All posts by Phil W

New Collection of Epstein Essays

Following up on yesterday’s post about expanding book coverage of a likely political nature, we have word of a new collection of essays from Joseph Epstein: The Ideal of Culture. Jonathan Leaf praises it and the man who created it.

Epstein is very much of the opinion that possession of Culture—with the capital C—is a lifelong endeavor that enriches daily life and reflects both inculcation and determined striving.

. . . Nonetheless, the book’s publication is unlikely to be noted in the most celebrated organs of commentary. That is because, in today’s thought-policed intellectual world, Epstein is probably best known for having defied the politically correct authorities.

Who’s organizing the raising of a monument for this man?

Literature Is More than Politics

The Columbia Journalism Review asks, “What’s behind a recent rise in books coverage?The New York Times and other publications are growing (perhaps only on the digital side) and may have expanded their book coverage as a result. It doesn’t quite explain what’s behind the rise other than to say readers want it.

Micah Mattix observes the strongest themes in the reviews that come from these organizations are political. Book coverage may be contextualize short-form reports, but as Mattix says, “If you’re interested in literature primarily for its politics, you’re not interested in literature. And book coverage that always keys reviews to political concerns is a very philistine sort of coverage.”

New Letter from C.S. Lewis Reveals Intolerance of Unexamined Convention

We know C. S. Lewis wrote a lot of correspondence to readers, strangers, children, and women’s study groups. To that last group, a previously unpublished letter offers an example of one of things that could set the author off.

“Dear Ladies,” Lewis wrote, “Who told you that Christians must not go to the theatre, dance, play cards, drink, or smoke?”

Who these ladies were is unknown and they apparently annoyed Lewis with their letter, but he wouldn’t ignore it. He responded to it with a duty few of us share today.

Stephanie Derrick, author of The Fame of C.S. Lewis: A Controversialist’s Reception in Britain and America, explains some of what we do about this letter and our favorite Oxford don’s habits of correspondence.

First, it appears they parroted some tired, theologically unsound notions about Christian behavior—i.e., good Christians don’t drink, smoke, or otherwise enjoy themselves—and if Lewis had intolerance for anything it was the touting of unexamined tenets. This was partly a matter of personality—Lewis once described himself as “by temperament, an extreme anarchist”—but it was also an effect of his training in logic and philosophy. And he was particularly irked by the addition of perfunctory requirements to the Christian faith, once saying, for example, “How little I approve of compulsion in religion may be gauged from a recent letter of mine to the Spectator protesting against the intolerable tyranny of compulsory church parades for the Home Guard.” Lewis hated to see the joy of hope and faith—or of everyday living, for that matter—diminished by dogmas that were shaped more by social convention than sound religion.

I Know Death Has No Sting, But Still

Last week, a great teacher in our church, adjunct at Covenant College, and godly resource for the global church passed away suddenly. I went to Twitter and became a bit irritated that no one was talking about him. But why would they? Maybe twenty years from now men like this would resonate online at the right frequency to vibrate whatever social networks people would be using then. But last week with all the talk of how important this or that thing should be, I was irritated by the thought I couldn’t say something about the most important person in my mind at the moment.

Tonight another man I know from church, a little older and not a teacher in the same way, has passed away. The last I’d heard about him was of his successful surgery and hospital release. I wasn’t prepared for the news of his death. I’m not prepared for missing him in the hallways and all of the other places I might have seen him.

I know that these are astonishing moments for both men and that both of them awoke on the other side as if they had been asleep their entire lives. I know that “this perishable body must put on the imperishable,” because Christ Jesus has put death in its own grave. Its sting is blunted; its victory made void.

But still.

As One Who Has Slept

This is John Tavener’s arrangement of a Holy Saturday liturgy from the Orthodox Church:

“As one who has slept the Lord has risen
And rising he has saved us. Alleluia.”

In Praise of Men

Andrée Seu Peterson has assembled a few thankful words for men.

The best musical composers are men. The best art in our local Philadelphia Art Museum and Barnes Foundation is by men. The best writers are men. The best chefs are men. And to be honest, who wouldn’t rather watch men’s hockey than women’s hockey? In other words, everything that lifts the dreariness of life is by and large a man’s idea.

Men cut to the chase. (Except William Faulkner, who was wordy.)

We at Brandywine Books recognize the honesty in which this column was written and deny any hint of comic exaggeration.  Bully for us!

In other news, World offers their books of 2018, noting some changes in Christian publishing over the last several years.

