Category Archives: Authors

Michael Connelly vs. Raymond Chandler


Below the title on the front cover of Michael Connelly’s new novel is a quote: “‘Connelly is the Raymond Chandler of this generation’—Associated Press.” This is unfair to Chandler and Connelly both. Chandler wrote like “a slumming angel,” as Ross Macdonald said. The  bravura style of The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, and the other titles on the Chandler shelf is one of the glories of American literature, influential worldwide. Connelly’s sentences are workmanlike, unremarkable. But Chandler couldn’t plot to save his life, whereas Connelly is a master of the art. Chandler was brilliant, undisciplined, alcoholic, demon-ridden, quick to take offense and quick to sneer; he wrote only a handful of novels. Connelly is disciplined and generous, and he excels at collaborative work (for instance, the Bosch TV series produced by Amazon) as well as solo writing; Fair Warning is his thirty-fourth novel. Chandler’s moral sense, in some ways acute, was often unreliable; Connelly’s is sounder.

John Wilson on Michael Connelly and Fair Warning

New Oxford Shakespeare Reattributes Several Works

One of my English professors, Dr. Cornelius, told us about a joke attempted during oral exams for his doctorate. He thought he had recognized a light-hearted spirit among his examining professors, so when the time came he offered a new line of study that fascinated him: The King James Bible had been translated by Shakespeare himself. Of course, the playwright would not openly take credit for this feat, but he did leave clues. Open up Psalm 46 and count to the 46th word, shake. Count again from the end of the psalm to the 47th word, spear.

I don’t remember how much further he was able to take the joke, but he could tell his audience wasn’t amused. Maybe it hit too close to home.

In 2016, The New Oxford Shakespeare strayed into that territory by way of “computerized textual analysis.” The edtiors believe they can attribute some new works to Shakespeare’s collaboration and other authors to other collaborations. Here’s a screenshot from the table of contents.

These new attributions came through comparing word choice and frequency. In this article from Oct. 2016, part of this analysis is described by the lead editor.

One piece of evidence identified five “Shakespeare-plus words”: gentle, answer, beseech, spoke, tonight. Taylor explained: “What we mean by Shakespeare-plus is that we’ve looked at the frequency of certain words which might seem commonplace like ‘tonight’ in all the plays of that early period, say up to 1600. Anybody could use any of these words. They’re not words that Shakespeare invented. But we can say Shakespeare used ‘tonight’ much more often than other playwrights in those 20 years.

“Christopher Marlowe credited as Shakespeare’s co-writer,” The Irish Times, Oct. 24, 2106.

Brian Vickers and his team of researchers believe this new evidence proves just about nothing. He gets into some of the weeds in this piece in the Times Literary Supplement, and I’ll jump in the middle of it here.

Although he endorsed Word Adjacency Networks, Gary Taylor preferred a simpler approach. Middleton’s increased share of Macbeth in the recent edition derives from a method that he had invented himself, called “micro-attribution”. Where other scholars use segments of 2,000 or 5,000 words, Taylor claimed he could determine the authorship of a speech by Hecate in four rhyming couplets, or only “sixty-three consecutive words”. . . . On first view I thought this a daft method, treating words like counters in a board game and creating meaningless word-units, which the player would search for in texts by other authors. Taylor solemnly applied it to passages of matching length and verse form in plays by Middleton and Shakespeare, and by a lengthy process of calculation involving very small matches (nine to eight, or six to four), he assigned Hecate’s speech to Middleton. No reputable scholar would accept attributions made on such Lilliputian samples.

Brian Vickers, “Infecting the teller,” Times Literary Supplement, April 17, 2020.

