- Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
April is poetry month, as I said before, and I learned late that the poet Aaron Belz was in my home town April 4. Here's a video of his poetry reading in St. Elmo. Many of these poems are quite funny and contemporary. He even reads a poem he wrote the day before, which he slightly apologizes for. Belz got his undergrad at Covenant College, which is the Presbyterian (PCA) liberal arts college next to Chattanooga. He went on to get his Ph.D. at Saint Louis University and published several poems in several places. He pulls from common literary knowledge and daily life. His most recent book is Glitter Bomb: Poems.
Like I said, he's funny. One of the poems read in the video goes:
"There is no I in team,
but there's one in bitterness,
one in failure."
He also offers a few remarkable palindromes at 13:40. Enjoy.
Author Robin O'Bryant writes, "I self-published my first book in shame. I was disappointed that after two years of work with my top tier literary agent in New York, editors still didn’t think I had a platform large enough to sell a book."
That book lived for about two years before hitting multiple bestseller lists, due in part to her tireless promotion. Now, Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves, is re-released, and Mrs. O'Bryant has a two-book deal with St. Martin's Press.
Within the last couple weeks, we've talked about what it means for a book to be labeled a New York Times bestseller and how marketing services can game the system to buy that status for your book. Now, Pastor Mark Driscoll admits "manipulating a book sales reporting system," which he did for his book Real Marriage, is "wrong." More than this, he says:
In the last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father. Those closest to me have said they recognize a deep change, which has been encouraging because I hope to continually be sanctified by God's grace.Update: Kevin DeYoung gives us "9 Thoughts on Celebrity Pastors, Controversy, the New Calvinism, Etc."
Poet W.H. Auden was generous, loving man, and apparently he wanted that to remain a secret. Edward Mendelson writes, "In an age when writers as different as Hemingway and Eliot encouraged their public to admire them as heroic explorers of the mind and spirit, Auden preferred to err in the opposite direction, by presenting himself as less than he was."
He sought out the marginalized in the crowd. He gave a large among to keep a homeless shelter operational. He disliked his public image and political grandstanding. Mendelson states, "In 1939 he left England for America, partly to escape his own public status. Six months later, after making a speech at a political meeting, he wrote to a friend: 'I suddenly found I could really do it, that I could make a fighting demagogic speech and have the audience roaring…. It is so exciting but so absolutely degrading; I felt just covered with dirt afterwards.'"
(Thanks to Alan Jacobs)
Martin Luther said many things, but as with many famous people, he did not say a handful of things people attribute to him, such as:
The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors.Justin Taylor explains:
The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.
Luther didn’t say this. As with the quote from the first example, [Frederick] Gaiser argues that it doesn’t sit very well with Luther’s actual views on vocation. The idea that God is pleased with our work because he likes quality work “would be the American work-ethic version of vocation, theologically endorsing work as an end in itself. In the hands and mouth of a modern boss, good craftsmanship and clean floors (or a clean desk or a signed contract) to the glory of God could be a potent and tyrannical tool to promote the bottom line. . . . [W]hat marks Luther’s doctrine of vocation is the insistence that the work is done in service of the neighbor and of the world. God likes shoes (and good ones!) not for their own sake, but because the neighbor needs shoes. . . .”
"It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him." - Solomon Northup
Pastor Tony Carter gives his reaction to the memoir by Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave, released in 1853. He was deeply moved. He writes:
"Those who contend that American slavery was tolerable and preferable for the African-American continue to be an enigma to me. While I might give the secular humanist a slight pass because his mind is not enlightened by the gospel of truth (though he remains accountable to God for the wrong he thinks and does), I can have little to no understanding of the Christian who contends for and maintains such a position. With evidence such as Northup’s account before his eyes, and the supposed grace of God enlightening his heart, one has to wonder if those who claim to have been exposed to both have truly experienced either."I have not seen the movie based on this book, but if you have, you might find this comparison page of interest. It compares the movie with their own investigation of the truth. For example, they report, "the movie paints William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a hypocrite, contradicting his Christian sermons by overlaying them with his slave Eliza's agonizing screams. In his memoir, Solomon Northup offers the utmost words of kindness for his former master, stating that "there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford."
