"Before my God, I might not this believe without the sensible and true avouch of mine own eyes."

- William Shakespeare, Hamlet
DVD review: "Troll Hunter"

Since I'm in the middle of a course of antibiotics to kill off my bronchial infection, I took the excuse to spend most of the weekend in bed, watching movies on Netflix. Picked off a couple I'd been meaning to get to, the Norwegian movie Troll Hunter being one of them.

This is an interesting movie. The one thing you need to understand when you approach it—and I suspect some people will miss this—is that it's a comedy. A particular kind of Scandinavian comedy, and an extreme example of its kind.

To a very large degree (and you've probably have noted it in my own writing), Scandinavian humor is dry. We love to tell a story that gets increasingly ridiculous, straight-faced. To put it plainly, we may be laughing with you or at you, or both, depending on your reaction. We judge your intelligence by how long it takes you to grasp the absurdity.

That's what Troll Hunter does. It's kind of like a cross between The Blair Witch Project and The Office.

At the beginning we are following three Norwegian college students doing a documentary journalism project. They think they're following a bear poacher, which would be dangerous and ill-advised enough on the face of it. But when they follow him into the woods one night, he suddenly shouts, “TROLL!” and they find themselves scrambling away, with a huge, three-headed creature at their heels. They escape, but one of their members is bitten. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Poems on Violence

Tom Nolan quotes Philip Dacey on his poetic depiction of a poisoned Russian agent poisoned in "With or Without Milk": "I drank a tea not made in front of me. / Beware tea brewed in ways you cannot see."

"The poetry of violent death," he says, "spans hundreds of years." (via Books, Inq.)

Abraham Kuyper

Saturday was Dutch Reformer Abraham Kuyper's birthday (1837-1920). The man who wrote: "When people recite the Lord’s Prayer, they all pray, 'Deliver us from the evil one,' but in free, spontaneous prayers we seldom call upon God to cover us with His shield against the poisonous arrows of Satan. Therefore, if the Kingdom of Christ is to regain its glory also in our eyes, it is imperative that we emphatically insist that Jesus Himself saw His life struggle as one fierce battle against Satan." George Grant has a brief tribute to him.

We have a winnah!

Thanks to all who made suggestions for the tag line for Troll Valley.

Although I had decided to go with something else, I thought it over and concluded that commenter Adam had the best suggestion. His tag line will go on the book, in a slightly modified form:

"The Fairy Tale Your Grandparents Never Told You."

Adam will receive a free copy of Troll Valley once the thing is published. Assuming he has the capability to download e-books.

More Lewis than Lovecraft

William Peter Blatty, best known for writing the horror classic, The Exorcist, says that wasn't what he had in mind at all, according to this article at Fox News:

...for the humiliating God’s-honest truth of the matter is that while I was working on "The Exorcist," what I thought I was writing was a novel of faith in the popular dress of a thrilling and suspenseful detective story – in other words, a sermon that no one could possibly sleep through -- and to this day I haven’t the faintest recollection of any intention to frighten the reader, which many will take, I suppose, as an admission of failure on an almost stupefying, scale.

I've read the original book, though that was a long time ago (I clearly remember reading it in the Minneapolis bus station while waiting for transportation home to the farm for Christmas, and I haven't ridden a bus or had the farm to go home to in a long, long time). My memory is faint, but I'm pretty sure he's telling the truth. The book is a thriller about a crisis of faith, not a work of horror in the usual sense. Even the movie bears the marks of that purpose, although the pea soup and revolving head tend to dominate one's attention (Did her head spin around in the book? I don't actually recall).

Anyway, if you're looking for Halloween reading that's strong-flavored and faith-friendly, you can do worse than The Exorcist.

On a side note, when I hear Blatty's name, I don't think first of The Exorcist, but of a TV movie he wrote earlier, a comedy western movie called "The Great Bank Robbery," starring Zero Mostel, Clint Walker, and Kim Novak. I particularly recall one scene where Kim kisses the shy and quiet Clint, making him visibly uncomfortable.

"Did you like it?" she asks with a smile, as she walks away.

