- Raymond Carver
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)
"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.
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.
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.
"Kjell Askildsen writes what might reasonably be called ghost stories in which there are no ghosts." (via Prufrock)
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)."
River 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 . . .
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.
“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 . . .
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?
This 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.
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
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.
Shut off your devices and read a while. "Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize." (via Loren Eaton)
For something of a contrast, here's a brief article from a subway photographer. "If I worked from inside the subway car instead of from the platform, I discovered, I could come closer to my subjects, allowing the viewer to appreciate the intimate relationship between reader and book. While shooting Wall Street Stop, however, I found that the printed book was rapidly losing ground to iPhones, tablets, and e-readers."
“If it comes to a swinging, swing all, say I.”
Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day, and my little family plans to catch a dozen free doughnuts at Krispy Kreme. If you talk like Long John Silver, they'll give you a doughnut. If you dress like Blackbeard, you'll get a dozen. That's our mark, matey. Other establishments may have deals in your are, but Talk Like a Pirate Day is really about the office watercooler.
“Dead men don't bite," you might say to your shipmate who won't throw you overboard. "Heaven, you fool? Did you ever year of any pirates going thither? Give me hell, it's a merrier place: I'll give Roberts a salute of 13 guns at entrance." This is an especially good line for those who have a Roberts on board.
If you're looking for inspiration like some of what I've quoted here, search for quotes from Treasure Island and records of historic quotations.
"In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labor; in this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sour look or two at choking. No, a merry life and a short one, shall be my motto." Thus spake Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts, according to the scribe, and who can argue with him?
What's more? Here be a boon of quotes for ye, nancy-pants!
Update: In the spirit of authenticity, here's a page with history of some piratey words.
Jeffrey Overstreet talks about sports-and-faith movies in relation to the recent film When the Game Stands Tall. He says movies of this type usually reinforce bad ideas and behaviors.
"It’s a simple formula," he says. "Show that winning and losing is fraught with trouble if the game is played for the wrong reasons (for glory, for money, for self-gratification). Then show the athletes learning some Sunday school lessons about humility and teamwork. And once they’ve learned those lessons, then give the audience the satisfaction of seeing those who are In The Right achieve personal victories (reconciling the family, winning the virtuous but skeptical girl, overcoming the bullies)… and, usually, scoreboard victories as well."
The story easily preaches that good guys or the faithful will win, and God will win it for you, supporting the common belief that a good life with earn good rewards. There's truth there, but when life gets hard or unjust, then we will crumble if our faith is in this formula, not the living God. I think the church in America needs the backbone that would come from knowing God is faithful even when we don't win.
Jeff offers a good list of ideas he would like to see challenged in a movie about sports:
- "how the commercialization of sports ends up encouraging lifestyles that are the antithesis of teamwork, health, and wholeness;
- how money corrupts the whole enterprise, from outrageous salaries to the excesses of the circuses that tend to surround professional sports events;
- how sports culture glorifies youth, and finds little of value in the experience of aging, so that athletes vanish from the national stage once they are too old to dominate the stage (unless they have enough charisma to become part of the youth-worshipping media machine);
- how “fan spirit” usually devolves into tribalism."
That's only half of his list. Have you seen this movie? What did you think of it? If you like, share your thoughts on other sports-themed movies.
For years, the New York Times has curated the most coveted bestseller lists of our day. Now they are building on that strength by adding such topics as Travel, Humor, Family, Relationships, Animals, Politics, Manga, and many more, each list bound to occupy literary banterers and book ballyhoo-ers for an hour or so. These won't be published every week. Some will rotate through the month.
Melville House has dug up even more lists to be introduced by everyone's friends at the New York Times Book Review. Here are some of the lists you will want to keep on eye on.
Most Fully Realized: Every week, The New York Times Book Review describes dozens of books as being “fully realized.” This lists ranks the top ten fully realized books from “Most Fully Realized” to “Least Most Fully Realized.”
Bestselling Young Adult (Cancer): The most successful books for teenagers that include cancer as a major or minor subplot.
James Patterson: The 10 bestselling James Patterson books released this month. (BTW, Patterson has outsold every other living author and holds a Guinness record for most books on the NY Times Bestseller List.)
Bestselling Non-Sellers: Amazon gives lots of books away for free. The “Best Non-Sellers List” will rank the top books downloaded by Amazon users for $0.00.
Literature: No genre fiction. Unless, of course, genre is employed ironically.
"There must thou wake perforce thy Doric quill,
'Tis Fancy's land to which thou sett'st thy feet;
Where still, 'tis said, the fairy people meet
Beneath each birken shade, on mead or hill.
There each trim lass that skims the milky store
To the swart tribes their creamy bowl allots;
By night they sip it round the cottage-door,
While airy minstrels warble jocund notes."
From Wiliam Collins, "An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, Considered as the Subject of Poetry"
The Herald of Scotland is culling a list of the 100 best Scottish novels from their readers. They have 30 so far, including The Death of Men by Allan Massie, The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown, and The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott.
Readers might take this recent list of crime fiction into consideration. They say Scotland can have an sobering, perhaps despairing, effect on people. Writer Helen Fitzgerald appears to disagree.
“My mum said 20 years living in the grey, murder capital of Western Europe, has made me write about darkness, despair, and deviance. She suggested I come home to Australia to write something with hope and joy in it. Taking her advice, I headed downunder in December, sat at an outside table in a cheerful, sunny beach-side cafe, and started writing. The story I started writing is about a dysfunctional Australian couple who accidentally overdose, kill and bury their baby whilst a raging bushfire burns folk to a crisp in the distance. Sorry Mum, it’s not Glasgow. It’s me.”
People have begun to publically worry that the world is forgetting what happened in Ferguson, Missouri over a month ago. I haven’t forgotten. I was praying for the families there this morning.
I could say many things about the Michael Brown shooting, how the police have handled it, how the community has handled it, the demonstrations, and the militarization of civil police forces. My perspective on these things has been stretched, and I don’t want ignore it. So let’s talk about “white privilege.”
You can see it in videos like this, showing a social experiment. A white guy tries to break into a car for thirty minutes, alarm blaring, without being questioned or stopped. A black guy does the same for less than five minutes before police show up. You have to assume witnesses believed the white guy had lost his keys (or something legit), but the black guy was obviously committing a crime. (Here’s a man’s reaction to the video, blaming blacks for legitimizing the stereotype they dislike.) I’m told the same kind of experiment has been tried with two men and a woman, each pushing a car up a street. Witnesses ignore the white man, question (or call police on) the black man, and offer to help the white woman.
In these cases, white privilege—no matter what the term may imply when pundits and professors use it—means being able to get on with your life without harassment, even when your car has broken down. Dr. Jarvis Williams describes other ways the term applies: getting a job or promotion, hailing a cab, or walking around a department store on your own merits, not being judged by the color of your skin. As a white man, I have never thought I could look suspicious while browsing a store, but that has been the experience of many respectable people who are judged regularly by their skin color. The absence of that public suspicion is what “white privilege” means.
Read the rest of this entry . . .
My novel Wolf Time, so long out of print, is now available as an e-book! Kindle version available here.
A Facebook community of authors are donating September's royalties to Iraqi Christians through Voice of the Martyrs. They call themselves Authors in Solidarity. We've reviewed a few of books featured in this community. Lars is donating his royalties from Hailstone Mountain (The Erling Skjalgsson Saga Book 4). There's New Found Dream: Book Two of "A Healer's Tale", The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen, Bid the Gods Arise (The Wells of the Worlds) (Volume 1), and many more. Let us know if you join this effort to help Christians in Iraq.
"Dante shows us that you can just as easily go to Hell by loving good things in the wrong way as you can by loving the wrong things," Rod Dreher explains. He has been reading The Divine Comedy for the first time and is working on a book about it.
All the damned dwell in eternal punishment because they let their passions overrule their reason and were unrepentant. For Dante, all sin results from disordered desire: either loving the wrong things or loving the right things in the wrong way.She says romantic poetry taught her of Love's power and held her entralled to her heart's passion. "Can love be selective?" she might ask. Can anyone control their passions?
This is countercultural, for we live in an individualistic, libertine, sensual culture in which satisfying desire is generally thought to be a primary good. For contemporary readers, especially young adults, Dante’s encounter with Francesca da Rimini, one of the first personages he meets in Hell, is deeply confounding. Francesca is doomed to spend eternity in the circle of the Lustful, inextricably bound in a tempest with her lover, Paolo, whose brother—Francesca’s husband—found them out and murdered them both.
"We know, however, that it is really lust," Dreher says, "and that her grandiose language in praise of romantic passion is all a gaudy rationalization." Dante is overcome at the end of his encounter with Francesca, but not perhaps by her fate at a seemingly small thing. He may be overcome by the idea that his own poetry encouraged her to follow her heart into death.
Aaron Armstrong reviews Stephen Furtick's Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God's Voice Above All Others, saying it has plenty of good advice but fails to connect it to the gospel. "Instead, we get this advice: 'The gospel says that those who do not forget the past are condemned to repeat it,'" Armstrong reports.
Craig Silverman, the author of many words on media accuracy, said people generally believe books are more reliable than magazines or newspapers. "A lot of readers have the perception that when something arrives as a book, it’s gone through a more rigorous fact-checking process than a magazine or a newspaper or a website, and that’s simply not that case," he said.
Why don't publishing houses spend time and money making sure they aren't publishing the next fabricated memoir? Kate Newman suggests they don't pay enough in repercussions when an author slips them a phony victim story.
“Maybe there should be a warning, like on a pack of cigarettes,” said another author. “‘This book has not been fact-checked at all.’ Because when I realized that basically everything I had read until that point had not been verified, I felt a little bit lied to.”
Of course, I should warn you that I didn't verify any facts stated in Newman's article. No, I did verify one, but that's it. Who knows if they rest is true?
Tolkien's Beowulf gives us the sound of the Dark Ages we lost when it was consumed by Middle Earth.
"Tolkien reproduces the syntax of the Old English poetry almost exactly. The word order of 'His sword had already the good king drawn' is garbled, but in just the way that the Old English sounds when translated word for word. Square brackets mark where present day English has forced Tolkien’s reluctant hand to emend the original."
Megan McArdle, a columnist at Bloomberg View, attempts to explain why writers are great procrastinators. She suggests many, perhaps most, writers haven't failed enough. They have rested on their natural talent for too long and believe that the talent is all they have to offer. They don't see their talent as a muscle that will grow with exercise; rather they see it as a solid that can be tested for purity. If the world discovers they aren't as good as they sometimes appear to be, they will be certifiably, undeniably doomed.
"This fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you 'really' are," McArdle writes, "is so common that it actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. A shocking number of successful people (particularly women), believe that they haven’t really earned their spots, and are at risk of being unmasked as frauds at any moment. Many people deliberately seek out easy tests where they can shine, rather than tackling harder material that isn’t as comfortable."
When faced with this fear, people may choose to hamper their own performance. She quotes Alain de Botton, saying, “Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.” "For people with an extremely fixed mind-set," she continues, "that tipping point quite often never happens. They fear nothing so much as finding out that they never had what it takes." (via Lore Ferguson)
Whit Stillman on speaking French: "I wasn’t one of these people that love Paris and always talks about it. In fact all my friends were dropping out and taking a year off or semester off and going to France and I was the one who didn’t want to go to France. I went to Mexico because I was so intimidated by my experience in French class. I’d done so poorly in French class that I went to Mexico and learned Spanish first. To this day I’m mocked by French friends who say I speak French like Zorro."
On American cliches: "One of the bad things America has done is that in trying to be popular it’s relied on certain formulas and gone back to the pump again and again and again and with the same formula. It’s flattering the lowest common denominator and it’s this underdog thing, and it’s very seductive, it’s in all the templates in our brain. But it’s a wrong view of the world."
When you leave 50 replies to a negative review of your interactive ebook, you're doing it wrong.
Maybe you need more creativity. But then, "how did we come to care so much about creativity? The language surrounding it, of unleashing, unlocking, awakening, developing, flowing, and so on, makes it sound like an organic and primordial part of ourselves which we must set free—something with which it’s natural to be preoccupied. But it wasn’t always so . . ." (both via Prufrock)
C.S. Lewis grew up among some well-known atheists and may have believed the same things argued today by speakers labeled "New Atheists." Peter S. Williams has written a book on the subject, and this podcast introduces a series of discussions on that book, C S Lewis vs the New Atheists, with an overview. You can get a brief review and chapter list here.
Our friend Loren Eaton, at I Saw Lightning Fall,reviews Death's Doors:
Imagine a blender. Chuck in Atwood's aforementioned novel, Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder," Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and Walker's own West Oversea. Add a generous pinch of profanity, a scoop of Christian church history, and several comment sections plucked at random from various Huffington Post articles. Now pulse for two or three seconds. Voila! That's Death's Doors. Yes, it's just as lumpy as it sounds. But it's also works.