"In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test."

- John McCain, in a speech, September 4, 2008
For better or for worse, but my money's on #2

What do I think of the royal wedding?

I think it's very sweet that a whole country would get together to pretend a) that they believe in traditional marriage, and b) that they believe in the Christian religion, all just to please one old lady.

Frankly, in spite of my own snark, I'm tired of all the snide commentary about the event. I approve of tradition, and I am not at all offended that large amounts of public money are spent for ceremonial purposes. It's one of the least corrosive uses for government funds I can think of.

I just can't work up any enthusiasm. I have this feeling that tradition is the only thing driving this business--that nobody involved actually cares much about the sacred union of a man and woman in the eyes of God. That orchestra you hear playing the "Lohengrin" march? Their last gig was on the Titanic.

Super Cool Photo, Interface of Library

"The largest indoor photo in the world as of March 2011" is of the Strahov Philosophical Library. This photo is allows you to pan 360 degrees and zoom in incredibly close. Note the "Show Details" link in the lower left corner. It will take you around the room a bit. It's beautiful, and I've been looking at many very ugly photos lately, so this one is refreshing today.

A bad day in the south

Our prayers certainly go out to residents of the southeast as they dig out from storm and tornado damage suffered yesterday. Nice to see that Phil, whose area was badly affected, is still blogging (as you may see below).

That was far from the only tragedy to happen yesterday, though. Rev. David Wilkerson, founder of the Times Square Church and Teen Challenge, and author of The Cross and the Switchblade, was killed yesterday in an automobile accident in Texas. Reports say the 79-year-old pastor swerved into the path of a truck, for reasons still unexplained. His wife, also in the car, remains hospitalized.

My personal belief is that social historians have paid far too little attention to Pastor Wilkerson and the monumental effect The Cross and the Switchblade—the book even more than the Pat Boone movie—had in the '60s and '70s. It was my own first exposure to Pentecostalism, a movement in which I participated for a time. I remember that even pastors who loathed the Charismatic movement encouraged us kids to read it. I still know at least one strongly anti-charismatic pastor who has continued to be a devoted follower of Wilkerson's writings.

The drama of his account of his call to the mean streets of New York City, his initial humiliation and ultimate vindication, along with the apparent miracles that followed, held powerful fascination for young Christians. The story opened up unimagined spiritual possibilities to us, and convinced us that Christian life could be a meaningful adventure. I think The Cross and the Switchblade, more than any other single factor, was responsible for the Jesus Movement—for good and ill.

I know of no scandal in Pastor Wilkerson's life. I found much humility and wisdom in his writings. I'd forgotten till today, but I actually heard him preach once, at a conference in Minneapolis back in the '70s.

Rest in peace.

N.D. Wilson Talks About Adapting "The Great Divorce" for Screen

N.D. Wilson is working on a screenplay for C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. He talks to Justin Taylor about it.

How do you take a set of episodes and turn them into a coherent story while being faithful and without ruffling too many feathers?

Oh, I'm not afraid to ruffle feathers. But any nervous fans out there should know that I'm as dog-loyal to Lewis and his vision as any writer could be. Where I'm adding and expanding and shaping, I am constantly trying to check myself against Lewis' broader imagination as represented in his collected works—not simply this little volume.

I will admit that when I began the adaptation, I felt like I was jumping off a cliff into (hopefully deep) mysterious waters—you can never completely predict what will happen on impact. But now that I've impacted and finished the first draft of the script, I can say that (as a Lewis fan), I'm really, really happy with it. And from here, I hope it only gets better.

My day in the Insta-sun

Today was a big day—it was the day I got a link on Instapundit.

I'd noticed that people (usually publishers) send Glenn Reynolds books—often in the Fantasy and Science Fiction fields—and he posts an Amazon link. So I sent him a book, along with a short note mentioning my blogging credentials, and crossed my fingers. Today it paid off.

We sold off our entire Amazon stock within a very short time. Unfortunately, our Amazon stock wasn't very large. But still it's something. Maybe I'll acquire another influential fan or two.

What's that you say? Not enough Viking content in this post? Well, we can't have that.

