"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"
A Guide of Scifi and Fantasy Recommendations

NPR listeners picked 100 Scifi and Fantasy novels this summer, and SFSIGNAL has produced a helpful chart for this list. On it, you'll see a strong logical flow of questions and answers like this:

Where should I start: Fantasy or SciFi?
No, I'd rather not be seen in that area of the bookstore.

We won't tell. Prefer a drama?
No. I just watched The Notebook last night?

Postmodern mind-bender?

Interested in Dystopian fiction?
Yes. I'm a sucker for worst case scenarios.

Totalitarian or world gone mad?

Do manufactured humans interest you?

Which question most frightens you?
Who needs Free Will?

Recommended: A Clockwork Orange

Or take this example:

Where should I start: Fantasy or SciFi?
No. Can't I have both?

You can have it all. Into the future or the past?

Math Geek?

Recommended: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Bell to Co-Write Spiritual TV Drama

"Rob Bell is reportedly working on a television drama called Stronger with Carlton Cuse, executive producer and screenwriter for the show Lost," according to Christianity Today. The report suggests Stronger will touch on the spiritual side of people's lives, but not be supernatural. So no angels, but maybe vampires like corporate execs. Bell says he will leave his church in Grand Rapids and move to Los Angeles for this work.

Report from Minot: The third

Crowds are definitely down at Hostfest this year. The main cause, I think, is lack of accommodations for the large tour groups which usually show up. But spirits are high, or at least not low. Everybody seems to be happy that they're carrying on with the festival at all.

My combat success has not been signal. After I did my first fight on Wednesday, I made the decision to switch to the battle axe as a weapon. It's kind of ironic that I've become the designated axe man in our group, since I'm probably the most attached to the sword, emotionally, of all of us. But I've got the most training with the axe, so it's up to me to figure out how to fight with the thing, and pass the information on. My problem is two-fold--plain unfamiliarity, plus the fact that I tend to lose my grip on the axe haft. I never lose my sword, unless I'm actually injured. But I have a hard time keeping the axe in hand with my protective glove on.

Did win one fight, though. There was also an interesting moment when my mighty axe blow embedded the weapon in my opponent's shield so firmly that I couldn't get it out again. Exciting for the spectators, though I got killed.

Ragnar's hip is hurting him, so I'm mostly fighting with the boys, ages 15 and 19. Not bad for a 61-year-old coal chewer (a saga reference. Look it up).

Dueling in Russia

About a century ago, a revival of dueling in Russia ended with a this duel by
Nikolay Gumilyov and Maximilian Voloshin. "The offense seems cliché at first," Nick Moran writes. "Gumilyov had—like many of his peers—become enamored with the female poet Cherubina de Gabriak, and Voloshin stood in his way. It was soon discovered, however, that de Gabriak did not actually exist in corpus, and was instead a pseudonym manufactured by Voloshin and a then-unknown schoolteacher named Elisaveta Dmitrievna. The two had concocted the exotic alias in order to get two dozen poems published. Gumilyov, publisher of some of these poems, wound up penning amorous letters to de Gabriak, and he began receiving equally amorous responses. The offense could not go unpunished. This time, both duelists survived unscathed."

Nick describes this period and the literature that sprang up with it on The Millions.

Kindle the Fire, Baby. I'll Get the Marshmallows

I confess I learned about the new Kindle from TOP10 Kindle Fan and friend of BwB Hunter Baker on Twitter. He and the world have been excited over the news. The Kindle Fire, to be released mid-November, is full color and able to play videos and read this blog (among other web-related things). Here's a round up of Kindle news and commentary:

Report from Minot: The second

The first day went well. Crowds were good (not great, but first day is generally light). My impression is that people in Minot may not have homes, but they tend to have money to spend.

Flood damage is particularly evident in the area around the fairgrounds, where the festival is held. Lots of houses with dirty water lines on the outside walls, ruined household junk piled outside. Some have FEMA trailers parked in the yards, but most are abandoned for the moment.

A restaurant we always used to patronize is boarded up and dead. Some traffic lights are out, and others no longer have left turn signals working, for some reason.

But the festival soldiers on. One thing I appreciate particularly is that a new group has joined the rotation at the Copenhagen Hall stage, around the corner from our Viking World. It's a very impressive family band (seven kids) that actually does some music I like. I didn't think such a phenomenon existed in the world anymore.

Say Nothing

Nine tips for how not to say nothing in 500 words: e.g. avoid the obvious, go straight to the unique argument, and slip out of abstraction.

Report from Minot: The first

Can't make the WiFi work from the Viking camp at the moment, but I'm making this quick post from a booth sponsored by SRT Communications (credit where credit's due, and all that).

If you're looking for work, I might suggest Minot. Jobs are going begging around here. There are three caveats to that statement of fact, however:

1. Once you get here, you'll find out there are better paying jobs further west, where the oil boom is booming in a booming way. Which is one reason so many jobs are unfilled here.

2. Housing is very limited, due to flood damage.

3. North Dakota winters.

Nevertheless, for those looking for jobs and a decent community to live in, you could do a lot worse than Minot, North Dakota.

It's about time for Hostfest to begin, so I'll sign off for now.

Quirky Steps to Drafting a Story Query Letter

Author Rebecca Makkai suggests boiling your novel story idea into a party anecdote to see how it goes over with a live audience. With a little analysis, you may have your story pitch when your done or the realization that your original story wasn't complete.

Mervyn Peake, 1911-2011

In previous conversations here, we've mentioned author and artist Mervyn Peake, born, 1911, to missionaries in China, died 1968 of Parkinson's. Overlook Press points out two articles on him for his centenary celebration in connection with their Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy.

Best Books for Oktoberfest

Steve Kettmann recommends a few books about Germany "and the Germans in which neither the word “Third” nor “Reich” figures prominently and one finds nary a reference to that failed artist from Linz, Austria."

Nathan Fillion Inspired Campus Violence (Sorta)

Well, not violence per se. Theater professor James Miller of the University of Wisconsin–Stout put a picture of Nathan Fillion with a quote from Firefly on his office door, and the chief of campus police, a woman, took issue with it. Read the details and see the office door poster from FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "Colleges and universities are supposed to foster brave and bold environments of freewheeling intellectual inquiry and expression. If a quote from a network science fiction show is a bridge too far, something has gone seriously wrong," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said.

Praise for Dappled Things

"He fathers-forth"

Remarkable Legacy of Banned Books Week Founder, Judith Krug

scream and shoutThe NY Times has an eye-opening overview of Judith Krug's crusade against content filtering in their 2009 obit. She claimed, “Library service in this country should be based on the concept of intellectual freedom, of providing all pertinent information so a reader can make decisions for himself.” She eventually applied that concept to her arguments against filtering internet access for children using library computers and against the federal government looking into a person's library borrowing record (The USA Patriot Act still allows "the Justice Department to conduct searches of library and bookstore records, in the investigation of suspected terrorist activity.")*

Miss Krug credits her parents for inspiring her to stand up for readers of the world. That story comes at the end of the obit. With crusaders for immorality like this in the world, it's no wonder parents want to pull books out of school libraries or pull their kids out of public schools.

How can moral parents raise moral children in an immoral world? Read the rest of this entry . . .

The Initial Outrage at "The Lottery"

Shirley Jackson's famous short story, "The Lottery," begins like this:

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 2th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.
It's a chilling tale, you may remember, and if you don't, you can read it all here. I didn't remember the first outrage to it back in 1948. "'The Lottery' was met with much negativity which surprised both the author and The New Yorker, and ultimately caused many subscribers to cancel their subscriptions and send hate mail."

Nowadays, they tell the same moral in children's movies. I remember Rabbit in one of the clumsier Winnie the Pooh movies singing about following the map over your own eyes. Ignore your senses; follow tradition and the book--which was to say how ridiculous it is to follow anything but your own senses. But Miss Jackson may have intended far more than that in "The Lottery." Her NY Times obit states:
"Shirley Jackson wrote in two styles. She could describe the delights and turmoils of ordinary domestic life with detached hilarity; and she could, with cryptic symbolism, write a tenebrous horror story in the Gothic mold in which abnormal behavior seemed perilously ordinary.

In either genre, she wrote with remarkable tautness and economy of style, and her choice of words and phrases was unerring in building a story's mood."

A Word to Hymn-Writers

The great musician Fernando Ortega gives a bit of advice to hymn writers: happy church songs don't stick to your ribs. Work on that next hymn in the light of some specific imagery or drama from the Scriptures. Ortega notes: "It’s easy to write a chorus that says:

God, you are a Holy God
I need your grace to see me through
I need your mercy to make me new
Let me live each day for you.
I just made that up in two minutes and there’s nothing wrong with it. It might fit easily and competitively among the hundreds of worship songs that are available to choose from. But compare those lines to the third stanza from the above hymn:
Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing."

The Lost Carthage

Carthage RuinsThe art and history of Carthage isn't as well known as we would like, because an ancient mob boss put the hit on them. Ed Voves reviews Richard Miles' book Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization, which "has uncovered the story of ancient Carthage, the Semitic civilization which flourished in its North African home city and in colonies all over the western Mediterranean until it was conquered by the Romans in 146 B.C." Voves writes:

"Carthage, however, was not merely conquered by Rome. As the title of Miles’ book asserts, Carthage was destroyed. In three brutal wars, Carthage’s military power was annihilated by the legions of the Roman Republic. The city was ransacked and burned, down to its foundations. The people of Carthage were massacred or enslaved. The literature of the city was put to the torch. Not a stone was left upon a stone."
Looks like a great book for ancient history readers.

The Mill and the Cross

Recommended by Jeffrey Overstreet, if it can make it to a theater near you.

"We turn to novels in pursuit of virtue."

"I believe the novel is a moral form. We turn to novels in pursuit of virtue. Through the tales fashioned by thoughtful writers we discover or reaffirm what we believe to be right and good. Our eternal subject is the nature of the well-lived life. So here’s a theory of what has happened to the middle classes and the novel. A hundred years or so ago the language of idealism changed. As Christianity fractured, the imagination of those who wanted to make a better world was seized by a new idealism: socialism. In this new understanding of society the working class had virtue and was the future; the middle class had power and was the past. Bourgeois values came to be seen as vices. The middle-class consumers of art and literature gradually found themselves cast in negative terms, as exploitative, parasitic and reactionary.

By the last decades of the 20th century, as these perceptions became the orthodoxy of the educated elite, writers and artists found they faced a fork in the road." Read the rest

Blind Pursuit, by Michael Prescott

I found Blind Pursuit by Michael Prescott a very satisfying thriller. It's one of those out-of-print novels that has begun to show up cheap in e-book format. I've had some good surprises with those.

The main characters are twin sisters, Erin and Annie Reilly, one a psychologist and the other a flower shop owner, who live in Tucson. The action starts fast with Erin's abduction in the night.

Because the author follows her in the car trunk after she is taken, I was worried I was going to have to watch her murder, and I was ready to drop the book if that happened (I have a low tolerance for the on-stage killing of women). But the kidnapper's plans for Erin are much more complicated than a simple sex killing. His plot is almost (not quite) beneficent and admirable, and his motives are a complex tangle that gets sorted out strategically for the reader, the enlightenment increasing with the dramatic tension.

The characters intrigue, the suspense is genuine, and there's even a nice twist at the end. Also there's romance for the ladies.

I enjoyed Blind Pursuit, and recommend it for adult readers.

Edwards Giveaway

I wish I'd seen this sooner today. Aaron Armstrong is giving away a set of Jonathan Edwards books. Read the description, follow the entry steps, and do it all before midnight today to enter.


Though our readers in Hawaii may have seen a gorgeous sunrise a little earlier this morning, I offer a bit of calm in the form of several beautiful photos.

But What Is a Press Release?

Joel Pollak points out the differences between Random House's initial press release for The Rogue and the one this week. Back then, the author "will be highly respectful of his subject’s privacy as he investigates her public activities," like years-old family affairs. This week, "The Rogue delves deeply into Alaska’s political and business affairs and Palin’s political, personal, and family life.." I'm glad Random House isn't publishing exposés about people who are actually in or running for office, because that would be so dull. As for McGuinniss, he should probably get a real job and read Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University in his off time.

This is me, being flexible

A couple nights every week, my renter plonks himself down in front of my desktop computer in the dining room, and dominates it for a few hours around suppertime. Although he has his own computer and is on my network, he claims this old, slow Dell handles certain streaming downloads better than his does. So I have to wait, because I'm passive.

Tonight was one of those nights. It's also bill-paying night on my schedule. And since I'm going to be gone next Thursday, I had to pay two weeks' worth of bills. So I overcame my OCD enough to do the bills before I blogged, rather than after, as is my custom.

And this is what I blogged. Just to show you how flexible I am.

Two National Book Awards

The National Book Awards will be announced November 14, and John Ashbery and Mitchell Kaplan will receive lifetime achievement awards. Poet John Ashbery has given us verses like these from "The New Higher":

"You meant more than life to me. I lived through
you not knowing, not knowing I was living.
I learned that you called for me. I came to where
you were living, up a stair. There was no one there."

Mitchell Kaplan is the creator of the Miami International Book Fair, "the largest community book festival in the United States and a model for book fairs across the country," notes the National Book Foundation.

Rot-Gut Rumor Posing as Exposé

Books like this make me worry that it isn't what you write but who you know that gets your material published. Joe McGinniss' book, which he hoped would be "the last best chance to put the truth about Sarah [Palin] in front of the American people in a documented, verifiable way" is full of lies, rumors, and ill-wishes. For an overview of the book, read this.

Numbering the dead

New estimates, based on U.S. Census data from 1870, strongly suggest that Civil War casualties totaled somewhere from 750-850,000, rather than the 600,000-plus figure used in history books for the last century and a half. According to this New York Times article:

The difference between the two estimates is large enough to change the way we look at the war. The new estimate suggests that more men died as a result of the Civil War than from all other American wars combined. Approximately 1 in 10 white men of military age in 1860 died from the conflict, a substantial increase from the 1 in 13 implied by the traditional estimate. The death toll is also one of our most important measures of the war’s social and economic costs. A higher death toll, for example, implies that more women were widowed and more children were orphaned as a result of the war than has long been suspected.

In other words, the war touched more lives and communities more deeply than we thought, and thus shaped the course of the ensuing decades of American history in ways we have not yet fully grasped. True, the war was terrible in either case. But just how terrible, and just how extensive its consequences, can only be known when we have a better count of the Civil War dead.

It should always be remembered that most of the casualties of the Civil War did not come from death on the battlefield, but from the inherent dangers of army life of the day. Accidents, illness, infections. "Just being in the army in 1861," Bruce Catton said somewhere, "was more dangerous than almost anything we know about today."

Tip: Grim's Hall.

Turning to an entirely different matter,
if you own a Kindle, you might want to check out Free Kindle Books and Tips, a weekday blog that offers books, games, and apps, usually free. I've found a few things worth reading there.

Is the Intellectual Life Worth Anything?

B.B. Warfield"Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. 'What!' is the appropriate response, 'than ten hours over your books, on your knees?' Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed." - B.B. Warfield (The Spiritual Life of Theological Students). (via Tabletalk Magazine)


What are some essential American novels?

For the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been, the Mystery Viking

"Hi! Where are you from?"

I hate the “Mystery Viking.”

The Mystery Viking is an ancient tradition at the annual Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota.

The idea is that when you've got a bunch of Scandinavians all together, there's likely to be little or no actual social interaction going on, unless money is to be had.

So somebody is designated “the Mystery Viking.” This unidentified volunteer wanders the halls, waiting for someone to walk up to him (or her) and say, “Hi! Where are you from?” Those are the magic words. The Mystery Viking is authorized to award this person 100 dollars.

That's how it's supposed to work.

But in fact, of course, since you're dealing with Scandinavians, comprehension comes slowly, if at all. People hear about the “Mystery Viking” and think, “I need to go up to someone dressed as a Viking, and ask him where he's from.” So we Vikings get approached by scores of strangers every day, drawn to us solely by their keen love of... money.

This is only one of the soul-searing trials that face me as I venture out to Høstfest again this year. I'll be gone all next week. I'll be doing limited posts, if any, depending on how the WiFi's working in Copenhagen Hall.

We don't know how the festival will go this year, in the wake of the devastating flooding the city has seen. A friend who lives in Minot told me the people are pretty exhausted, but he also thinks they need some diversion. Accommodations look to be a challenge (though we Vikings are taken care of).

So if you're in the area, stop in and say hello. Just remember not to ask where I'm from.

I'm generally armed when playing Viking at Høstfest.

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