"Do you think yourself wise? Then there's a donkey inside your waistcoat."

- Charles Spurgeon
A Debut Novelist: 'Subject Matter Matters'

Ted Thompson, author of The Land of Steady Habits, talks about his business in ways that make him uncomfortable. "I feel like I’m bordering on saying something sacrilegious here, but here it goes: There’s a common strain of thinking among writers, particularly literary writers and the institutions that foster them (conference/colonies/workshops), that insists a book is only as good as its writing."

Although he still believes in the preeminence of good writing, he know believes subject is very, very, and also very important. "Once a manuscript leaves your desk, subject matter is the primary (and often only) way it is discussed. So if you haven’t figured out a quick way to answer that cringe-inducing question 'What’s your book about?' in a way that interests other people, somebody else will. And that will be how the book is sold..."

He goes on to say how surprised he was that people in publishing actually want to love your book and that the slowness of the whole process is understandable.

Alone with Classics

Author Sarah Perry was "raised by Strict Baptists" in Essex and not allowed to watch movies or read contemporary books. The result? "I turned my back on modernity and lost myself to Hardy and Dickens, Brontë and Austen, Shakespeare, Eliot and Bunyan. I memorised Tennyson, and read Homer in prose and Dante in verse; I shed half my childhood tears at The Mill on the Floss. I slept with Sherlock Holmes beside my pillow, and lay behind the sofa reading Roget. It was as though publication a century before made a book suitable – never was I told I ought not to read this or that until I was older. To my teacher's horror my father gave me Tess of the D'Urbervilles when I was still at primary school, and I was simply left to wander from Thornfield to Agincourt to the tent of sulking Achilles, making my own way."

And she soaked in the King James Bible. Her debut novel, After Me Comes the Flood, is reviewed here. (via Prufrock)

Rediscovering the Excitement of Reading the Bible

"I remember, as a teenager, reading through the books of Samuel and, upon finishing, thinking to myself, 'This story is as invigorating as any story I’ve ever read, seen, or heard.' What is strange to me now is how surprising a revelation that was. Having grown up with the literature, why didn’t I already think of it as engaging?"

Mark Bertrand interviews Adam Lewis Greene on his plan for an alternative reading experience for the Bible. Bibliotheca will be a four volume edition of the Bible made for readers with beautiful book design.

Gaiman's 'American Gods' Coming to TV

The Starz network is developing Neil Gaiman's American Gods for the small screen, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The series was passed over earlier by HBO.

Gaiman is excited about it. He says, "The team at Starz has been quite certain that they wanted to give Shadow, Wednesday and Laura a home since they first heard that the book was out there. I can't wait to see what they do to bring the story to the widest possible audience able to cope with it."

I gather he anticipates haters.

Barnabas Piper is a Pastor's Kid

The Pastor's Kid, by Barnabas Piper

Barnabas Piper's new book, The Pastor's Kid, is out today. In his interview with Matt Smethurst, Piper talks about his own feelings and what he learned from other pastors' kids.

Your book is based on what you learned from hundreds of conversations with pastors’ kids over the years. What surprised you most as you interacted with other pastors’ kids?

Two things surprised me. The first was the consistency of the stories and experiences regardless of context. Even the phrasing of answers and the quotes they shared of what people in their churches had said to them were almost verbatim. While I expected similarities, it was almost like a bunch of people had copied the same answer on a test or something. It gave me real clarity about what needed to be addressed as well as assurance that my own experiences weren’t the outlier.

The second thing that surprised me was how many PKs are now in vocational ministry. The stereotype is of PKs who turn their back on the church, but I connected with dozens who, despite their struggles, love and serve the church.
The tendency for judging pastors' kids was a dual expectation of perfection and rebellion. People thought these children should be models of the Christian life while also believing they would rebel and reject the church. It's an impossible standard.

C.S. Lewis Reviews 'The Hobbit'

In 1937, The Times Literary Supplement ran this review from Professor C.S. Lewis: "To define the world of The Hobbit is, of course, impossible, because it is new. You cannot anticipate it before you go there, as you cannot forget it once you have gone. The author’s admirable illustrations and maps of Mirkwood and Goblingate and Esgaroth give one an inkling—and so do the names of the dwarf and dragon that catch our eyes as we first ruffle the pages. But there are dwarfs and dwarfs, and no common recipe for children’s stories will give you creatures so rooted in their own soil and history as those of Professor Tolkien—who obviously knows much more about them than he needs for this tale."

Read the whole thing.

12 Steps to Enjoying Movies More

Jeffrey Overstreet has started a 12-step group for "More Rewarding Moviegoing." He says, "Sight Club is like a 12-step program. We’re here to cultivate 'eyes to see' and 'ears to hear' in a world full of darkness and noise. Movies give us a world of opportunities."

A Loser's Game

"It is a loser's game to try to appease the claims of those who despise one's moral convictions, but nonetheless complain you aren't applying them fastidiously enough."

Here's a quote from a friend on recent news. I wanted to say this yesterday, but didn't give it enough thought.

For Men Who Don't Read

For the man who says he wants to read more novels, but doesn't, Mark Mason recommends A Man Called Ove by Swedish atuhor Fredrik Backman.

"The reason it’s the perfect book for weaning men back onto literary fiction is that Ove (pronounced "oover") is just like us. He’s a grumpy old pedant. No matter if you’re younger than his 59, or less bothered about neighbours breaking residential parking restrictions, or more relaxed about the fact that no one knows how to put up shelves properly these days, there will be a part of you that’s just like Ove. He even hits a clown at one point, and any man who tells you he hasn’t wanted to do that is lying." (via Prufrock)

What Do The English Do on the Fourth of July?

A genuine Englishiander gives us this rundown of what his people do on The Fourth of July (besides watching American TV). One thing they do is watch fireworks:

"Crowds of people dress in red coats and gather under large scaffolds, which are extensively rigged with explosive fireworks. At an agreed-upon time across the country, the fuses are lit and the fireworks shoot downward, into the throng that has gathered underneath. This serves to remind the British people of the pain and suffering that came from the defeat endured by the King’s Army, and to prepare younger generations of English men for the eventuality of a second battle in which the Crown retakes what is rightfully British land."

World Illustrations for The Hobbit

Tove Jansson illustrated this for the Swedish edition of The Hobbit:
From the Swedish edition

Brain Pickings has several illustrations from the British, Swedish, Japanese, and Russian editions. Mikhail Belomlinsky made this for the Russian edition printed in 1976:

From the Russian edition

Tolkien Had Words To Say to Nazis

When The Hobbit was to be published in Germany, the publisher asked for Tolkien's Aryan street cred. Tolkien's personal reply to this English publisher began like this: "I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten & Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a certificate of arisch origin from all persons of all countries?"

By way of accommodation though, the author wrote two letters which could be sent to the German publishers, one a bit more harsh than the other. That letter, marked July 25, 1938, began:

"I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people."

Publisher Put a Hold on Mark Driscoll's Next Book

"Tyndale House confirmed to The Daily Beast that it does not plan to reprint Driscoll’s 2013 book, A Call to Resurgence, and have put his forthcoming book, The Problem with Christianity, on hold. Once slated to be released this fall, The Problem with Christianity now has no publication date scheduled." (via Prufrock)

The Problem with Transformers

Why are the Transformer movies so cool and yet so dumb? Or is that how coolness works? Is there an inverse ratio between coolness and smartness? No, that's not right. Perhaps the formula is that the probability of dumbness increases 2x the coolness, so the more fun, cool ideas you have, the more likely you are to say, "Who cares how it happens? It's cool!"

Two self-professed Transformer experts are talking about the latest movie (spoilers aplenty) and not understanding what they saw.

Swansburg: ‪Let’s talk about how Cade Yeager and his leggy daughter meet our old friends the Autobots.

Wickman: ‪Right. They find a truck inside a movie theater, of course.

Swansburg: ‪Obviously. The movie theater scene was really weird. There were several possibly meta jokes about the movies that didn’t really land. Could you distill a message from those musings?

Wickman: ‪I could not. There was definitely a part where someone complained about how all the movies these days were sequels and remakes, but it didn’t seem like the makers of Transformers 4 were the butt of the joke. It felt more like we were the butt of the joke, for watching.
Here's a helpful review of a previous Transformer movie from Steven Greydanus in which he describes how Michael Bay makes disaster films in contrast with Roland Emmerich (2012, Armeggedon, etc.)

On a loosely related note, Alan Jacobs just posted this question: why should we expect intelligent alien life would want to explore and/or colonize other planets?

Your Reading List for Muriel Spark

Philip Christman has ranked and encapsulated (sort of) 22 works by Muriel Spark. He says, The Hothouse by the East River comes off like overripe fruit. For Robinson and The Bachelors, he says "Spark was pretty much kicking ass right out of the gate; these are 'the worst' of her early novels, and yet they would have represented a quite respectable peak for anyone else."

The Girls of Slender Means Christman considers Spark's best. Have you read any of these works? What do you think of them? (via John Wilson)

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree



This first of three books is free for Kindle, and I suspect you may enjoy it. It's a western-style fantasy framed by the stories of a deceased fantasy author. Fans of his books discover they aren't entirely fictional, and there are big stakes at risk in the war they find.

Words at Leisure in Unanchored Intelligence

Essays are a dead form, says author David Hughes. “But today we no longer have access to the state of mind in which such useless but diverting conceptions appear in the unanchored intelligence [another nice phrase]. Our conceptions must be vast or hasty or topical; to ride the storm of the uneasy mind we are in, an idea must be sensational, it must walk on the water or fly faster than sound. A poet manqué does not write essays: he joins the staff of an advertising agency, where one word is an expensive item, or he talks about the films he is going to make.”

Patrick Kurp spells out the joys and perils of Hughes' opinion on essays in today's post. "Good essays," he says, "even the most impersonal, are suffused with the essayist’s sensibility. No one else could have written them."

Hachette Buys Perseus, More Clout Against Amazon

Hachette, one of five largest U.S. publishers, has acquired the imprints of Perseus Books Group, giving it more clout in its dispute with Amazon, though that's not the reason they made the deal. It follows the pattern of a major merger 2011 of Random House and Penguin. The new publishing megagroup is said to have the most bargaining ability with Amazon, which controls a third of bookselling market.

Little Free Library Shut Down by Kansas Officials

The city of Leawood, Kansas, shut down a nine-year-old boy's free book exchange or "Little Free Library" after blood tied to a grisly murder was found on several pages of the books inside.

Ok. The blood part is an irresponsible lie, but the city did shut down the kid's library this month because it violated an ordinance against detached structures. The news reports tie the decision to a complaint, leading me to wonder if the covered bookshelf would have been left alone had no one complained. The boy is wondering whether tying his library to his house with a rope would make it an attached structure and circumvent the code. He is also studying the law with plans to speak to the city counsel in the near future.

MythBusting: Lemmings Don't Run Off Cliffs

Lemmings don't run in herds, following their leaders off a cliff if so directed. Do you know how that myth got started? Disney filmmakers thought it would make good television, so they staged it for their 1958 documentary White Wilderness. Tossed the little buggers right off the cliff, they did. That's cold.

What is Lost When We Don't Teach Western Civ?

Rodney Stark, distinguished professor of the social sciences at Baylor University, talks about his new book, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity. He said he spoke at a college once and was surprised to get a question from two high-GPA students about when and where was the Roman Empire. "I thought it was some sort of tease, so I told them the Roman Empire ruled Southern California in the 1920s." They believed him.

One of the most blatant [myths that has gained currency today] is blaming the West for all the problems involving Muslims, specifically terrorist attacks. Reflecting what is being said in the classrooms, academic conferences devote many sessions to “Islamophobia” (hatred of Muslims) but none to terrorism—except for the explanation that it is provoked by the many wicked things the West has done to Islam, now and in the distant past....

King AlfredAnother pernicious myth is that Europe slept in ignorance through many centuries following the fall of Rome—an era known as the Dark Ages. But it never happened. Many professors, even if they know it, are reluctant to admit that the major encyclopedias now acknowledge that the notion of the Dark Ages was invented by Voltaire and his friends to vilify the Church and makes themselves seem important. It always should have been obvious that the centuries denounced as the Dark Ages were an era of remarkable invention and progress, at the end of which Europe had advanced far beyond the rest of the world.

Happy 180th Birthday to Charles H. Spurgeon

“God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God."

“A Jesus who never wept could never wipe away my tears.”

“If you are to go to Christ, do not put on your good doings and feelings, or you will get nothing; go in your sins, they are your livery. Your ruin is your argument for mercy; your poverty is your plea for heavenly alms; and your need is the motive for heavenly goodness. Go as you are, and let your miseries plead for you.”

Relevant has 20 Spurgeon quotes for today. I think I'll tweet Spurgeon quotes all day. (via Jared C. Wilson)

Ortlund: "I am an endlessly hungry dead thing"

Mike Duran interviews Eric Ortlund about his zombie novel, Dead Petals. Ortlund says, "At some level, I am an endlessly hungry dead thing; but I’m also watching to see how I might survive that evil. And it got me thinking about what the apostle Paul says about humanity being dead in sin in Ephesians. Then I wondered, if a zombie could talk while still undead, what would that sound like? Then the writing started happening. . . .

"The influences are many. First, the Old Testament is the first apocalypse—i.e., it first got that particular way of looking at reality going. Second, the OT has a fund of cosmic symbols (the abyss, the storm, the holy mountain, the tree) which cannot be translated or decoded without essential loss. . . . Third, the OT has this really interesting way of protesting the surrounding idolatrous culture and also “highjacking” it—taking over symbols and themes and images and using them to talk about the real God."

What Is the Dispute Between Amazon, Hachette?

James Stewart asked someone at Hachette about their dispute with Amazon. "This person said that Amazon has been demanding payments for a range of services, including the pre-order button, personalized recommendations and a dedicated employee at Amazon for Hachette books. This is similar to so-called co-op arrangements with traditional retailers, like paying Barnes & Noble for placing a book in the front of the store."

Stewart report describes the efforts Third Place Books has made to capitalize on Amazon's refusal to pre-order a popular book. They offered The Silkworm at 20% off with free, personal delivery the day it was released. The owner, Robert Sindelar, "along with several other store employees, delivered the books (although a surprising number of customers said not to bother — they wanted to come into the store for their copy). He also handed out what he called 'Hachette swag bags' with a T-shirt and advance copy of a coming Hachette novel. Some buyers also received a surprise visit from a local author, Maria Semple, who wrote the best-selling book Where’d You Go, Bernadette."

Sindelar calls the promotion successful. He sold 60 books that day. Normally, he doesn't believe he would have gotten any pre-orders and maybe a few sales on the day of the release. (via Shelf Awareness)

Mamet Shuts Down His Play Over Gender Reassignment

The Milwaukee Alchemist Theatre received a cease-and-desist letter from playwright David Mamet after one performance of Mamet's Oleanna, a play about a pompous male professor accused of sexual harassment by a female student. The Alchemist's production cast a man in the role of the female student. Theatre owners claimed they "did not change the character of Carol but allowed the reality of gender and relationship fluidity to add to the impact of the story."

Mamet disagreed. I don't think he plays the "gender fluidity" game. (via Prufrock)

The Medieval City in Pictures

Here are 15 images of cities from The Middle Ages.

Francis Schaeffer on Sharing the Gospel

"Francis Schaeffer was asked what he'd do if he had an hour to share the gospel with someone. He responded by saying he'd listen for 55 minutes and then, in the last 5 minutes, have something meaningful to say. In other words, he listened in order to speak the gospel.

Our evangelism is often unbelievable because we don't listen at all. All too often the gospel we share is an information download, not a loving articulation of how the good news fits into the needs, fears, hopes, and dreams of others' lives."

-- Jonathan Dodson, Unbelievable Gospel: How to Share a Gospel Worth Believing.

'Field of Prey,' by John Sandford



I should probably apologize for promoting John Sandford's Prey novels, of which Field of Prey is the latest installment.

I mean, I always have to warn you about the language, which can be pretty coarse, and the psycho serial killers, who just get more and more creepy. In a way you could call these books horror novels (Psycho seems to be an inspiration for this one), and I don't even like horror.

But... but I like the writing and the characters. Sandford deftly relieves the horror with episodes of mordant cop humor, and some dissing of political correctness.

And most importantly of all, he writes about Minnesota!

At one point in Field of Prey, Dr. Weather Davenport, wife of the hero, says, "TV. It's like if you're not on it, you don't exist. The single most pernicious idea in our culture."

I'm kind of like that with books. Those of you who live in Manhattan or LA or Chicago are used to seeing stories set in your home towns. But I'm a boy from Goodhue County, Minnesota, and Field of Prey is set precisely there, mostly. My home town isn't mentioned (though I'm pretty sure Lucas Davenport drives through it at one point), but the story starts in Faribault, and then there's Owatonna, and Red Wing, and Zumbrota, as well as a fictional town called Holbein.

My home area is in a bestselling book! We exist!

Also the book is pretty exciting, if you can put up with the rough elements.

Horwitz Not Thrilled with Digital Bookselling

Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic and Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, writes about the thrills and spills of being a digital bestseller.

I finished writing in late January, just as the State Department prepared to issue a much anticipated report on the Keystone XL. If I were writing for a traditional publisher, I’d have to wait months to see my work in print. This time, I’d be read within days, right on top of the news!

Exhausted but exhilarated, I headed to the liquor store for a celebratory bottle and returned to an urgent call from my editor in Sydney. “Mate, we’re [bleeped],” she said. The Global Mail’s backer had had a bad financial setback at his firm and evidently decided he could no longer afford a folly like quality journalism. He’d abruptly pulled the plug just hours before I filed my copy, making The Global Mail a dead letter.

Worse still, for me, Byliner hadn’t yet inked its deal with the Aussies. Suddenly I had no platform for a very long story on a subject that was about to be all over the news. And I’d yet to be paid anything beyond my original travel budget (which I’d overrun, in any case).

At this point I called my literary agent, whom I’d foolishly failed to involve in the project. (Another fantasy of the digital world: Writers can do it themselves and dispense with all those middlemen.)
And there's more.

Eulogy, A Poem

"and we live amongst
What lives amongst us"

Two lines from a poem called "Eulogy," by Kevin Young.

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