"1. Never read any book that is not a year old. 2. Never read any but famed books. 3. Never read any but what you like; or, in Shakspeare's phrase, 'No profit goes where is no pleasure ta'en: In brief, sir, study what you most affect.'"

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Books"
The Devil's Workshop, by Stephen J. Cannell

I've been enjoying television writer and producer Stephen J. Cannell's novels recently, as you may have noticed. The Devil's Workshop did not disappoint me in terms of story or character (I found the ending especially moving), but I'm glad I didn't read it first, because it might have turned me off his work from the outset. Read the rest of this entry . . .

The Hypatian fallacy

One of the enduring legends of the West is that of Hypatia of Alexandra, immortalized by authors as far separated in time as Edward Gibbon and Carl Sagan as a humanist martyr, a scientist who was murdered by 5th Century Christian fanatics for the "sin" of inquiring into the mysteries of the natural world.

Our friend Ori Pomerantz directed me to this entry from the blog Armarium Magnum, concerning a recent movie about Hypatia. The author, who identifies himself as an atheist, points out that there is zero historical evidence for the idea that Hypatia died for science. According to the record, she got caught in a political crossfire and was killed by a mob that didn't care (if it even knew) a bit about her scientific activities.

German Resistance to Hitler

Danny Orbach's book, Valkyrie: German Resistance to Hitler, focuses on the people who fought The Third Reich from within, people like Georg Elser, who bombed a beer hall just after Herr Hitler left. Reviewer Tom Segev writes:

Danny Orbach believes in the myth of German resistance. He rightly admires the courage of the few who dared to put their lives at risk for the sake of their country. Nonetheless, this young Israeli historian tends to assign them an exaggerated role in the history of the Third Reich. Yes, the Nazis used concentration camps and other means of suppressing resistance and intimidating would-be opponents of the regime, but the truth is that most Germans supported Hitler until the very end of the war.

More dark humor: Future recruitment ad

Today would appear to be Parody Day here at Brandywine Books.

This morning I was listening to a National Guard recruitment ad, one of the kind where one character raves about how much money she's saving on college by joining the Guard, and the other ends up saying, “I'm gonna call the recruiter today!”

And I started to wonder about the kind of recruitment ad we can expect to see a few years down the line, once our military has had its consciousness fully raised by a progressive administration...

JENNIFER: Hey, Stacey, guess what? I joined the National Guard! With the Guard's great education benefits, I can afford to go to college, and skip that great big debt!”

STACEY: You joined that National Guard? Jennifer, don't you know they're a tool of American hegemony, exploiting indigenous peoples around the world, and promoting racist and corporatist national interests?

JENNIFER: Boy, are you behind the times, Stacey! That was the old National Guard! Today's Guard encourages its members to think for themselves, and provides lots of opportunities for revolutionary action! I plan to be a communications specialist, and I'll be using the new privacy rules to funnel military secrets to our enemies abroad! There's even an elite Jihadist unit, where you can be taught to participate in human-caused disasters right here in our own country!

STACEY: Wow! I didn't know that! I'm gonna call the recruiter today!

Orcas: A Little Dark Humor

Perhaps you've heard that a trainer at Sea World was drowned yesterday when an orca took her off the platform and held her underwater. Dawn Brancheau was a 16-year veteran trainer. The killer whale, Tilikum, has been involved in human deaths twice before.

Authorities are reassuring the public that this is an isolated incident. There is no evidence the orca or any animals being held captive at Sea World are part of a larger terrorist organization.

A spokesperson for the Orca Labor Union in Orlando has released a statement saying that while killer whales are very intelligent and capable of planning to drown a human, Tilikum did not do that in this case.

"Unfortunately, it is part of human nature to keep wild animals in small spaces and train them to do tricks. I'm against it because I think it humiliates the animals," said Richard Ellis, a marine conservationist at the American Museum of Natural History.

Officials at Sea World have refused to responded to our repeated inquiry into rumored plans for selling whale blubber and orca sausage in their gift stores.

My personal stake in Hiroshima

JAPAN: BOMBING, HIROSHIMA ATOMIC BURST. At the time this photo was made, smoke billowed 20

I mentioned that I went to a friend's fathers' funeral a couple weekends ago. While there, I had a pleasant time reminiscing with three old friends from my musical group days.

At one point, one of them said, “You know we (the three other guys) talked about this the last time we were together. All three of us had fathers who served in the Pacific, and who would have had to be part of the invasion of Japan, if it had happened. So three out of four of us here might not have ever been born, if the atomic bomb hadn't been dropped.”

I said, “You're one short. My dad served in the Occupation forces, but he trained for the invasion.” Read the rest of this entry . . .

Reader Advice to Writers: Start with Story

Laura Miller does not plan to write a novel, but she reads plenty of them. "More to the point, I've started 10 times the number of books that I've finished," she says, and in this post on Salon.com, she offers pointers on what readers look for. Here's a good point: "Remember that nobody agrees on what a beautiful prose style is and most readers either can't recognize "good writing" or don't value it that much. Believe me, I wish this were otherwise, and I do urge all readers to polish their prose and avoid clichés. However, I've seen as many books ruined by too much emphasis on style as by too little."

Fantasy Book Cover Art

Jeffrey Overstreet shares his fears on what the cover art for Auralia's Colors would be. "Take a stroll through the fantasy literature section of your nearest bookstore. If you’re like me, you’ll cringe. For every great book cover, it seems there are three or four that seem desperate for attention, pandering to our basest appetites. It’s like an art gallery of the cheesy, the lurid, the grotesque, the painfully derivative, and the weapons upon which people can impale themselves."

But the artist working on the covers of his novels, Kristopher K. Orr, did a superb job.

Ancient times and elderly people

Did Agatha Christie suffer from Alzheimer's at the end? U of T Magazine reports on a Canadian study intended to use computers to find out.

Avid Christie fans had the unsettling feeling that there might have been: the plot wasn’t as tight, the mystery not as carefully conceived. In 2004, the English academic Peter Garrard argued that evidence of Iris Murdoch’s Alzheimer’s disease appeared in her written work even before her doctor diagnosed it. So Ian Lancashire, an English professor at the University of Toronto, decided to analyze a selection of Christie’s novels.

He teamed up with Graeme Hirst, a professor in the computer science department. After digitizing copies of the books and developing their own analytical software, they examined the first 50,000 words of 16 of Christie’s novels. The earliest one, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was written at the beginning of her career, when she was in her mid-twenties. The last one, Postern of Fate, was penned when she was 82. She died at 85 of natural causes.

Tip: Mirabilis.

Most historical studies, operating on an evolutionist/materialist model, are written from the point of view that people first organized towns and cities (the beginnings of civilization) for economic reasons, developing religious institutions, as a sort of afterthought, later on.

But a German-born archaeologist, Klaus Schmidt is challenging that assumption, on the basis of a discovery in Turkey.
Schmidt has uncovered a vast and beautiful temple complex, a structure so ancient that it may be the very first thing human beings ever built. The site isn't just old, it redefines old: the temple was built 11,500 years ago—a staggering 7,000 years before the Great Pyramid, and more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge first took shape. The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and even agriculture—the first embers of civilization. In fact, Schmidt thinks the temple itself, built after the end of the last Ice Age by hunter-gatherers, became that ember—the spark that launched mankind toward farming, urban life, and all that followed.

Tip: First Thoughts.

Overstreet on Fantasy

Jeffrey Overstreet has a good interview in Curator Magazine in which he talks about fantasy in general.

In short, I think there are powers and mysteries at work in the world that can only be expressed through fairy tales. Fairy tales allow us to cast nets into mystery and catch things that are otherwise inexpressible. Tolkien said that fairy tales can give us a glimpse of our eventual redemption in a way no other story can.

