Why Read James Fenimore Cooper’s Books?

American author James Fenimore Cooper was born September 15, 1789. He died September 14, 1851. Daniel Webster said the following year, Cooper’s work was “truly patriotic and American, throughout and throughout.”

“He possessed the power of amusing,” he said, “and of enlightening readers among the younger classes of the country, without injury to their morals or any solicitation of depraved passions.”

But that was then. Do we still need to read The Last of the Mohicans or The Leatherstocking Tales today? Kelly Scott Franklin of Hillsdale College says we should. “For all his long-windedness, Cooper is the master of light and shadow; his American landscape is surreal, rugged, beautiful, and dangerous.” (via Prufrock News)

I’d Rather Ye Saw on the Ship Knees Than Mine.

September 19 is Talk like a Pirate Day, so here’s a selection of dialogue from Walter Scott’s The Pirate.

“The lads,” he said, “all knew Cleveland, and could trust his seamanship, as well as his courage; besides, he never let the grog get quite uppermost, and was always in proper trim, either to sail the ship, or to fight the ship, whereby she was never without some one to keep her course when he was on board. — And as for the noble Captain Goffe,” continued the mediator, “he is as stout a heart as ever broke biscuit, and that I will uphold him; but then, when he has his grog aboard — I speak to his face — he is so d—d funny with his cranks and his jests, that there is no living with him. You all remember how nigh he had run the ship on that cursed Horse of Copinsha, as they call it, just by way of frolic; and then you know how he fired off his pistol under the table, when we were at the great council, and shot Jack Jenkins in the knee, and cost the poor devil his leg, with his pleasantry.”1

“Jack Jenkins was not a chip the worse,” said the carpenter; “I took the leg off with my saw as well as any loblolly-boy in the land could have done — heated my broad axe, and seared the stump — ay, by — ! and made a jury-leg that he shambles about with as well as ever he did — for Jack could never cut a feather.”2

“You are a clever fellow, carpenter,” replied the boatswain, ” a d—d clever fellow! but I had rather you tried your saw and red-hot axe upon the ship’s knee-timbers than on mine, sink me!

Continue reading I’d Rather Ye Saw on the Ship Knees Than Mine.

‘Another One,’ by Tony Faggioli

Another One

I’m ambivalent about the “naturalistic” school of Christian fiction. There’s a small group of Christian authors – and make no mistake, they are brave souls – who’ve decided that the gospel is badly served by the sugar-coating and bowdlerizing so common in Christian fiction. They believe it’s time to drop the taboos, because how can we expect people to believe what we say about heavenly things when we don’t tell the truth about earthly things?

I salute their courage and honestly, and I’m not entirely sure they’re wrong. I try to steer my own fiction closer to that line than many, so I’d be kind of hypocritical to condemn them. But I can’t deny they make me a little uncomfortable. It may be just because I’m old.

Tony Faggioli is the author of Another One, the first in a trilogy of supernatural crime novels starring Evan Parker, a Los Angeles police detective. The book is presented from multiple viewpoints, following Parker (an Iraq War veteran with PTSD) as he and his partner investigate the murder of a Hispanic gang member shot to death in a Korean neighborhood. We follow Father Bernardino Soltera, who is trying to help a young girl who has gotten pregnant by her gang member boyfriend, and is contemplating abortion. And Hector Villarosa, a gang leader just released from prison. He finds that his girlfriend has taken up with another man, and is contemplating revenge even as he struggles with guilt over setting his own cousin up to be murdered.

These men are bound together, not only by intertwined crimes, but by the visions they see – beings of good and beings of evil who respectively promise to protect or to kill and damn them. Continue reading ‘Another One,’ by Tony Faggioli

Daniel Krauthammer on Finishing His Father’s Book

Charles Krauthammer’s son, Daniel, has written a touching paragraph on his father’s final project.

When his health crisis struck a year ago, my father was in the advanced stages of work on a new book. And when his health deteriorated and the end of his life was approaching, he entrusted me to bring it to completion on his behalf.

Read the rest here.

The book, The Point of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors, will be released in December.

‘Superheroes Can’t Save You’ by Todd Miles

There is no hint that Batman is anything other than an incredible human being (with seemingly unlimited amounts of cash). Though such qualities and skills are never found in any one real human being (that is what makes him Batman, after all), they are just human qualities and skills. He may be the most remarkable human being in comic lore, but in the final analysis he is just a human being.

And some people feel the same about Jesus.

