All posts by Phil W

We Really Don’t Ban Books in the States

Sherry of Semicolon has a good post on Banned Books Week, which echoes my thoughts on the subject. She starts with some facts on what’s banned in other countries and then states that we don’t ban books in America.

I attended library school and heard librarians say, with a straight face, that when they chose to not purchase Nancy Drew books or comic books, the process was called “selection,” but when parents or citizens tried to voice their opinions about what should or should not be purchased by the libraries that they support with their taxes, it was “censorship.” Librarians were an elite group of educated professionals who knew how to “select ” library materials; others were yokels who were out to keep information out of the hands of the people, book-banners. . . . The only difference is that the librarians are assumed to have good motives, to provide as many materials as possible to the lbrary’s patrons, and the public citizens are assumed to have bad motives, to keep materials out of the hands of others.

Contest: Summer Reading Blogging

Well, I’ve been covered up with non-blog activities or time-consumers for a while, and now I’ll be away for the rest of the week. So Lars will continue to hold the floor to write as he will. My only suggestion is that we don’t pick a fight with BHT boys. Some of them are honorable.

The second blog contest is now underway. At stake, a full set of Lars Walker’s novels. None of the translations, just the novels listed on the right. To enter, write on your blog about your summer reading. It’s the end of summer, so you may have been planning a post on this already. Here’s more motivation as well as an opportunity for networking, cross-linking, or whatever the right Internet word.

To Wynn a Fule Set of Lars’ Novels

Blog about your summer reading and trackback to this post or leave a comment with your post URL. Eligible entries are all those blogged in September 2006. Because I don’t care to judge the merits of your post, the winner will be randomly selected, but the good posts or those which interest me or Lars may be given attention in other posts. An interesting post will not increase your chances of winning, but it will gain you more attention. I’ll announce the winner of all three of Lars’ novels on Monday, October 2, after the winner has been contacted.

Win The Thirteenth Tale Limited Edition

I am told that anyone who visits www.thethirteenthtale.com before November 30, 2006, can enter to win a signed, leather-bound, limited-edition copy of The Thirteenth Tale from Simon & Schuster. Tell them you read about the contest on Brandywine Books, and we may win a copy too. Or you could give Mr. Holtsberry credit so he may win it.

This gothic suspense novel looks interest–the secret lives of authors and whatnot–and Amazon.com calls it “a rousing good ghost story.” But more than that, Frank Wilson says, “It’s maybe the best book I’ve read this year.” That’s got to mean something big.

Kenyon Review Blog: Give Me My Money Back

Today, I learned The Kenyon Review has a blog. I have a good impression of this literary journal, but still have yet to subscribe. My impression may be unfounded, perhaps being drawn from my good impression of poet Jane Kenyon who doesn’t have anything to do with the college.

Anyway, the KR blogger Liz Lopatto is complaining about books for which she’d like a refund. Among them:

Everything Jane Austen has ever written, but especially Persuasion. I’ve never been fond of Austen’s ridiculous style, and while David Lynn has tried unsuccessfully to convince me that she’s really parodying the characters she writes about, she spends so much loving detail describing every second of their boring lives that I can’t believe him. I threw Persuasion across the room several times when I had to read it for my English comprehensive exercise, but especially when our heroine Anne, who has no flaws except that she might be plain (this changes as the book goes on, however; her beauty blooms again!), discovers Captain Wentworth really does love her. I threw the book and stomped on it when her spurned suitor, her cousin, turns out to be a “villain.” Because our Anne couldn’t possibly break the heart of someone who’s decent–oh, no, she’s too good for that. I understand Austen is considered a classic but I still can’t figure out why.

She doesn’t like Dickens or Moby Dick either. To each his own.

No, I’m not going to type “to each his or her own,” because it’s awkward. English speakers should understand that implication and avoid petty language politics.

James Scott Bell on Name Recognition

De of Thinklings and the programmer behind the blog software we use at BwB points out a post by author James Scott Bell. “The ‘celebrity author’ thing is highly overrated. Even those with #1 NY Times bestsellers are known only by a relative few. And a yearning for adulation can be destructive. The moment you start believing your press releases, you’re on a slippery slope.” Mr. Bell offers a handful of good examples for this.

Asking the Devil for the Lowdown

[first blogged on Halloween 2003] In honor of the upcoming season, let me write a bit about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great short story, “Young Goodman Brown.” Many of us were forced to read it in high school, but maybe you didn’t. Reject that foul Stephen King novel! Banish that evil Anne Rice tome! Tolle lege* this short tale of a young man’s dreadful walk with the devil.

I think the reason “Young Goodman Brown” sticks in my mind as a great tale, other than my fascination with early America and affection for Hawthorne, is its clear description of how to set yourself up for believing a lie. Brown does three things in the first couple pages to seal his doom. He leaves his home at sunset to meet the devil in the forest. Apparently, he is searching for the truth. He wants to hear what the devil has to say for himself. And like an idiot, he starts his trip just before dusk. Darkness conceals many things, so if he really wanted to the truth, he would look for it in daylight when things can be seen for what they are. But at dusk, he walks deep into the forest–putting himself in a place where shadows conceal. How much can you see when you’re in a dense forest at night? Still, Brown thinks he can meet the father of lies in a place like this and reason with him. That’s his biggest mistake, and possibly the one which makes his doom inevitable. He thinks he can talk to the devil and parse his words for bits of truth. Of course, Old Scratch reels him in easily.

When Brown first objects to walking deeper into the trees, Old Scratch encourages him to present his arguments while they walk because he can always turn back. Too far, Brown says while walking. He must not be seen walking with the devil. Naturally, replies the devil, that’s why my dealings with your father and grandfather were kept secret. What! Can it be true? exclaims young Brown. Of course not, you idiot! You’re talking with the devil! He doesn’t tell the truth except to make a lie more plausible, because a slight miscalculation is an easier lie to shallow than a total fabrication. Brown doesn’t get it, unfortunately, so into the darkness he goes.

What about us? Do these steps apply to our quest for truth, even if we don’t have the devil penciled in for 10 p.m. Friday? Yes, they do.

1. Darkness conceals truth. Light describes wisdom and knowledge. Read the first few chapters of Proverbs for descriptions of wisdom and her methods. In order to shed light on the deep questions you’re asking, give yourself time and quiet reflection. Noise and busyness can act as clouds over the sun. Try to avoid them, but don’t think getting alone with your thoughts will draw all truth to you. You can come up with only so many answers when you’re the one confused.

2. Trees obstruct the light and hide the real world. In the forest, Brown found that the night only got darker. The same can happen to us in a forest of opinions. We can find wisdom in many counselors, but not all opinions are worth hearing. C.S. Lewis encouraged readers to postpone reading another contemporary book until they had read an old one, meaning a book written before last century. If we consume many modern books, we can become conditioned by a limited perspective particular to our day. By reading old books, we are better equipped to see beyond a limited modern perspective.

3. The devil does not have a worthy point of view. It’s common to try to hear both sides of an issue in order to form an unbiased opinion; but I’d like to suggest that some perspectives, some sides of particular issues, are completely wrong. Not everyone’s perspective is worth hearing. Some are logically inconsistent. Some are merely argumentative, taking up a position solely to conflict with another position. The better ones are internally sound, though they may be based on lies or ignorance. Some are completely right. It’s no shame to be partisan when your side is right.

I hope haven’t bored you back to your Doctorow novel. Have a good weekend, and try to avoid the cheap candy. Life is too short to eat waxy chocolate and those nasty orange rounds.

* “Take up and read”

Francis Collins Reviewed: Faith Under the Microscope

Writer Phillip Manning reviews Scientist Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God, in which he describes his journey from atheism to Christianity. Manning sums up Collins’ arguments with this:

The most [Collins] can offer is “that a belief in God is intensely plausible.” But plausible ideas are only starting points in science. Their validity must be established by rigorous testing. Collins may be as sure of his faith as he is of the map of the human genome, but the evidence he provides to support his beliefs do not meet scientific standards. He may have leapt across the chasm between science and religion, but his book does not show the rest of us the way.

I wonder if Manning accepts the premise that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. He doesn’t appear to accept it, because he wants the ideas of god and salvation proven by scientific methods. Perhaps that’s what Collins purports to do in his book. But it can’t be done. God is not made from the stuff in a petri dish.

God’s defense of himself does not appeal to science. In Romans, he says he is angry with men “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” They may claim to have no evidence of God, and he replies by saying they are willfully ignorant. Doesn’t follow Dale Carnegie’s advice, does it.

[by way of Critical Mass]

Memory Survey Says Turn Off TV, Pick Up Fiction

The Australian National Memory Test has taken in surveys from almost 30,000 Australians and concluded that watching too much TV and drinking too much drags down your mind, making it difficult to remember whatever it was you were trying to remember when you started, say, writing a sentence. On the other hand, people who read fiction, ate fish regularly, and worked crossword puzzles tended to have better memory.

Neuro-psychologist Nancy Pachana said, “TV can be a really passive activity, while reading is active, and any active activity is better.” So a little TV as part of an active day won’t harm your memory, and active TV viewing can be good for you.