for civic courtesy. Going out and purposely insulting somebody's religion (even if it's Islam, which I consider a delusion of the devil) is bad taste, bad manners, and bad behavior as a neighbor. As a Christian, I consider it not only unloving but counterproductive for evangelism purposes. I would never do it, if all things were equal.
But there are events and statements that do make all things unequal. Like a planet dropped into a solar system, they change all the orbits and disrupt the orderly functioning of things.
Violence is the most radical of these. When violence is added to the mix, everything is altered.
When somebody declares that they intend to exercise a Murder Veto on the First Amendment, offending them ceases to be a faux pas. It becomes a kind of a duty for everyone who cares about freedom of expression. If you can't insult the source of the threat yourself, you have to at least support those who will. Even if, under normal circumstances, those people are scuzzballs.
Because constitutional rights are more important than civility. Incivility will not destroy freedom. The threat of violence can.
The Murder Veto must not be tolerated, or we are lost.
Artist Hugh MacLeod asked author Seth Godin several questions last month. Here's one of them.
HM: Back in my advertising days, a “Freelancer” was mostly considered a second class citizen- somebody who didn’t have the chops to hold down a proper, full-time salaried gig with an equally proper, established agency. A mere hired gun, maybe useful in an emergency, but no real lasting value. And here’s you, saying “No” to all that. Here’s you saying, “The reason you’re a freelancer is because it actually allows you to do important work.” Please elaborate.
SG: Think about the people who are truly great. The programmer who can save you months. The cartoonist who draws life-changing images on the backs of business cards. The guitar player who can sit in on a recording session and change everything… These people are first class. They’re in charge. Top of their game. The best of the best. That’s the freelancer each of us is capable of being.
Aimee Byrd bruised herself working with nunchaku for her book trailer on Theological Fitness: Why We Need a Fighting Faith. Learning how to fight well takes practice and patience. "Theological fitness requires much of the same kind of fight to continue. The preacher to the Hebrews exhorts us to hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering (Heb. 10:23). If Christians are to persevere by holding fast to their confession, they are going to need to know that confession front, back, and sideways. "
Loren Eaton riffs on name recognition vs. talent in light of the band U2 performing as street artists in the NY subway. "The super-scraggly quartet of apparently starving artists only looked different than the boys from Dublin; the songs were the exactly the same." But did they get same crowd in disguise?
Theophilus Van Kannel, a Philadelphia-based inventor, hated holding doors open for people, especially wildly good-looking people, and so he gave us the revolving door. People talk about the airflow goodness for large lobbies with revolving doors, but we know what Van Kannel was thinking.
And on that topic, Sabrina Schaeffer explains, "If You Want Sameness, Don’t Expect Chivalry."
"Well, our brave new world of gender equality—in which we scoff at gender differences and men and women are encouraged to act the same—often proves harmful to women and girls. While the modern feminist movement won women tremendous freedoms educationally, professionally, personally, and sexually, it often leaves women feeling anything but empowered."
The Vikings are hailed as the first Europeans, at least by some French scholars, breaking cultural divisions as well as breaking heads, and made into a foundation myth for our flabby, neo-liberal Europe.
The moment somebody shared a link to this book on Facebook, I knew I had to get it. And I’m glad I did, though I have certain quibbles. Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World reminded me of that old BBC television series with James Burke, “Connections.” It follows a somewhat wandering road of causation from the 7th Century to the 16th Century, showing how innovations that began when the Frisians dug so much peat out of their homeland that they were forced to build dikes and canals to control flooding led to the development of North Sea trade. Trade meant developing the concepts of hard money and credit, which led to abstract mathematical thinking, which led (in part) to modern science.
Trade means choices, and choices mean freedom. In a non-dogmatic way, The Edge of the World is a vigorous defense of capitalism.
There were parts I didn’t care for. Pye falls into the old trap of condemning the monks for denouncing the Vikings, on the grounds that Christians did pretty much the same things. He doesn’t go so far as to suggest the Christians should have just embraced the Vikings and their religion, but I'm not sure what the point is. He makes what seem to me rather conventional comments on people’s “need” to define ourselves by identifying enemies, as if enemies haven’t been in abundant supply throughout history. I suspect he wouldn’t criticize Muslims in the same way for condemning Crusaders.
But all in all an excellent book, full of interesting information, and with a sweeping narrative line. I recommend it.
It’s a strange sensation. I have no homework to do tonight. I submitted my final paper for this semester today, and now I’m done with all that. If I keep a “sufficient to the day” attitude, I have nothing to worry about until my first summer class starts, which happens to be before the end of the month.
But. Today I’m free. I’m 2/3 done with my graduate classes, and I can do anything I want this evening. I can loaf. Or I can tell you about my weekend.
