"If [the ordinary reader] must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet."

- C.S. Lewis, "On Reading Old Books"
More on What Tyndale House Knew About Malarkey Book

The publisher of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven is saying it knew nothing of Beth and Alex Malarkey's complaints about the book until recently when Alex finally got through to the world that the book didn't tell his story.

Tyndale says they tried to meet with the family and the agent who largely wrote the book, but Beth would not agree. Phil Johnson interprets the situation as being less than supportive.

“The thread that runs through all their correspondence with Beth is that they wanted to corner her before they would be willing to investigate her concerns,” [Johnson] wrote to the Guardian. “They kept pressing her to agree to a meeting where she and Alex would have to face Kevin and a phalanx of editors who were determined to press ahead with the project, no matter what objections Alex and she might have.”

We saw the same thing in Beth's account from her blog. Company men had their own ideas, like journalists with a template, and kept pressing Alex to give them the details they wanted.

Warren Throckmorton notes Tyndale doubled down on this book last year when they released a pocket edition. These are not the marks of a Christian ministry. These are the marks of a purely market-driven organization.

How the Storytelling on CSI Has Changed

CBS is in the fear business. Terror is one of their most reliable profit centers.” (via Mark Bertrand)

Grousing about a TV show

I think I told you that my classes resumed last Monday. I wrote that in good faith, but in fact they start tomorrow. I got another week of freedom I hadn't planned on.

I've used my winter break for a number of different purposes. There was the ordinary Christmas stuff. I did another revision on my translation of a book on Norway in the Viking Age, because the text I delivered to the publisher was a rough draft, and it's been nagging at me. To my surprise, after I delivered the revision, the publisher told me they're probably going to go ahead with it. Most gratifying.

And then there were Christmas cards. And then there was taxes.

But I've loafed a little. Last night I watched a new TV show called "Backstrom." Wikipedia tells me that it's an Americanized adaptation of a series of Swedish detective novels. It stars Rainn Wilson, best known from "The Office."

It was horrible. Or so it seemed to me. I kind of tuned it out after the first 15 minutes or so. Possibly it picked up while I wasn't paying attention.

Comparisons to "House" come to mind. House was a rude and irascible genius. Backstrom is supposed to be the same.

But House had one thing this show lacked -- wit. You couldn't help liking House a little, most of the time. He was funny. He was obviously in physical pain, which made most of us cut him a little slack. And he had people around him -- notably Dr. Wilson -- who put up with his act because they had a history with him and had reasons (often opaque to us) for valuing him.

Backstrom has none of that. He's just a jerk.

Memo to Hollywood: Being a jerk in itself is not the same as being interesting.

Looking at a History of Brilliance

Chris Yokel talks about visiting an art museum. "I was in the Art of the Americas wing, looking at some of my favorite paintings by the early Americans, Gilbert Stuart and John Singleton Copley. Leaning in close, I could see the brushstrokes, still visible after several hundred years. I noticed the cracks seaming the canvas, sometimes even enhancing it."

His creative spirit is wonderfully refreshed.

Photos of Unique Bookstores Around the World

The Guardian has these photos of bookstores described by that fun, book culture author, Jen Campbell, in her book, Books Are My Bag. From that collection: "Fjaerland is one of Norway’s Book Towns near Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in mainland Europe. Old sheds, houses and even a hotel have been converted into bookshops. “During the winter, the bookshop owners have to transport the books from place to place, over the snow, on kick-sleds,” says Campbell."

They also share a photo of this remarkable pile of rare and otherwise books in Detroit. It's Michigan's largest used bookstore.

I review 'Saint Odd' at The American Culture



I've got a review of Saint Odd, the final Odd Thomas book, over at Liberty 21's The American Culture blog today.

If you’ve read the novels (and for heaven’s sake, if you haven’t read them, don’t start with this one. Start with Odd Thomas, and read them in order), you know what I mean. We all knew it was coming. There is no surprise in it.

But be comforted. All is well. All will be well.

Auction on Remarkable Bookplates

Many bookplates from a collection formed by the late Brian and Stephanie Schofield are up for bid through the Bookplate Society of England. See the plates and how to participate on their website. The auction dates have yet to be set.

'The Name of the Wind,' by Patrick Rothfuss



Over Christmas someone suggested I read Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, first installment in the Kingkiller Chronicles, saying that all the young fantasy fans are talking about it these days.

They could be talking of worse things.

The Name of the Wind is a fantasy, of a refreshingly original sort. It's similar to the Harry Potter books, but more mature in orientation.

