All posts by Phil W

Graminivorous

Your word for today is graminivorous, which is an adjective meaning feeding on grass. For an example of its use, take this definition of abdomen from Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary:

ABDOMEN, n. — The temple of the god Stomach, in whose worship, with sacrificial rights, all true men engage. From women this ancient faith commands but a stammering assent. They sometimes minister at the altar in a half-hearted and ineffective way, but true reverence for the one deity that men really adore they know not. If woman had a free hand in the world’s marketing the race would become graminivorous.

Christian Book Awards Winners

The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) announced the winners of the Christian Book Awards (formerly the Gold Medallion Awards). Mark Kuyper, head of the ECPA, said, “From contemporary page-turner fiction to significant theological works, the Christian Book Awards recognize the best within our industry.” The categories are Bibles, Bible Reference & Study, Christian Life, Fiction, Children & Youth, and Inspiration & Gift.

I have confidence in the quality of two of the winners: A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card (Navpress – Christian Life) and The Ezekiel Option by Joel Rosenberg (Tyndale House – Fiction). I don’t know about the rest.

What do you think about these categories? The whole industry summed up in six little boxes. Last year, there were 20 categories, including Biography/Autobiography, Devotional, Christianity and Society, and Elementary Children. You can see all of the them on faithfulreader.com.

I wonder what the criteria is for judging the Bibles. This year’s winner is The Message: Numbered Edition. The original unnumbered edition won in 2003.

Does the Space Shuttle Excite You?

This just in–Astronauts take day off as space mission winds down. And yesterday what was it, a space walk to replace some foam somewhere? Sounds like the equivalent to getting a flat tire on a camping trip. “And in news from the family camping trip, Dad is checking the car to see if any damage occurred when they hit that big whatever-it-was in the road.”

Because this is the stuff of science-fiction and national imagination, I want to ask, does the Space Shuttle excite you? Do you think NASA is pursuing the right goals, or do you wish they would get the funding or inspiration to do something better?

Cliches and Lowing the Boom

I learned through Rebecca of Rebecca Writes about ClicheSite.com and the handy Cliche of the Day. At first, I thought this a cool little resource. Now, I think I’ll avoid it. If I fill my head with cliches, I’ll become a twisted and disturbed old man. Maybe I just need the cup of tea I just steeped for a better mood. Maybe I should go out for some live steel combat.

You know, that reminds me of the warning the thespians gave before the start of Julius Caesar at Atlanta’s Shakespeare Tavern. They told us to go the bathroom before or during the intermission, because afterward angry men with real swords could be running through the hallway at any time–which they did. It was great.

Subjects Worth Writing About

Mark Bertrand quotes Melville’s Moby Dick on what great book should tackle: ” . . . Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.” Read the rest of this short post and tell him what you think.

Mencken on Dull Writers and William J. Bryan

With the Scopes Trial Reenactment coming this weekend in Dayton, TN, I am reposted a bit I wrote back on October 24, 2004.

H.L. Mencken biographer and terrific New York drama/music/etc. critic Terry Teachout recently learned of a piece Mencken wrote for Vanity Fair in 1923 in response to a question about boring writers. The famous critical thinker (1880-1956) listed ten authors with a few additional thoughts: “Dostoevski, for some reason that I don’t know, simply stumps me; I have never been able to get through any of his novels. George Eliot I started to read too young, and got thereby a taste against her that is unsound but incurable. Against Cooper and Browning I was prejudiced by school-masters who admired them. As for Lawrence and Miss Stein, what makes them hard reading for me is simply the ineradicable conviction that beneath all their pompous manner there is nothing but tosh.”

Speaking of Terry’s biography, I saw it in an interesting rare book and memorabilia collection at my alma mater, Bryan College. Bryan is named for William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), an orator for progressive politics and Biblical principles as well as a former candidate for presidency and the secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson. Bryan’s name is known to many as the man who argued against Clarence Darrow in the trial of John Scopes. The Scopes Trial drew a lot of media attention by design; the men behind the lawsuit, the ones who recruited Scopes to take blame for teaching evolution in public school, hoped to make a name for themselves and business for the area. Publicity encouraged Bryan threw his hat into the ring for the prosecution’s side which spurred Mencken to urge Darrow to join the defense. Mencken said, “Nobody gives a damn about that yap schoolteacher. The thing to do is to make a fool out of Bryan.”

The trial did not accomplish the planners objectives. It became a media event beyond their control. Darrow did put Bryan to an interrogation on the stand in an effort to make a fool out of him, and he cheated him out of a final address, in which Bryan planned to make his rebuttal. If you want to know what really happened there, forget about Inherit the Wind. Start here.

Bryan College wants to collect Bryan’s personal books and those about him, so they have worked toward that goal. A couple years ago they were offered even more–a large Mencken collection through a friendly association with a member of the H.L. Mencken Society. Representatives of the society came south to view an annual reenactment of the Scopes Trial in Dayton, TN. One of the members struck up a friendship with one of my English professors which eventually resulted in the generous donations of Mencken-related books and many copies of American Mercury, a journal he published. Today, Bryan’s library houses a unique and ironic collection of Bryan and Mencken material, side by side. With Terry’s book on the right side toward the back of the room.

James Thurber’s Guide to English Usage

[first posted October 22, 2004] In an earlier post, I referred to this collection of useful usage articles by James Thurber. On the question of using “bad” or “badly” within a sentence like “I feel bad(ly),” Thurber advises not to use either word.

There is, of course, a special problem presented by the type of person who looks well even when he doesn’t feel well, and who is not likely to be believed if he says he doesn’t feel well. In such cases, the sufferer should say, “I look well, but I don’t feel well.” While this usage has the merit of avoiding the troublesome words “bad” and “badly,” it also has the disadvantage of being a negative statement. If a person is actually ill, the important thing is to find out not how he doesn’t feel, but how he does feel. He should state his symptoms more specifically—“I have a gnawing pain here, that comes and goes,” or something of the sort. There is always the danger, of course, that one’s listeners will cut in with a long description of how they feel; this can usually be avoided by screaming.

Tell It Like It Is

I plead with you not to tell me stories which improve on the world. Instead tell me stories about the world as it is, strange and real and full of grace.

This spring I finally got around to reading Moby Dick. (I told you I was a bad reader.) Its opening sentence is one of the most famous in English fiction. “Call me Ishmael”—this is something strange. This is something beyond myself. And yet I’m then plunged into a story that is lavishly involved with the real world of whaling and the anatomy of whales, of ships and the anatomy of ships, of the ocean, and not least of the human heart.

And this is the most basic test for quality in fiction, it seems to me: is it absolutely faithful to the real, and absolutely faithful to what is strange and extraordinary within the real? For the Christian this is another way of saying, is it about grace? Because grace is the interruption of the unexpected in the real. Cheap stories barely touch reality—they present a simplified simulacrum of reality, a version that is easier for the storyteller and for the reader alike. And cheap stories are never really surprising. No one was ever surprised by a game of solitaire.

From Andy Crouch’s address at the 2005 Christy Awards.

2006 Christy Awards

The Christy Awards winners were announced last Saturday. Editor Terry Whalin says the event was fun and gives a list of the winners, which aren’t on The Christy Awards site or in the news sources I’ve searched. FaithfulReader.com has the list and some reviews. Editor David Long has kicked up some discussion.

According the website, “the Christy Award is designed to:

  1. Nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishing of fiction written from a Christian worldview.
  2. Bring a new awareness of the breadth and depth of fiction choices available, helping to broaden the readership.
  3. Provide opportunity to recognize novelists whose work may not have reached bestseller status.

Book Meme

Sherry’s daughter Rachael is blogging for her next week. Her first post this afternoon is an interesting book meme which I refuse to answer at this time but will pass on to you.

  1. A book that made you cry
  2. A book that scared you
  3. A book that made you laugh
  4. A book that disgusted you
  5. A book you loved in elementary school
  6. A book you loved in middle school
  7. A book you loved in high school
  8. A book you loved in college
  9. A book that challenged your identity or your faith
  10. A series that you love
  11. Your favorite horror book
  12. Your favorite science-fiction book
  13. Your favorite fantasy book
  14. Your favorite mystery book
  15. Your favorite biography
  16. Your favorite coming-of-age book
  17. Your favorite book not on this list

Why God Couldn’t Get Tenure at a University

I found this in the Brandywine Books archives. Erin O’Connor passes on a list of reasons why God couldn’t get tenure, and reader Kris at Berkley offers up an opposite list for why He could. From the first list:

  1. He’s authored only one paper
  2. That paper was in Hebrew
  3. His work appeared in an obscure, unimportant publication
  4. He never references other authors
  5. Workers in the field can’t replicate His results.

From the second list:

  1. The one publication was a Citation Classic.
  2. The Hebrew original was widely translated courtesy of the author.
  3. Being written before journals existed, references were hard to come by.

Read on