Sacramone on the calendar.

Our friend Anthony Sacramone has mostly “gone dark” on the World Wide Woof these days, but occasionally he pops up to trouble our peace. I was directed to this article which appeared at The Federalist today. In it he describes the Gregorian calendar reforms, in terms sometimes reminiscent of his glory days at “Dr. Luther at the Movies”:

Many people thought their lives were being shortened by 10 days and started doubling up on their retirement contributions. The pious worried that saints might not listen to prayers that came 10 days “later” than the traditional saints’ days (saints being a petulant and petty bunch). Everyone’s birthday moved to a calendar date 10 days later, ruining party plans like nobody’s business. Rents, interest, and wages had to be recalculated for a month that had a mere 21 days. Boy, people were stupid back then.

The stalwart Prots in Britain and the Colonies held out for the old ways until 1752, at which point everyone woke up 10 days late for work. And those dentist appointments it took so long to book? Well, these are Brits. What dentist appointments?

Edwardian Ghost Stories

Nicholas Lezard recommends the ghost stories of EF Benson (1867-1940).

When I reread “Caterpillars”, for the first time in four decades, I very quickly regretted that I had chosen to do so at night. Gatiss, in his introduction, says that it is “perhaps a ghost story like no other”, and he’s not wrong: it’s the kind of story that leaves one feeling almost unclean, checking clothes and body for vermin.

(via Prufrock News)

‘Darkest Fear,’ by Harlan Coben

Darkest Fear

Her blue-black hair fell in big, loose curls, like thermal fax paper fresh out of the machine.

This is more like it.

I positively reviewed Harlan Coben’s latest Myron Bolitar novel, Home, a few days back. My only real quibble with the book was that the author seemed to be taking particular pains to virtue-signal – to demonstrate very obviously his politically acceptable views on gay marriage and cultural appropriation.

This earlier novel, Darkest Fear, avoids most of that. It’s just a fun mystery/thriller.

This time out, Myron is contacted by an old girlfriend, to whom he has no desire to talk. Not only did she break his heart years ago, but she broke it in favor of the guy who was responsible for the knee injury that ended Myron’s basketball career before it started. But now she insists on seeing him. She has a teenaged son who suffers from a fatal bone marrow disease. Only a marrow transplant can save him. One genetic match has been found in this country, but that person has inexplicably dropped off the grid.

Oh, and one further thing – Myron is actually the boy’s natural father.

Myron picks up the quest, which leads to a wealthy and secretive family, and to a series of unsolved serial killings. Several people may be the real killer – and the killer may even be the donor.

Darkest Fear is a fun story, full of excitement, humor, and heart. I enjoyed it immensely. Language is relatively mild, and adult situations not too extreme.

The ‘Well-listened and Well-read’ Diana Krall

In 1995, Terry Teachout wrote the first article for jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall for a national publication. He talks about it and shares his thoughts in a post today.

Twenty years after we met, Diana sent me an e-mail thanking me for writing about her in the Journal. “Of all the many pieces I’ve written through the years, I think I might just be proudest of that one,” I replied. “It means the world to me to know that I was able to help when it mattered.”

From that piece, Teachout offers a reason for calling Krall “well-listened and well-read.”

Like so many younger musicians, Ms. Krall is intensely aware of jazz’s rich tradition, and knowledgeable about it. “My idea of a fun evening,” she says, “is to just sit around with my records and put on one after another: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Miles Davis—anything I can get my hands on, really.”

Black Preaching Transformed America

The genius of African American preaching, I have learned, can transform not only individual believers but our entire country.”

I’m sure Frank Thomas could makes many good points on how “African American preaching, in all of its beauty, depth and history, can once again change the perspective of this nation,” but I fear we may have fundamental disagreements–particularly how it isn’t the style but the Word of God itself that transforms. Still, I don’t doubt that if the Lord would lift up many Black pastors to proclaim the gospel to our nation, we would be renewed.

Perhaps, this message from Pastor H.B. Charles Jr. would be a good example of the style Thomas is talking about.

Christopher Robin Made Peace with Pooh

Gyles Brandreth wrote about his friendship with Christopher Robin a few decades ago. He says it was boarding school bullying that put Robin off of his childhood fame, at least at the start, but many years later, he made peace with it.