In a post, reviewing a 1991 book called The Cipher, our friend Loren Eaton says he wishes more writers were pursuing the horror genre. "Oh, the genre lives on in cinemas, but it has largely vanished from book racks. I've wondered why for the longest time and actively looked for any authors that specialize in it..."
Loren had high hopes for The Cipher, but found it a bit thick and dismal. "I guess the crux of the matter is this: Horror should seem horrifying, but you need to feel that something worthwhile could be lost during the story for it to become so. Such a sense is completely absent in The Cipher. Things start out badly. They grow marginally worse by the end. In between is 350 pages of mostly senseless, self-inflicted suffering."
In the comments, a few names and titles are kicked around.
For context on his perspective, Loren discusses all he learned about H.P. Lovecraft in 2013.
Here are some questions Dean Koontz has answered in various forums:
You had an agent in your early years tell you that you'd never be a best-selling writer. Did that discourage you or make you more determined to succeed?
Koontz: I have more self-doubt than any writer I’ve ever known. That is one reason I revise every page to the point of absurdity! The positive aspect of self-doubt – if you can channel it into useful activity instead of being paralyzed by it – is that by the time you reach the end of a novel, you know precisely why you made every decision in the narrative, the multiple purposes of every metaphor and image. Having been your own hardest critic you still have dreams but not illusions. Consequently, thoughtless criticism or advice can’t long derail you. You become disappointed in an agent, in an editor, in a publisher, but never discouraged. If anyone in your publishing life were to argue against a particular book or a career aspiration for reasons you had not already pondered and rejected after careful analysis, if they dazzled you with brilliant new considerations, then you’d have to back off and revisit your decisions. But what I was told never dazzled me. For example, I was often advised, by different people, that my work would never gain a big audience because my vocabulary was too large.
Read the rest of this entry . . .
I'm reading Gladwell's book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, now with plans to review it on your favorite lit-blog (by which I mean, this one). Here's a great interview with Malcolm Gladwell by Eric Metaxas at an event Metaxas hosts regularly in New York City. I love this. Dick Cavett totally steals the scenes for the seconds he is in them, but the rest of the interview is great too.
This is the part I hate. I’m speaking, of course, of winter, the time after the Nativity festival, the White Witch season when it’s “always winter and never Christmas.”
My Christmas was fine, by the way, thank you very much. The Walkers gathered here on New Year’s Day, and revelry was unrestrained. Actually it was pretty darn restrained, but that’s how I like it.
However, we’re not entirely out of celebrations. Today is J. R. R. Tolkien’s birthday. It’s customary for Tolkien fans to do a rolling tribute, around the world. You bring out your preferred beverage at 8:00 p.m. local time, say, “The Professor!” and drink your toast.
Our friend Dale Nelson sends this link to an article, from Too Many Books and Never Enough, on Tolkien’s recordings of his own writings. I wasn’t aware that he did so many. One would think there’s an untapped market there, though Caedmon brought out a small collection some time back.
For a sample, here’s YouTube recording of the Professor reading “Riddles in the Dark.”
Pastor Anthony Carter, who has written a very good book on Christ's work on the cross called Blood Work, talks about pastors wanting to write. He says it's natural, because they already write for their churches, but a book a little different.
"If you write for national attention," he says "you are writing for the wrong reasons. I would encourage any pastor to remember and take to heart this sobering reality: Most people won't even know that you have published a book, and the rest won't care."
In 1964, author Issac Asimov wrote to describe a world's fair in 2014. "Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The I.B.M. exhibit at the present fair has no robots...