The hero is Kvothe, literally a legend in his own time. World famous as a musician, a warrior, and a magician, he has retired from the world when we meet him in this book, keeping an inn in a remote town. When the character called the Chronicler encounters him, he doesn't recognize him at first. But when he does, he manages to persuade Kvothe to tell him his life's story so that he can write it down. Three days are reserved for the project, and each day's narrative forms the text of one book in the series.

Kvothe tells us of his childhood as a traveling player, the tragedy that takes his family away, his years as a beggar, and at last his acceptance at the University, the greatest learning institution in a world where magic and technology are just poles on a single continuum.

There he makes friends and enemies, reconnects with the love of his life, breaks many rules, and begins to acquire the reputation that will make him the greatest figure of his time.

Fascinating, well written, and well-charactered, The Name of the Wind is very good reading. The author may take the story in ways I don't like in the future, but for now I liked what I read.

Generally suitable for teens and up.

When Books Taste Like Vegetables

“Many struggle to find a good route into being a good reader,” Kathleen Nielson observes in a new roundtable video with Rosaria Butterfield and Gloria Furman. How does ones move past an understanding of the importance of reading to an enjoyment of it? (via ISI)

The Paradox of Intellectual Promiscuity

In a spectacular essay titled “The Paradox of Intellectual Promiscuity,” found in his altogether indispensable final essay collection I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History, Gould uses Nabokov’s case to make a beautiful and urgently necessary broader case against our culture’s chronic tendency to pit art and science against one another — “We have been befogged by a set of stereotypes about conflict and difference between these two great domains of human understanding,” he laments — and to assume that if a person has talent and passion for both areas, he or she can achieve greatness in only one and is necessarily a mere hobbyist in the other.
(via Books, Inq.)

How Martin Luther King's faith drove his activism

As [Dr. J. Kameron] Carter explains it, white churches that sprang up throughout American history did so in the pattern of the great European cathedrals and denominations from which they were transplanted. Black church, while it is related to those European frameworks, "is in excess of them," says Carter, meaning they "were already doing work beyond what those traditional denominations were doing."

"In the face of a modern condition that told Blacks they were only worthy of their labor power, black churches came along and affirmed that there was a mode of life far beyond the woundings that came along with black existence in America."

This is the tradition that produced King. And it's the same tradition that produced other civil rights leaders, like Rosa Parks and Ella Baker.
Brandon Ambrosino has written a lengthy interview with three scholars on Dr. King and the black experience in America.

Puritan Theology and the Race Problem



Dr. Anthony Bradley describes a problem Christians of any tradition should grapple with, that even great theologians and Christian leaders don't apply their theology uniformly well. They have blind spots, sometimes embarrassing ones.

This video is on Westminster Theological's post for Martin Luther King Day, which has a few books and stories from seminary alumni. Rev. C. Herbert Oliver graduated in 1953 has an interesting story to tell. You can read it on their site. Here, I'll quote his answer to the question on what changes he has seen in our country over 60 years:

Theologically, I would say that I’ve seen what I would call the disturbing trend in the PCUSA, moving in the direction of ordaining open gay and lesbian ministers. I’ve been a member of the New York City presbytery for 45 years, and I saw how that change took place. I opposed it at the beginning, but they had a way of shunning you to the side and not hearing you. So I decided I would become an observer and watch this and see how it has worked out. It has worked out to me unfavorably, and against the Bible, so they now have an openly gay executive presbyter of the presbytery.

I’ve also not seen any basic racial changes for the better in the church. I’m sorry to say that, but I ran into the same racism in the PCUSA church as I found in the OPC. When I graduated from seminary, there was no place for me to serve. There were plenty of churches that were vacant, but none of them would call me. It was understood by the higher-ups in the church that there was no future for me being called to a white church. That’s when the call came to me to serve in Maine, and I accepted that and went there and served. But the racial divide in America is still as strong as it was in the 40’s and 50’s. Just more polite, but it is no less real, no less firm, and no less impregnable.

'A Companion to Beowulf,' by Ruth A. Johnston



A few days back I posted a review of a book on the Viking Age which had disappointed me. Author Ruth A. Johnston, who happens to be a Facebook friend, then mentioned her own book on Beowulf, which I'd already read. I hadn't noticed that it came from the same publisher.

Ruth's book, A Companion to Beowulf, is much, much better.

A Companion to Beowulf is, as you would expect, an introduction to the poem, useful for students or history buffs or Tolkien fans. It's well written and comprehensive, and includes a list of modern adaptations, a glossary of names, a list of works cited, and even a chapter on Tolkien.

For some reason, she fails to note my theory, mentioned on this blog, that Beowulf is "refugee literature." I've also been inclined to give credence to theories that Beowulf's "Geatish" tribe may have been someone other than the Gotlanders. Johnston states flatly that they were Goths. But that may be because she knows more about the subject than I do, hard as that may be to believe.

I did catch what I think are couple small errors. She says the spear was the symbol of a free man -- I'm pretty sure it was the seax. A spear is what a slave would be most likely to carry. She also speaks of Vikings wielding "two-headed fighting axes." That should be "two-handed fighting axes." They never fought with double-bitted axes.

But those are the sort of small mistakes you'll find in any book -- even mine. All things considered, this is an excellent introduction to a wonderfully alien work of literature. I recommend it.

Boy Denies He Returned from Heaven

The subject of the book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven has released a letter denying his claims in the book, something his mother has been doing for a few years.

"I did not die," Alex says. "I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention."

Publisher Tyndale has responded by pulling the book and related materials.

If you read the accounts from Alex's mother, Beth, you may ask how a publisher of Christian books for the body of Christ could railroad her and her son (apparently with the father's permission) to publish a book with such terrible theology. In a post from September 2013 which offers a timeline of details following the accident, Beth tells us some of her interaction with people wanting to turn her family's story into books and a movie.

I neither verbally nor in writing gave approval for any quotes. In fact I instead verbally gave my desire to not have any quotes by me put in any book. There was a time that I was sitting in PICU and told over the phone that some words from a webpage that no longer exists (prayforalex.com) that were written by me were going to be placed in the book. I was sitting in PICU with Alex! I told the person that they could not do that, to which they said they could and that that site was public. GRRR....the best I could do was to tell the person that they had better get every word correct. I have documentation of what is written in the book and that post from the webpage. The two do not match up :( It saddened me more to learn that that interaction that was twisted is part of a Bible study...what? I certainly have witnessed some shocking things!
Money, she says, was the driving factor for these people, and they promised money to her for Alex, but she has not seen any of it.

The Easy Way to Become a Writer

Neil Gaiman explains one of the easy ways to become a writer. You just wake up one day, after having tasted the fruit of a certain tree. You'll see what I mean.

I review 'Treasure Planet'



Another day, another review. I reviewed Hal Colebatch's novel, Treasure Planet, for the American Spectator.

The Jim Hawkins character here is Peter Cartwright, a young man who helps his mother run an inn in a remote part of Wunderland. The appearance of Captain Skel, a demanding and dangerous old space-farer, sets off a plot whose general outlines will be familiar to any Stevenson fan. Long John Silver here is “Silver,” a Kzin with a prosthetic leg, and instead of a ship we have, of course, a spacecraft. The treasure in this book is not gold, but an alien library full of technological information left behind by a long-extinct species.

Read it all here..

The Green Ember Is Great Fun

I get why Loren hesitates to review Sam Smith's The Green Ember, and I share his desire to see it succeed. Here's a bit of his review:

"Here's the best way I can sum up The Green Ember for you: It reads as if Brian Jacques had Sam Gamgee's famous quote from The Return of the King ("Is everything sad going to come untrue?") nailed above his desk while writing a version of Redwall that wasn't awful. Far from being merely "not awful," though, Smith's first novel shows that he truly understands the essentials of storytelling."

Gawking Through Life's Window

Elodie Quetant urges us to serve those around us. "We cheapen life by playing a peeping Tom to its events. Our gadgets have trained us for constant voyeurism, but we’re missing the bigger picture by not engaging friends, coworkers, and our children about monumental shifts in society. Avoiding the uncomfortable conversations is the perfect way for society to remain ignorant and biased."

Paintings Unlike the Others

David Herman writes about seeing the more personal work of his father, the Polish painter Josef Herman. "He belonged to a great tradition of European artists who from the mid-19th century depicted the dignity of labour: from Courbet, Millet and Van Gogh to the Flemish Expressionists and the German artist, Käthe Kollwitz in the early 20th century," he states, describing the way critics and admirers have known him.

But then sketches and paintings of a different nature were discovered.

"Everyone in these newly discovered drawings and paintings was recognizably Jewish. The palette was completely different: dark blue skies, a white crescent moon, pale faces with dark, haunted eyes."

Presence of 'Malice'



They've revamped our friend S. T. Karnick's The American Culture blog, and I've finally found a minute to write a book review for them. It's a review of Keigo Higashino's Malice.

That seems straightforward enough, but Detective Kaga is unsatisfied. The confession has minor holes, ones that nag at him. Gradually, as one peels away the layers of an onion, he works his way down to Nonoguchi’s true, secret motive.

