"... in fiction, you don't just tell a story. You stage a story. You dramatize a story."

- Lars Walker
Engage Your Reading

Dorothy Sayers encourages readers to engage the work in their laps, not just kill time with it.

"Pray get rid of the idea that books are each a separate thing, divided from one another and from life. Read each in the light of all the others, especially in the light of books of another kind," she says.

If you don't like what you're reading, think through your reasons. "Does the subject displease you? — and if so, is it by any chance one of those disquieting things that you 'would rather not know about', though you really ought not to shirk it? Does the author’s opinion conflict with some cherished opinion of your own? — If so, can you give reasons for your own opinion? (Do try and avoid the criticism that begins: 'We do not like to think' this, that or the other; it is often so painfully true that we do not like to think.)"

She also thinks marking up your book is foolish, perhaps because you won't remember where to find your notes afterwards.

In response to this, Alan Jacobs observes the different occasions for reading and how they aren't all the same. We read for fun and we read for specific purposes, and not necessarily at the same time.

What many of these people really want, it seems to me — and I base this on decades of talking with folks who are anxious about their reading — is not to read Henry James but to be the kind of person who, when left at loose ends, positively wants to read Henry James, wants to read Henry James so much that he or she will toss aside Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Fifty Shades of Grey without even noticing what they are in order to get to that precious copy of The Ambassadors that someone has inexplicably left at the bottom of a stack.

I think it’s okay not to be that person.

When Books Taste Like Vegetables

“Many struggle to find a good route into being a good reader,” Kathleen Nielson observes in a new roundtable video with Rosaria Butterfield and Gloria Furman. How does ones move past an understanding of the importance of reading to an enjoyment of it? (via ISI)

Wilson's Favorites from 2014

John Wilson of Books and Culture offers his favorite books from last year. Here's one recommendation which may resonate with you.

The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany. Donald E. Westlake. Edited by Levi Stahl. Because he mostly wrote crime fiction (some of it under the name “Richard Stark”), and—even worse, from the standpoint of the guardians of our literature—a lot of it very funny, Donald Westlake (1933-2008) is almost never mentioned in canonical accounts of contemporary fiction. But that hasn’t prevented countless readers from savoring his sentences. This nonfiction miscellany, lovingly edited by Levi Stahl, will give those readers a clearer sense of the man behind the books while providing a good deal of instruction and delight.

Coming This Year: Books in 2015

The Millions offers this list of anticipated books for 2015.

The Globe and Mail is looking forward to these titles from the first half of this year.

The Historical Novel Society has a long list of books being published this year. Don't talk to me about watching all the Oscar-nominated films for the year. This is the list you need to tackle (not that you actually have to read every page of every book--we have our limits).

Iceland's Christmas Book Flood

NPR's Jordan Teicher reports, "Historically, a majority of books in Iceland are sold from late September to early November. It's a national tradition, and it has a name: Jolabokaflod, or the 'Christmas Book Flood.'

"'The culture of giving books as presents is very deeply rooted in how families perceive Christmas as a holiday,' says Kristjan B. Jonasson, president of the Iceland Publishers Association. 'Normally, we give the presents on the night of the 24th and people spend the night reading. In many ways, it's the backbone of the publishing sector here in Iceland.'"

Why Read Calvin's Institutes?

Justin Taylor quotes J.I. Packer on how great and necessary reading Calvin's Institutes is for modern believers.

Packer explains that Calvin’s magnum opus is one of the great wonders of the world:

Calvin’s Institutes (5th edition, 1559) is one of the wonders of the literary world—the world, that is, of writers and writing, of digesting and arranging heaps of diverse materials, of skillful proportioning and gripping presentation; the world . . . of the Idea, the Word, and the Power. . . .

The Institutio is also one of the wonders of the spiritual world—the world of doxology and devotion, of discipleship and discipline, of Word-through-Spirit illumination and transformation of individuals, of the Christ-centered mind and the Christ-honoring heart. . . .

Calvin’s Institutio is one of the wonders of the theological world, too—that is, the world of truth, faithfulness, and coherence in the mind regarding God; of combat, regrettable but inescapable, with intellectual insufficiency and error in believers and unbelievers alike; and of vision, valuation, and vindication of God as he presents himself through his Word to our fallen and disordered minds. . . .

Legacies of the Reformation

Two pastors are celebrating the legacy they see in the Reformation. Tony Carter notes that one principle of the Reformers was universal literacy.

