Collected Comments

Orange Jack on Don Quixote: “The ironic thing to me is that this book is about 1000 pages, and on the first page the author tells me the main character goes mad because he read too much!”

Laura Demanski on a book she’s read several times: “A friend recently told me that he’s reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time, and I realized that this is a condition I aspire to. In other words, I wanted for a second to claw his eyes out, but the second passed and I masked my jealous rage nicely, I thought. It used to be every Christmastime that I read P&P. Now my readings are further spaced out, every three or four years instead of every single one as I try (without hope) to regain a state of innocence vis-à-vis this particular book.”

Kevin Holtsberry quotes Athol Dickson on writing too fast: “I recently got into hot water with some writer friends by crying out for a slower, more thoughtful pace. Although I hate it when people are unhappy with me, I’m not backing down. Many popular Christian authors are in the habit of putting out three, four or even five or more novels every year. Such haste strikes me as a risky proposition.” I remember Mr. Dickson saying the same thing in his Novel Journey interview.

The Big Law by Chuck Logan

Chuck Logan was recommended to me as a good thriller writer who, like John Sandford, lives in and writes about Minnesota.

I can’t say that I won’t read any more of his books. But I’m afraid I liked this one a lot less than I hoped to.

I would have preferred to start with the first book in the Phil Broker series, Absolute Zero, but my bookstore didn’t have a copy. So I went with Number Two, The Big Law.

I’ve written before about male fantasy figures as series heroes. I think Phil Broker (mostly) fits into this category. He’s rich as a result of finding a huge treasure of gold in a foreign land. He lives in his own big, rustic house on the shore of Lake Superior, having retired young from police work. Over his fireplace he has hung a Viking dragon’s head ship’s prow (that wins him points with me).

On the other hand, most male fantasies don’t include raising a baby singlehanded.

Phil has a wife, a female soldier (and hero). She has returned to active service and is currently serving in Bosnia (the book was published in 1998) when Broker gets involved in a case involving his ex-wife, Caren Angland.

Caren calls him unexpectedly, asking to come and see him. She’s frightened. She’s married now to Keith Angland, another cop and Phil’s former friend. She has proof that Keith is crooked. That he has taken money from the Russian mafia and murdered an informant.

As she flees her husband, Caren picks up a newspaper reporter, Tom James, who is supposed to document the story. But Keith follows and gets to Phil’s house ahead of her. In the violence that follows, Caren falls into a waterfall to her death, Tom James gets shot, and Keith is arrested for Caren’s murder.

But if that’s the end of the story, why do both Phil and his soldier wife get threatening letters shortly afterward?

And what happened to the money Keith got from the mob?

Chuck Logan is a good writer. The story builds tension nicely. The writing is fresh and sharp. Logan chooses his words carefully, and places them for maximum effect.

And yet… I had trouble caring much.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I couldn’t identify with Phil Broker. I can’t point to a single defect in Logan’s depiction of his character.

But I felt like I couldn’t get near the man. He never came alive for me. Even though he displays great passion in his concern to protect his baby daughter, he never gets my full sympathy.

I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be able to analyze these things. But I can’t identify what’s wrong here.

I’ll probably have to read another in the series to see if the problem is Logan’s or mine.

Chesterton’s blog

Well, blimey, Bert! Look what I’ve copped. The blog of the American Chesterton Society (ACS). They have a rare, autographed book of Chesterton poems for sale with a charity angle on it, and they point to a review of an interesting book I hadn’t seen before, The Flying Inn. The reviewer writes that the book “was condemned to many years of neglect, presumably because of what was then seen as the quaintness and irrelevance of its subject matter — an Islamic attack on and infiltration of England.” The ACS says, “This is a hilarious satirical romp in which Chesterton inveighs against the forces of dreary and oppressive modernity, in the form of Prohibition, vegetarianism, theosophy, and other movements.”

Once Upon a Time at the movies

Today has been gorgeous in the City of Lakes and its environs. The weekend’s blessed rains washed the humidity out, and the temperature stayed south of 80. This is what outsiders imagine a Minnesota summer day to be like, but it happens all too rarely in real life.

By way of Gene Edward Veith’s Cranach blog, I have discovered one of the funniest blogs I’ve ever read. Luther at the Movies purports to be film criticism as practiced by Dr. Luther, whose natural exuberance cannot be stifled by the mere accident of death. If this doesn’t win all you thin-blooded Calvinists over, I don’t know what will.

I bought the DVD of Once Upon a Time in the West a while back, and I watched it yesterday. What an incredible piece of work that film is.

If I were to read the things I’m about to write about a movie I hadn’t yet seen, I’d probably boycott it for life. Fortunately for me, I first saw the movie without knowing anything about it (I’d never even seen an Italian Western before), so I was caught in the majesty and sweep of the thing, and nothing I’ve learned since can cut that visceral connection.

It was 1969, my second year of college. I had an evening at loose ends, and decided I wanted to see a movie. This western was playing at the theater in Forest City, Iowa, so I walked downtown to see it.

It was the strangest western I’d ever seen. Parts of it troubled me a great deal.

But it stuck in my head as few movies ever have.

Westerns are generally “about” scenery, when it comes down to it, and OUATITW certainly lays the scenery on heavy. It was filmed both in Spain and in the United States, and director Sergio Leone used John Ford’s iconic Monument Valley to particular effect. On a big screen, the spectacle is breathtaking.

But even more than scenery, this movie is about music. One of the commentators on the DVD notes that the film was shot like a music video. Before there was a script, the genius Ennio Morricone, who’d already done the classic scores for the “Dollars” movies, wrote the music. The script was built on that. I’d nominate it as the greatest film score ever written, and there are those who agree with me (actually I agree with them, but I’m on an ego trip here).

They don’t make movies like this nowadays. Today’s action movies are all about speed. Forget plot consistency. Forget character development. Just put bodies in motion and crash them into each other a lot. Blow things up. Set things on fire.

Once Upon a Time in the West is purposely slow, like Henry Fonda’s walk. It’s about tension that builds and builds, from Charles Bronson’s shoot-out with three familiar gunmen at the beginning, to his and Henry Fonda’s climactic showdown, in a corral around which the whole world revolves.

Slowly.

Mysteries abound. What was Brett McBain’s secret? Why is Charles Bronson pursuing Henry Fonda, and what is the meaning of Bronson’s recurring flashback of a man walking toward him? How can any heterosexual male manage to spend time around Claudia Cardinale without spontaneously combusting?

There’s a political subtext, I’m afraid. At the time some people congratulated the Italian Westerns for bringing to us a newer, grittier, more realistic picture of the American West than the old Westerns had.

This is balderdash. Even granting that the old movies were bowdlerized (of course they were), that doesn’t mean that the kind of cynical violence and cruelty we see in spaghetti westerns is closer to reality. Cowboys were Victorians. Yes, there was a lot of prostitution in the West, but men still took their hats off to ladies, regardless of their reputations. Even cold-blooded killers like Kid Curry, or genuine psychopaths like John Wesley Hardin never killed innocent people for sport (not white people, anyway). They believed in virtue and considered themselves respectable men. Jesse James taught Sunday School off and on.

When Sergio Leone shows us Henry Fonda murdering a little boy, he has a purpose in mind. He wants Americans to think differently about themselves and their history. He wants the viewer never to be able to watch My Darling Clementine or Young Mr. Lincoln the same way again.

And he succeeded. More’s the pity, in my opinion.

But the spectacle. The music. I can’t get free of Once Upon a Time in the West.

When Is a Town Beautiful?

My sister pointed out this sentence so I want to ask you what you think. How does sentence, published in a novel, strike you: “The beauty of [the town] was evident even in the autumn twilight.”

The paragraph goes on to describe the beauty of the town, especially in autumn with its tree lined streets . . .its hair with a luster as Fall hits the air. . . . I know you in Autumn, and I must be there. I’m sorry. I lost myself in another thought for a moment.

Anyway, what do you think of that sentence?

Perhaps It Was a Dream

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,

Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend

More than cool reason ever comprehends.

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,

Are of imagination all compact:

One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,

That is, the madman; the lover, all as frantic,

Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;

And, as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

Such tricks hath strong imagination,

That, if it would but apprehend some joy,

It comprehends some bringer of that joy;

Or in the night, imagining some fear,

How easy is a bush suppos’d a bear!

My wife and I drove down to Atlanta last night to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Atlanta’s New American Shakespeare Tavern. Almost too much fun. I was weary of laughing by the end.

