"I wouldn't be young again even if it were possible."

- Ruth Rendell
The Worst 50 + 10

The Intercollegiate Review presents "The Fifty Worst Books of the 20th Century."

Add to this D.G. Myers' list of 10 worst prize-winning American novels of all time.

Impressive Presentation Showing Sen. John Walsh's Plagiarism

It's remarkable when someone does the research to demonstrate extensive plagiarism from a public official or someone of high profile, but the NY Times' presentation of how Senator John Walsh (Democrat-Montana) is elegant. Highlighted sections of this master's thesis pull up comparison copies of their sources, so you can see how closely worded they are. A bit of explanation, like the following, is one thing: "Though a footnote indicates that this information came from a report on a State Department website, the language appeared in a post by Dean Esmay on his Dean’s World blog nearly verbatim." Showing comparisons is step up. (via Hunter Baker)

R.I.P. The Rockford Files (James Garner)

The death of James Garner this weekend has affected me more than is reasonable. I certainly didn’t know the man, and we very likely wouldn’t have gotten along if we’d met. He was a lifelong lefty, and by all accounts a pacifist. His favorite movie of his own was “The Americanization of Emily,” an anti-war film whose message (as I recall it) was that anybody who fought in World War II was a chump.

I read Andrew Klavan’s laudatory post today, along with our friend S. T. Karnick’s more equivocal one. Klavan sees Garner’s Maverick and Rockford characters as laudable examples of American individualism, lost today in a flood of cop shows. Karnick finds the anti-heroism of those same characters a sign of cultural decline.

For me, although I like Maverick, The Rockford Files is a personal touchstone. I consider it the best network detective show ever produced in America. Over a six year run the characters remained lively (often very funny), the acting excellent, and the scripts only slipped a little at the end.

I read a critique once that described the Jim Rockford character as “pusillanimous.” I don’t agree. What he was, in my view, was a believable good guy. Unlike the standard American TV hero, he had no illusions of invincibility (you could sometimes detect the limp that came from Garner’s real life bad knees). Like any sensible man in the real world, he didn’t fight if he could talk his way out, and he’d run away if he had a chance. Because fights with other guys are rarely a good idea. But when he had no choice, or when a principle, or a friend or client, was threatened, Jim stood up and gave as good as he got.

The relationships made the show work. Jim’s father (the great Noah Beery, Jr.) loved him dearly and worried about him, and Jim clearly reciprocated. Nevertheless they nagged and teased each other all the time, and did not hesitate to trick each other out of a free meal or a tank of gas. Jim’s old prison buddy Angel (Stuart Margolin) was a brilliant addition – a man with no redeeming qualities whatever, but Jim remained loyal to him. We never knew why, but we loved him for his grace. His lawyer, the lovely Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) admitted she was in love with him, but had accepted the fact that the guy couldn’t be domesticated. And Sgt. Dennis Becker of the LAPD (Joe Santos) put up with a lot of flack from the department in order to maintain a sometimes stormy friendship with the low-rent PI. It was an ensemble effort, and a thing of beauty (by the way, I pulled all those actors’ names out of my memory without consulting Wikipedia, which will give you an idea how many times I’ve watched the credits).

The rusty trailer on the beach at Malibu. The copper-brown Pontiac Firebird. The wide-lapelled 1970s sport coats. The gun in the cookie jar. The answering machine. It all felt, if not like home, like a friend’s home to which we were welcome once a week. It meant a lot to me. Still does. I watch it every Sunday on the MeTV broadcast channel.

Jim Rockford made me want to be a better man. And it didn't seem impossible to do it his way.

I’m not sure I want to live in an America without James Garner in it. We take ourselves too seriously already.

Alton Brown, Media Mogul

At least twice on my current list of regrets is that I have not learn enough from Alton Brown. The man is the mad scientist of culinary delight. Grade school kids should have classes based on Good Eats. Here's a recent morning interview he did that briefly mentions his many media products.

'There Are No Jobs in Academia.'

Ryan Anderson is a grad student in anthropology (not the clothing store). "I realized how bad things were when I was about half way through my PhD program—and it didn’t help that the global economy was literally crashing right when I started. You know, the whole 'Great Recession' thing. After one year, I nearly dropped out. Looking back, maybe that would have been the better decision. But, for some reason, I kept going…in part because of a vague hope that things would somehow 'work out.' I too pinned my hopes on that imagined employer."

The bottom line, he says, is this isn't the 1960s and there are no jobs in academia. He points to data showing about 36,000 new PhDs for every 3,000 new positions created. Is this education making 33,000 better people or just dragging them and their families down? (via Anthony Bradley)

An Illustration on Paying Attention

“(And whatever is placed in active and direct Oppugnancy to the Good is, ipso facto, positive Evil.)” Patrick Kurp ties this line by Coleridge to this line by Waugh: “Civilization has no force of its own beyond what is given it from within."

Heresy Alert! People Prefer Instant Coffee

In a world where over half of everyone prefer tea to coffee, over half of everyone also prefer instant coffee to wonderfully fresh-roasted coffee, according to a new report by Euromonitor International. Even in Mexico where great coffee grows in the streets and children suck on sun-roasted beans between baseball games, people see instant coffee as the affordable choice for their active lifestyles.

But I don't care. Live and let live, I say. Maybe they don't have a few minutes to brew a cup of joy for themselves. If that's the case, they might enjoy throwing back their insta-junk in pop-up paper mugs from Nescafé.

Are reader-friendly Bibles just marketing hype?

J. Mark Bertrand echoes another reader of the ESV Reader's Bible in finding he reads more in this edition than in other editions. Readability, he says, is a thing, and it influences how we read. "Yet, like Steve, I’ve found myself getting sucked into the reader, coming up for air much later than expected."

Two Tolkien Movies Aiming for Easter Release

Two films, Tolkien and Tolkien & Lewis, are being developed by small companies with the hopes of capturing the ticket money of a bunch of us Tolkien/Lewis fans. (via Overstweet)

Leawood Boy Allowed to Keep Free Library in His Yard

Last month, I linked to a story on a 9-year-old boy who had his "little free library" taken down by his city government. Yesterday he appealed to the Leawood, Kansas, city council and won a temporary moratorium on these structures. The council will take up a permanent resolution this fall.

But all was not good in the hood, according to The Daily Signal. “Why do we pay taxes for libraries and have those boxes on the street?” asked one attendee. Another member claimed the little libraries were eyesores and argued, “You will destroy Leawood if you destroy our codes and bylaws.”

One must ask how many towns across America will be destroyed before the freedom to read will be abolished. One can only hope that citizen will vandalize the boy's little library in the name of John Adams, George Washington, and all of our great forefathers who looked upon their children with books in hand and said, "Not today, son. That's not what this country is about."

Don't Call Thor 'Miss'

"No, it's a myth, a myth!" he said.

"Yes?" she replied.

In more exciting comic book news, Marvel wants to make its lineup more gender-balanced, so they are retrofitting old characters. In October, Thor will be a woman.

On Twitter, FlannelJedi observes, "By my count, a woman has wielded the power of Thor 3 times so far- in official & What If? scenarios. Storm, Black Widow & Thora (Earth X)." The NY Daily News spells out Marvel's other offerings, "In recent months, new titles have focused on veteran heroines Black Widow, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel and Elektra, as well as introducing series around a new Ms. Marvel character, whose secret identity is a Muslim American teenager from Jersey City. Marvel also launched an all-female “X-Men” title last year."

Norway Day, 2014

The Viking Age Club at Minnehaha Park (artist's conception)

Sunday was Norway Day at Minnehaha Park, so I went forth in my PT Cruiser, Miss Ingebretsen, and faced the challenge of human contact.

We’d had a Swedish Day too, about a month ago, in the same location, but it was rainy and dank and not very lively. This Sunday was beautiful; just about ideal. I did not do any fighting; my disability has me sidelined. It was kind of relaxing to watch the young guys bash each other.

