Critic and author Terry Teachout has been interviewed by the State Department on the subject of his upcoming book on Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Armstrong’s 105th birthday is Friday, August 4.
I had an intriguing e-mail yesterday–the kind that appeals strongly to my essential exhibitionism.
It came from a well-known female reporter from a major newspaper (both of whose names are safe with me). She was responding to a comment I left on a Christian website, concerning my experience with a well-known online matchmaking service (whose identity I shall also clutch protectively to my chest). The matchmaker had declined to allow me to sign up. The reporter is doing a story on people whose experiences with online dating services have been less than optimal, and she thought my story might be helpful.
I think I disappointed her. I was willing (no, let’s be honest–eager) to be interviewed, but I had to admit that the service hadn’t done anything out of line in my case. They advertise proudly that they reject people who are bad marriage prospects, and it’s not hard to see that, by most objective standards, I’m one of that select group. She hasn’t responded to my response.
So there it is. I finally get an interview offer from a major newspaper, and it’s not about my books. It’s about my remarkable inadequacy as a potential date.
Fame is where you get it.
Or where you don’t.
(I’ll be gone till Monday. Playing Viking and going to a family reunion in Iowa. I’ll see you if I survive the rigors thereof.)
The rumor was true. Random House announced it has purchased Multnomah Publishers and will merge it with WaterBrook Press in Colorado Springs, CO. WaterBrook and Multnomah with remain separate imprints of Doubleday Broadway, a division of Random House, and in control of their respective editorial destinies though the WaterBrook president with preside over Multnomah. Random House is the world’s largest English-language trade book publisher.
How many copies does the average American book sell? Everything is on the table, so don’t think of fiction only (which is probably why the number is so low). Common Grounds has some statistics.
Think Christian points out a Michael Novak piece which asks, “Is belief the key to a comfortable life?”
Mr. Bertrand talks about some pitfalls with that oft-discussed question of Christian artistic excellence.
Fiction has been called “a lie that tells the truth,” a paradox that goes to the heart of the difficulty — and explains why, historically, evangelicals have been suspicious of art and its makers. Many evangelical artists have internalized their community’s critique of art, which has led them to seek ways of doing art that evade the ‘evils’ their fellow believers have articulated. This desire not to be tainted by the criticism has, I think, contributed to the mediocrity problem. Some have been quick to dismiss what they didn’t understand, just to remain in solidarity with other evangelical critics.
Because I’m short on ideas tonight, I’ll share a nice passage from the book I’m reading now, In Forkbeard’s Wake by Ben Nimmo. It’s the sort of book I like to discover, a sailing memoir involving the seas I describe (as a rank landlubber) in my Viking novels. Here Nimmo writes about the Norwegian island of Utsira, where (as it happens) one of my great-great-grandmothers was born:
It’s one of the peculiar facts of history that many of the world’s most moving poems aren’t actually poems at all. The King James version of I Corinthians 13 (faith, hope and charity) and the Third Collect in the Anglican Evensong are hymns without tunes; the closing paragraphs of The Lord of the Rings are the final chords of a symphony…. As far as I’m concerned, though, the most bewitching use of words ever penned comes in the Radio 4 shipping forecast.
It reads like an incantation. No matter that it’s a simple and practical way of identifying sea areas by their outstanding geological feature. No matter that every word of the forecast has a precise and numerically defined meaning: the mysterious rune ‘Dogger, Fisher, German Bight: southwest four, a thousand and two, rising more slowly, fair, moderate to poor,’ simply means that the wind over the central North Sea and the Danish and German North Sea coasts is blowing from the southwest at between eleven and sixteen knots, atmospheric pressure stands at 1002 millibars and has risen by between 0.1 and 1.5 millibars in the preceding three hours, and that it’s not raining but that surface visibility is fluctuating between five nautical miles and a thousand metres. The shipping forecast is music in words.
Viking. The Viking banks, northeast of Shetland. Dogger. The Dogger bank, so overfished that it’s the only British bank worth less than Barings. German Bight, the German bay. Rockall and Malin, Trafalgar (early mornings only) and Finisterre, Portland and Dover, the cliffs and capes. Humber, Thames, Forth, Tyne, the rivers. Biscay and Irish Sea, the bays. Faeroes and Southeast Iceland, Fastnet and Scillies, the islands.
North Utsire and South Utsire.
Norwegians call it Utsira, with the stress on the first syllable: Ut-sira. It’s an island. Just one island, a lumpy rock a mile and a half long and two miles wide, nine miles off the Rogaland coast, surrounded by long chains of spray-washed skerries. In, as it were, skerried ranks. Its eastern and western flanks build up into brooding granite howes like the Lakeland peaks, frowning across the water. Between them a broad green valley runs north to south, plunging at each extremity into a rock-edged channel where the breakers burst in foam. The prevailing winds here are northwest and southwest. To the southwest, the next land is Shetland, over two hundred miles away. To the northwest, it’s the Arctic. When the northwesterly gales drive the waves onto the rocks, the whole island seems to shudder.
I’ve got a photo of waves breaking at a harbor entrance on Utsira as the desktop on my computer at work. It’s just the kind of grim, sea-lashed beauty that speaks to my blood.
I’ve got to visit there someday.
Everybody’s talking about Mel Gibson, so I’ll say something too.
I think there’s much to agree with in this post on the Libertas site. Gibson’s credentials as a conservative are actually kind of mushy. We’ve loved him, first of all because of Braveheart, one of the few recent movies that men who aspire to heroism can really embrace. Then came The Passion of the Christ, which we almost had to defend just because of the nature of the attacks on it (a not-very-defensible tactic).
I liked, but didn’t love, The Passion. It was a far more Catholic movie than most Protestants realized, which doesn’t necessarily make it bad. I don’t object to Catholics making Catholic movies. In the realm of literature, I’ve learned to enjoy several Catholic novelists very much—far more than a lot of Protestant authors, many of whom are too liberal or insufficiently skilled to please me.
In contrast to many of Gibson’s defenders, even Jewish ones, I thought I saw a hint of anti-Semitism in The Passion. I thought the priests in the movie were portrayed as Jewish caricatures. I never mentioned it at the time, because the whole subject is so thorny (which makes me a coward). I don’t agree with the current orthodoxy that says that the Jewish leaders had nothing at all to do with the crucifixion. The gospels clearly state that they did. The priests wanted to be rid of Jesus, and they manipulated Pontius Pilate, through threats of unrest, to have Him put to death.
But they did it for a reason, as the Gospel of John (11:48) makes clear. They considered Jesus a political threat, not just to themselves but to the commonwealth. They feared an uprising and Roman reprisals. Gibson could have emphasized this aspect and made his priests more sympathetic, without selling out to the “blame the Romans” revisionists.
If Gibson’s career is over, it frankly serves him right. But if Braveheart and (even) The Passion get tarnished because of him, our loss will be great.
At a charity reading in New York, Authors John Irving and Stephen King urge J.K. Rowling to avoid doffing Potter.
King said, “I don’t want him to go over the Reichenbach Falls.”
Rowling said she has worked out the ending to her series, and no doubt someone will not like it.
A picture is worth a thousand words unless you don’t have the right words to match it. Take the photos coming out of Lebanon and Israel these days. What are the right words? As shown here, the words given them by some news editors are so wrong you have to wonder why that particular news was unfit to print. And here’s another example from the same site.
Canadian Author Margaret Atwood is quoted by Bill Moyers on his “Faith & Reason” site: “If a god showed up every time you put a quarter in the prayer slot it wouldn’t be God, it would be a puppet that you could control by doing that…that would make the deity subservient to you. So it wouldn’t be a deity would it?”
That’s good. It points a problem many Christians have, because we kick around a lot of bad theology on prayer. God never announced that he would pardon us for specific sins after we repeat a memorized prayer nor does he wait for us to use specific phrases from the Bible in our prayers before acting with power. He is the Lord of all creation and everyone in it. No one can stop him from doing what he wants and no one can make him act.
For more on this idea, I recommend a book by J.B. Phillips called, Your God Is Too Small.
John Miller writes about the Soviet “Brave New World” written before Aldous Huxley’s. It is We by the shunned Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin, completed in 1921 and release in a new English transation this month. It wasn’t published in Russia until 1988 because it harshly criticized the Evil Empire. Mr. Miller describes it:
We is also the product of a powerful imagination. It describes a futuristic world dominated by the One State, which is devoted to “mathematically infallible happiness.” Because freedom is supposedly the enemy of happiness, the One State strives to eradicate all marks of individuality. “To be original means to somehow stand out from others,” says one character. “Consequently, being original is to violate equality.”
It is my birthday today. I am 56 years old.
The temperature got up to 100° today.
These two facts are not unrelated. I’m a hot day’s child, born under the Dog Star. Like most summer babies (in my unscientific experience), I handle heat a lot better than cold. Weather like today’s is an irritant, but it doesn’t prostrate me. I put on a light-colored hat and go about my business.
They had a goodbye party for someone at work today, and in the course of it somebody said, “It’s your birthday, too, isn’t it?” I conceded the fact and they sang The Song for me.
My brother Moloch called me at work, because I’d been out of town over the weekend, when he usually calls. As the conversation wound down and he was jockeying to hang up, I asked, “Is this my birthday call?”
“Oh yeah. It’s your birthday, isn’t it?” he asked. So he wished me a happy one.
Moloch doesn’t believe in cards, so he usually calls for my birthday. Brother Baal sends a card, and generally calls too. My friend Chip, who was born about a week after me, usually sends a card, but he forgot last year and I haven’t seen anything this year. My hero this time around is my uncle Orv, who not only sent a card, but included a nice “housewarming gift” inside it. Public thanks to him (he reads this blog).
When I was a kid, contemplating the likelihood I recognized even then, that I’d never find a wife, one thing I didn’t anticipate about single life was that a day would come when my birthday would not show up very large on any living person’s radar screen.
Fortunately, when you get into your fifties you don’t care much about it anymore, yourself.
It was hot in Decorah, Iowa, too, over the weekend. It was the hottest, stickiest Nordic Fest anyone remembered, and the crowds were widely dispersed—most of them miles away in their own homes. Even a lot of the vendors didn’t show up. We Vikings sat panting in the shade. The first day we couldn’t even work up the energy to do any live steel combat.
We did do some (wisely without armor) on the second day, and felt much the better for it. If my subjective scorekeeping is accurate, I seem to be the Number Two swordsman in our group, which I still find bizarre beyond words.
When it was all over, I felt like I’d spent the weekend baling hay, rather than sitting around in the shade of my awning, laboring greatly only over setting up tents, tearing them down again, and engaging in a spot of healthy recreational mayhem.
I’ll be doing it again on Saturday (hopefully without the extreme heat). We’re doing a town anniversary celebration in Bode, Iowa, and the guy heading up the celebration was in Decorah to visit us. He made a point of coming to me three separate times to tell me that he’d shown an internet photo of me and my equipment to the town fathers, and they’d all said “We want that guy here.”
It’s nice to be wanted. One would prefer, for preference, to be wanted by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, but it’s nice to be wanted by anyone.
On top of that, I talked to the distant relative I’d contacted last week, and he gave me the genealogical information I needed for Cousin Trygve in Norway. He also extended an invitation to the family reunion, which is in Belmond, Iowa, just down the road from Bode, on Sunday. That seemed like a sign from God that He wanted me to attend both, and I’m not so sanctified in my personal walk that I can afford to refuse a divine clue-bat.
Especially when I’m this old.
Lit-bloggers are declaring their reading preferences. Scott of Converational Reading started the ball rolling. Dan of the Emerging Writers Network and Ed Champion of Return of the Reluctant pick it up.
I’d love to blog about this, but I am utterly unqualified. I still feel a strong urge to read whatever-it-is because I’m supposed to, even when I know I’m not. You won’t get preferences from me in an easy-to-read list. I could play the postmodern card and say no definite list exists, but the truth is I’m weak in the head. I’ve even read a couple Harry Potter books. Perhaps you would like to follow the lead of these lit-bloggers and declare your preferences.