"The will of God is first and foremost a written revelation and if we are going to faithfully seek and understand his will we are going to have to be readers of God’s word. Luther’s translation of the Bible into the language of the people was key in making sure the Reformation would continue past his generation."

So for people who are reluctant to read well and have been denied education in the past, the Reformers are their champions. They say, "You are the chosen people of the book. Take up God's Holy Word and read it yourself, because in the Word is abundant life no matter your circumstances."

Louis Love talks about the church of his youth buying new hymnals that came with responsive reading, creeds, and a confession. His pastor began incorporating new, doctrine-based elements into their worship, and Love was surprised to learn this new material was from the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833. They were learning from old ministers who had been discipled in Reformation theology.

"Be not ashamed of your faith," he quotes another pastor. "Remember it is the ancient gospel of the martyrs, confessors, reformers, and saints. Above all, it is the truth of God, against which all the gates of Hell cannot prevail."

Philip Duncanson shares a personal story of his discovery of Reformation history as a high-school boy who had yet to surrender to Christ, despite growing up in a Christian home. "It wasn’t the courage of Martin Luther to stand up against the powerful Catholic Church that fascinated me, although that was good drama. It was the fact that for the first time I realized that the Christian experience that I thought I had known all my life was actually tied to human history. Imagine that, at 15, Christianity was a concept that I had only tied to my generation, and at best, my parent’s generation."

Book Recommendations from Librarians or Algorithms?

"Librarians have been suggesting books to patrons for literally forever, mostly during actual face-to-face conversations," Jessica Leber states. Can math model do it better, and more importantly, do we want it to?

Brooklyn's public library set up a title recommendation service in which their librarians would read your submission and respond with appropriate books. It took a while at first.

"Wait time aside," Leber says, "when I received my own response two weeks later, I had in hand not five, but six well thought out suggestions of literary science fiction novels I might enjoy (as per my request), all from authors I’d never read before. I felt really good about the list--not because I’ve actually read the six books yet, but by simply knowing there was a human being involved in creating it. The titles genuinely all seemed like books I might read, and Emily Heath, the librarian who fulfilled my request, had even placed a card catalogue-linked list in my online library account so I could more easily find and borrow them."

The human element is part of what David Swartz misses in bookless libraries. When everything is digital and can only be found through search requests, you may be able to find what you're looking for but not be able to stumble across the extra information you need. (via Prufrock)

Reading Uninterrupted

Shut off your devices and read a while. "Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize." (via Loren Eaton)

For something of a contrast, here's a brief article from a subway photographer. "If I worked from inside the subway car instead of from the platform, I discovered, I could come closer to my subjects, allowing the viewer to appreciate the intimate relationship between reader and book. While shooting Wall Street Stop, however, I found that the printed book was rapidly losing ground to iPhones, tablets, and e-readers."

100 Best Scottish Novels

The Herald of Scotland is culling a list of the 100 best Scottish novels from their readers. They have 30 so far, including The Death of Men by Allan Massie, The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown, and The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott.

Readers might take this recent list of crime fiction into consideration. They say Scotland can have an sobering, perhaps despairing, effect on people. Writer Helen Fitzgerald appears to disagree.

“My mum said 20 years living in the grey, murder capital of Western Europe, has made me write about darkness, despair, and deviance. She suggested I come home to Australia to write something with hope and joy in it. Taking her advice, I headed downunder in December, sat at an outside table in a cheerful, sunny beach-side cafe, and started writing. The story I started writing is about a dysfunctional Australian couple who accidentally overdose, kill and bury their baby whilst a raging bushfire burns folk to a crisp in the distance. Sorry Mum, it’s not Glasgow. It’s me.”

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."

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."

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."

Alone with Classics

Author Sarah Perry was "raised by Strict Baptists" in Essex and not allowed to watch movies or read contemporary books. The result? "I turned my back on modernity and lost myself to Hardy and Dickens, Brontë and Austen, Shakespeare, Eliot and Bunyan. I memorised Tennyson, and read Homer in prose and Dante in verse; I shed half my childhood tears at The Mill on the Floss. I slept with Sherlock Holmes beside my pillow, and lay behind the sofa reading Roget. It was as though publication a century before made a book suitable – never was I told I ought not to read this or that until I was older. To my teacher's horror my father gave me Tess of the D'Urbervilles when I was still at primary school, and I was simply left to wander from Thornfield to Agincourt to the tent of sulking Achilles, making my own way."

And she soaked in the King James Bible. Her debut novel, After Me Comes the Flood, is reviewed here. (via Prufrock)

Your Reading List for Muriel Spark

Philip Christman has ranked and encapsulated (sort of) 22 works by Muriel Spark. He says, The Hothouse by the East River comes off like overripe fruit. For Robinson and The Bachelors, he says "Spark was pretty much kicking ass right out of the gate; these are 'the worst' of her early novels, and yet they would have represented a quite respectable peak for anyone else."

The Girls of Slender Means Christman considers Spark's best. Have you read any of these works? What do you think of them? (via John Wilson)

Francis Schaeffer on Sharing the Gospel

"Francis Schaeffer was asked what he'd do if he had an hour to share the gospel with someone. He responded by saying he'd listen for 55 minutes and then, in the last 5 minutes, have something meaningful to say. In other words, he listened in order to speak the gospel.

Our evangelism is often unbelievable because we don't listen at all. All too often the gospel we share is an information download, not a loving articulation of how the good news fits into the needs, fears, hopes, and dreams of others' lives."

-- Jonathan Dodson, Unbelievable Gospel: How to Share a Gospel Worth Believing.

Read What You Like

Austin Kleon writes, "We all love things that other people think are garbage. You have to have the courage to keep loving your garbage..." He says this because someone out there is telling us we should be embarrassed to read certain things. Kleon points to Alan Jacobs' twitter feed for some good points on reading what you like. There's also this.

Understanding the Bible Yourself

John Piper has a new plan to teach people to understand the Bible on their own. He's calling it "Look at the Book," and at first blush it looks to be inductive Bible study, something Precept Ministries and Bryan College have done for years. Not that it isn't worth doing again by other people. I'm just making the connection.

Should Your Kids Read Dark, But Truthful Books?

N.D. Wilson writes about "dark-tinted, truth-filled reading" for children: "I would understand if hard-bitten secularists were the ones feeding narrative meringue to their children with false enthusiasm. They believe their kids will eventually grow up and realize how terrible, grinding, and meaningless reality really is. Oh, well—might as well swaddle children in Santa Clausian delusions while they're still dumb enough to believe them. But a Christian parent should always be looking to serve up truth. The question is one of dosage."

He says Christians should be protecting their children, but not over-sheltering them from the real painful world. Christian kids need "stories in which murderers are blinded on donkeys and become heroes. Stories with dens of lions and fiery furnaces and lone prophets laughing at kings and priests and demons. Stories with heads on platters. Stories with courage and crosses and redemption. Stories with resurrections. And resurrections require deaths."

Julie Silander has begun a list of such reading on StoryWarren.

Men Would Enjoy Good Stories, If They Tried Them.

“If men read fewer books on manhood and more really good stories they’d be much better for it,” Barnabas Piper tweeted sometime last year. He fleshes out his reasoning in this post, saying stories make you want to be better, show you role models and anti-heroes, and get under the surface. If it's true, he says, that we learn more by what we catch than what we are taught, then good stories are the places where we will catch what we want to learn.

What Fiction Do Men Read?

One of our friends, Nick Harrison of Harvest House, asks on his Facebook wall:
"What can we all do to boost men's fiction? What authors do the men you know read? What are their complaints about the state of men's fiction (if they have any complaints)? I'd especially like to hear from male readers, but all who can offer some insight are welcome to respond."

So what do you think? Don't confine your answer to Christian books. What fiction do you or the men you know read? Answers from the original post include Dale Cramer, Athol Dickson, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, David Baldacci, Vince Flynn, John Hart, John Lescroart, and Lee Child. I mentioned names you've seen here, like Bertrand, N.D. Wilson, and Andrew Peterson.

BIG UPDATE in the comments below.

Do You Read eBooks on Your Phone?

Last year, Digital Book World asked its Twitter crowd, "Do you read on your smartphone? Do you read on other devices, too?" They got 30 answers. About half said they read on multiple devices; the other half said they don't read long works on their phones.

Now, 56% of Americans have smartphones, which are also called pocket reading devices. Some companies are marketing ebooks only to their pocket readers, like the Samsung Galaxy S4.

With some many mobile devices like this, publishers should consider them first when designing ebooks and ebook marketplaces.

Creeping into the 21st century

C. S. Lewis wrote somewhere that for modern souls, the acquisition of new appliances, vehicles, and entertainment devices constituted “the very stages of their pilgrimage.” I bear that in mind as I announce my acquisition of a Kindle HD.

As you know if you’ve been following this blog, I’ve had a Kindle Keyboard (the generous gift of no less a figure than the learned Dr. Hunter Baker) for some years now, and have fallen wholly under its sway. I like its ergonomics, its lightness, and the opportunity, when I need a new book, to satisfy my jones in about a minute. I treasure my Kindle Keyboard, and have no plans to abandon it. In the single day I’ve owned my Fire, I’ve tried reading on it, and it’s fine. I’m sure I could transition to it as a regular reading device without trouble. But the battery on my old Kindle lasts longer, and the essential reading’s equally good.

The Kindle Fire HD is a genuine tablet, albeit a low-end, entry-level one. The first thing that impressed me was the graphics. What I see on my device doesn’t have the definition of the more expensive Kindles, but nevertheless it amazed me. I got a free month of Amazon Prime with my purchase, and I downloaded an episode of “Justified.” I was highly impressed with the speed and picture quality (though downloading YouTube videos can be annoyingly slow and page loading can be poky). Also impressive was the Dolby sound, which is amazingly good for such a small device.

I’m still learning to navigate on the thing, and experiencing the normal old dog’s problems. I like the way you can move around and zoom in on the screen with a finger swipe, and I think the whole thing will become pretty instinctive before long. For someone who’s always worked with Windows, the whole “Mojito” operating system involves a little techno-shock, but like all systems it makes its own kind of sense. The virtual keyboard is OK; it confounded me for a while but I think I'm catching on.

The main reason for the low price of this Kindle is that it doesn’t have either a camera or a microphone, so the buyer should be aware of that. I bought mine because I wanted more flexibility in accessing the web. I think I’ll even be able to do some of my graduate course work through it; at least that is my hope.

This is a preliminary evaluation. I’ll let you know if I change my mind about anything.

Gaiman: Kids Need to Read

Author Neil Gaiman notes that the prison system is big business. How can they predict jail cell growth? "[U]sing a pretty simple algorithm," Gaiman said, "based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn't read." Not that all illiterate people are criminals or all literate people are not, but the relationship between being unable to read and crime is strong. Sixty percent of America's prison inmates are illiterate; 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education.

Gaiman said he went to China for the first sci-fi convention ever approved by the Communist establishment. He asked an official why this was finally approved. The official replied that the Chinese had no imagination for invention, so they asked the likes of Google, Apple, and others who were inventing new technology. These people were readers of science fiction and fantasy.

"Fiction can show you a different world," he said. "It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in."

Blessed Nonsense

Today, just a snippet from an article in the current issue of Intercollegiate Review – "The Subhumanities: The Reductive Violence of Race, Class, and Gender Theory," by Anthony Esolen:

So much of human life, says [Marilynne] Robinson in her new book of essays, When I Was a Child I Read Books, is blessed “nonsense,” not overmuch concerned with survival or whatever else preoccupies the reductivists of our time. It is like the folly of God, as Erasmus reminds us, thinking of the mighty words of Saint Paul, who declares that all the wisdom of the world cannot overcome the foolishness of the Cross, which is of course the foolishness of love.

Our friend Anthony Sacramone is Managing Editor of IC.

Extinction soon

Photo credit: Raysonho.

Over at the American Spectator (which seems to have rejected my last submission, but hey, I’m not bitter) Matthew Walther writes about his recent experience at the American Library Association convention in Chicago, where he particularly wanted to talk to people about the increasing trend of libraries dumping perfectly good books because electronic versions are now available.

WHICH REMINDS ME: At this gathering of a few thousand librarians, teachers, writers, publishing types, I saw surprisingly little evidence of reading taking place. With two or three exceptions—elderly women whose badges told me that they are librarians from Indiana—the only printed text I saw anyone interact with was the 308-page full-color conference guide. This also brings me to why I was there. I was trying, am in fact still trying, to understand why, with little or no visible resistance or even comment from patrons, library friends’ societies (local charities that raise funds for libraries and organize things like book signings and reading groups), school boards, members of university faculties, elected officials at the local, state, and federal government level—to say nothing of the national press—thousands of public and academic libraries across the country are all but throwing away millions of books, many of them rare, expensive, or both. Three years ago the Engineering Library at Stanford University was home to more than 80,000 volumes; it now houses fewer than 10,000….

The American Library Association is an organization which looms large in my consciousness these days. Everyone in my Library and Information Sciences class talks about it in terms of “us,” though I have no plans or need ever to join, and it’s not a requirement for the program. Mr. Walther makes no comment on the reflexive progressivism which I perceive in it, based on classroom discussions. His concern is simply to question whether libraries without physical books can really be considered libraries at all (I read the other day that a library in Texas has gone precisely that route). He seems a little Luddite about the Kindle, but at least he gave his a fair try. My own devotion to paper and ink survived my first experience by about 20 seconds. (That’s not to say I want to jettison my own personal books, whose name is Legion, or those I husband at work.)

I spoke with a former academic librarian yesterday, and his opinion was more pessimistic even than Walther’s. Once the digitizers solve the problem of copyright for more recent works (he said) libraries will simply cease to exist. They will go away. They will be made redundant. He’s studying Theology now, in order to teach that for a living.

I don’t know if he’s right. I do think the academic library will survive for a while, if only because accreditation agencies love to set requirements for collection size.

My friend suggested that I join The Association of Christian Librarians, instead of the ALA. I heeded his counsel.

I’m pretty sure I’ll need the support. I’m beginning to think I’m working very hard to prepare for the equivalent of a managership at a Barnes & Noble store.

Printed Books or E-Books: Which Is Better?

Printed Books Or E-Books: Which Is Better?

This Infographic is produced by Coupon Audit and Brandywine Books .

Citation sighted

Today in the library I was cataloging a set of books by a friend, Dr. John Eidsmoe – Historical and Theological Foundations of Law. Out of curiosity I checked the second volume to see what he’d written about Viking elements in our English tradition. And behold, he has good things to say. Even better, he mentions me in a footnote.

I’ve joked about being a scholarly citation before, since Prof. Torgrim Titlestad of the University of Stavanger has mentioned my Erling novels in a couple of his books on the Viking Age. But this is a genuine footnote. In a passage about Erling Skjalgsson he inserts the following note:

…Lars Walker, a friend of this author, has recently published an engrossing and well-researched novel that portrays Erling Skjalgson as a Christian ruler who desires his kingdom to be a free republic under God’s law. Lars Walker, West Oversea: A Norse Saga of Mystery, Adventure and Faith (Nordskog, 2009).

He makes a couple small errors, calling Erling a jarl (he seems to think jarl is a generic term like chieftain), and talking about Erling’s “kingdom,” which was the last thing Erling wanted. Nevertheless, it’s nice to be a citation.

I wonder if I can get credit for it in graduate school.

Something tells me the answer is no.

The bearable lightness of being orthodox

I’ve been reading Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I’ll review it later, as if its reputation depended on me to any extent. But here’s a quote:

It is one of the hundred answers to the fugitive perversion of modern “force” that the promptest and boldest agencies are also the most fragile and full of sensibility. The swiftest things are the softest things. A bird is active, because a bird is soft. A stone is helpless, because a stone is hard. The stone must by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness. The bird can of its nature go upwards, because fragility is force. In perfect force there is a kind of frivolity, an airiness that can maintain itself in the air. Modern investigators of miraculous history have solemnly admitted that a characteristic of the great saints is their power of “levitation.” They might go further; a characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity. Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.

What's the Point of Christian Fiction?

Readers IV: sleeper, reader, reader, sleeper

E. Stephen Burnett picks up on the discussion over comments made regarding the stories told by J. Mark Bertrand ("Russell" to his friends), asking an insightful question: "According to the Bible, what is the 'chief end' of story? Is it evangelism? Gritty realism? Entertainment? Or a higher goal?"

I chafe at the idea of everything we do in the world being evangelism or pre-evangelism, though perhaps it's true. I like to think of life being more multifaceted than that. We delight in God our Father. We make disciples of his people. We fight for justice and work in mercy. What are the themes Jesus addressed in his Sermon on the Mount? Who are the blessed of God, being a life witness, the place of the law, the nature of sin (anger, lust, divorce, promises, retribution), loving one's enemies and neighbors, mercy, prayer and more. Is all of this meant to be seen in the colors of evangelism?

No. A story may witness the glory of God to an unbeliever without having evangelism as its goal, and perhaps that's the answer. Glory. I want to write to magnify God's glory, to color myself and everything I see with it.

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