I’d bought a wooden staff, and that’s what I use for support when I’m in Viking character. My experience is that staffs are mechanically inferior to canes in terms of support. I wonder why they were so popular for so long in history. Maybe it was because they double as pretty formidable weapons.

The other Vikings were all impressed with my “new” car. In fact, listening to their comments, I realized that they’d been concerned about my safety, driving around in the rattletrap that Mrs. Hermanson, my Chevy Tracker, had become. Which suggests to me that I made the right decision, if a little late.

They also noted that little black bugs were attracted to her, landing on her skin and just staying there, like yuppies in a Starbucks. I wonder if anyone’s ever done a biological study of the affinity of little black bugs for PT Cruisers.

Had some shocking news – two of my dearest friends are moving to another state. What was most shocking was the fact that I’d been informed about it some time back, and had completely forgotten about it. It was the first time – at least the first time I’m aware of – that I’d ever completely suppressed unwanted information. I’m as good at self-delusion as any man, but I usually don’t just block stuff out. I’m too pessimistic by nature.

Kind of disturbing.

I’d hate to think I’m becoming an optimist.

You catch more flies with PT Cruisers than with vinegar, after all.

R.I.P. Archie Andrews

This week's issues of Life With Archie will include the main character's death. Archie, who has had a 73-year run as one of America's favorite comic book teens, will bite it this week by taking a bullet for his gay best friend. His publisher said it could have ended in other ways, but "metaphorically, by saving Kevin, a new Riverdale is born."

Do Christian Artists Get Fair Reviews?

Mike Duran points to the films of Dinesh D’Souza and Scott Derrickson this week to ask if these films are hitting their intended marks and attracting negative reviews because of that or are the reviews fair?

"My point here is not to endorse (or pan) either film, but to simply ask whether the artists’ beliefs or their film’s point-of-view make them unfair targets to critics," Mike says.

I think there's merit to this idea. Any work of art or entertainment gains attention or snores based on how its subject matter resonates with its audience. Even bad art gets praised because it resonates. In comments on the NPR review for Deliver Us From Evil, one person asks, "Will you lighten up? Why should this movie be seriously reviewed?" and another person says, "And J.J. Abrams 'Star Trek', MESS, got a 95% from 'serious film critics'??!!"

I don't think we're talking about objective, humble film reviewing here. What is humble film reviewing, anyway? Critics aren't the kind of people you give your daughters to marry. Am I right?

Talking 'Bout My Education

Andrew Furgeson writes about nationwide education reform and why we love it every time it returns:

Common Core was announced only eight years after President George W. Bush and Sen. Edward Kennedy introduced another revolutionary approach to learning in public schools, an expensive and ambitious program called No Child Left Behind. NCLB, as it’s referred to in the acronym-crazed world of education reform, forced states to raise their academic standards, which were considered too low, and to improve scores on standardized tests, which ditto.

NCLB itself came eight years after President Clinton thought up Goals 2000, a nationwide school reform program to enact “standards-based reforms” and thereby improve test scores. Goals 2000 was a reworking of a school reform plan called America 2000 that President George H.W. Bush launched in 1990 as a way of raising standards and getting better test scores out of America’s public schools. He wanted to be called “the education president,” President Bush did, and his approach, he said, was revolutionary.

And in 1983, only seven years before the ambitious launch of President Bush’s America 2000, the nation received an alarming report commissioned by President Reagan, who was troubled that test scores, along with standards, were too low among public school students. The report was called “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” It concluded that higher standards were necessary to raise test scores. “A Nation at Risk” was written by a blue-ribbon commission in an attempt to end-run the Department of Education, which had been started in 1979. The department was Jimmy Carter’s idea. He worried that lax standards were destroying American public education. A federal department, he reasoned, might be able to oversee a revolutionary new approach that would set things right.

For nearly 40 years, it’s pretty much been all reform, all the time for the nation’s public school students, teachers, and parents.
(via Prufrock)

How the French Buy Books

Shakespeare & Company

We don’t force French people to go to bookstores,” explains Vincent Montagne, head of the French Publishers Association. “They go to bookstores because they read.”

And the French government doesn't allow them to discount their books more than 5%, so Amazon.com isn't undermining local stores through deep discounts. France has around 2,500 bookshops now.

We couldn’t have opened our bookstore without the subsidies we received,” Ms. Pérou said. “And we couldn’t survive now without fixed prices.” She and her husband own L’Usage du Monde in Paris.

Pamela Druckerman suggests this plethora of bookshops affords the French the choices we all want, but what do the booksellers offer that publishers don't produce? Is choice in reading a selling, not a publishing, option? (via The Literary Saloon)

And how have you been?

Hello. I’m back, at least now and then, for the next month or so.

I just finished my summer course in graduate school. The class was Music Cataloging, and it was kind of like studying law, but in an unfamiliar culture. My work was pretty lackluster, but I still came out with an A-minus grade, which is clear evidence of grade inflation. Or else I finally sighted that mythical “A for effort” I’ve been hearing about all my life.

Tonight after work I picked up a new (used) car – a 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser. White, with woody panels (!). Yes, I finally parted company with Mrs. Hermanson, my ancient Chevy Tracker. I can’t deny an emotional tie, but she’s aged past my ability to maintain her in the manner to which she has become accustomed. I passed her on to an owner better qualified than I to minister to her aches and pains.

I’ve named the Cruiser Miss Ingebretsen, after my kindergarten teacher.

Coming up, a bunch of book reviews I’ve been piling up, plus deathless insights, madcap frolicking, and prophecies of doom. Fun for the whole family!

Changing: The English of the Future

Most English speakers today learned it as a second language, so how will their habits, struggles, and primary languages change the English language? Prospero says it has already gotten simpler. It may continue down that path.

"For example, European Union bureaucrats are likely to use the English 'control' to mean 'monitor' or 'verify', because contrôler and kontrollieren have this meaning in French and German....

"What, then, can we predict English will lose if the process goes on? An easy choice seems to be 'whom'. English was once heavily inflected; all nouns carried a suffix showing whether they were subjects, direct objects, indirect objects or played some other role in a sentence. Today, only the pronouns are inflected. And while any competent speaker can use I, me, my and mine correctly, even the most fluent can find whom (the object form of who) slippery. So whom might disappear completely, or perhaps only survive as a stylistic option in formal writing."

Derrickson Talks Horror, Reality with New Movie

Scott Derrickson is the writer and director of the new movie, Deliver Us From Evil. He was also the man behind for Sinister , The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. He believes fear strips away the lies we usually tell ourselves and forces us to face reality. He sat down with Steven Greydanus to talk about his style and the new movie.

More here.

Rediscovering the Excitement of Reading the Bible

"I remember, as a teenager, reading through the books of Samuel and, upon finishing, thinking to myself, 'This story is as invigorating as any story I’ve ever read, seen, or heard.' What is strange to me now is how surprising a revelation that was. Having grown up with the literature, why didn’t I already think of it as engaging?"

Mark Bertrand interviews Adam Lewis Greene on his plan for an alternative reading experience for the Bible. Bibliotheca will be a four volume edition of the Bible made for readers with beautiful book design.

Gaiman's 'American Gods' Coming to TV

The Starz network is developing Neil Gaiman's American Gods for the small screen, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The series was passed over earlier by HBO.

Gaiman is excited about it. He says, "The team at Starz has been quite certain that they wanted to give Shadow, Wednesday and Laura a home since they first heard that the book was out there. I can't wait to see what they do to bring the story to the widest possible audience able to cope with it."

I gather he anticipates haters.

12 Steps to Enjoying Movies More

Jeffrey Overstreet has started a 12-step group for "More Rewarding Moviegoing." He says, "Sight Club is like a 12-step program. We’re here to cultivate 'eyes to see' and 'ears to hear' in a world full of darkness and noise. Movies give us a world of opportunities."

A Loser's Game

"It is a loser's game to try to appease the claims of those who despise one's moral convictions, but nonetheless complain you aren't applying them fastidiously enough."

