Also from the Literary Saloon comes questions about Iraqi War literature. “What has become of the land that gave rise to the Epic of Gilgamesh?”
The Literary Saloon links to a list of “most overrated and underrated” books in Prospect, which claims to be “the most intelligent magazine of current affairs and cultural debate in Britain.” Of course, the Saloon notes a few of its own.
On the overrated list, Everyman, by Philip Roth. “A slickly written, shallow and predictable novel of American self-regard and deserved decline.” and The God Delusion. Playwright Samantha Ellis nominates On Beauty,by Zadie Smith, saying it is “massively overrated. Why read a tribute to Forster when you can just read him?”
On the underrated list, Why Truth Matters, by Ophelia Benson & Jeremy Stangroom, Alentejo Blue, by Monica Ali, and The Human Touch, by Michael Frayn. Writer Allan Massie states, “William McIlvanney is the finest Scottish novelist of my generation, but Weekend, his first novel for ten years, received less attention than it deserved. This account of a university study-group meeting at a faux-baronial castle on a Scottish island, is wise, funny and often moving.”
“In 1963, Lee Mendelson was a young San Francisco filmmaker working on a documentary about Schulz, whose “Peanuts” cartoon strip was fast becoming a national craze. He needed music for a two-minute animated segment of his film. Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, he heard a catchy jazz tune on the radio called ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind,’ which was written and performed by Guaraldi, who also lived in the Bay Area.”
This Washington Post feature on a great jazz pianist and composer notes that “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” was “one of the last instrumental jazz tunes to be a crossover hit — and earned Guaraldi a Grammy Award in 1963 for best original jazz composition.” This piece lead to Guaraldi composing the music to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” among other classics.
By the way, how many things on God’s green earth are better than good piano jazz? Probably just a dozen or so, wouldn’t you think?
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love,
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in Heav’n above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in Heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.
SR pointed out Peter Kreeft’s website, and today I noticed a lecture called, “10 Uncommon Insights Into Evil from Lord of the Rings.”
I haven’t listened to it yet, but I heard a coincidental news report today on the real evil in Ukraine. “Healthy new-born babies may have been killed in Ukraine to feed a flourishing international trade in stem cells, evidence obtained by the BBC suggests.” Killing unborn children isn’t enough for some hospital staff in that country. Newborns have been stolen from their mothers by their nurses so that their bodies can be mined for stem cells.
Is this the result of viewing children as non-persons or of viewing the human body as an organic machine, separate from spirit within it?
Linking: the last refuge of the uncreative. Got some good ones today though.
Ed Veith at Cranach passes on some information about possible evidence that Jesus may in fact have been born on December 25. Probably too good to be true, but few things would satisfy me more than poking a finger in the collective eye of the Scroogeist Church.
And finally, continuing in the comprehensive mode, novelist Michael Z. Williamson alerted me to every guy’s dream knife.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7 KJV).
(I don’t write poetry often. Mostly because mine stinks.)
Who needs wizards or witches? I told them all myself
Back at the start. The story front to back.
Well, not the part about the apple. That
Gave even me a shock.
But in the end
It worked out as I warned them.
Princesses! What matters it to dwarfs
How ladies live or die? No princess ever born
Would spend a sigh on any dwarf that lives. Oh,
She might laugh to see
Us trudging up the street
Or spare a moment’s pity.
But in our sagging cottage? To bring a princess in
Is to shift all. Her beauty makes our home
A donkey’s stall. The brush, the broom, the soap
And paint are not enough.
She calls it good,
But dreams of silk and marble.
You think a princess born would be content to bide
In this rude shed? With seven ugly half-men?
When in her head a thousand ballads cry
To fetch her to her own?
You cannot hold
An eaglet in an anthill.
Oh, you may dream in secret things unspoken;
Dwarfs are Ygg’s worms. Sight is not enough.
We yearn to swarm. We lust to hold and touch
The buttery weight of gold,
The silver star,
Or any other heart-sweet.
And now she’s gone. The tall one came and pinched her
Just as I reckoned. Now our house is vast,
And vastly vacant. Spiders drape in corners.
Dust drifts in cupboards.
And washing would remind us.
Lynn Vincent is calling for alternative names for “The Holiday That Must Not Be Named”. She suggests “Retail” or “Retail Season.” Others have offered “Santa Claus Day” and “Eatspendtide.”
The Bookman’s Wake is the second book in a detective series starring Cliff Janeway. Janeway is a former cop who gave up police work to become a rare book seller. In this story he is approached by a former colleague, another ex-cop who has become a private detective. Janeway neither likes nor trusts the man, but is tempted by his offer—five thousand dollars to arrest a woman who has jumped bail, and bring her back to Denver for trial. Her picture looks nice, the money sounds good, and her case is interesting. She is accused of stealing (twice) a rare book printed by a legendary small publisher named Darryl Grayson, whose books are famous both for being almost perfect and extremely hard to find.
