Clever Guys Getting Paid Now

Ted Kluck offers us a picture of today’s American self-loathing.

What’s disconcerting is that the youngish, dirtbag American male no longer has an obvious “look” inasmuch as he no longer has tattoos or long hair or some obvious “tell” – the likes of which your mother used to tell you to avoid. The new self-loathing American male probably went to college and has a decent job. What’s interesting is that they obviously and intentionally didn’t use attractive or charismatic people in these ads, rather, they cast the guy next door (subtext: your next door neighbor is just picking his players and getting paid immediately, so why aren’t you?).

This is the picture of who we are when we follow our heart without reflection, without a challenge from someone who has tasted real life. (via Barnabas Piper)

Perfect Book Trailer

This may be the perfect book trailer for this collection of bizarre short stories by Lincoln Michel, which might be what one should expect from a writer whose work has appeared in BOMB, Tin House, and The Believer. Notice it doesn’t describe the book directly. It appears to give us a flavor of the character of at least some of the stories in it.

The Millions writers say, “Michel’s stories are often an uncanny combination of sinister and funny, tender and sad. Laura van den Berg calls them ‘mighty surrealist wonders, mordantly funny and fiercely intelligent,’ and many of them will soon be released together in Michel’s first story collection Upright Beasts.”

From the book: “Children go to school long after all the teachers have disappeared, a man manages an apartment complex of attempted suicides, and a couple navigates their relationship in the midst of a zombie attack. In these short stories, we are the upright beasts, doing battle with our darker, weirder impulses as the world collapses around us.”

Thomas R. Schreiner on Value in Hebrews

“Why does it matter that Christ’s sacrifice is superior to Levitical sacrifices?​ The author emphasizes that Christ’s blood truly cleanses our guilt, and thus we can enter God’s presence boldly and confidently. As believers, we can be full of joy because our evil is cleansed forever. People today aren’t tempted to offer animal sacrifices, but they struggle mightily with guilt. They aren’t tempted to look to Levitical priests for salvation, but they find great comfort in knowing that Jesus is an exalted priest who intercedes for them at the right hand of God.” – See more in this interview.

Iceland Opens Pagan Temple

Iceland has been officially Christian for 1,000 years, but according to journalist and atheist Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, “Icelanders have never really been strictly Christian.” She said they accepted Christianity with the understanding that that they would be allowed to quietly practice paganism. “It’s not that people necessarily believe in the old Norse gods or have secret ceremonies in their basement,” she explained. It’s just a cultural value.

Now they’re opening a pagan temple. (via Prufrock)

‘Deliver Us From Evil,’ by Peter Turnbull

Years ago, while going through a period of tight finances (come to think of it, I still am), I took to borrowing light reading from the library, which is often a challenge when you’re as picky a reader as I am. I happened on a couple of English mysteries that pleased me very much, but neither the author nor the titles stuck in my memory. But recently, employing my hard-won new skills as an Information Professional, I did some hunting and found the books. Even better, some of them are available for Kindle. And so I offer, for your consideration, Deliver Us From Evil, by Peter Turnbull, one of the Hennessey and Yellich mysteries.

Hennessey and Yellich are police detectives in the ancient city of York, England, a place of great interest to Viking enthusiasts, though Vikings are rarely mentioned in my reading so far. Hennessey is an older cop, a widower who carries on a quiet affair with the female medical examiner. Yellich is younger and a family man, the father of a boy with Down’s Syndrome. There are also a couple more members on their team at this point in the series, each well drawn and having their own story.

The book begins with a beautifully written scene in which an early morning walker, on a frigid spring morning, discovers a woman sitting near the edge of a canal. Discovering that she is dead, he contacts the police. Forensic examination shows that she froze to death, but was probably strangled first. The strangling apparently failed, she revived, but then she succumbed to the cold.

Inquiry into her past reveals a dark story – this is a woman who has cheated and stolen all her life, and who may have done worse things. The question is not who had motive to kill her, but who among many she has hurt actually did it.

The story runs along logical, police procedural lines, and involves a trip to Canada by some of the team. There are no car chases, no gunfights, not even a fist fight. Just patient inquiry into human memories, deceptions, and motivations. I love this kind of book. I wish there were more of them.

A strange affectation of author Turnbull’s is that he opens each chapter with an old-fashioned synopsis:

Wednesday, March twenty-fifth, 15.43 hours – 22.30 hours in which more is learned of the deceased and Mr and Mrs Yellich are at home to the gracious reader.

A little precious, perhaps, but amusing as long as other writers don’t copy it.

Highly recommended.

Quiz: Rejected Novels

Author Marlon James, who won this year’s Man Booker award for his work A Brief History of Seven Killings, said his first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was rejected seventy-eight times before being published in 2005.

“There was a time I actually thought I was writing the kind of stories people didn’t want to read,” he said.

The Guardian states many critically acclaimed books were rejected at one time or another and not just by mothers who won’t surrender their children to state-issued mind-control agents. Here’s a quiz on “great rejected books.”

What’s Orbiting a Distant Star Will Astonish You

Or not.

Alien Armada by Bogwoppet on DeviantArt

Citizen scientists have been keen on a particular star since 2011 for its irregular light pattern, observed through Kepler Space Telescope. Irregular light patterns indicate object moving between us and the star, which could be planets, asteroids, tentacles of space squid, or the Borg. Any of those very realistic possibilities. The astronomers noted the star does not appear young, so debris surrounding young stars was ruled out. What could surround a mature star like this?

Jason Wright of Penn State suggested “the star’s light pattern is consistent with a ‘swarm of megastructures,'” Ross Anderson of The Atlantic reports, “perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.

“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked. Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

The science-side of the Interwebs has been abuzz with this news, but what can be understood from this observation? An article published in Scientific American earlier this year, which mentions Wright’s research, states nothing has been found. Writer Lee Billings explains Wright’s team’s goal.

They looked for the thermodynamic consequences of galactic-scale colonization, based on an idea put forth in 1960 by the physicist Freeman Dyson. Dyson postulated that a growing technological culture would ultimately be limited by access to energy, and that advanced, energy-hungry civilizations would be driven to harvest all the available light from their stars. To do that, they might dismantle a planet or two as feedstock for building star-enveloping swarms of solar collectors. A star’s light would fade as it was encased in such a “Dyson sphere

Dyson himself is not discouraged by finding nothing. “Our imaginings about the ways that aliens might make themselves detectable are always like stories of black cats in a dark room,” he said. “If there are any real aliens, they are likely to behave in ways that we never imagined.”

Which means they probably aren’t hoping to eat us.

You’ll eat it and you’ll like it!

Author Cedar Sanderson approached me a while back about contributing to a series of posts on her blog. The theme is “Eat This While You Read That.” The idea was that I would recommend a recent book of mine, along with a meal to eat with it. Then she would prepare the meal, photograph it, sample it, and report.

So (somewhat shamefacedly) I recommended Death’s Doors and the most memorable meal in my recent memory, an unusually good hot beef sandwich (also known as a commercial, or a Manhattan, apparently).

It all came out better than I deserve. You can read it here.

Stories You Won’t Want to Miss

Here are some articles on a variety of current topics.

  1. 50 Books J. I. Packer Thinks You Should Read
  2. Refuting 5 False Theories About Jesus, including theories he was just a pagan myth or violent revolutionary
  3. 9 Truths About a Multi-Generational Church, such as the young should follow and the old should humbly lead
  4. Like bitter foods, like coffee, beer or dark chocolate? You might be a psychopath.
  5. Porn can’t be sold ethically. “The truth is that when a feminist performs the role of sex object in order to transgress and/or reclaim heteronormative constructs of femininity, her audience is excluded from the alleged meaning of her work. Men don’t go to peep shows so that they can self-critically reflect on women’s sexuality and the politics of desire. To ignore this is not an act of radical female autonomy, it’s an act of dangerous and narcissistic irresponsibility.”
  6. Porn and the Gospel, a talk by Joseph Solomon

The Marvelous Burning Edge of Dawn

Andrew Peterson just released a new album,  The Burning Edge of Dawn. It’s marvelous. He sat down with Jeffrey Overstreet this weekend to talk about it. Overstreet enthuses over the friend.

Peterson’s songs and lyrics are full of sweeping metaphors, making his songs accessible enough for people of all ages and all experiences, even as they are specific enough to speak of his own specific pilgrimage as a musician; as a novelist (his fantasy series had the same editor and publisher as mine, and was released at the same time, which is how I was blessed to meet him); as a Nashville “community organizer” . . . as a sort of folk pastor; as a “book guy” . . .

Hear some of the new music and what the artist has to say about it on Listening Closer.

‘An End to a Silence,’ by W. H. Clark

The book under consideration here is an example of a type of novel I like very much. It’s a “small” mystery, localized and character-driven. No international conspiracies; no shadowy government agents. An End to a Silence is the sort of mystery that’s produced more in England than in America nowadays, and as it happens the author is English, though the story is set in America, in a small town in Montana, and seems right at home.

Detective Newton is a burnt-out case, a cop whose career stalled long ago. Now he’s just marking time until retirement. But he’s called to a local nursing home, where an old man’s death has been identified as murder. When Newton sees the victim, he’s suddenly galvanized. This man, Bill O’Donnell, is a suspect in 25 year old case, the disappearance of O’Donnell’s own grandson. Newton is certain that O’Donnell killed the boy and hid the body, despite the fact that he was a kindly man, loved in the community and active in his church.

A new policeman has come to help. His name is Ward (he never explains whether it’s his first or last name), and he’s straight out of a Hollywood western. He’s from Texas, he’s tall and lean and taciturn, he wears a cowboy hat, and he has secrets. Along with investigating the murder, he gets involved in protecting a local woman from her abusive, junkie ex-husband.

The story is all about secrets, and what people do to protect themselves and those they love. There’s a surprising reversal at the end, giving us a resolution that’s not entirely satisfying, but true to life as we know it.

I enjoyed An End to a Silence very much, and regret that this is the author’s first novel. I fear I’ll forget his name before there’s another. Sex, language, and violence are relatively mild, and on top of that the Christians in the book are treated respectfully.


Book Reviews, Creative Culture