Win The Thirteenth Tale Limited Edition

I am told that anyone who visits 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 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.

Unreliable News: Source of E. Coli Infestation Sought

Public Health authorities across the nation are warning consumers not to eat fresh spinach packaged in plastic bags, due to an E. coli outbreak that has already killed one and sickened twenty. Officials in twenty states have issued public health warnings in the wake of the news.

A spokesperson from the Food and Drug Administration told reporters today that the source of the contamination has not yet been discovered. However there have been reports of sightings near food processing plants of a suspicious-looking large, fat ugly man “with a black beard and a sailor hat on his head.”

What humble looks like

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Romans 3:27-28, NIV)

I was thinking about this passage the other day. It’s one of those stretches of the epistles where the Apostle Paul, frankly, has always lost me. I try to follow the argument but just can’t find the thread.

But I think I’ve got it now. What Paul is talking about here is Christian humility.

As C. S. Lewis has explained somewhere, our stereotypical image of humility is deeply warped. We think of a humble person as someone shabby and dusty and hunched over, wringing his hands and apologizing all over the place. But in fact, when we are lucky enough to meet one of the few really humble people who actually live around us, our only response is likely to be, “What a happy person! What a pleasant person to be with!”

The reason for that is what Paul, I think, is explaining in this passage. A mature Christian is humble, not because he’s bowed down under the weight of guilt and shame (the principle of observing the law), but because his attention is directed away from himself toward God (the principle of faith). He’s not thinking about his inferiority. He’s not thinking about himself at all. He’s looking upward, and his face reflects the sunshine of Heaven.

I understand this intellectually, of course. Applying it to my life is another matter altogether.

Friday the 13th done come on a Wednesday this month!

I actually feel pretty good today, considering the fact that all I’ve got to blog about is bad news.

First of all, my desktop computer is having its mail forwarded to the repair shop over in New Hope (or Crystal. It’s often hard to tell in this part of town). Whenever I try to start it, Norton GoBack reboots it and tells me to run ScanDisk. But I can’t get in to run ScanDisk because GoBack keeps rebooting it.

The good news is that I still have my laptop. But the laptop can’t get DSL without talking to the desktop, so I’m back to 1990’s technology. (“Might as well send smoke signals,” he said, as he repaired his eyeglasses with tape.)

(Late update: I’m actually posting this after 10:00 p.m., because I couldn’t find my password to get in to use this blog on this computer. Phil and the developer finally rescued me.)

More than a bummer: I live in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District. That means that there’s a very good chance that my next Congressman will be Keith Ellison, Nation of Islam member, reputed anti-Semite, radical lefty and scofflaw. Who says we Minnesotans aren’t ahead of the curve?

Finally, Aitchmark sent me this link from National Review’s Corner, about how Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan not only aren’t allowed to fight, they aren’t even allowed to go into the deep end of the pool.

This is utterly unworthy of the descendants of the Vikings.

It appears they’ve reinstituted what I believe was called the Doctrine of the Broken Gun. T. D. O. T. B. G. was Norway’s official defense policy before World War II. It was a shining example of the real-world insanity of cuddly idealism.

The theory was, “The best defense is no defense. If your gun is broken, and everyone knows your gun is broken, nobody will ever attack you, because there’s no honor in beating an unarmed opponent.”

What didn’t occur to the theoreticians is that people sometimes attack you for reasons that have little to do with honor. They’ll attack you because they want your ports, or just because you’re an easy target.

In 1940 they learned just how wrong the doctrine was.

Apparently they need to learn the lesson again.

Kenyon Review Blog: Give Me My Money Back

Today, I learned The Kenyon Review has a blog. I have a good impression of this literary journal, but still have yet to subscribe. My impression may be unfounded, perhaps being drawn from my good impression of poet Jane Kenyon who doesn’t have anything to do with the college.

Anyway, the KR blogger Liz Lopatto is complaining about books for which she’d like a refund. Among them:

Everything Jane Austen has ever written, but especially Persuasion. I’ve never been fond of Austen’s ridiculous style, and while David Lynn has tried unsuccessfully to convince me that she’s really parodying the characters she writes about, she spends so much loving detail describing every second of their boring lives that I can’t believe him. I threw Persuasion across the room several times when I had to read it for my English comprehensive exercise, but especially when our heroine Anne, who has no flaws except that she might be plain (this changes as the book goes on, however; her beauty blooms again!), discovers Captain Wentworth really does love her. I threw the book and stomped on it when her spurned suitor, her cousin, turns out to be a “villain.” Because our Anne couldn’t possibly break the heart of someone who’s decent–oh, no, she’s too good for that. I understand Austen is considered a classic but I still can’t figure out why.

She doesn’t like Dickens or Moby Dick either. To each his own.

No, I’m not going to type “to each his or her own,” because it’s awkward. English speakers should understand that implication and avoid petty language politics.