"Consider Manhattan of 1964, which has a population density of 80,000 per square mile at night and of over 100,000 per square mile during the working day. If the whole earth, including the Sahara, the Himalayan Mountain peaks, Greenland, Antarctica and every square mile of the ocean bottom, to the deepest abyss, were as packed as Manhattan at noon, surely you would agree that no way to support such a population (let alone make it comfortable) was conceivable. In fact, support would fail long before the World-Manhattan was reached.For what it's worth, Manhattan's current population density is a little over 70,000 per square mile. For the entire city of New York, it's about 27,500 per sq/mi.
Well, the earth's population is now about 3,000,000,000 and is doubling every 40 years. If this rate of doubling goes unchecked, then a World-Manhattan is coming in just 500 years. All earth will be a single choked Manhattan by A.D. 2450 and society will collapse long before that!"
Hangoverium by ~nino4art on deviantART
Andrew Barber connects Tolkien's elves to the Christian life. "This place, once so full of life and sustained by the Lady of Light, Galadriel... has become a glorious ruin. For Galadriel, like the rest of her kin, has left the world to the rule of man; the elves, in all their splendor, have reached their end. [She says,]'. . . together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.'"
Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image and Slant Books, writes about the idea that strong Catholic writers can't be found today. He is responded to a piece by Dana Gioia, which lists many Catholics in letters from several years ago, but none working today. Wolfe disagrees:
To take just one example, in arguing that few contemporary writers take on the fundamental question of belief versus unbelief, Elie dismisses Alice McDermott’s fiction as being merely about Irish Catholic New Yorkers from the 1950s and ’60s. But this is an oddly literal and obtuse reading of, say, Charming Billy. True, the novel is set in that earlier time period, but the novel is told from the point of view of a younger woman—a disaffected, lapsed Catholic—whose exploration of her Uncle Billy’s life slowly and quietly brings her back to faith. Billy the alcoholic protagonist is a mess, and yet he is a loving soul, a kind of saint—a man of boundless faith in spite of his woundedness.
Then, in an unexpectedly poignant turn of events, the novelist Oscar Hijuelos wrote to the Times in response to Elie, citing his own novel, Mr. Ives' Christmas, just days before his sudden death of a heart attack. Like Charming Billy, Mr. Ives’ Christmas is another whispered tale of a wounded saint, a man of deep Catholic faith whose seminarian son is senselessly murdered. These novels by McDermott and Hijuelos are meditations on sainthood in the same vein as Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, but instead of a protagonist as priest hunted by totalitarian thugs, they show us New Yorkers as unlikely saints: an advertising executive and a worker for Con Edison.
Nick Harrison offers these wonderful quotes and testimonies to discourage the writer in your family. Rejection. Loneliness. Struggle.
A platform is a way to "get noticed in a noisy world," to borrow from Michael Hyatt's book of the same subtitle. Hunter Baker has a helpful critique of this idea.
"Stop badgering would-be authors with applications designed to tease out how large their platforms are and spend more time locating the best manuscripts," he writes. In the near future, he suggests a big platform will be the very reason speakers and authors will not submit their document to a traditional publisher. They will self-publish.
Follow Chris Henley
Scot McKnight also has several questions about platform and current publishing tactics:
I get hundreds of books sent to me each year, many of them by people with a sizable platform, and I can say without reservation that the bigger the platform the less the author has to say (not always, but often). Big platform authors are guaranteed sales. They’re not guaranteed good content. I get books on my desk from no-name authors that have much better content than big-name authors. ...All of this is troubling, but I don't know what to recommend as a sane alternative. Aren't there publishers who print what they believe to be the best manuscripts they receive? What success are they having? Should litblogs, like this one, have cutthroat review competitions to compare good vs. big platform books?
I know a pastor who was given a 3-book contract, a previously unpublished pastor, had no idea what he wanted to write about, but was told “We’ll take care of that by listening to your sermons.” At about the same time a young author sent me a manuscript that was rejected by the same publisher because he had no platform, but they did agree he had very good content.