Todd Miles, professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Ore., spent most of his allowance on comic books for many years back around the time each book cost a quarter. He would browse the drug store rack weekly, reading most issues while in search of the few he would redeem with his not-so-hard-earned dollar. Many years later (after the experiments of a mad scientist would ruin his ambition to become the first man to circumnavigate Mars in a weather balloon), he connected his theological training to his comic lore fascination to make this conclusion: “Every bad idea about Jesus can be illustrated by a superhero,” at least the biggest bad ideas can. He ran with that idea in a Sunday School class, later a youth retreat, and with much encouragement wrote a book on it.

Superheroes Can’t Save You covers seven of the most popular heresies about the person of Christ Jesus, tying each of them to memorable superheroes. The chapter on the Trinity ties to Ant-Man, arguing against the idea that God manifests himself in one of three modes: the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. The chapter on Jesus’s full humanity connects to Superman, explaining how Jesus, as God, did not merely pose as a man (as Kal El did in taking the alias Clark Kent) but became a man completely.

While each chapter is not evenly paced, they do follow a pattern. Miles begins with the comic lore, segues into the heresy, takes a moment to explain who commits the heresy today, describes the biblical truth, and then offers reasons for the importance of these truths. I think in every case, the key problem with the heresy is the undermining of our salvation. The Bible offers a clear logic for salvation, why we need it and how it is accomplished. With humor and careful writing, Miles tells his readers these alternate concepts of Christ don’t work in that logic. Thor can’t save us. Neither can a savior like the Hulk with all of his incredibleness. Only the living Jesus can save us.

I said each chapter is not quite even, because some of them dive into the comic storyline more than others and some swim through history more than others. Miles’s explanation of each heresy in a modern context brings the history forward, so it doesn’t remain as weird ideas from the past. Casual readers can discover liberals commit the Batman heresy and ways we teach about the Trinity easily lead people into the Ant-Man heresy (Oneness Pentecostals teach that heresy explicitly).

In the chapter on the Green Lantern heresy, Miles’s dive into Christ’s humility as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:5-8 had me in tears. Christ Jesus is awesome. He is the only one who can save us. But from who? Luthor? Bane? Magneto or Doctor Doom? No, the real life treat we face is ourselves. We have forged our own destinies, followed our own dreams, and would pour dust upon dust forever if the Lord God, our Creator, refused to intervene.

‘Darkness, Sing Me a Song,’ by David Housewright

Darkness, Sing Me a Song

I’m not sure why author David Housewright decided to resurrect his Holland Taylor detective series after turning his attention to a much longer series with another character. But so he did, just this year, six years after the previous installment. I liked Darkness, Sing Me a Song, though I was a little annoyed by the addition of politics to a series that had been pretty evenhanded up to now.

Things have changed since Dearly Departed (reviewed below). Minneapolis detective Holland Taylor has broken up with his girlfriend, and is instead seeing a married woman, off and on. He moved out of his house, into an apartment. He now has a partner in his private investigations business.

His work is mostly dull, and he’s not complaining. But one of his best clients, a high-powered law firm, asks him to help with the legal defense of Eleanor Barrington, one of the richest women in the state. She is accused of shooting her son’s fiancée, Emily Denys, to death. She denies guilt, though she does not hide her contempt for the young woman.

Investigation reveals that Emily Denys did not exist – her identity was false. Trying to trace her true name leads Taylor to a small Wisconsin town, where feelings are running high on both sides of the (fracking-related) sand mining business. Taylor will also uncover very dark secrets about the Barrington family. There’s a “surprise” twist near the end, which didn’t surprise me at all, nor do I think it will surprise many seasoned mystery readers. However – it must be noted – it’s not the surprise itself but the original twist author Taylor puts on the surprise that makes the book work in the end. And it does work.

I enjoyed Darkness, Sing Me a Song, but not quite as much as the previous books. Recommended, with cautions for language and mature themes.

Oh yeah, at one point he says that the city of Shakopee is southeast of the Twin Cities. It’s actually northwest. Weird.

‘Dearly Departed,’ by David Housewright

Dearly Departed

I put the older man at sixty. Hard. You could roller skate on him.

The saga of Holland Taylor, Twin Cities PI, continues with Dearly Departed. I like the way author David Housewright puts fresh spins on old plot themes. Dearly Departed, a story in the tradition of the movie “Laura,” was my favorite in the series so far.

Hunter Truman is the sleaziest of ambulance-chasing lawyers, a man unesteemed even in his own profession. He sued Holland Taylor once. And yet here he is, asking to hire Taylor to look for a missing woman. Taylor wants nothing to do with him – until he looks at the fascinating photograph of Alison Emerton. Truman plays him a tape Alison left behind, in which she states that if anyone hears this, she will be dead, and her ex-boss is the killer.

Alison has disappeared without a trace. All her possessions are still in her house. She must be dead, but Truman’s clients want to know exactly what happened to her.

Against his better judgment, drawn by the visceral appeal of the photograph and the voice, Taylor agrees to look for her. His hunt will take him to a resort town where residents are at each other’s throats over the question of a new Indian casino. There’s a plot twist that isn’t much of a surprise, but that just sets the stage for further surprises.

Dearly Departed drew me in and kept me fascinated. I enjoyed the characters and was fascinated by the mystery. I appreciated the examination of men’s perceptions of women, realistic and delusional.

Cautions for language and mature situations. Recommended.

‘Practice to Deceive,’ by David Housewright

Practice to Deceive

I felt about as big as a period at the end of a sentence.

The second book in the highly enjoyable Holland Taylor series by David Housewright is Practice to Deceive. I liked it as much as the first book.

When Taylor’s parents invite him to visit them in Florida, they have an ulterior motive (their relationship is awkward). His father introduces him to Mrs. Gustafson, a friend who’s been swindled out of all her money by a slick Minnesota investment counselor. Can Taylor do anything to help her get it back?

At first he resists. It’s not his kind of case; he doesn’t understand these matters. But when his father explains exactly what the investment counselor did – getting her power of attorney, then investing her funds in a risky real estate project after she’d suffered a stroke and was expected to die – he’s outraged and agrees to look into it.

Since the counselor has technically not broken the law, Taylor decides to take a more high school approach to the problem – harassing him, hacking his online accounts, working juvenile practical jokes. And it almost works – until somebody kills the counselor and steals the money he was going to pay Mrs. Gustafson back with. Suddenly the game is deadly serious, and Taylor’s own life is on the line.

Great fun. Although there’s plenty of traditional detective stuff, Housewright can take very unconventional approaches to his plots, turning old situations fresh. Cautions for language and mature situations, including some fairly creepy scenes involving a transvestite. And some hard-boiled irony.

‘Penance,’ by David Housewright

Penance

All in all, it’s a great time to be a private investigator: Nobody trusts anybody.

Sometimes – rarely, of course – I surprise myself with my ignorance. Discovering a “new” detective author whom I would rate on the level of John Sandford and (before he went full PC) Robert B. Parker was a surprise. Finding out he’s a local (Minneapolis) author amazed me. But so it is. David Housewright is a very good hard-boiled writer, and I’m enjoying his Holland Taylor series a lot.

At the opening of Penance we find former police detective, now private eye, Holland Taylor in an interrogation room, being grilled by two policemen. He was surprised to be arrested, but not surprised when he learned the reason. The drunken driver who killed Taylor’s wife and daughter, recently released from prison, has been murdered. Taylor is the obvious first suspect.

As suddenly as he was arrested, Taylor finds himself released, and he returns to his current case, which involves a beautiful, dark horse, third-party gubernatorial candidate who is being blackmailed. Eventually he learns there’s a link between the first case and this one, and things get convoluted and deadly. In the end the revelations he unearths will be genuinely shocking.

The plot’s more complex than it needs to be, with too many characters and plot lines. But the story gripped me and the narrator was fascinating. Widower detectives have gotten to be a trope (because the situation offers lots of scope for female companionship, and an excuse for not bonding), but author Housewright handles the trope well. I was hooked, and I’ve been scarfing these books up one after another. More reviews to come.

The stories are a little dated, being written back in the 1990s (though a fourth in the series came out this year). The usual cautions for language and mature situations apply. The politics are hard to nail down – which is just fine by me.

‘Laughing Shall I Die,’ by Tom Shippey

Laughing Shall I Die

And what this means for us is that if you come across headlines – as these days you very often do – which say something like ‘Vikings! Not just raiders and looters any more!’ then the headlines are wrong. If people weren’t raiding and looting (and land-grabbing, and collecting protection money), then they had stopped being Vikings. They were just Scandinavians.

The trouble with reading a book that really excites you is that you end up highlighting passage after passage. Then it’s hard to pick one out to put at the head of a review. I finally chose one from near the beginning, but there were many others.

I’ve posted an excerpt previously, because I did find Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings, by Tom Shippey an intriguing and exciting book in my favorite historical field. It’s been a long time since I’ve read one more intriguing. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it. In some ways Shippey’s thesis supports “my” work (Viking Legacy, which I translated), in some ways it contradicts it. I have praised Anders Winroth in a previous review (though disagreeing with him at many points). Shippey essentially discards Winroth as one who misses the whole point.

The point being that the word “Viking” is routinely misused in our day. “Viking” means a seaborne warrior – a pirate. If you write about early Medieval Scandinavians in all walks of life and re-label them Vikings, you’re confusing the matter.

To put it bluntly (again), most scholarly books with ‘Viking’ in the title turn out not to be about Vikings, because Vikings aren’t popular among scholars. This book is different: it really is about Vikings.

Continue reading ‘Laughing Shall I Die,’ by Tom Shippey

Weekend postmortem

Had a Viking gig this weekend. We participated in the Nordic Music Festival in Victoria, Minnesota, just north of the Twin Cities. Short drive, simple event. The weather was ideal, and everyone seemed pretty happy. I’d found one unsold copy of Viking Legacy, so I brought that (and sold it) and I brought a stock of West Oversea. My sales were not bad. I’d had an idea that this wasn’t a very good event for book sales, but I was pleased. Had some good conversations too. Iceland, the Kensington Rune Stone, the sagas. There were two food wagons, and one of them had hot mini-donuts. You can’t do much better than that.

Here’s our set-up. My Viking tent, with its lean-to annex, is on the left. My presentation has evolved over the years from nudging a place in among the others at a long table, to something like an “installation,” which involves a certain amount of labor to set up, tear down, and transport. Well, that’s what happens when you keep at it long enough. Thank goodness there’s people willing to help me with the work.

Nordic Music Festival 2018

Did some fighting too. Even better, two of the new guys joined me, and carried on after I was tuckered out.

Does ‘Loving Your Neighbor’ Mean ‘Just Preach the Gospel’?

Jesus told a story about a successful man and social outcast who rescued the victim of highwaymen on a Jericho road in response to a lawyer’s self-justifying question. “Yes, yes,” the lawyer said, “I know loving God with all of my heart, mind, and strength means I must love my neighbor, but surely some people are not my neighbors. Some people are actually beneath me, aren’t they?”

And we continue to seek self-justification today.

Jared Wilson offers five reasons for applying the gospel to societal ills as a rebuke to those who suggest orthodoxy means orthopraxy and to spend much time on the latter will undermine the former. (Of course, those who teach this don’t believe that because they only bring it up in select context.)

Jesus did not come simply preaching the gospel as idea but the gospel as kingdom. One need only consider Paul’s words in Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 to see how expansive the finished work of Christ really is, just how much it is supposed to impact. For several years now, we’ve had certain corners of the church warning us about neglect of holiness and the law, scolding what they see as “cheap grace” and bloodless belief. Now many in these same corners are insisting that just the gospel message will do the trick against ethnic divisions or other sins. You rarely hear this imperative in response to the challenges of illegal immigration or the systemic injustice of abortion. Perhaps it’s because those issues do not effect us — or indict us — as directly.

‘Love is Blue’

I never intended to designate Friday as music day around here, but I seem to consistently run out of books to review, and thoughts of any kind, by Friday. So I’ve been digging up songs from my past. Several of them were cheerful European songs, which was a kind of a thing when I was a kid.

This one, though it is European, isn’t from my childhood but my adolescence. It was a big hit around the time I finished high school and started college. It meant a lot to me in those days. “Love Is Blue,” written by Andre Popp and performed by Paul Mauriat’s orchestra. It placed fourth in the Eurovision Song Contest, but still went on to become an international hit.

Which is a lesson to us all.

The Ones We Remember

Mary Turner’s story died when she died. Mary Turner’s protest died when she died. Mary Turner’s pre-born baby died when she died. Mary Turner’s name died when she died.

You don’t recognize her name. You don’t recognize her story. And if you were there on May 19th, 1918, you wouldn’t recognize her body either.

Mary Turner was a mother of three. She was a wife to Hayes Turner. She was a woman of colour—and that’s why she was killed in Lowndes County, Georgia.

Samuel Sey tells the horrific story of Mary’s lynching, which took place 100 years ago last May. “Mary Turner is just one of 4,743 Black Americans who were lynched between 1882 and 1968—and you don’t know their names. You don’t know their stories. You don’t know their faces—except one: Emmett Till.”

He offers a simple reason to explain and apply this reality to today.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture