Mine, mine, mine!

Among the great joys of life, at least for me (I’ll admit that my joys are somewhat circumscribed), getting a nice book for free is among the chief… examples.

Today when I got home from work (late) I found three volumes like this on my porch, all the way from Norway.

Flatey Book

They are the volumes published so far of the Saga Bok translation of the Flatøy Book, which has never been translated in full before – into any language, I believe. Saga Bok is engaged in producing a Norwegian version in full, in seven volumes. But the first three volumes constitute a distinct unit, with a different writer than the rest. This is the chief historical section of the work, and invaluable for a historical novelist like me.

Flatey Book III

Written in the 14th Century, Flatøy Book was originally compiled for the last king of Norway, who died before it was finished. At that point Norway was united with Denmark. In the 17th Century the book was relocated to Copenhagen, where it remained until 1971, when Iceland got it back, to great national rejoicing. It did spend a number of years in Norway, though, in the home of the scholar Tormod Torfæus (1636-1719), who lived at Avaldsnes, Karmøy, where my great-grandfather was born. Torfæus used it as a source for his great Latin history of Norway. So I feel some kinship with the book.

An English edition is planned, but I won’t be involved in that project. An Icelandic translator will, quite properly, handle that important job. But in the course of my ongoing translating relationship with Saga Bok I employed my ninja negotiating skills to request and receive these volumes.

Booty! I got booty! And not in the hip-hop sense.

Books & Culture: “Hurry Up, Please. It’s Time.”

If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.

The strong Christian review magazine Books & Culture has announced it will close the bar and usher everyone out the door over the coming months. The next issue will be the final printed issue, and they will continue to publish online for 2017.

Alan Jacobs shares his thoughts, saying many people esteemed B&C.

“Alex Star, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and now an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, once told me that he read every issue in full. Cullen Murphy, former editor of the Atlantic, told me that John Wilson is the best editor in the business.”

Many years ago, B&C editor John Wilson wrote for the NY Times about evangelicals as they are depicted in literature. “Charmless, ignorant, homophobic and either brazenly hypocritical or obnoxiously sincere, they quote Scripture unctuously and have bad sex.” (Get an excerpt through the link above or read the whole essay here.)

But B&C is closing, and I ask myself what shall I do now? What shall I do? I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
With my hair down, so.

What shall we do to-morrow?

‘Coffin Road,’ by Peter May

Coffin Road

I’ve become a fan of Peter May’s novels, so I bought Coffin Road, even knowing that the subject matter wouldn’t make me entirely happy. It’s pretty much what I expected. A well-written, thoughtful novel promoting a cause about which I have doubts.

At the beginning of Coffin Road, the main character/narrator (author May has an interesting technique of describing the narrator’s action and thoughts in the present tense, then switching to past tense when jumping to other characters) finds himself washed up on a beach on the island of Harris in the Hebrides. He is soaked through and on the verge of hypothermia. But what troubles him even more is the fact that he can’t remember who he is, or how he got into this situation.

Through a lucky meeting he finds his way back to the cottage where he’s been staying, but he still can find no clue to his identity or what he was doing renting the cottage. This in itself is suspicious and troubling. Gradually he learns that he was involved in some kind of research involving bees. But he can’t find any equipment or records.

Following a clue, he takes a boat to a nearby island, where he finds a murdered body in a lighthouse. Terrified that he is himself the murderer, he flees the scene, but that doesn’t keep him from police suspicion.

The story is well-told, and the tension rises and the stakes get pricier as we go along, just as they ought. The narrator’s meditations on the subject of identity and memory are well thought out and intriguing. My only real problem with the novel is that it’s a message story, promoting the argument that modern pesticides are killing off bee populations, and that human life itself is endangered by the greed of the agribusinesses.

I’ve never been inclined to believe that corporations really think they can earn a profit from global depopulation and environmental devastation. This article from the Washington Post argues that the threat, though not imaginary, has been exaggerated. I don’t know. Maybe the Post writer is in the pay of the big corporations. Or maybe May is in the pay of the environmental lobbies. You’ll think what you like about that issue.

Aside from that, this is Peter May doing what he does so well. His vivid evocations of the storm-lashed Hebrides are, as always, one of the great rewards enjoyed by the reader. Adjusting for political quibbles and my own prejudices, I otherwise recommend Coffin Road. Cautions for adult language and situations.

Distorting History

Justin Taylor interviews Sir Richard J. Evans, a historian and expert witness in David Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, which is the subject of a new movie called Denial. The trial dealt with a lawsuit by the British Hitler apologist David Irving against American historian Deborah Lipstadt and her UK publisher. In her book and public speaking, Lipstadt said Irving had manipulated evidence and misrepresented facts in favor of the Third Reich. She believed he was the most dangerous Holocaust denier in the world, because he had some level of respect among historians at that time.

Evans has written on European history, and perhaps more to the point, he has written on the concept of historical knowledge. The trial could easily have been framed as an issue of freedom of speech. Could anyone say or claim anything? Is it actually possible to establish historical facts?

Even though it was Irving who sued Lipstadt, some people defended Irving’s right for free speech as if he were the victim or the one on trial. How could the public have been so confused about the nature of this well-publicized case?

This is because the defence’s tactic was to focus on Irving, repeat Lipstadt’s accusations at much greater length, and back them up with overwhelming evidence.

Had he won, the freedom of speech would have been seriously damaged in the UK. Even though he lost, I still had major problems publishing my book on the case because publishers were afraid he would sue them. The movie makes it clear what was at stake.

A similarly skewed perspective of history appears to be on display today at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where you can learn that Anita Hill was a major figure in the twentieth century and Justice Clarence Thomas was an also ran.  But maybe, looking on the bright side, the museum plans a major exhibit on Thomas next year.

Personal blather

If I understand the storm reports correctly, if I still lived where I used to live in Florida (near Melbourne-Palm Bay), I’d be evacuated by now.

I am thinking much of the people I knew down there. I pray they’ll be safe and their property will be spared. Although there were many pleasures in living on the Space Coast, fear of hurricanes nagged at me often in the wee hours of the night.

In other news, if you’re waiting for word of the book I translated, Viking Legacy, it’s been delayed again. Sometime next year, I’m told.

It will be all the better for the anticipation.

How Would Edmund Burke Advise You to Vote?

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing

Isn’t this the one thing you know from Edmund Burke, an Irishman and political thinker? You didn’t even know he was Irish. All you knew about Burke was that he said the above quotation. Except he didn’t.

What he said that closely resembles this comes from his 1770 book, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents.

No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

Now this is curious. Burke is arguing in favor of unity, of banding together to oppose “ambitious citizens” who have already united their efforts. We could call them The Establishment or a number of other things. Burke’s point appears to be that virtuous people should not believe their individual virtues, their personal choices, to be effective against those who are working together to oppose us.

Here’s more of what Burke wrote in Present Discontents:  Continue reading How Would Edmund Burke Advise You to Vote?

Re-review: ‘The Uncanny,’ by Andrew Klavan

The Uncanny
While reading Andrew Klavan’s autobiographical The Great Good Thing (which I reviewed a couple weeks ago) I was reminded of his novel The Uncanny, which I had enjoyed a great deal, though I understand that opinion isn’t universal. I thought I’d read and review it again, even though I’ve already reviewed it here.

The story is of Richard Storm, a Jewish American movie producer who has made a fortune doing horror films. After hearing shocking medical news, he has traveled to England to see the locations that inspired his love of the horror genre. There, while reading a story called “Black Annie” out loud at a Christmas party, he beholds – and falls in love with – an Englishwoman named Sophia Endering. Then she walks out of the house and out, apparently, of his life. But he will meet her again, as he assists an elderly English woman friend, Harper Albright, in chasing down the origins of the Black Annie story. That story shares elements with other legends and ballads, and inspired Richard’s own movies. The truth of the legend carries a threat with it, that of a monomaniacal cult leader with a macabre plan for the future of humanity.

On a second reading, I can see how some critics might find fault with The Uncanny. When I first read this book, I marveled at how the various story elements clicked together to set up an inexorable climax. But some might find that plot choreography implausible, as depending too much on coincidence. I think the coincidences are just the point. “The Uncanny” of the title is more than a feeling or a setting – it’s a force operating in the world. Klavan wrote the book as he was beginning to recognize the real existence of the supernatural. It may be that people resistant to that idea might find The Uncanny unpalatable.

Anyway, I liked it a lot. Cautions for language and sexual situations.

(As an added note, information Klavan has provided in his blog posts indicates that the Harper Albright character was based on a real woman he knew, who was an aunt of the actress Olivia Wilde.)

Nazi Resort Finally Opens Though Unfinished

Hitler had the vision for a grand seaside resort on Rügen, an island in the Baltic Sea. He spent three years building it but did not complete it before turning his attention to war efforts. For years, Germans have argued about destroying vs. preserving it for history. Now, a design company has developed most of the complex into luxury condos and will preserve a portion of it as a historic memorial.

Metropole’s Manfred Hartwig told the Daily Mail, “The past is the past. Prora may have been built by the Nazis , but it was never used by them or their soldiers. Now the place is so lovely, visitors want to get back to nature and enjoy its beauty.”

NPR explains:

The resort was owned and run by the Nazis’ Kraft Durch Freude or “Strength Through Joy” leisure movement, a state-run organization designed to promote the advantages of National Socialism to the German working class. . . .

[Developer Ulrich] Busch has opened a hotel called Prora Solitaire in one of the buildings, which also includes 150 individually owned condominiums.

Busch says even in its unfinished state, the hotel boasted an 89 percent occupancy rate this past summer. The resort, he says, appeals to Germans curious about the Nazi past and those seeking to vacation closer to home, following recent terrorist attacks elsewhere in Europe.

Big, Beautiful Set of Scripture

The ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set — Part 1: Simply Beautiful

J. Mark Bertrand reviews a new, rather different set of God’s Word for readers. “This is a beautiful concept executed beautifully. It’s one of the best editions I have ever covered at Bible Design Blog.”

Can Bible-Centered Preaching Win the Lost?

Pastor Andy Stanley has been making headlines by questioning what he calls “The Bible says” preaching. He says we live in a post-Christian world, and many people have already dismissed the Bible’s authority. How can we reach the lost, he asks, with sermons that appeal to the authority of Scripture if our audience doesn’t already trust that authority?

Reader's eye view

You’d be shocked by how many students and adults in your church view the Bible as a spiritual book that says true things to live by as opposed to an inspired collection of documents documenting events that actually happened. This is why I will continue to insist the foundation of our faith is not an inspired book but the events that inspired the book; events that inspired writers, born along by the Holy Spirit, to document conversations, insights and events—the pivotal event being the resurrection. While it’s true we would not know these events occurred had they not been documented, two other things are equally true. First, they were documented years before there was a Bible (i.e., New Testament bound together with the Jewish Scriptures). Second, it is the events, not the record of the events that birthed the “church.” The Bible did not create Christianity. Christianity is the reason the Bible was created. The reason many Christians struggle with statements like these is they grew up on “The Bible says” preaching. And that’s fine as long as one first believes the Bible is inspired.

Stanley compares this faith in the Bible’s inspiration to Muslims’ faith in the Quran. If you don’t already believe the Quran speaks to your life, why should anyone appeal to it as an authority?

Jared Wilson points out the huge problem with this statement.

There is zero room here for the actual reality of the Bible as God’s living Word. There is zero room here for the supernatural reality that the Bible carries a weight with lost people they don’t often expect it to! But this inadvertent nod to materialism and pragmatism is certainly expected from those with a proven track record of treating the Bible like an instruction manual rather than as the record of the very breath of God.

If preachers are trying to Christianize people into acting like Christians because the Bible says they should, then yeah, they will have problems motivating people to do what they want. But Christianizing people isn’t the gospel. We can’t justify recommendations found in Scripture based on unbiblical worldviews in an effort to make non-believers look like believers. What we can do is tell them about Jesus, to talk about life in the light of Christ, and to marvel at the Son of God in their presence. What we want to do is demonstrate our preeminent love for the Father by how we love our neighbor, all the while speaking of the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).

How is anyone going to believe the Bible if we do not preach the Bible?

Minot Post-Mortem

I am back from Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota. The nation rejoices.

I have a couple mediocre pictures to share, taken with my Kindle, but Photo Bucket is moving very slowly tonight, so I’ll have to upload them later.

As you know, it’s been two years since I did Høstfest. Things tend to change when you neglect them for 24 months, and there were many changes for the Vikings.

One major change was that they moved us to a different building. That move had benefits and drawbacks, as I see it. The main benefit was increased space. We now share that space with other Viking groups and individuals, but that’s a benefit too (though it might be hard on our pride). There were several vendors, and several craftspeople showing off their skills. So it’s a much more educational event than it used to be. Also the music played in the building (Nordic and Sami) was more evocative than the Country and Western we generally had in our old venue.

The drawback was a certain separation from the mainstream of the festival. People had to pass through two temporary covered walkways to reach us, and there were a lot of people (or so we heard) who gave up on finding us, or never realized we were there at all.

Still, business wasn’t bad, and was quite good on Saturday, the final day. My own book sales were a little disappointing, though. I think I about broke even on the trip.

My most memorable moment came after I realized I had misplaced my cell phone. I went to the lost and found area the following morning and described it to the ladies there. After that they went all Jack Webb on me: “Do you have any idea where you might have lost it, sir?”

I said it might have been in the hallways somewhere. Then one of them went into a closet and came back with my phone. A note had been taped to it saying, “Porta-Potty.”

Then they broke up in laughter. “You’re just having fun with me, aren’t you?” I said. “I’m your morning’s entertainment.” They admitted that it was true. Theirs was a weary job, and they needed to wring from it whatever amusement they could.

I pointed to my security identification badge, which gave my name and (as was the case for all the Vikings) the designation, “Entertainer.”

“Well, that’s what I’m here for,” I said. “Entertainment.”

Jack the Beowulf Singer

Jason Craig and Dave Malloy have written a rock opera based on Beowulf, just what you didn’t know you never wanted. A. M. Juster describes it.

We meet the dimwitted hipster Beowulf and the snarkier Hrothgar, who are backed up by a chorus of four female “warriors” who resemble strapping Cyndi Laupers in football pads and Goth makeup. We hear pulsing but mediocre rock, which at least drowns out such dull refrains as “Hey, it’s that guy,” “It’s my body,” and “That was death and then they died.”

It has a few perks, but Juster was not thrilled by the whole.

On another horrific, somewhat more gruesome, note, Otto Penzler has compiled The Big Book of Jack the Ripper. Steve Donoghue says it’s very good. “This editor is an old, practiced hand at picking these kinds of stories; his anthologies are always masterworks of combining old favorites with carefully chosen new surprises.”

The real payoff of Penzler’s book is its opening section, “The True Story,” and the main reason is clear: the raw events of the true story are more bizarre, more sordid, and more horrifying than any concoction a writer could dream up.

(via Prufrock News)

Book Reviews, Creative Culture