Raising my profile

I clicked over to the Amazon listing for The Elder King today, and was delighted to see that I already have 6 reader reviews, all glowing.

Thanks to everyone who took the trouble write a review. It does matter, and it is appreciated.

It occurs to me that I could appeal to madness of crowds, and ask for promotional tips.

What methods would you suggest for a writer with not too much money to draw attention to his work?

We all know, of course, that the better the advice, the less likely I am to take it. Because really useful promotional techniques generally involve a degree of chest-puffing, arm-waving, and horn-tooting that’s simply beyond my capacity.

But at least you can say you tried.

“Christianity Comes to the Vikings”

Below, my lecture at Union University, Jackson, TN — in case you’ve been longing to spend an hour with me. It opens with a short introduction by none other than Dr. Hunter Baker.

I was a little disappointed that my PowerPoint slides are out of shot; on the other hand, I didn’t always synch them well (my remote clicker didn’t always get through for some reason).

Probably best for me not to comment on the short portion I’ve personally viewed. I’m generally incapable of objective self-assessment. So judge for yourself.

And then make it viral.

He Made the World by His Word; Why is Salvation by Suffering?

From the sixth century bishop of southern France, Caesarius of Arles, comes this important meditation on the salvific work of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Why the Lord Jesus Christ freed the human race through harsh suffering, not through power.”

He says this is a common question. “Why did he who is proclaimed to have given life in the beginning by his word not destroy death by his word?  What reason was there that lost men should not be brought back by the same majesty which was able to create things not yet existing?”

He would have been able, yes; but reason resisted, justice did not give its permission: and these are more important to God than all power and might.  . . . This then had to be kept in mind: compassion must not destroy justice, love must not destroy equity.  For if He had finished off the Devil and rescued man from his jaws by His majesty and power, there would indeed have been power, but there would not have been justice.

It’s a marvelous sermon, worthy of the week, and brought to us by Ben Wheaton, Ph.D., medieval studies, University of Toronto.

Photo by Robert Nyman on Unsplash

Original Prin: Canadian Writes Real Laugher

Micah Mattix praises Randy Boyagoda’s Original Prin as a terrifically funny religious satire. In it a small liberal arts college, newly named University of the Family Universal, needs more money to keep treading water, so a specialist is hired to uncover their options. She offers them two options: “sell UFU’s buildings to a Chinese developer to transform into an assisted living care facility where the professors would provide ‘stress free’ workshops to residents, or take money from the university-less country of Dragomans in exchange for providing online classes and degrees to its citizens.”

Someone will have to ferret out these options to see which one is better. Enter our hero, Professor Prin, who specializes in seahorses in Canadian literature.

Read Mattix’s review for better feel for the comedy what looks like good and proper skewering of some of our institutions.

‘The Common Enemy,’ by Paul Gitsham

I’ve been going through Paul Gitsham’s DCI Warren Jones series, and frankly it’s getting harder to carry on. The books have always been a little dreary, but The Common Enemy is positively depressive.

In the fictional town of Middlesbury where Jones is Chief Inspector, a “super-mosque” is scheduled to be built. There has been considerable push-back from white supremacist groups. On a night when a far-right party had scheduled a demonstration, police pulled protection away from an existing mosque to keep the peace at the parade. Someone then set fire to the mosque, and two people were left injured, close to death. On top of that, one of the leaders of the racist party leading the march was found stabbed to death in an alley.

Inspector Jones and his team (and superiors) have to walk on eggshells as they try to untangle a snakes’ nest of hatred, fear, prejudice, and paranoia. If they can’t find who set the fire, minorities will accuse them of covering up for bigots. If they can’t solve the murder, far-right extremists will make the man a martyr.

It all leads to a shocking climax.

The book was well-written, but it had few rewards for me. I felt I’d fought my way through a lot of tension and unpleasantness, only to get a punch in the gut at the end.

On top of that, although author Gitsham did a pretty good job treating all his characters – including the slimy racists – as human beings with individual stories, and indeed in spreading some of the guilt around, I noticed that one group came off as utterly innocent and entirely made up of victims. That was the Muslims. You can’t blame the author, I suppose. You’re pretty much not allowed to allow for any sin within Islam, in modern publishing.

But I didn’t find the book very rewarding.

Beautiful Bookstores in London

Here’s a bit of Monday tourism via desk for you: London’s prettiest, most picturesque bookstores. The image below was taken in Liberia, which prohibits using your phone like this, so images like this are subversive acts of rebellion. Notice the reflective ceiling multiplies the store’s bookish enchantment. You can see more of this wonderful little place in the 360 degree image on their website.

‘Run Away,’ by Harlan Coben

He’d later learn that it was for show, that Ingrid had the same fears and insecurities that plague all of us, that part of the human condition is that all decent people think they are phonies and don’t belong at some point or another.

The same but different. That’s what Harlan Coben’s novels tend to be. All based on themes of the strength of love, and the danger of secrets. But each one very much its own story. That goes also for his new novel, Run Away, which I liked very much.

Simon Greene is a successful financial advisor. He becomes a YouTube sensation briefly, when he attacks a homeless man in New York’s Central Park. What all the people who liked and shared his video, commenting on how evil he was, didn’t know, was that he was trying to help his drug addict daughter, to save her from the homeless man, who had gotten her hooked in the first place.

The daughter gets away. But then Simon and his wife Ingrid get a tip about someone who might be able to help them find her. They end up in a New York crack house, and shots are fired…

And Simon must go on alone to follow faint leads into a convoluted tangle of bizarre criminal conspiracies. Gradually he learns that his daughter’s plight is only peripheral to a much larger crime, and he will be placed on a lengthening list of people marked for murder, due to no fault of their own.

I found Run Away pretty amazing. Not only does Coben trace the familiar ground of family love and loss, and parental sacrifice, but he also creates a pair of unforgettable villains – remorseless killers who happen to be deeply in love, and very sympathetic in their scenes together. That kind of ambivalence shakes me more than distilled evil ever could. And the final revelation of the story was a genuine shocker, one to keep you awake pondering.

I thought the climax of Run Away a little far-fetched, but overall I consider it one of Coben’s best. Highly recommended. As usual with Coben, the profanity is minimal.

My Tennessee Waltz

Photo credit: Ray Van Neste

My first order of business is to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Hunter Baker, Dr. Ray Van Neste, and all the wonderful people at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee, for making me so extremely welcome for the last couple days. It was a tremendous experience for me. I hope it was enjoyable for innocent bystanders as well.

I flew in to Memphis, courtesy of the school, on Monday. Dr. Hunter Baker met me, in two senses. He’s one of those people I’ve known online for years, but we’d never actually been in the same physical space before. He took me out for pizza (very good), and then back to the school for a short tour. That’s when I also got to meet Dr. Ray Van Neste, another online friend and the co-conspirator in my invitation.

They’re both deans. When you’re a dean, you can get away with spending institutional funds on marginal literary figures.

Tuesday was the most intense day I’ve experienced in a long time. It’s hard to describe. Hunter told me I wasn’t like he expected, based on my self-descriptions on this blog. And he was right. I was in a different reality on Tuesday. I was “on,” as in performing. Like when I used to act.

In retrospect, I’m not at all sure why I decided it would be a good idea to wear my frock coat, vest, and tie when I visited classes on Tuesday. Especially when I pulled out my monocle for reading, it must have made me look distinctly bizarre. But it somehow made sense to me in my altered state of consciousness. I sat in on Hunter’s Modern Political Thought class that morning, discussing medieval political thought. Seemed to go OK. In the afternoon I joined a writing class, and that was quite a bit of fun – or at least the alien intelligence possessing my consciousness thought so.

All day I was in performance mode, and people enabled me by asking me questions on subjects about which I had something to say. These elements combined to make me appear to be an extrovert. The real me just hung on for the ride.

Lunch that day was one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had, at a local place, and for dinner we joined another dean (whose name I’ve forgotten, I fear) for a memorable meal at the nicest place in town. My alien possessor handled this well, I believe.

Then in the evening, I did my big presentation on “When Christianity Came To the Vikings.” I am pretty much unable to tell you how it went, because my grandiose half thinks it was awesome, and my neurotic half thinks I messed it up completely. The truth, no doubt, falls somewhere in between, but where on a scale from one to ten, I can’t tell you. They inform me the video will be posted, and I’ll share it with you. But I will never have the nerve to watch it.

I do know I knocked my water bottle off the podium. Could have used that water.

There were a number of questions afterward (always a good sign), and one fan who wasn’t a student or faculty member drove a distance to be there (nice to meet you, Steve).

Then I returned to my guest room and crashed, feeling as if I’d gone nine rounds with a prizefighter.

And Wednesday I flew home. It was a perfect spring day in Tennessee, and in Minneapolis we were having a snowstorm.

And that’s my latest adventure.

It’s good to be a celebrity.

Summary of Lost Books Found

Many years ago (before you were born I’m sure) Hernando Colón, son of Christopher Columbus, collected many books from around the world–close to 15,000 tomes.

After amassing his collection, Colón employed a team of writers to read every book in the library and distill each into a little summary in Libro de los Epítomes, ranging from a couple of lines long for very short texts to about 30 pages for the complete works of Plato, which Wilson-Lee dubbed the “miracle of compression”.

— Alison Flood, The Guardian

That summary, The Libro de los Epítomes, was picked up by the Icelandic scholar Árni Magnússon and donated with his collection to the University of Copenhagen in 1730. It has now been rediscovered for the gold mine into forgotten reading that it is and will be made digital next year, giving us good look into the printed material being read in those days. (via Prufrock News)

Christ Jesus, A New Hero

“Christ’s death on the cross offered healing to billions over the past 2,000 years—and it also inaugurated a different kind of storytelling. The hero no longer had to be a Hercules whose strength moved huge stones. He could be one who gave his life for another—and then God would roll away the stone. “

World News Group’s Marvin Olasky wonders how many stories have been inspired by the life of Christ. I’d say, not so many that thousands more wouldn’t be welcome.