In my youth (you’ll probably be surprised to learn) I had a reputation as a guy who had no problem dropping everything and driving off to a distant town with friends, on a moment’s notice. Saturday was like that, sort of. I think it was Thursday I got a call from Ragnar, who said that we had a Viking gig nobody had planned on, scheduled for Saturday. The hosts thought they’d confirmed with us, and they were planning on us, and had advertised us. We didn’t know about it.
I said sure, I’d go. Rather to my own surprise, I’d worked far enough ahead on my final class work that I was kind of coasting through the last couple weeks. I could take Saturday off without repercussions.
So Saturday morning I rose early, loaded Miss Ingebretsen, my PT Cruiser, with almost my full Viking load, and set out for Litchfield, Minnesota.
Litchfield is located in the west central part of the state, near Hutchinson. The local Sons of Norway lodge, in association with the congregation of historic Ness Church, Acton Township, were holding a Scandinavian festival. Read the rest of this entry . . .
A new opportunity to study with experts and professionals launched this week. Masterclass.com is a video-based instructional site that will allow you to study with professionals like James Patterson, Dustin Hoffman, and Serena Williams at your own pace on any device you own.
Patterson's class on writing comes with notes, assigned reading, interactive exercises, and the outline of his bestselling novels from 2007, Honeymoon. For $90, you get twenty-two lessons and access to the class and course materials for as long as the website exists.
As I said, the site is new this week, so there are only three courses available now with two more announced. If you take a Master Class now or in the future, I'd love to hear about your experience.
Jordan J. Ballor reveals how "a newly discovered section of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time (1963), which was excised before the book’s publication, makes clear the author’s classically conservative vision of political and social order."
The passage was uncovered by L'Engle's granddaughter. In it, Meg talks to her father about how IT came to run over Camazotz. Mr. Murray replies that old fashioned totalitarianism was involved, but also prosperity and a "lust for security."
"In a gloss on the famous passage from Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, Mr. Murry concludes that the love of security is “the greatest evil there is.” Placing security as the highest social good leads people to stop taking risks, to cease being entrepreneurial, to give up liberty, and even love itself." (via Hunter Baker)
"Writing a comprehensive and concise summary of Aristotle’s ideas is a difficult task, especially if the author wishes it to be accessible not only to the average reader but also to children in middle school. That ambition is what Mortimer Adler aimed at with this book." A brief review of Mortimer Adler's book, Aristotle for Everybody.
Recently I reviewed a couple of Ridley Pearson’s Lou Boldt novels, part of a continuing series I enjoy and watch for. I went on to try out another series of Pearson’s, the Risk Agent novels, which are very different stories, though equally well told. Though less to my taste.
The Risk Agent stories have two main characters. One is John Knox (interesting choice of name). John is a former commando, now running an import/export business. He makes good money, but he needs a lot of money, because his younger brother Tommie, whose guardian he is, suffers from an autistic-type disorder. Tommie functions well with good care, but such care is expensive. So John regularly takes side jobs with Rutherford Risk, an international private security firm. He was recruited as a risk agent by an old military friend.
The other main character is Grace Chu, formerly of the Chinese army. She is beautiful (of course), trained in martial arts, and a computer expert. She has a troubled relationship with her family, who do not approve of her career or her wish to marry a man of whom they do not approve.
John and Grace meet in The Risk Agent, in which they deal with a hostage situation in Shanghai. In an adventure they barely survive, they learn to like and trust each other, though they won’t admit to their mutual attraction.
In Choke Point they are sent to Amsterdam to deal with a child labor racket. And in The Red Room they are sent to Istanbul on a strange, off-the-books mission that makes no sense to them and leaves them on the run without support.
There’s an interesting character arc in the Risk Agent books. It’s not only the growing awareness of mutual attraction between the two main characters, but a hard fact about themselves that John already knows and Grace begins to learn. They are both adrenaline junkies, danger addicts. John tells himself he does his risk agent work for Tommie’s sake, but in his clearer moments he can see that his main motivation is his need to live as intensely as he did when he was in combat. If he gets himself killed, Tommie will be left all alone. And Grace discovers that she’s becoming exactly the same.
This intensity is the reason why, although I liked the Risk Agent books well enough, I still prefer the Lou Boldt stories. The level of stress achieved and maintained in these books is so cinematically high – and so generally unrelieved – that it kind of wore me out. I need a few breaks in my action stories, some down time and comic relief.
Still, I think the Risk Agent books will work very well for people who like their action poured straight. I can see them being turned into action movies, and very successful ones.
Cautions for the usual things – language, adult situations, and violence. But not bad by contemporary standards.
I don’t mean to hit you in the feels, but I have to share this with you and the community. My brother hates books, hates reading. He’s always had trouble with it, and he always felt like books were a world (really many worlds) he was locked outside of. In the last year he finally got new glasses and reading became a lot easier, he came to me and asked if I had anything lying around the house that he might be interested in reading. I handed him The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree and gave him an adapted Princess Bride speech: “swords, guns, torture, revenge, giant robot things, mad men with masks, chases, escapes, true love, miracles: you want it, this book has it.” I kinda backed away slowly, hoping for the best, but Devin hasn't read a book since high school. Over the next couple of weeks I started getting way more texts than usual: “I just got to the ocean monster,” “text me the name of that town they visit, I wanna name my city after it in Risk Legacy,” “I feel like the world is conspiring against me to finish the last few pages of this book. Every time I have a moment something has to happen! WTF!” I realized that he was going to need the second book before I’d find time to finish it, so I primed it right to his house. He texts me the next day “Yeah that first book cliff hangs hard! Glad I can just pick up the next one, thanks sis.”
He wanted to write you a thank you letter, but he’s less confident with writing than he is with reading, so I got drafted.
TLDR: My brother hasn't willingly opened a book in his whole 30 years, and your book, your writing just opened a thousand doors. He took WitTT with him EVERYWHERE until he finished it, and now he won’t shut up about it. He beat that book up so hard that he told me he “owes me a new, nice copy.”
"JM Barrie, the Scottish playwright and author of Peter Pan, was born 155 years ago today. Justine Picardie investigates whether he was an evil genius or a misunderstood ingenue." Was he involved in his brother's death? Did he dabble in the occult and curse his biographers?
DH Lawrence said, "JM Barrie has a fatal touch for those he loves. They die." Others said he was "a sympathetic and sensitive soul." (via Terry Teachout)
David Pryce-Jones, a senior editor at National Review, writes about his early life and some experiences as the literary editor for The Spectator. Even as a boy, he found that his Jewish heritage was the greatest stumbling block for those around him.
Hannah Arendt’s reportage on the Eichmann trial was published in October 1963, and Iain Hamilton agreed that I should review it. It took a very special type of intellectual to hold that banality was a word applicable to this man’s commitment to mass-murder. Cross-questioning had brought out his singular and sinister absence of human feelings. When she blamed Jewish officials for carrying out orders given by Eichmann and his staff, she revealed her inability to imagine the reality of Nazism. She excelled in passing moral judgments about events too frightful to be so simplified, and which in any case she had not lived through herself.This low-level distaste runs down many channels, poisoning writers and readers alike, calling for an adequate answer. Why do so many dislike, if not openly hate, the Jews? I can only think of a theological answer, that mankind, having been born in a state of rebellion against God, naturally rejects the mark of God still apparent on the Jewish people.
The Spectator’s owner, Ian Gilmour, had been in Oliver Van Oss’s house at Eton, though he had left before I arrived. A member of parliament, he was supposed to be an open-minded progressive Conservative, eventually earning the sobriquet “wet” when he was in Mrs. Thatcher’s cabinet. His resentment of Jews was obsessive, ignorant, and snobbish. I heard him inveighing against the Gaon of Vilna about whom he knew nothing, and he had an obsessive wish to attack the writings of James Parkes, a clergyman with a scholarly interest in Judaism and Israel. Jews, Gilmour believed like any Blackshirt or Islamist, by their nature conspire to do harm to other people, and to Palestinian Arabs in particular. A day was to come when he would post bail for two Palestinians who had tried to blow up the Israeli embassy. The strain of talking to me drained the blood from his face, tightening muscular striations and grimaces in his cheeks that became suddenly chalk-white.
Anti-Semitism, like racism and other forms of hatred for our fellow men, never go away completely. Pryce-Jones asks, "Who knows how many millions like [Harold Pinter] did not have the information or the intelligence to realize that they were caught by propaganda, repeating smears that other more artful people wanted them to repeat?" (via Prufrock News)
"The highest honor of Christian Book of the Year™ went to The Daniel Plan by Pastor Rick Warren (with Daniel Amen M.D., and Mark Hyman M.D.). The New York Times bestseller with a strong and regular presence on the ECPA Bestseller list, is described as “creating a health plan” that adds faith, focus, and community to the usual “food and exercise” approach to weight loss and health. The plan is credited for helping 15,000 of Warren's church members lose 250,000 pounds in the first year."
The Christian Book Awards from The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association have been announced. Again from the press release: “The Christian Book Award® winners not only represent the best books in our industry, but in their variety they represent the transforming power of Christian content that impacts all of life,” explains ECPA President/CEO Mark Kuyper. “Our industry continues to produce ‘Good Books that Feed the Soul’ for all ages, seasons, and interests.”
"Could the activity of thinking not only condition us against evil-doing but predispose us towards right action?" This is a question in Hannah Arendt's last and unfinished work, The Life of the Mind. It seems to be one of those unanswerable questions, even if the asker believe he has provided one. When such questions are segregated from ultimate goodness, from the purity of Eden to which man can never return on his own, we will not find satisfactory answers. We might as well ask if we can clean our faces in mud?
From our automotive and world records desk: Idris Elba can fly. "Driving a Bentley Continental GT Speed, Elba averaged 180.4 miles per hour over the full mile and hit a top speed of 186.4 miles per hour as he shot past the second marker," breaking a ninety-year-old UK record for the "flying mile," reports CNN Money. The drive was made as part of a feature on the actor for Discovery Channel. Commenters remain focused on Elba's potential as 007.
One of many things that irritate me in this world is reviews that say, "This book just didn't work for me." I'm sure I've written some myself, but it seems a pointless exercise. Reviews should be reserved for people who understand what's going on, whether they love it or hate it. If it just disappoints you for reasons you can't articulate, why bother reviewing at all?
Still, here I am reviewing a book written by a friend of several friends, who is acclaimed by all as a good guy and a fine writer. And yet about all I can say is that it didn't really work for me.
Bolg P.I.: The Bolg and the Beautiful is a comic mashup, a combination of hardboiled detective story and fantasy. A "bolg" is a kind of Irish dwarf, and our hero/narrator, who is generally just known as Bolg, has survived (like the characters of Gaiman's American Gods) into the modern world. Surviving with him are a number of mythological beings, including a wizard, the goddess Freya and some family members, and the dwarfs of the Rheingold.
When Freya, who is quite old now but still retains the power to dazzle any normal male, is robbed of her savings by a con man (who is immune to her charms because he swings the other way), Bolg is called in to try to recover the money for her. He employs natural and supernatural means to accomplish this task, and there's a lot of comedy along the way.
I did laugh sometimes, and the author now and then made comments on the world with which I agreed profoundly. But the mix didn't satisfy me. It didn't entirely work either as drama or farce, for my taste.
I won't deny, however, that the prose was good and I got some laughs out of it. So your mileage may vary, and likely will.
“On behalf of the ECPA, Crossway, and the entire Christian publishing industry, we thank Lane and Ebeth for their faithfulness to God’s Word; their love for the gospel of Jesus Christ; their service to his church; and their commitment to bear witness to God’s truth, beauty, and holiness through their lives and the publishing ministry of Crossway.”
The Evangelical Christian Publishing Association recognized the leaders of Crossway Books, Dr. Lane T. and Mrs. Ebeth Dennis, with a lifetime achievement award. Crossway Books emerged from Good News Publishers in 1979. They are the publishers of the English Standard Version of the Bible and published Frank Peretti back in the 80s. They're good people, as we say.
Jared C. Wilson's new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, urges churches to seek Jesus and his mission over all other people or missions. "I think the stakes are too high to simply preach to the Amen corner in the 'young, restless, and Reformed' movement. My hope for this book is that it may challenge the status quo outside my own tribe..."
Are we effectively looking to the nations to see if we can worship our God the way they worship their gods? No Christian wants to do that, but many have not been circumspect enough to recognize how they are doing it now.
Jonathan Rogers tells a brief story about vision. "My father-in-law loves his native country; no wonder he planted longleaf. If they take forty years to grow to maturity--well, then, they take forty years. He is a man of imagination and hope."
The Blunt Instrument answers questions about the necessity of an MFA and how well-networked a writer must be to succeed. Among other things, he says,
Writing and reading and doing the rest of the administrative work required to get published take up a lot of time, most of which is uncompensated, especially at first.
You can do all of this (find a community, carve out dedicated writing time, etc.) without getting an MFA, but an MFA is a structured system that makes these things easier to achieve in a short time period. In my opinion, that’s what you’re paying for, more than the largely useless degree.
"Too often the movie takes the place of the book," Dwight Longenecker writes, "and when this happens there is a curious change of direction and affection. The dynamic of interaction is totally different when viewing a film as opposed to reading a book."
He says fantasy is best when it isn't as materialized as it is in film. When a movie locks our minds into the way a story looks, sounds, and feels as it moves, then we coast with it instead of imagining it ourselves. That dulls our imagination, which is something we need.
"The imagination is the tool not only of creativity, but of worship. It is through the imagination that we meditate and dream and contemplate and pray."
"The Other Side of the Wind" was supposed to be Orson Welles return to power or something close to it, but Josh Karp tells the story of what happened to leave it unfinished in the end.
During production many people asked Welles what his movie was all about. To his star, John Huston, he once replied, “It’s a film about a bastard director…. It’s about us, John. It’s a film about us.”
The answer, however, was different one evening when comedian Rich Little, who was also in the cast, found Welles propped up in bed, making script revisions.
“Orson,” Little asked, “what does The Other Side of the Wind mean?”
Looking down over his reading glasses, Welles, in his rich baritone, said, “I haven’t the foggiest.”