“Of course we must talk about Pooh.” He had a mischievous twinkle. “It’s been something of a love-hate relationship down the years, but it’s all right now.”

“Now we are sixty,” I said.

He laughed. “Yes, believe it or not, I can look at those four books without flinching. I’m quite fond of them really.”

It’s Winnie-the-Pooh’s 90th anniversary today, and for the occasion, four new stories have been written and new illustrations drawn, some of which include a new character in the Hundred Acre Wood. (via Prufrock News)

The Real Nat Turner

Justin Taylor explores many details in the true story behind the new movie The Birth of a Nation, which one history professor called “a deeply flawed, historically inaccurate movie that exploits and distorts Nat Turner’s story and the history of slavery in America.”

According to his own testimony, Nat Turner appears to have been a strong, intelligent man who could not be subdued by a slave economy. He was gifted and believed he was called by God to lead a righteous war against slave owners. Reading his spiritual account, you could say he was powerfully deceived, but you might also say a brilliant and spiritually sensitive man can be twisted and perverted when shackled by oppression. Not that any motive or character study would justify the murder he and his allies committed, but the slavery in which they lived cannot be justified either. Four times as many slaves were murdered in retribution to Nat Turner’s revolt as whites were murdered by the revolt, which speaks to the war-like nature of the whole affair. This wasn’t a just war nor was it followed by a just condemnation.

Recommended reading ends the post.

History professor Vanessa M. Holden, in the past linked from Taylor’s, says, “Parker’s movie is important. Its independent roots and blockbuster distribution deal are significant in an industry that still grapples with racism. It also draws the public’s attention to a history that has no white saviors or triumphant endings. The character Turner is not long suffering; he springs into violent action as soon as he becomes aware of slavery’s brutality and validates his claim to humanity and freedom, just as the historical Turner did, through a radicalized Christianity. But the license that Parker took in an effort to craft his heroic version of Turner ultimately strips away too much valuable context.”

 

It ain’t me, babe. But it’s a Minnesotan.

The big news on the literary front today (you’ve doubtless heard already) is that a Minnesota native (unfortunately not me) has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The somewhat mystifying choice is Bob Dylan.

I’ll admit I don’t get it. In fact I never “got” Dylan. Even his much-praised lyrics do nothing for me.

But then I pretty much didn’t get anything that happened from 1965 to 1980 or so.

In other news, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to Keith Richards.

Kidding.

‘Home,’ by Harlan Coben

Home, Coben

Part way through my reading of Home, Harlan Coben’s latest Myron Bolitar novel, I remembered that I had sworn off these books not too long ago. It’s not that Coben isn’t a superior storyteller. And it’s not that he doesn’t offer the kind of character insight and humanity that I crave from an author. I just felt he’d gotten too PC for my taste. But I carried on, having purchased the book, and enjoying the story. Home is a good novel, but marred (for me, probably not for most readers) by progressive elements.

In this outing, we start with Win Lockhart, Myron’s wealthy, effete-but-deadly, longtime friend. Win has dropped out of sight to hunt for a missing person, his sister’s kidnapped son, gone ten years. His search has brought him to London, where he locates a boy who looks to him like his nephew’s friend, also kidnapped on the same occasion. In approaching the boy, he encounters three thugs, whom he easily dispatches. But the boy takes fright and runs away. That’s when Win calls Myron, who drops everything and flies to London to help in the search.

They encounter criminals and pimps in their investigation, but most of all they encounter lies. The lies are old, and deeply buried, and the true secrets lie not in London, but close to home. Old wounds are opened, and old betrayals revealed. The final resolution of the story is remarkable for its grace – but there’s a less inspirational anticlimax.

Home is a very good book. Author Coben possesses deep empathy for the human situation, drawing the reader in and making us care. My problem is mainly with two characters, Esperanza and Big Cindy, who are a married lesbian couple. I suspect they were originally added to the cast of the books for purposes of comic relief. But changing times have persuaded the author to treat them with increasing earnest seriousness. For me, this is a conformist and disappointing element in stories this good and well-grounded in human nature. Various hints suggest that Coben himself does not entirely buy into modern ideas about gender and gender roles, but he nevertheless genuflects to all the prescribed altars, in this and other matters.

Other than that, highly recommended. Coben doesn’t use much bad language, and the sex and violence are relatively restrained.

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.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture