" . . . close the windows and not hear the wind, but see all wind-stirred."

- Robert Frost, "Now Close the Windows"
How 'Person of Interest' Is Dying

"What do Person of Interest and Eddy/MacDonald have in common?" asks John Mark Reynolds. "They are the Scylla and Charybdis of making art, building a business, or running a church: never forget what got you there, but never become stale or trapped by what got you there. Without a vision the art or the project perish, but being held hostage to a stale vision can be just as bad." (via Lars on Facebook)

Addicted to Novel Reading

Writing for Eternal Fame

"There’s no such thing as a writer who yearns to be ignored. But writers thrive only in hushed vassalage to their own imaginations, shackled to their desks, trying to hear hints of that ancient inward thrum. When Montaigne proposes 'an unimportant life without luster,' you take his point. 'A talent,' said Goethe, 'is formed in stillness.' It’s called the limelight for a reason: Sooner or later you get limed by the light—burned, smeared, blinded."

"There was a moment in Rome, writes H.J. Jackson in her new book, Those Who Write for Immortality: Romantic Reputations and the Dream of Lasting Fame, 'when writers were elevated to a place among the immortals,' and litterateurs have been dazzled by that elevation ever since." (via Books, Inq.)

Strunk & White Approaches 55

Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of Edinburgh hates the popularity of Strunk & White's Elements of Style. He doesn't believe the frequently recommended little book deserves it.

Following the platitudinous style recommendations of Elements would make your writing better if you knew how to follow them, but that is not true of the grammar stipulations.

"Use the active voice" is a typical section head. And the section in question opens with an attempt to discredit passive clauses that is either grammatically misguided or disingenuous.

We are told that the active clause "I will always remember my first trip to Boston" sounds much better than the corresponding passive "My first visit to Boston will always be remembered by me." It sure does. But that's because a passive is always a stylistic train wreck when the subject refers to something newer and less established in the discourse than the agent (the noun phrase that follows "by").

For me to report that I paid my bill by saying "The bill was paid by me," with no stress on "me," would sound inane. (I'm the utterer, and the utterer always counts as familiar and well established in the discourse.) But that is no argument against passives generally. "The bill was paid by an anonymous benefactor" sounds perfectly natural. Strunk and White are denigrating the passive by presenting an invented example of it deliberately designed to sound inept.
Of course, many writing teachers and word lovers like the book. NPR talked to Barbara Wallraff about why she's a fan.

"There's a certain Zen quality to some of [the book's rules], like, 'Be clear,'" Wallraff tells NPR's Renee Montagne. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Book, Music Sale

The Rabbit Room is having a sale on good books and music.

Taking a Break from Contracts

History author Susan Wise Bauer talks about taking a break from writing under deadline--well, behind deadline--for a few years.

"So about a year ago, I promised myself that when I hit my last big deadline, I wouldn’t sign another contract immediately. Instead, I decided to take six months and just write. Go down to my office and work on anything that struck my fancy. Read, reflect, experiment, let my horizons expand."

A few weeks into this hiatus, she entered 'fish mode', and you'll never guess what happened next. It completely blew my mind. I was weeping by the end of her story. Ok, I'm not saying what you might easily conclude I'm trying to say. All I'm saying is click the link to her post to see what 'fish mode' is and how Bauer feels it.

That's all I'm saying. Really.

Oh, and I should also say that Bauer is the excellent author of several history books, such as The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade. Her newest book is The Story of Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory.

Why Star Trek Matters

Steven D. Greydanus writes about the important contribution Star Trek made to American or world culture.

"Star Trek as a whole promoted techno-optimism and wound up instilling countless fans with a love of science, space and technology, not to mention inspiring a number of real-world inventions — but Spock in particular helped make being a scientist, along with being smart and calmly rational, cool for countless Americans."

Asking Honest Racial Questions

When testing the instincts of police officers, subjects in Josh Correll's test revealed that they usually saw young black men as threatening, but they did so much less often than civilians did. “'We’re more likely to shoot a black man with a wallet,' Semien (a former officer) says, 'and we’re less likely to shoot a white man with a gun.'”

With this background, we must ask why we perceive young black men the way we do (and other types of people as well) and how we can make better judgments.

The Hunt for Michigan's Best Coffeeshop

I don't know if any of these places ship their beans via civilian drone, but if you're in Michigan, you may want to look one of these up. "For the last 5 days," John Gonzolez writes, "I traveled to 22 shops that were nominated and voted on by the readers of MLive. Along the way we discovered some true hidden gems, and some coffee shops known for roasting incredible, award-winning coffee."

'Werewolf Cop,' by Andrew Klavan

He parked in a little neighborhood near the service road. He sat behind the wheel with his eyes shut, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. He told himself that this would pass. He’d track Abend down. He’d “confront” the dagger, whatever that meant. After that, he’d be free to turn himself in or die or… do something to make this stop. Meanwhile, though…. The guilt and horror were like thrashing, ravenous animals in him. Guilt and horror – and grief too. Because he’d lost something precious, something he’d barely known he had: he’d lost his sense of himself as a good person. Even death wouldn’t restore that. Nothing word.

As you know if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I’m a confirmed fanboy when it comes to Andrew Klavan. I discovered him after he’d become a conservative, but before he became a Christian. I consider him one of the foremost thriller writers – and one of the best prose stylists – of our time.

Still, although I’ve praised all the books he's written since then (specifically since the Weiss-Bishop novels, which I consider unparalleled) I’ve honestly thought he’s been kind of treading water, not quite sure where to go with his art.

Who’d have thought he’d hit his next home run with a horror-fantasy book? But Werewolf Cop, in spite of its William Castle title, is an amazing reading experience. Klavan has moved in on Dean Koontz’s turf, and done the genre proud.

Zach Adams is the hero of the book and the titular werewolf cop. He’s a Texas native relocated to New York City, where he works for a shadowy government police agency called “Extraordinary Crimes.” Along with his partner, “Broadway Joe” Goulart, he’s become a legend and a sort of a celebrity. He has a beautiful wife and a family he loves. But his life isn’t as great as people think it is. He’s worried about his partner, who has come under suspicion for corruption. He’s afraid of being blackmailed by a woman over a mistake he made. And he’s got the murder of a gangster by a mysterious, almost legendary European criminal to solve.

And that’s before he gets mauled by a werewolf.

I could quibble a little about the fantasy element in this story – werewolves here are pure Universal Pictures, rather than the genuine folklore article. But Klavan mines that old movie scenario for amazing psychological – and spiritual – insights. I was riveted from the first page to the last, and deeply moved at the same time.

You should be cautioned – there’s rough language, as in all Klavan’s books, and the gore element is what you’d expect in a werewolf story.

But if you can handle that, and wish to see old material raised to new levels, Werewolf Cop has my highest recommendation.

The Myth that Religion and Science Constantly Conflict

"The so-called 'war' between faith and learning, specifically between orthodox Christian theology and science, was manufactured during the second half of the nineteenth century. It is a construct that was created for polemical purposes."

Justin Taylor explains this quote from historian Timothy Larsen by pointing to the popular work of two men:

  • Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and
  • John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.
He says these men lied about history in order to create the impression that orthodox Christians had always opposed scientific investigations and inventions. Two of the myths they popularized were that the church-dominated medieval world believed in a flat earth and that Christians opposed anesthetics in childbirth based on an interpretation of the Genesis curse.

Pound Eats a Peacock

Poet Ezra Pound, whose hair launched a thousand conversations, planned a luncheon with his employer, William Butler Yeats, to serve a distinguished older poet, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, a peacock at his manor. "The maneuverings of poets and literary people, jostling for fame behind the keyhole of glimpsed conviviality, is as old as Rome, older even; but Pound had a special gift for P.R."

Leonard Nimoy's Other Roles

The actor best known as Mr. Spock died today. Leonard Nimoy leaves behind many appearances in shows outside the Star Trek universe, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E.


Mission Impossible, where he played Paris from 1969-1971

On Perry Mason (spoiler) Read the rest of this entry . . .

Engaging the Natural World

African-American poets write about nature from a perspective of working the land or engaging it personally. Poet Camille Dungy observes, "There is kind of this tradition to western nature poetry that is about objectification and idealization of the landscape. Kind of city boys writing about how lovely it would be to live in the country." This isn't how African-American poets think of the land as shown in 400 years of writing. (via Books, Inq.)

Which of Marvel's Avengers Is the Best?

Here's a good example of this blog's need for a politics category. Here's a post ranking all the Avengers according to their value to the team. For example, The Wasp comes in at #3. "If Captain America epitomizes the Avengers, Janet Van Dyne is still its heart and soul. She was a founding member, has led the team through some of its most difficult moments, and has the unequivocal respect of gods, robots, and the most powerful beings in the cosmos. Marvel actually put it best when it said if the Avengers were asked to rank themselves, The Wasp would likely be #1."

Are You Ready to Write a Book?

Stephen Altrogge, Barnabas Piper, and Ted Kluck have recorded 29 episodes of their Happy Rant Podcasts, talking about stuff, junk, and things, to be specific. Here they chat about when one is ready to write a book and buying your way onto the bestseller list. They introduce proven schemes to move your book forward and reach readers you wouldn't have reached with the subject or quality of your writing. If your book is mediocre, these guys are willing to take your money and move your book. Some may call this selling out. The Happy Rant crew calls it selling up. The bottomline is giving them your money. I'm sure it works. I haven't tried it, but I'm sure it works.

