Author Charles J. Shields, whose book on Harper Lee was well-received last summer, wants to hear from you on your experiences with Kurt Vonnegut. “Now I’m beginning work on the first authorized biography–the first biography at all, actually–of Kurt Vonnegut. I’d like to hear from any of your readers about their experiences with Vonnegut, either personally or with his novels.”
Vonnegut is the author of A Man without a Country, Timequake, Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, and a few other books.
I asked Mr. Shields how he gained the opportunity to write Kurt Vonnegut’s first authorized biography. He replied:
Many years ago when I was a little boy wearing thick glasses, baggy pants, and Hush Puppy shoes, I realized I wasn’t the brightest star in the heavens, but I could compensate for that by being persistent. That’s really the story behind MOCKINGBIRD, which Harper Lee didn’t want me to write and tried to dissuade her friends from helping me with. But four years of research and hundreds of interviews produced a portrait of her. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s done in watercolors, not oils, but it will be valuable to biographers of hers who will come later.
Mr. Vonnegut turned me down at first, but when I pointed out the number of ways our lives connect—-we’re both Midwesterners; both humanists; he’s a veteran, so was my father; both men worked in public relations for large corporations—-I convinced him that I’m the guy for the job. He still remained skeptical for awhile, I think, but I kept up a regular stream of chat via phone and mail and I seem to have won him to my side. He’s a generous man, anyway. This biography will be the obverse of the one about Lee, in a sense. Vonnegut is an extrovert with many friends and a large body of work. His papers going back to the 1950s are on file at Indiana University. I was Philip Marlowe on the case of “Harper Lee, Recluse.” This time I get to be Boswell!
In today’s NY Times, author Sam Harris (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason; Letter to a Christian Nation):
By shying away from questioning people’s deeply felt beliefs, even the skeptics, Mr. Harris said, are providing safe harbor for ideas that are at best mistaken and at worst dangerous. “I don’t know how many more engineers and architects need to fly planes into our buildings before we realize that this is not merely a matter of lack of education or economic despair,” he said.
Dr. Steven Weinberg, who famously wrote toward the end of his 1977 book on cosmology, “The First Three Minutes,” that “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless,” went a step further: “Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”
True, it is “not merely a matter of lack of education,” though I wonder about the secularists so uneducated on faith matters. Why are these anti-religion activists content to broad-brush the world’s religions? Do they believe all atheists and secularists act the same, all in a clear-headed, beneficent manner? Have we forgotten the motives of the murderous leaders from the twentieth century? [via Books, Inq.]
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp. which owns the Fox Network (TV interview) and ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins (tasteless book), has announced the company is dropping O.J.’s book and television appearances.
“I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,” said Rupert Murdoch. “We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.”
David Bauder, AP, writes, “For the publishing industry, the cancellation of ‘If I Did It’ was an astonishing end to a story like no other. Numerous books have been withdrawn over the years because of possible plagiarism, most recently Kaavya Viswanathan’s ‘How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,’ but a book’s removal simply for objectionable content is virtually unheard of.”
Dr. Milton Friedman, Nobel-winning economist, passed away this week. He has influenced us more than many of us know. This post on Townhall.com has several links to the teaching of this free market man.
The infamous O.J. Simpson has written a book to say, hypothetically, how he would have murdered his ex-wife and her friend. His publisher, Judith Regan of ReganBooks, “This is an historic case, and I consider this his confession.”
A law professor said, “He can write pretty much whatever he wants. Unless he’s confessing to killing somebody else, he can probably do this with impunity.”
Simpson’s If I Did It may deal mostly with other parts of author’s life, giving only a chapter or so to the murder, but since he has been found innocent of the crimes . . . I can assume this morbid meditation is only the result of his profound tastelessness. Still, I wish he would find a more useful occupation.
