- J.K. Rowling, 2008 Harvard Commencement Address
If you like reading blogs, you'll probably like reading G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton did the thing bloggers do long before blogging existed, and he did it better than the best of us. If he were alive today his blog would be the most popular one in the world. It would drive liberals crazy much of the time, but conservatives would take offense now and then too, and both sides would likely post indignant comments to tell him how STOOPID he was.
All Things Considered is a collection of columns Chesterton wrote for the London Daily News during the years up to World War I. They're not his absolute best work. He admits in the preface that many of them were written under tight deadlines, when “there was no time for epigrams.” And what he wrote frequently got snipped down, pretty arbitrarily, by editors.
But even under adverse conditions, Chesterton offers a wealth of opportunities to the happy highlighter. Instead of reviewing All Things Considered (an act of hubris), I'll just list some snippets to give you a taste.
First of all I want to mention that this book includes what may, very probably, be the first use of the word “groovy” in the English language. Seriously. Chesterton doesn't use it as the hippies did, and I'm pretty sure they weren't quoting him when they re-coined the adjective, but it's right here, in a column called “Humanitarianism and Strength”:
Have you ever noticed that strange line of Tennyson, in which he confesses, half consciously, how very conventional progress is?—
“Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.”
Even in praising change, he takes for a simile the most unchanging thing. He calls our modern change a groove. And it is a groove; perhaps there was never anything so groovy.
The real objection to modernism is simply that it is a form of snobbishness. It is an attempt to crush a rational opponent not by reason, but by some mystery of superiority, by hinting that one is specially up to date or particularly “in the know.”
I believe firmly in the value of all vulgar notions, especially of vulgar jokes. When once you have got hold of a vulgar joke, you may be certain that you have got hold of a subtle and spiritual idea. Read the rest of this entry . . .
I learned a meme today from Prof. Brendan Riley called troll quotes. He explains it requires "1. a well-known quote with 2. a false attribution from an equally well known person and 3. the wrong picture." Here's his favorite example, which I love too, but I had to contribute to the lore myself.
A great line from the movie Network.
Somebody on Facebook shared this YouTube video, which just pleases me no end.
It's a digital reconstruction of the city of Bergen, Norway around the year 1350 AD. No doubt it means more to me than to you, because I've been to Bergen several times, and recognize the general outlines. (It's Sissel's home town, though I've never had time to properly stalk her.) Some of the stone buildings are still standing, and the row of buildings along the wharf still exists in principle, though the structures have burned down and been replaced several times in the interval. It's called Bryggen, "the wharf." Used to be Tyskebryggen, "the German wharf," until the late unpleasantness of the 1940s. Shortly after the time of this video, the German Hanseatic league took over Bergen's trade and established its Norwegian headquarters on that location.
I love this stuff. One of my Facebook friends noted that there are no people, but then he remembered that it was about this time the Black Death came to Norway. So everybody was probably either dying or in hiding.
Maybe the fact I grew up with backyard gardens compels me to plant vegetables of my own, but I’m not very good at it. I haven’t studied techniques or seeds much, and when we have an abundance of zucchini or tomatoes, I don’t necessarily know what to do with them. I’m trying to save my tomatoes from the birds lately, and my dwarf okra seems to be going well so far—no okra crop yet. In the last three years, I’ve planted herbs in what used to be a wildflower garden. The rosemary was a great first choice, being a hearty grower. I finally got basil to grow this year. Apparently, I don’t have the knowledge or knack for growing food from seed, so my previous attempts at growing basil never “took root”—snort! I crack me up.
We have thyme, sage, mint (a vicious weed), and oregano now. I thought the oregano would die at the end of the year, Read the rest of this entry . . .
The Minnesota State Fair. Artist's Conception.
It occurs to me that I should have taken pictures at the State Fair on Saturday, like Lileks does. But then I realize, it was hard enough dragging myself around the fairgrounds, let alone taking a camera. I know people have tiny little cameras in their cell phones nowadays, but I'm a straggler on the dragging edge of technology. I only get things after they're passé (except for my Kindle, which was a gift from... well, I won't embarrass him again).
It was possibly the most perfect day for the fair I've ever seen, from the perspective of weather. Nice temperature, and it started sunny and then clouded over without actually raining more than the occasional tiny spit. This was great for the concessionaires, not so great for Avoidants and Introverts. You know that place in the gospels where Jesus is pushing through a crowd, and stops and says, “Who touched Me?” because (He says) “I felt power go out of Me”? I didn't heal anybody (may have injured some) but when we pushed through a crowd of teenagers who suddenly appeared around us, screaming for some pop singers (or something) at a radio station booth, I felt the power go out of me, all right. I was a shell of a man by the time I got free of that.
The conclusion was obvious. I need to lose even more weight, and get some exercise. Which I'm trying to do.
Or else give up the fair.
I need to retract an endorsement.
Hunter Baker (funny, I was just thinking about him) commented on my review of Lee Child's Killing Floor, writing the words I always dread:
I have read a lot of Lee Child books, but had to stop a couple of years back. He revealed himself in a couple of books to be pretty seriously anti-Christian. And made the Reacher character share those views. That did it for me...
I was a major fan of his. It began small with Reacher refusing to fly Alaska Airlines because they put a small Bible verse on each tray. In a subsequent book, there is an extremely bizarre Christian character who is some kind of caricature of American evangelicals. Once I read that one, I just decided Lee Child didn't need any more of my money.
Sad, but not really a surprise. No more of my hard-earned will flow to Lee Child either.
Artist Makoto Fujimura asks, "Has the concept of the 'American Dream' changed since the events of September 11, 2011?"
Loren Eaton, at I Saw Lightning Fall, recommends an article by Danny Bowes on the Noir roots of Cyberpunk:
In the end, what noir and cyberpunk share is a simultaneous, paradoxical status as distinctly past-tense forms that nonetheless keep popping up everywhere in subsequent art. ... Fittingly, as each was widely criticized -- and exalted -- as valuing style over substance, the lasting impact of noir and cyberpunk (connecting the two as one entity, since there is no cyberpunk without noir) is greatest in the visual arts and cinema. For in the shadows lies danger and mystery. Sex and power. The simultaneous thrill and fear of confronting death. Noir, and all its descendants, including cyberpunk, is the shadow.
Our friend Ori Pomerantz directed me to this video of "The Vikings" by Depeche Mode.
Mostly historically accurate, but the music is oddly inconsistent with the themes, it seems to me. Maybe that's because I'm old.
In any case, I think the contrast clearly shows the superiority of my book trailer, which I link here simply for purposes of instruction:
This weekend--the state fair, with a friend. Sadly, he's a guy.
Hope your weekend is good. Especially if you live on the southeast coast.
Here's the news straight from the publisher:
On August 24, 2011, a New Jersey school district announced that it was removing from it’s summer reading list the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, published by Vintage Books in 2000. Citing objections from parents about inappropriate language and graphic sex, the school board withdrew its original approval of the novel, which had been placed on the list by its own committee of area teachers, librarians, and school administrators.
In response to this action, Knopf has issued the following statement:Read the rest of this entry . . .
Christ Healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, by Murillo.
I started committing poetry tonight (that's a reference to the Norwegian movie, Elling, which I've reviewed here), but I stopped myself before it was too late.
I had this idea for a poem. I was contemplating the injustices of life, and it occurred to me (hardly an original idea) that sometimes injustices might be more just than we think. If I lack something in my life that I think I ought to have (can't imagine what), the denial may be a mercy. Perhaps the responsibilities and concomitant sorrows that go with the blessings would be too much for me to handle.
I thought of writing a poem about the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15), and imagined there was another lame man there, who did not get healed. He is very bitter about being overlooked. But then (I imagine) years later he sees the man who did get healed, having become an active disciple of Jesus, stoned to death under the Herodian persecution.
But then I thought, that's too simplistic. I don't really believe everything levels out that way. And even if it did, it would still be a kind of condemnation on the one who was not healed, saying that God knew he didn't have the courage and character to suffer for Christ.
The actuality is, these questions are way too big for me. Any solution I could generate, however complex and comprehensive, wouldn't come close to divine wisdom.
So my job is just not to be bitter.
I'm working on that.
In a possibly related story, I saw this article (via Instapundit) which discusses the ethical debate scientists are waging, over whether memory-suppressing drugs, if they could be perfected, would be medically defensible.
I'll have to admit it—if they could come up with a way to target specific memories, I'd be very much inclined to take the treatment.
But I have trouble imagining a drug that would be specific enough to remove just the right bits, rifle-style, rather than taking out big chunks like a shotgun.
You may or may not recall (it's seared, seared into my memory) my recent post in which I highly recommended the novel The Last of the Vikings, available on Kindle. I had to hurriedly post a correction once I had downloaded it myself and discovered that it was an entirely different (and to all appearances much inferior) English book.
I now think I see whence the problem arose. The first listing of the book I saw on Amazon was not the listing I linked, but this one, which very specifically identifies it as Johan Bojer's book on fishing in the Lofoten Islands. I bought it today and checked it, just to make sure. Nope. Same old English novel. Now I have two copies on my Kindle.
I suppose there's some mechanism for requesting a refund, but it's a little late in the day to start standing up for myself now.
My publisher, Nordskog Publishing, has now posted my book trailer on their web site, here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. It's also on their page for West Oversea if you want to bore in and see it there too, for some reason.
Mark Bertrand discovers just the right way to express his distaste for Stieg Larsson's novels in a review of a book by another author.
The finalists for this year's Thurber Prize have been announced. It's nothing earth-shattering. That was yesterday.
Library of Congress
Washington had to shut down for a few minutes today, and the stock market soared. Coincidence?
Actually, that wasn't an earthquake. That was the economy settling.
reverting into the lost
and forgotten; granite
subsumed, a rumor
in a mumble of ocean."
Read all of Amy Clampitt's poem, "Fog." Perhaps this doesn't describe your day or what you could have seen this morning. My area is bright and sunny, high of 93. This quiet moment is what I wanted after the last post.
Political scientist Tim Groseclose has a book on media bias in which he has tried to quantify and measure political leaning in politicians and voters. His book, Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, points to a study showing a difference the decisions of young voters after three months exposure to either the NY Times or the Washington Times. Exposure to the NY Times actually resulted in more liberal views from the readers in the study.
Mr. Groseclose says he didn't want to write just another book claiming to expose bias among reporters and broadcasters. He wanted a scientific book that proposed solutions. Among those solutions is determining your own political quotient. On his website, you can take a 40-question quiz based on congressional roll-call votes in 2009 to see what your PQ is and how it compares to other politicians. This is not an easy quiz. The first two questions are a bit deep in the weeds, but I trudged through them to get a 7.7 PQ.
Even though this is all fairly interesting, I doubt it will change many minds. I hate thinking so cynically, but how many of us think about our civil responsibilities at all? Maybe a book like David Mamet's The Secret Knowledge will shake us up a bit or one like Mark Steyn's After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, if we haven't already written him off, but modern political argument for most American voters seems to be built up from our preconceptions. We believe what we believe, and you're a brainwashed nut-job if you don't agree with us.
And yet the Christian in me still holds on to the hope that even this can get better. Maybe I can't help believing America is exceptional in this way, that all of us really can have liberty and justice.
With this review, I consciously renounce all right to any respect as a film critic. I loved Cowboys and Aliens, which right-thinking people seem to despise, and now I'm going to admit to the world that I enjoyed the new Conan the Barbarian, which everybody except me and a few Facebook friends seems to loathe.
I'm going to start by moving my recommendation, which I usually leave for the end of the review, to the beginning. The good things I'm about to say about Conan the Barbarian should not be taken as an endorsement for most of our readers. This movie earns its “R” rating. There is much violence, and enough graphic, special effects-enhanced gore to please Odin's ravens. Also considerable female nudity, often in situations involving bondage. I think this was a major error on the part of the filmmakers. They could have made a movie just as good without voluntarily reducing their paying audience through shock techniques and salaciousness.
On the other hand, the “R” rating is not inconsistent with the original material.
I approached Conan the Barbarian with something less than low expectations. I mistrusted the re-boot project from the first, and Michael Medved, whose opinion I respect, hated it. So I was pleasantly surprised when, somewhere along the way, I realized I was enjoying the show. Read the rest of this entry . . .
I finished reading the history book from Kvalavåg (one of my ancestral homes in Norway) about which I wrote the other day. Most of it is stuff that wouldn't interest you much, but there was one amazing paragraph in the section on the German occupation during World War II (my translation follows):
One of the leaders of the 14-man German troop was Konrad Grünbaum. He was actually of Jewish origin, and came from the city of Furth. His civil occupation was metal work, and he had been an active member of the Socialist Workers' Youth. Before the war he himself had been in Dachau concentration camp. He had been accused of illegal work and sentenced to three years' punishment. Through an error he came to Norway in ̀́41 and was promoted. Grünbaum himself said later that he had had very good relations with the people in Kvalavåg while he was there, up until 1943. People used to call him “the Englishman” because he spoke only English with the people. Others called him “Grandfather.”
What a bizarre story. I can only imagine the terrors he must have suffered, worrying in his bed that somebody in Personnel would notice his ethnicity and denounce him. And after the war, what must he have felt, when he pondered the cosmic lottery win that saved his life when so many others perished?
Trevin Wax talks about what makes a blog interesting. He boils it down to curiosity. "Curiosity works itself out in two ways," he notes.
- "The blogger provokes a sense of curiosity and wonder in his or her readers."
- "The blogger has an innate curiosity that enables him or her to write from a unique perspective."
Naturally, I'm sure he's a big fan of BwB. I mean, how could he not be?
"The Plague in the Stairway," by Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen
You know how they taught you in school that the Black Plague was caused by fleas carried by rats?
At least according to one scholar, this is probably a slander on fleas and rats.
"The evidence just isn't there to support it," said Barney Sloane, author of The Black Death in London. "We ought to be finding great heaps of dead rats in all the waterfront sites but they just aren't there. And all the evidence I've looked at suggests the plague spread too fast for the traditional explanation of transmission by rats and fleas. It has to be person to person – there just isn't time for the rats to be spreading it."
He added: "It was certainly the Black Death but it is by no means certain what that disease was, whether in fact it was bubonic plague."
People at the time believed it was caused by "bad air." Maybe they were right, if it was caused by human-to-human contact.
G. K. Chesterton would have loved that.
I'm sure every one of you has seen the movie Twelve O'Clock High already, but I never saw it until last night. I know I write too much about movies in this books blog, but I want to meditate on the film a little bit, particularly as an exercise in storytelling. It's a superior example of the art.
What you've got in Twelve O'Clock High is two layers of story going on at one time. There's the surface story—the sort of thing a small boy watching it would come away with, and then there are the truths the story conveys, buried under the surface but identifiable if you're looking for them.
The surface story is pretty simple. The 918th Heavy Bombardment Group, based in England at the very beginning of American participation in World War II, is suffering heavier than average losses. The men, and their commander, Col. Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill), think they're jinxed. Their commanding general thinks the problem is more practical, and sends in hard-nosed Brig. Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) to whip the unit into shape. This he does, through hard—sometimes cruel—discipline. As the men learn to repress their individual fears and concerns and operate as a group, they manage to achieve their goals and lower their losses.
But that's not the real story. The real story is what's going on inside the men. I don't mean any disrespect to John Wayne (frankly I think John Wayne could have handled the Frank Savage part just fine), but you understand what I mean when I say this isn't the typical kind of war movie we associate with John Wayne. Gregory Peck's Gen. Savage sometimes pushes the men too hard, and he's not as confident as he seems. There's a splendid little moment when his adjutant, Lt. Col. Stovall (Dean Jagger) says, “You know the difference between Col. Davenport and Gen. Savage? Gen. Savage is about this much taller.” In the end, Davenport's and Savage's roles get very neatly reversed.
Because the real message here is that war is impossible. Fighting in a war is like walking a tightrope while carrying ever heavier burdens, while crosswinds change at random. No man can bear the strain indefinitely. The strongest iron breaks at last, through constant fatigue.
A friend of mine who's a combat veteran says this is the most realistic war movie ever made. That's remarkable when you think that it was made in 1949, taking into account all the special effects advances that have been made since then, and changes in audience toleration for on-screen gore. What sets Twelve O'Clock High apart is outstanding storytelling, a profound understanding of the human heart.
Jeff Goins writes, "When I first stated blogging, I was pretty proud of the fact that my writing was being published to a small audience and that they were actually reading it. It felt good to be acknowledged. Really what I was, though, was an insecure writer clinging to every pitiful page view."
Jeffrey Overstreet's wife, Anne, has a debut volume of poetry on the shelves at all the best bookstores near you. It's called Delicate Machinery Suspended: Poems. Here's the poem that contains that title.
The hotel fan’s one long drawn exhalation
disturbing the heat that has settled like dust
across the room, the square-cornered chair
the unsteady spool of table. You are broken
into pieces and lie scattered ...
Getting back to more serious matters now, take a look at these stunning sculptures cut from the pages of books.
In case you're a visitor to Brandywine Books, I need to make it clear that two political posts in one day is a great rarity here. One political post in a day is a rarity. Phil and I generally eschew political comments (we don't even have a Politics category), in favor of the far less controversial subject of religion.
But I've been worried the last few days. First President Obama (peace be upon him) visits Cannon Falls, Minnesota, just up the road from Kenyon, my home town. The next day he's in Decorah, where I spent a year at Luther College sometime around the Coolidge administration. It began to look as if he were stalking me. Perhaps he finally figured out that my tin foil hat prevents him from controlling my mind with his delta rays, and he's trying to follow my trail instead. About thirty years in my rear view mirror, but that's civil service work for you.
However, I remember that one of my high school classmates actually graduated from Luther College. So it's probably him the president is stalking.
Whew. That was close.
If I understand the news reports correctly, a lot of people are saying Michele Bachmann isn't qualified to be president, because she opens her mouth to eat a corn dog.
I have to assume that sophisticated, civilized people who attended Ivy League schools have some superior method of eating their corn dogs. If anybody knows what it is, I'd appreciate hearing about it, because I always end up dripping ketchup on my shirt.
But Rep. Bachmann's campaign is over anyway, it seems to me. She confused the anniversary of Elvis Presley's death with his birthday.
You can get away with a lot in American politics, but I'm pretty sure messing up your Elvis essentials takes you beyond the pale.
The nice thing about being beyond the pale, though, is that you can eat your corn dog any bloody way you like.
I wish I could link you to the great interview Ken Myers recorded with Elvin Lim, author of The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush, because it's worth the time to listen to Lim's essential argument. Presidential rhetoric has been leaning strongly toward emotional appeals to common sense and away from what may be called intelligent reasons.
"[S]uch appeals rest on reductive and oversimplified reasonings that are often false in significant ways. Persuasion based on such emotional appeals is necessarily shallow and often does not do justice to the issues at stake," states the brief summary of the interview on the Mars Hill Audio Journal site.
Presidents have become too powerful, Lim states, due to their appeal to extra-constitutional authorities, particularly the perceived electoral mandate from the most recent election. The White House should instead discuss policy with Congress like adults, something many on both sides claim to want, but fewer actually support.
It was one of the most exhausting weekends I've had in a long time, involving considerable interaction with other human beings, always a workout for me. But nevertheless it wasn't a bad weekend. Two things that happened, in particular, pleased me inordinately.
First of all, I got this link from my friend and sparring partner, Ragnar. They're going to do The Long Ships as a movie again. In fact, they're going to do two movies and a TV miniseries. They're going to do it in Sweden, and if the Swedes are to be believed (always, ahem, a gamble), they're going to do it right this time. Read the rest of this entry . . .
After my unpleasant experience with Philip Kerr's Field Gray, I was in the mood for something less ambitious and more fun. I found it in Lee Child's first Jack Reacher thriller, Killing Floor.
Child, an English television writer who does a very creditable job portraying American characters and settings, knows a few important truths about thriller writing. He knows that “movie logic,” the phenomenon that allows movies to get away with a lot of unlikely or impossible story elements because “I just saw it right there,” also works—to a certain extent—in action novels. The very unlikely coincidence on which this book's plot pivots doesn't bear close examination, but Child treats it matter of factly and keeps the interest up, and most readers come along for the ride. I know I did. Enjoyed it too.
His hero is Jack Reacher, a former military policeman who was raised a Marine brat. Having left the Marines, he is now traveling the United States, getting to know the country of which he is a citizen, in which he has never actually spent much time. And so, purely on a whim, he gets off a bus and walks to a tiny town called Margrave, Georgia, where he is immediately arrested by the police. A man has been murdered, and the stranger is a natural suspect. By the time Jack's alibi has checked out, he's met a very attractive lady cop he wants to know better, and come to feel a certain responsibility for a fellow prisoner, a rich man who doesn't know how to handle himself in lock-up. But when he learns the identity of the murdered man, Jack's course of action is decided. He has an obligation.
Fortunately for the good guys, Jack's a very dangerous man—the very kind of man you want around when you're up against a murderous, amoral conspiracy.
Killing Floor has all the virtues—and some of the faults—of an inspired first novel. Some of the detective work seemed a little too neat to me, and one of the big mysteries probably won't be as much a mystery to readers today as it was when the book was published, more than a decade ago. But I took it on its own terms and had a great time. I'm already reading the second Jack Reacher novel, Die Trying, which starts with another coincidence almost as dubious as the one that kicks off this book.
Jack Reacher has some similarities to Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger, but the classic character he reminded me most of was John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. Travis McGee, although he had a permanent address, lived on a house boat, and so was metaphorically adrift in the world. Jack Reacher is literally rootless, describing himself at one point as a hobo. The two have similar attitudes, and even resemble each other.
Killing Floor is recommended for grown-ups.
Update: Endorsement retracted. The reasons may be found here.