"Ma'am," he replies, "Just 'cause I talk slow don't mean I'm peculiar."

Help needed

I'm pondering a small problem with my upcoming e-book, Troll Valley. And I thought, hey, I'll crowdsource it to the world's smartest people, the few, the proud who read Brandywine Books.

Our own Phil Wade has been applying his considerable graphic skills to creating a cover, based on a photograph I took of the Gunderson House, the house in my home town (Kenyon, Minnesota) which inspired the house where the main characters of Troll Valley live.

Friends, this is going to be an awesome cover. I know the word “awesome” is overused, but I mean it literally. Or almost literally. Anyway, it's great. Phil took a bright, sunny picture, ran it through some filters, and turned it into a dark, numinous sort of thing, with extras that you'll just have to wait to see. Almost identical to what I envisioned, and much better than I dared hope.

But here's where the problem comes. We're laying it out with my name where it belongs (at the top). And the title, somewhat larger, near the bottom.

And it occurred to me that most books include some kind of tag line, a teaser to give people a hint what sort of story they're looking at here.

I'm trying to come up with a tag line that will suggest the kind of weird book this is. Here's where I solicit your help.

But you need something to work with. A short synopsis of the story:Read the rest of this entry . . .

Parables, with rimshots

"The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind," by Abel Grimmer (1565-1630)

Joe Carter at First Thoughts links to an intriguing article by James Martin, S. J. in The Wall Street Journal, called “Jesus of Nazareth, Stand-Up Comic?” Before you take offense at the title, take time to read the piece. I think he makes an excellent point.

There are more overt signs of Jesus’s appreciation of a sense of humor.  My favorite is the story of Nathaniel in the Gospel of John.  When he hears that Jesus is from Nazareth he says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  It’s a dig at Jesus’s hometown, which was seen as a backwater.  What does Jesus say in response?  You would expect the grumpy Jesus to castigate Nathaniel.  But he does the opposite.  Jesus says, “Here is an Israelite without guile.”  In other words, here’s a guy I can trust!  And Nathaniel joins the apostles.  It’s an indication of Jesus’s appreciation of a sense of humor.

Jesus' parables, I've long believed, are particularly opaque to modern Christians because of our wrong-headed insistence on treating them as solemn guides to exemplary living. My own reading of the gospels (though Heaven knows I'm no scholar, and understand Greek not at all) has convinced me that parables need to be taken one at a time. Some are solemn, like the story of Lazarus and the rich man. But others involve crazy exaggeration (Jesus loved hyperbole, to an extent that would probably get Him in trouble in the modern church), and can best be described as a spiritual kick in the pants.

Martin gives some examples, which I generally agree with. One of my own favorites is the Parable of the Unjust Steward, in which Jesus tells—with apparent approval—the story of a manager who first of all embezzles his employer's money, and then, before cleaning out his desk, gets a bunch of his boss's debtors to falsify their loan documents, so that they'll owe him favors. How many Sunday School teachers have twisted themselves into logical knots trying to get a “Go and do thou likewise” out of that story? The real point is just that crooked sinners are smart enough to “feather their nests” by helping others, purely out of self-interest, and we should be smart enough to do the same with an eye to eternity, especially since we handle wealth that our Master wants us to share.

When I was in a musical group I always meant to write a comic skit re-imagining the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant as a Godfather-style gangster story.
“You wanted to see me, Don Vito?”

“Yeah, Louie. Siddown. You want a cigar? Somethin' to drink?”

“No, no thank you, Don Vito.”

“Wanna get right to business, huh?”

“If that's all right, Godfather.”

“Sure, sure. OK, here's the thing. I been hearin' some stories. Whispers in my ear, you know? Something about you and Benny the Ninepin. You know about these stories?”

“I don't think so.”

“What I been hearin' is that you beat him up, broke his arm with a pool cue. Is this true?”

“He owed me money, Godfather.”

“How much, Louie?”

“A C-note.”

“A C-note.”

“That's right.”

“One-hundred bucks.”


“Now Louie, I'm confused. 'Cause I seem to recall a time when you came up short... what was it? Two million simoleons?”

“Uh, somethin' like that.”

“An' all the boys told me I ought to break your neck and bury you out in the flats, so the other collectors would be more careful next time. But you was my cousin's husband, so I said, 'Nah, I'll let it go this time. Put a scare in him and see if he cleans up his act.”

“I've always been really grateful, Godfather. You see, that's why I was tryin' to collect from Benny, so I could start payin' you back--”

“A hundred bucks on two million? For that you broke Benny's arm? Did it occur to you that a guy who's had two million bucks written off ought to give a break some bum who owes him chickenfeed? What kind of a goombah are you...?”

"The Reversal," by Michael Connelly

I felt what Maggie had tried to describe to me on more than one occasion when we were married. She always called it the burden of proof. Not the legal burden. But the psychic burden of knowing that you stood as representative of all the people. I had always dismissed her explanations as self-serving. The prosecutor was always the overdog. The Man.... I never understood what she was trying to tell me.

Until now.

I still haven't entirely warmed to Michael Connelly's “Lincoln Lawyer” character, Mickey Haller, who strikes me as somewhat irresponsible (a useful quality, perhaps, in a criminal defense lawyer).

But The Reversal, “A Lincoln Lawyer” novel, is as much a story of Mickey's half-brother, police detective Harry Bosch, as it is one of Mickey's, so I had no problem getting on board. And the story as a whole seemed to me as engaging and sympathetic as Connelly has written in some time.

It begins with Mickey doing something he's always sworn he'd never do—go to work (on a temporary basis) as a county prosecutor, making and presenting a case against a convicted child murderer. DNA evidence has won the convict a new trial, but the District Attorney's office still believes they have the right man. The most important element of their case is the eyewitness, the victim's older sister, who was only a child at the time.

Mickey agrees to do the job—just this once—on the condition that he gets his ex-wife, prosecutor Maggie MacPherson, as his associate. (He wants to improve his relationship with her.) With Harry Bosch as chief investigator, it makes the entire prosecution a family affair.

The narration switches back and forth from Mickey's point of view (presented in the first person) and Harry's (in the third person). The alternation makes an interesting counterpoint. Mickey is all about tactics and strategies, intuiting the Defense's moves on the basis of his own considerable experience on that side of the courtroom. Meanwhile Harry runs down leads and dogs the suspect in his accustomed, obsessive way, his focus always on his duty (or vocation), as an officer of society itself, to see justice done and the evil removed from our midst.

This being fiction, of course, even the best courtroom strategist can't foresee, or prevent, the big surprise that takes the story's climax out of the safety of the courtroom and into the perils of a city full of innocent bystanders.

The Reversal is an excellent thriller from a master storyteller. Recommended for adults. Cautions for language and icky stuff.

The Unreliable Narrator

Anne Enright talks about her novel, The Forgotten Waltz, with The Paris Review:

Gina Moynihan is the kind of person who realizes what she’s saying in the saying of it. And I think many of us are similar. Until you start articulating something, you don’t quite know what it is, and you don’t see the mistakes or flaws in your own argument until they’re in the air. She’s in the process of realizing what she’s saying, in the process of realizing what she knows or what she has refused to know—that’s the journey of the novel.

The wonderful thing about this kind of unreliability is that it reflects the unreliability of our own narratives about our own lives. You tell a story about how you ended up at this place, rather childishly thinking that there is no other place that you could have ended up—especially when it comes to love, which has this destined, momentous feel to it. I was balancing that momentous and eternal sense of love with the cause and effect of meeting people and shagging them or not.

St. Crispin's Day

This call to celebrate a literary holiday in St. Crispin's Day seems jaded, but maybe I am ignorant of King Henry V true character and the context of his war with France. I like this holiday idea though. Today, friends, is St. Crispin's day. From Shakespeare's Henry V:

"He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,

And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.

And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day."

Guy Patrick Cunningham writes, "In Henry V, Shakespeare offers us an opportunity to see the horror that results from pursuing winning only for its own sake. This is why St. Crispin’s Day ought to belong to Shakespeare’s play, and not the historical Henry’s battle. Because by reading, rereading, or simply thinking about the play, we are reminded that there is often a difference between the achievements that usually get remembered and the achievements that actually make people’s lives better."

Here's a summary of the Battle of Agincourt, which Henry won on October 25, 1415.

For your Spectation

My latest article for The American Spectator can be found here. It's about the old Robin Hood television series we Baby Boomers enjoyed in the 1950s.

I note that Michelle Malkin wrote about Robin Hood today too.

Great minds, and all that.

DVD review: "Buck"

Full disclosure: This should probably be called a Netflix review rather than a DVD review, but I can't link to Netflix on Amazon.

Full disclosure number two: I'm not a horseman. I've ridden some, and generally managed not to fall off, and my brothers and I had a pony when we were kids. But I know I'm a tenderfoot. I qualify in no way to evaluate the horse training methods discussed in this excellent documentary.

It sure makes a good story, though.

Buck Brannaman, the subject of Buck, is one of the most famous proponents of what might be called the “new school” of horse training, an approach that concentrates on understanding the horse's fears, calming those fears, earning the animal's trust, and then becoming its thoughtful master. Buck seems to be able to take all but the most damaged animals, and fairly quickly to gentle them and get them doing what he wants them to do.

He was one of the inspirations for the book The Horse Whisperer, and served as technical consultant and stand-in for Robert Redford's movie adaptation. Nowadays he travels the country nine months out of the year, conducting four day seminars on horse training.

The most remarkable and moving aspect of this film is its treatment of the abuse Buck and his brother suffered at the hands of their father, after their mother's death. Fortunately they were removed from his care and placed in a loving foster family where they gradually learned to trust grownups again. Buck explicitly links this experience to his approach to horse training, feeling that he understands the horses' fears (they're essentially afraid that we're predators trying to eat them) on a profound level.

With all I've heard of “Horse Whisperers,” I was half prepared for a lot of new-agey, PETA-style sentimentality and romanticism in the the film's treatment of horses. I'm happy to report that there's none of that here. Buck still considers himself a cowboy, and an important part of his technique is getting the horse (and its owner) to understand who's supposed to be the boss. A dangerous horse must be put down, for the sake of humans.

This is a fine, moving documentary. I recommend it. I think there's a little rough language, but I don't have a strong recollection of it.

In Response to Having His Book Pulled from a Library

Author Charles Bukowski wrote this letter in response to a reporter asking for him to comment on the removal of one of his books from a Netherlands Public Library. He makes a good point.

"The thing that I fear discriminating against is humor and truth," he says. "Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can't vent any anger against them."

Thanks for this link to Frank Wilson, who observes the letter "pretty much says it all. But it won't stop the censors of all stripes."

Burn: Never Extinguish

This is a commercial posing as a short film on creative desire. I suppose the bottom line for a commercial is the sale of drinks, specially the energy drink, Burn. But this bit of video is calling us to create out of our own image and don't let hardship, like a tornado, get in the way.

Perhaps the video I embedded here last night changed (because I think I double-checked its availability). Here's another link to the video.

Link sausage, Oct. 21, 2011

Tonight, as we approach the weekend, a couple links. Both will lead you to delicious compendiums of obscure information, with which you may amaze your friends and win bar bets (not that any of our readers ever go to bars).

First, from Listverse: Twenty Great Archaic Words. Words that we've somehow allowed to slip out of common use. Yet a few of them seem (to me) to be very useful. My favorite:

17. Apricity – The feeling of the warmth of the sun in winter. This word sparked this list when I used it in conversation and no one knew what it was. Nothing particularly funny, just a great word and a great sensation.

One of my favorite sensations, and a word I need to work into conversation from now on. I suspect I'll get the chance before many months have passed.

(Caution: The last archaic word is one you might want to shield small children from.)

Also, from The Scotsman, Vikings and Scotland: Ten Lesser-Known Facts:
Clan names are a visible relic; MacIvors were originally the sons of Ivar, MacSween, the sons of Swein, Macaulay, the sons of Olaf, MacAskill, the sons of Asgeir and so on.

I didn't know about those names. I did know about MacLeod, the sons of Ljot (some people say Ljot means “Light,” and others say it means “Ugly.” I'm not qualified to judge, but I'd bet on “Light.” Just a hunch.

Have a great weekend.

What Our Superheroes Say About Us

Steven Greydanus discusses this summer's superhero movies.

Perhaps Captain America offers the best depiction of what makes for a good hero: being a good person in the first place. ... Like others of his generation, Steve’s character was tempered in the forge of the Great Depression as well as the shadow of world war. Next year’s Avengers movie will throw this Greatest Generation warrior into the mix with the Tony Stark generation. What will that show us about ourselves and the world we live in? I’m almost afraid to find out.

The Worst Business in the World

"As early as 1896, Publisher’s Weekly wondered whether the book business was 'A Doomed Calling'—a question that, by the late nineteenth century, had already become a cliché."

Ben Tarnoff says people in the book business have been complaining about it's final curtain drop for over a century. Back in Mark Twain's day, they worried the subscription model would ruin everything. Today, it's e-books. Tomorrow, it will be holographic gaming galleries.

Suicide Run, by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch is not my favorite among Michael Connelly’s continuing characters. That honor goes to Terry McCaleb, whom Connelly killed off a few books back (McCaleb makes a welcome appearance in one of the stories in this book). But I appreciate Harry more than Connelly’s replacement for McCaleb, Micky Haller, the “Lincoln Lawyer.” Not that there’s anything much wrong with Haller. He’s just newer and (to all appearances) less damaged by life than the others. It’s the scars and calluses on the older characters that make them interesting to me.

Suicide Run is a collection of three short stories starring Harry (Hieronymus) Bosch, Los Angeles police detective. Warning: It’s a short collection. Much of the bulk of the book is taken up by a preview of Connelly’s next novel, The Drop. Since I never read such previews (they only frustrate me), I was a little disappointed in that.

But I enjoyed the stories nonetheless. In “Suicide Run,” Bosch investigates the murder of a beautiful Hollywood starlet, disguised as a suicide. In “Cielo Azul,” he goes to visit a killer on death row, in an attempt to persuade him to reveal the burial site of one of his victims. In “One Dollar Jackpot,” he tackles the murder of a famous female poker player, shot to death in her automobile.

The genius of the Harry Bosch stories, in my view (and in all Connelly’s work), is the compassion at their heart. Harry, like a character in a painting by the artist he was named after, lives in a world filled with horrors and apparent irrationality. Yet his personal vocation is to speak for the dead, to do them the last possible service through seeing that their killers pay the price.

For me, the outstanding story here was “Cielo Azul,” a bittersweet tale in which Harry goes on a seemingly hopeless quest to learn one truth before it’s too late. I don’t know what author Connelly believes about God or the afterlife, but he asks the right questions here, and that’s something.

Recommended for adults.

“Humility in the Wrong Place”

Mark Tubbs invokes Screwtape to say Christians entirely misunderstand equality. "[T]hey consider it bad form at best, and supreme, 'sinful' arrogance at worst, to evangelize others or even to encourage one another because it suggests they may be possessors of a superior spiritual experience!" he says. As long as we are more concerned with our reputations than the truth, we will avoid talking to others, even believers, about real life (meaning spiritual truths).

face-down on the cobbles

The post refers to Chesterton's thoughts on humility. Here is part of the man said about that:

... what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt -- the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

Irony of Academic Distance

Mindy Withrow talks about Poet Billy Collins:

He delights in paradoxes. In “Table Talk,” a dinner companion “asked if anyone had ever considered / applying the paradoxes of Zeno to the maryrdom of St. Sebastian.” All during the meal, pondering Zeno’s theory that no moment ever really arrives but only draws closer by half, Collins “kept thinking of the arrows forever nearing / the pale, quivering flesh of St. Sebastian, / a fleet of them forever halving the tiny distances / to his body, tied to a post with rope, / even after the archers had packed it in and gone home.” But then he wryly observes that “my fork continued to arrive at my mouth / delivering morsels of asparagus and crusted fish.”

Chekhov Writes about Nicole Kidman, Eminem, etc.

Ryan Britt praises Ben Greenman's efforts in his short story collection, Celebrity Chekhov: Stories by Anton Chekhov (P.S.). Ryan says, "Speculative fiction should not only push the boundaries of what is possible in the various dimensions of existence, but also what is possible within the boundaries of creative expression itself. In this way, Celebrity Chekhov is no laughing matter, but actually quite profound. However, you’ll probably laugh out loud anyway."

The Shakespeare Manuscript, by Stewart Buettner

This disappointing novel is another book I can bury in my “not very good, but at least I got the e-book free” file.

I was drawn to Stewart Buettner's The Shakespeare Manuscript because of the remarkable (though surely coincidental) parallels between it and my own novel, Blood and Judgment.

Both books deal with the discovery of a lost Hamlet manuscript—in my story an original draft, in this one an original of a lost prequel, “Hamlet Part I”.

Both involve the relationships and frictions involved in the production of a play—in my case an amateur company, in this case a professional one.

My book, however, was a fantasy. This book is... I'm not sure. It seems to be a sort of mystery, but the stakes are never raised high enough to build much tension, and the only death that occurs turns out to be natural.

And that's the problem with The Shakespeare Manuscript. A lot of people run about doing things and irritating each other, but there's no real dramatic arc.

The book starts with a New York rare books dealer, Miles Oliphant, on a trip to England, being mugged. While he's unconscious in hospital and still unidentified by the police, a box of manuscripts he sent home is opened by his daughter, April. She finds a manuscript among the papers which, she soon realizes, looks very like a lost play of Shakespeare's, in his own hand. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Our Self-swindling Hearts

Burk Parsons on whether trials are meant to make us stronger:

When we as a human race fell into sin, our affections changed, and we who once had the ability not to sin became a people who could not help but sin and even found pleasure in sin, albeit fleeting pleasure. Sin ravaged our hearts and minds, and, like Tolkien’s Gollum, we began to wallow in the mire of sin-dependent idolatry all the while maintaining our autonomy from God and our supreme, though perceived, control over any and all our precious little idols, each of which possessed an uncanny resemblance to ourselves. . . .

Both the enemy within us and the enemies outside us exist as a natural result of the Fall, and in their natural course of existence they fight daily to gain our affection, allegiance, and dependence. Like Gollum’s precious little idol that seemed to want to be found, our self-swindling hearts seem to want us to find our immediate and ultimate fulfillment in anything that lures our dependence away from God. Meanwhile, our Enemy is content simply to draw our affections to anything but the one true God, and thus to make us less dependent on God and increasingly dependent on ourselves and on our hearts’ precious idols, which will come alive and do our bidding.

Multiple Falsehood Disorder

Back when I was in college, there was a TV miniseries (I never actually saw it myself) called “Sybil,” starring Sally Field. It told the story of a woman who suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder, induced by horrendous childhood abuse. It was based on a “fact-based” book, with names and locations disguised.

Still, the word got around as to what the (supposed) facts were. The real Sybil was a woman named Shirley Mason, and she'd grown up in the little town of Dodge Center, Minnesota. Dodge Center is a neighboring town to my own home town, Kenyon. I remember riding through Dodge Center around that time, thinking, “It all happened here.”

Only it didn't. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Bookplates: Nice, Quiet Work

The Bookplate Junkies shares some very nice designs by English artist Ernest William Oldham: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Ernest W. Oldham Bookplate

Flagging enthusiasm

This article by Soeren Kern at The Brussels Journal reports on an effort by the growing Swiss Muslim community to remove the famous white cross from that country's red flag.

An immigrant group based in Bern has called for the emblematic white cross to be removed from the Swiss national flag because as a Christian symbol it “no longer corresponds to today’s multicultural Switzerland.” Ivica Petrusic, the vice president of Second@s Plus, a lobbying group that represents mostly Muslim second-generation foreigners in Switzerland (who colloquially are known as secondos) says the group will launch a nationwide campaign in October to ask Swiss citizens to consider adopting a flag that is less offensive to Muslim immigrants.

Here we have, in a nutshell (it seems to me) Europe's current cultural problem. They're desperately trying to find a continental identity, and just as desperately attempting to keep their distance from the one and only thing that historically united them in a cultural sense—the Christian religion. If Europe is not identical with Western Christendom (excluding the Americas), then what in heaven's name is it?

No one seems to have any idea. Read the rest of this entry . . .


Novelist Geoff Dyer talks about the craft in The Guardian. "Writers are defined, in large measure, by what they can't do. The mass of things that lie beyond their abilities force them to concentrate on the things they can," he says. You can't practice through your weaknesses like a tennis player, but neither is your work as defined as tennis is. One thing's for certain: "it's far easier to give advice about writing than it is to do it." (via Andy Crouch and Alan Jacobs)

Publishing update

The Gunderson House, Kenyon, Minnesota, which I borrowed for my new book.

[Thousand Ills That Flesh Is Heir To Dept.: My cold continues pretty much unchanged, like a visitor you expected to come for dinner, who means to stay a month. I still have no voice. It's a little disturbing to realize that I can actually get through 99% of my day without needing a voice.]

Some of you seem to be interested in the new book, which I'm planning to publish digitally. I thought the process would take a while, but I sent the document file to Ori Pomerantz one day, and he got it back to me, tentatively formatted for Kindle, the following night. I think he's formatted it for Nook too. The big slow-down may be the read-through I'm doing now myself, and the time it takes for me to whip some cover art together.

I can't promise a release date, and no doubt there will be delays, but as far as I understand what's going on (not much), it looks to be available soon.

Eventually, if I sell enough electronic copies, I may be able to get some dead tree books printed.

What's the novel about?

Well, it's called Troll Valley (you may recall the name of the place from Wolf Time). It's set at the turn of the twentieth century, in my default literary locality of Epsom, Minnesota, a small town based on my home town.

The main character is Christian Anderson, a boy from a wealthy family, who has a deformed arm and a fairy godmother.

Major themes include Lutheran pietism, the goodness of God, grace, and the Evangelical-Progressive political alliance of that time.

I'm rather surprised to find, doing my read-through, that I quite like the book. I'm prejudiced, of course, but I think it holds together pretty well.

More as the situation unfolds.

Not as dangerous as you think

A mildly amusing event, in the course of my ride to Norway, Michigan last weekend in Ragnar's colossal van, was our lunch in a biker bar.

We were deep in the wilds of Wisconsin when noon rolled around. Ragnar was following his GPS, which he'd apparently set to “Lose a Tail” mode, because the few towns we passed through were pretty small, and generally didn't offer any places to eat. However, this being Wisconsin, there was usually at least one bar on every block. We agreed that bars often have food, and we'd look for one that advertised that commodity.

We soon found one, and rolled into the almost empty lot. Once we got inside, we realized, from the décor and the clothing of the customers, that it was a biker establishment.

This is the point where, in a movie or novel, we'd have been set on by toughs and forced to fight for our lives.

I think we might have taken them too, had it come to that.

Because Ragnar is still pretty dangerous, and the entire population of the saloon was the woman behind the bar, and a middle-aged couple in black leather who were more interested in each other than in stomping us.

Hey, we actually fit in pretty well. We had long hair and beards. All we lacked was the leathers.

We ordered hamburgers, which when they came were pretty good.

The only memorable incident was that the bartender noticed I'd paid her with bills stamped with those “Where's George?” messages. “Are you one of those people who track these things?” she asked.

I said no, but I'd recently been paid by someone who tracks those things.

I think Ragnar was a little disappointed we didn't get a chance to rumble.

Now that I'm on the subject, I've begun to wonder—are there any young motorcyclists anymore?

I remember when biker gangs were the very symbol of rebellious, dangerous youth. The young Marlon Brando. The adolescent Peter Fonda.

It seems as if Biker culture is dying out with the Baby Boomers. The people who ride motorcycles now have square jobs during the week, and get their Animal on on the weekends.

Or they're retired.

Kind of like Viking reenactors.

"The Perfection of Beauty"

And now, a bit of performance poetry from rapper shai linne with Blair Linne presenting.

shai linne - "The Perfection of Beauty" ft. Blair Linne (Official Trailer) from Lamp Mode Recordings on Vimeo.

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