John Cotter reviews Annie Dillard’s novel, The Maytrees in the latest Open Letters Review.
The splash made two summers ago by The Traveler from John Twelve Hawks (JXIIH) is about to return with his next book, The Dark River. From the publicity poster anonymously pasted on a brick wall outside Brandywine Books International Headquarters and Yogurt Emporium:
In a post-9/11 world, The Traveler struck home with its disturbing yet familiar themes of state-sponsored paranoia, the dismantling of individual privacy and the ever-increasing number of personal liberties a society is willing to relinquish in return for a sense of security. Picking up where The Traveler left off, The Dark River follows the Harlequin warrior Maya and her charge, Gabriel Corrigan – one of the fabled and endangered mystics known as Travelers – from New York’s Chinatown to a thousand year old Irish monastery, from the catacombs in Rome to the ruins of WWII bunkers in Berlin, as they race to stop the Tabula from unleashing a powerful weapon of surveillance that will change the balance of power across the globe.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer recommends reading The Traveler before diving in to The Dark River, which I don’t plan to do in order to give this book a chance to stand on its own. Maybe that’s a bad idea.
Raskolnikov is back, and this time he’s not wasting his time philosophizing! In the long awaited sequel to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, terror strikes the heart of a sleepy Russian town . . . okay, I’m making that up, but there is a sequel to this novel, reviewed today in the Philly Inquirer.
This is curious. Swedish mysteries are popular in English apparently, and now children’s detective books are building momentum.
I think I can see it, but if the book jacket told me I was holding a compelling drama on the garbage in our lives, I’d probably put it down.
“Celtic mythology, Arthurian romance, and an intriguing interpretation of British history” is what’s in store within the new translation of an old Welsh book from the Middle Ages, The Mabinogion. No, I haven’t heard of it either, but it’s bound to have some great material even if it’s a bit hard to read.
Terry Teachout praises Donald Westlake’s comic novels, calling the latest one, What’s So Funny? a stinking funny book. Well, he doesn’t exactly say that it’s stinking funny. He says all of his Dortmunder series books are “incredibly, pulverizingly funny, and the only thing wrong with them is that there aren’t twice as many.”
Author Orson Scott Card calls a thriller he read “evil.”
At the beginning of the book, we are shown a Palestinian during the 1948 war over the creation of the state of Israel. . . . [Steve] Berry sets this scene against a background in which Israelis are systematically driving all the Palestinians out of Israel; the Israelis are heavily armed by the British while the Palestinians have no weapons to counter them; and the Israelis have rounded up whole villages of Palestinians and slaughtered them, men and women alike. . . .
This is the kind of thing that readers — especially ones who don’t know anything about history — are likely to assume the writer has researched, so that it can be trusted. . . . So when a novel like Berry’s The Alexandria Link treats such events as background, as if everybody knew that this is how Israelis act, what it is really doing is furthering the propaganda of one side in a desperate war.
Back on July 24, 2003, Dr. George Grant blogged on John Bunyan and Pilgrim’s Progress. He briefly described the circumstances in which Bunyan wrote, and generalized on the book’s theme and styles.
For nearly a decade, Bunyan had served as an unordained itinerant preacher and had frequently taken part in highly visible theological controversies. It was natural that the new governmental restrictions would focus on him. Thus, he was arrested for preaching to “unlawful assemblies and conventicles.
The judges who were assigned to his case were all ex-royalists, most of whom had suffered fines, sequestrations, and even imprisonments during the Interregnum. They threatened and cajoled Bunyan, but he was unshakable. Finally, in frustration, they told him they would not release him from custody until he was willing to foreswear his illegal preaching. And so, he was sent to the county gaol where he spent twelve long years–recalcitrant to the end.
My favorite part of this book is in the Interpreter’s House. I don’t remember which picture impressed me most at the time I read it, but this one is a good one and illustrates the Interpreter’s House section.
Then I saw in my dream that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place where was a fire burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter.
Then said Christian, What means this?
The Interpreter answered, This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the Devil; but in that thou seest the fire notwithstanding burn higher and hotter, thou shalt also see the reason of that. So he had him about to the backside of the wall, where he saw a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which he did also continually cast, but secretly, into the fire.
Then said Christian, What means this?
The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually, with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart: by the means of which, notwithstanding what the devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still. And in that thou sawest that the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire, that is to teach thee that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul.
The full text can be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Good news. I’ve got a real renter. The guy who came to look at the place a while back called and said he wants to take it. So if my questionable e-mail renter happens to be legitimate, I’m treating him badly. But I don’t think the odds are very high for that.
I’m blogging about Bernard Cornwell’s Enemy of God again tonight, because the only subject I can think of for a post is a comment I wanted to make about that book in my review, and which I forgot to include.
I don’t mean to beat on Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles again and again, because that suggests I hate the books more than I do. If I really hated them, I’d have stopped reading them. I long ago gave up the compulsive idea that I had to finish every book I started (even—horrors—books I’d paid good money for). Cornwell is one of the solid professionals in the field of historical fiction, and he always gives excellent value for money. He’s too good to give up on, even when he irritates me.
He’s great at the details. He knows how linen was processed in the Dark Ages, and how the process smelled. He knows what plants grew in what region, when they blossomed and what the blossoms looked like (you’ve probably noticed, if you’ve read my novels, that “the flowers were yellow” is about as detailed as I ever get in matters botanical). He knows (or convinces you that he knows) how mounted cavalry fastened their horseshoes in Arthur’s time. Details like that are the result of careful and exhaustive research, and they make all the difference in bringing the past to life for the reader.
But I caught Cornwell in a big error. It’s the kind of error all historical novelists (me probably more than most) make, and make on purpose. But it’s more objectionable in some cases than others.
All historical novelists that I know of alter their characters a bit, giving them attitudes that didn’t actually exist in their periods. The further back in history the story is set, the more attitude adjustment the novelist has to do. Trust me. If you were to spend just a few minutes inside the head of a real warrior of Arthur’s time, the sheer mass of ignorance, superstition, prejudice, hate and tribalism would send you running for an exorcist.
But there are limits, especially in books as well researched as Cornwell’s. There’s a scene in Enemy of God where Arthur and Derfel, the narrator, meet again after a long period of alienation. Arthur apologizes and asks Derfel’s forgiveness. Derfel gives it.
If I’ve learned anything in my historical research, it’s that nothing like that would have happened among Dark Age heathens (which Arthur and Derfel are in the book). Such men lived in an honor-based culture, in which “face” was the only thing that mattered for a man. Such men never, ever apologized, even to their closest friends. The best such men would have been able to do would be to take up as friends again, silently agreeing to say nothing about what had passed between them.
The only thing that made such an act (an apology and forgiveness between warriors) possible (if rare) was the coming of Christianity with its radical new ethic.
This scene is dishonest. Cornwell is trying to picture a “merry olde Britain” going along just fine before the Christians came along to mess things up. And to show us how admirable his heathen heroes are, he depicts them performing an act that they would never have performed, and that they would have despised if done by Christians, the only people who actually might have done such a thing.
Cornwell should know better than that.
Karen Kingsbury tops the list of the twenty bestselling novels in the most recent figures from The Association of Christian Retail. Her book, Forever, also tops the list of 50 bestsellers of all books sold in the Christian stores. Lori Wick manages to squeeze between Kingsbury’s books for second place on the fiction list with White Chocolate Moments.
No, I don’t think these books having vikings in them, but feel free to find out for yourself.
Plenty of literary books are unreadable. Plenty of genre books are unthoughtful. So how do you distinguish the pearls of any theme from the hack work? You argue.
My fear – no, make that prediction – is that literary fiction will be increasingly marginalized as general interest publications focus on “books people actually read.”
J. Peder Zane is exaggerating on what people read, but it does hit close to the mark, doesn’t it? If few people want to read what we call literary fiction, why shouldn’t it be marginalized? If all the really good writing is actually in literary fiction, then it won’t suffer in the long-run and may suffer in the short-run if we continue teach our children not to value good writing.
I was aware that Philip Pullman’s series His Dark Materials was anti-Christian, if not broadly anti-religious, fantasy, but I having just seen some of the subject matter on the movie site for the first book, The Golden Compass, I’m scratching my head a bit.
People in this new world have their souls outside their bodies–an interesting idea–in the form of animals called “daemons.” That’s another word for demon. I can handle noble witches far better than I can handle the idea that everyone has a personal demon. And the Alethiometer, a truth-telling device, looks like a Ouija board, especially after I read the instructions for how to use it. Perhaps I’m silly, but I hate Ouija boards, and after being told that the soul is a demon in this fantasy, I won’t stand for it.
What do you think? Am I projecting onto someone else’s imagination? Have you read The Golden Compass or the other books in His Dark Materials?
From our Much Ado About Nothing desk: The Higher Power of Lucky is a Newbery Award winning children’s book with at least one word to provoke dissent. This looks like the kind of thing I would not know disturbed readers if I hadn’t heard about it before reading it. You can read the details at The Publishing Contrarian.