The play seemed to end before it truly ended. In fact since Act V is mostly a poorly written tragedy performed by buffons who have “never labour’d in their minds till now,” it’s appropriate to have only a weak connection to the rest of the story. In that act, the silliness wore on me–well done and the crowd was roaring, but my laughter softened a bit. Maybe it was the lateness of the night.

It was a great play, though. I’ll see it again sometime.

Fuzzy-minded Friday

What will I do? I have nowhere to go this weekend. No Viking events. No battles. No family reunions. Just me and the house maintenance I’ve been putting off. It’s a pathetic man who has to make out his own Honey-do list.

I’m at loose ends. Here are a couple random links for you to study while I mutter and paw through my junk drawer in search of… I forget what.

Aitchmark, apparently having forgiven me for my anti-feline hate speech yesterday, sent me this amusing page from Merriam-Webster, with a list of favorite unofficial words.

Gene Edward Veith posted a link to this article about three new movies and an opera, all about Beowulf. No doubt they’ll all bomb, convincing publishers that no one’s interested in matters Norse, and assuring that I’ll never find another publisher.

Am I just sensitive, or isn’t it a form of racism to be unable to do a movie about an ancient Scandinavian without making the hero half black?

But I like Angelina Jolie for Grendel’s mother. I’ve always seen her as a kind of a monster. This is a woman whose appeal escapes me entirely.

To quote Oscar Levant, speaking of Madame Nu (at the time First Lady of South Vietnam): “She has all the wistfulness of an iron foundry.”

The other shoe drops

Or “another shoe.” There’ll doubtless be more.

While we were putting up my rain gutters, my brother Baal noticed that my shingles didn’t look good.

I consulted the documentation on the last roofing job. It was done in 1996. Twenty-five year warranty.

But that’s only on materials.

I called my real estate agent. He recommended a roofer who attends our church to come out and look at the situation. The guy came out today.

All bad news.

The problem is not the material. The shingles were improperly installed. By a company that’s out of business, so I can’t pursue them with fire and sword.

I’m smack out of luck. I’ll have to spring for new shingles.

I really need to find a publisher again.

By way of Mirabilis (again), I offer this story purely for the purpose of aggravating Aitchmark.

Could it be that the escalating wussification of our culture doesn’t come from bad education and effete entertainment, but from a cat parasite we’ve picked up?

Read and decide for yourselves.

Then go down to the river and drown your cat.

(I’m a Roofing Victim. You were expecting sweetness and light?)

My inner demons remain repressed

Two young women came to my door and rang the bell a few minutes ago. One’s left arm had been amputated at the elbow, and she wore a nose ring. The other didn’t make much of an impression on me, other than that she wore her hair cut short.

“Hi! I’m So-and-so, and this is my bodyguard Such-and-such,” the memorable one said. “We’re organizing the neighborhood for NARAL.” She tried to hand me a packet of literature.

“I’m pro-life,” I said.

“OK,” she said with a smile. They walked away and I closed the door.

Doubtless they heaved a sigh of relief that they’d once again escaped the inherent violence of all Christianist oppressors.

Of course, it’s true that I do have a sword in my house. More than one, in fact.

Today was Conspiracy Day on Michael Medved’s show. Always the best entertainment of the month.

I’d like to make it perfectly clear that there is no truth at all to the rumor that the world is secretly run, not by the Masonic Lodge, but by the Sons of Norway. There is even less truth to the rumor that the Viking Age Club and Society of the SON is the super-secret Inner Council of that world-wide conspiracy.

Just so you know.

I mentioned the Blue Crab Boulevard blog the other day. I only discovered it recently, but it’s rapidly becoming one of my favorites. It’s almost perfect. Some serious information. Some whimsy. Some screamingly funny satire. And he updates several times a day.

Does his boss know what he’s doing on company time? Is he independently wealthy?

Well, he should be. He does a great blog.

You Laughing at Me? You Laughing at Me?

Frank Wilson points out a call for humor suggestions by Scott Stein. “What’s So Funny?” is the title of a course Mr. Stein will be teaching this fall at University of Pennsylvania. He says, “I would welcome suggestions about what to include on the reading list. . . . No choice is too obvious. After all, somehow I never got around to reading P.G. Wodehouse until this year.”

I don’t see James Thurber on the list yet. I think his grammar guide is hilarious, and I’ve been meaning to read Is Sex Necessary? or, Why You Feel The Way You Do for a while.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture