All posts by Phil W

Beyond the Summerland, by L.B. Graham

Summary: The son of a nobleman journeys to a beautiful southern city for extensive training and is caught up in an adventure which appears to be the harbinger of an epic war.

Beyond the Summerland, the first of five in the Binding of the Blade series, is a fairly exciting story once you get into it. Joraiem, the son of one of the nobles who rule Kirthanin, is of the age to go to the Summerland for the political, physical, and academic training that all of the young nobility receive. Along the way, he meets several interesting people who will also be trained for leadership, the most interesting being a large warrior who carries an ancient sword and is mystically connected to a tiger. A dozen or so men and women train in the Summerland for weeks before the danger increases and all of them feel compelled to risk everything on what may be a doomed mission.

This is L.B. Graham’s first novel, so perhaps I should ignore some stylistic matters, but those matters are the reason Beyond the Summerland takes some patience. The prologue or opening chapter should be 2/3 shorter due to needless detail. Throughout the book, the story bogs down in a few paragraphs of narrative which don’t sound unnatural to me but are unneeded. For example, Joraiem may think through a situation and give the reader no more understanding than that a few story points are being made too obvious. Despite this, it’s an enjoyable story, and I look forward to the rest of the series.

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from “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates

As a precursor to tomorrow’s national holiday, let me repeat the lesser verses of “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates (1859–1929):

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,

Those stern, impassioned stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness!

America! America!

God mend thine every flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife

Who more than self their country loved,

And mercy more than life!

America! America!

May God thy gold refine,

Till all success be nobleness,

And every gain divine.

Why Do We Read Literature?

As a partial response to a suggestion from searider a few weeks ago, I ask you, a reader gracious (or perhaps unfortunate) enough to glance at this humble blog, why do you read literature? Why do you read good fiction as opposed to cheap or pulp fiction or non-fiction?

Here’s an answer from Proverbs 25:11-13.

A word fitly spoken

is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold

is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest

is a faithful messenger to those who send him;

he refreshes the soul of his masters.

Andree Seu on Writing and Faking It

[first posted August 16, 2003] This week’s issue of World Magazine includes another great essay by one of my favorite essayists/columnists/journalists (whichever label fits best) Andree Seu. She says, “Writers know that you can find a source to say anything you want, so they move heaven and earth to scare up an expert who agrees with them.” That and the pressures of marketing, whose goal is to turn a profit, makes some reporting and even fiction writing an exercise in building a pre-determined product. For some news sources, the stories they report are meant primarily to earn them money, not inform their readers. The right to know, if it exists, is subject to the desire for profit. She ends her essay expressing disappointment over the report that Tom Clancy doesn’t write all of his novels. “I keep wondering about the poor schmo who writes for Mr. Clancy and doesn’t get his name on the jacket,” she says.

A couple years ago, Ms. Seu told me that she was preparing her essays for possible publication in book form. Whether that pans out, that is to say if it’s in the cards she’s been dealt (I love American gambling and gold rush metaphors), I hope she has a book of some sort published while I’m still around to read it. I’m sure it will have more heart and thought than at least half of what’s published that year. [That book or a precursor to it now exists.]

If not the whole nine yards, at least 8.5 of it

[first posted August 29, 2003] Gideon Strauss introduced me to The Phrase Finder, another helpful etymology web site for understanding the origin and true meaning of clichés and phrases. Now, before you stop reading and rush to the site, let me tell you about the phrase you’re going to look for, “the whole nine yards.”

The phrase means “all of it or as much as can be.” If you went the whole nine yards to get something done, you did as much as anyone could do. How did the phrase come about? The Phrase Finder says, “No one knows the origin, although many have an fervent belief that they do. These convictions are unfailingly based on no more evidence than ‘someone told me’.”

There are several possible origins, but not enough evidence to back up any of them conclusively. I like what Evan Morris, the inimitable Word Detective, has to say on this. He says he likes the theory that nine cubic yards is the most a cement mixer can carry. He argues that this theory has the advantage of being concrete.

Speaking of the Word Detective, let me point you to the question I asked him earlier this year on thumbing one’s nose. It’s a small, fleeting thrill to have a question published in your better’s column. Being a small man, I’ve been quite proud of myself for months.

Treason, eh? I Can Handle Treason.

So the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal ran details reports on a government program which spies on the money trail left by suspected terrorists. President Bush called the reports “disgraceful” and harmful to the war on terror. Others have called it treason. I heard the NY Times chief editor (I believe) say the president needs to be restrained, presumably by him.

What do you think? Was it treasonous for the paper to report on this or are they free to do so under the first amendment?

Georgia Library Will Not Drop Spanish Books

Reportedly the public library system of Gwinnett County (pop. 700,794) had voted to drop funding for “Spanish-language fiction.” Some folks had complained that the readers of such books could be living here illegally. But after it hit the news, several people in the community and around the world wrote in to praise and complain. The result? The $3,000 line item was returned to the budget.

Do we all feel better now? Sure the illegal alien reason is dumb, but can a library cut any budget items without someone making a stink over it?

Despite this public problem, the library board may have other issues according the AP. They dismissed the current library director without explanation.

Adrian’s Recommended Reading

England’s uber-blogger Adrian Warnock has a list of books which he believes every Christian should read:

  1. ESV Bible
  2. God is the Gospel by John Piper
  3. Humility – True Greatness by C.J.Mahaney
  4. Living the Cross-Centered Life by C.J.Mahaney
  5. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
  6. Spurgeon’s Sermons
  7. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  8. C.H.Spurgeon, The Soulwinner
  9. What is Reformed Theology?

The list is certainly weighted toward certain authors, but the books look to be contenders for required reading. What do you think?

Please pray for Adrian’s health and that the Lord would give him grace to perservere through his sickness. He has shingles.

Expert in Another Field

Keith Burgess-Jackson writes that Noam Chomsky has strong opinions on foreign policy and morality, but so what?

Chomsky’s expertise as a linguist (or as an amateur but competent philosopher of language) has no bearing on anything moral or political, including matters of foreign policy. These two aspects of his life are, quite simply, unrelated. That he has strong opinions about American foreign policy in general or the war in Iraq in particular is no more significant than that others, such as classicist Victor Davis Hanson, have equally strong but opposite opinions. So why does anyone care what Chomsky thinks? I suspect it’s because people commit a fallacy. Expertise (or the authority that rests on it) is not transferable from realm to realm. It’s realm-specific.

I suppose Chomsky’s opinion has the same weight as that of a celebrity. I wonder of Kevin Bacon thinks about it.

Hawthorne family reunited?

The news out of Concord, Mass. is that about 40 descendants of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne gathered in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to view the reburial of Sophia and her daughter Una, who were previously entered in a London cemetery where they lived after Nathaniel’s death in 1864.

Now the bodies are near each other in Concord, but the article quotes a literature professor, talking about their passionate marriage, as saying, “It’s a misfortune that they were separated in death. It’s very satisfying to anyone who knows the story of the Hawthorne marriage that they’re being reunited for eternity.”

It probably isn’t polite to disagree with this small point of theology, but that’s why we blog, isn’t it? I’m glad the family is encouraged by this burial decision, but I hope they know that Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne have been eternally together for over a hundred years now, rejoicing along with Longfellow and Melville in the love of God the Father who has welcomed them for eternity through the redemption of Jesus Christ.

That Joseph, He Talk Like a White Boy

Sherry of Semicolon has a new URL for her blog and a review of Joseph C. Phillips’ new book about being a conservative black Christian living in Hollywood. She writes:

He is not a stereotypical black American, Joseph Phillips has faced misunderstanding and accusations of not being ‘black enough.” He has struggled to understand how much of his identity as a person depends on the color of his skin and how he can fit into American society as not just a man and an actor, but as a black man whose “race” is an inevitable part of what other people see when they see him, an inevitable part of the image he sees in the mirror.

You can read Phillips’ essays on his website.

Five Favorites from Thirty Evangelicals

World’s July 1 cover story is made up of lists of favorite books and films from various Christian artists, writers, thinkers, and public officials. The link won’t reveal the article unless you subscribe to the magazine, but here are a few of the selections. They chose favorites, not necessarily what they think is the best of the field.

  • Scott Derrickson, Writer-director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, gaves The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell and the film Breaking the Waves.
  • Brian Godawa chose Intensity, by Dean Koontz
  • Denis D. Haack of Ransom Fellowship offered Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • Joe Carter of The Evangelical Outpost chose Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card and Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman

There were many more selections, but you’ll have to find the magazine or subscribe online to get them and the other book and movie articles this week.