All posts by Phil W

The Handmaid’s Secular Theocracy

Ross Douthat contrasts the society of The Handmaid’s Tale with our current one.

But precisely because of the ways that Atwood’s novel plumbed and surfaced the specific anxieties of 1985, her story is necessarily time-bound and context-dependent and in certain ways more outdated than prophetic. So adapted for our later era, “The Handmaid’s Tale” feels like more like an alternate-history universe in the style of “The Man in the High Castle” than an exercise in futurism. Which should make the adaptation an opportunity to study the contrasts between our actual post-Reagan trajectory and Atwood’s imagined path to Gilead, and to see our own particularities afresh.

Discovering Early American Serials

Early American Serialized Novels is a project dedicated to publishing novels serialized in US newspapers and magazines from the 1780s to the 1820s. The project grows out of a graduate seminar on early American literature and the digital humanities at Idaho State University.

I have a heart for early America, though perhaps not enough patience, so an ongoing project like this appeals to me. They have seven stories now. The hosts explain the context in which these tales first appeared.

Novel installments were often printed without predetermined knowledge of how many weeks or months would be devoted to the story, thus requiring authors to adapt accordingly. In addition, readers were never assured that the novels would reach a resolution and therefore became accustomed to complex, dissonant texts in which narrative suspension was a defining feature.

(via Prufrock News)

Coffee Is Good, But How Do You Drink It?

Coffee

Many voices will tell you coffee is great for your health, your social life, and your faith, but nutritionists have a reputation of wanting to take all of that joy away from you.

“I don’t typically like to demonize one food and deem it horrible, because you can have a good relationship with [coffee],” Sarah Greenfield, an L.A.-based trainer and nutritionist, told Observer.com. “But if you’re using a stimulant to get energy and wake yourself up, you have to look back on your lifestyle and habits.”

Clearly a killjoy.

Coffee does have healthy benefits, like most foods that are not Hot Pockets and Pop Tarts, but we should watch out for too much caffeine. Drinking coffee along with cokes and energy drinks because we’re cramming too many responsibilities into one day or week could lead to such negative consequences as death. So don’t do that, but if you like coffee, feel free to enjoy it in moderation and gratitude. And if you’re drinking at a run-down Waffle House or Denny’s, please Instagram the moment.

The Process Behind Penny Books

Dan Nosowitz explores the threat and delight of selling cheap used books.

“At some point in the next two to three years, I predict that ‘Go Set a Watchman’ will be selling for a penny,” says Mike Ward, president of the Seattle-based used-book seller Thriftbooks, which sells 12 million books a year.

“We are taking garbage [and] running it through a very sophisticated salvage process in our warehouses, to create or find or discover products people want, and then we sell them at a very, very cheap price,” Ward explains. Garbage isn’t a value judgment: His company, along with several other enormous used-book-selling operations that have popped up online in the past decade, is literally buying garbage. Thrift stores like Goodwill receive many more donations than they can physically accommodate. Employees rifle through donations, pick out the stuff that is most likely to sell and send the rest to a landfill. The same thing happens at public libraries; they can take only as many donations as their space and storage will allow, so eventually they have to dispose of books, too. (For libraries, the process is a little more complicated; they can’t legally sell books, so they essentially launder them through groups with names like Friends of the Library, which sell the discards and donate the proceeds to the library.)

Operations like Thriftbooks step in and buy these landfill-bound books, sight unseen, for around 10 cents a pound.

I’ve still got too many books that aren’t selling on Amazon. It may be time they visit the landfill.

The Party of the ‘Aggressively Aggrieved’

Hal Niedzviecki was the editor of Write magazine, a quarterly published by The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), until the other day when The Controlling Party (operating this time under the name of TWUC Equity Task Force) forced him to resign. The pressure came in response to an editorial in which Niedzviecki argued that cultural appropriation isn’t really a thing, but on the other hand is kinda cool.  Perhaps there should be a prize to honor writers who successful write about cultures that aren’t their own.

But if you’re going to accuse someone of the worst and Nazism seems so yesterday, then cultural appropriation should be your go-to charge. Niedzviecki and a member of the editorial board, who “would have strongly objected to this piece had I seen it prior to publication,” resigned.

Christie Blatchford labeled all “this is the thuggish attempted takeover of a public (and publicly funded) organization by a single aggressively aggrieved group of activists.” And they will not stop until they have victimized everyone in the name of vindicating their own victimization.

This is not healthy culture; if anything, it’s cannibalism.

Marx Was a Racist

Karl Marx, blockhead“Few people who call themselves Marxists have ever even bothered to read Das Kapital,” writes professor Walter Williams. “If one did read it, he would see that people who call themselves Marxists have little in common with Marx.”

In a piece today, Williams says Karl Marx was a racist who would not be tolerated on Twitter, and yet many people who style themselves as his disciples would be outraged if a current public figure said things he said. Pulling from a book by ex-communist Nathaniel Weyl, Williams offers examples.

Marx didn’t think much of Mexicans. When the United States annexed California after the Mexican War, Marx sarcastically asked, “Is it a misfortune that magnificent California was seized from the lazy Mexicans who did not know what to do with it?”

Engels said similar things, such as writing that a political foe who had African heritage was suitable to represent the people living in a district that contained a zoo because he was biologically closer to the animals than other other men.

Of course, the question is not whether anyone from history said anything hateful or disagreeable to modern listeners. The question is whether such statements flow naturally from the speaker’s worldview. Given Communism’s bloody history, even its current practice, I don’t find Marx’s views of personal superiority surprising on any basis.

New Ideas About Christ Are Fairly Old

It is difficult to think of a modern “radical” theory about Christian origins that was not pretty standard and mainstream in the decades before the First World War. So, (we heard way back then) Jesus was a New Age teacher; Jesus drew on Buddhist thought; Jesus was an Essene mystic; Mary Magdalene and other women disciples were crucial transmitters of his inner truths; the Gnostics represented alternative feminist and psychological-oriented traditions in early Christianity . . .

Philip Jenkins says it’s natural for writers wanting to be published to present their conclusions as earth-shattering when truthfully the same ideas have been written about–the same “discoveries” made, the same arguments about conspiratorial cover-ups put forward–for decades. We want to been seen as smarter than our predecessors, so look what we’ve rehashed today.

Ever Lie About Reading a Book?

I don’t think I’ve ever lied about reading a book. I usually claim to have read about it, but apparently more and more people wish to portray themselves as readers, at least of select books, just like music fans of any band you claim is legit. Oh, yeah, I love their style.

David Barnett writes, “The 13 books we are most likely to claim to have read have one thing in common: they have all been adapted into blockbuster movies.”

Top of the current list are Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, followed by JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and CS Lewis’s Narnia series. Perhaps more curious is the fact that people claim to have read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collinsand Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, when there are more copies of both novels languishing in charity shops than could be sold before Armageddon, so supply issues are not putting people off trying to read them.

I probably do lie by what I don’t say, which means I should just stop talking. (via Prufrock News)

Finding New Shakespearean Stuff

In winter of 1794, a young man whose father apparently cared more for this worldly treasures than his family presented his elder with a sealed document he said he found in a trunk. It was a mortgage with Shakespeare’s name on it.

That document became the first of many fraudulent discoveries William-Henry Ireland revealed to London society, to the excitement of his father and many notable scholars. He even produced a long lost play, Vortigern and Rowena, which was performed in a large theater, though many viewers and performers remained skeptical of its authenticity.

Perhaps all of this was for his father. “Frequently,” William-Henry wrote, “my father would declare, that to possess a single vestige of the poet’s hand-writing would be esteemed a gem beyond all price.”

But his estimation of his son was not so high. Doug Stewart writes,

Samuel Ireland, a self-important and socially ambitious writer, engraver and collector, went so far as to hint that William-Henry was not his son. The boy’s mother did not acknowledge her maternity; as Samuel’s mistress, she raised William-Henry and his two sisters by posing as a live-in housekeeper named Mrs. Freeman. Samuel had found the boy an undemanding job as an apprentice to a lawyer friend whose office was a few blocks from the Irelands’ home on Norfolk Street in the Strand, at the edge of London’s theater district. At the lawyer’s chambers, William-Henry passed his days largely unsupervised, surrounded by centuries-old legal documents, which he would occasionally sift through, when asked.

 

Should Shakespeare’s Language Be Updated?

Mark O’Connor suggests Shakespeare fans (and the more casually interested) don’t understand as much as they may think of the great bard’s language. He thinks a modern translation would help.

Here, for instance is Thersites in “Troilus and Cressida” berating another character: “Let thy blood be thy direction till thy death! then if she that lays thee out says thou art a fair corse, I’ll be sworn and sworn upon’t she never shrouded any but lazars.”

A modern English version might run: “May the itch in your blood be your guide through life! Then if the old woman who lays you out thinks you make a pretty corpse, I’ll be sure she’s only done lepers.”

O’Connor isn’t advocating a wholesale rewrite of these classics, but a measured translation that attempts to capture all the spirit of the text as well as its meaning. Will you think so?

“I think our fellows are asleep.” (via Prufrock News)

Whose Book Is Funniest in UK?

The short list for this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction has been released. The winner of this UK literary award  will be announced next month, just prior to the Hay Festival in Wales.  The winner “will receive a jeroboam of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a case of Bollinger La Grande Année and the complete set of the Everyman Wodehouse collection. They will also be presented with a locally-bred Gloucestershire Old Spot pig, which will be named after the winning novel.”

Last year’s prize went to two authors, Hannah Rothschild for The Improbability of Love and Paul Murray for The Mark and the Void. In 2015, Alexander McCall Smith won the prize for Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party. (See this article for a photo of the prize pig.)

“It was impossible to separate these two books, because they made us laugh so much. And between them they produce a surfeit of wild satire and piercing humour about the subject that can always make us laugh and cry. Money,” judge and broadcaster James Naughtie told The Guardian.

HuffPost Retracts Controversial Post Due to Lack of Author’s Existence

Huffington Post South Africa was fine with an April 13 article arguing white men should be denied the right to vote, but when they could not contact the author and subsequently found no evidence of her existence, they pulled the article and an editorial defending it.

The blogger wrote that her argument “may seem unfair and unjust,” but “allowing white males to continue to call the shots politically and economically, following their actions over the past 500 years, is the greater injustice.”

HuffPo South Africa’s editor in chief, Verashni Pillay, supported this idea. “Those who have held undue power granted to them by patriarchy must lose it for us to be truly equal. This seems blindingly obvious to us.”

But when the supposed author of the piece went unverified, the whole argument fell apart. I’d like to say this is another example of how liberalism undermines itself, calling for the benefits of the virtues it works against, but that bit of sense seems absent here. This is simply nonsense.

Luther’s “Utterly Improbable” Career Shown in New Biography

Lyndal Roper has a new scholarly biography on Martin Luther’s “utterly improbable” life.

Roper took ten years to write this book, which the NY Times calls, ” a fresh and deeply illuminating study of the man who somewhat reluctantly divided a continent.”

Roper is especially good on Luther’s unusual upbringing as the son of a mining family. It was a hard life, full of risk; they lived well, but always one bad business decision away from disaster. Young Martin knew that the price of his education was an investment in the family’s future, and how much his decision to abandon his legal studies in favor of a church career would disrupt his father’s plans.

But reviewer Melanie Gilbert suggests Roper crops out the full picture. “When read for its smaller insights – his prolific letter writing, for instance – this book offers a rewarding look at a specific time and place in history. But in a story where the Gutenberg printing press isn’t even mentioned, and the English Reformation gets only a one-page mention, the larger importance of Luther’s life is lost in translation.” (via Prufrock News)

What Did Judas Actually Do?

Judas throws the money back at the chief priests.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. (Luke 22:3-6 ESV)

Judas gave his name to the world as the greatest traitor to ever live. And for what? For pointing Jesus out when he was relatively isolated. Jesus even points this out when the gang came to get him at night, “Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me” (Matt. 26:55 ESV). The temple rulers feared the crowds, so they didn’t try to seize him in the middle of the day, but they didn’t have anyone follow him either. Without Judas, they appear to have been stymied.

But that doesn’t change the fact that what Judas did was almost nothing. He said, “I’ll show you who Jesus is. This is him right here.” If anyone had walked into the garden that night, even a Roman soldier, and asked if the Master was present, which of the disciples would have asked, “Who wants to know?” Any of them probably would have pointed him out himself.

Great evil is often committed with the most boring actions. Apathy is the frontrunner. Laziness, sloppy work, deliberate ignorance, truthful gossip, all have their place in the hallway of boring evil.

Even Judas was horrified by the results of his decision. I can’t imagine what he thought would happen or even his motive, except that asks this of the chief priests when he first goes to them: “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matt. 26:15 ESV).

Your favorite Bible teacher John Calvin writes:

It is particularly worthy of notice, that the cause and source of so great blindness in Judas was avarice, which makes it evident that it is justly denominated by Paul the root of all evils, (1 Timothy 6:10.) To inquire here whether or not Satan entered into Judas bodily is an idle speculation. We ought rather to consider how fearfully monstrous it is, that men formed after the image of God, and appointed to be temples for the Holy Spirit, should not only be turned into filthy stables or sinks, but should become the wretched abodes of Satan.