"Do you think yourself wise? Then there's a donkey inside your waistcoat."

- Charles Spurgeon
Fiction Friday, R.I.P. Ralph McInerny

The Culture Alliance's (subscribers' only) Friday Fiction e-newsletter focused on me today—very flatteringly, and I'm grateful. You can read most of it yourself here at S. T. Karnick's The American Culture blog.

With all due regard
to the passing of J. D. Salinger, my own reading universe has been far more powerfully impacted today by the death of Ralph McInerny, who passed away this morning. (Thanks to Southern Appeal for the heads up.)

McInerny was a noted Catholic religious scholar and University of Notre Dame institution, as well as being a highly successful mystery writer. His Father Dowling mysteries (not—I repeat, not—to be confused with the awful television series starring Tom Bosley which purported to be based on them), along with his Roger and Philip Knight books, set at Notre Dame, formed only the tip of his fictional iceberg, much of which consisted of books written under pseudonyms.

Although I am far from being a Catholic, I always found McInerny an author whose faith and principles I could identify with. I don't think anyone would call his books sentimental or naïve in their depiction of the real world, but they breathed out an atmosphere of spiritual peace and rationality that must have been generated by a rare spirit. I wish I'd had the chance to meet him.

Winter Day Games

It's snowy in Chattanooga, the perfect excuse for some of us to stay inside and do what we normally do. I drove home carefully a couple hours ago. I'm glad I did not pass any cars in the ditch, though I did see some parked at the entrance to hilly neighborhoods.

If you are looking for a way to pass your time today, you might try these Shakespeare Games from Bantam. If you want to prepare for future snow days or family nights or the Bar's Out of Beer nights, you might try one of these games, including the Shakespeare’s Quips, Cusses, and Curses Quiz Deck, hours of fun for you and anyone within the sound of your voice.

A Golden Ticket

About two years ago, author and critic Jeffrey Overstreet wrote about how his very good fantasy novel Auralia's Colors was accepted for publication. "In short: Somebody dropped out of the sky and gave me a golden ticket." It was an answer to prayer.

The state of the groundhog

Punxsutawney Phil Makes His Prediction
(Not from the movie)

It probably won't surprise you much when I inform you that I passed up the opportunity to listen to my president's State of the Union address last night.

Instead I popped my DVD of Groundhog Day into the player, and watched it for the eleventy-second time. It was almost shorter than the president's speech, and definitely less repetitious, from what I've read.

And it's the right time of year.

I think Groundhog Day is my It's a Wonderful Life. As I've mentioned before, IaWL just depresses me. The only message I get from it is “George Bailey has a wonderful life, BUT YOU'RE NOT GEORGE BAILEY!”

Groundhog Day, on the other hand, presents a lesson I can agree with—“If I had the chance to do my life over about a million times, I might eventually figure something out.”

I understand the original script was written by a Buddhist, and that the filmmakers cut out some of the more explicitly Buddhist elements. I suppose, to be consistent with myself, I ought to reject the film for the merest taint of Buddhism.

But what kind of theology does It's a Wonderful Life present? Salvation by good works and self-esteem. “You may think you're a miserable sinner, George Bailey, but they think very highly of you in heaven!” Not exactly Christian law and gospel.

What I like about Groundhog Day is the non-theological material—the simple moral journey of a man who does actually come to realize that he's a sinner, and then works to become somebody whose life contributes. It's not a saving knowledge, but it's a good thing for the people who have to live with him.

To a large degree, it's about humility. I could name some prominent people who seem to think that humility is for their country, but not for them as individuals. Such people need to wake up and see their own shadows.

(Crossposted at Mere Comments)

J.D. Salinger, 91, Is Dead

The author of The Catcher in the Rye is dead. Obit Magazine has yet to post their take, but the journalist Hillel Italie gives us a bit of nastiness in his AP story.

Salinger's alleged adoration of children apparently did not extend to his own. In 2000, daughter Margaret Salinger's "Dreamcatcher" portrayed the writer as an unpleasant recluse who drank his own urine and spoke in tongues.

Ms. Salinger said she wrote the book because she was "absolutely determined not to repeat with my son what had been done with me."
Have mercy.

Up for Grabs

The Kingdom of God by Martyn Lloyd-Jones is up for a give-away from Crossway.

Congratulations to Writing, Clear and Simple

Boy Holding Up Soccer Trophy
(Artist's conception)

Congratulations are due to our friend Roy Jacobsen, of Writing Clear and Simple, who got a place on Universitiesandcolleges.org's "Top 100 Blogs to Improve Your Writing" list.

The rest of the list is worth checking out, too.

Klavan on "Inglorious"

Today Andrew Klavan reports his response to the movie Inglorious Basterds. It would be a misstatement to say he wasn't impressed. He was impressed, in the sense that repulsion is an impression.

But for Tarantino, no matter how talented, to address the issues inherent in the event as pure fodder for storytelling, to think his squirrelly man-on-man torture fantasies or his video geek understanding of life provide an adequate moral response to that level of history – I don’t know, man – it just felt to me like he was molding toy soldiers out of the ashes of the dead.  Even real Jews torturing real German soldiers would not provide a profound or even interesting resolution, but this stuff?

I can't think offhand of any Tarantino movie I've watched, so I'm speculating when I wonder if the director would even be able to comprehend the words Klavan is using. As I understand it, Tarantino makes meta-movies, movies about movies, movies that mirror not the real world, but the kind of world you'd have come to know if you'd spent your life tied to a seat in a movie theater. I suppose that makes him kin to all the contemporary fantasy writers whose inspiration comes, not from myth or history, but from reading a lot of Tolkien and Rowling. The work may be brilliant in its way. It may be scintillating in its dialogue and groundbreaking in its technique, but it's also hollow and weightless. It's pure refined sugar—food without nutritional content.

I'm not saying there's no place for such work. But it's a different thing; a new thing in the world. It should be kept on a separate shelf from material that rises out of human experience and the wisdom our fathers.

Dull, Uninteresting, Disappointing, But I Won't Say It's Boring

The editor, writer, and I'm sure very delightful Jennifer Schuessler writes how book reviewers don't label books boring very often.

Boring people can, paradoxically, prove interesting. As they prattle on, you step back mentally and start to catalog the irritating timbre of the offending voice, the reliance on cliché, the almost comic repetitiousness — in short, you begin constructing a story. But a boring book, especially a boring novel, is just boring. A library is an enormous repository of information, entertainment, the best that has been thought and said. It is also probably the densest concentration of potential boredom on earth.

Is the President Standing Behind the Podium?

Or is the real president positioned next to the speakers on either side of the podium? Just asking. So, have you heard about this photo of Mr. Obama in a school classroom using teleprompters?

President Obama visits elementary school in Virgina

Big Journalism has the story on what's going on here. In short, he isn't talking to the kids; he's talking to the press corps, who are off-camera on the floor, wrapped their snuggies, sketching pictures of the commander in chief with crayons they took from the students.

Olright!

Running late tonight. Things to do, and I'm way behind. I did my snow blowing thing when I got home. We didn't get a lot of snow, but enough so I felt guilty leaving it where it lay. And no, I wasn't just anxious to use my new toy. I was actually pretty tired, and I'd (uncharacteristically) stopped at Perkins for dinner. I had a craving for a square meal, and was pretty sure nobody'd cook me one at my place.

I saw the clip below over at Mitch Berg's Shot in the Dark blog today. He actually channeled it from another local blog, but let's not make this too complicated. The idea is that this is how English sounds to foreigners. Some Italian entertainer put this routine together using pure American-sounding gibberish. What amuses me is that I like it. It's got a good beat; you can dance to it, and it's no more incomprehensible to me than the average pop number.


(By the way, in spite of its Italian origin, this performance is suitable for work. Assuming your boss considers comic videos an appropriate use of company time.)

The Culture Alliance

The Culture Alliance can be found here.

The Culture Alliance is based on the awareness that social reform and cultural renewal cannot be achieved through politics alone. Politics rules, but culture shapes politics. People's basic assumptions come from cultural institutions—the education system, entertainment outlets, the art world, and media—currently dominated by those on the ideological Left. People who embrace classical liberal ideas have largely abdicated these institutions, thus those ideas cannot penetrate the public's basic assumptions.

TCA has been founded to address this crucial need. Certainly, there are numerous fine organizations attempting to influence culture, but they are a separate and dispersed lot. Our objective is bring people who understand and appreciate the nation’s founding values into the cultural influence professions and create a grand narrative of cultural renewal, to make a case for the development of a Culture of Liberty in the United States today. The Culture Alliance is designed to build synergy and connection among groups and individuals, resulting in an impact, through cooperation and outreach, which is greater than the sum of its parts.


You can sign up for their Weekly Update, which includes what they call Fiction Friday. Rumor has it that a certain good-looking author of Viking fantasies will be featured this week.

Talking About Life

Pastor Jared Wilson has heart-warming advice for talking about abortion, adoption, and the value of unborn children.

ST. GEORGE AND THE DRAGON

St George (dc303)
DIRECTED BY JAMES CAMERON

The scene is a desolate, rock-strewn mountainside. In the foreground stands a tall, thin, finger-like rock. Chained to this rock is the PRINCESS. She is dressed in a torn white gown, and sobbing softly. Behind her, in the face of the mountain, we see the mouth of a cave. A red glow is visible in the cave's darkness, as if a fire is burning there.

The camera pulls back to a wider view. Along a narrow road, a horseman, all in white armor, can be seen approaching. This is ST. GEORGE.

CLOSEUP of ST. GEORGE. His expression reveals that he has seen the princess, and a look of noble determination comes over his face. [Note to casting: Try to find an actor who isn't using Botox yet. There must be somebody.]

ST. GEORGE rides up to the rock where the PRINCESS is bound. He dismounts and approaches her.

ST. GEORGE: Don't be afraid, Princess. I am St. George, and I've come to set you free. I'll cut these chains with my sword, and we'll be away in a moment.

PRINCESS: I fear that can't be done, good sir. These chains are dragon-tempered steel. No sword can cut them. Nothing can free me but the key the dragon keeps in a casket in his cave.

ST. GEORGE: Then I shall kill the dragon. For I am pure of heart, and I bear a magic shield, forged by elves, proof against all fire.

He sets out toward the cave mouth.

PRINCESS: God bless you, good saint!

As ST. GEORGE nears the entrance, the CGI DRAGON (Voice of Morgan Freeman) appears before him. The DRAGON is huge, and strangely beautiful, with a long, graceful neck and soulful brown eyes.

DRAGON: Halt! Who dares invade the dragon's domain?

ST. GEORGE: It is I, St. George, here to slay you and free yonder innocent princess!

DRAGON: Innocent! Innocent, you say? Do you not realize how her civilization has destroyed the natural environment, cutting down forests, draining marshes, hunting animal species to oblivion? Have you not seen how the smoke of their fires fouls the atmosphere, warming the earth and causing the polar bears to drown? As a representative of a threatened species, I claim the right to reparations, in the form of a virgin or two now and then. Don't you agree? Or are you some kind of speciesist?

ST. GEORGE: You have convinced me, good dragon. I shall leave you in peace to live out your personal lifestyle in harmony with the natural order. I only ask one thing of you.

DRAGON: And what is that?

ST. GEORGE: Devour her off camera, please. We don't want to spoil the inspiring closing shot.

THE END

Shout Out

Here's a shout out to Meg Moseley, a writer, blogger, and reader of Brandywine Books. Thanks for stopping by, Meg. I need to read more of those great books too.

Cultural Education from Wierd Al

Here's a short video to explain a part of our popular culture, which some say is the only culture contemporary Americans have.

Olsen letter #4b

Here is the second part of the letter written by my great-great-grandfather to my great grandfather, whose beginning I posted on Tuesday. The previous letters are posted here, here, here, here, and here.

I also want to tell you that I have been fishing this winter too with our seine; ja, thanks be to the Lord who gave to us out of His blessing this year also. We got ourselves a nice little share, but we haven't gotten it settled yet, for the berth-holders have postponed it until the first of April. We had our berth on an island called Hovring—that is right across from Kopervik, and we were there a month. There hasn't been such a great herring catch in 35 years as this year, for imagine, the herring have been all around Karmøy this year. There was no renting of berths here this year. There was plenty of herring, but no seines at home then. There has also been good codfishing here for those who have been at it, but I for my part have not taken part in it, so that there is no fish to be found in my house now, and I haven't gotten a herring home this year either, but that will have to be as it may be. We were so far away that we couldn't bring herring home, and when I got home Mother was so unwell that I couldn't go away codfishing.

But the worst of all for me was that she could not talk with me. You can believe that we had much to talk of together, but it was impossible for me to understand her, other than yes and no. I went home every single Sunday to her, if I was away. The last evening I was home with her, she could not talk any more, but she got up to prepare something for me to take with me. The next Friday I came home, and then I ran home from the valley, because I heard there that she was now worse than before. Read the rest of this entry . . .

The Call of Christian Writing

Richard Doster writes:

. . . Augustine argued that Christians not only had a right to employ “the art of rhetoric,” but also the obligation. Though sometimes skeptical of literature, he recognized that Christians, should they abandon the field, left it open to “those who expounded falsehood.”

. . . just as we need composers to create hymns, the church needs writers—novelists and theologians alike—to build up the body, to enhance our worship, to delight us with stories that exemplify the truths of the Christian faith. Still—it may be time to confess that we’ve left literature in the hands of those who have no hope to offer.

High Praise for Overstreet's "Raven's Ladder"

Jeffrey Overstreet now has three very imaginative fantasy in his Auralia's Colors series. Here's a review of the third one.

Has a 'Caesar' Overtaken Your Lord?

From Trevin Wax's Holy Subversion (new from Crossway):

. . . Christians are turning the world upside down! They are acting against the Caesars of our day.

They are disobeying the Caesar of Success by praying for their competitors, making career choices that put family over finances, and seeking to be above reproach in their business practices.

They are dethroning the Caesar of Money by giving away their possessions and downsizing. . . .

If You Repeat a Lie Enough Often . . .

If the lie is big, and you repeat it often, then it must be confined to a few points. . . . Wait, what did Goebbels actually say?

What a Small World

Growing up in the wake of Walker Percy and John Updike

Dangerous cult?

While opening a carton of books from Zondervan Publishing today in the bookstore, a question occurred to me:

"Who was this man Zonderv, and what were his teachings? And who are his followers, these Zondervans? What do they really believe?"

Inquiring minds want to know.

A Christian View on Five Great Cities

Caleb Land reviews Douglas Wilson's book Five Cities that Ruled the World. Wilson is a reformed pastor in Idaho who has written many books and taken many strong stands, so you will find he has many opponents.

The New Conversational

Conversational Reading is now at conversationalreading.com. Accept no imitations.

Scandinavian Mysteries

Scandinavian crime fiction is popular these days, for example, Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Laura Miller writes about it for the Wall Street Journal.
"Counterintuitive as it may seem, the Scandinavian brand of moroseness can be soothing in hard times. Its roots lie deep in the ancient, pagan literature of the region, preserved in sagas that were first written down in medieval Iceland. The sagas, created by and for people who led supremely difficult lives, are about love, death and war, like all great stories, but above all, they're about fate."

The Answer to an Important Question

What cereal should I eat? According to this chart, which recommends Cinnamon Life or Golden Grahams as the best cereal ever, if I am not in Australia, am not Marty Mcfly, and care about the roof of my mouth; if it isn't October, I'm under 50, I don't want chocolate milk with my cereal, but I do chew on gravel, then I should pick Grape Nuts. I had Grape Nuts with my ice cream last night. Maybe I should try gravel.

Parker and Segal

NPR's Morning Edition has a nice spot on these authors, praising Parker for recreating the detective novel.

Mini-review: Final Victim, Stephen J. Cannell

This will be a mini-review. I've reviewed one of Stephen J. Cannell's novels already, and will doubtless review more (I've become a fan). Final Victim isn't a world-changing novel, but I thought it very well crafted, and I just wanted to meditate on its virtues.

Cannell, as you likely know, is one of the most successful television producers in the industry. He's also a prolific script writer (though, interestingly, he's dyslexic). As a professional, he knows how to tell a story, seizing the viewer's (or reader's) attention with a wrestler's grip, and never letting go. Read the rest of this entry . . .

R.I.P. two authors

WORLD Magazine reports that two prominent authors died recently--Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser and Jesse Stone detective series, and Erich Segal, best known as the author of Love Story.

I never read any Segal that I'm aware of, but I was a big fan of Spenser in the early years. I lost my enthusiasm with time, but Parker was an excellent storyteller.

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