Contest Reminder: Three Books at Stake

Hey! Did y’all forget about the current contest? See this post for details on how to win all three of Lars’ fantasy/sci-fi/historical interest/well-written/fun/inspiring novels. You too can have all of them in time for the Halloween gift-giving season. If you have written a post in response to our contest using our trackback URL and you don’t see your post’s URL in the comment thread of the announcement post, feel free to leave a comment with the URL to make sure we know about your post. Anything blogged in September loosely or tightly regarding your summer reading will qualify.

Let me know if you need more time to put something together. Perhaps we can extend the contest through the first week in October.

Renewing Our Thinking

From a short article last week, Joseph Stowell passes on this story:

Os Guinness tells a great story about a Russian factory worker in the days when Khrushchev was the prime minister. Because of the enormous economic strain in those days, employees would steal tools and just about anything else they could get their hands on. To stop the thefts, a KGB officer was placed at every factory gate where each worker was carefully searched for contraband. Petrov, a long-time laborer, pushed a wheelbarrow loaded with two large sacks of sawdust out the factory doors every day. Each day the guard searched through the sacks of sawdust but consistently found nothing. Weeks into this routine the frustrated guard finally said, “Hey, Petrov, I promise not to tell anybody. I can’t get what’s going on here. I don’t know why you need all this sawdust. What are you stealing?” Petrov grinned and whispered, “Wheelbarrows.”

Read the rest Joe’s article called “Brain Drain.”

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.

What’s in your wallet?

Well, I’m back. I’m almost disappointed to say I came home unscathed, except for sore muscles and a combination burn/bruise on the inside of my left forearm. That came from shooting my bow. (Ah-ha moment: “That’s why archers wear those arm guards!” There was a time when I was younger when I shot with a bow quite a lot. I never needed a guard back then. It must be a function of aging).

It’s a six-hour drive to Elk Horn, Iowa, but I made it there ahead of the other Minnesota participants and checked in to the local motel. (If the original Vikings had had motels, they’d have slept in them too. They might not have paid their bills, but they would have used the nice dry beds).

On Saturday we played with Skjaldborg, the Nebraska Viking group that was hosting us. They set up an interesting exercise that worried me at first, but turned out to be a lot of fun.

The “gauntlet,” as it was called, involved first throwing a couple spears at a pile of straw bales. Then the subject grabbed a shield, pulled his sword, and ran (while being shot at with blunt, rubber-tipped arrows) to another man armed with shield and sword, fighting his way past him (for the purposes of this game, the subject never got “killed”). Then he had to fight past a guy with a spear who guarded a narrow, marked-off passage called “the bridge.” Finally, he had to fight two guys with shields and swords at once.

It was better than chocolate. Afterwards we did some group fighting, and later the guy from Missouri who’d brought up his Viking boat pulled it out to a nearby reservoir so we could do some sailing. Here’s a picture. Look like fun?

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The boat’s a real beauty, built by a craftsman. Light to row and fast under sail.

As we put the boat back on its trailer, the weather began to turn Norwegian, and we spent the rest of the night enjoying authentic Viking cold rain. When I’d enjoyed as much of that as I could stand, I retired to my motel room.

The next day the other Minnesotans left early, but I stayed till around noon. We did the gauntlet again, but this time you had to “earn” your shield by actually getting your spear to stick in the hay pile. I suck as a spear thrower, so I had to do the rest with sword only.

Needless to say, the only way to handle a situation like that is to go on strong offense, attacking the defenders at a full run. I was completely winded and utterly happy when I was done.

Then some more group fighting, and then I packed up and drove home in a warm glow.

I am a mess as a human being. I am constantly hobbled and crippled by fears, neuroses and impacted memories. When I go to a reenactment event and set up my day shade, I remain a mess. I remain a mess while plans are made and instructions given.

But when the battle starts and the steel is in my hand, my complexes become simplex. I’m just a man among other men, with one thing on my mind. “In the zone,” “one with my weapon,” whatever cliche you like, that’s what I become.

It appears I have good instincts. The first time I ran the gauntlet, I faced a man with a spear for the first time in my life. I did what came naturally with my sword, and they told me afterwards it was a “textbook” parry.

It’s also play. I’ve never played much in my life, never done a lot of the rough stuff with other guys. To do it now, and know I’m not bad at it, bucks me up incredibly.

There’s a psychological technique called “play therapy,” isn’t there?

I think there’s a doctoral thesis in this, for some perceptive graduate student.

Today I’m wiped out. Tired and achy. Maybe I’m coming down with something. Maybe I caught my death in Saturday night’s rain.

Do you get a Viking funeral if you catch pneumonia in an encampment?

If so, I’d call it even.

The legend of the microwave and the bird

I forgot to mention that Libertas recently posted this review of Andrew Klavan’s new novel, Damnation Street. As you know, I boost Klavan at every opportunity. I’ve got to read these newer mysteries. Unfortunately, no store in the Twin Cities seems to carry them in stock. Wouldn’t have anything to do with his politics, do you think? Nah, not here.

This will probably be my last post till Monday. I’m driving down to Iowa for the Viking Meet in Elk Horn, and although I’ll be staying in a motel room and bringing my laptop, I never count on web access.

Today’s interesting anecdote:

I was asked to sit in on what is called a “President’s Lunch” at the Bible School today, because a couple who plan to donate a large number of books to our archives were going to be there. When they told me where they came from, I told a story about my one visit to that town. I had been there with my musical group in the early ’70s, and my hosts had told me an anecdote about a microwave oven.

The lady laughed. “That was us,” she said. “That was our story.” They turned out to be the same people we’d met on that first visit. (Not so great a coincidence, considering the size of the town.)

The story goes like this:

This was just when microwave ovens were first entering the consumer market. They were very high tech stuff, and not a little frightening. Some people refused to eat food cooked in the things.

This particular couple had a neighbor who was selling microwaves. He made them a thirty-day offer. “Try it out, see how you like it,” he said. “You can cook almost anything with this, in almost no time. You can cook a twelve pound turkey.”

The couple told him they were going to take a chance and cook their Thanksgiving turkey in the microwave. They told him several times, to make sure he knew how important it was to them.

On Thanksgiving Day, at lunchtime, when everyone was sitting down with their families to eat, they called their neighbor.

“What have we done wrong?” they cried. “Come over here! Look what your microwave oven has done to our twelve-pound turkey!”

The neighbor and his wife left their meal and came over immediately, instruction book in hand.

“Look at this!” said the couple.

There on the turkey platter sat a tiny miniature bird, trussed, browned, but so small….

The dealer and his wife obsessed over the malfunction for some time, until the stifled laughs of the couple’s children tipped them off.

The couple had carefully stitched up and cooked a Cornish Game Hen.

I’ve always thought that was a pretty good practical joke.

Thoughts of a bloodthirsty librarian

Today I was processing books for the library, part of a large collection given to us by a minister who passed away recently.

I picked up one book on The Philosophy of John Dewey. I went to the web service we use to find cataloging data. Because the book is fairly old, there were only a few listings there. As always, I searched for a record that included the Library of Congress catalog number, because that’s the system we use. Unfortunately, there was none.

All the records, I found, were catalogued in Dewey Decimal.

I guess there’s a cosmic rightness there that overrides my personal convenience.

Also I found a book called Preaching Values, by Halford Luccock. That’s a title that surprises no one in our day. Obviously the book is meant to help pastors pass on Christian moral values in their sermons.

But this book was published in 1928. It was about the values, for preachers, of certain modern Bible translatons.

The new translations included Moffat and Goodspeed.

The past, truly, is a different country, my friends.

And yeah, I fantasize about living in that other country. Some days it looks like Heaven, or Norway, to me.

But our plumbing is better here.

I’m about to write about the Pope’s comments on Islam, and the Muslim reaction. If you’re sick of hearing about it, you can skip the rest of this post.

I saw a button back in the ’60s that said, “Support Mental Health Or I’ll Kill You.”

Any reasonable person would recognize that rioting and murdering people are a self-contradictory means of proclaiming one’s peacefulness. And the fact that a large part of the Muslim world fails to get the joke (such as it is) pretty much says it all.

But the Islamic world doesn’t care. Because they’re not involved in a struggle of ideas, but a struggle of honor.

Honor, and honor cultures, is one of my hobbyhorses. I believe (perhaps wrongly) that my study of Viking sagas has taught me something about the subject.

It’s not about making sense, for our enemies. It’s about having honor, being what Bin Laden calls “the strong horse.”

As long as we continue our policy, all over the West, of playing a game in which the other side’s role is to commit outrages and ours is to reward them for it, they will continue to see us as people of no honor. Weak horses. Countries that it would be an act of charity to conquer, so that they might teach us to be men.

The reasonable way to handle this (not in the common sense of the word “reasonable,” which for us means something like “inactive,” but reasonable in the sense of operating in a way appropriate to the situation) would be to act to defend our honor. Some kind of strong action is required, not necessarily, but probably, violent.

That would go far to restore our honor in their eyes.

It would be a charitable act too, because it might warn them off. They would be less likely to commit the enormity that seems, under present conditions, pretty much inevitable. Because when that enormity happens–when they blow up a bomb in America, or unleash a chemical weapon, we will unite again and take violent action. Probably even if the president is a Democrat. Many more people will die under that scenario.

It won’t happen, of course. Bush would be impeached. Someone might even assassinate him under the current climate of opinion (or passion).

I can hear people objecting now, “But defending our honor’s not a Christian response!”

Those who say this are generally the same people who’ve been trying to tell us for thirty years that America is not a Christian nation, and has never been a Christian nation. Christianity, they insist, is more foreign to American tradition than Peruvian painting or Mongolian music.

But I’ve written about that before. And I don’t believe Christian personal ethics apply to governments. “The emperor bears the sword” (Romans 13:4), after all.

And I also think saving lives is a consideration that bears a certain moral weight.

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.

Talk like an ambivalent pirate

Aaaargh! According to Mr. Hugh Hewitt, it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, matey. And I always believes what Cap’n Hewitt tells me.

Not much to log tonight, shipmates, because I just got me desktop thinkin’ engine home again, and I’ve got me a powerful lot of restorin’ to do, by thunder.

But I’ve got this peculiar story here, from Junk Yard Blog, tellin’ us that the things most of us think about New Yorkers are true about ten percent of the time.

I was about to say “Blow me down,” but I’m thinkin’ it wouldn’t be in good taste.

The Man Of My Life by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

I’m not sophisticated enough to read Montalbán.

All my life I’ve had a reputation for being fairly bright, but I’ve borne this secret shame—there’s lots of modern literature, highly praised by people of greater intellect than mine, that I just don’t comprehend. I read these works through (or did, when I was in school and had to), but they speak to me not at all, and I have to assume it’s my own fault.

But I’m not entirely sure that’s the reason I didn’t like this Spanish novel. I have a suspicion that this one is just plain superficial and dull. Somebody sent it to Phil for review, and he passed it on to me without finishing it. I read the whole thing because I enjoy writing nasty reviews better than he does.

Montalbán’s detective hero, Pepe Carvalho, is advertised as Barcelona’s answer to Philip Marlowe. I suppose that’s true. Just as Marlowe embodied a certain world-weary, mid-twentieth century American cynicism which, being American, retained a reservation of personal integrity and courage, Pepe Carvalho is the perfect postmodern European.

Pepe is, above everything else, cool. He’s too cool to have close personal relationships. There is Charo, his on-and-off girlfriend, a former prostitute. There is Biscuter, a physically unimpressive young man whom Pepe rescued from the streets and made his personal assistant. But Pepe doesn’t open up much to either one. He cares about gourmet cooking, and he likes to start fires in his fireplace with books that have displeased him. I suppose that’s supposed to constitute character development.

Pepe’s too cool to believe in anything, religious or political. This novel puts him in contact with a confusing array of cults, parties and movements, and he analyzes them all with the detachment of a man who has transcended all that. He has been, we are told, both a Communist and a CIA operative in his time (the CIA, of course, taught him to commit soul-destroying cruelties, assuming one has a soul).

The plot involves a young man, son of a powerful capitalist, who has rejected his father’s values to start a satanic cult, “Lucifer’s Witnesses.” He has been accused of murdering his male lover, another leader of the same cult, who happens to be the son of a rival capitalist.

Then the plot, such as it is, begins a confusing wander (or meander, the pace is pretty slow) among groups like neo-Cathars and rival parties of Catalan nationalists. I quickly lost track of them.

And why should I be interested? Pepe himself doesn’t seem very interested. He didn’t seem to me to do much actual detecting in the book. He’d get calls from various people telling him to meet someone at this or that spot, and generally he’d go there and be beaten up or witness a crime. But, after all, he knows that it’s all a put-up job, that the real criminals are multinational, globalist corporations who kill people for profit and have innocent people blamed. Justice, such as it is, is something Pepe will dispense himself in the end, as he has no faith in the corrupt justice system either.

The only point at which Pepe displays anything like human emotion is in connection with “Yes,” a mysterious woman who introduces herself to him first through anonymous faxes, daring him to guess which character from his past she is. She is, he learns at last, a beautiful American-born woman with whom he had a brief affair when he was younger and she was very young. For her he displays real feeling, but he is reluctant to take her away from her husband and children. This is commendable, of course, but one can’t tell whether the refusal springs from any kind of moral scruple, or from a more basic inability to give himself wholly to anyone or anything.

But maybe I misjudge the book. Maybe it’s just too good for me.

I’ll tell you this, though—the translation isn’t. I speak as a man who does bad translations himself when I say that this translation is very, very poor. The dialogue, in particular, has the tinny sound you hear in dubbed Italian westerns. Take this excerpt, from a scene where the suspect young man is being pursued by thugs. A young woman named Margalida sees the baddies (or goodies, one is never sure) pursuing him by motorbike:

Furious, she turned back to Carvalho.

“Your pistol! Why didn’t you get it out?”

“I hardly ever carry one.”

“Some private eye you are! You have to have a gun for this kind of thing. Now they’re going to catch Albert.”

Well, I finished it at last. But if I had a fireplace in my house, I know which book I’d use to start the first fire of the winter.

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.

Unreliable News: Man Files His Own Wrongful Death Suit

It’s not unheard-of for a citizen to sue the U.S. government for wrongful death. What’s unusual is someone suing the government because he himself expects to die in fifty years or so.

Twenty-five-year-old Ken Weckmeyer of Edina, Minnesota, doesn’t look like a terminal medical case. But he says he’s going to die eventually, and that’s Uncle Sam’s responsibility.

“I know it sounds crazy at first,” Weckmeyer told reporters Wednesday, “but you’ve got to think about an issue like this without preconceptions.

“I was lying in bed one morning about six months ago,” he said, “when it occurred to me that I’m going to die someday. It doesn’t matter what I eat or how much exercise I get or how well I take care of myself generally. I’m still gonna die, through no fault of my own.

“And the first thing that came into my mind was, ‘I’ve got to sue somebody. Somebody’s got to pay for this injustice. The Declaration of Independence states that every American has the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But I’m going to be deprived of my right to life. Am I supposed to just sit around and accept this?’”

When asked whether every person in the country isn’t in the same boat, Weckmeyer replied that he is planning a class action suit, with all American citizens as plaintiffs. He said he believes that a million dollar settlement for each plaintiff, minus legal fees, should provide some consolation in the face of such a massive, systemic injustice.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture