"Modern man has a lust for full explanation and habitually considers himself in no way morally bound unless he is in full possession of all the facts."

- J.B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small
Evelyn Waugh, 101 today

Happy birthday to the late British novelist Evelyn Waugh, who was not the sweetest man to work around.

John Banville describes him as terribly sad at the end of his life. "As a man, he was quintessentially English—stubborn, class-obsessed, honorable, detached and despairing. And he was unfathomably strange." (via Books, Inq.)

Miller's Liebowitz Still Worth Reading

Here's an essay of author Walter M. Miller and his classic apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz. "Along with Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles,” “A Canticle for Leibowitz” was one of the first novels to escape from the science-fiction ghetto and become a staple of high-school reading lists."

Within the cathedral of post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature, there ought to be a small sanctum reserved for books produced out of the author’s personal experience with cataclysmic events. Other works that fit into this niche include Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” which was inspired by the writer having witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, and “The Forever War,” Joe Haldeman’s 1974 novel, which drew directly on his tour of duty in Vietnam.
(via Books, Inq.)

Marilynne Robinson and American Fiction

Casey Cep wrote, "Marilynne Robinson is one of the great religious novelists, not only of our age, but any age. Reading her new novel Lila, one wonders how critics could worry that American fiction has lost its faith, though such worries make one think there might well have been wedding guests at Cana who complained about the shortage of water after witnessing the miracle with wine." (via Alan Jacobs)

Asimov on Creativity

A 1959 essay on creativity by Issac Asimov, that has not been published, has been released by a friend at MIT. In it, Asimov talks about the origin of the theory of evolution, which he says was devised by two men independently, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.

Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)
He goes on to say a team hoping to develop great new ideas needs to become comfortable with each other and inspire each other to look forward. (via Prufrock)

The Primeval Glory of War

Janie Cheaney talks about war in the context of Andrew Peterson's fourth book in The Wingfeather Saga. Do Christian novelists simplify and glorify it? "While most wars are wasteful and pointless, some are not. And ugly and terrifying as it is, battle seems to have an almost primeval appeal, especially to men. It’s as if they are called to find out what’s in them: savagery or heroism, unspeakable cruelty or self-sacrifice, the best or the worst."

It's a strong desire to live for something large. Perhaps that's how we currently express the eternity God has set in our hearts "yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). That yearning for glory easily yields to the lust of our pride, making our desire to live for something big subservient to a desire to live a self-directed life, and in doing so we end up fighting over selfish things or for unwise causes. Lars' latest novel, Death's Doors, deals with this in that there's a real battle over life and death raging around the characters, but their perspectives are too self-centered to see it for a while.

Marilynne Robinson's Humble America

Aaron Belz offers this snapshot of Marilynne Robinson's America, that land where the least of us can become great by the Lord's grace:

As unpopular as it is, the Calvinist/Puritan doctrine of total depravity shares ground with the philosophes’ and founding fathers’ view of humans. Read Candide, a violent satire full of rape, bestiality, and murder designed to supplant European aristocratic classism with individualism and equality. Though Voltaire loathed organized religion and outright rejected Calvinism, he depicted the human race in a Pauline way, each misguided soul awaiting a humble revelation of its own worth. And remember that it was Thomas Hobbes, also a philosophe, who famously described human life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."
(via Prufrock)

Happy Birthday, Plum!

One of our favorite authors, P.G. Wodehouse, was born on this day in 1881. In honor of the day, we link to McSweeney's for a bit of Plum parody from Rhian Jones in "P. G. Wodehouse's American Psycho."

I had, on the morning in question, breakfasted as usual on the old bran muffin and decaffeinated herbal tea before completing a thousand physical jerks and setting off downtown to Pierce & Pierce. Whilst performing my ablutions I’d gained the fleeting impression of there being something distinctly odd about my reflection, as if I wasn’t quite there, but I put it down to the previous evening’s indulgences at the club and paid it no mind.

Beneath the old six-button double-breasted tailcoat, I was sporting shoes by Susan Warren Bennis Edwards and some frankly tremendous trousers, which allowed me to feel inordinately pleased with myself. This happy state of affairs had of course as much likelihood of lasting as the early grace enjoyed by Milton’s Satan. I realised as much upon entering the meeting room, where I beheld my chums engaged in conversation with Paul Owen, a chap whose company I must admit I struggle at the best of times to tolerate.

Needing a History to Properly Enjoy

Patrick Kurp says he couldn't have read Max Beerbohm at a young age, because he requires a personal depth or history to draw upon while reading. He notes, "In another small masterpiece from And Even Now, 'The Golden Drugget,' Beerbohm describes a rather drab, undistinguished inn near his home in Rapallo, overlooking the Gulf of Genoa, in Italy:

“By moonlight, too, it is negligible. Stars are rather unbecoming to it. But on a thoroughly dark night, when it is manifest as nothing but a strip of yellow light cast across the road from an ever-open door, great always is its magic for me. Is? I mean was. But then, I mean also will be. And so I cleave to the present tense--the nostalgic present, as grammarians might call it.”

How Lovecraft Has Influenced Too Many People

Does Lovecraft still matter? A new annotated volume argues in favor of this old horror writer. Lovecraft, who died five months before his 47th birthday, also “shrewdly created an American pantheon of horror,” Klinger said of the hardcore New Englander. “He was the first writer of supernatural literature to understand the psychological consequences of the generations of Puritanism and the warping of the human psyche that resulted.”

I always get a chuckle out of accusations that Puritans twisted our civilization. Where would America or the world be without the Puritans of England and its New World colonies? Nowhere. They would be unrecognizable to us, if we could see such an alternate history.

Speaking of Alt-history, Lars' Death's Doors is tons of fun. You should read it. For real. (via Prufrock)

Authors Union Seeks Investigation into Amazon.com

The Authors Guild met with the Justice Department in August to request a federal investigation into Amazon.com's actions against Hachette Book Group in their ongoing dispute over ebook prices and service fees. They say the earth's largest bookdealer is using anti-trust tactics against publishers like Hachette. Authors United is also preparing to ask the DOJ to get involved. Does this make you want to find other bookseller options, or is this all so inside baseball you don't care?

Writing as Product Development

Barnabas Piper reminds writers that their ideas are their products, so they should work through product development before launching them. "It means that you are probably the worst judge of whether your idea works."

Aaron Armstrong also has a bit of encouragement on writing better.

The Green Ember by S.D. Smith

Sam Smith answers a few questions about himself and his upcoming book, The Green Ember.

I love what C.S. Lewis called “dressed animal” stories. He loved them and kids usually do too, if they haven’t been talked out of them. One thinks of Lewis’s well-known statement about children getting “too mature” for fairy tales. “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
He's using Kickstarter to presell the book and generate buzz. Watch for it this Friday.

D.G. Myers, the Lion

Tributes to D.G. Myers from Friends & Colleagues

John Wilson wrote, "Like Samuel Johnson, David Myers was not a clubbable man, but he was the best of friends. Our friendship took place almost entirely under the umbrella of Twitter (where Doctor Johnson also would have flourished), yet in a lifetime blessed with friendship his was among the most precious to me."

To Remain Unseen

"Kjell Askildsen writes what might reasonably be called ghost stories in which there are no ghosts." (via Prufrock)

Lecrae: 'Christian is my faith, not my genre.'

Musican Lecrae has some good thoughts on Christians as makers of culture in this interview with Eric Geiger from last year. He says he doesn't want to be labeled Christian by his claims of faith, but by his practice of faith. The interview is 20 minutes long. For an hour long take on music and Lecrae in particular, see this post with Ed Stetzer.

Authors Donating to Iraqi Christians

A Facebook community of authors are donating September's royalties to Iraqi Christians through Voice of the Martyrs. They call themselves Authors in Solidarity. We've reviewed a few of books featured in this community. Lars is donating his royalties from Hailstone Mountain (The Erling Skjalgsson Saga Book 4). There's New Found Dream: Book Two of "A Healer's Tale", The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen, Bid the Gods Arise (The Wells of the Worlds) (Volume 1), and many more. Let us know if you join this effort to help Christians in Iraq.

Tolkien's Passion Heard in Beowulf

Oräddbror - the fearless brother - notesTolkien's Beowulf gives us the sound of the Dark Ages we lost when it was consumed by Middle Earth.

"Tolkien reproduces the syntax of the Old English poetry almost exactly. The word order of 'His sword had already the good king drawn' is garbled, but in just the way that the Old English sounds when translated word for word. Square brackets mark where present day English has forced Tolkien’s reluctant hand to emend the original."

Interview with Whit Stillman

Whit Stillman on speaking French: "I wasn’t one of these people that love Paris and always talks about it. In fact all my friends were dropping out and taking a year off or semester off and going to France and I was the one who didn’t want to go to France. I went to Mexico because I was so intimidated by my experience in French class. I’d done so poorly in French class that I went to Mexico and learned Spanish first. To this day I’m mocked by French friends who say I speak French like Zorro."

On American cliches: "One of the bad things America has done is that in trying to be popular it’s relied on certain formulas and gone back to the pump again and again and again and with the same formula. It’s flattering the lowest common denominator and it’s this underdog thing, and it’s very seductive, it’s in all the templates in our brain. But it’s a wrong view of the world."

How Can You Say That?!

When you leave 50 replies to a negative review of your interactive ebook, you're doing it wrong.

Maybe you need more creativity. But then, "how did we come to care so much about creativity? The language surrounding it, of unleashing, unlocking, awakening, developing, flowing, and so on, makes it sound like an organic and primordial part of ourselves which we must set free—something with which it’s natural to be preoccupied. But it wasn’t always so . . ." (both via Prufrock)

Podcast: C.S. Lewis vs. The New Atheists



C.S. Lewis grew up among some well-known atheists and may have believed the same things argued today by speakers labeled "New Atheists." Peter S. Williams has written a book on the subject, and this podcast introduces a series of discussions on that book, C S Lewis vs the New Atheists, with an overview. You can get a brief review and chapter list here.

Andrew Klavan To Write Kermit Gosnell Movie Script

The movie project about America's worst serial killer is moving forward with the announcement that Andrew Klavan will write the script. He says the challenge will be writing a movie that people will want to see, because the base story is almost too repulsive. He tells NRO what's most important about the Gosnell story:

I’m a crime writer. It’s a great crime story. But you know, I notice I’ve gone through this whole interview without saying the words “abortion” or “abortionist.” But that’s a part of it too, a central part. I’m in a sort of — I won’t say “unique” but certainly strange position on this. I’m a natural-born libertarian. With every fiber of my being, I want people to live the lives they want to live, whether it suits me or not. You want to be gay? Have a good time. You want to condemn gays? Knock yourself out. You want to dress up as Beyonce and get a tattoo of Louisiana on your forehead? I’m the guy who’ll buy you a drink and say, “Nice tat, Yonce.” I know a lot of women who’ve had abortions — people I like and love. I know a lot of people who are pro-abortion, likewise. But moral logic has convinced me that this is wrong — more than wrong – as wrong as a thing can be. It’s not about your feelings versus mine. It’s not about social conservatism. It’s not about libertarianism. And it’s not about feminism either or “women’s health care.” What nonsense that is. It’s an actual question of good versus evil. And listen, in the end, that’s what all great stories are about.
(via ISI)

Reviewing 'Herzog' after 50 Years

Jack Hanson writes about Saul Bellow and his 50-year-old novel, Herzog, a story about a professor who can't handle his life after losing his wife to divorce. Bellow, who died in 2005, said the story is something of a joke about how education can ruin you, but many are not convinced that's all there is to his National Book Award winner.

"It may be hard to imagine what the neurosis of a restless, mid-century academic have to do with Ferguson, militant jihad, or any of our other woes," Hanson states. "But if the book has a single theme, it is that we are dominated more than anything else by ideas, and it is only when we confront ideas and our allegiance to them that we might be able to set our house back in order. Life will never be an easy affair, but it may become, at times, manageable. Herzog is not a morality tale, in the sense of being didactic, but it is highly moral, while being forward-looking."

The Joys of W. H. Auden

"One of the joys of reading late Auden is the pleasure he takes in rare words used correctly," Patrick Kurp reminds us. "Like his friend Dr. Oliver Sacks, he loved trolling the Oxford English Dictionary for good catches." Catches like dapatical, for which you'll have to read his post for context.

Alexander McCall Smith wrote a piece last year about the importance of Auden with a few personal anecdotes. "When I started to write novels set in Edinburgh, the characters in these books – unsurprisingly, perhaps – began to show an interest in Auden. In particular, Isabel Dalhousie, the central character in my Sunday Philosophy Club series, thought about Auden rather a lot – and quoted him, too. A couple of years after the first of these novels was published, I received a letter from his literary executor, Edward Mendelson, who is a professor of English at Columbia University in New York. . . . I then wrote Professor Mendelson into an Isabel Dalhousie novel, creating a scene in which he comes to Edinburgh to deliver a public lecture on the sense of neurotic guilt in Auden’s verse."

Lauren Bacall on Writing Memoirs

Lauren Bacall wrote three memoirs over the years. The last one was released in 2005. She said of loving Bogart, "I'd suddenly had this fairy-tale life, at such a young age, who would have thought something like that could happen?"

"Writing a book is the most complete experience I've ever had," she said.

Whit Stillman's 'The Cosmopolitans'

Whit Stillman's next work will be on Amazon.com. A TV pilot episode for a potential series, "The Comopolitans," will be available through Amazon Studios on August 28. See a cute preview here.

“This has elements of all three of the first films,” he tells Vanity Fair, referring to his 1990 debut, 1994’s Barcelona and 1998’s The Last Days of Disco. “It’s very much like the fourth film, of those three.” He says one has to earn a living, and TV is where one can do it.

He also says he doesn't watch TV with violence and sex, "so it knocks out almost everything." Others say he only watches TV on airplanes.

These Books Were Most Influential on Tolstoy

"This summer on my way to work," writes The Public Humanist at The Valley Advocate, "I found something just for me in a box of cast-off books on a sidewalk in downtown Northampton . . . a yellowed and fragile New York Times Book Review clipping, from April 2, 1978: a list of the books that Tolstoy was most impressed by, organized by the age at which he read them."

The list was written in 1891 and includes selections such as Puskin’s poems: Napoleon, Gogol’s Overcoat, The Two Ivans, Nevsky Prospect, Rousseau's Confessions, all of Trollope's novels, and all of the Gospels in Greek. (via Open Culture)

WWI and Tolkien's Fantasy

John Rhys-Davies on how The Lord of the Rings may have been influenced by World War I.

"Tolkien's experience of war left him with 'a deep sympathy and feeling for the "tommy," especially the plain soldier from the agricultural counties.' He based the character of Samwise Gamgee on common soldiers that he had known during the war, men who kept their courage and stayed cheerful when there was not much reason to hope.

The Ghostwriter Speaks

"There's an old saying that you should never judge a book by its cover. Today, perhaps, that conventional wisdom has rarely had more meaning. To a degree that might astonish the reading public, a significant percentage of any current bestseller list will not have been written by the authors whose names appear on the jackets."

Andrew Crofts, "one of Britain's most invisible and yet successful writers," has written out his experiences as a ghostwriter for 40 years. Bestselling ghosted works include a lot of "misery memoirs." (via Prufrock)

Who Created Batman?

Today is Batman Day. The Bat-Man, as he was once called, is 75 years old today, and DC Comics wants everyone to celebrate. Ignoring rumors that one-year-old prince George is being groomed to take on the Dark Knight's mantle (don't call him Robin), Jim Lee talks about the future of the character with Entertainment Weekly. He mentions strong fan-boy love for Batman ’66 on Blu-ray. I guess the cheese is never too far from Gotham City.

Apparently there's one part of Batman's history the publishers have never quite settled: who actually created him? Today they are giving out special edition reprints Detective Comics #27 (1939), in which The Bat-Man first appears. The cover of this issue states it was "illustrated by creator Bob Kane and written by Bill Finger." The official word from DC Entertainment is that Bill Finger was a great guy who helped write many things, but Bob Kane was the first to imagine the hero.

[Steve] Korté, a 20-year DC Comics veteran, explains the sequence of events that lead to the creation and development of Batman. “After Superman debuted in 1938 and became an instant hit, DC editor Vince Sullivan asked Bob Kane to come up with a superhero, which he did with Batman,” he adds. “During that process, he went to a friend, Bill Finger, who gave him some tips on costume adjustments. For example, Bob initially drew bat wings on Batman. Bill suggested a scalloped cape. After Batman became a hit in May, 1939, Bob brought in more people throughout the year.”
Both men are dead now, but Finger's granddaughter is rally fans to give Bill the credit she believes he deserves.

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.

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