What They Look For in a Book

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.

It’s A Crime at Harrogate

It’s a Crime! has been blogging on the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. One point I note:

On Saturday afternoon Frances Fyfield conducted an excellent interview with P D James. She was sure to emphasise at the start that P D James is not just a prolific author, but also someone whose life in public service should be recognised and remembered. She brought out all the best in P D James, as an author, and as a woman whose life has inspired and motivated her writing career. P D James was wonderfully open and direct and left the room with a well deserved and respectful standing ovation.

Emily Bronte Was Not a Man

Sherry points out Emily Bronte’s birthday today. She writes: “Some critics insisted that Emily’s novel, Wuthering Heights, must have been written by a man because no woman could have written such a passionate story. Emily Bronte died of tuberculosis one year after the publication of her only novel. She was 30 years old.”

Why do critics argue stupid points like this? I guess it was a different era, when women were not considered valuable members of society or at least literary culture. Our era has its own stupid ideas, such as a constitutional right to privacy and global warming.

Persian Words Only, Please

This just came across our Friends of Fascism desk from Tehran. “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered government and cultural bodies to use modified Persian words to replace foreign words that have [insidiously] crept into the language, such as ‘pizzas’ which will now be known as ‘elastic loaves,’ state media reported Saturday.” According the report, “short talk” will replace “chat” and “small room” will replace “cabin.”

Unmentioned in this report is the president’s frequent promise to annihilate Israel.

Rumors suggest Ahmadinejad is writing a memoir called “Hitler’s Mistakes and How I Will Correct Them.” It will be a bestseller by presidential degree.

Watch Out for the One in the Black Hat

When I pointed to Jana Riess’ post on Christy Award nominees last Friday, I remembered some criticism of a Christian suspense novel which I didn’t mention here on BwB. I’m uncomfortable with negative reviews–well, at least of living authors.

I heard Musician Michael Card talk about criticism of his music from the press. I think he said it was almost entirely unhelpful, but he may have said only the negative reviews or pointed critiques were unhelpful, the reason being that the critic is outside the artist’s community. The artist has no relationship with the critic in the press, so negative comments have no context for interpretation. Does the critic really know his subject when he says the artist’s song is a pseudo-type of a purer form (e.g. He says a song has a wanna-be gospel melody. This could be informed feedback or snarkiness.) Card’s point was that artists should live in an active, supportive community with people who can criticize the artwork in a way that builds the artist. Card said he has received only one negative review which helped him, and he thought it showed that his community had failed him by not giving him the same critique before the album was published.

So maybe it’s the same idea that holds me back with some negative criticism I have. I probably should spill forth with vigor and contagious energy whatever positive or negative criticism I can harvest from my fertile brain. And I probably won’t.

Enough of that–what about the book? It was a mystery or suspense novel, so I expected the bad guy, who first appeared in the late middle of the story, to be one of the major characters, maybe one of the more developed minors. There were only a few developed characters, so my expectation didn’t make much sense, but I held it nonetheless. The police floated suspected names from the back-story, not actual characters, but of course if the story went in that direction, it would have felt hollow with no real enemy at all.

The bad guy turned out to be a slightly developed minor character whom my sweet wife had spotted at a distance. She said he was the only character presented in a bad light. I didn’t notice the lighting, but I remember him being an antagonist from the start. I didn’t suspect him because I thought he was too minor a character. And, yes, the story felt a bit hollow because of it.

Another problem I had with this novel was the unannounced Christian flavor. I wasn’t ready to assume the characters were born-again believers before given evidence of their faith, so when the main character prayed quietly, “God, this is a terrible situation,” I assumed he was talking to himself. He did it again later, and I suspected he was praying. At one point, a character was introduced as an unbeliever, and I think that should have been my guideline. Assume faith unless told otherwise. I don’t think that’s a habit I can make.

Hymn: Our Salvation

I put these words to a 15th Century hymn tune, which is often sung as “Sing We Now of Christmas.” You can listen to a good midi version through that link. I also found part of it sampled from this choral album. It has that beautifully ancient quality I admire in many hymns.

Our Salvation

Glory to our God who reigns over everything.

He rebuilds our hearts to give us mind to sing

Of Him, the I Am

Our hope in heaven’s Lamb,

His redemptive choice, and eternal blessing.

The Lord gives His blessing to all who receive

By the mouth confessing, by the heart believe

That Jesus is Lord

And from the grave restored,

That all who come believing may His life receive.

To Love’s gracious call we could not answer then;

For as Adam’s children, we were dead in sin.

But Jesus, our Lord,

Had chosen us before

He set the planets spinning in the solar wind.

Did the Lord Teach Us Nothing?

I like this passage from Lars’ book, The Year of the Warrior, in which the hero is talking to his blind friend, Helge:

. . . I told Helge about Eyvind Ragnvaldsson. “He says the world is an illusion, subject to shaping by those who’ve trained themselves in secret truths. It’s heresy, of course–buut that knife passed straight through his body. I saw it. It jarred me, friend. I’ll say this to you, and to no other living man: Suppose we misunderstood our Lord? Suppose He rose from the dead because He knew that the world of things is but a dream and so was able to impose His will on the dream?”

“That’s easier to believe, I think, when you live by sight. For me, who must meet the world by ever barking my shins on it, it’s hard to shrug off bodies so lightly.”

“But suppose we can’t trust any of our senses?”

“Then why believe what you saw Eyvind do? The knife that passed through him cuts both ways.”

“You’re right, of course. I never thought of it so.”

“But it goes further. You must decide what you believe. Do you believe that our Lord spent three years with His disciples, and they learned nothing from Him at all? Absorbed not an inkling of His real teaching? If so, He was the worst teacher ever born. Can you really believe that?”

A Psalm for Violent Times

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

O LORD, how many are my foes!

Many are rising against me;

many are saying of my soul,

there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

I cried aloud to the LORD,

and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;

I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people

who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD!

Save me, O my God!

For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;

you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;

your blessing be on your people! Selah

(Psalm 3, English Standard Version)

Author Yoram Kaniuk from Tel Aviv

Nextbook.org is running a series of diary posts from Author Yoram Kaniuk, who has been called “the great Israeli voice of his generation.” Read his latest entry here. He writes, “Our war started when the British issued the Balfour Declaration, which gave the Jews the right to be recognized as a national entity. Since then, the war has been called by various names, but it’s the same war that began in 1920.”

I agree. Why do the leaders of the world disagree? Why does the American press disagree?

I wonder if many members of the press core don’t take the attitude of these girls Kaniuk quotes: “Five girls with their navels hanging out—two look like hooks for rings—are laughing and talking loudly. One says, ‘What? Are you sure? You’re kidding me! What? His father was killed by a rocket in Haifa? I just saw him a week ago. What a crazy country, that he could die that way, like, how weird is that?’”

Not just a crazy enough country, lass, but a crazy enough world in which would-be leaders and elected officials argue against your country’s right to defend itself. If Cuba had a militia in Mexico and kidnapped two of our soldiers after years of verbal abuse and forked-tongue diplomacy punctuated with errant missiles and suicide bombers in El Paso and Las Vegas, would the liberals of America argue for restraint and police procedure over military engagement? Israel was attacked, has been attacked, and will continue to be attacked by terrorists who do not believe they should exist. The U.N. appears to agree with the terrorists even though they have proclaimed Israel’s existence and mapped out their territory. And the old officials from the last administration as well as like-minded Democrats call for a ceasefire. What will that accomplish? Terrorists may stop shooting, but only to regroup.

News flash: Solomon was smarter than me

Today I started thinking about a certain practical concern, and I decided to pray about it.

I prayed something like this: “Lord, I’d appreciate it if you’d provide _______ for me. However, there’s lots of people in greater need, so if the answer is no, I’ll understand.”

I thought this a very mature kind of prayer. I’ve always had Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 1 in mind when I pray: “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (NIV). God responds, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor…, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor….” (v.11-12).

The lesson I drew from this as a child was, “Don’t ask for much. God will be pleased with your humility, and maybe He’ll throw in some goodies as a reward.”

But it occurred to me today (and you adults probably knew this already) that that’s not the point at all.

Solomon doesn’t ask for small things. Wisdom and knowledge aren’t small. What he’s asking for is precisely the tools he needs in order to do the work God has set before him. He’s asking God to equip him for his vocation.

Passive-aggressiveness is a sickness of the soul. Also I’m pretty sure God can’t be manipulated into rewarding me for fake humility.

I wonder if I’ll ever live long enough to grow up.

I’ll be taking another blog-break until Monday evening. I’ll be in Decorah, Iowa for the Nordic Fest, playing Viking, live-steel fighting, and selling a few books (I hope). If you’re in the area, stop by. The Viking encampment is next to the Vesterheim museum.

SOLD: Multnomah and Thomas Nelson

Bloomberg reports on the sale of two Christian publishers to large publishing corporations. The more recent deal, the sale of Multnomah, is still anonymous. Publishers Weekly believes the buyer is Random House, though they already own WaterBrook Press so why would they buy another Christian publisher.

On June 8, Thomas Nelson was sold to InterMedia Partners, a private equity firm.

The article concludes with this interesting note:

Thomas Nelson has even invested in its own form of the mega- church. In 2000, the company bought the Women of Faith franchise. Based in Plano, Texas, this self-described “spiritual spa” offers music and a roster of speakers — often Thomas Nelson authors — over two days in an arena setting. Last year, an average of 15,000 people attended each event, and 422,000 people in all bought tickets.

These events have plenty of well-stocked book tables. Thomas Nelson President Michael Hyatt said exposure like this is better than anything he can get in a bookstore.

Success, plus inventory meditations

I heard from the man with the genealogy information last night, and he seems to know pretty much everything Cousin Trygve wants to find out. I got the highlights to pass on to him, and I’ll get documents with details when I go down to Decorah this weekend.

Another crisis met and mastered, less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels.

I was back at work today, inventorying books. I found a commentary on Revelation called something like The Letters of Jesus Christ to the Churches. The title hit me funny, and I realized I’d always had a misconception about the New Testament. I’d thought that Jesus left no personal writings behind, but for those of us who believe in the full inspiration of Scripture, the first three chapters of Revelation clearly constitute seven epistles to churches, dictated by the Lord Himself.

Then a second thing occurred to me. If 20th Century American Christians were to imagine an epistle from Jesus, it wouldn’t be like the real ones at all.

Here’s the sort of thing we’d write:

My dear children,

How are you? I just wanted to write and tell you how much I love you. I derive such pleasure from watching you living and growing, enjoying your lives and your families.

I’m not happy about some of the things you do, but I want you to know that no matter how often you fall, I’ll always be right there to lift you onto your feet again. I have such wonderful plans for you—if you could just see what they are, you’d be amazed…

You get the idea.

Now look at what He actually writes. He compliments the churches a little (if He can), and tells them very clearly what they’re doing wrong. He warns them in no uncertain terms that if they don’t straighten up and fly right there will be serious, eternal consequences. The only warm fuzzies he has to offer are to churches under severe persecution, and the best He can promise them is a reward if they hold out to the end (that is, until their enemies kill them).

Compare and contrast.

Later, I picked up a book called The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, by Charles P. Krauth, D.D., published in 1871 by the United Lutheran Church Publishing House in Philadelphia. The first line of the Preface caught my eye:

That some form of Christianity is to be the religion of the world, is not only an assured fact to the believer in Revelation, but must be regarded as probable, even in the judgment which is formed on purely natural evidence.

That was how it looked in 1871, folks. Everybody, even skeptics, were pretty sure that Christianity was so obviously superior to all other religions that it must inevitably be universally adopted in time. This idea went hand in hand with the certainty that Western Culture, in its obvious superiority, was destined to be taken up by every nation and tribe, as each was educated and gained enlightenment.

It’s a depressing thought, considered in light of how the world has changed since then.

But I prefer to think of it in a more positive way. It’s a reminder that things that look inevitable in one age often turn out to be very evitable indeed. Global warming, Islamicization, ever-increasing government power, homosexual marriage… any and all of them may fizzle and end up as a bad joke.

We’re not as wise as we think, and that’s often a good thing.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture