"LORD, who createdst man in wealth and store, / Though foolishly he lost the same, / Decaying more and more, / Till he became / Most poore"

- George Herbert
Still Arguing Over Saul Bellow

Lee Seigel describes the influence Saul Bellow had on him and a new biography of this important 20th century author who has been somewhat forgotten.

This spring, on the centennial of his birth and the tenth anniversary of his death, Bellow will burst from posthumous detention. A volume of his collected nonfiction is being published, as well as the fourth and last installment of the Library of America edition of his work. But the main event will be Zachary Leader’s biography The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, coming out in May, which portrays Bellow up to 1964. Orchestrated by Bellow’s literary executor, literary superagent Andrew Wylie (who replaced Wasserman), this massive life by Leader, also Wylie’s client, is transparently meant as a corrective to the authorized biography published by Atlas in 2000, which presented Bellow as a racist and a woman-hater, among other things, and accelerated Bellow’s fall from literary grace.

You can feel the lines being drawn and the gloves going up as you read Leader’s book. Leader very deliberately presents Bellow’s life in a way meant to rebut charges of Bellow’s racism and misogyny one by one. And where Atlas meanly dwells on Bellow’s minor failures — a short-lived literary magazine, several unsuccessful plays — Leader rightly celebrates his triumphs. Where Atlas resentfully interprets Bellow’s characters as reflections of their author’s narcissism, Leader gratifyingly shows how Bellow transformed his personal limitations into liberating art.

The Importance of Being Bernstein

"One of the keys to interpreting Bernstein’s career thus seems to involve the importance of music education—not just playing band in high school, or hearing a few minutes of Bach on the radio as you drive home from school, but actually studying the mechanics of music and appreciating its fruitful historical unveiling."

Bernstein drew many people into his music and helped them appreciate higher arts in general.

Fakes Quotes, Real Quotes

8 Walt Disney Quotes That Are Actually Fake

Remembering Mister Rogers: 10 Heartwarming Quotes (Photos). Happy Birthday, Fred.

Martin Lloyd-Jones as an Evangelist

Jeff Robinson says many people who praise Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones seem to forget his strengths as an evangelist who prayed earnestly for revival. Pastor Tim Keller says he was wonderful influenced by Lloyd-Jones style of preaching to unbelievers, such as what Robinson describes:

In an age where it sometimes seems that John 3:16 is the earliest verse in the canon that ought to be marshalled for winning lost souls, Lloyd-Jones’s approach to evangelism might seem curious. But [Iain] Murray lists three primary reasons why the Doctor chose to use the Old Testament so often in seeking the conversion of sinners:

1. It reveals sin in its true nature. Murray writes, “Lloyd-Jones believed that the true difference between moralizing preaching on the Old Testament and true evangelistic preaching is that moralizing deals only with sin in terms of symptoms and secondary features. The essence of sin, the true seriousness of sin, can only begin to be understood when it is seen in terms of a wrong relationship and attitude to God himself.”

Writing is Hard

The author of Making Nice, Matt Sumell, talks about why writing is hard, how autobiographic his fiction is, and the fact he almost dropped out of his MFA program many times.

Every story is different, and every story comes with its own specific difficulties, so every story also comes with its own specific anxiety and panic until it’s done. Only—as they say—it’s never done, just abandoned. Cycle through that for a few years, a couple decades, and maybe you’ll develop a base level of frustration. Maybe you’ll get depressed. Maybe you’ll chuck a chair, or a candle, or punch a wall. If you’re like me, maybe you’ll punch a wall and then get mad at your pants when your swollen hand doesn’t slip into the pocket easily.

Mamet on Film

David Mamet offers strong advice in this pared down clip from movie commentaries, such as this:

It's hard to write a drama -- because it's hard to write a drama with a plot, because a plot means that you have to at the end of the drama resolve that problem which gave rise to the drama in such a way that it's both surprising and inevitable as per Aristotle. The thing is, can you turn the film around in the last 10 seconds -- one of the hardest things in the world to do.

Terry Pratchett, 66, Leaves the Office

“DON'T THINK OF IT AS DYING," said Death. "JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”

Many people are talking about fantasy author Terry Pratchett, who passed away this week of a chest infection (He also had Alzheimers). Though he supported allowing people to give their doctors permission to kill them, he died of natural causes.

Fans continue to honor him with quotations and memories. "After losing the ability to touch type in 2012," reports the Telegraph, "he used voice-recognition technology to complete his much-loved new works. He went on to become one of the most prominent and influential voices in the campaign for research into the disease, and was a patron of Alzheimers Research UK.

"When asked about his career in May 2014, he said: 'It is possible to live well with dementia and write best-sellers 'like wot I do.'"