At its best, fantasy provides us with an escape from the narrow, restrictive perspectives of modernism. And with its emphasis on the primal, it returns us to engagement with the elements, with the stuff of rocks and trees and fire and rivers and mountains. Since those elements of creation “pour forth speech,” according to the Psalmist, we’re able to hear some things more clearly when we meditate there.
(via The Rabbit Room)

Ambivalent progress

A nice picture of ponies from Iceland, where they used to have a Lawspeaker.

Had an interesting dream last night. I dreamed I was driving on a superhighway, approaching a wide bridge or overpass. There had been some kind of accident or disaster, and the entire wall on the right-hand side—what do you call it, a balustrade—had fallen off. So if you drove in the right-hand lane and swerved a little, you ran the risk of running off the edge and plunging to your death.

In the dream, I was terrified of getting on that bridge. Although there were three lanes to the left, where you could feel reasonably safe in driving, I was convinced that once I got on the bridge I'd somehow be forced into the right-hand lane, and go off the edge.

Not sure what it meant. I can relate it to my personality, though. The way I tend to run away from things I've identified as dangerous, even when that danger is fairly remote.

Which relates not at all to the subject of this post.

One of the things I learned from Prof. Torgrim Titlestad's Viking Norway concerned law and literacy. It surprised and intrigued me. Here's how it works. Read the rest of this entry . . .


Dinah Shore
Frances Rose Shore (born February 29, 1916), better known as Dinah Shore, loved to sing as a child. At times, her father encouraged her to sing to the customers of his dry goods store.

But by the time she was college age, her father thought she should pursue an education over singing. Apparently he didn't believe she had much talent. She went to Vanderbilt in Nashville and graduated with a sociology degree. During her senior year and the following year, she went to New York to audition wherever she could. According to Michael Sims, she struggled to gain attention.
[A] producer at NBC summoned her to Rockefeller Center. As the accompanist played the piano, Shore opened her mouth and produced no sound--not one note. She fled in tears. . . . In auditions she was turned down by Tommy Dorsey, who didn’t like her bobby socks and sloppy joe sweater, and by a pastrami-chomping Benny Goodman, who would only listen during his lunch break. In January 1939 she was hired to sing for Leo Reisman’s orchestra at Brooklyn’s popular Strand Theater—for a princely $75 per week. Xavier Cugat heard her and asked her to record one of his songs, paying her $20.

She signed a recording contract with RCA Victor in the summer of 1939. After she sang at the New York World’s Fair, the Daily News described her voice as “smooth as silk.”
Listen to a recording from 1941 of Dinah singing "Stardust."

Dinah Shore became the first woman to host a prime-time TV show, and she stayed on TV in different ways for decades. She was a household face, voice, and name. She has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, several Emmys, and other awards.

Teachout Leads Out of the Gate

Terry Teachout is off on another good biography, this one about Duke Ellington. Last year, his book on Louis Armstrong sold very well.

Thor, loser

Phil used to post a Friday Fight every week in this space, so I was amused when Floyd at Threedonia posted a “Friday Night Fight” this afternoon. Even more amusing, it's this clip from a TV movie, “Hulk vs. Thor.”

Marvel Comics' Thor was always a dilemma for me. I only saw a few issues as a kid, and I was grateful that they paid some lip service to actual Norse mythology. But they made Thor a blonde, and shaved off his beard. (A friend told me that he understood that the artist had determined from the first that he wanted Thor to wear a red cloak, and red hair would have tended to bleed into that. I say that if you prioritize wardrobe over authenticity, you must be gay.)

Aside from the aforementioned cosmetic problems, the big change Marvel made was to make Thor bright. The Thor we meet in the Norse myths does not have what you'd call an analytical mind. He solves problems by a) hitting things with his hammer, or b) getting help from a smarter friend.

Historically, this may be a residue of class prejudice. The myths as we have them come from Viking Age poems. These poems were written by poets (skalds) who congregated around royal courts and made their fortunes by their language skills. They were intellectuals. Odin, being a god of poetry, attracted their worship, and they gave him credit for high intelligence. Thor, on the other hand, was the popular god of the common people, and the skalds portrayed him as a country rube. I suspect the farmers had other myths which portrayed Thor in a more positive light, but they didn't get into poems that have come down to us.