‘Silent as the Grave,’ by Paul Gitsham

As I’ve been working my way through Paul Gitsham’s DCI Warren Jones series, I’ve commented that Inspector Jones distinguishes himself from other series detectives in (seemingly) having no particular skeletons in his closet. No old traumas, or addictions, or PTSD, which seem to be obligatory for the genre.

How wrong I was. Plenty of skeletons are revealed in Silent As the Grave, in which all Jones’ chickens seem to come home to roost at once.

An elderly man is found stabbed to death in a park. The crime seems unremarkable, except for the unusual dearth of clues, or a possible motive. The man had been a simple gardener, without known enemies.

Then Jones is approached by a man he does not know, but knows about. The man was his own predecessor in his present job – a cop gone bad, disgraced and facing trial. He says the gardener was murdered at the orders of a crime lord recently released from prison, now out for revenge. There will be more murders, he says. He’ll help Jones solve the case, in return for help in clearing himself.

Jones scoffs. The man is obviously trying to manipulate him, for his own benefit. Then the man plays his trump card – Jones’s father was innocent, he says, and he can help him prove it.

This is world-shattering. Jones’s father, we learn, was a policeman who committed suicide – Jones himself, a teenager at the time, found the body. His father was discovered to have been corrupt, and apparently killed himself out of shame.

Could that have been a mistake? Jones has spent most of his life hating his own father. Has he been doing him an injustice? Or is his informant just playing him cynically, for his own advantage?

Finding the answer will bring Jones himself, as well has his family, into mortal danger before a complex mystery is finally unraveled. The climax of the story is unexpected and shocking.

This one was somewhat more intense than I expected. The story still moves a little slowly, as with all the books in the series, but all in all it was pretty satisfying. Minimal cautions for language and mature subject matter.

Call It God’s Judgment

Forty-five years ago a murderous squad of tornadoes mobbed thirteen states within eighteen hours, killing 315 people and injuring 6,000 more.

When catastrophes happen, someone will likely attribute it to God’s judgment on our country at large or the damaged region in particular, saying the sin of those people had become so great that God had to do wipe them out with a grand outpouring of his wrath. That’s misguided but not entirely inaccurate. We should understand natural disasters as part of God’s judgment on our people or our neighbors. Our sin deserves it. For God to remind us of his terrible wrath, which will not ignore anyone, is profoundly merciful.

But a catastrophe isn’t only judgment. It’s mercy for some who have been living in bondage to other’s people sinful control. It’s opportunity for some to trust him, having been unshackled from their self-reliance or material ties. It’s a challenge to some to love their neighbors, to get out of their isolation and rebuild what they can. It’s providential direction for some, who are being forced to move to a new city and begin a new life.

We are too narrow-minded when attributing divine motives to particular events. God’s mind is infinite. His motives for orchestrating any event could be as many as the number of people involved. They could be plans we would understand if we knew them; they could be plans we don’t want to hear. No matter what his reasons, God bids us to trust him.

Great troubles come when we least expect them. We may be at peace in a happy home. At an hour when we think that all is calm, without warning — the darling child whom we love so much, lies dead in our arms! The friend we trusted, and who we thought would never fail us — proves false! The hopescherished for years — wither in our hands, like flowers when the frost comes!

The storms of life are nearly all sudden surprises. They do not hang out danger-signals days before, to warn us. The only way to be ready for them — is to have Jesus with us in our boat.

from J. R. Miller, Daily Bible Readings in the Life of Christ (1890)

New Viking Exhibition in Oslo

It’s pretty much all Vikings, all the time for me this week. A family member sent me a link to the following video, about a brand new Viking exhibition in Oslo:

You can read more about the exhibition in this article from medieval.eu.

Due to unforeseen reparations being carried out at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, the opening of a new Viking exhibition has been rescheduled. End of March – hopefully – visitors will be able to enjoy a bonanza of the more spectacular archaeological finds from the last ten years; add to this a selection of some of the highlights from an earlier time, and visitors may expect an enjoyable tour of the Norwegian Viking past. Later in 2025, when the new museum opens at Bygdøy, the treasures will be transferred there, supplementing the finds from OsebergGokstad, and Tune. Perhaps finds from the newly discovered Viking boat in Østfold – as yet not excavated – will join the older treasures

Lots of cool stuff here. I’m pleased that the video maker, who rejoices in the extremely Norwegian name, Bjorn Andreas Bull-Hansen, is not entirely convinced that women warriors existed, like me. I think I’ve been in this museum, if it’s the one I’m thinking of.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture