"... in fiction, you don't just tell a story. You stage a story. You dramatize a story."

- Lars Walker
Engage Your Reading

Dorothy Sayers encourages readers to engage the work in their laps, not just kill time with it.

"Pray get rid of the idea that books are each a separate thing, divided from one another and from life. Read each in the light of all the others, especially in the light of books of another kind," she says.

If you don't like what you're reading, think through your reasons. "Does the subject displease you? — and if so, is it by any chance one of those disquieting things that you 'would rather not know about', though you really ought not to shirk it? Does the author’s opinion conflict with some cherished opinion of your own? — If so, can you give reasons for your own opinion? (Do try and avoid the criticism that begins: 'We do not like to think' this, that or the other; it is often so painfully true that we do not like to think.)"

She also thinks marking up your book is foolish, perhaps because you won't remember where to find your notes afterwards.

In response to this, Alan Jacobs observes the different occasions for reading and how they aren't all the same. We read for fun and we read for specific purposes, and not necessarily at the same time.

What many of these people really want, it seems to me — and I base this on decades of talking with folks who are anxious about their reading — is not to read Henry James but to be the kind of person who, when left at loose ends, positively wants to read Henry James, wants to read Henry James so much that he or she will toss aside Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Fifty Shades of Grey without even noticing what they are in order to get to that precious copy of The Ambassadors that someone has inexplicably left at the bottom of a stack.

I think it’s okay not to be that person.

'The unique grace and influence of a word become flesh.'

James K. A. Smith spoke to a collection of writers and editors for small journals on his love of magazines and principles for their development.

I believe in magazines. You could even say my devotion to Stoke ‘zine was a kind of “common grace” expression of believing in the sacramental power of the Word. It’s like I had a inchoate sense of the unique grace and influence of a word become flesh.

All of that to say: I believe in what you are doing, and it’s an honor to think with you about this calling to publish our little journals. To be committed to such endeavors is to believe, as Raymond Carver put it, in “small good things.”

. . .

My colleague Fr. Raymond de Souza, editor of Convivium magazine, recalls a conversation he once had with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the founder of First Things: “‘Raymond,” he said, “if you want to advance an idea, write a book. But if you want to change a culture, you need a magazine. Because magazines are literally periodical, they create an ongoing community—readers, writers, editors, benefactors. And only communities can change cultures.”
He offers a few high altitude principles and some practical tips on getting the work done. (via Justin Taylor)

How the Apocalypse United Fundamentalists

I remember my high school history teacher explaining that though "fundamentalist" was a term of disapproval, all believers held to the fundamentals of the Bible, so we could all be called fundamentalists. That may have been one of the many encouragements I've received over the years that has made me comfortable with political and theological labels. I think I'm stepping away from that now.

Dr. Matthew Hall reviews Matthew Sutton's new history of twentieth century evangelicalism, American Apocalypse. He says evangelicals tried to distinguish themselves from fundamentalists in different ways, but in fact they were more similar than they wanted to admit. "The entire tradition shares a premillennial expectation of an imminent and traumatic second coming of Christ," Hall writes. Sutton believes that primary context shaped many theological doctrines.

American Apocalypse will make a great many evangelical readers uncomfortable. Because of his extensive work in primary sources, Sutton has—better than anyone else—documented the ways in which some of the most prominent, and beloved, white evangelical and fundamentalist figures were enmeshed within their own cultural context. This enculturation manifested itself routinely in anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and nativism. Whether it’s reading Harold Ockenga’s anti-Semitic assessment of Jews in Hollywood, or the myriad of voices justifying white supremacy and indicting racial intermarriage, Sutton shows how these attitudes weren’t on the fringe of the movement. Rather, they often inhabited its center.

Shameless quid pro quo

Yesterday I linked to Anthony Sacramone's announcement of a new edition of the Intercollegiate Review, over at Strange Herring.

Today, entirely by coincidence, he links to my interview at Issues, Etc.

Oh, who am I kidding? He goes into the Norman history of his Sicilian ancestors, and we Sicilians are all about scratching each other's backs.

That's a nice photo of me at the top of the blog post, too.

R.R. Reno on Critically Thinking about Critical Thinking

"When it comes to the intellectual life in our day, the fear of error—believing things as true when they are in fact false—far outweighs a desire for truth."

Watch this lecture from First Things editor R.R. Reno on how critical thinking has become more like criticism as an end to itself.

Ministry Buys Bulk for Bestseller Boost

A former employee of Pastor David Jeremiah’s ministry, Turning Point, has come forward with a report that his employer directed him to buy copies of Jeremiah's book with his personal American Express card in order to boost market sale numbers. He asked for prepayment before making the purchases.

World has the story. "Tyndale House Publishers lists David Jeremiah as one of its authors. Todd Starowitz, the director of public relations at Tyndale, refused to answer specific questions, but he did issue this statement: 'Tyndale House Publishers does not contract with anyone or any agency who attempts to manipulate best seller lists.'"

Wage Hike Laws Force Bookstore Closure

San Francisco's Borderland Books, which currently makes only $3,000 profit annually, will be closing by the end of March, because the city's voters passed a minimum wage hike, effectively putting a favorite bookstore out of business. One customer is quoted saying he didn't think the wage hike would affect certain small businesses. Another said he loved the store and hoped it wouldn't close.

Magazine plug

Anthony Sacramone is a friend of this blog, proprietor of the Strange Herring blog (where he's posting again, happily), and an editor of the Intercollegiate Review. The IR has just released a new issue, and I thought I'd pass along Anthony's pitch:

The Spring 2015 issue of the Intercollegiate Review has arrived. I don't know how. It's like a miracle.

Live on IRO are essays by Peter Thiel on "The Competition Myth" and Daniel Hannan on "The Privilege of Freedom."

Soon to go live is Mary Eberstadt's takedown of college bullying and its effects on the religious commitments of students ("From Campus Bullies to Empty Churches") and an assessment of JRR Tolkien's politics ("Lord of the Permanent Things").

Also in the lineup is my own "The 12 Funniest Books Ever Written," which, of course, was the only reason to publish this d*mn thing in the first place. There's also an apologia for smoking, one of our counterintuitive reports on longevity, entitled "You've Lived Long Enough Now Please Move Along."

Our friend Michael Medved also wrote the God on the Quad department this issue: "Vital Lessons in Vile Smears."

You can find our entire TOC as well as the digital edition of the IR here.

As we're trying to reach as many young minds as humanly possible in order to undo some of the damage done by their filthy communist atheist nihilist indoctrinators, I would appreciate it if you would share these links with every single person you know. I will be eternally grateful--within strict limits, of course.

I thank you. And America thanks you.


Murder at The Chrysostom

The Chrysostom Society has taken to killing each other.

"That may sound like unseemly behavior for a group of celebrated Christian writers," Jeffrey Overstreet explains, "but you can read all about the murderous conspiracies of The Chrysostom Society in their first collaborative literary effort: Carnage at Christhaven. It’s a serial murder mystery — satirical, smart, and subversive — each grisly chapter contributed by a different society member."

This looks like a marvelous group.

On the air, like a bear

Short notice, but I just found out myself. I'll be interviewed this afternoon, at 4:30 p.m. on the Issues, Etc. radio program. We'll be discussing the story of the new heathen Norse temple in Iceland.

You can listen live at the web site, and I believe you can also listen to an archived version if you miss it.

Megan Mayhew Bergman: The Southern Tradition

In an interview on her second short-story collection, Megan Mayhew Bergman talks about her upbringing:

I come from the Southern tradition. I was in the South for thirty years before moving to Vermont and, even though I’m incredibly secular, I grew up in a church and I think most Southerners have sermons imprinted in their brains forevermore, and that’s a very short speech-driven, sound-driven, punchy narrative and with a pretty healthy whiff of drama in it. And on top of that, you know, the short story format is a Southern tradition that’s so strong. You grow up on Flannery O’Connor.
She also observes the difficulty she had being an atheist in North Carolina. "It was something I was ashamed of and had this closeted feeling and endured wave after wave of patronizing questions," she says.

Who Was Ben Franklin's Father?

Historian Thomas Kidd is writing about Josiah Franklin, candlemaker and Benjamin Frankin's Calvinist father.

In the late 1670s a wave of intense persecution came against nonconformists across England, as many church and government officials regarded them as dangerous incendiaries who might once again threaten the stability of the nation. . . . University of Oxford officials sanctioned the public burning of writings by non-Anglican luminaries such as John Milton. Even pacifist Quakers, who would soon found Franklin’s longtime home of Pennsylvania, were jailed under brutal conditions and died by the hundreds during the 1680s. Northamptonshire was a hotbed of nonconformity, and in one episode in the mid-1680s more than fifty members of landowning gentry were arrested on suspicion of seditious religious activity.

Harper Lee To Release New Book July 14

Harper Lee has taken over the Internet for a few hours with a press release about a new book. From the AP story:

"In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called 'Go Set a Watchman,'" the 88-year-old Lee said in a statement issued by Harper. "It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout's childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became 'To Kill a Mockingbird') from the point of view of the young Scout."

Gregory Peck could not be reached for comment.

Well, do ya, punk?

You've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?"

Growing interest in long-form storytelling has encouraged Hollywood bloodsuckers to ask more novelists to help them. They want story and backstory for these eight-episode or longer stories the kids like these days.

One agent said, “We are selling more intellectual property to television than ever before. What you’re finding in both television and film now is a recognition that a great storyteller is a great storyteller, regardless of the medium.”

For example, PW points to Gillian Flynn, "who bargained to stay on as the screenwriter of the film adaptation of Gone Girl when it was optioned. Flynn is now signed on to write an adaptation of the British series Utopia for HBO, as well as a planned feature adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train."

Speaking about a screenplay for Strangers on a Train, Raymond Chandler said this:

When you read a story, you accept its implausibilities and extravagances, because they are no more fantastic than the conventions of the medium itself. But when you look at real people, moving against a real background, and hear them speaking real words, your imagination is anaesthetized. You accept what you see and hear, but you do not complement it from the resources of your own imagination. The motion picture is like a picture of a lady in a half-piece bathing suit. If she wore a few more clothes, you might be intrigued. If she wore no clothes at all, you might be shocked. But the way it is, you are occupied with noticing that her knees are too bony and that her toenails are too large. The modern film tries too hard to be real. Its techniques of illusion are so perfect that it requires no contribution from the audience but a mouthful of popcorn.

Free Coffee at Chick-fil-A in February

Here's news you can use. Chick-fil-A has free coffee all this month to promote their new coffee line.

"The sale of each cup of coffee provides direct revenue to THRIVE Farmers network of family farmers in Central America, allowing them to earn up to 10 times more than farmers earn in traditional revenue models."

Of androids

Thoughts thought this week:

Somebody mentioned androids -- those all-but-human robots we see so often in modern science fiction -- on Facebook.

I don't think we're likely ever to see androids.

Not because the technology is too complex (though it may be). But because the technology will probably be unnecessary.

We already have a source of perfect humanoid organisms that we can exploit as servants and slaves.

In time it will probably be possible to alter their brains to render them compliant, and no more intelligent than we want them to be.

The organisms I mean are unborn human beings. Aborted babies.

Legally, they have no standing as persons. So technically, it would not be illegal to enslave them. Is it very unlikely that in a utilitarian future, aborted babies will not be disposed of, as they are now, but recycled, as labor-saving devices?

Seems almost inevitable to me, unless our hearts are changed.

I've thought about working this idea into a story, but it's too Science Fiction for me to handle properly.

Somebody's probably already done it anyway.

Carson: "Pray Until You Pray"

D.A. Carson has a revision to one of his older books now available with a complementary study guide and DVD. The new edition is called Praying With Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation. Here's an excerpt from that book.

His points in this post are moving. I particularly like this one on steering your heart into action.

8. Pray until you pray.

This is Puritan advice. It does not simply mean that persistence should mark much of our praying—though admittedly that is a point the Scriptures repeatedly make. Even though he was praying in line with God’s promises, Elijah prayed for rain seven times before the first cloud appeared in the heavens. . . . That is not quite what the Puritans mean when they exhorted one another to “pray until you pray.” What they mean is that Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying. We are especially prone to such feelings when we pray for only a few minutes, rushing to be done with a mere duty. To enter the spirit of prayer, we must stick to it for a while. If we “pray until we pray,” eventually we come to delight in God’s presence, to rest in his love, to cherish his will. Even in dark or agonized praying, we somehow know we are doing business with God. In short, we discover a little of what Jude means when he exhorts his readers to pray “in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20)—which presumably means it is treacherously possible to pray not in the Spirit.

George, Others Offer to Take Lashes for Badawi

Robert P. George, a Princeton professor and vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has offered to be beaten on behalf of Saudi Arabian activist Raif Badawi. George is joined by six other professors and religious liberty advocates in offering to take 100 lashes each.

Raif Badawi has been accused of insulting Islam. His sentence is 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes of which he has received fifty.

In a letter to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the group wrote, "If your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi, we respectfully ask that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him. We would rather share in his victimization than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured."

George told PRI that it was "hypocritical" for Saudi leaders "to march in solidarity with the victims of terrorism and persecution for speaking their minds in Europe and then to practice that same abuse on people for speaking their minds ... in their own country."

While it's unthinkable the Saudis would accept this offer, George said they didn't make it half-heartedly.

And Now For Something From the Past . . . Maybe

SUFFRAJITSU, the tactics of the women who fought for their rights in Victorian and Edwardian England. Now in comic book form. More on the story of these Amazons here.

Doctor approved

Took half a day off today, because I had an afternoon appointment with my surgeon. Almost one year from the date of my hip replacement, time to zap my groin area with carcinogenic radiation.

But first, stopped at Fat Nat's Eggs, a small local chain that serves only breakfast and lunch, to try their hot beef sandwich. I've become kind of obsessed with hot beef sandwiches since the great one I had in Minot, ND a couple years ago. My review: It was good, especially the mashed potatoes. But I still give the edge to Keys Restaurant, another local chain but a longer drive from my home. Neither is quite up to that Minot place (whose name escapes me for a moment, but it starts with a "K"), though.

Then off to see the sawbones. We both agreed that my new hip and I are getting along fine. She asked me when I want the other one done, and I told her certainly not before my graduate work is done. I don't care to repeat last year's catch-up effort, which in memory is worse than the operation. She's OK with that, knowing that she'll probably get me sooner or later. Though she admitted that the X-rays showed some changes in the "manufacturer's original parts" hip, and not negative ones.

I also congratulated her, having perceived, through my extraordinary writer's powers of observation, that she was about 8 1/2 months pregnant.

What Do Professional Writers Earn Per Year?

Digital Book World’s new survey of just under 1,900 authors found fairly low annual earnings. Dana Beth Weinberg tells the Guardian, “We see for the third year in a row – even though we made a strong effort to get representation in the survey from successful indie authors – that most authors aren’t making much money and most books sell very few copies. We also find that traditionally published authors and authors who combine traditional and indie publishing have higher annual incomes on average than indie-only authors. Last year, we took a lot of heat for these unpopular findings, especially from the indie community.”

Authors publishing through both traditional and independent methods earned $7,500-$9,999 per year, thousands more than authors who published with either method exclusively.

How Often Should the Indie Author Publish?

Author Mike Duran takes on conventional wisdom for indie publishing success: "write faster and publish often." He says writers should consider the quality of their craft and how fewer, better books will make a stronger career than many adequate books.

In another post, Mike suggests we not discount near-death experiences entirely, but take a cautious approach to them, believing the jury is still out on their validity.

How long is a year?

My spring classes began today. I actually started my assigned reading yesterday. The Christmas break (which I'm sure the school calls Winter Break) was nice, though I spent it mostly working at this and that. I think of myself as a lazy man, but I do manage to keep busy.

Before me stretches a year of academics. If I keep on schedule, I'll be done with classes in December, and then there'll only be the final testing (or whatever) to convince them I deserve my degree (a Master's degree, I've learned, entitles you to put the suffix Esq. behind your name. I don't think I'll avail myself of that).

So it's a matter of doing my time, like a convict. Each day I do the designated work, and I'll tick the days off one by one until I come out into the light at the end.

On an unconnected note, I bought my first pair of loafer shoes on Saturday. I suppose you'd call them loafers, though they don't look quite like what I was taught to think of as loafers back in the '50s. They look a little dorky to my eye, but not as dorky as walking around with my shoes untied (I have complained about modern Teflon shoelaces in this space before), and way less dorky than stopping to kneel down on my old man's limbs to re-tie them. These are the small indignities God gives us, in His mercy, so that the Angel of Death, when he appears at last, won't look like such an unwelcome guest after all.

24 Things No One Tells You About Book Publishing

Industry insiders could probably make several lists of twenty-four secrets or misunderstood facts or contentious minutiae about publishing, but here's a good list on the writing life from Curtis Sittenfeld. I like this one most:

10. The goal is not to be a media darling; the goal is to have a career.

More on What Tyndale House Knew About Malarkey Book

The publisher of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven is saying it knew nothing of Beth and Alex Malarkey's complaints about the book until recently when Alex finally got through to the world that the book didn't tell his story.

Tyndale says they tried to meet with the family and the agent who largely wrote the book, but Beth would not agree. Phil Johnson interprets the situation as being less than supportive.

“The thread that runs through all their correspondence with Beth is that they wanted to corner her before they would be willing to investigate her concerns,” [Johnson] wrote to the Guardian. “They kept pressing her to agree to a meeting where she and Alex would have to face Kevin and a phalanx of editors who were determined to press ahead with the project, no matter what objections Alex and she might have.”

We saw the same thing in Beth's account from her blog. Company men had their own ideas, like journalists with a template, and kept pressing Alex to give them the details they wanted.

Warren Throckmorton notes Tyndale doubled down on this book last year when they released a pocket edition. These are not the marks of a Christian ministry. These are the marks of a purely market-driven organization.

How the Storytelling on CSI Has Changed

CBS is in the fear business. Terror is one of their most reliable profit centers.” (via Mark Bertrand)

Grousing about a TV show

I think I told you that my classes resumed last Monday. I wrote that in good faith, but in fact they start tomorrow. I got another week of freedom I hadn't planned on.

I've used my winter break for a number of different purposes. There was the ordinary Christmas stuff. I did another revision on my translation of a book on Norway in the Viking Age, because the text I delivered to the publisher was a rough draft, and it's been nagging at me. To my surprise, after I delivered the revision, the publisher told me they're probably going to go ahead with it. Most gratifying.

And then there were Christmas cards. And then there was taxes.

But I've loafed a little. Last night I watched a new TV show called "Backstrom." Wikipedia tells me that it's an Americanized adaptation of a series of Swedish detective novels. It stars Rainn Wilson, best known from "The Office."

It was horrible. Or so it seemed to me. I kind of tuned it out after the first 15 minutes or so. Possibly it picked up while I wasn't paying attention.

Comparisons to "House" come to mind. House was a rude and irascible genius. Backstrom is supposed to be the same.

But House had one thing this show lacked -- wit. You couldn't help liking House a little, most of the time. He was funny. He was obviously in physical pain, which made most of us cut him a little slack. And he had people around him -- notably Dr. Wilson -- who put up with his act because they had a history with him and had reasons (often opaque to us) for valuing him.

Backstrom has none of that. He's just a jerk.

Memo to Hollywood: Being a jerk in itself is not the same as being interesting.

Looking at a History of Brilliance

Chris Yokel talks about visiting an art museum. "I was in the Art of the Americas wing, looking at some of my favorite paintings by the early Americans, Gilbert Stuart and John Singleton Copley. Leaning in close, I could see the brushstrokes, still visible after several hundred years. I noticed the cracks seaming the canvas, sometimes even enhancing it."

His creative spirit is wonderfully refreshed.

Photos of Unique Bookstores Around the World

The Guardian has these photos of bookstores described by that fun, book culture author, Jen Campbell, in her book, Books Are My Bag. From that collection: "Fjaerland is one of Norway’s Book Towns near Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in mainland Europe. Old sheds, houses and even a hotel have been converted into bookshops. “During the winter, the bookshop owners have to transport the books from place to place, over the snow, on kick-sleds,” says Campbell."

They also share a photo of this remarkable pile of rare and otherwise books in Detroit. It's Michigan's largest used bookstore.

I review 'Saint Odd' at The American Culture

I've got a review of Saint Odd, the final Odd Thomas book, over at Liberty 21's The American Culture blog today.

If you’ve read the novels (and for heaven’s sake, if you haven’t read them, don’t start with this one. Start with Odd Thomas, and read them in order), you know what I mean. We all knew it was coming. There is no surprise in it.

But be comforted. All is well. All will be well.

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