Pratchett said many good, witty things, such as, "The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head." The Guardian has fifteen of the best.

Over 2,500 fans, so far, have petitioned Death to reinstate the author.

Anne Overstreet on Not Becoming a Writer

Poet Anne M. Doe Overstreet describes thinking about when she became a writer.

I come from a family that read hungrily and constantly; there was music—banjo to clarinet to piano—and hikes beside copper-colored ponds, beneath the huff and shrug of spruce at places like Peaks of Otter, reciting the names of deciduous trees. In between, stillness, time to reflect. And within that, Walter Farley’s novels and Webster’s Dictionary, the 1970 edition, I Capture the Castle and World Book Encyclopedia, which opened up the universe and made me hungry to understand why a Tennessee Walking Horse was what it was. But I cannot tease it apart, say, here I begin, here I turn my face toward a different tree line, moving from reader and listener to writer. It doesn’t begin. It doesn’t end.
I attended a reading of her poetry many months ago. I loved the sound of her words. You can read them for free through Noisetrade now, though leaving a tip would be kind. She's a poet who rewards her audience with beautiful mystery and perhaps inspiration.

Poe as Odin

Edgar Poe looks Odinesque in this cover, don't you think?


Taking a Break from Contracts

History author Susan Wise Bauer talks about taking a break from writing under deadline--well, behind deadline--for a few years.

"So about a year ago, I promised myself that when I hit my last big deadline, I wouldn’t sign another contract immediately. Instead, I decided to take six months and just write. Go down to my office and work on anything that struck my fancy. Read, reflect, experiment, let my horizons expand."

A few weeks into this hiatus, she entered 'fish mode', and you'll never guess what happened next. It completely blew my mind. I was weeping by the end of her story. Ok, I'm not saying what you might easily conclude I'm trying to say. All I'm saying is click the link to her post to see what 'fish mode' is and how Bauer feels it.

That's all I'm saying. Really.

Oh, and I should also say that Bauer is the excellent author of several history books, such as The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade. Her newest book is The Story of Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory.

Pound Eats a Peacock

Poet Ezra Pound, whose hair launched a thousand conversations, planned a luncheon with his employer, William Butler Yeats, to serve a distinguished older poet, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, a peacock at his manor. "The maneuverings of poets and literary people, jostling for fame behind the keyhole of glimpsed conviviality, is as old as Rome, older even; but Pound had a special gift for P.R."

No Plans to Publish 'Jefferson Lies'

Though Lifeway still sells The Jefferson Lies, Thomas Nelson does not and after an investigation will not publish it. The author, David Barton, has stated Simon & Schuster will pick it this year, but that claim has been denied by the publisher's spokesman.

Walton Street: Where Wodehouse Lived

"Once home to the humorist P.G. Wodehouse, Walton Street still emanates an old-school English charm," writes Amiee Farrell. "Though flanked by Harrods and The Conran Shop, it’s an enclave of independent, if occasionally chichi, antiques and interiors shops, and art galleries and boutiques that has — so far — bucked the trend for high-end homogenization."

I thought you'd want to know this. No need to thank me.

And on a loosely related note, Gene Veith talks about Sacramone's list of funniest books, saying Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy should be on the list.

The Rain-Soaked Poet, Philip Levine

A U.S. Poet Laureate died last weekend. Philip Levine, a Detroit native, was the 18th U.S. Poet Laureate. He was caught in the rain one day when his neighbor noticed him.

Michael Bourne tells the story and a bit more. "The anger that filled him in his early years was of no use to him as a writer, he told me. 'It was a huge hindrance because it meant I couldn’t write anything worth a damn about that work life,' he said. 'I couldn’t get that disinterestedness that’s often required. I couldn’t get Wordsworth’s tranquility. It took me until I was about 35 before I really wrote a poem that was about work.'”

Read some of Levine's poems here.

R.R. Reno on Critically Thinking about Critical Thinking

"When it comes to the intellectual life in our day, the fear of error—believing things as true when they are in fact false—far outweighs a desire for truth."

Watch this lecture from First Things editor R.R. Reno on how critical thinking has become more like criticism as an end to itself.

Ministry Buys Bulk for Bestseller Boost

A former employee of Pastor David Jeremiah’s ministry, Turning Point, has come forward with a report that his employer directed him to buy copies of Jeremiah's book with his personal American Express card in order to boost market sale numbers. He asked for prepayment before making the purchases.

World has the story. "Tyndale House Publishers lists David Jeremiah as one of its authors. Todd Starowitz, the director of public relations at Tyndale, refused to answer specific questions, but he did issue this statement: 'Tyndale House Publishers does not contract with anyone or any agency who attempts to manipulate best seller lists.'"

Murder at The Chrysostom

The Chrysostom Society has taken to killing each other.

"That may sound like unseemly behavior for a group of celebrated Christian writers," Jeffrey Overstreet explains, "but you can read all about the murderous conspiracies of The Chrysostom Society in their first collaborative literary effort: Carnage at Christhaven. It’s a serial murder mystery — satirical, smart, and subversive — each grisly chapter contributed by a different society member."

This looks like a marvelous group.

Megan Mayhew Bergman: The Southern Tradition

In an interview on her second short-story collection, Megan Mayhew Bergman talks about her upbringing:

I come from the Southern tradition. I was in the South for thirty years before moving to Vermont and, even though I’m incredibly secular, I grew up in a church and I think most Southerners have sermons imprinted in their brains forevermore, and that’s a very short speech-driven, sound-driven, punchy narrative and with a pretty healthy whiff of drama in it. And on top of that, you know, the short story format is a Southern tradition that’s so strong. You grow up on Flannery O’Connor.
She also observes the difficulty she had being an atheist in North Carolina. "It was something I was ashamed of and had this closeted feeling and endured wave after wave of patronizing questions," she says.

Harper Lee To Release New Book July 14

Harper Lee has taken over the Internet for a few hours with a press release about a new book. From the AP story:

"In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called 'Go Set a Watchman,'" the 88-year-old Lee said in a statement issued by Harper. "It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout's childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became 'To Kill a Mockingbird') from the point of view of the young Scout."

Gregory Peck could not be reached for comment.

George, Others Offer to Take Lashes for Badawi

Robert P. George, a Princeton professor and vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has offered to be beaten on behalf of Saudi Arabian activist Raif Badawi. George is joined by six other professors and religious liberty advocates in offering to take 100 lashes each.

Raif Badawi has been accused of insulting Islam. His sentence is 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes of which he has received fifty.

In a letter to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the group wrote, "If your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi, we respectfully ask that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him. We would rather share in his victimization than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured."

George told PRI that it was "hypocritical" for Saudi leaders "to march in solidarity with the victims of terrorism and persecution for speaking their minds in Europe and then to practice that same abuse on people for speaking their minds ... in their own country."

While it's unthinkable the Saudis would accept this offer, George said they didn't make it half-heartedly.

The Paradox of Intellectual Promiscuity

In a spectacular essay titled “The Paradox of Intellectual Promiscuity,” found in his altogether indispensable final essay collection I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History, Gould uses Nabokov’s case to make a beautiful and urgently necessary broader case against our culture’s chronic tendency to pit art and science against one another — “We have been befogged by a set of stereotypes about conflict and difference between these two great domains of human understanding,” he laments — and to assume that if a person has talent and passion for both areas, he or she can achieve greatness in only one and is necessarily a mere hobbyist in the other.
(via Books, Inq.)

Boy Denies He Returned from Heaven

The subject of the book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven has released a letter denying his claims in the book, something his mother has been doing for a few years.

"I did not die," Alex says. "I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention."

Publisher Tyndale has responded by pulling the book and related materials.

If you read the accounts from Alex's mother, Beth, you may ask how a publisher of Christian books for the body of Christ could railroad her and her son (apparently with the father's permission) to publish a book with such terrible theology. In a post from September 2013 which offers a timeline of details following the accident, Beth tells us some of her interaction with people wanting to turn her family's story into books and a movie.

I neither verbally nor in writing gave approval for any quotes. In fact I instead verbally gave my desire to not have any quotes by me put in any book. There was a time that I was sitting in PICU and told over the phone that some words from a webpage that no longer exists (prayforalex.com) that were written by me were going to be placed in the book. I was sitting in PICU with Alex! I told the person that they could not do that, to which they said they could and that that site was public. GRRR....the best I could do was to tell the person that they had better get every word correct. I have documentation of what is written in the book and that post from the webpage. The two do not match up :( It saddened me more to learn that that interaction that was twisted is part of a Bible study...what? I certainly have witnessed some shocking things!
Money, she says, was the driving factor for these people, and they promised money to her for Alex, but she has not seen any of it.

The Easy Way to Become a Writer

Neil Gaiman explains one of the easy ways to become a writer. You just wake up one day, after having tasted the fruit of a certain tree. You'll see what I mean.

Emerson wrote Chicken Soup, Gobbledegook

Micah Mattix (@prufrocknews) explains the confusing prose of the man who has been called the Bard of Concord. In short, he says we should reduce Emerson's contributions in our anthologies to make room for clearer thinkers of his time.

His central idea, of course, is “Trust thyself.” In his earlier essays, he encourages his readers to disregard the past, institutions, and dogma, and to obey “the eternal law” within. “I will not hide my tastes or aversions,” he writes. “I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints.” But in a later essay on Napoleon, who seems to have embodied the “deep” self-trust Emerson lauds, he states confusingly (after praising Napoleon) that what made Napoleon’s egoism wrong was that it “narrowed, impoverished and absorbed the power and existence of those who served him.” And whose fault is this? "It was not Bonaparte’s fault. He did all that in him lay to live and thrive without moral principle. It was the nature of things, the eternal law of man and of the world which baulked and ruined him."
So the law of man and the world ruined the man who wanted to rule the world. Did he not trust himself enough?

A Glimpse Into the Mind of a Sceptic

Bart Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became God and Misquoting Jesus, talks with World's Warren Cole Smith about his new book arguing Jesus did not claim to be God. He says, "It has long been recognized by scholars that if Jesus actually had called himself God, and it was known that he called Himself God, that it’s virtually beyond belief that the early Gospel writers didn’t mention this."

The publisher of Ehrman's book thought it would sell books to publish a companion book arguing that Jesus is God, so they approached five authors to write it. Ehrman says in the interview that he doesn't believe those authors believe Jesus taught the doctrine of the Trinity during his lifetime. "Scholars," he says, believe John's Gospel put words in Jesus' mouth, so he did not actually say, "I and the Father are one," or other claims to divinity. I suppose any evidence to support this belief is in his book.

Apparently the demonstrations of divine authority in Matthew 8-9 do not argue for Jesus' deity, but merely his agency of divine power. He was a prophet, nothing more:

  • "When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, 'Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.'"
  • "And the men marveled, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?'"
  • "'But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins'—he then said to the paralytic—'Rise, pick up your bed and go home.'"
  • "And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, 'Never was anything like this seen in Israel.'"
Apparenly Jesus claiming the title "Son of Man" for himself is no clue that he is the one in Daniel 7 who "all peoples, nations, and languages" would serve forever:
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

Ehrman gets hung up on the doctrine of the Trinity in the interview, pressing Smith on whether the five evangelical authors actually believe Jesus taught the Trinity.Read the rest of this entry . . .

Thornbury's Period of Doubt and New Faith

Greg Thornbury writes about his upbringing and how his Christian liberal arts education almost took his faith away.

For me, this dose of higher criticism was nearly lethal. Any sense that the Bible was divinely inspired and trustworthy, or that the creeds had metaphysical gravitas, started to seem implausible. The best I could muster was that, somehow mystically, perhaps Jesus was the Christ, existentially speaking. I was approaching something close to New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s own story of losing faith.
By God's profound grace, the writings of one man turned him around.

Failure, Joss Whedon Style

"Joss Whedon’s career is a testament to failure," said his biographer.

"Pascale shares some of the life lessons gleaned from her research that help explain how Whedon built his fanbase and got all these projects done without killing himself."

Elsewhere, Whedon says stories of advanced technology and artificial intelligence are our new Frankenstein myth.

Looking for Inspiration on the Orient Express

Two mystery writers board an iconic train, looking for classic inspiration.

The Orient Express only goes as far as Istanbul and makes the trip only once a year. The next journey from Paris to Istanbul is slated for August 28, 2015. "Today, from London, travelers take a train and a bus before boarding the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in Calais. Once one of the fastest ways to cross Europe, the Orient Express now requires two days to do the work of a two-hour flight from Heathrow. Leisure has replaced speed as the train’s ultimate luxury."

They collected details about the train and the people who rode it, but would they find the inspiration they sought?

"Over cocktails, the train manager told us that there were too many repeat customers for him to even guess at their number. One woman, he informed us, took the train every month from London to Venice. “And she loathes Venice!” he added."

Orient Express / Battersea Power

Walter Wangerin, Jr. To Publish Memoir

This coming Spring, Rabbit Room Press will release a new memoir from the great author Walter Wangerin, Jr. It will be called Everlasting Is the Past.

"In this new memoir, he invites the reader into the past to experience his loss of faith as a young seminarian, his struggle to find a place for his chosen vocation amid a storm of doubts, and his eventual renewal in the arms of an inner-city church called Grace."

Pre-orders are being taken.

If anyone needs me, I'll be in my pod

I understand how you feel. Through all the hectic activity, the parking and the shopping, the glitter and the tinsel, one thought has nagged at you. "This would be a perfect Christmas season," you think, "if only I could hear Lars Walker's voice."

Well, your Christmas wish has come true. Derek Gilbert of View From the Bunker recorded an interview with me, and you can listen to it here.

God bless us, every one.

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