Author and pastor Doug Wilson has a lengthy post big-named Christians, ghostwriting, and plagiarism. He's had to deal with plagiarism accusations in the past and he describes some of them:
One of my first books was one called Persuasions. In that book I have a character compare monogamy to buying a musical instrument and learning to play it, which is not like buying a record album and being stuck with listening to just one album over and over again. Years later I had a friend tell me he was disappointed that I had used C.S. Lewis’s analogy when he thought I was fully capable of coming up with my own. But I had no idea I was borrowing from Lewis. I am sure I got it from Lewis, and had used it in many witnessing conversations, and then when I wrote a book of witnessing encounters, in it went.This reminds me of some devotional emails I used to write. One man praised my writing highly twice, both times after I had simply forwarded a portion of a Puritan prayer printed in The Valley of Vision. I thanked him, but wondered if he thought what I had just sent out was mine. I'm still not sure.
Other times I use something consciously. I conclude my weekly homily at the Lord’s Table with a phrase I got from John Bunyan — “come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.” Should I feel bad about not saying, every week, “as Bunyan once said . . .”? But I don’t feel bad.
Author and pastor Tim Keller talks about writing as a pastor, recommending young pastors to give all of their time to their ministry and plan to write later. They can write short pieces now, if they feel compelled to write, but he suggests they wait for greater maturity before they tackle whole books. He also recommends reading:
That is far and away the most important discipline. You must read widely in general for years before you become capable of recognizing good writing. And then before you write a book on a subject, you should read 20 or 30 good books on the subject carefully and skim another 20 or 30. If you just read three or four (and refer to another three or four), your book will be largely a rehash and will offer few fresh insights.
Andy Crouch discusses the flak flying over some of Mark Driscoll's publications. Sure, some material was used inappropriately, but is this a plagiarism problem? "There is something truly troubling here, in my view," he writes. "Not that 'Pastor Mark Driscoll' carelessly borrowed a section of a commentary for a church-published Bible study, but that 'Pastor Mark Driscoll' was named as the sole author of that Bible study in the first place."
He points to St. Paul's use of scribes and partners and the unique credit given in Romans 16:22.
Prolific writer and author John Piper has taken to Twitter on this: "If lying is the 'industry standard' reject it. Come on, famous guys, if someone writes for you, put the plebe’s name on it." For more, see Warren Throckmorton's blog for many details.
The men behind Dr. Boli's Celebrated Magazine have an interview on The Catholic Book Blogger. If you've every wondered what kind of wondrous ponderer the writer behind Dr. Boli must be, here's a small glimpse. Both Mr. Bailey and Dr. Boli give their thoughtful answers. Mr. Bailey says:
Dr. Boli’s last name is etymologically the same as mine. The Baileys were a Pennsylvania Dutch family from York County who originally spelled their name Böli (or Behli or Beli—they’re all pronounced “Bailey” in Deitsch). The face of Dr. Boli is actually a photograph of Samuel Bailey, my great-great grandfather. And the name “Henricus Albertus” is a Latinized version of my grandfather’s name, Harry Albert Bailey. As I tell you these things, my grandfather is spinning in his grave like a top, because he had no idea his family was German: he fought the Germans in the First World War and hated everything German for the rest of his life, right down to the “dirty German dark bread” at the bakery.They go on to discuss a new book, Dr. Boli's Gift Horse
I didn't mention it directly in the "Writing for others" post below, but I linked to a Patheos.com post on plagiarism and personality-based leadership. In that post, Miles Mullin linked out to this week's context: Janet Mefferd accusing Pastor Mark Driscoll of plagiarism in his most recent book and later, other publications. He links out to evidence of this charge, which allows you to judge some of the material for yourself.
Now, Mefferd has retracted her accusation and removed her blog with the evidence and the interview in which she made the accusation entirely. You can read her apology here.
Update: In her apology, Mefferd did not "evangelical industrial complex," but her producer, who just resigned over all of this, did. Ex-producer Ingrid Schlueter wrote, among other things: "I hosted a radio show for 23 years and know from experience how Big Publishing protects its celebrities. Anything but fawning adulation for those who come on your show (a gift of free air time for the author/publisher by the way) is not taken well. Like Dr. Carl Trueman so aptly asked yesterday in his column at Reformation 21 [sic], does honest journalism have any role to play in evangelicalism now? (It was rhetorical.) My own take on that question is, no, it does not."
All of this is ugly, but since it's public, I'd like a clearer explanation than what has been given at this point. Some commenters are saying the silence of certain writers and leaders is telling, but I don't think it's telling what they think it's telling. I suggest it's telling that these leaders don't want to assume guilt and start shooting.
Also this from Ray Bradbury: Read the rest of this entry . . .
C. S. Lewis' grave in Holy Trinity churchyard, Headington Quarry, Oxford
Photo credit: jschroe
I’m going to alter my long-established custom of always posting about a days’ commemorations in the evening of that day, which means most of you read it the next day. Tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis (also of a couple obscure characters named John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley).
I was, of course, around when it happened, in junior high if you must know. What did I think when I heard Lewis was dead? I’m not sure, because I wasn’t aware of his death date until years later, long after I’d become a Lewis enthusiast. I do remember the day though, because of the Kennedy thing.
But I’ve written about that before. I’d like to just recall what Lewis has meant in my life. It occurred to me today that Lewis was himself my Wardrobe, the portal through which I entered a larger world.
I was educated, like most of my friends, in Lutheran colleges which are now under the umbrella of The Very Large Lutheran Church Body Which Shall Remain Nameless. But, unlike a large percentage of my friends from those days, I neither apostatized or became a liberal. It was Lewis who made that possible (with the help at a later stage of Francis Schaeffer). The Lutheran schools I’m speaking of had then, and I assume still have, one single purpose in their religious education curricula, and that is to destroy all Christian faith in their students. But Lewis (though no biblical inerrantist) showed me that embracing orthodox Christianity doesn’t mean giving up reason. I clung to reason, and I clung to the faith of my childhood.
You yourself may approve or disapprove of that course on my part, but as for me, it’s one of the things I’m thankful for as Thanksgiving approaches.
People have often suggested a popular Christian fantasy author is the next C.S. Lewis. I don't think that's an appropriate question. Few people strikes us as the same as another person only better, so why should we look for a living author to replace a dead one? That would make the dead one mostly obsolete, wouldn't it?
Steve Harrell doesn't think so. He says we need a new Lewis. "When we try to insert Lewis' cultural observations into our culture today," he writes, "we become like Indiana Jones—still fighting the Nazis through the 1980s. The Modernist war between reason and theology is over.... We live in a postmodern, post-secular age that doesn’t respond well to the intellectual arm-twisting and large-scale historical criticism that Lewis excelled at."
Joel Miller argues Harrell is missing the point. "A vibrant intellectual life includes thoughts that span millennia. They’re not so foreign as some insist, and their differences might just keep us from going off the rails."
Rowan Williams, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, notes Lewis's blessing to us is "in what you might call pastoral theology: as an interpreter of people's moral and spiritual crises; as somebody who is a brilliant diagnostician of self-deception; and somebody who, in his own book on bereavement after his wife's death, really pushes the envelope – giving permission, I suppose, to people to articulate their anger and resentment about a God who apparently takes your loved ones away from you."
In related a post, Jeremy Lott notes the angst many have had over Susan's absence from The Last Battle. Many readers think Lewis condemns her life choices by appearing to keep her out of Narnia when everything comes falling down, but Lott quotes from Lewis' letters to show that the author simply believed Susan's story was longer and more adult than the one he wanted to tell. "Why not try it yourself?" Lewis asked a reader, to which Lott replies, "Who has tried to tell Susan's story?" He hopes someone will attempt to pick up the life of Susan Pevensie and finish at least part of her story.
Image: C.S. Lewis by ~free-slave on deviantART
Remembering being asked to make a new translation of Beowulf, Seamus Heaney said, "While I had no great expertise in Old English, I had a strong desire to get back to the first stratum of the language and to 'assay the hoard.'" He had gained a feel for the sound of Anglo-Saxon and wanted his translation to sound as authentic as he could make it. He remembered a way of speaking from his relatives. "I called them 'big-voiced' because when the men of the family spoke, the words they uttered came across with a weighty distinctness, phonetic units as separate and defined as delph platters displayed on a dresser shelf. A simple sentence such as 'We cut the corn to-day' took on immense dignity when one of the Scullions spoke it."
So he brought out this sound in England's oldest epic poem. Now, researchers are saying their accepted opinion on the poem's first word may have been skewed. The word translated as "hark", "lo", "behold", and similar words (“Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum, þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!”) probably isn't so boldly declarative. And Heaney may have thought so as well, long before the researchers caught up to him.
Criticize the selling of self-destructive behavior to the young and you’re “puritanical,” or “slut-shaming,” or being “unrealistic about the modern world.” But in fact, this effort to normalize the degraded is itself perverse in the extreme. It’s the incarnation of that imp within who urges us to do ill to what we love the best: ourselves and our children. The people who peddle this trash curse those who dare to criticize them so loudly precisely because they know they are doing wrong and can’t stop themselves. Believe me: the person who accuses you of “slut-shaming,” is herself deeply ashamed.
The term "The Imp of the Perverse" is a reference to story by Poe.
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."
Our friend Gene Edward Veith, of Cranach blog, linked today to Joel Heck's Lewis Site, where the author, who teaches at Concordia University, Austin, Texas has done a lot of work compiling a chronology of C. S. Lewis's life.
He's now produced a perpetual desk calendar with an event for every day of the year. The perfect gift for... well, for me. And for those Lewis fanatics on your list, whose name is surely Legion.
Over at ChristianityToday.com, Gina Dalfonzo addresses a problem with Alistair McGrath’s new biography, C. S. Lewis: A Life. In contrast to Lewis’ own account in A Grief Observed, other biographies, and the movie Shadowlands, McGrath inclines more to the view of most of Lewis’ friends, who found the unvarnished divorcee from New York abrasive, unladylike, and possibly devious.
McGrath objects to what he sees as our culture's "romanticised reading" of Lewis's marriage, spurred by the 1993 movie Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. McGrath seems intent on debunking that image—even though, according to those who knew them closely, the marriage was romantic before Hollywood ever got hold of it. McGrath finds the circumstances of Lewis's marriage not quite to his taste, but it's not Lewis himself that he blames for them….
Whatever the reason, McGrath's attitude toward her is very negative indeed. He admits that she brought Lewis great happiness, but anyone who had known nothing of her before reading his portrayal would have trouble understanding why. McGrath paints her as an unlikable, determined seducer and money-grubber.
Some time back (I don’t have the magazine handy) the Journal of the C. S. Lewis Society reported a lecture on Joy Davidman, which the speaker began with a sentence on the lines of, “Tonight Joy Davidman will be portrayed, not by Debra Winger, but by Bea Arthur.” I'm assuming she drew material from the McGrath book (which I understand to be generally excellent. Haven’t read it).
I suspect we’re dealing with culture shock here – the effect of a New York Jew on a group of semi-cloistered English scholars raised in the Edwardian Age. It’s too bad they generally found no way to bridge that gap. But I have no doubt, personally, that Joy and Jack loved each other sincerely and worked at their marriage as a true Christian union.
Tip: Frank Wilson at booksinq.