(Via Prufrock News)

Sigrid Undset, the I.S.I., and I

I wrote an essay on Sigrid Undset for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s web site:

Like one of her own characters, Sigrid Undset followed her heart, confronted the consequences, and learned. Enabled by a government grant to live abroad, she began an affair in Rome with a married Norwegian painter, Anders Castus Svarstad. They married in 1912, after his divorce, and divorced in turn in 1919. By that time, they’d moved back to Norway, where their third child was born. Their second child, a daughter, was mentally handicapped. When Sigrid learned to her horror that Svarstad’s ex-wife had placed her children by him in an orphanage, Sigrid adopted them. One of these was also mentally handicapped. (Years later, when she received her Nobel Prize, she would donate the entire sum to children’s charities.)

Read the whole thing here.

Kirk on Scott (not Star Trek)

Sir Walter Scott.

The public library has always been a boon to the impecunious reader. The utility that permits me to download e-books from my library is a particular blessing (not least in these days when Pestilence stalks the land). My library’s system is a little cumbersome, but less cumbersome than driving to the physical building, so I’ve got no gripe coming.

My main problem with my library’s e-book collection is selection. Mostly I read mysteries for light reading, and when I pull up “mystery” on the library site I always get the very same list of books. I don’t know if they’re arranged by popularity or date of acquisition, or some other criterion. But I have to page through screens and screens of listings before I find one that a) interests me, and b) isn’t being read by somebody else.

Last week I tried a new approach. Instead of looking for mysteries, I thought, why don’t I try one of those “important” books I’ve always heard I should read, but have never gotten around to? I’ll bet nobody’s waiting in line for those.

So, on a whim, I searched for Russell Kirk. Several books were available, and I selected The Conservative Mind.

Brilliant. Masterfully written. Illuminating.

And long. Dear, sweet jasmine tea, it’s a long book. I started it last week, and I’m not half way through yet. I complained a while back about the length of Walter Scott’s The Pirate, but that was an Amazon review compared to this.

The nice part is that my book-buying expenses have plummeted for the duration.

So… of what shall I blog until I finish this thing?

I think I shall discuss the reading as I go.

The first thing that struck me as potential blogging material was Mr. Kirk’s assessment of Sir Walter Scott, mentioned above.

In the Waverly novels, Scott makes the conservatism of Burke a living and a tender thing—in Edie Ochiltree, showing how the benefits and dignity of hierarchical society extend even to the beggar; in Balfour of Burley, illustrating the destructive spirit of reforming fanaticism; in Montrose among the clans, “the unbought grace of life”; in Monkbarns or the Baron of Bradwardine, the hamely goodness of the old-fashioned laird…. Delighting in variety like all the Romantics, repelled by the coarsening pleasure-and-pain principle of conduct, Scott clearly saw in Utilitarianism a system which would efface nationality, individuality, and all the beauty of the past. Utilitarianism was the surly apology for a hideous and rapacious industrialism.

(More after jump)

2 more reviews from Moerbe

Mary J. Moerbe at Meet, Write and Salutary, has completed reviewing my Erling Skjalgsson books to date.

She reviews Hailstone Mountain here:

I also think this book blends together Lars Walker’s two types of writing: his Norse saga and more contemporary stuff more. I’m a big fan of both, but maybe it means this book contains a few extra surprises for those who haven’t read his other writings, set in more contemporary and/or futuristic times.

And she reviews The Elder King:

This book really played with tensions. The poor priest Ailill, whom you come to love as a man of faith and action and unabashedly real humanity, has to face three of the greatest challenges for a celibate Christian: romantic love, relics, and . . . Arianism! With a shockingly early possibility of Arianism in Norway!

Thank you, Mary!

The Lighting of the Beacons

I’m sure you recognize this clip from The Two Towers, in which the beacons are lit in Gondor, to call for help from Rohan.

I believe (I could be wrong) that the inspiration for this plot element in The Lord of the Rings was the following passage from Heimskringla (here in Lee Hollander’s translation) and the Saga of King Haakon the Good:

After this battle King Haakon incorporated into the laws for all the land along the seas, and as far inland as the salmon goes upstream, that all districts were divided into “ship-levies”; and these he parcelled out among the districts…. Along with this it was ordered that whenever there was a general levy, beacons were to be lit on high mountains, so that one could be seen from the other. It is said that news of the levy travelled from the southern-most beacon to the northernmost borough in seven nights.

If anyone knows of an earlier example of such a beacon signalling system, which might have inspired Tolkien, let me know.

Clive Cussler, R.I.P.

Author and adventurer Clive Cussler (1931-2020) has died at age 88. The Guardian published this paragraph about his writing style, starting with the book that launched his career:

Raise the Titanic!, despite bad reviews, spent six months on the bestseller lists. Cussler’s prose was rarely more than serviceable; his plots and characters were redolent of the pulp magazines of his childhood, not least Doc Savage, whose technological heroism was surely an influence on Pitt, as it was on John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee, from whom Cussler also drew. He combined the exciting elements of Bond or Matt Helm spy thrillers with plot twists drawn from Alistair MacLean; his use of factual information was another MacDonald trademark, and was an influence on writers who followed, such as Tom Clancy.

Clancy died in 2013 at age 66.

The bookish site Shelf Awareness notes Cussler didn’t give a rats rear-end about criticism of his style. In 2015, he said, “I never had a highfalutin view of what I write. It’s a job. I entertain my readers. I get up in the morning and I start typing. . . . I want it to be easy to read. I’m not writing exotic literature. I like snappy dialogue and short descriptions and lots of action.”

Here’s an excerpt of Cussler from his 2004 novel, Trojan Odyssey.

An screenshot of text from Trojan Odyssey.

Sir Novelty Fashion Turned Poet Laureate

Colley Cibber (1671-1757) was an actor, playwright, and theater manager who made a name for himself initially as a comic actor in his own play, Love’s Last Shift, playing Sir Novelty Fashion.

Hilliaria: Oh! For Heav’n’s sake! no more of this Galantry, Sir Novelty: for I know you say the fame of every Woman you see.

Novelty: Every one that sees you, Madam, must say the fame. Your Beauty, like the Rack, forces every Beholder to confess his Crime–of daring to adore you.

He also reworked Shakespeare’s Richard III and Moliere’s Tartuffe. It was for crimes such as these that he was made Britain’s poet Laureate in 1730, drawing ire from contemporary poet Alexander Pope and his friends. They mocked him aggressively in print, some perhaps in good fun, some perhaps with malice.

Benham’s Book of Quotations gives sixteen pages to Pope’s words and to Cibber’s one column, and lest they die their appointed death too soon, I’ll repeat some Cibber lines here.

“Poverty, the reward of honest fools.”

“The aspiring youth that fired the Ephesian dome
Outlives in fame the pious fool that raised it.”

“Ambition is the only power that combats love.”

“Dumb’s a sly dog.”

Continue reading Sir Novelty Fashion Turned Poet Laureate

Book plug: ‘Post-Christian’

Probably my most eminent friend (though I only know him online) is Gene Edward Veith. Veith is possibly the most prominent Lutheran among today’s well-known evangelicals. He may be best known for his book, Postmodern Times.

Now he has a new book out, called Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture. Amazon says:

We live in a post-Christian world. Contemporary thought―claiming to be “progressive” and “liberating”―attempts to place human beings in God’s role as creator, lawgiver, and savior. But these post-Christian ways of thinking and living are running into dead ends and fatal contradictions.

This timely book demonstrates how the Christian worldview stands firm in a world dedicated to constructing its own knowledge, morality, and truth. Gene Edward Veith Jr. points out the problems with how today’s culture views humanity, God, and even reality itself. He offers hope-filled, practical ways believers can live out their faith in a secularist society as a way to recover reality, rebuild culture, and revive faith.

Tolkien’s Long Procrastination in the Same Direction

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote essays and myths for years before the publication of The Hobbit in 1937. Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics is also published this year. The Lord of the Rings is published in three volumes during 1954-55. And through all of this time, the author may have been thinking he should possibly find time to write something deep on Chaucer.

His research student V.A. Kolve said, “He confessed to me once that some were disappointed by how little he had done in the academic way, but that he had chosen instead to explore his own vision of things.”

Tolkien himself said, “I have always been incapable of doing the job at hand.”

John M. Bowers has written a book on the long academic project Tolkien intended to return to. He reports,

[Tolkien] confided to his publisher in 1937 that Oxford would merely add The Hobbit to his “long list of never-never procrastinations” (Letters, 18). Fiction-writing simply did not count in terms of academic production, especially after Tolkien had idled away his two-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship. “The authorities of the university,” he would lament when The Lord of the Rings was in press, “might well consider it an aberration of an elderly professor of philology to write and publish fairy stories and romances” (Letters, 219). He explained to his American publisher this widespread view of his failings: “Most of my philological colleagues are shocked (cert. behind my back, sometimes to my face) at the fall of a philological into ‘Trivial literature’; and anyway the cry is: ‘now we know how you have been wasting your time for 20 years’” (Letters, 238).

Remembering Roger Scruton

Many people under the influence of science, and particularly neuro-nonsense, will say the sacred is an old concept, it’s just a hangover, but you can easily see that’s not so, because everyone has a sense of desecration: there are things everybody values which, when they are spoiled, are not just moved or destroyed, they are desecrated. Something that is vital not just to you but the world. People have this sense when they see their towns pulled apart and concrete blocks put in the middle of them. You only have to look at Aberdeen to see what happens to a beautiful place when the desecrators get their hands on it.

Roger Scruton, The Soul of the World

Conservative author Roger Scruton died last week. He is being remembered by many as a generous, thoughtful man who said stuff.

Politician Daniel Hannan said, “Roger Scruton changed the course of my life. He addressed my school’s philosophy society when I was 16, speaking so compellingly about Wittgenstein and language that, when he finished, no one wanted to ask the first question. So, more to fill an awkward silence than anything else, I stuck my hand up and asked him what he saw as the role of a conservative thinker. ‘The role of a conservative thinker,’ he replied, in his charmingly diffident manner, ‘is to reassure the people that their prejudices are true.’

“That beautiful aperçu never left me.”

A Threat to Justice Everywhere

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

Justin Taylor offers context and organization to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which he wrote in the margins of the newspaper that published the open letter calling for “’an appeal for law and order and common sense,’ in dealing with racial problems in Alabama.”

Anti-intellectual thoughts

How shall I put this delicately?

I’m going to start by talking about a very private bodily function… in the vaguest possible terms. Because I’m a sensitive soul. Then I’ll go on to make a vapid point.

I clicked on an article that showed up on the Book Full of Faces a little while back.

It was about the aforementioned Private Bodily Function. This is a function performed frequently by every person, saint or sinner, male, female, or delusional. The headline informed me that I was finishing up this function “THE WRONG WAY!”

Out of curiosity, I read the article. When I was finished, I thought, “It appears that the author of this article has never actually performed this bodily function.”

Which I find somewhat unlikely.

Then I noticed who published it. When I saw that the article was aimed at college students, all became clear. An academic wrote it. And academics, as you’ve probably noticed, literally don’t know… many things.

It takes an academic to analyze a commonplace physical act and declare that all mankind has been doing it wrong from time immemorial. The whole scam of modern higher education is based on taking what is known and understood, deconstructing it, and rendering it mysterious and in need of expert intervention.

There was a time in history when the purpose of education was to learn the higher mysteries, the beauty and wisdom concealed behind the commonplace.

That changed (I think) some time around the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment decided there were no higher mysteries, and turned its energies to deconstruction and demythologizing. Instead of learning what we’d never known, the modern student is meant to unlearn what everybody already knows.

I was reminded of the first line of Alan Bloom’s book, Love and Friendship (quoting from memory because I can’t locate my copy at the moment). Describing Rousseau, he writes, “A Swiss told the French they were bad lovers, and the French believed him.”

That was just the beginning.