How a novelist changed eveningwear forever

Memo from my subconscious:

You’ve got nothing today. Why do you persist in blogging, when you know you’ve exhausted your tiny store of things to write worth reading? Why do you persist in this failed strategy? Why don’t you have an exit strategy? It’s a quagmire! Admit it.

When in doubt, borrow. I shall tell you about a fact I learned years ago, which has stayed with me for all the intervening years. I share it with you freely, so that you can bore your friends, just as I do.

Back when I was doing community theater in Florida, I performed in the play, “The Elephant Man.” I played Dr. Gomm, and it wasn’t one of my better performances. Suffice it to say that I didn’t make anyone forget Sir John Gielgud in the movie.

The costume people procured Victorian clothing for us. The moment I saw the tan-colored suit they’d gotten me, I knew that what we had was “A Christmas Carol” costumes, not “The Elephant Man” costumes. Because between the time of Dickens and the time of John Merrick, Englishmen stopped wearing anything but black (or, if they were feeling extremely cheery, a dark gray). I knew this because I had read Frank Muir’s An Irreverent and Thoroughly Incomplete Social History of Almost Everything.

(By the way, did you know that Dr. Frederick Treves, whom Anthony Hopkins played in the movie, was an active and influential Christian evangelical? I learned this in Newfoundland, when I visited the Grenville Museum. Treves was one of Dr. Grenville’s [Grenville of Labrador] mentors.)

Anyway, this quote from Muir’s book:

Probably the most prolific novelist and playwright of the nineteenth century, for years the most popular writer of his day, was Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (Blogger’s note: Yes, this is the guy the annual award for bad writing is named after), later Baron Lytton, who managed to be a statesman as well….

Bulwer-Lytton made a lot of money from his books, plus a little more from playing whist. He moved easily in fashionable circles and his most popular novel, Pelham, had as its eponymous hero a society dandy who startled London by forsaking the bright colors then worn by gentlemen in the evening to appear in black. This fashion was taken up by society and Britain’s manhood has appeared on formal evening occasions ever since dressed like undertakers.

I note on re-reading that Muir is only talking about evening wear, so I remembered the story wrong. But it’s also a fact that Englishmen eschewed bright colors for all clothing not long thereafter (as a sign of respect for Queen Victoria’s mourning of Prince Albert, I think). I still blame Bulwer-Lytton.

No I don’t. I like black suits.

In Memoriam: Good stuff from Klavan and The Three Ages

Andrew Klavan nails it (again) today in a 9-11 memorial essay over at Libertas. He ponders why contemporary moviemakers aren’t able to handle heroism as filmmakers used to:

…realism is mute when it comes to describing the best of what we can be, of what life can be. And this partially crippled form of communication is the prevailing style of serious cinema. You could almost say that we know a film is serious by how “realistic” it is. Conversely, when we see true faith and true heroism in movies, we feel we’re in the presence of rank sentimentalism, of powderpuff family entertainment. We feel that it must somehow be “unreal.”

I tried to decide what I’d post today, and had a hard time coming up with anything that would add much to the illumination available elsewhere. In the end I decided to repeat myself. A while back I posted my translation of a fable called “The Three Ages,” by the Norwegian writer Johan Borgen. It was first published in 1946, and intended to help his countrymen remember the lessons of the Nazi invasion and occupation.

Needless to say, the Norwegians have already forgotten it pretty much completely. But the lesson of the fable stands.

The Three Ages

The lion and the lamb were grazing side by side one day. The lamb said to the lion:

“What age do we actually live in, Lion?”

“Age?” said the lion. “We are alive, isn’t that enough? Anyway, the age we live in is always our age; otherwise we aren’t alive.”

The lamb thought that over a bit as they went along and nibbled grass in the bottom of a little valley.

“You are wise, Lion,” he said, “and of course you are right in that the age we live in is our age—at least for us. What I meant was that I’ve always heard that there are three ages: a past age, which was beautiful, but cruel; a present age, which is merely cruel; and finally a future age which will be so peaceful that the lion and the lamb will graze side by side. I heard it from a wise old ram, and that was why I believed that this is the future age.

Then the lion bit the lamb’s head off and said:

“Now that you remind me of it, I guess it’s the past age after all.”

Jesus said in Matthew 24:23-27, “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Three he is!’ do not believe it…. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (NIV).

The plain purpose of this passage, of course, is to warn believes about false messiahs who still show up fairly regularly to say, “I’m Christ Himself and I’ve come back in secret.”

But I think there might be a secondary meaning. It’s just plain reckless to imagine that the Kingdom of God has come already, that we have brought it about through our own wisdom and moral progress. We’re still in the present age, our enemies don’t just want a hug, and the emperor does not bear the sword in vain.

James Scott Bell on Name Recognition

De of Thinklings and the programmer behind the blog software we use at BwB points out a post by author James Scott Bell. “The ‘celebrity author’ thing is highly overrated. Even those with #1 NY Times bestsellers are known only by a relative few. And a yearning for adulation can be destructive. The moment you start believing your press releases, you’re on a slippery slope.” Mr. Bell offers a handful of good examples for this.

Asking the Devil for the Lowdown

[first blogged on Halloween 2003] In honor of the upcoming season, let me write a bit about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great short story, “Young Goodman Brown.” Many of us were forced to read it in high school, but maybe you didn’t. Reject that foul Stephen King novel! Banish that evil Anne Rice tome! Tolle lege* this short tale of a young man’s dreadful walk with the devil.

I think the reason “Young Goodman Brown” sticks in my mind as a great tale, other than my fascination with early America and affection for Hawthorne, is its clear description of how to set yourself up for believing a lie. Brown does three things in the first couple pages to seal his doom. He leaves his home at sunset to meet the devil in the forest. Apparently, he is searching for the truth. He wants to hear what the devil has to say for himself. And like an idiot, he starts his trip just before dusk. Darkness conceals many things, so if he really wanted to the truth, he would look for it in daylight when things can be seen for what they are. But at dusk, he walks deep into the forest–putting himself in a place where shadows conceal. How much can you see when you’re in a dense forest at night? Still, Brown thinks he can meet the father of lies in a place like this and reason with him. That’s his biggest mistake, and possibly the one which makes his doom inevitable. He thinks he can talk to the devil and parse his words for bits of truth. Of course, Old Scratch reels him in easily.

When Brown first objects to walking deeper into the trees, Old Scratch encourages him to present his arguments while they walk because he can always turn back. Too far, Brown says while walking. He must not be seen walking with the devil. Naturally, replies the devil, that’s why my dealings with your father and grandfather were kept secret. What! Can it be true? exclaims young Brown. Of course not, you idiot! You’re talking with the devil! He doesn’t tell the truth except to make a lie more plausible, because a slight miscalculation is an easier lie to shallow than a total fabrication. Brown doesn’t get it, unfortunately, so into the darkness he goes.

What about us? Do these steps apply to our quest for truth, even if we don’t have the devil penciled in for 10 p.m. Friday? Yes, they do.

1. Darkness conceals truth. Light describes wisdom and knowledge. Read the first few chapters of Proverbs for descriptions of wisdom and her methods. In order to shed light on the deep questions you’re asking, give yourself time and quiet reflection. Noise and busyness can act as clouds over the sun. Try to avoid them, but don’t think getting alone with your thoughts will draw all truth to you. You can come up with only so many answers when you’re the one confused.

2. Trees obstruct the light and hide the real world. In the forest, Brown found that the night only got darker. The same can happen to us in a forest of opinions. We can find wisdom in many counselors, but not all opinions are worth hearing. C.S. Lewis encouraged readers to postpone reading another contemporary book until they had read an old one, meaning a book written before last century. If we consume many modern books, we can become conditioned by a limited perspective particular to our day. By reading old books, we are better equipped to see beyond a limited modern perspective.

3. The devil does not have a worthy point of view. It’s common to try to hear both sides of an issue in order to form an unbiased opinion; but I’d like to suggest that some perspectives, some sides of particular issues, are completely wrong. Not everyone’s perspective is worth hearing. Some are logically inconsistent. Some are merely argumentative, taking up a position solely to conflict with another position. The better ones are internally sound, though they may be based on lies or ignorance. Some are completely right. It’s no shame to be partisan when your side is right.

I hope haven’t bored you back to your Doctorow novel. Have a good weekend, and try to avoid the cheap candy. Life is too short to eat waxy chocolate and those nasty orange rounds.

* “Take up and read”

I see a season coming

First of all, I’d like to make it perfectly clear that I do understand the irony of the spectacle of a blogger of my temperament complaining about somebody else’s blog being depressing.

It took me a few hours, but I did get it eventually.

Today (right on time, the State Fair being over and the kids being back in school) was the first day of autumn. Not in calendar terms, but in terms of the nuance in the air. It didn’t get up to seventy today, and most of the time it was cloudy. Today was winter, phoning in its reservation. We’ll have more warm days, but they’ll only be temporary reprieves, Indian-giver Summer (I apologize for the ethnic slur, but the line was too good not to use).

Picking up again the subject of male-female differences, this fascinating story comes, like so many good things, by way of Blue Crab Boulevard. Has any woman in the history of the world ever tried a stunt like this (OK, Luci Ricardo might have, but she was a fictional character)?

And what do you bet that a dozen Hollywood sitcom writers aren’t working this into scripts at this very moment?

Say, wasn’t there a guy named Phil who used to hang out around here?

Book Reviews, Creative Culture