The Norse gods have been something of a challenge for me in my fantasy novels, and Thor in particular. I try to follow orthodox Christian theology in my presentation of the supernatural. Christianity has generally considered heathen gods to be either a) a delusion, or b) demons (“No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God....” 1 Corinthians 10:20). It works best for fantasy purposes to treat the old gods as existent beings.

Odin's easy. He's smart, crafty, a liar, and it's no stretch to imagine him as completely evil.

Thor is harder. It's hard to envision a dumb demon.

So when I gave him a scene in The Year of the Warrior, I pretty much played him as what he is in the myths—sort of a force of nature, powerful and dumb. I cast him in a comic scene, which I think was just as corrosive to his worship as demonization.

Misplaced outrage

Homeless man holding a blank piece of cardboard
There's an anecdote about C.S. Lewis that I've always enjoyed. One of his friends told of walking down an Oxford street with him one day, when they were accosted by a beggar. Lewis stopped and gave the man some money.

“You know he's just going to go off and drink it up, don't you?” the friend asked as they went on their way.

“Yes, well,” said Lewis, “if I'd kept the money I'd have probably gone off and drunk it up myself.”

There's a wonderful humility and recognition of shared humanity in that story, I think.

Some people take the wrong lessons from such stories, though.

The essential thing is that Lewis was giving away his own money.

Years and years ago, I sat in on a teaching session led by a Lutheran pastor (we'll call him Pastor Number One). He told a story of his own, one which (he thought) taught a profound lesson. I think it taught a lesson too, but not the one he thought it did.

Pastor Number One had taken a pastoral educational class which called for a “real world experiment.” Each pastor in the program was required to pack away all his clothing and his wallet, put on old, dirty clothes, and go out to spend a few days on the street as a homeless person.

Pastor Number One told, with some indignation, of getting in to see the pastor of a church (let's call him Pastor Number Two, shall we?). Pastor Number Two had looked at him and said, “You're strong and healthy. Obviously you're able to work. Why don't you get a job?”

“He was lecturing me!” Pastor Number One exclaimed, recalling the outrage. “I was hungry! I needed food! I didn't need a lecture!”

I've often thought about Pastor Number One over the years, and it seems to me his righteous indignation was a little unjust.

Because the fact was, Pastor Number Two had had his number. Pastor Number One was indeed strong and healthy, and perfectly capable of working. He had come into the church under false pretenses, and had lied in Pastor Number Two's face.

Pastor Number Two (if my experience in a church office where I saw [and helped] a lot of transients is any indication) had probably, over the years, developed a pretty good nose for bovine sewage.

What Pastor Number One saw as cold-heartedness, was in all likelihood just the exercise by Pastor Number Two of his fiduciary duty not to waste the money entrusted to him by his congregation (as well as a determination not to enable unhealthy life choices, or treat grownups like children). If Pastor Number Two was being judgmental, so was Pastor Number One.

And Pastor Number Two had the moral advantage of not being a liar.

The rules are different here (in my head)

Angela Lu of WORLD Magazine contemplates a story from last week.

Atlanta Progressive News (APN) reporter Jonathan Springston was fired last week because “he held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News,” according to an e-mail from his editor.

What a fascinating story. And it raises so many interesting questions.

I don't deny APN's right to make the termination. They would appear to be an ideological news website (here's their link), and it's no more out of line for them to fire someone who denies their ideology than it would be for a Christian web site to fire someone who converted to Wicca.

But I have to wonder, what are the rules for subjective journalism? Is it possible to fact-check a story, when the editor's reality and the reporter's are held to be completely unconnected? And why would anyone go to them for news, if they admit from the outset that what they're reporting may not apply in the reader's world?

What if a subjective journalist committed plagiarism? Maybe there's nothing wrong with plagiarism in his reality. Or maybe the original document doesn't exist for him. Who's to say?

And indeed, how can the editorial board be sure that their subjectivity rule applies in Jonathan Springston's universe? Maybe he works for an Atlanta Progressive Journal that embraces objectivity.

These are a few of the dilemmas of postmodernism. And one reason why the whole structure is collapsing.

Interview with N.D. Wilson

Note also this post with links to Wilson's recent blog tour.

"Creative Writer" Blogger Award

Creative Writer Blogger AwardAs you have seen below, we’ve been tagged for a "Creative Writer" Blogger Award. The rules are"

• Thank the person who gave this to you. (Takk (Thank you) to Loren Eaton of "I Saw Lightning Fall." Be sure your sins will find you out.)
• Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
• Link to the person who nominated you.
• Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth - or - switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie.
• Nominate seven "Creative Writers" who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
• Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
• Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.

I'm tempted to plagiarize this, but I guess I won't.

  1. My only trip out of the U.S. has been for a tryst in Argentina.
  2. I used to work at the post office, but I spent my time writing instead of delivering the mail.
  3. I went spelunking several years ago, slipped on the rope, and fell 30-40 feet.
  4. I used to own a Prius before the radio got stuck on Air America and wouldn't turn off.
  5. I currently advise the next president of the United States.
  6. I can "hear" the scream of murder inside a person's heart from miles away. (You get used to it.)

Now, who else might enjoy this award?
Really, there's no need to thank me.

Supposedly an award


I’ve (we've) been tagged for a "Creative Writer" Blogger Award! Which means I get to lie shamelessly to you all and test your truth-detecting skills. The rules are ...

• Thank the person who gave this to you. (Thanks [or something] to Loren Eaton of I Saw Lightning Fall.)
• Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
• Link to the person who nominated you.
• Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth - or - switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie.
• Nominate seven "Creative Writers" who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
• Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
• Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.

1. I have the power to drive women wild with desire (but only the desire to kill me).

2. I was born a poor sharecropper's son.

3. I know how to field-strip a trebuchet.

4. The child I sponsored through Christian Children's Fund is now the murderous dictator of a small East African country.

5. One of my novels is banned in Chechnya.

6. I have a secret superhero identity, but unfortunately he can't find a job in that field, and is currently working as a greeter at Wal-Mart.

7. I'm actually perfectly normal, but this crazy act impresses the chicks.

When I was a kid in school, one of the most common criticisms I received from teachers was that I did things my own way, rather than the way I was instructed. I have not changed that policy, so I'll only tag a few bloggers with this. Loren linked more than his quota, so he can have some of mine.

1. Roy Jacobsen at Writing: Clear and Simple.

2. Patrick O'Hannigan at The Paragraph Farmer.

3. Any of the crew at Threedonia.

4. Will Duquette at The View From the Foothills.

Editorial Arrogance

Matthew Paul Turner talks about the abusive publisher of CCM magazine and how he was assigned to solicit an apology from Amy Grant for her divorce from Gary Chapman. The end of this account amazes me, but I guess I continue to be amazed at the blindness of abusive Christians, if they can be called that.

If You Cut Out the Cold Temperature Reading . . .

... then the average of the remaining temperature readings will be warmer than the whole. That and other climate research lies and mis-leadings shown here.

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) laying covered in snow, Canada

What a wondrous thing is a weekend

It was a fairly active weekend, by my wintertime standards. Having received a windfall check in the mail, I succumbed to my long-suppressed yearning to replace my gaussed 19” TV with an HDTV. I got a pretty good deal on a 26-incher from Sam's Club, and I'm stunned by the results. I had the Winter Olympics on most of the rest of the weekend, and I'm not even interested in the Olympics. I was just fascinated by the picture, like a baby crossing his eyes at a Big Bird mobile.

We also had our Viking feast, which is supposed to be a sort of Yule celebration, but got pushed back this year for various reasons. Aside from a few regulars being missing, it was a good time. I brought carefully researched, historically accurate Viking chocolate chip cookies. Not so great on the authenticity side, I'll admit, but they had the advantage that people actually ate them.

And yes, I made them myself. From scratch. I'm very good with chocolate chip cookies, when I bother.

The big news in the literary world today is the death of mystery writer Dick Francis. Larry Thornberry at The American Spectator provides an appreciation here. It's so good, I might have to try a Francis book now, despite the fact that I have zero interest in horse racing.

In any case, it sounds like Francis was a stand-up guy, the kind they're fast running out of in England.

Or galloping out of, in this case.

Add to the Beauty

I'd love to spend some time with Sara Groves. She embodies Jesus.

President's Day

The Heritage Foundation is talking George Washington's Day.

How Old Are Your Encyclopedias?

A set of Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1797 has been found in Essex, England, making it the oldest privately owned set known to exist. The family bought it for £15 several years ago.

"We had no idea that they were particularly rare or unusual but we've always loved them for their interesting contents and wonderful smell," the owner said.

The courage of God

Evangelical Outpost linked today to this article, questioning the traditional understanding of the martyrdom of Lady Jane Grey. Even if all it says is true, for me it doesn't diminish the pathos of her youthful martyrdom.

Then I read an article about Auschwitz in Smithsonian Magazine.

So I've been contemplating human suffering today.

Have you ever thought this thought? I've thought it many times: If I had been God, and had known that giving human beings free will would result in all the evil and horror that have in fact been produced, I wouldn't have given them free will. And if the human project was unsatisfactory without free will, I'd have just skipped the whole business.

I have an answer that satisfies me intellectually. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Apparently, in God's economy, the good He is creating far outweighs all the innumerable evils perpetrated by man since the fall of Adam. From the viewpoint of eternity, we'll look back and say, “Yes, it was well worth it.”

Now that answer raises a hundred questions in my mind. Questions for which I have no answer, and for which we have been given no plain answers.

This, I guess, calls for faith.

But it also argues, I think, for courage on God's part. Granted, He saw the outcome from the beginning. But part of that outcome, I believe, was His own assumption of all that evil on the cross.

I read somewhere that, in the early years of the Superman comic strip, the writers came to a crisis when they'd made their character so powerful that they couldn't come up with a challenging enough opponent for him anymore. That was when they invented Kryptonite. Something that took all that power away.

God did it in real life.

I can't find the reference, but G. K. Chesterton wrote somewhere that all those scoffers, who call God evil for creating an evil world, are right in a sense, and that God acknowledged it (in a way) by explicitly accepting the punishment for creating all that evil.

Whatever else you think, I think you've got to admit it's no cowardly strategy.

Interesting Premise at Together for the Gospel Conference

T4G Talk #8 from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Why Are So Many Young Black Men in Emergency Rooms?

When Dr. John Rich was at the Boston City Hospital, he assumed the young black men who frequently showed up in his emergency room were somehow responsible for their violent wounds. But when he started interviewing them, he learned that many of them were victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Some had been robbed, others had talked to the wrong girl at a party or been caught in the line of fire while walking home," reports this NPR interview with Dr. Rich and Roy Martin, Rich's urban cultural interpreter.

Dr. Rich is working to deal with the trauma these men have experienced in order to help them truly heal.

Auralia's Colors Set Giveaway

A Fantasy/Sci-Fi blog is giving away two sets of Auralia's Colors (via Jeffrey Overstreet)

The Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly

For a few years, mystery novelist Michael Connelly's books bounced back and forth between two recurring main characters—Los Angeles detective Harry Bosch, and Terry McCaleb, retired FBI profiler. Sometimes both at once. But Connelly killed McCaleb off a few books back, and since then he seems to be casting about for a new regular series, mixing and matching characters in various combinations.

The Scarecrow appears to be an attempt to re-launch the adventures of crime reporter Jack McEvoy and FBI profiler Rachel Walling. They teamed up (as investigators and lovers) in a much earlier novel, The Poet, and Rachel also featured in a recent Harry Bosch book. But Connelly here drops big hints that he's carving out a future for them as a team.

I applaud this, but wish they could have been re-launched in a slightly better book. Not that The Scarecrow is bad. It moves right along, and builds tension nicely, but I wouldn't list it among Connelly's best works. Of course, that's a pretty high bar. Read the rest of this entry . . .

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