Here's a quote from a friend on recent news. I wanted to say this yesterday, but didn't give it enough thought.

For Men Who Don't Read

For the man who says he wants to read more novels, but doesn't, Mark Mason recommends A Man Called Ove by Swedish atuhor Fredrik Backman.

"The reason it’s the perfect book for weaning men back onto literary fiction is that Ove (pronounced "oover") is just like us. He’s a grumpy old pedant. No matter if you’re younger than his 59, or less bothered about neighbours breaking residential parking restrictions, or more relaxed about the fact that no one knows how to put up shelves properly these days, there will be a part of you that’s just like Ove. He even hits a clown at one point, and any man who tells you he hasn’t wanted to do that is lying." (via Prufrock)

World Illustrations for The Hobbit

Tove Jansson illustrated this for the Swedish edition of The Hobbit:
From the Swedish edition

Brain Pickings has several illustrations from the British, Swedish, Japanese, and Russian editions. Mikhail Belomlinsky made this for the Russian edition printed in 1976:

From the Russian edition

Tolkien Had Words To Say to Nazis

When The Hobbit was to be published in Germany, the publisher asked for Tolkien's Aryan street cred. Tolkien's personal reply to this English publisher began like this: "I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten & Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a certificate of arisch origin from all persons of all countries?"

By way of accommodation though, the author wrote two letters which could be sent to the German publishers, one a bit more harsh than the other. That letter, marked July 25, 1938, began:

"I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people."

The Problem with Transformers

Why are the Transformer movies so cool and yet so dumb? Or is that how coolness works? Is there an inverse ratio between coolness and smartness? No, that's not right. Perhaps the formula is that the probability of dumbness increases 2x the coolness, so the more fun, cool ideas you have, the more likely you are to say, "Who cares how it happens? It's cool!"

Two self-professed Transformer experts are talking about the latest movie (spoilers aplenty) and not understanding what they saw.

Swansburg: ‪Let’s talk about how Cade Yeager and his leggy daughter meet our old friends the Autobots.

Wickman: ‪Right. They find a truck inside a movie theater, of course.

Swansburg: ‪Obviously. The movie theater scene was really weird. There were several possibly meta jokes about the movies that didn’t really land. Could you distill a message from those musings?

Wickman: ‪I could not. There was definitely a part where someone complained about how all the movies these days were sequels and remakes, but it didn’t seem like the makers of Transformers 4 were the butt of the joke. It felt more like we were the butt of the joke, for watching.
Here's a helpful review of a previous Transformer movie from Steven Greydanus in which he describes how Michael Bay makes disaster films in contrast with Roland Emmerich (2012, Armeggedon, etc.)

On a loosely related note, Alan Jacobs just posted this question: why should we expect intelligent alien life would want to explore and/or colonize other planets?

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree

This first of three books is free for Kindle, and I suspect you may enjoy it. It's a western-style fantasy framed by the stories of a deceased fantasy author. Fans of his books discover they aren't entirely fictional, and there are big stakes at risk in the war they find.

Words at Leisure in Unanchored Intelligence

Essays are a dead form, says author David Hughes. “But today we no longer have access to the state of mind in which such useless but diverting conceptions appear in the unanchored intelligence [another nice phrase]. Our conceptions must be vast or hasty or topical; to ride the storm of the uneasy mind we are in, an idea must be sensational, it must walk on the water or fly faster than sound. A poet manqué does not write essays: he joins the staff of an advertising agency, where one word is an expensive item, or he talks about the films he is going to make.”

Patrick Kurp spells out the joys and perils of Hughes' opinion on essays in today's post. "Good essays," he says, "even the most impersonal, are suffused with the essayist’s sensibility. No one else could have written them."

Hachette Buys Perseus, More Clout Against Amazon

Hachette, one of five largest U.S. publishers, has acquired the imprints of Perseus Books Group, giving it more clout in its dispute with Amazon, though that's not the reason they made the deal. It follows the pattern of a major merger 2011 of Random House and Penguin. The new publishing megagroup is said to have the most bargaining ability with Amazon, which controls a third of bookselling market.

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