"Modern man has a lust for full explanation and habitually considers himself in no way morally bound unless he is in full possession of all the facts."

- J.B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small
Must All Sentences Be Short?

Remaining in the deep pockets of the short-sentence lobby for years was enough incentive to prevent Roy Peter Clark from writing this piece in favor of the long-sentence opposition party.

"When I fight this anxiety," he writes, "when I advise writers to 'Fear not the long sentence,' my encouragement inspires looks of alarm from teachers as if I were advocating taking all the garter snakes out of high school terrariums and replacing them with anacondas."

Or a natural fear of powerful, short-sentence lobbyists, who might leave conveniently unedited documents on reporters' desks which could embarrass their former supporters. Clark appears to have no fear, however, spilling the beans with items like this:

By my count, there are three main reasons to cast a long sentence:
  • To take a journey through a physical or emotional landscape.
  • To create a catalogue or inventory.
  • To build a mosaic of logic or evidence.

Teaser for Brad Bird's "Tomorowland"

Things Turn Out Best For Those Who Make the Best Out of the Way Things Turn Out

Balancing FunThis has made my day. In one of the books I edited this summer, the author attributed this quote to Coach John Wooden, "Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out." I searched for verification that Coach Wooden said it or came up with it himself, but could only find it widely attributed to him without citation. I found it attributed to Art Linkletter too, also without citation.

If I said known Wooden (1910-2010) was as old as Linkletter (1912-2010), I might have let it go, but I thought Linkletter was much older and consequently in a better position to have said something like this before the coach. So I kept looking, and finding nothing, asked The Quote Investigator to help. With his workload, I didn't expect an answer right away, but in today's email, I received word that he had posted his report:

(Great thanks to TygerBurning and Phil Wade whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Wade pointed to the 1979 citation and noted that Linkletter credited Wooden.)

Your desire to explore the genuine provenance of quotations is admirable. I appreciate your visiting and asking about an interesting saying.

Best wishes,
Garson O'Toole
When I wrote to QI, I told him I had found the quote attributed to Wooden without citation in Yes, You Can by Linkletter, so that ruled out one name, but that's as much as I could discover. Seeing the final QI report, I don't believe I could have found the answer.
In May 1965 an instance of this aphorism using the word “folks” was published in a newspaper column in Ada, Oklahoma together with miscellaneous sayings. No attribution was provided:

Things turn out best for folks who make the best of the way things turn out.

... In the following years, close variants of the adage were published in numerous newspapers. No individual was credited with the remark, and QI believes the statement should be labeled anonymous.
So chalk this one up to folk wisdom, friends.

Automatic Ordering and Payment for Coffee Drinkers

Pink metal clockwork robot maid - Naked Espresso BarHave you ever been waiting at a counter or restaurant, wondering why they haven't taken your order or seated you for a few minutes? They look busy, so there must be other customers, but you're the first one in line. Now the mobile-payment company, Square, is rolling out an coffee-buying app to allow more people to jump ahead of you in line without actually standing at the counter. Partnering with Blue Bottle Coffee, the Square app will allow coffee drinkers to place their order from their phone or tablet and pick it up within twenty-four hours. The store will receive the order and be warned when we approach the store so they can have your beverage ready when you walk in. No wait. No payment. No tip possibly. No personal interaction. All of that is handled online. So you could be standing at the counter for fifteen minutes while other customers walk in to pick up their orders.

Bach's Metaphors of Instrumentation in St. Matthew Passion

Barrymore Laurence Scherer writes about the beautiful oratorio, St. Matthew Passon by J.S. Bach:

For more tender contemplations Bach employs the softer veiled tone of the oboe d’amore, pitched a third below the oboe. In the soprano aria “I will give Thee my heart,” a soothing pair of oboes d’amore help suggest Christ’s loving relationship with mankind.

But Bach scores one of his most telling effects by eliminating certain instrumentation: Whenever Jesus sings his portions of the narrative, his bass voice is enveloped in a gleaming tissue of sustained triads played by two violins and viola, known as a “halo of strings.”
(via Prufrock)

From Tolkien's Masterpiece, the Danger of Words

Adam Roberts notes about The Lord of the Rings, "The repeated theme is the danger of words; their slipperiness but also the ease with which they can move us directly into the malign world of the text. One ring to bind us all. Books are bound, too."

A Presbyterian Walks Into a Baptist Chuch

Mark Jones writes about the differences between open and closed communion, meaning whether people in your church are allowed to take the Lord's Supper with you regardless of the mode or theology of baptism.

During a conference last year at SBTS, I was treated to an excellent paper by a young Canadian scholar (Ian Clary) on Andrew Fuller's communion practice. In the Q. and A. I asked (ipsissima vox):

"If you aren't baptized by immersion, then you can't be a called a Christian (in any meaningful ecclesiastical sense). And if you can't be called a Christian, then you can't take the Lord's Supper. Is that the implication of the closed communion view of Fuller?"

The room was silent: here a Presbyterian was asking a Baptist (in a room full of Baptists) to admit they can't call me a Christian.

My friend admitted that he believed/felt I was a Christian. But I countered: "Fuller's theology of communion and baptism doesn't allow you to call me a Christian in any official (ecclesiastical) sense. It is merely a private judgment." My friend, had to (uncomfortably) concede my point.
This, friends, is one of the ways good doctrine matters. Are Presbyterians actual followers of Christ? Is closed communion a good way to govern your local church?

Authors Union Seeks Investigation into Amazon.com

The Authors Guild met with the Justice Department in August to request a federal investigation into Amazon.com's actions against Hachette Book Group in their ongoing dispute over ebook prices and service fees. They say the earth's largest bookdealer is using anti-trust tactics against publishers like Hachette. Authors United is also preparing to ask the DOJ to get involved. Does this make you want to find other bookseller options, or is this all so inside baseball you don't care?

Writing as Product Development

Barnabas Piper reminds writers that their ideas are their products, so they should work through product development before launching them. "It means that you are probably the worst judge of whether your idea works."

Aaron Armstrong also has a bit of encouragement on writing better.

Self-Publishing: Too Many Little Fish in a Huge Sea

Ron Charles, editor of The Washington Post's Book World, asked Roger Sutton, editor in chief of Horn Book magazine, about reviewing self-published books.

Charles asked, “What do you say to the indie writer who reminds you that Walt Whitman was self-published?”

“You are not Walt Whitman,” Sutton said. “The 21st century is different in so many ways from the 19th that the comparison is meaningless. No one is forbidding you from self-publishing, but neither is anyone required to pay attention.”

Charles reviewed Sutton's recently expressed concerns over the glut of self-published books vying for place in our hands. Are there bound to be some great books out there? Yes, but there are too many bad one that look like it from a professional reviewer's outpost. The school of the self-published will only grow, and perhaps a new system of reviewing and judging will be organized to help readers find good books. Sutton isn't convinced it will matter. "People are more interested in writing self-published books than in reading them."


The Green Ember by S.D. Smith

Sam Smith answers a few questions about himself and his upcoming book, The Green Ember.

I love what C.S. Lewis called “dressed animal” stories. He loved them and kids usually do too, if they haven’t been talked out of them. One thinks of Lewis’s well-known statement about children getting “too mature” for fairy tales. “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
He's using Kickstarter to presell the book and generate buzz. Watch for it this Friday.

Ask a Southerner to Pray for You

Because God answers more prayer in the southern United States than in other states, according to a new Lifeway Research survey. Wealthy people are far more likely to pray that bad things will happen to bad people than are those who have low income. Nearly half of respondents said they pray for those who mistreat them or their enemies.

D.G. Myers, the Lion

Tributes to D.G. Myers from Friends & Colleagues

John Wilson wrote, "Like Samuel Johnson, David Myers was not a clubbable man, but he was the best of friends. Our friendship took place almost entirely under the umbrella of Twitter (where Doctor Johnson also would have flourished), yet in a lifetime blessed with friendship his was among the most precious to me."

George: "No Longer Tolerable"

Robert George believes we are at a tipping point with many opinion-makers. “Christians, and those rejecting the me-generation liberal dogma of ‘if it feels good do it,’ are no longer tolerable by the intellectual and cultural elite,” he says. The individualism of modern liberalism has become like a national religion for these elite, so our views on personhood, community, God, and everything else are heretical at best. They are in a position to punish us for holding these views, as George explains in two videos.

Professor, Critic D.G. Myers Has Passed Away

Micah Mattix says D.G. Myers was one of our best critics. Last Friday, Myers died of the cancer he endured for the past few years. Patrick Kurp is organizing a Festschrift for him to be hosted by Gregory Wolfe. Terry Teachout described him in an essay only a few days ago.

Kurp has written a few posts on Myers. Here he remembers a story of a dying man by Henry James. Here he passes on information from the family.

In a talk Myers' gave at Congregation Torat Emet on July 17. 2014, he said:

Several years ago terminal cancer called to me and I answered Hineni, “Here I am.” The religious language may seem blasphemous, as if I were claim­ing to be a prophet, but that’s not what I mean at all. What I mean is Hashem places you in your circumstances, and even the most ordinary of persons can discover his unique role in life, his calling—he can help to complete creation—if he recognizes and accepts where he has been placed.

The Lake Superior Mysteries, by Tom Hilpert

If Chesterton’s Father Brown had been a Protestant, and in better shape, and a man of action, he might have been something like Pastor Jonah Borden, hero of three enjoyable novels (to date) by Tom Hilpert.

Pastor Borden serves the parish of Harbor Lutheran Church in Grand Lake (a stand-in, I assume, for Grand Marais), Minnesota, on the North Shore of Lake Superior. He is a widower, a gourmet cook, a coffee addict, and a martial artist. He once killed a man in self-defense. He holds court a couple evenings a week at a local tavern, where he listens to people’s problems while sipping soft drinks.

In the first book in the series, Superior Justice, one of Jonah’s parishioners is arrested for the murder of the child molester who killed his daughter. Under the seal of the confessional, the accused man gives Jonah a rock-solid alibi, but it’s an alibi he wants to keep secret. In order to clear him, Jonah has to identify the real killer. Along the way he begins a romance with Leyla Bennett, a beautiful TV news reporter. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Possibly an Overreaction to Banning Books?

simple thingsAlan Noble says that Springs Charter School story may be an overreaction. In fact, the school says, "We can and do provide educational books with religious perspectives, including Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place."

The school statement continues: "However, like every other public school in the State of California, we cannot legally maintain religious textbooks on our warehouse shelves for distribution to our families. Donated items are made available to our families at no cost. Any and all donated items are not incorporated onto the shelves of our Curriculum Warehouse. The only materials we maintain on the shelves of our Curriculum Warehouse are items we have purchased ourselves in accordance with the laws of our State."

Noble asks, "Did the Superintendent make this clear in the letter she sent to PJI? That much is not clear, since PJI didn’t actually post her letter online." But the Super does appear to be a practicing catholic, not a opponent of faith.

Lazere: Colleges Should Be Full of Leftists

If the government-sponsored drought doesn't drive people out of California, the education system should. One California English professor (that's a professor of California English, not just one who lives in the state) argues in his book that students should be exposed to liberalism in college. Johnathan Marks reviews Donald Lazere's Why Higher Education Should Have a Leftist Bias.

Stephens College Students (MSA)

Here's the idea: "Neither mainstream liberals nor mainstream conservatives question the 'unmarked norm' of capitalism, and consequently students don’t question it either. 'Isn’t there something to be said,' then, 'for … preserving in the human imagination … socialist ideals,' and 'mightn’t college liberal arts teachers … be indulged in this role, like the monks who preserved the manuscripts of classical humanists?'"

Marks goes on to destroy Lazere's arguments with facts, which I won't repeat here. "Lazere’s great narrowing of the aim of higher education encompasses more than his wish that it occupy itself with preserving the thought of the left. Because Lazere thinks that not only 'unmarked norms' but also the deliberate efforts of a 'conservative attack machine' have prejudiced students against the left, exposing that machine becomes an important aim of 'general education.'" (via Prufrock)

The Hiding Place Should Be Read in Public Schools

Joel Miller explains "What banning this book says about the future of our society," talking about the Springs Charter Schools removing Christian books from their circulation. That book is Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place.

Rod Dreher describes a bit of how it changed him. "Reading The Hiding Place as a kid dramatically affected me. The moral heroism of the ten Booms sensitized me to the effects of anti-Semitism, and taught me what Christians must do if ever we are in a situation where persecuted people rely on us for protection."

Miller writes, "Given this Christian impulse to identify with the oppressed and save those in danger, to remove The Hiding Place from library shelves betrays a sort of societal self-defeat, and similar examples multiply as our culture fumbles toward a more rigorously enforced secularity. We’re like the cannibal committing suicide one nibble at a time." (via Prufrock)

Good Reading: The Thanatos Syndrome

"In the wonderful world of Walker Percy, old fashioned Southern gentility saunters in seersucker into sub human behavior and sips bourbon while planning a congenial genocide.

Their shabby chic sophistication makes the nefarious activities of the characters in The Thanatos Syndrome even more chilling."

Truth triumphs over sentimentality in this story. Dwight Longenecker explores it for us.

"Price point"

I've heard people use the term "price point," and I'm pretty sure they only meant "price," but thought "price point" sounded professional or something.

I'm sure there's a proper way to use "price point," but I'm not sure what it is.

In any case, the price point for my self-published novels has been adjusted to $2.99. This does not affect the price points for my Baen or Nordskog novels.

Try Death's Doors, here.

Test Your English Vocabulary

Now this is a vocabulary test.

An independent American-Brazilian research project is "measuring vocabulary sizes according to age and education, and particularly to compare native learning rates with foreign language classroom learning rates." They ask you to check all the words you can define, not just ones you think you've seen before. I got a respectable score, but yours will probably be better. Feel free to let us know. If you know what vibrissae and uxoricide are without me telling you, you'll do great on this test.

To Remain Unseen

"Kjell Askildsen writes what might reasonably be called ghost stories in which there are no ghosts." (via Prufrock)

Where to Buy the Best Coffee Around the World

When you're next in Prague, you can settle into the "green velvet chairs under brass chandeliers" in the Grand Cafe Orient, "designed by Czech cubist Joseph Gocar in 1912 (and restored to its original splendour in 2005), order Czech pastries, like medovnik (layered cream and honey cake) and traditional apple strudel with your coffee, which will be brought to you by uniformed waiters." This is where you'll buy a Preso s mlékem, "long espresso with cold or steamed milk (usually served on the side)" or Vídenská káva, "long espresso in a tall glass with lots of whipped cream on top."

Or you could visit a new cafe, La Bohème. "The interior is a mishmash of arty decor with patches of wallpaper depicting frothy clouds and shelves of books, with violins hanging from the ceiling. Beans are roasted upstairs and your order comes either on a silver tray or a leather coaster. Display cupboards hold collections of house coffees, moka and vacuum pots and Hario Skerton hand grinders for sale (about £27)."

So What If School Library Dumps Christian Books?

Burning BooksRiver Springs Charter Schools in California is reportedly removing all Christian books from its library shelves.

The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a legal defense organization, has been circulating the accusation that this network of California charter schools is culling its stock of Christian material, notably The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.

The school says it receives state funds and so cannot allow "sectarian materials on our state-authorized lending shelves." On their Facebook page, the school states, "No, we are not banning Christian novels at all. We are not allowed to provide sectarian textbooks however, so this is where the confusion comes in. So it's yes to novels, no to textbooks as a public school."

But attorneys with PJI say the Supreme Court has a "long-established precedent that strongly disapproves of school libraries removing books based on opposition to their content or message."

Now I fully understand that "sectarian" could be defined in wild and nonsensical ways. I mean, this is California. But I have a hard time understanding how a library is supposed to operate if it can't remove books over content issues. How did the books get in the library to begin with? If they had a volume of a decade of Playboy issues, would librarians be able to remove it based on the content?

I'm told Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico is in play here. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Why Should We Read Anything Except the Bible?

Gregory Wolfe observes, "If the Bible is a closed feedback loop – read me but read nothing else – then sign me up for another religion. I think it’s saying the opposite: read me faithfully and you will be equipped to read everything. If scripture doesn’t send you out into the world with curiosity and compassion, then it’s not from God."

He answers three quick questions here as a preface to speaking at the Word and Words Conference at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

"Don’t Forget Me, Bro," by John Michael Cummings

78|365 - The Suburbs“The word ‘home’ raised a smile in us all three,
And one repeated it, smiling just so
That all knew what he meant and none would say.” – Edward Thomas

Did everyone actually know what he meant, or could it be everyone thought they knew and didn’t want to articulate it? Trying to say what you think you know is a good way of learning whether you really know it. Can we ever return home once we’ve left? Is home a reality that can be returned to? I remember talking to a woman about the conflict she risked in her native country. She was glad to be away from it all, but she also longed to return there. That’s where her home was.

Home is where we fit in, but some of us are so dogged by internal or external pain that we don’t actually fit in anywhere with a clean snap. We just hold our place well enough; we appear to flow with the rest of the pattern. Is home where our family is? If so, who is our family? That’s as big a question as the definition of home. Both are subjects in John Michael Cummings’ new dramatic novel, Don’t Forget Me, Bro (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, Dec. 2014).

The story is told by Mark Barr, who returns to his Alma, West Virginia, home after receiving the call that his eldest brother, Steve, has died. Steve was declared mentally ill many years ago, and no one in the family seems to know how to deal with him. He died at age 45. At one point, he was a runner with aspirations of living a long, creative life.

“Forty-five was for car accident victims and the terminally ill,” Mark says. “Steve would be so ashamed. I was glad he wasn’t alive to know he was dead.”

But Mark hadn’t talked to his brother for years before they spoke on the phone last week, and he hasn’t kept up with his other brother or their parents. It has been 11 years since he last visited, and he felt the same today as he did back then—he wanted to get out. Alma and the surrounding mountains were haunted with ugly memories of choices Mark had made and experiences he’d suffered. If this was the place where he fit in, he hated the picture it made.

“All around me,” Mark drones, “mountains were streaked brown like stained commodes, and skeleton-shell barns flashed by, as if retreating. In that moment, I felt that this land had never stopped waiting for me to return, that like an enemy, it had me for life.”

Cummings sustains a good tension throughout this family drama. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Banned Books Week Fun Starts with "Persepolis"

It's Banned Books Week again, friends, that wonderful time of year when parents and teachers pull out their cardigans and gather to discuss serious complaints and differences of opinion over mugs of hot apple cider. When we drink cider in America, we think of censorship. Isn't that right?

#12 IranThis year we have a delightful book about the Islamic Revolution in Iran called Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. It's an autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, based on her experience growing up in Iran. Oregon's Department of Education recommends this book for high school students. It's a disarming little tale of horrific events as seen through a child's eyes. You can see a couple pages through the link.

Parents in Murphy, Oregon, have objected to the language and violent content in the book at their Three Rivers School Board meeting. When one parent was allowed to read from Persepolis, a board member stopped him because he didn't think the language was appropriate for the meeting, which helped make the parent's point.

Curiously enough, Chicago public schools pulled the book last year, which provoked parents and teachers to react in support of it. Copies of the book were reportedly taken from schools, and even Chicago's mayor said he would investigate the reason. They have since rescinded its complete removal. The school CEO asks that it not be taught to seventh graders.

None of this is censorship, friends. I don't know why Chicago wanted to yank this book, and I'm willing to believe the worst about their intentions, but that doesn't mean the parents in Murphy don't have good ones. Both of these things are beside the point. Objecting to a book's placement on a reading list is not calling for it to be banned. Asking for more parental consent when assigning difficult or morally objectionable material is not a book burning party. It's democracy and many other things as well.

'The Casablanca Tango,' by James Lileks

City Hall is a full block of rough stone with a thick finger pointing up at God. It’s like something that was left standing after wind and water wore away the weaker stone. Used to be purple, but it wears a coat of coal dust like most of the buildings downtown. A thing of glory when it went up, but forty years of cops and politicians will rub the polish off the nicest cuspidor.

That’s Minneapolis City Hall. I know it well – I used to work about two blocks away, but about 25 years after 1947, the time of this novel.

James Lileks, who’s rather popular in these parts (speaking both culturally and geographically) is producing a series of mystery novels set in Minneapolis over a period of decades. They’re not coming out in chronological order, for reasons which will doubtless be made clear in the fullness of time. The first book, Graveyard Special, which I reviewed here, was amusing but perhaps not entirely successful. The new one is Casablanca Tango, and I think it’s even better, though not perfect.

The Casablanca, to which the title alludes, is a bar across the street from the Citizen-Herald, the newspaper where the narrator works. The narrator is John Crosley, a photographer, who plays Watson to the Holmes of Harold Holman, ace reporter. They’re both veterans recently back from WWII. They’re the first on the scene when several men and a girl are murdered in the Casablanca one day. Three lines have been drawn with blood on the girl’s forehead. Soon after, another girl is murdered, with four red lines drawn on her body, and soon the police are on the hunt for a serial killer. But Harold and John are curious about mob ties and a political plan to raze the Gateway District, a run-down downtown neighborhood.

The greatest pleasure of The Casablanca Tango is the immense amount of research Mr. Lileks has put in to recreating a city only barely recognizable today (the clearing of the Gateway District here was just the start). Even if you don’t know Minneapolis, you’ll feel like you visited it. He mentions more than one restaurant I ate in myself, decades later but before the concrete wave of redevelopment obliterated them.

The writing and dialogue are good, and there’s an authentic hard-boiled flavor to them ("I've seen flies land on eyes that had more life than hers"). Unfortunately the author seems to lose sight of the forest for the trees sometimes – he has a disconcerting way of losing track of his characters’ hair color, for instance (he describes one woman in a single sentence as being a blonde with black hair). He introduces a peripheral character named “Cecil,” who is obviously standing in for Cedric Adams, a newspaper columnist and broadcaster who pretty much owned the town in those days (I remember him). Then, about half-way through the book he drops the pseudonym and Cecil openly becomes Cedric. He also identifies Hawthorne as the poet of the “Song of Hiawatha.” He really needed an editor, or at least a better one.

I'll say this though -- the culprit was not who I expected, and not who most writers would have fingered.

On balance I give The Casablanca Tango four stars. It’s as good a voyage through time as you’re going to get for $3.99

Lecrae: 'Christian is my faith, not my genre.'

Musican Lecrae has some good thoughts on Christians as makers of culture in this interview with Eric Geiger from last year. He says he doesn't want to be labeled Christian by his claims of faith, but by his practice of faith. The interview is 20 minutes long. For an hour long take on music and Lecrae in particular, see this post with Ed Stetzer.

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