- Gustav Mahler
Phil Cooke has rounded up some serious Christian leaders and teachers to praise the movie based on the story of Noah in Genesis. Watch this video and tell me what you think.
I've been meaning to post a very short review of three of Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole mysteries. There's a whole list of books in the series, but the trilogy of The Redbreast, Nemesis, and The Devil's Star form a self-contained unit within it, and make an interesting read in themselves. I reviewed Redbreast sometime back, and read The Devil's Star without reviewing it. Recently I read Nemesis (out of order), and gained a new appreciation.
Nesbø's Oslo police detective character, Harry Hole (pronounced "hoo-leh") is difficult to evaluate. He pushes credibility, because it's hard to believe that anyone this alcoholic and reflexively self-destructive has managed to maintain a career in a modern police department. But in these books Hole has begun a difficult -- but promising -- relationship with a single mother, which inspires him (intermittently) to attempt to reform himself. This would give him one added thing he actually cares about in his life, beyond police work.
The running narrative in this trilogy involves another detective, a popular and charismatic one, whom Hole suspects of illegal activities and the murder of a colleague. Hole hates him, but is almost seduced into corruption by him.
What's fascinating about the Harry Hole books is the multiple layers of mystery involved. Once the mystery is solved, there's plenty of book left, and the reader discovers there's a mystery within the mystery. Then there's a further mystery within that. It unpeels like an onion.
This may relate to one of Harry's mottos -- "There is no such thing as a paradox." Someone informs him in the third book that paradoxes do in fact exist. It seems to me possible (I'm not sure) that that discovery is the whole point of the books.
A few weeks ago, a couple guys invited me to participate in a Google+ group they called Legendary Author Battles (LAB). It's a shared storytelling like we have discussed here in the past. One writer begins, the other continues, and back and forth until a conclusion. Then Simon Cantan makes a video of the authors reading their parts.
This is my first one, and even though I wish I could have taken my reading dramatics up several notches, I think the story itself is pretty good. Feel free to tell me I'm wrong.
The story is an urban fantasy which pits a telepathic librarian against an urban developer. The businessman wants to buy up the neighborhood, but the librarian and his neighbors won't go along with him. That standard beginning doesn't come anywhere near describing the whole story, so give it a listen and tell me what you think.
I shared this story with Dave Higgins, who has a new book out.
Hugh Howey recommends two books for overcoming the odds against you: Outliers: The Story of Success and Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In part, he says, "What can you do with the knowledge found in Outliers? You can learn the potential reward of putting in 10,000 hours of hard work. Even the story of Mozart is debunked, who didn’t hit his stride until he had his 10,000 hours invested. He just got them in earlier than most."
An upcoming animated film, based on the book The True Meaning Of Smekday, will be released as Home. Which of these titles is more interesting to you? Studios may have a habit of preferring bland titles over interesting ones.
Within the last couple weeks, we've talked about what it means for a book to be labeled a New York Times bestseller and how marketing services can game the system to buy that status for your book. Now, Pastor Mark Driscoll admits "manipulating a book sales reporting system," which he did for his book Real Marriage, is "wrong." More than this, he says:
In the last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father. Those closest to me have said they recognize a deep change, which has been encouraging because I hope to continually be sanctified by God's grace.Update: Kevin DeYoung gives us "9 Thoughts on Celebrity Pastors, Controversy, the New Calvinism, Etc."
Professor Alan Jacobs believes we will soon have the freedom to worship without much religious liberty, personal freedom to contemplate the divine on our own time without the liberty to exercise loving our neighbor in the name of Christ.
"I suspect that within my lifetime American Christians, at least those who hold traditional theological and more views, will be faced with a number of situations in which they will have to choose between compromising their consciences and civil disobedience. In such a situation there are multiple temptations. The most obvious is to silence the voice of conscience in order to get along. But there are also the temptations of responding in anger, in resentment, in bitterness, in vengeance. It might be a good exercise in self-examination for each of us to figure out which temptation is most likely for us."
Even some Catholic writers parrot the claim that it was not until modern times that the Roman Catholic Church repudiated slavery. Nonsense! As seen in chapter 6, the Church took the lead in outlawing slavery in Europe, and Thomas Aquinas formulated the definitive antislavery position in the thirteenth century. A series of popes upheld Aquinas' position. First, in 1435, Pope Eugene IV threatened excommunication for those who were attempting to enslave the indigenous population of the Canary Islands. Then, in 1537, Pope Paul III issued three major pronouncements against slavery, aimed at preventing enslavement of Indians and Africans in the New World....
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the rise of science is not that the early scientists searched for natural laws, confident that they existed, but that they found them. It thus could be said that the proposition that the universe had an Intelligent Designer is the most fundamental of all scientific theories and that it has been successfully put to empirical tests again and again. For, as Albert Einstein once remarked, the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible: "A priori one should expect a chaotic world which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way.... That is the 'miracle' which is constantly being reinforced as our knowledge expands." And that is the "miracle" that testifies to a creation guided by intention and rationality."
Our friend Anthony Sacramone of Strange Herring was kind enough to send me a copy of Rodney Stark's How the West Won (published by his employer, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute) during my convalescence. Gradually I found bits of time in which to read it, and I'll review it briefly, though the excerpts above should give you a good idea of the whole thing. If you've read Stark's God's Battalions, you'll know what to expect -- a take-no-prisoners re-evaluation of conventional wisdom, with most of the things you've been told about history rejected.
Stark's premise is fairly simple -- progress comes, not from great empires, but from diversity of culture and maximum human freedom. One particular claim that will shock many is that the Roman Empire did almost nothing for human progress, except for the invention of concrete and the adoption of Christianity. Instead, Stark praises the Middle Ages, when invention and entrepreneurship were once again liberated to strive for new things.
I don't know if Stark is a Catholic, but he writes like a Catholic and doesn't have high praise for the Reformation. In spite of that, I liked this book very much. I suspect you will too, if you're a conservative and a Christian. If you're not, you'll probably want to throw it across the room.
"For me, McCarthy's exercise in rhetorical compression was only so successful," Jesse Freedman writes. "Saramago, for example, reaches considerable stylistic heights in Blindness, and he does so without proper punctuation. I think, in the end, that I wanted The Road to be more like that: daring, complete, raw, and unwavering."
Here's a list of 20 good jokes that are supposedly funny only to intellectuals, but many non-intellectuals will get them too. For example: It's hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they are always taking thing literally.
Also, Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.
A quick post in passing, to apologize for only doing quick posts in passing -- and few of them. I wish I could promise improvement, but it doesn't look likely soon. My online graduate studies are kicking my tush, eating my lunch, drinking my milkshake... whatever metaphor you want to apply to a process that is sucking all the energy and time from my life.
I've even got a review I've been wanting to write.
But it won't happen tonight.
On a cheerier note, I've been cleared to drive again, and am mostly healed up.
Alex Medina writes:
When we only recognize art as being distinctly Christian when it is preaching the gospel, a Christian who is not looking for selfish-gain and desires to make music that is less explicit is seen as shrinking back from their faith. A Christian who desires to make an entire album about nature, beauty, and social justice is not being unfaithful to the Gospel of Christ. They need no justification to create art. They are free to create art about anything and everything that belongs to their God, which is everything.
In 2011, 77 Norwegians were killed on July 22nd. Norway's prime minister said, "A paradise island has been transformed into a hell."
Now, the country plans to develop a memorial on Utoeya island by cutting through it and sealing it with the victims' names. They are calling it "Memory Wound." "Visitors to the memorial, which is titled Memory Wound, will by guided down a pathway through the island's forest into a tunnel that leads to the wound. The tunnel ends abruptly at the cut, where visitors will be able to see to the other side," reports The Verge.
See large mock-ups of the memorial.
When I read this article about a prolific pastor-author hiring a marketing firm to put his book on the bestselling "Advice, How-to" list, I wondered how it could possibly work. I roughly understand how a company could coordinate purchasing 3,000 books, both in bulk and individual sales, but what would they do with all of those books?
Apparently, they return them. This WSJ article on authors buying their way onto bestseller lists, says some marketers believe hitting that list once is the doorway to invitations and future success. Once you're on the list for a week, you can claim to be a bestselling author.
Last August, a book titled "Leapfrogging" hit The Wall Street Journal's list of best-selling business titles upon its debut. The following week, sales of the book, written by first-time author Soren Kaplan, plunged 99% and it fell off the list.Isn't this equivalent to creating an award to give to yourself so you can claim to be an award winner?
Something similar happened when the hardcover edition of "Networking is Dead," was published in mid-December. A week after selling enough copies to make it onto the Journal's business best-seller list, more hardcover copies of the book were returned than sold, says book-sales tracker Nielsen BookScan.
The marketing idea hamster Seth Godin recommends ignoring the NY Times lists altogether. "The curious know that there are in fact two lists for non-fiction hardcover books. The first list, the regular list, is the list of ‘real’ books of the sort the Times would like people to read. The second list is a ghetto, a place for How To, Advice, and the always coveted ‘Miscellaneous’ books to reside. This list was invented by the editors at the Times because these books were crowding out the other, better, books from the list."
He says questions about serving your readers become overwhelmed by concerns about placement on the Times list. Is your goal as an author to serve your readers or your message, or is it to serve the eccentricities of this list?
Jared Wilson, who has a new book out, lists five reasons buying placement on any bestseller list is dishonest, egocentric, and poor steward, among other things. Speaking particularly to pastors who write:
"If you’re simply trying to expand the audience of the gospel — or your gospel-teaching material — wouldn’t it be more effective to simply purchase thousands of copies of your book and give them away to lost people? Or, alternatively, not to sell your book at all and just give it away for free? (Did Keith Green make any bestseller lists? Has John Piper?)"
Let me write about myself for a minute. For the past several months, I've been pursuing a new line of work and I spent part of that time wondering what that line should be. I'm still looking for work in various ways, but my main thrust this year will be freelance writing and editing.
I am bidding on projects through Elance.com and Writer.ly (some interesting stuff on these site). I haven't gotten to other freelance venues yet, and I like the testing options available through Elance. They verify your skills to a degree. If you have work that could be hired out, you can post a job with Elance and invite me to bid on it. Naturally, I would do my best writing ever, and the project would be more profitable than your wildest dreams, and we would sing each other's praises for months. The regulars at the pub would love us for at least a day. Maybe two! Feel free to look at my Writer.ly profile too. It's still in beta mode, but some people are finding work there.
I am happy to have made new connections with a couple editing services. There are two other organizations who have me on their writing roster also. Of course, there's LinkedIn for general networking. With all of these connections, I am not at all busy. I'd like to try being busy, for a change of pace.
I started this blog in 2004. Lars joined me several months later. Since we're an established lit-blog, we are asked to review various independent books. Every time I agree to receive a book for review, I hope to love it. I usually don't, and I wish I could reply with an offer to edit this already published book. It would be rude to make such an offer, but the need bleeds upon the page. Through these new services, perhaps I can field editing requests from authors who have a good story and need help making it great.
A friend of mine, the pastor of this wonderful church, quoted this on Facebook:
"We hope that by believing less we will become less vulnerable to spiritual manipulation. We cannot be duped, we imagine, if critical doubt weakens the force of our commitments. If there is no truth, then we will not quarrel over our visions of the truth. If nothing is worth fighting for, then nobody will fight. However, an iconoclasm of truth will not succeed. Hell can be as easily built of apathy and diffidence as of megalomania and fevered ideological zeal-- perhaps more easily for it is difficult to wake from the narcosis of a velvet barbarism that desires no truth." -- R. R. Reno, Commentary on Genesis
Poet W.H. Auden was generous, loving man, and apparently he wanted that to remain a secret. Edward Mendelson writes, "In an age when writers as different as Hemingway and Eliot encouraged their public to admire them as heroic explorers of the mind and spirit, Auden preferred to err in the opposite direction, by presenting himself as less than he was."
He sought out the marginalized in the crowd. He gave a large among to keep a homeless shelter operational. He disliked his public image and political grandstanding. Mendelson states, "In 1939 he left England for America, partly to escape his own public status. Six months later, after making a speech at a political meeting, he wrote to a friend: 'I suddenly found I could really do it, that I could make a fighting demagogic speech and have the audience roaring…. It is so exciting but so absolutely degrading; I felt just covered with dirt afterwards.'"
(Thanks to Alan Jacobs)
Martin Luther said many things, but as with many famous people, he did not say a handful of things people attribute to him, such as:
The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors.Justin Taylor explains:
The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.
Luther didn’t say this. As with the quote from the first example, [Frederick] Gaiser argues that it doesn’t sit very well with Luther’s actual views on vocation. The idea that God is pleased with our work because he likes quality work “would be the American work-ethic version of vocation, theologically endorsing work as an end in itself. In the hands and mouth of a modern boss, good craftsmanship and clean floors (or a clean desk or a signed contract) to the glory of God could be a potent and tyrannical tool to promote the bottom line. . . . [W]hat marks Luther’s doctrine of vocation is the insistence that the work is done in service of the neighbor and of the world. God likes shoes (and good ones!) not for their own sake, but because the neighbor needs shoes. . . .”
"It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him." - Solomon Northup
Pastor Tony Carter gives his reaction to the memoir by Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave, released in 1853. He was deeply moved. He writes:
"Those who contend that American slavery was tolerable and preferable for the African-American continue to be an enigma to me. While I might give the secular humanist a slight pass because his mind is not enlightened by the gospel of truth (though he remains accountable to God for the wrong he thinks and does), I can have little to no understanding of the Christian who contends for and maintains such a position. With evidence such as Northup’s account before his eyes, and the supposed grace of God enlightening his heart, one has to wonder if those who claim to have been exposed to both have truly experienced either."I have not seen the movie based on this book, but if you have, you might find this comparison page of interest. It compares the movie with their own investigation of the truth. For example, they report, "the movie paints William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a hypocrite, contradicting his Christian sermons by overlaying them with his slave Eliza's agonizing screams. In his memoir, Solomon Northup offers the utmost words of kindness for his former master, stating that "there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford."
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, vicar of Belmont & Pittington in Durham, England, and author of The Essential History of Christianity writes about how the poetry of George Herbert opened her up to Christ:
"Certainly the poems are unashamedly intelligent. They are an example of the metaphysical school of poetry, which deliberately piled metaphor upon metaphor, and drew those metaphors from the cutting edge of contemporary science and philosophy. They flatter the reader by assuming a breadth and depth of political, theological and scientific knowledge."
The line quoted in the headline is from Herbert's poem "Denial".
Here’s another of the Scandinavian mysteries I read in convalescence, House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson. Ingolfsson is also the author of The Flatey Enigma, which I reviewed positively a while back. I liked this one as well, except for an ideological problem.
Like the Flatey book, House of Evidence is a very Icelandic novel, gentle and quiet at its heart. There are no super detectives or murderous psychopaths here, just a shocking puzzle investigated by cops who (with one exception) go about their work in an almost apologetic manner; embarrassed, perhaps, that any violence could happen in their polite society.
When Jacob Kieler Junior is found shot to death in his home one morning in 1973, it’s doubly strange because his father was killed in a similar fashion in that very room around 30 years before – shot by the same pistol, as they learn. Jacob was a man of no great social consequence, but his father, who built the grand house in which he lived, was a rich and important man whose life goal (though never achieved) was to build an Icelandic railroad. Jacob Jr.’s great goal was to preserve his family home as a museum, something that will now never happen.
As the police detectives look into the story, they gradually find the roots of the crime in old secrets having to do with the prospective railroad, Nazi Germany, and a failed attempt to make Iceland a monarchy.
The final revelation is devastating – and also a gentle (though in my opinion slightly manipulative) appeal for the social acceptance of homosexuality.
Aside from my ideological objections, I liked the book. Nothing very objectionable in language or adult themes, except as noted above, beyond a single horrible act of police brutality.
Loren Eaton wanted to like the movie Monsters (2010), but the opening scene killed it for him. "I'd have an easier time liking it if it didn't lie to me in its opening scene," he says. Spoilers.
Also in movie news, Vic Armstrong appears to be remaking Left Behind. I can't tell if this is a straight-forward remake or a comic one. Look at some of the promo images. They're silly.
Jeff Grim talks about a book which aims to show how decades of hatred between northern and southern states drove us to a civil war. "Fleming makes a convincing argument that the fringe elements (fanatics in his words) in both regions pushed the country toward a civil war. He also argues that the animosity began decades before the Civil War."
Perhaps slavery was so contentious an issue it could not be civilly discussed in 19th Century America.
A strong Christian movie reviewers, critic, take-down artist (however you want to think of it) Steven D. Greydanus has written about homosexual themes in Disney's latest fantasy, Frozen. He didn't like the movie much without this part, but he makes several points on what he thinks is subversive in this movie. He is probably right on a few points, but overall I disagree. I don't think the Oaken is a gay man with his husband and family in the sauna, and I wish Disney people would step up to settle the issue (though I doubt they will).
Steven writes, "And yet, in this case the filmmakers have walked that line really well: so well that the pro-gay themes have gone right over the heads of countless adult Christian viewers, many of whom have embraced Frozen as resonating powerfully with Christian themes."
Frozen by superstarwordgirl on deviantART
He has since published his response to suggestions Frozen is a marvelous Christian parable of sorts. "The common crux of most of these religious readings of Frozen," he says, "is the climactic, self-sacrificial act by which Anna saves Elsa before being restored to life — an act that, according to Frozen’s theologically minded enthusiasts, recalls the saving death and resurrection of Jesus."
But this is common in fairy tales, where people are often saved from death or near-death curses.
Steven asks, "Who is really saved in that climactic sacrificial act, Elsa or Anna?
Anna sacrifices herself to save Elsa from a fleeting, mundane threat: a treacherous enemy lurks behind Elsa with drawn sword to cut her down. In principle, this is a trivial threat to Elsa — one that, with her powers, she could easily ward off if she were alerted to it.For a bit about the motivations behind the popular song, "Let It Go," the writers talk about it here. "... she was exalted at her coronation as being so perfect and wonderful. But the moment that Elsa revealed that she was a little bit odd, everyone turned on her and then chased her out of the kingdom."
By contrast, Anna is in far more serious, profound and thematically important physical peril. Anna’s heart has turned to ice, and the ice is insidiously spreading through her whole body, swallowing and devouring her humanity.
It’s worth noting that the original Hans Christian Andersen story "The Snow Queen," the nominal inspiration for Frozen, climaxes in a scene strikingly similar to the one at the end of Frozen: a heroine weeping over the frozen body of a victim whose heart has turned to ice. In Anderson, however, the frozen victim’s icy heart is thawed by the hot tears of the other person’s love.
Recently I’ve read a few Scandinavian mysteries, and I’ll review them as I find time. I downloaded this one, Chasing the Storm by Martin Molsted, because it attempts to do something highly counterintuitive – creating a modern Norwegian action hero. Also this hero is named Torgrim Rygg, and Rygg is one of my ancestral names.
The story starts in Hamburg when Rygg – a former soldier in some sort of special force, now working in business and missing the action – witnesses an assassination attempt on a man, and instinctively sets out in pursuit of the assailant. He doesn’t catch him, but the intended victim, a Russian named Marko Marin, is so impressed with his response that (after doing some research on him) he asks him to help him with a dangerous project. This leads to perils and complications, and soon Rygg has happily bid farewell to conventional life and joined forces with Marko, who is a “journalist” of some sort, investigating an international conspiracy connected with the hijacking of a ship in the Baltic.
The whole thing is a little overcooked for my taste – frequent hops from one exotic place to another, danger at every turn… I had trouble believing the characters’ motivations and persistence. Also there are some odd sexual elements, such as Rygg’s cold-blooded seduction of a lonely, middle-aged woman in pursuit of information, and the three-cornered relationship he comes to enjoy with Marko’s beautiful girlfriend, Lena.
Entertaining in a Hollywood action movie sort of way, I found Chasing the Storm good enough for passing the time in the hospital, but nothing I strongly recommend. Cautions for just about everything you imagine.
Eric Christensen lists 10 things he rather not see in new fantasy, such as The Chosen One (The Special), dark lords, limitless magic, and uniformity among races. I would add blind seers to this list. What do you think of these things? Would you add or subtract anything?
Joanne Harris has released a fantasy novel, or is it a memoir, telling the story of Loki's rise and fall in his own voice. Harris says she stayed close the source material, even though Loki has a modern voice. "Because he’s the ultimate unreliable narrator – and because I knew I’d enjoy writing his voice. I’ve made it very modern because Loki seems to me to be a very modern anti-hero – flawed, morally ambivalent, yet charismatic."
I'll bet he never made on SatNiLiv either.
Just a quick update on my condition. I remain at my remote location in Iowa, healing up and seeing a physical therapist a couple times a week. Every day, in certain ways, I am getting better and better. Off pain meds, walking on my own a little (in carefully selected locations), feeling like a person again.
My time is dominated by trying to catch up on my graduate school work, an effort that is driving me nearly mad -- mad, I tell you! But I carry on.
I was trying to think of my memories of surgery. I remember being in the pre-op waiting room, and the nurse beginning to move me out... then nothing. I have a vague recollection of being somewhere and being told it was all over and they'd be taking me to my room, but I don't recall what that place was like at all. After that, a few days in the hospital, during which I was incredibly blessed by numerous visits by friends. My brothers sort of tag-teamed it to keep me company almost all the time.
My major fear going in was that, because they were doing a spinal block for anesthesia, I'd be conscious and aware during surgery. But if I was, I've forgotten. Amnesia is good. I could use more of it.
Fair trade labeling is intended to assure you that the coffee or other product you are buying has been certified as a quality product made in an environment that respects its workers. Usually bean farmers are poor, so if you believe you are helping them earn a "fair" or better-than-market wage, then you feel good about yourself.
But this book, The Fair Trade Scandal, argues that helping the poor isn't the result, particularly in Africa. "The growth in sales for fair trade products has been dramatic in recent years," it says, "but most of the benefit has accrued to the already wealthy merchandisers at the top of the value chain rather than to the poor producers at the bottom." The author, Ndongo Sylla, is a researcher for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
The Acton Institute blog touches on the problems with fair trade. "In some cases," Sarah Stanley writes, "fair trade growers have been known to sell lower quality crops in the fair trade market and then sell higher quality coffee beans in the non-fair trade market for a competitive price. A guaranteed price means that growers do not have to guarantee quality."
One solution for coffee drinkers is to support active business owners, like Ryan Knapp of Madcap Coffee.
“We have been intentional on the fact that we are not going to have a label to say what our coffee is as much as we are going to be a brand that is committed to great business practices.” He goes on, “Fair trade, a certification doesn’t really tell the whole story…Fair Trade isn’t the best option always for producers.” What is the best option for producers? According to Knapp, “the big piece of it is the transparency aspect and knowing exactly where our dollar is going and being able to trace that down to people that are actually growing the coffee, farming the coffee.”