“The remarkable Stephen Mitchelmore” asks a question. “Why do genre novels never win the literary prizes?” And he asks another question. “Why aren’t literary writers given genre awards?” (Thanks to Frank Wilson)
Here’s a bit of news which could get you thinking. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, a man and his son retreived a bag from the water, filled with written prayers to the Lord. The AP reports:
Many of the letters were addressed to the Rev. Grady Cooper, though many more simply said “Altar.” According to the text of several of them, they were intended to be placed on a church’s altar and prayed over by the minister, the congregation or both.
A card in the bag identified Rev. Cooper as an associate pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Jersey City. The AP learned that he died two years ago, but was unable to learn anything more from the church or locate his family.
The letters represent the hard and silly things we pray for, those of us who know little about the God we claim to worship and those of us who know him intimately. It’s interesting news, but it feels voyeuristic to read the concerns of unknown people in an AP story.
The Grumpy Old Bookman reports, “The new BBC TV series Robin Hood is turning out to be a disappointment, I fear, but if you’re up for a Robin Hood novel then Andrew Fish has a brand-new one for you: Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow.” According to the book’s site, Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow “explores what happens when a Nottinghamshire schoolteacher travels back in time to seek out the truth behind the Robin Hood legend,” and learns that Robin Hood was a crook.
I don’t know what to think of the book, but I do feel good about the author’s sensibilities from his rundown of Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: “The Kevin Costner version of the story was wrong on so many levels, from the use of a fifteenth century castle at Old Wardour, through to Costner’s complete failure at a British accent. Somehow, however, the film is still enjoyable, and Bryan Adams’ anthem sounds much better when you haven’t been subjected to it on the radio for weeks on end.”
I came today to one of my favorites in my reading of C.S. Lewis’ Letters. It’s one he wrote to his friend Cecil Harwood on May 7, 1934.
If you know about Lewis’ life, or if you hang out with Lewis people (and let’s face it, you’re here) you probably know of his great love for the music of Wagner. But he knew Wagner almost exclusively from gramophone records. He had very little opportunity to hear the operas performed live.
In spring 1934 he and his brother Warnie, along with J.R.R. Tolkien and others, planned to go to London to attend festival performances of the entire Ring cycle. Cecil Harwood was entrusted with the job of buying tickets. Harwood, for some reason, failed to carry out this assignment.
Lewis responded to Harwood’s letter of apology with this epistle (which Harwood himself, if I remember correctly, described as “Johnsonian”):
I have read your pathetical letter with such sentiments as it naturally suggests and write to assure you that you need expect from me no ungenerous reproach. It would be cruel, if it were possible, and impossible, if it were attempted, to add to the mortification which you must now be supposed to suffer. Where I cannot console, it is far from my purpose to aggravate: for it is part of the complicated misery of your state that while I pity your sufferings, I cannot innocently wish them lighter. He would be no friend to your reason or your virtue who would wish you to pass over so great a miscarriage in heartless frivolity or brutal insensibility. As the loss is irretrievable, so your remorse will be lasting. As those whom you have betrayed are your friends, so your conduct admits of no exculpation. As you were once virtuous, so now you must be forever miserable…. I will not paint to you the consequences of your conduct which are doubtless daily and nightly before your eyes. Believe me, my dear Sir, that I forgive you.
As soon as you can, pray let me know through some respectable acquaintance what plans you have formed for the future. In what quarter of the globe do you intend to sustain that irrevocable exile, hopeless penury, and perpetual disgrace to which you have condemned yourself? Do not give in to the sin of Despair: learn from this example the fatal consequences of error and hope, in some humbler station and some distant land, that you may yet become useful to your species.
C. S. Lewis
Relief Journal Assistant Editor Heather von Doehren on writing as a believer:
To be honest, once I became a Christian (which was just four years ago) I stopped writing—not because I stopped having things to write about, but because I didn’t know how to reconcile being a Christian and a writer. How does someone write about Christian topics without sounding cheesy or cliché? As an atheist, I perceived Christians as annoyingly perfect people (I know…naïve…), who existed in a world that just did not exist. Yet Christian writing almost always portrayed this same polished (censored?) angle on reality. I didn’t know how to write as a Christian because, upon this transformation, nothing was mystically easy, censored, or anything like 7th Heaven.
Once I became Christian, I felt as if all of my actions, words, and thoughts were being held to the highest of all high standards—and not just from other Christians. I didn’t feel like I could be honest about what I was struggling with; in the past, my poetry expressed my human flaws, and in becoming Christian I felt as if I had to censor all those flaws. And no one can write like that. Yes, carrying the label “Christian” means we should be more like Christ; however, just because we aim, doesn’t mean we always hit our target. In reality, Christians aren’t perfect people. But if you look at most Christian writing, you’d think we are.
This is an excerpt from an interview with Heather von Doehren and Relief’s Editor-in-Chief Kimberly Culbertson.
Naturally I plugged my own titles in. Personally I think I’m pretty good at composing titles, but the utility doesn’t entirely agree with me.
Two of my titles earned 63.7% ratings, which isn’t bad–Wolf Time and The Year of the Warrior.
But Blood and Judgment only rated 26.3%, as did the original title I wanted for Wolf Time… Wind Time, Wolf Time (which I still think is a great title, no matter what anybody says).
Personally I like to have words that start with W in my titles. W has an evocative sound. It reminds me of wind and water.
“Finding the Profound in the Profoundly Ordinary” is the theme of a short story contest by Relief Journal and Faith in Fiction. From the announcement: “Andre Dubus writes of cooking an omelet and it becomes a holy moment. Marilynne Robinson takes the act of baptism and communion out of their churchly garb and gives them new resonance and depth. Inspired by examples like these, the “Daily Sacrament” short fiction contest will challenge you to explore the everyday in light of the eternal — or the sacred in the surroundings of the commonplace.”
Have you subscribed to Relief Journal? There are benefits to those who donate or subscribe before November 15.
Columnist Janie Cheaney has a short take on Sam Harris’ new book, Letter To a Christian Nation. She’s says it’s a short book from a “hard-boiled atheist of the kind C.S. Lewis lamented back in the ’40s.” He wants to eliminate faith from our minds. Interestingly enough, he complains in a recent column about radical Islam and the fact that those speaking with the “greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right.”
Sam, what basis does an atheist have for recommending moral judgements to others? Isn’t it just an appeal to individual reason that your way is the way for us all to get along better? That’s what Richard Dawkins seems to argue in his book, The Selfish Gene, but he states our biology works against this idea of everyone’s better good:
The genes are the master programmers, and they are programming for their lives. They are judged according to the success of their programs in copying with all the hazards that life throws at their survival machines, and the judge is the ruthless judge of the court of survival.
Whenever a system of communication evolves, there is always the danger that some will exploit the system for their own ends. Brought up as we have been on the ‘good of the species’ view of evolution, we naturally think first of liars and deceivers as belonging to different species: predators, prey, parasites, and so on. However, we must expect lies and deceit, and selfish exploitation of communication to arise whenever the interests of the genes of different individuals diverge. This will include individuals of the same species. As we shall see, we must even expect that children will deceive their parents, that husbands will cheat on wives, and that brother will lie to brother.
So he urges us to find morality outside of biology. Why?
Cartoonist Doug TenNapel has reached a million hits on his blog, and (if I understand correctly) has retired from posting. Good luck, Doug. I’ll miss you. Your blog was one of my daily treats.
Another treat (though not daily) is Yucky Salad With Bones, a Minnesota blog. It’s not the kind of blog I ordinarily like, being mostly day-to-day reports of family life written by the mother. But this woman has such a mordant sense of humor I can’t resist her. She’s my kind of gal. Unfortunately she’s already married.
I’m not doing Halloween. Instead of putting out a pumpkin I’m hiding my house light under a bushel. I have two main reasons:
1. I consider it prudent for any unmarried, middle-aged man to avoid contact with children as much as possible.
2. The Wiccans have pretty much appropriated the festival, aided and abetted by Christians. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in magic and I don’t believe in witchcraft. But that doesn’t mean I want to encourage these people. I can remember when Halloween was fun. I can remember a lot of things that aren’t true anymore.
I pretty much agree with Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost. Especially on Jack Chick.
Happy Reformation Day!
You may have heard that Senator John Kerry commented on education the other day and has since tried to explain that it was a botched joke. The would-be joke: “Education, if you make the most of it — you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart — you can do well. If you don’t you get stuck in Iraq.”
Yeah, I know what he meant. If you don’t make an effort to be smart, you get stuck blogging.
The sky was dimming as I left work today. It wasn’t evening yet, but the afternoon was effectively shot. That’s how it is in Minnesota, the first Monday after the time change. It’s always a shock, like somebody dropping something on your roof with a thump.
One of these years the first big blizzard will occur on the first Monday after Fall Back. And when that happens, half the population of the Great Plains will commit seppuku in concert.
The guy who runs the used book shop I patronize recommended the author Phillip Margolin to me, noticing that I’d pretty much run through all the Jonathan Kellerman. So I picked up Wild Justice.
Short review, after 45 pages: Hackwork. Uninspired writing and flat characters. I’m not going to finish it. Since I’ve decided to stop buying books for a while, to save money, I’m going to finish Volume Two of C. S. Lewis’ Letters now, and then I plan to re-read The Lord of the Rings.
On Saturday I drove down to Faribault to join Aunt Ada and Uncle Ralph, along with several of their children and grandchildren, for a committal service for an uncle and aunt I’ll call… oh, George and Martha. George passed away recently and was cremated, and while cleaning out his apartment Cousin Brian found Martha’s ashes in a cupboard. So they arranged to inter them together in my maternal grandparents’ plot.
My brother Moloch, who as you may recall is a pastor in The Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless, led a short service. We sang “Abide With Me” and “Amazing Grace” in a chilly breeze.
Moloch is sanguine about George and Martha’s final destinations. He’s a sacramentalist, believing that once you’re baptized you’re pretty much guaranteed salvation unless you perform a black mass and storm the heavens or something. I found the occasion rather more melancholy than he did.
Not that George and Martha were awful people. Martha, my mother’s sister, was an extremely amiable person—desperately amiable. She was as insecure as I am, but she handled it in an equal and opposite manner. She was an incessant talker, saying anything that came into her mind anytime the conversation threatened to slacken. She believed (I always suspected) that silence would give people an opportunity to think bad things about her.
I remember her saying, one day at Grandpa’s house, “The point of any religion is to do the best you can, after all, isn’t it?”
I didn’t correct her. Kids didn’t correct adults’ theology in our family. Perhaps her blood is on my hands because of that.
George probably led a pretty good life, according to his lights. He didn’t like to work and he did like to drink. He worked some years for an agricultural implement company. When they closed down and laid him off, he gave up working, living off Martha’s small income. He had enough money to pay the rent on their shabby apartment, play some golf and drink pretty steadily. He seemed content with that.
I’d like to say something more profound about him, but I really didn’t know him. He wasn’t the kind of man you had conversations with, not sober anyway.
I’m going to stop this post here, because there’s nowhere to go that isn’t depressing.
I’ve been wanting to write one or two posts on political language or some of the talk I’ve read about current issues, but I’m a slow blogger as you can tell. This one will be quick, and then I’ll take my wife back to the midwife. (She feels good, btw, and her body is healing.)
On political talk in Tennessee, Harold Ford, Jr. (D) is campaigning against Bob Corker (R) for the U.S. Senate. Apparently, the Corker people were at a rally for Ford in Paris, Tennessee, where Congressman Ford said:
“My friend Lincoln Davis who chairs our campaign says there are, there’s one big difference between us and misfortunate Republicans when it comes to our faith: he said that Republicans fear the Lord; he said Democrats fear AND love the Lord (applause)…”
I suppose that’s public knowledge which could go without comment, but I want to note that I often pray for our leaders and candidates to fear the Lord no matter which party they are in.
I just learned of this new ArtsJournal blog on books: BookDaddy. Jerome Weeks has been book columnist for The Dallas Morning News before starting this blog, and here he describes the state of book coverage at that paper, if not in newspapers generally. On increasing revenue for book coverage, he suggests:
If the [American Association of Publishers] wanted to do anything, it could try to convince advertisers that the readers of books pages may not be the young illiterates with poor impulse control that marketers currently want but neither are they the old and the dying, as conventional ad wisdom has it. They’re a well-off, often media-savvy and intellectually- and socially-involved audience. This is not some wildly unconventional, radical re-think: TV networks have come to respond to an older audience (the kids are all off in the clubs or on the computer) and has long positioned “geezer” ads for its news programming. Why not the arts pages?
Sounds good to me. I want to be concerned about newspaper coverage, but I don’t subscribe to any of them. I have picked up a few Friday Wall Street Journals because of Terry Teachout, and I look at the local Sunday paper at my parents house, but I don’t care to spend the money on a subscription I wouldn’t read. I do that with other things already. (Thanks to Books, Inc. for pointing out Mr. Weeks’ blog.)
From our Shameless Profit Desk comes this report that some publishers are looking into fan fiction. “A librarian in Idaho recently received a $150,000 advance from Simon & Schuster to publish a three-novel trilogy about a character from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In Brooklyn, a fan fiction writer known for turning out Lord of the Rings imitations landed the same fee for a similarly inclined fantasy series.”
Can’t see it happening. Fan blogging on the otherhand . . .