Here's a video of a couple Scandinavian musicians doing a song called “Ormen Lange,” which I've liked for a long time. I first heard it done by a Norwegian folk group called “Vandrerne,” but their version doesn't seem to be online. The Vandrerne arrangement was a little more processed, and I frankly prefer it, but this isn't bad.

The song is a “ring dance” song from the Faeroe Islands. The title, “Ormen Lange,” means “The Long Serpent,” and it refers to King Olaf Trygvesson's great war ship, which I believe I mention in The Year Of the Warrior. In the tradition of Faeroese ring dance songs, this seems to be a very long one. Only the first few verses are here—they tell how King Olaf calls his men to join him in a voyage in his ship, and his men enthusiastically respond that they'll willingly follow him “into war or peace.” Then they launch the ship and set sail, with the king at the helm. I assume the full version goes on to tell about Olaf's death at the Battle of Svold.

The chorus goes:

“The dance glimmers in the hall, and we dance in a ring.
Gladly ride Norwegian men to battle (the assembly of Hild).”

Myths, Urban Legends, and Untruths

Jared links to a list of Christian urban legends. These are things like the Eye of the Needle gate outside Jerusalem and a rope tied to the high priest when we goes into the Holy of Holies (in case he dies there). I'm most disappointed by this one: "Voltaire’s house is now owned by a Bible-printing publisher." I thought that was true, at least, that it was true within 100 years of Voltaire's death. Bum.

Discussion continues at Trevin Wax's blog.

Liberal Journalism May Have New Spring

Three year old non-profit news organization ProPublica has won it's second Pulitzer. That may be a sign of sunny days ahead for liberal journalism.

Thorarin's foot

One thing I neglected to tell you about, when I reported yesterday on my Viking weekend, was the singular honor paid to me during the Great Feast held on Saturday night. I was given a seat at the table of honor, which is pretty cool if you're a Viking buff.

The feast was impressive. I over-ate. Almost all the food was certified “available” to the Vikings, but I suspect few real Vikings ever enjoyed a meal that tasty.

Part of the programme called for “the passing of the horn,” a tradition in which a horn of mead is passed around the hall, and each participant, when the horn comes to him, gives a greeting, tells a story, sings a song (nobody did that), or proposes a toast. I told one of my favorite true Viking stories, “The Tale of Thorarin Nefjolfsson's Foot,” as recorded in the Saga of Saint Olaf. I give it below, more or less as I related it Saturday night.

The king and his men were in Tunsberg [a market town near present-day Oslo] one summer night. Among his retinue was Thorarin Nefjolfsson, an Icelandic merchant. Thorarin was a tall, thin man with a long nose and large hands and feet. He was not famed for his physical beauty.

The nights are short in Norway that time of year, and King Olaf woke before the rest of his men and looked around him in the morning light. He noticed that one of Thorarin's feet had stuck out from under his blanket. He contemplated that foot for some time.

When his men woke up, King Olaf said to them, “Men, I have been awake a while now, and I've seen a sight worth seeing. A man's foot so ugly that I'd be willing to bet there isn't an uglier foot in the whole town.”

All the men looked at Thorarin's foot, and agreed that it was indeed the ugliest they'd ever seen.

But Thorarin himself said, “I'll take that bet, my king. There are few things in the world so strange that you can't find a match for them. I happen to know where I can find an uglier foot right here in town.”

“It's a bet,” said the king. “Whoever loses will have to perform a service for the winner.”

Then Thorarin pushed his other foot out from under the blanket. It was no prettier than the first, and on top of that the big toe was missing.

“I win the bet!” he said.

But King Olaf said, “Oh no. The first foot had five hideous toes, while this one has only four. Therefore I win the bet.”

The moral is: Never gamble with a politician.

In Praise of the Pun

The Phantom Tollbooth opened up author Michael Chabon and infected his entire circulatory system. He says, "It was while reading The Phantom Tollbooth that I began to realize, not that I wanted to be a writer (that came a little later, at the mercy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), but something simpler: I had a crush on the English language, one that was every bit as intense, if less advanced, as that from which the augustly named author, Mr. Norton Juster, himself evidently suffered." (via Books, Inq.)