KFC To Offer Edible Coffee Cups

KFC in the UK is running the final tests on their new Scoff-ee Cup, an edible cup to be offered with Seattle's Best Coffee brand beverages. "The 100% edible cup is made from a special, wafer-like biscuit, then wrapped in sugar paper and lined with a layer of heat-resistant white chocolate."

Naturally, this is a fabulous idea, but they want to make sure it works well in many circumstances before releasing it to the public. No one wants their little dessert cup to melt in their hand while chatting up a cute girl they just met. No plans for US release yet.

Great Fun Being a Journalist

Mollie Z. Hemingway offers great advice on how to excel in journalism in today's world.

"Don’t Sweat the Details. Is there a difference between an Evangelical and an evangelist? Who cares?"

"Don't question authority. ... if a politician suggests that the reports of scandal surrounding his administration are overblown, leave him alone already. Would he lie?"

A journalist's job is to advance his ideological narrative. "CNBC’s John Harwood said recently, 'Those of us in political-media world should just shut up about "narratives" and focus on what’s true.' Spoken like a real nobody."

She's got a good piece. I recommend it too all non-fiction writers. Of course, all of it could be summarized by quoting Henry Kissinger, who said, "Allow me to be the first to say that what we have done here is not a good thing. It's definitely not a good thing. But it was, given the circumstances, the smart play."

No Plans to Publish 'Jefferson Lies'

Though Lifeway still sells The Jefferson Lies, Thomas Nelson does not and after an investigation will not publish it. The author, David Barton, has stated Simon & Schuster will pick it this year, but that claim has been denied by the publisher's spokesman.

The Desire to Say Something New

"One of the dangers of evangelical publishing is the desire to say something novel," Tom Schreiner observes. "Our evangelical publishing houses could end up like those in Athens so long ago: 'Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new' (Acts 17:21, NASB)."

He says this in relation to the many books producing in support of egalitarian relationships.

Hollywood Has Never Been Original

Scott Beggs looks at top-grossing films and says originality isn't something Hollywood recently lost. He says it's never been an original thinking place. It's been a money-making place.

He explains, "The most original box office year was 1984 with 8 originals (Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, Gremlins, Karate Kid, Police Academy, Footloose, The Terminator and Romancing the Stone). Note how many of those got sequels or were remade. The least original box office years were (of course) 2011 and 2012, although 1968, 1972, 2007, 2013 and 2014 all only had a single original movie make the top ten."

'Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra,' by J. M. N. Reynolds.

The college president pointed to Maximos as an example of the diversity of the college and Maximos would not-so-quietly note that the college had hired nobody else like him since the day his Berkeley degree had fooled them into a bad guess about his views.

A couple weeks ago I "met" Prof. John Mark N. Reynolds, provost of Houston Baptist University, when he and some others interviewed me for a podcast (which will be posted in early March; I'll let you know). I had such a good time that I decided to check out his books, and found that he'd published a fantasy novel. I bought it for my Kindle, though well aware that academic achievement does not necessarily a good novelist make.

I'm happy to report that Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra is extremely good.

The main character is Peter Alexis, a university instructor in Rochester, NY, plagued by recurring dreams about the deaths of Czar Nicholas II and his family. A seeming seizure pulls him back to that event so vividly that his friends fear he'll never regain consciousness in the present. But when he does return, he has begun to remember what happened in his 16th year, when he was king of Barterra, a world in another dimension.

What Reynolds does here (and generally very successfully) is to merge a Charles Williams story with a Narnia story. The events on our world, in the first section, are extremely Williamsian, and convey the same atmosphere. They center on Peter and his Inklingesque circle of friends, a fellowship of Christians. Then they travel to Barterra, faced with the task of undoing Peter's great failure from his last visit. The book ends with promises of at least one sequel, which I hope will be forthcoming. An odd feature is the considerable use of Eastern Orthodox elements.

I have some criticisms. There were some narrative bumps -- confusing scene jumps and occasions when interior monologue went on too long. But taken all in all it was a very good read in the tradition of Williams and Lewis, and I think both those authors would have approved.


Why Read This Book on Luther?

Dr. Martin Marty, who has written his own book on Martin Luther, praise a new book from Westminster Theological Seminary Professor Carl Trueman.

"What readers must by the end have found remarkable is the way Dr. Trueman has brought clarity and some sense of system to the often obscure, paradoxical, and anything-but-systematic writings of Luther on the Christian life. I would argue that Trueman has served well by keeping his feet on firm ground as he has stood on an approach to Christian life which he sometimes calls Presbyterian or Reformed or evangelical, often in differing combinations."

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, from the Theologians on the Christian Life series by Crossway, was released this month.

Walton Street: Where Wodehouse Lived

"Once home to the humorist P.G. Wodehouse, Walton Street still emanates an old-school English charm," writes Amiee Farrell. "Though flanked by Harrods and The Conran Shop, it’s an enclave of independent, if occasionally chichi, antiques and interiors shops, and art galleries and boutiques that has — so far — bucked the trend for high-end homogenization."