I know I’m quoting too much from my current reading, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, but I burned my brain out last night, and I was impressed with this passage today, from a July 20, 1940 letter to his brother Warren:
Humphrey came up to see me last night… and we listened to Hitler’s speech together. I don’t know if I’m weaker than other people: but it is a positive revelation to me how while the speech lasts it is impossible not to waver just a little. I should be useless as a schoolmaster or a policeman. Statements which I know to be untrue all but convince me, at any rate for the moment, if only the man says them unflinchingly. The same weakness is why I am a slow examiner: if a candidate with a bold, mature handwriting attributed Paradise Lost to Wordsworth, I shd. feel a tendency to go and look it up for fear he might be right after all.
I know just how he felt.
This, by the way, is from the same letter, where he mentions, later on, in reference to going to church on Sunday morning…
Before the service was over – one cd. wish these things came more seasonably – I was struck by an idea for a book wh. I think might be both useful and entertaining. It wd. be called As one Devil to Another and would consist of letters from an elderly retired devil to a young devil who has just started work on his first ‘patient’….
There’s a new anthology of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s work, and his two sons praised him at a related celebration event in Philadelphia last Friday. Asked whether they could understand their father’s deeply felt pain, Ignat, the musician in the family, responded:
It’s a fundamental question of human experience, what can be transmitted and what can’t. Fundamentally, we only really understand things we experience ourselves. Having said that, he has spoken very eloquently, nowhere more so than in his Nobel lecture, about the power of art to fill that gap, to build that bridge, to connect the disconnect, to help people to understand without the benefit of bitter experience what others have suffered, what others have experienced, whether taken as nations or as individuals.
(Thanks to Books, Inq. for the link.)
Jared of Thinklings has heartily recommended Eugene Peterson’s books, namely Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. He quotes Petersen, saying, “The blunt reality is that for all our sophistication, learning, and self-study we don’t know enough to run our lives. The sorry state of the lives of the many who have taken their own experience as the text for their lives is a damning refutation of the pretensions of the sovereignty of the self.”
Peterson was a guest on one the Mars Hill Audio Journals this year, and notes from that appearance as well as his entire unedited conversation with Ken Myers are available at marshillaudio.org. Myers notes that “Peterson believes, [the Bible] is too often read in that superficial way, perhaps because we are in a hurry to get down to the real business of life, which we assume can be conducted well with only a quick pit-stop with Jesus. That is not a good way to read anything important, especially the Word of God.”
Here’s a story that made me laugh, and will probably offend half our readers. It’s another excerpt from Vol. II of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. It comes from one he wrote to his brother Warren on Nov. 5, 1939, when Warren had been recalled to active service in the Second World War:
I heard as good a story as I know this week about old Phelps the Provost of Oriel [College]—you probably remember him, with the beard and the black straw hat. Jenner was a fellow of Jesus [College], a high-minded dissenter and fanatical tee-totaller. He was dining at Oriel and the Provost asked him to take wine with him:
Jenner: Sir, I would rather commit adultery than drink a glass of that.
Provost: (in a low, stern voice) So would we all, Jenner; but not at the table, if you please.
I came today to one of my favorites in my reading of C.S. Lewis’ Letters. It’s one he wrote to his friend Cecil Harwood on May 7, 1934.
If you know about Lewis’ life, or if you hang out with Lewis people (and let’s face it, you’re here) you probably know of his great love for the music of Wagner. But he knew Wagner almost exclusively from gramophone records. He had very little opportunity to hear the operas performed live.
In spring 1934 he and his brother Warnie, along with J.R.R. Tolkien and others, planned to go to London to attend festival performances of the entire Ring cycle. Cecil Harwood was entrusted with the job of buying tickets. Harwood, for some reason, failed to carry out this assignment.
Lewis responded to Harwood’s letter of apology with this epistle (which Harwood himself, if I remember correctly, described as “Johnsonian”):
I have read your pathetical letter with such sentiments as it naturally suggests and write to assure you that you need expect from me no ungenerous reproach. It would be cruel, if it were possible, and impossible, if it were attempted, to add to the mortification which you must now be supposed to suffer. Where I cannot console, it is far from my purpose to aggravate: for it is part of the complicated misery of your state that while I pity your sufferings, I cannot innocently wish them lighter. He would be no friend to your reason or your virtue who would wish you to pass over so great a miscarriage in heartless frivolity or brutal insensibility. As the loss is irretrievable, so your remorse will be lasting. As those whom you have betrayed are your friends, so your conduct admits of no exculpation. As you were once virtuous, so now you must be forever miserable…. I will not paint to you the consequences of your conduct which are doubtless daily and nightly before your eyes. Believe me, my dear Sir, that I forgive you.
As soon as you can, pray let me know through some respectable acquaintance what plans you have formed for the future. In what quarter of the globe do you intend to sustain that irrevocable exile, hopeless penury, and perpetual disgrace to which you have condemned yourself? Do not give in to the sin of Despair: learn from this example the fatal consequences of error and hope, in some humbler station and some distant land, that you may yet become useful to your species.
C. S. Lewis
Via Mirabilis: This article from Discovery.com:
Charles Dickens was so good at describing neurological disease in his characters that the symptoms were used word-for-word in medical text books of the day, says an Australian neurologist.
The 19th century novelist’s interpretations of diseases of the nervous system even predated formal medical classification, some by more than a century.
I got this link from the New York C.S. Lewis Society’s newsletter. Sort of.
Apparently the BBC has reconfigured its website, and the precise link I got from the newsletter didn’t work. But, in my selfless zeal to provide the best resources to you, the valued reader, I worked my way through the maze and found the right place.
What you’ll get here is two sound files made from voice recordings of Lewis himself in his career as a BBC broadcaster. One is from 1944, part of the broadcast talk that became the book Beyond Personality, later a section of Mere Christianity. The other is his introduction to The Great Divorce from 1948.
I’ve often dreamed that original recordings of Lewis’ BBC broadcasts might be found. Apparently these bits are all that were actually saved. (Yes, I know about the Four Loves recordings, and I have them. But I’m told those aren’t his best work.)
But personally I don’t believe the recordings are lost. I believe the BBC is sitting on the original wax disks, terrified that the release of the full series would singlehandedly bring Britain back to God.
Lars apparently didn’t feel his contribution to the defense of Fargo-Moorhead against a Viking onslaught significant enough to mention, but I have discovered a photo of what happened. Lars took the vanguard while the other men were still collecting their shields.
Joe Maguire, author of Brainless: The Lies and Lunacy of Ann Coulter, has lost his job as an editor for Reuters, apparently over a conflict with the news group’s principles of trust. Mr. Maguire says, “There was a difference of opinion about the approval I received to write this book.”
I’m sure he’ll get a good job elsewhere, if this is only a political pan-flash with Reuters executives; if he really is a skunk or a back-stabber, then maybe the NY Times will offer him a position.
Haven’t got much to tell tonight. I’ve delayed coming online in order to keep my phone free so the repairman may call me and tell me my desktop (home of my high-speed connection) is fixed. Of course there’s been no such call.
The only thing I’ve got to report is a call that did come in—at work—from the friend I call Chip (for blogging purposes, not personal conversations).
I don’t think I’ve told you what Chip does for a living. He drives a limousine. It’s a perfect job for him. He likes to drive and he likes to talk to people. When I think of a guy finding his niche, Chip leaps (or rolls) to mind.
Anyway, he called me at my office number and said, “I’m driving a guy named Neil Gaiman around today. You ever heard of him?”
I said yes, I’d read one of his novels.
Chip had to hang up then, because Gaiman and his handlers were at that moment piling back into the limo to be transported from Minnesota Public Radio to some bookstore. Or something.
He called back later to tell me where Gaiman would be speaking and signing books this evening, in case I wanted to come.
I chose not to. I had a computer repair call to wait for. And frankly I’m still somewhat miffed that in a world where there’s probably only room for one big novel about Odin trying to set up shop in modern America, it was Gaiman’s book that found that particular niche and not my own Wolf Time.
If Gaiman wants to meet me, let him ask me to lunch. That’s what I say.
The phone continues silent.