Read it all here.

Third Wave Coffee, New Orleans' Style

The coffee of New Orleans is gaining popularity. This article by Sarah Baird may provoke you to seek it out. She mingles among aromas at a Zephyr Green Coffee Importers cupping.

"Crouching like a swimmer poised on the high dive, I position my nostrils over the edge of the miniature cup, close my eyes and take a firm whiff.

"It doesn't work quite right. I proceed to inhale a small latte's worth of grounds and fall back into a sniffling, sneezing mess. Clearly, I am a first-timer."

New Orleans has a history in coffee, and it's changing as new consumer sophistication rises. She explains, "Zephyr's foray into the specialty green coffee trade marks the latest wave in a long stream of coffee importers who have made their homes in New Orleans, which has had the premier coffee port in the U.S. for almost two centuries. The Port of New Orleans and coffee are inextricably linked, with 15 warehouses devoted solely to java, and the world's largest coffee silo — Silocaf — located inside Orleans Parish lines."

Now specialty coffee crafters are building their business by guiding drinkers into the wonderful realm of flavorful coffee without cream and sugar.

Emerson wrote Chicken Soup, Gobbledegook

Micah Mattix (@prufrocknews) explains the confusing prose of the man who has been called the Bard of Concord. In short, he says we should reduce Emerson's contributions in our anthologies to make room for clearer thinkers of his time.

His central idea, of course, is “Trust thyself.” In his earlier essays, he encourages his readers to disregard the past, institutions, and dogma, and to obey “the eternal law” within. “I will not hide my tastes or aversions,” he writes. “I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints.” But in a later essay on Napoleon, who seems to have embodied the “deep” self-trust Emerson lauds, he states confusingly (after praising Napoleon) that what made Napoleon’s egoism wrong was that it “narrowed, impoverished and absorbed the power and existence of those who served him.” And whose fault is this? "It was not Bonaparte’s fault. He did all that in him lay to live and thrive without moral principle. It was the nature of things, the eternal law of man and of the world which baulked and ruined him."
So the law of man and the world ruined the man who wanted to rule the world. Did he not trust himself enough?

Let's Not Get Cynical Here

"Satire can be dangerous and harmful. It can breed a dehumanizing cynicism which becomes an end in itself," writes Carl Truman, but it is also "vital to healthy democracy. Where it exists, it is a sign that power is being resisted. Where it is permitted, it is a sign of freedom and a gauge of the ability of those in charge to allow criticism."

And from our political desk, we're hearing reports that the administration who said the world doesn't respect the United States enough to stand with us did not respect the world enough to stand with them during yesterday's solidarity march in Paris. The secretary of state said, essentially, "Just because I couldn't attend your ball games or birthday parties doesn't mean I don't love you, son. Why does this always have to be about you?"

A Glimpse Into the Mind of a Sceptic

Bart Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became God and Misquoting Jesus, talks with World's Warren Cole Smith about his new book arguing Jesus did not claim to be God. He says, "It has long been recognized by scholars that if Jesus actually had called himself God, and it was known that he called Himself God, that it’s virtually beyond belief that the early Gospel writers didn’t mention this."

The publisher of Ehrman's book thought it would sell books to publish a companion book arguing that Jesus is God, so they approached five authors to write it. Ehrman says in the interview that he doesn't believe those authors believe Jesus taught the doctrine of the Trinity during his lifetime. "Scholars," he says, believe John's Gospel put words in Jesus' mouth, so he did not actually say, "I and the Father are one," or other claims to divinity. I suppose any evidence to support this belief is in his book.

Apparently the demonstrations of divine authority in Matthew 8-9 do not argue for Jesus' deity, but merely his agency of divine power. He was a prophet, nothing more:

  • "When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, 'Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.'"
  • "And the men marveled, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?'"
  • "'But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins'—he then said to the paralytic—'Rise, pick up your bed and go home.'"
  • "And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, 'Never was anything like this seen in Israel.'"
Apparenly Jesus claiming the title "Son of Man" for himself is no clue that he is the one in Daniel 7 who "all peoples, nations, and languages" would serve forever:
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

Ehrman gets hung up on the doctrine of the Trinity in the interview, pressing Smith on whether the five evangelical authors actually believe Jesus taught the Trinity.Read the rest of this entry . . .

Doubt: Your Unwelcomed Companion

Nicci Cloke writes about beginning the year as a new novelist.