I thought you'd want to know this. No need to thank me.

And on a loosely related note, Gene Veith talks about Sacramone's list of funniest books, saying Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy should be on the list.

Black Market for Textbooks

In Mauritania, where 60 percent of the country is under age 25, school books are hard to find. Added to what distribution issues publishers may have, thieves are taking books to sell on the black market. Where a book should cost under $1 at a legal bookseller, on the black market it will be sell for $10.

Aldada Weld El-Salem, who is in his thirties, said he was lucky to find six schoolbooks for his daughter for a total of 20,000 Ouguiya ($68.81) on the black market.

“I did not want to risk the future of my daughter so I recently gave in to the prices of the dealers and I paid whatever they asked for,” he said. “I did not want my daughter to be a victim of the indifference of the official authorities toward a current crisis afflicting all of Mauritania’s schools.”
(via The Literary Saloon)

Why 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Won't Die

Sam Tanenhaus answers the question of To Kill a Mockingbird's endurance.

"For all the merits of the latest criticism of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” its appeal never rested on its realistic picture of Southern life. It was anachronistic even in its day (one reason, perhaps, that Lee set the action much earlier). There were sit-ins in Nashville and in Greensboro, N.C., in February 1960, five months before “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published. Within a year the Freedom Rides had challenged Lee’s sorting of humanity into simple categories -- the high-minded Finches and the humble, hard-working African-Americans who look to them for protection, both groups united against the 'ignorant, trashy people' who represent the true danger to the community." (via Books, Inq.)

The Rain-Soaked Poet, Philip Levine

A U.S. Poet Laureate died last weekend. Philip Levine, a Detroit native, was the 18th U.S. Poet Laureate. He was caught in the rain one day when his neighbor noticed him.

Michael Bourne tells the story and a bit more. "The anger that filled him in his early years was of no use to him as a writer, he told me. 'It was a huge hindrance because it meant I couldn’t write anything worth a damn about that work life,' he said. 'I couldn’t get that disinterestedness that’s often required. I couldn’t get Wordsworth’s tranquility. It took me until I was about 35 before I really wrote a poem that was about work.'”

Read some of Levine's poems here.

Bookstores Finding Small Spaces to Survive

Borders and other large bookstores have closed over the past several years, leaving some towns without a local bookseller. Some business owners are trying out smaller spaces as a sustainable business model for their brick-and-mortar stores.

Judith Rosen reports,

This 1,200 sq. ft. store in Beverly, Cabot Street Books & Cards, which opens in May, will also be paired with an Atomic Cafe. “We’re trying to get the model right,” said Hugo. “I’m hoping we can do more of these. The stock is managed better because booksellers touch it and feel it within 10 ft. of their desk. The trick is traffic.”

The Rifleman on DVD

The Rifleman (five seasons from 1958-1963) is now out on DVD. Marvin Olasky writes that it isn't only a great western, but has a unique leading man. "Lucas McCain was also a compassionate conservative, supporting a recovering alcoholic who became a marshal, giving an ex-con a job on his ranch, and helping a man from China open a laundry. In one episode McCain could not believe that an old enemy had changed and become a doctor, but he admitted his mistake after the former adversary helped him in a gunfight."

The D. C. Smith novels, by Peter Grainger

It's been a week or two since I finished reading the D. C. Smith mystery novels, and I'd better review them before I forget them completely. Not that they're forgettable -- they were quite impressive.

D. C. Smith is an interesting continuing detective character, and has been compared to another English police detective, Inspector Morse, by reviewers. But after reading An Accidental Death, But For the Grace, and Luck and Judgement, I would say that a closer parallel would be the American TV cop, Columbo. Smith is the kind of man who tends to be underestimated by suspects, witnesses, and even other cops. He's small, shabby, and unprepossessing. He knows this and uses it to his advantage. In fact he's generally the smartest person in the room, and has commando fighting skills. He also plays a mean rock guitar, though not often since the loss of his beloved wife to cancer.

His name is kind of a joke. "D.C." in English police slang means "Detective Constable." This is what everyone calls him, but he's actually a Detective Sergeant. He used to be a Detective Inspector, but voluntarily took a demotion to be closer to street-level puzzle solving.

As is my wont, I was more interested in the character than in the mysteries as such. I found the D. C. Smith books very enjoyable. No great moral lessons here -- Smith the character is an open skeptic about religion, and But For the Grace deals with the question of assisted suicide in a pretty ambiguous manner.

One odd thing is that I found the books very slow in places. Sometimes I wanted to tell the author to just move things along. Nevertheless, I liked the books and stayed with them to see what Smith would do next. I recommend them with the usual cautions.

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