Coffee Is a Slow Poison, Voltaire

Dear Quote Investigator: Coffee enthusiasts enjoy sharing an anecdote about Voltaire who savored the aromatic beverage throughout his life. The famous philosopher’s physician warned him that coffee was a slow poison. He replied, “Yes, it is a remarkably slow poison. I have been drinking it every day for more than seventy-five years”.

But did this exchange occur between Voltaire and his doctor or was it someone else and someone else’s doctor? What are the facts interfering with this story? The Quote Investigator spells it out.

Would You Travel to a Book Town?

A book town is a small town with a lot of books for sale. A personal library like Richard Adams’s wouldn’t count.

Hobart, New York, is a perfect example of how having one bookstore in a small town is nice, but having many bookstores together makes a place special—a destination. Since the 1970s, book towns like it have been springing up all over the world. There are now dozens of them, from Australia and Finland to India and South Korea.

Atlas Obscura talks to the author of a book on forty-five of these literary havens. “After we’ve gone through everyone getting excited about e-books and online reading,” Alex Johnson said, “having something practical and in your hand is something that people are happy to travel for.”

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

“Few things sting more fiercely”

Terry Teachout says the reason we all know Art Carney for his role as The Honeymooners‘s Ed Norton and not also for his performance as Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple is one of the saddest stories he knows.

“Carney, who started out as a comedian, discovered almost accidentally as a byproduct of the popularity of The Honeymooners that he had the stuff great character actors are made of.” But when filming The Odd Couple came around, Hollywood could not see that stuff for understandable reasons.

Did 1918 Give Us Today’s Christian World?

The Great War ended with the official Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, but arms were laid down on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. This Sunday is the hundredth anniversary of what we had hoped to be the end of all wars.

President Wilson proclaimed the following year: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

Collin Hansen asked Baylor Historian Philip Jenkins about WWI’s influence on Christian peoples. Did the war or the end of it change the global church in significant ways?

The war destroyed ancient centers of Christianity in the Middle East, especially among the Armenians and Assyrians. At the same time, the suspension of missionary enterprises shifted the balance in Africa and Asia to native forms of faith. That movement was massively enhanced in 1918 by the influenza epidemic, which killed between 50 million and 100 million worldwide. That event showed the utter inability of Western missionaries and medics, and drove many ordinary people to seek help from healing churches, and from individual prophets and charismatic leaders. The great age of the African Independent Churches dates from this time.

As to the West, I can hardly begin! Contrary to myth, the war did not destroy the faith of ordinary people, but it did drive thought and writing by theologians, above all by Karl Barth. Barth published the first edition of his commentary on Romans in 1919, but it was the second edition, published in 1922, that according to one Catholic observer, “burst like a bombshell on the playground of the European theologians.” The book was a frontal attack on the liberal conventions that had shaped mainstream theology since the Enlightenment.

And that does not begin to talk about the great Catholic thinkers like Henri de Lubac, whose war experiences shaped their lives, and we see their lasting influence transforming the church in the Vatican Council of the 1960s.

Dare I say that the Christian world we know today is the product of 1918?

AbeBooks Decision Provokes International Backlash

The Amazon-owned used book website AbeBooks announced their disconnecting from select rare and antique booksellers around the world sparking a backlash from over 250 booksellers in 24 countries. The New York Times reports:

The stores are calling their action Banned Booksellers Week. The protest got its start after AbeBooks sent emails last month to booksellers in countries including South Korea, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia to say that it would no longer “support” them. “We apologize for this inconvenience,” the company said.

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association Book Fair is also dropping AbeBooks from their 2019 sponsors, and one business owner says he will never list his books on the site again.

AbeBooks says their third party payment service is shutting down, so they cannot continue to process sales from certain countries. The way this report reads, if the website had at least made the pretense of finding a way to work with the affected booksellers before announcing it could not, other booksellers may not being protesting now. (via ShelfAwareness)

Can We Stop Yelling and Talk a Minute?

For those of us who believe in turning the other cheek (or at least we believe in the one who said we should turn the other cheek, whether or not we think at all about cheek-turning), civility is never futile. But it may be ignored.

The Intercollegiate Review is talking about civility this season. Alexandra Hudson notes the example of most American abolitionists. William Lloyd Garrison “knew that true civility was more than trivial courtesy or naive ‘niceness.’ Civility requires taking our opponents’ dignity seriously, which means taking their ideas seriously, and that sometimes requires forceful and robust argumentation.” Frederick Douglass said, “’If there is no struggle, there is no progress.’ But for Douglass,” Hudson explains, “‘struggle’ did not mean winning at any cost. He knew that if he was to ensure that all enjoyed the advantages of the rule of law, he could not undermine the rule of law in the process.”

Here’s a word from Douglass that still resonates today: “Had the pulpit been faithful, we might have been saved from this withering curse.”

Gracy Olmstead recommends pulling back from our current hot spots and talking face to face.

This would help take the hot air out of online debates and put such discourse back into a humane context. It would also help citizens remember their duty to the physical spaces and neighborhoods around them. The decline of civility is part of a larger trend toward isolation in our society—a pulling away that, while not caused by the internet, has certainly been exacerbated by it.

Contending for the Faith or Being a Jerk?

Jared Wilson has seen a lot of backlash and argument since the WWW installed itself on our society. Watch bloggers are now a thing. Twitter is easily understood as a cess pool and Facebook an echo chamber. For some people, chatting about anything online feels like walking in front of a firing squad. I preemptively blocked a couple profiles on Twitter last week after they attacked the character of a podcasting pastor under the mantle of spiritual discernment.

To believers who appear to be aggressively attempting to hold everyone accountable, Jared asks, “Is it possible you aren’t contending for the faith but are just being a jerk?

This is something missing in far too many of the online prophets — tears. Setting aside the fact that the biblical vocation of God’s anointed messengers isn’t really a one-to-one correlation with self-appointed pundits on Twitter, we certainly can learn from them — and many other places in Scripture — that there is a certainly a place within the church for pastoral rebuke, prophetic witness, and courageous calls to repentance. But this is but one aspect of prophetic ministry. The guy spending all day every day looking for people to fisk, mock, or otherwise use for his own promotion and praise isn’t echoing biblical prophetic ministry. If anything, he is more like the pharisaical enterprise of nitpicking, condemning, and “laying traps” to catch people in alleged errors or missteps.

Bury Evil and Penalize Truthsayers

Progressive ideologues undermine every freedom they enjoy and increasingly blame the Jews for everything. From The New Critereon, “The way we live now”:

The dismissal of the Holocaust as “white on white crime” is of a piece with another revisionary gambit. Campaigners for transgender rights at Goldsmiths, University of London, recently suggested that their political opponents be sent to the gulag, explaining (when criticized for this robust expedient) that Soviet gulags were places of “educational” reform and “rehabilitation.” To wit, a group called the lgbtqSociety at Goldsmiths said, “sending a bigot to [a gulag] is actually a compassionate, non-violent course of action.” Why? Because, according to these sages, the Soviet “penal system was a rehabilitatory one and self-supporting, a far cry from the Western, capitalist notion of prison. [Well, they got that last point right.] The aim was to correct and change the ways of ‘criminals.’ ”

Since you mention gulags, Solzhenitsyn had a thing or two to say. “In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

Bing Crosby, Forgotten Giant

There’s no good reason Bing Crosby is not at the top of everyone’s list of twentieth century superstars. He had a voice just about every man wanted, even those who didn’t like men singing.

Crosby recorded 396 hit singles, 41 of which topped the charts—yet only one, his 1942 “creator recording” of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” the bestselling record of all time, continues to be heard regularly. He was also the most popular movie star in the world for five consecutive years between 1944 and 1948, a record topped only by Tom Cruise—yet few of the four dozen feature films in which he starred are still shown with any frequency on TV.

Terry Teachout reviews a new biography on Crosby, part two of what may be a three part set. Gary Giddins released the first volume back in 2001, so readers will have waited a fair piece to see Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946. Maybe that’s because writing about this man is a challenge. He led an eventful life.

Still, readers who want to know as much about Crosby as Gary Giddins wishes to tell us—among whom I count myself—will find Swinging on a Star a compelling study of the middle years of a popular artist who by the end of the Second World War was so closely identified with the American national character that he seemed to embody it.

(via Prufrock News)

What to Do When a Popular Author Plagiarizes

I hate to ask this, but apparently many are. Is Ann Voskamp a serial plagiarist?

World News Group’s Emily Belz writes, “The short answer is ‘No,’ but a couple of examples of minor plagiarism should give authors and publishers new determination to take great care in attributing stories and wordings to their creators.”

She notes that an anecdote in Voskamp’s The Broken Way reads almost exactly as it was written in social media by Cynthia Occelli, so all sides acknowledged the copying, but this passage did not throw a flag when run through the publishing industry’s plagiarism detector.  That puts the responsibility for writing your own words back on the author.