Category Archives: Non-fiction

How Novels Work

John Mullan, senior lecturer in English at University College London and using material from his “Elements of Fiction” column in The Guardian, has a book on novel called How Novels Work, from Oxford UP.

How Novels Work explains how the pleasures of novel reading often come from the formal ingenuity of the novelist, making visible techniques and effects we are often only half-aware of as we read. It is an entertaining and stimulating volume that will captivate anyone who is interested in the contemporary or the classical novel.

Simplistic, Terrible History

Mr. Holtsberry has a lineup of reviewers criticizing a World War II book by Nicholson Baker called, Human Smoke.

  • Tom Nagorski says, Mr. Baker leaves the impression — one cannot say that he “believes,” since he is never quite explicit — that Roosevelt’s preparations for war with Japan were as bellicose in character as Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and that the Allied failure to help Jews in the early years was as bad as the Nazis’ dispatching them to the gas chambers.
  • Adam Kirsch calls the book perverted. “A book that can adduce Goebbels as an authority in order to vilify Churchill has clearly lost touch with all moral and intellectual bearings. No one who knows about World War II will take Human Smoke at all seriously. The problem is that people who don’t know enough . . . Already a reviewer in the Los Angeles Times has praised it for ‘demonstrating that World War II was one of the biggest, most carefully plotted lies in modern history.'”
  • William Grimes writes: “Did the war ‘help anyone who needed help?’ Mr. Baker asks in a plaintive afterword. The prisoners of Belsen, Dachau and Buchenwald come to mind, as well as untold millions of Russians, Danes, Belgians, Czechs and Poles. Nowhere and at no point does Mr. Baker ever suggest, in any serious way, how their liberation might have been effected other than by force of arms.”

Racial Ideas and American Conservatism

The Washington Times has these two reviews:

“Upstream,” in essence, is a Baedeker guide to the men and ideas behind conservatism. The underlying theme for the movement was a strong belief in individual freedom and personal responsibility. The task was tough. As Mr. Regnery astutely notes in his opening pages, in the early 1950s “few people would admit to being conservatives at all, and those who did were thought to have lost their minds.”

Comparing Generations: Edwards vs. Jukes

Jared posted a couple myth busters a few days ago. The word sincere, he explains, did not come from the marketing language of Roman potters, as you may have been told, and Jesus actually talked about heaven more than hell, though he talked about hell a good bit.

Along that lines, I have a good source on an illustration I’ve read a few times and appears to have grown into a fish story. Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s best theologians, had many godly or otherwise productive children, grandchildren, and so on. Comparing his family to that of another man who lived at the same time is meant to illustrate the fruit of a godly life. Here’s the account from an article by Leonard Ravenhill:

A thin crust, a very thin crust of morality, it seems to me, keeps America from complete collapse. In this perilous hour we need a whole generation of preachers like Edwards.

“O Lord of hosts, turn us again; cause Thy face to shine upon us, and we shall be saved.”

Contrast this great man of God with his contemporary. I quote from Al Sanders in Crisis in Morality!

Max Jukes, the atheist, lived a godless life. He married an ungodly girl, and from the union there were 310 who died as paupers, 150 were criminals, 7 were murderers, 100 were drunkards, and more than half of the women were prostitutes. His 540 descendants cost the State one and a quarter million dollars.

But, praise the Lord, it works both ways! There is a record of a great American man of God, Jonathan Edwards. He lived at the same time as Max Jukes, but he married a godly girl. An investigation was made of 1,394 known descendants of Jonathan Edwards of which 13 became college presidents, 65 college professors, 3 United States senators, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 75 army and navy officers, 100 preachers and missionaries, 60 authors of prominence, one a vice-president of the United States, 80 became public officials in other capacities, 295 college graduates, among whom were governors of states and ministers to foreign countries. His descendants did not cost the state a single penny. ‘The memory of the just is blessed’ (Prov. 10:7).

To us this is the conclusion of the whole matter.

This is a better account than the one I’ve seen more often, but the details are not as accurate as they should be. According to the March 8, 1902, issue of The School Journal, the numbers vary a bit.

Suffice it to say, “The almost universal traits of the ‘Jukes’ were idleness, ignorance, and vulgarity. These characteristics led to disease and disgrace, to pauperism and crime. They were a disgustingly diseased family as a whole. There were many imbeciles and many insane.”

My version of the story says Jukes’ name is the origin of the word juke, meaning “to fake or deceive.” No, it wasn’t. It’s from a word meaning “wicked, disorderly” in a Southern English creole.

This is not so much a busted myth as a clarification. I hope I have edified you.

The Reason for God

The website for Tim Keller’s book, The Reason for God, is fantastic, loaded with audio downloads and a study guide. This looks like a great book for the modern church. First Things has a lengthy interview with Keller, which appears to be linked from many blogs. Keller says:

I think the new-atheism thing was an impetus [to writing the book], and it was also an opportunity, because I believe that this book, say, three or four years ago, the average secular person in a Barnes & Noble wouldn’t necessarily—why would you pick up a book that’s designed to say orthodox Christianity’s true? But now, as part of the cultural conversation, the book’s title immediately positions it as an answer.



Penguin probably was willing—which doesn’t even have a religion division—the reason Penguin was interested in it was because of the cultural conversation and the new atheists. I don’t think they would have picked it up otherwise, frankly. But they’ve been really supportive, wonderful.

‘Passover by Design’ sells 20k on First Day

Author and cook Susie Fishbein seems to be building a devoted following. Her fifth cookbook, Passover by Design, sold 20,000 copies on the day of its release. Her Kosher by Design series has sold 250k over the years, and Fishbein has been making the rounds on talk and cooking shows. In Passover by Design, she helps the kosher cook by offering recipes without leavening so no additional substitutions would have to be made.

The Pseudo-Manga Bible

Dogberry Patch points out a new comic book version of the bible–I almost wrote “Holy Scripture” but that would be sacreligious, if not blasphemous, to characterize this book as an actual Bible–which attempts to present the stories in Manga illustrations. Not only does the artwork fail to get very Manga-like, “The narrative reads like the scriptwriter is strip-mining scripture. He bulldozes over details and nuances in the Biblical text to move the plot along.”

I guess I’m not really surprised that the Archbishop of Canterbury approves of it.