Writing for Profit (And Maybe Fun)

Brevity comments on a New York Review of Books essay which criticizes memoir-writing. The complaint comes out: "Are you coming into the house of narrative through the back door because the back door is where the money is?" While Brevity gives its own argument against this complaint, I have to ask why a talented writer who can make money from a book shouldn't try to? If it's true that memoirs is just money-making non-fiction, why shouldn't a good writer work on one? (via Books, Inq.)

My weekend among the Vikings

For many years I've been a little disappointed with Norwegians in Norway, because their “traditional” Easter observance in contemporary times has nothing to do with church, but rather involves taking a last ski trip to the mountains, and reading mystery novels.

This year I went away for Easter myself, on a strictly non-religious errand, so I stand self-condemned. I think if I'd realized the Return of the Sun event in Missouri was Easter weekend, I wouldn't have done it. But I didn't catch the subtle signs, like words on a calendar. And once I promised I'd go, I figured I'd better follow through.

On top of that, I really wanted to film some footage in an authentic setting for my book trailer. So I sacrificed Easter both to my Viking avocation and to my business concerns. Which makes me a hypocrite. I think there's a lesson there.

I now know what Vikings smelled like. They smelled like smoke. Spend any amount of time in a building heated by an open hearth, and your clothes will be permeated with smoke. I don't object to this. It's actually rather pleasant (I've smelled a whole lot worse in my time). It's just a point of information, based on experience.

It's a long drive to northeastern Missouri from Minneapolis, but Mrs. Hermanson made it in good form, even getting pretty reasonable gas mileage, considering all my baggage. Her newly restored four wheel drive came in handy in rural Missouri, where it's been raining a lot. Although I lived in Missouri for a year long ago, I'd forgotten the particular slippery quality of that state's clay-based topsoil.

Ravensborg, “Viking Sam” Shoults' as yet unfinished Viking fort, is located near Knox City, Missouri. The web site is here. And here's a Picasso album of photos of the weekend. You'll see me in picture number five, along with Sam's son John.

Read the rest of this entry . . .

Library Given Money for "Popular Books That Circulate"

In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, a woman has given the Hennepin County Library $646,000 for books the public is reading. The late Lillian Wallis worked in the Minneapolis library system for many years as well as other libraries since graduating in 1950.

Big Box Bookstores Not the Way Of the Future

In this article on New York City bookstores, the closing of three Borders stores (two remain) may be another sign that independent or smaller bookstores are gaining appeal among readers. Some of these stores have turned to print-on-demand services as a side business.

Lifting Monday (Go Heave That Girl)

Today, I must warn you of a old tradition you will not encounter, not even if you were in the few British counties where it was practiced for many years. Today is Lifting Monday or Heaving Day.

In a letter by author Elizabeth Gaskell, she comments that Lifting Monday and Lifting Tuesday are in full swing where she is and that her husband has had to run hard to avoid the revelers. From what I can gather, men on Monday and women on Tuesday went into homes and lifted the lady or master of the house in a chair three times with loud cheers, and for this merry feat they were allowed to kiss her or him or be paid off a shilling. Some fun-going bands waylaid strangers in the streets. When the women tried this on Tuesday, it raised more of a ruckus because many would try to lift or heave men up without success. You can imagine how the mousey clerk from the Chershire Bank on Oakchest Rd would be a favorite target for roving bands of girls. If he wouldn’t let you kiss him, he’d have to give you a shilling. And on Monday, the barkeep at The Olde Red Lion could lift any woman he pleased even in a chair.

Mrs. Gaskell says there’s a story that on Easter Monday, 1290, seven maids of honor rushed into the room where King Edward I was sitting and lifted him in his chair until he paid them 14 pounds to put him down. That’s some history, but they stopped this tradition over 100 years ago, and of course, we wouldn’t do it today. We’re too busy superpoking friends on Facebook to do silly stuff like this.

Where Did We Get the Word Robot?

Naturally, the right answer to give the inquisitive child who asks this is to say, "They gave it to us." When asked who they are, you are free to elaborate however you wish to build your psychological domination of the nasty child. But if you are interested in the truth about this word origin, Howard Markel gives it to us. Robot was the creation of Czech playwright Karel Čapek in his 1920s play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots). Of course, it's a play about mechanized men who break their labor union contracts and try to take over the world. File that under The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same (via Books, Inq.)

Staggering Separation

Marcia Segelstein writes about the true nature of God and what made the cross so difficult for Jesus. Quoting Tim Keller, she notes, "Jesus began to experience the spiritual, cosmic, infinite disintegration that would happen when he became separated from his Father on the cross. Jesus began to experience merely a foretaste of that, and he staggered."

Beholding the Lord's Face

I write emails for a prayer list about once a week, and since it's the Easter season, I wanted to share one with you.

Alba al boschetto dei cipressi - 2

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” (Psalm 17:15 ESV)

You know, asking what is life about may miss the mark. The better question is who is life about, and though it doesn’t flatter our pride at all, the answer to that question is Yahweh, the Lover of our Souls. Every good thing comes from him, but is not independent of him. That’s the reason Scripture calls us to give him our worries and find in him joy and peace. It doesn’t tell us to be satisfied in what the Lord can give us. Though the flooding river may destroy our current livelihood or careless men shatter the health of those we love, the Lord will take care of us. Today and in the life to come, we will behold his holy face in the righteousness he gives us and find satisfaction.

This week, we celebrate Christ Jesus wrestling death to the ground and breaking its back, so that we would live forever. He stood between us and the hatred of the world, so that when we face persecution we will know it cannot overwhelm us because someone on our side who has dealt with it before. He is the hero who accomplished what we could not do for ourselves; he absorbed God’s holy wrath so that we could be righteous.

“Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
my deadly enemies who surround me.” (Psalm 17:8-9)

Oh, Lord, do not let us wander out from under your shelter. Wean us from those things that distract us or worry us, so that we will be completely satisfied with you alone. (Photo by Alex Scarcella, on Flickr)

A Little Bach Is Always Appropriate

Pop-culture Nonsense

Was the resurrection simply the recasting of ancient mythology, akin to the fanciful tales of Osiris or Mithras? If you want to see a historian laugh out loud, bring up that kind of pop-culture nonsense.

One by one, my objections evaporated. I read books by skeptics, but their counter-arguments crumbled under the weight of the historical data. No wonder atheists so often come up short in scholarly debates over the resurrection.
That's from Lee Strobel's article in the Wall Street Journal on how Easter killed his faith in atheism.

Earlier this week, The Office funnyman and atheist Ricky Gervais opines on "Why I’m A Good Christian." Gervais spends most of the article saying he has kept all Ten commandments, but his main point is here:
Jesus was a man. (And if you forget all that rubbish about being half God, and believe the non-supernatural acts accredited to him, he was a man whose wise words many other men would still follow.) His message was usually one of forgiveness and kindness. These are wonderful virtues, but I have seen them discarded by many so-called God-fearers when it suits them.


If you check the comments under my review of Whittaker Chambers' Witness, a few inches below, you'll see that we got a comment and a link from a David Chambers, whom I take to be Chambers' son. This sort of thing happens more often than I ever expected, and it's always gratifying.

I won't be posting as usual tomorrow or Friday, as I'm going down to my Viking event in Missouri. The location is Ravensborg, near Knox City, Missouri. The web page is here.

Flashman On the March, by George MacDonald Fraser

This must perforce be the last Flashman book by George MacDonald Fraser, as the author died in 2009. (I wonder if there's been any talk of another writer taking up the mantle. I wonder if another writer could do it properly. We've all been waiting a long time for Flashman's Civil War adventures, which in terms of pure chronology would almost immediately precede this story.)

When we join Sir Harry Paget Flashman at the beginning of Flashman On the March, he's desperately attempting to get out of Trieste, where he recently arrived as a refugee following a stint as an officer of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico (poor Maximilian!). He runs into an old acquaintance, a British diplomat who is trying to find someone to protect a shipment of silver to Suez, for delivery to Gen. Robert Napier. Napier is buying support from various African tribes against King Theodore of Abyssinia (today known as Ethiopia). Theodore, who Flashman will come to describe as the maddest monarch he ever met—which is saying a great deal--has kidnapped a number of Europeans, and Napier is leading a relief force. Read the rest of this entry . . .

The Mother of all delusions

This splendid article by Peter Wood in The Chronicle of Higher Education states some hard truths and asks some hard questions about assumptions concerning religion that reign in academia today. How come Christian Fundamentalists are openly discriminated against in educational hiring, while scholars promoting the more ridiculous claims of feminists about a supposed prehistoric matriarchal "golden age" are routinely welcomed and promoted?

There is no real evidence that humanity every passed through a stage in which society was matriarchal, and abundant evidence to the contrary. Goddesses, of course, appear frequently in the world’s religions and myths, but the notion of a great prehistoric cult of the Goddess in Europe connected to matriarchal rule has no foundation.

Why bring this up now? Because higher education’s relaxed attitude about appointing faculty members who not only believe but who actually teach this moonshine demonstrates the hypocrisy of those who say that faculty members are acting out of the need to protect the university from anti-scientific nonsense when they discriminate against conservative Christian candidates for academic appointment. The possibility that a candidate for a position in biology, anthropology, or, say, English literature might secretly harbor the idea that God created the universe or that the Bible is true, is a danger not to be brooked. But apparently, the possibility that a candidate believes that human society was “matriarchal” until about 5,000 years ago is perfectly within the range of respectable opinion appropriate for campus life.

Splendid stuff. A long article, but definitely worth reading. Tip: Cronaca.

I'm too creative for my hat

I improved my new Viking table this weekend, with the help of my friend Shawn. Because we couldn't find the kind of screw-in legs I wanted, we bought some closet poles and some hanger bolts, and with drills and epoxy made our own. The result looks like this:

Yes, I know it looks pretty much like it did before, especially in a photograph. But trust me. The legs are un-tapered now, and I'm much happier with it. Someday I hope to drill out my fake joinery plugs and replace them with larger ones, better aligned. But for now this is essentially what I aimed for.

I'm gearing up for my big trip to the Viking encampment in Missouri this weekend. My big acquisition has been a Sony Handycam (used), which I acquired on eBay. The guy who sold it to me got sick the day we closed the deal, so delivery was delayed and I chafed a bit, but the thing finally arrived on Saturday. All in all I love it. It's a sweet device.

My purpose is to produce a book trailer, because they're all the rage right now and my publisher has been hinting broadly that I ought to make one or get one made. I've done some reading on film making, and I think (I suppose hubristically) that I have a fair grasp of the essentials. Long shots, tight shots, inserts. Rhythm. Increasing tension. (It's not entirely unlike writing a story.) Background music makes a huge difference (I've already downloaded a free track I like very much.)

Now to see how well I handle the actual shooting. I want to enlist some people to deliver a couple lines of dialogue. Will I have the boldness to ask them to help me?

Also it's supposed to be rainy down there on Friday, the set-up day. I was hoping to get some filming done that day, but that may not happen. At least I should be able to shoot some interiors in the hall.

I am an artist! I cannot work under these conditions!

No, Gloria, you are not ready for your close-up.

Witness, by Whittaker Chambers

It is probably the measure of Whittaker Chambers' success that he's largely forgotten today, except in conservative circles. If his enemies had found a way to satisfactorily discredit him, he'd be included in the Rogues' Gallery of Red Scare Crazies, like Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the members of the John Birch Society. But in fact his witness has stood the test of time (especially since Soviet intelligence files were made available to the public). So he has been ignored, made a non-person in the Stalinist tradition.

The title of his autobiography, Witness, has a double meaning. Its obvious reference is to his testimony, as a former Communist, before the House Committee On Un-American Activities in 1948. In that testimony he named several people he knew to be Communists, or Communist collaborators, in high government positions. In particular he named Alger Hiss, a state department official who had played a major role in the establishment of the U.N. When Hiss sued Chambers for libel, Chambers produced documentary proof that Hiss had lied about their association. In the end Hiss went to prison for five years, for perjury (his espionage activities fell outside the statute of limitations).

But the second meaning of the name Witness is Chamber's confession of his Christian faith, a faith he adopted about the same time he left Communism (he became a Quaker). Those who know Christian history will immediately think of the ancient Greek word for “witness,” which is martyr. Although he does not mention that connection, Chambers makes it plain that when he went to the government to inform on his former comrades, he expected that the Communists would try to kill him, and that the government would very likely indict him for his espionage activities. He expected his life to be ruined, but he felt that was the duty he had to perform, the ministry to which God had called him.

He was not a perfect witness. His memory was sometimes inexact when testifying about events more than a decade in the past. He held back, at first (to the point of perjuring himself), the fact of his and his friends' spy work for the Soviets. At one point the pressure became so great that he attempted suicide.

But he persevered by grace, a dumpy, not very photogenic celebrity, the butt of many jokes and the target of endless slanders. He came through at last, a little the worse for wear, to return to his beloved farm and family.

Witness is a moving book. It's a long book, and the later parts featuring long transcripts from the Senate hearings sometimes make heavy reading. But he was a fine writer with a sensitive spirit, and the impression the reader comes away with is, most of all, what a great lover he was—of nature, of his family, of his country, and of his God.

Economics is not the central problem of this century. It is a relative problem which can be solved in relative ways. Faith is the central problem of this age.

Highly recommended.

A Cookbook Reading

Someone has prepared a humorous video of a "Spaniard" reading from Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook. It's about two minutes of lines like "Could I use some butter and cheese and eggs in my cooking without going down some kind of hippie shame spiral? Yes. Of course I could."

Salt water theology

A randomly selected reader asks the following question:

Lars, given the sea-faring nature of the Vikings, what do you think (perhaps what did they think) of the words in Revelation about the new heaven and earth.  "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more." Perhaps they never heard a sermon on that verse and didn't have the Bible in their language to read themselves. So, what do you think?
Phil Wade

Dear Phil,

Thank you for your question. It is always good for young people to seek wisdom from their elders.

The passage to which you refer is Revelation 21:1. What did Viking converts think of this? I don't think it's a matter that came up much, and I know of no discussion of the matter in the sagas.

My first thought is that the Vikings might not have cared as much about this issue as we might expect. I've always loved the sea, but it was the idea of the sea I loved. I grew up hundreds of miles from the nearest shore, and the sea was a romantic image to me. For those who live close to it and deal with it every day, it's not (I suspect) the same thing. Just as the American prairie has never held much magic for me.

My great-grandfather, I know, grew up working in the Norwegian herring and cod fishery, and once he was able to get a landlocked farm in Minnesota, he never looked back. He couldn't see why anybody would want to go fishing, ever.

I might add that my own interpretation of that particular passage is not literal.

One thing I've learned in my Bible study is that the biblical Jews viewed the sea as almost entirely an evil thing. They identified it with the premordial abyss of Genesis 1:2: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep...” The sea was the treacherous place where there was nowhere to stand, where a man was swallowed up and lost forever.

This, by the way, is important to remember when reading the New Testament stories about Jesus calming the storm and walking on water, etc. He was asserting His authority over hell itself, in the disciples' eyes, when He did those things. It also explains the plea of the demons of the Gerasenes not to be cast into the abyss, when they in fact end up in the Sea of Galilee (Luke 8:31-33).

That's why I read Revelation 21:1 symbolically (that's hardly a liberal reading, as so much of Revelation is clearly symbolic). I think the passage means that the wanton chaos of our moral world will be gone forever. Life will be fair at last.

But if I'm wrong, I'm sure I'll learn to live with it.

Spoke too soon

I should have known better than to declare spring yesterday. Today it only got up to around fifty, and there's even a little snow predicted over the weekend.

I have the superpower of always being wrong. I must learn to use this power for good.

Sloth, by Mark Goldblatt

One of the most interesting tricks of the mystery writer is “the unreliable narrator.” When you aren’t sure if you can believe what the storyteller tells you, it adds a whole level to the puzzle.

Author Mark Goldblatt has added a further level of complexity. Not only does the narrator of Sloth (re-released last year by Greenpoint Press) sometimes deceive the reader, he may in fact not even exist. He never tells us his name. The only name he ever uses in the story (one chosen in order to deceive the woman he loves) is Mark Goldblatt, the name of the actual author of the book. But he didn’t borrow it from his author. He borrows it from his friend Zezel, who is an author and uses it as a pseudonym. (Or is he and does he?)

You see the kind of book we’re dealing with here?

Mark Goldblatt (the real one, I mean. S. T. Karnick assures me he actually exists, and that’s good enough for me) has written a parody of postmodern novels in which he out-deconstructs the deconstructors. Layers of meaning and misdirection are everywhere (as well as a lot of word play and fairly low humor).

The unnamed hero’s initial challenge is to convince a girl he’s never met—a girl he knows only through the television screen—that he’s not insane. A resident of a Manhattan apartment, he’s fallen in love with Holly Servant, a model/exercise instructor on a cable TV show out of California. He writes her erudite, impassioned love letters, not really expecting a response, but desperately hoping she’ll at least read them and bestow on his passion the dignity of her recognition.

When she eventually does reply, he attempts to impress her by assuming the Mark Goldblatt (fictional in two senses) identity.

“But since you’ve inquired, I will confess that I am in fact a journalist. It’s a point of considerable humiliation for me. For what is a journalist except a liar in denial? Truth is the single greatest threat to my livelihood, the sword poised eternally overhead, for if ever the reader asks himself, Should I trust the words? then I am lost.”

Meanwhile, the narrator comes under suspicion in the murder of a male prostitute in his neighborhood, and is questioned by a detective named Lacuna (I kid you not).

And his friend Zezel (their relationship just skirts the edges of homoeroticism, but this may be because the narrator actually is Zezel. Or perhaps he does exist, and the narrator doesn’t. Zezel sometimes sneaks into the narrator’s apartment, turns on his computer, and enters falsehoods [or are they?] into the manuscript, another layer of uncertainty in the narrative) is having an affair, and his spurned wife throws herself at the narrator.

Sloth is a wickedly funny, challenging and brilliantly written novel by an author of rare wit and creativity. Great fun for sophisticated readers (hey, I enjoyed it, so you don’t have to be all that sophisticated). Cautions for language and sexual situations.

Recommendations for the Grammar Lover

We want to write well, even if no one can define well for enough English speakers for very long. For this year, however, there are a few grammar book recommendations from Robert Lane Greene. He notes, "There's nothing wrong with holding grammar in high regard, but much of the high dudgeon around it is more than a little bit of bunk. These books help you approach writing and speaking not with anxiety or frustration, but humility and wonder."

The fellowship and the spring

I have just joined The Fellowship of the Viking Dragon. This is not a heathen religious group, but a group of supporters of an ongoing project to build the largest replica Viking ship ever constructed. I've offered them my services as a writer and translator. If you want to keep up to date on the project, or help in some way, information is here. Look around. There's a lot of interesting photos of the process.

The ship's being constructed in Haugesund, which is essentially the ancestral home town of the Walkers, who came from Karmøy just across the sound. So I'm very keen on this project, aside from its essential coolosity.

Somebody needs to do a good, epic Viking movie one of these days, featuring a big sea battle. There's a growing fleet of very fine replica Viking ships in the world, just aching for a shot at stardom.

I've been doing a lot of Norwegian blogging lately, haven't I?

For a change of pace, I'll add something about the weather.
Yesterday was the day I relaxed at last. I tense up every year around the beginning of November, and I don't ease again until spring is firmly in place. Yesterday I felt that had happened. I saw one tiny snow pile in the shade of a tree while driving to work this morning, but I'm betting it's gone as of this hour. Had a lovely walk by the lake tonight.

Tomorrow's only supposed to get up to fifty, but I stand by my decree--spring is here.

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