Category Archives: Authors

Remembering Tony Snow

Dana Perino writes, “Every July, I get an uneasy feeling — like something is missing — but I can’t quite put my finger on it. And then, around July 12th, it hits me. This is the season when Tony Snow died, and this year marks the tenth anniversary of his passing. ”

She offers five lessons she learned from him.

I remember listening to Tony’s radio show before Brian Kilmeade took over. When he decided to accept the position as George W. Bush’s press secretary, he hoped he could steer White House policy a bit, but that wasn’t nearly the opportunity he had hoped for.

As Perino says, he was a good man in many ways, the kind of man you want in public offices, be they media or government.

Min Jin Lee: Writing as Vocation, Not Career

Min Jin Lee, a New Yorker who came to America from South Korea at age 7, has written a couple strong novels and many columns and essays. She spoke with World Magazine’s Marvin Olasky about growing up, overworking herself as a lawyer, being a mother, and writing. She said she thinks “of God as a writer and a publisher,” because of the importance of His Word.

Writing is really hard. Fiction students or earnest fiction writers come to my readings and go, “What do I do? How do I get published?” I say, “Forget that it’s a career. It’s a vocation. It’s really, really difficult. Earn a living somewhere else.” I know very successful writers, and they don’t make money from selling their books. You do it because you love it, but don’t do it because you think it will deliver something in your life. Your book is not redemption. It will not redeem all the pain and suffering in your life. It’s something you feel called to write. If you don’t feel called to write that story, don’t write it. Do something else. Take up golf.

American Poet Donald Hall, 89, Has Died

Poet Donald Hall, 89, has passed away. David Kirby has this in the New York Times obit:

“Hall has long been placed in the Frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet,” Billy Collins, another American poet laureate, wrote in The Washington Post in April 2006, two months before Mr. Hall himself was given the post.  . . . He was a staggeringly prolific writer who chose freelance work over teaching — a decision, as Mr. Collins put it, “to detach himself from academic life, with its slow but steady intravenous drip of a salary.”

Back in 2001, Hall called for a death to the death of poetry. Here’s how that essay begins.

Some days, when you read the newspaper, it seems clear that the United States is a country devoted to poetry. You can delude yourself reading the sports pages. After finding two references to “poetry in motion,” apropos of figure skating and the Kentucky Derby, you read that a shortstop is the poet of his position and that sailboats raced under blue skies that were sheer poetry. On the funny pages, Zippy praises Zerbina’s outfit: “You’re a poem in polyester.” A funeral director, in an advertisement, muses on the necessity for poetry in our daily lives. It’s hard to figure out just what he’s talking about, but it becomes clear that this poetry has nothing to do with poems. It sounds more like taking naps.

Poetry, then, appears to be:

  1. a vacuous synonym for excellence or unconsciousness. What else is common to the public perception of poetry?

  2. It is universally agreed that no one reads it.

Samuel Johnson’s Half-Blind Guide to Life

What makes Johnson’s righteousness bearable is the fact that nothing he read himself — and he devoured more or less every word ever written — was able to guide him through the problems of his own life. Half-blind and wracked with self-disgust, Johnson was consumed by horrors: of annihilation, of madness, of destitution — what Beckett described as ‘the whole mental monster-ridden swamp’.

Frances Wilson describes the good and bad about a new book on Dr. Johnson’s thoughts, saying literary self-help guides are generally rotten, but Samuel Johnson is particularly good subject for the genre. (via Prufrock News)

Johnson gave us many points of advice, like these I pull from my broken down book of quotations.

“A man, sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.”

“Be virtuous ends pursued by virtuous means,
Nor think th’ intention sanctifies the deed.”

“Men do not suspect faults which they do not commit.”

“Of all the griefs that harass the distressed,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest;
Fate never wounds more deep the generous heart,
Than when a blockhead’s insult points the dart.”

“A man guilty of poverty easily believes himself suspected.”

Krauthammer, World Changer

Charles Krauthammer told The Washington Post yesterday that his cancer is not going to be completely removed or beaten into submission. “It is aggressive and spreading rapidly,” he said. “My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.”

Many readers, friends, and colleagues began sharing the news and chatting of memories.

Brit Hume (@brithume) said, “The news that Charles Krauthammer’s condition is terminal is heartbreaking. Beyond the brilliance of his analysis and the paralysis he so remarkably overcame, there is his extraordinary personal grace and kindness. I have missed him very much. I always will.”

Hume also spoke on radio about his friend. “I told him I would keep praying for him. Although I knew he’s not a believer, I am, and that the God that I worship would unquestionably want him in his presence, because anyone who had the chance would.  I don’t think there’s anyone alive that I admire more than I admire Charles.”

Bret Baier (@BretBaier) tweeted, “Charles @Krauthammer is a dear friend -his voice has been sorely missed in our daily discussions of the world. While this news is so so sad- I’m happy that we heard it from him with time to show him how many people love him and how he changed the world w/ his thoughts & words.”

He also recommended this 42-minute special report that he and others assembled in 2013.

Bill Hemmer (@BillHemmer) wrote, To honor the life of @krauthammer, read “Marcel, My Brother.” https://t.co/TSLEb4c5wJ

Krauthammer won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 “for his witty and insightful columns on national issues.” This personal column was written in January 2006 and is also the first one printed in his essay collection from 2013, Things That Matter. In it, he writes, “Whenever I look at that picture [of he and Marcel], I know what we were thinking at the moment it was taken: It will forever be thus. Ever brothers. Ever young. Ever summer.”

Of course, we do not live in a delusional youth. Summer turns to autumn and soon the ice creeps over everything on this side of the veil.  God raises up many stewards to work out his purposes in the world, both believers and non-believers. More like Krauthammer would be good, though let’s join Hume in praying for the gift of faith  for everyone.

Solzhenitsyn: Speaking the Truth as a Friend

Jeff Groom summarizes the great Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s speech to Harvard forty years ago today in this article along with a video of the whole: 40 Years Ago Today: When Solzhenitsyn Schooled Harvard.

“Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of,” Solzhenitsyn said, “everybody strives toward further expansion to the extreme limit of the legal frames.”

Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and in such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness, in the debased sense of the word which has come into being during those same decades. (In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to this end imprint many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to carefully conceal such feelings. This active and tense competition comes to dominate all human thought and does not in the least open a way to free spiritual development.)

Groom writes, “In the pre-modern worldview that ended with the Renaissance, mankind was inherently evil and had to be made better. But following these harsh times, he noted, ‘we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal.’”

For your Spectation

I have another article in The American Spectator today. I was nervous about writing about Viking Legacy, the book I translated, but editor Wlady Pleszczynski took pity and me and stretched a point.

In time I was delighted to discover a Norwegian historian whose thinking ran very much along the same lines — Professor Torgrim Titlestad, now retired, but then on the faculty of the University of Stavanger. A local historian in Stavanger put me in contact with him, which led eventually to his hiring me to translate his Norwegian book, Norge i Vikingtid (Norway in the Viking Age)…

I heard from Prof. Titlestad’s son, who liked the article, but gave me an additional piece of information I wish I’d known. Prof. Titlestad didn’t retire from the University of Stavanger. He resigned in protest against changes made in the history curriculum. He now works full time with The Saga Heritage Foundation, which he founded to combat the current rush toward historical amnesia.

Are There No Real Quests Anymore?

In those days, I was restless without a book in my hands, without the hope of some new story around every turn to enliven my deadening senses. Unlike most of my friends, I didn’t want a truck or a job or a scholarship; I wanted a horse and a quest and a buried treasure. But there were no real quests anymore. Not in my town.

Andrew Peterson describes his love of fantasy and science fiction as a kid, how that called him out of himself, and what the Lord did with it in his life.

I looked out her window and saw crabgrass, old trucks, clouds of mosquitoes, and gravel roads, a rural slowth that drawled, “Here’s your life, son. Make do.” But my books said, “Here’s a sword, lad. Get busy.” A persistent fear sizzled in my heart, a fear that there existed no real adventure other than the one on the page, and that I was doomed never to know it.

Peterson’s website, The Rabbit Room, is a wealth of imaginative writing, talking, and singing.

Secularists Stuffing Their Ears in Fear

David French says he has never seen unhinged reactions like the kind Jordan Peterson is getting these days. His detractors would rather stuff their ears to keep out his voice than make a case for his errors. French says, “He’s disrupting an emerging secular cultural monopoly with arguments about history, tradition, and the deep truths about human nature that the cultural radicals had long thought they’d banished to the fringe. . . . Some things (in some places) are just not said.

It’s not that he’s a prophet or that everything he says is right. It’s more that the Left in our country can’t hear any voice but their own. Their ears are so tickled they reverberate with a single, soothing tone that drowns all other sound. Even the most basic truth creates intolerable dissonance.

Trevin Wax Salutes Andrew Peterson

Trevin Wax offers this album-by-album guide to the work of Andrew Peterson.

Andrew’s work resonates with me for several reasons.

  • First, Andrew expresses a childlike wonder toward this world and our place in it, waking us up and seizing our imaginations until we see—truly see—the wonders of existence. I gravitate toward music and books that lead me in the way of wonder.

  • Second, Andrew’s albums are steeped in biblical allusions and Scriptural imagery—all of which grow more powerful the more you study Scripture and the more you put his songs on “repeat.” There’s a richness to his lyrics that rewards the contemplative listener.

  • Third, Andrew’s songs bear the mark of authenticity, giving voice to a faith that is firm in its grasp of the truth and yet honest in its experience of doubt or suffering. The result is a compelling portrait of Christianity in all of its messy glory.

I enjoy this music too and have long wished Peterson great success. His music is marvelous. I’ve tried to burrow this song in my head since buying the album a couple years ago.

The Man in Full Rests

Author Tom Wolfe,  “probably the most skillful writer in America” according to William F. Buckley, died yesterday at age 88.

“Whether profiling One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey and his hippie pals the Merry Pranksters or America’s first astronauts, Wolfe had a dramatist’s gift for the telling detail and for crafting page-turning suspense,” writes Rolling Stone’s Tim Grierson.

“Never try to fit in; it’s sheer folly,” he once advised. “Be an odd, eccentric character. People will volunteer information to you.”

Wolfe had a style bound to inspire countless bad imitations. You may see some on the socials this week and next.

Terry Teachout writes, “I confess to being shaken by the news of Wolfe’s death. I last saw him in the flesh a year or so ago, and he looked at once frail and somehow ageless. I couldn’t imagine a world without him then. I still can’t.

The Mississippi Writers Trail

Mississippi has a big presence in the birth of American culture,” said Malcolm White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission. “The biggest asset is our cultural story, and literature and writing is part of that.”

This history will be spotlighted a newly developing Mississippi Writers Trail with historical markers throughout the state, directing biblio-tourism to sites of interest to Mississippi authors, such as William Faulkner, Jesmyn Ward, Richard Wright, Eudora Welty, Margaret Walker Alexander, and Richard Ford. One could get started right away with this multi-state website already published. (via Prufrock News)

Did Crime and Punishment Remake the Novel?

Of course, Dostoevsky’s claim to have invented a new literary genre doesn’t solely rest on Crime and Punishment. Although it was published when he was 45, after so many books and setbacks, it marked a breakthrough, not a culmination. Its resemblance to Hamlet resides both in its details (fatherless ex-student, bookish sidekick, philosophy, mumbling, murder) and in its peculiar status, as an extraordinary achievement that also serves as the preparation for a trio of more ambitiously unsettling tragedies.

Various touches point towards Dostoevsky’s later novels: a reflection on the “holy fool” (The Idiot), a dream involving a city-wide disease (The Possessed), a smattering of theodicy (The Brothers Karamazov). It is not an insult to Crime and Punishment but a tribute to its author to say that his most famous book, the face he shows to the world, plays a more servile role within his body of work, something like a hinge, or border – a spin-off that doubles as a gateway drug to more exalted highs.

Leo Robson writes of the importance of Crime and Punishment to its author and the literary world, even those who disliked it. (via Prufrock News)

Lewis’s Enduring Influence on Gaiman

Neil Gaiman was irritated to learn his beloved C.S. Lewis was a Christian who infused his work with Christian truths. He felt betrayed that this favorite author would have an agenda for his stories (as if all authors don’t write from some kind of moral framework), but Lewis’s influence on Gaiman carries on. Russell Moore spells in out in Touchstone.

In the American Gods mythology, the old gods—the supernatural beings associated with rain and fertility and war—are at odds with the new gods—such as media and technology. Many of the motifs of Narnia are there. The “bad guys” muster their troops at the Stone Table in Lewis’s Narnia; they do so at Chattanooga’s Rock City in Gaiman’s America. The Pevensie children find their destiny as kings and queens of Narnia; Gaiman’s human Shadow Moon (yes, that’s his name) finds his destiny as, literally, the son of a god. Aslan offers up his life as an atoning sacrifice in Narnia; Odin does the same for Gaiman, complete with a spear in his side and, of course, a resurrection.

Gaiman would say that he is simply working with the myths as he found them. As he retells the story in his recent collection of Norse myths, Odin does indeed climb the world tree and hang himself in self-sacrifice, “making the world-tree a gallows and himself the gallows god.” For Gaiman, the gospel might well simply be an echo of that archetypal story. One god with the gallows, another with the cross. But, of course, that is precisely what initially repelled Lewis from Christianity, and ultimately drew him to it.