This time of year is one of the worst for The Doubts, with social media churning out list upon list of books to look out for in 2015. Author Claire King rightly explains here how unnecessarily stressful it can be — especially for a debut novelist — to scan those and not find your book listed. And, let’s be honest — there’s always some handy stick-shaped internet fodder you can find to beat your poor old ego with.
In the post to which Ms. Cloke links, Ms. King observes, "MOST of us are not the most anticipated. But if your pool of debut authors is limited to you and the ones everyone is shouting about on twitter and in the newspapers it’s very easy to feel like the poor relation."

'Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen,' by Kirsten Wolf

[Personal note: I apologize for my continued absence from this blog. I thought I'd be doing more blogging while I had a few weeks of winter break, but I scheduled myself a number of projects, and they've taken more time than I expected. And now I'm just a week away from classes again. lw]



I approached Kirsten Wolf's book, Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen, with anticipation. For years a book with a similar job description, Jacqueline Simpson's Everyday Life in the Viking Age, has been a standard for Viking buffs and reenactors. It's well-researched, readable, and useful. But it's old now, and we've learned a lot since Simpson wrote. We need a new book in that vein.

This book is not it.

That's not to say it's worthless. I'll admit I learned some things reading it. But I'm not as sure of those things as I'd like to be, because the book contains too many "facts" that are just plain wrong.

The author states twice that the Battle of Svold took place in Norway (it took place in the Baltic). She states that Olaf Tryggvason was the great-grandson of Harald Fairhair (historians aren't sure nowadays). She says that Olaf Tryggvason made the Greenlanders accept Christianity (no historian believes that anymore).

Most of the gross mistakes seem to be associated with King Olaf Tryggvason's career. Perhaps the author's reading has been deficient in that area. Prof. Wolf teaches Old Norse literary studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I hesitate to criticize a professor in a university system in which I am a student, but she seems weak on material outside her specialty. I suspect the book was a rush job, probably done under deadline.

A special weakness of this volume is the illustrations. The book is lavishly illustrated, but most of those illustrations are worse than useless, except to fill up pages. The publishers opted for copyright-free pictures whenever possible, which means we are treated to a feast of 19th Century engravings, with horned and winged helmets and classical poses. In a book which fails to even mention the Cardinal Truth -- "No horned helmets!" -- this is inexcusable. Newcomers to the field will come away with a bundle of misconceptions.

Jacqueline Simpson's book was illustrated with simple and useful line drawings that depicted actual archaeological finds. But hiring artists to do that sort of thing costs money, which the publishers of Wolf's book were apparently unwilling to spend.

Not recommended.

Wilson's Favorites from 2014

John Wilson of Books and Culture offers his favorite books from last year. Here's one recommendation which may resonate with you.

The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany. Donald E. Westlake. Edited by Levi Stahl. Because he mostly wrote crime fiction (some of it under the name “Richard Stark”), and—even worse, from the standpoint of the guardians of our literature—a lot of it very funny, Donald Westlake (1933-2008) is almost never mentioned in canonical accounts of contemporary fiction. But that hasn’t prevented countless readers from savoring his sentences. This nonfiction miscellany, lovingly edited by Levi Stahl, will give those readers a clearer sense of the man behind the books while providing a good deal of instruction and delight.

Thornbury's Period of Doubt and New Faith

Greg Thornbury writes about his upbringing and how his Christian liberal arts education almost took his faith away.

For me, this dose of higher criticism was nearly lethal. Any sense that the Bible was divinely inspired and trustworthy, or that the creeds had metaphysical gravitas, started to seem implausible. The best I could muster was that, somehow mystically, perhaps Jesus was the Christ, existentially speaking. I was approaching something close to New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s own story of losing faith.
By God's profound grace, the writings of one man turned him around.

What If We Did Away With a Literary Canon?

"The academy has forsaken the stuffiness of the strictly educated and taken up the twee thoughtlets of the faux hip."

Retitled Christian Books as Mini Reviews

You know the concept. What if publishers told us the raw truth in their book titles? Here's a list of what could be written.

I Kissed Dating Goodbye: How To Not Talk To Girls Until You’re 25 Years Old

Heaven Is For Real: A Book About Heaven From The Perspective Of A Four Year Old Who Had A Near Death Experience And For Some Reason We Believe Him More Than The Bible

A Year Of Biblical Womanhood: One Woman’s Valiant Attempt To Create Straw-Man Arguments and Massively Misinterpret A Lot Of The Bible, All the While Saying, “You Go Girl!”

Radical: All You Rich, Fat, Lazy Christians Need To Stop Eating At McDonald’s And Become Missionaries To Africa

There's more. (via Barnabas Piper, whose book is in the list)

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