Things go badly very quickly. Janeway approaches her under an assumed identity (her name is—seriously—Eleanor Rigby), and finds they have much in common. She’s a “book scout.” She makes a precarious living prowling used bookstores and thrift shops for underpriced books she can sell to dealers at a profit. Though very young, she can teach Janeway some things about books. He meets her family, printers themselves (her father worked for the famous Grayson) and likes them too. She makes a sexual advance, but he turns her down, partly because of his deception and partly because of her age.
About the time he decides he can’t bear to turn her over to the police, Eleanor gets arrested anyway. Janeway ends up escorting her as originally planned, but then she is kidnapped by a mysterious thug with an agenda of his own. Janeway must pick his way through the intricate maze of an old mystery in order to rescue her.
I liked Dunning’s writing. He uses words with real skill, and his characters are interesting and mostly well drawn. His knowledge of the book trade makes reading his novel educational in itself.
I had a problem with his hero though. Cliff Janeway is supposed to be both a cerebral book lover and a very tough guy. The combination isn’t impossible or even unlikely, but Dunning didn’t make it work for me here. The contrast between Janeway’s normal narration and the action sequences where he becomes deadly and violent struck me as too extreme. It was as if there were two characters, with no connection between them. I’d have liked to have seen some transition, some reflection of each facet in the other. But perhaps I’m just operating from a preconception about book people.
Also, except for the final showdown, I thought Janeway was just too good in a fight. In particular, he comes up against one criminal supposed to be a shadowy, dangerous, deadly killer, but he handles him with ease. It would have increased plot tension and improved believability if Dunning had made the struggle a little harder.
I was also irritated by Dunning’s politics. He’s entitled to them, of course, and I’d defend to the death his right to work them into his novels, but that doesn’t mean I have to buy his books. Conservatives, here, are uniformly either stupid or venal, all television evangelists are evil con men, and any dissent from environmental causes is a sign of moral turpitude.
I was also amazed by one bad word choice that astonished me in a book so well-written. This is the offending sentence:
“But the deal had to be handled with tenterhooks. The woman was extremely nervous”
A guy who knows words as well as Dunning ought to be aware that tenterhooks are not instruments of delicate manipulation. Tenterhooks were tools in the old weaving industry. Lengths of cloth were hung from them for stretching. “Being on tenterhooks” means to be in a state of tension, not caution.
The Bookman’s Wake has much to recommend it, but I don’t think I’ll be patronizing that particular shop again.
Remember the argument we had back on the “Sometimes stories lie” thread? Another one has kicked up following the announcement of the Failed Intellectuals Society. This may be ours thing, Lars, though we may have to fail at a greater manitude than we have to qualify for the FIS. They may consider us wannabes, only psuedo-intellectual failures.
Michelle of Life Under the Sun points out a feature article on theologian N.T. Wright in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here’s a bit from the article:
While Christian conservatives in the United States are often defined by two issues —- abortion and homosexuality —- Wright demonstrates that they can broaden their agenda to include social justice issues.
His theology is difficult to define at first glance.
He’s argued forcefully for the role of women as leaders in the church but believes homosexuality is a sin.
He believes in the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus but not the infallibility of the Bible.
He describes the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States as “unmitigated evil” but opposes the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Wright says his beliefs may seem odd and contradictory in the United States but not his country. He says plenty of conservative Christians in his homeland, for example, are as passionate about relieving Third World debt as they are about defending traditional Christian doctrine.
Speaking of P.D. James, I love some of her opening sentences.
The Children of Men: “Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty five years, two months and twelve days.”
Death In Holy Orders: “It was Father Martin’s idea that I should write an account of how I found the body.”
A Certain Justice: “Murderers do not usually give their victims notice. This is one death which, however terrible that last second of appalled realization, comes mercifully unburdened with anticipatory terror.”
Original Sin: “For a temporary shorthand typist to be present at the discovery of a corpse on the first day of a new assignment, if not unique, is sufficently rare to prevent its being regarded as an occupational hazard.”
I guess I missed the announcement this summer, because I just learned about Mars Hill Audio’s podcast, Audition. Ken Myers’ most recent recording is dedicated to P.D. James’s ideas on fiction and mystery and her sci-fi novel, The Children of Men. I believe I have heard most of this recording in early editions of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, and here you can listen to it for free.
The previous podcast has many literary subjects too. Taking from the description post, this recording discusses:
- “how W. H. Auden’s conversion to Christianity affected his poetry”
- “J. R. R. Tolkien’s view of language, and the dangers of a society that debases language”
- “how Flannery O’Connor’s fiction reveals her incarnational view of life”
- “how myth differs from the modern novel, and what is lost when the gods disappear from our stories”
- “how C. S. Lewis was more open-minded than his Victorian atheistic teachers, and how that open-mindedness left room for Lewis to become a Christian”
Worship Well: “dedicated to a life of daily worship. Sometimes that worship comes in a formal setting, sometimes it whispers over your shoulder, and sometimes it hits you with an anvil, road-runner style. We pray these entries make you think, make you pause, and make you worship the One. Worship well.”