Monday, August 31, 2020

“What We’re Teaching Our Sons” by Owen Booth

Owen Booth has done something interested with What We’re Teaching Our Sons. The title first suggested that this was a self-help book of some kind, aimed at fathers trying to raise sons in a society and culture that is a veritable mass of mixed signals and messages. Then I saw the endorsement by poet Luke Kennard, saying the book “reduced me to tears of laughter and painful recognition.” Self-help books don’t usually do that. 

Intrigued, I bought it and started reading. It took getting through only a few of the short chapters for me to realize that Booth is using the structure of fathers teaching sons (or not teaching them, as the case may be) to examine many of the events, subjects, themes, anxieties, thrills, disasters, and rhythms of everyday life that are our culture today. Booth is British, but what he writes about applies equally to the United States and I suspect most Western countries.

Some of the things being taught to sons are physical: the outdoors, whales, geology sport, mountains, and food, among others. Others are about relationships: women, heartbreak, ex-girlfriends, grandfathers, and teenage girls. There are entries on feelings, like empathy, guilt, crying, romance, nostalgia, and emotional literacy. Or mythical figures like pirates, Vikings, and the Abominable Snowman, and Martians. He includes dangers, like drowning, plane crashes, being struck by lightning, and spiders. And historical events like exploration of the South Pole. 

Owen Booth
And, yes, all of these subjects can, in their own strange way, affect and characterize the relationships between fathers and sons. In Booth’s hands, one does have to wonder whether it’s the fathers or the sons who are the adults in the room (the mothers usually know). But the book goes beyond whether or not you should teach your sons to climb trees (the answer is yes) to consider what weights modern society adds to what is already not the easiest of relationships and responsibilities.

Booth has experience here, being the father of two sons. He’s a writer and journalist and won the 2015 White Review Short Story Prize. His writings have been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and literary journals. He and his family live in London. 

So if it’s important for your sons to know about gambling, food, books, crime, and glaciers, among a lot of other subjects, What We’re Teaching Our Sons can provide a road map that’s both insightful and wry. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Poet Blogs the Layoff

Layoffs were coming. The big announcement from the CEO was circulated by email. It was a masterpiece of vagueness. It didn’t say how many people would be affected. It didn’t say when the affected people would know. It did say there would be a severance program, although it included no details. 

In short, the important things people wanted to know weren’t communicated. I’m sure management congratulated itself on communicating, but the rumors had already been circulating and people were already far beyond “layoffs are coming.” What people also knew was that the people being laid off might be the fortunate ones. Those who remained would likely be reorganized, with more work and fewer people to get it done.

Having been through this before at another company, I had a better idea of what would happen and what people really cared about that colleagues who hadn’t been through it, especially younger colleagues. A small group came to me and asked if I would consider blogging about my past experience on the company’s intranet. I said I’d think about it.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Photograph by Matt Noble via Unsplash. Used with permission.

A child

After Romans 8:12-25

A child, abandoned,
alone, is found and
touched, claimed,
adopted to become
a son, a son
who cries father
with assurance,
knowing he belongs
now, and because
of this, he’s an heir,
guaranteed a place
with fellow heirs,
able to claim
what is promised,
an inheritance of life,
an inheritance of suffering,
an inheritance of glory.

Photograph by Max Goncharov via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Saturday Good Reads

Five years ago, we signed up for a walking tour in London about the poet John Keats. Actually, it was less a walking tour and more a trotting tour, up and down hilly Hampstead and Hampstead Heath. My wife’s legs weren’t quite ready for it. The tour met at the Hampstead tube station and ended at the John Keats House and Museum. One area of Hampstead we visited was called the Vale of Health, a residential area surrounded by woods where Keats and some of his editorial friends lived for a time. A London Inheritance has a feature on the area, complete with many pictures.

Amid all the groaning and moaning about evangelical Christians supporting President Trump and progressive Christians supporting Joe Biden, Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition has a timely reminder: traditional Christians have never been politically unified.

Cancel culture is still raging in the literary and publishing world, and this time it’s the National Book Critics Circle. One critic protested the usual statement that’s issued about racism by a literary organization, and the empire struck back.

In an era that celebrates noise and shouting, both in person and online, Melissa Edgington at Your Mom Has a Blog has some different advice: be quiet and cultivate a gentle spirit

More Good Reads


The Final Salute – David McLemore at Things of the Sort.

No, Nicaea Didn’t Create the Canon – John Meade at The Gospel Coalition.

Piercing a Hole in the Heavens – Casey Shutt at Mere Orthodoxy. 


Cool Christianity Is (Still) a Bad Idea – Brett McCracken at The Gospel Coalition.

Five Ways Churches Will Have Changed One Year From Now – Thom Rainer at Church Answers.


‘The Falcon’: A Poem After Blake’s ‘Tyger' – Cynthia Erlandson at Society of Classical Poets.

Nobody – Alice Oswald at Literary Hub.

Sestina Minus One; A Buoyant Future for Us All – Michele Herman at The Hudson Review.

A Grace Triptych – Andrew Roycroft at The Rabbit Room.

Writing and Literature

Forests of Ardens: On the Arden Shakespeare Series – Paul Dean at New Criterion.


On the Opioid Crisis and the Grief of Ohio – David Giffels at Literary Hub.

Ideology and the Pulitzers: It’s time for new prizes – Bruce Bawer at Claremont Review of Books.

Why ‘The Sting’ is Still the Ultimate Grifter Movie – Olivia Rutigliano at CrimeReads. 

If you love me (Thomas Tallis) – The King’s Singers (Zoom version)

Painting: Seated Man Reading, oil on canvas, mid-20th century; artist unknown but associated with the French School

Friday, August 28, 2020

Whose spirit?

After Romans 8:1-11

Whose spirit?
The spirit of the law?
Your spirit? Mine?
Someone else’s?
The answer matters;
it’s not rhetorical.
It’s not hypothetical.
It’s a matter
of life and death.
It’s a matter
of your life and 
death. To answer it,
you need help.
So, ask.

Photograph by Nathan McBride via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

"The Lighterman" by Simon Michael

The Kray twins, a pair of vicious London gangsters, are after attorney Charles Holborne, and they don’t seem to be able to quit.

Holborne, whose original named was Horowitz, from a kosher Jewish family in London’s East End, made a bad mistake. He was able to get the Krays’ attorney acquitted. The Krays wanted him found guilty and sent away for a good long time. And now Holborne is on the Kray’s “list,”
Which means they want him eliminated. 

It’s 1964. The corruption in the London underworld is matched only by the corruption in the police force. The police see what’s happening and decide they’re not interested in investigating. Charles manages to evade several attempts on his life, although one costs him about 30 stitches. The one he’s not expecting happens when he gets assigned to handle a murder brief, and the suspect is Izzy Conway. Izzy’s going to get the death penalty anyway, so the Krays tell him they’ll take care of his mother if he offs Charles. They even arrange for a weapon, smuggled in by a prison guard.

Simon Michael
What the Krays don’t know is that Izzy is Charles’s first cousin. They’ve known each other since 1940, when Charles left his kosher family and went to work with Izzy’s on barges running the Thames. Being a lighterman – working on flat-bottomed barges – was the most dangerous work imaginable at the time, the favorite target of German bombers during the Blitz. Charles was only 15 but big for his age, and it was the best time of his life. Two years later, he was reclaimed by his parents and eventually joined the RAF. After the war, he went to Cambridge, changed his name, married the daughter of a title, and became an attorney in London’s Temple. But the wife is now dead, he has a reputation with the profession and the police, and the Krays are after him.

The Lighterman is the third in the Charles Holborne mysteries by Simon Michael, and it’s a stunning story of corruption, criminal gangs, the legal profession, and one man’s belief in the law – and how he’s forced to compromise with that belief. It’s also a story of social change, of old family traditions breaking down, and how the past continues to shape the present.

Michael is the author of five novels in the Charles Holborne series. He studied law at Kings College, London University and was called to the Bar in 1978. He worked primarily in the field of criminal law until the late 1990s, when he focused his practice on clinical negligence. He began writing in the 1980s and resumed it when he retired from legal practice.

The Charles Holborne series is getting better with each successive novel, and it began with an excellent one. The Lighterman reaches into recent history and tells a story that is simply riveting.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

“Uniquely Common” and "Silent Harmony" by Caryl McAdoo

t’s not unusual to see a group of authors get together and write a series of related books built around a theme. I’ve seen this particularly in two genres – romance and mystery. In some cases, each of the authors takes a different character and builds a separate but related story.

One example is the Lockets & Lace series, a group of Christian historical romances generally set in the 19th century and featuring a story that involves a locket. The series is currently going strong with 26 entries, each about 200 pages long. Caryl McAdoo has written three of them.

Uniquely Common tells the story of Christina Adams in the early 1850s. She lives with her brother and his two daughters in a New York City brownstone. Big changes are underway for the family – they’re planning to move to the Napa Valley in California to create a vineyard and winery business.

A surprise happens when Christina’s brother Asher brings home a good friend – and his business partner, a man named Ethan Cord. Christina is still reeling from a recent broken engagement, and she slowly realizes that Asher sees Ethan as a potential husband for her. Christina is not interested, thank you very much, but can’t object to the man coming with them as they leave New York.

The group travels by train to New Orleans and then by steamboat to St. Louis and Hannibal. In Hannibal they will purchase their mules, oxen, and “prairie schooners,” and then head to St. Joseph near Kansas City. Ethan and Christina keep finding themselves entangled in different situations. They also start finding themselves becoming romantically involved. It’s a story filled with the history of mid-19th century transportation and especially trains and steamboats. (And yes, there’s a locket involved.)

Silent Harmony is the story of three sisters, Lucy, Servilia, and Melody. It’s 1867, and the three live in the Red River Valley of Texas, trying to keep their cotton farm alive. Their father and Lucy’s husband were both killed in the Civil War, and Lucy has assumed headship of the family. She also has a four-year-old daughter, Harmony, who is both deaf and mute. 

A new teacher has arrived in town, a man named Zeke Sheffield. He stutters, and his stuttering often so bad that he has learned sign language. And it’s sign language that he will be teaching, along with other subjects. For Melody, the youngest sister, it’s love at first sight. But It’s Lucy who needs a husband and father for Harmony. 

Zeke is complicated. He has visions of things that will happen, and they turn out to be true. He stutters, yes, but not with Melody. And Sevilia is about as mean to her younger sister as she can get away with. 

The story is filled with color of post-Civil War Texas and how people have to start making a life for themselves again. 

Top photograph: A steamboat in the 1850s.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Poetry of the Best Job You Ever Had

It started with a phone call from a friend. “Did you see the job ad in the paper?” he said.

“What job ad?” I said.

“The city school district is looking for a communications director. You’d be perfect.”

“Do you hate me or something?” I said.

The city school district was indeed looking for a communications director. The district was in organizational chaos. A reform school board had brought in a management consultant firm from New York to reorganize the district. Schools had been closed. Central office staff had been laid off – some 800 people. Management of cafeterias, school buses, and other services was being outsourced. The management firm was doing what had to be done, but the district was so strangled by its own politics and so intertwined with city politics that it was impossible to try to make the changes from within. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Photograph by Mesh via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Poets and Poems: Jane Kenyon and “Best Poems”

Poet Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) met poet Donald Hall (1928-2018) at the University of Michigan. He was teaching; she was a student. They married in 1972, and in1975 moved to Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire, which had been his grandparents’ home. They were married until her death from leukemia in 1995.

Hall’s career loomed larger. By the time they met, he had already been the editor of Oxford Poetry, literary editor of Isis, editor of New Poems, the recipient of several literary prizes and recognitions, the author of several volumes of poetry, and first poetry editor of The Paris Review. He was a presence in the poetry world; she was just starting out. From all accounts, they were devoted to each other. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry

Monday, August 24, 2020

“Bartleby, The Scrivener” by Herman Melville

In two installments in November and December of 1853, Putnam’s Monthly Magazine published a longish short story by Herman Melville (1819-1891). “Bartleby, The Scrivener” gained little notice at the time, but eventually it came to be regarded as an iconic American short story. Even today, it’s recognized as a great short story, at least as far as the BBC and Literary Hub are concerned, putting it in a best story list in 2019 and 2020, respectively. 

It’s a strange story, and it’s no surprise that it didn’t find an immediate audience when it published or when it was included in a short story collection by Melville three years later. At the time he wrote it, Melville was immersed in (or sinking under the weight of) writing Moby Dick. A well-received writer in the 1840s with works like Typee, Melville’s popularity was on the wane in the 1850s. The literary recognition of his works didn’t really begin to recover until the 1920s, three decades after his death, with the posthumous publication of Billy Budd in 1924.

“Bartleby, The Scrivener” concerns a law practice in New York City. The narrator is an attorney who is the head of the office, and he employs two scriveners and an assistant (errand boy). A scrivener, or scribe, focused mostly on copy out legal documents – arguments, court submissions, and briefs. In addition to copying (and often making several copies), scriveners also worked as a team for proofreading. Because of the volume of work, the attorney must hire an additional scrivener, and one day Mr. Bartleby presents himself. The attorney is so impressed with his quiet demeanor (the story provides details on the quirks and attitudes of the other three employees), the attorney makes room for him in his own office, setting up a screen to afford some privacy.

Herman Melville
All goes well, until Bartleby is asked to do some proofreading. His response becomes the most repeated line in the story – “I would prefer not to.” While he first limits the line to proofing, Bartleby soon uses to explain why he won’t run an errand and other simple activities in the office. Eventually, he stops working altogether. When asked to do the copying he was hired to do, his response is the now-familiar “I would prefer not to.”

The attorney will consider every means possible to get rid of Bartleby, but the reader soon knows, if the attorney doesn’t immediately, that he has stopped into a mid-19th century Twilight Zone. And whatever happens, it will not likely end well. It’s such an unusually odd story for the times that its literary value would only be recognized when writers like Franz Kafka and Albert Camus read it and were enthralled by it.

Some critics have seen allusions in the story to Melville’s life and especially his frustrations with writing Moby Dick. Different critical interpreters have focused on the narrator, Bartleby, the legal profession, the changes in business in the mid-19th century, and as a story anticipating the coming cataclysm of the Civil War. It’s a lot of weight for a short story to carry. It’s known that it was inspired by a rather innocuous account of a law office and the work of a scrivener that Melville had read, but that account portended nothing unusual. 

To read it today, with the intervening literary cultures of modernism and post-modernism informing what and how we read, it’s an entirely believable story. Perhaps it’s because the figure of the worker who refuses to work, or the employee who manages  to evade most of not all assignments, is someone we know or have known (the character of Wally in the comic strip “Dilbert” makes an art out of evading work).

Edgar Allen Poe wasn’t the only writer penning strange stories in the 19th century.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Poetry of the Crisis

There’s nothing like a good crisis to demonstrate how little control an organization has. There’s also nothing like a good crisis to uncover the poetry in our souls.

A product cancellation was looming, the cancellation to be imposed by a government agency. Thousands of jobs were at stake, not to mention income, corporate stock price, reputation, and significant disruptions for customers. The crisis had been coming for nearly a year, contained within official communications between the government and the company.

As time passed, internal anxiety grew. In the communications area, we were a relatively minor player, except for the moment at which the crisis would go public. Then we would occupy the most important position in the overall situation. Blow it there, and the product would be destroyed in the marketplace.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Photograph by Ante Hamersmit via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Set free

After Romans 8:1-11

We’re set free
from the law,
the law of death,
to embrace
the law of life,
the spirit of life,
We’re set free from
the law of death,
the law of sin
and death.
A substitution
was made, 
a sacrifice
fulfilling what
the law required,
and liberating from
the penalty required.
It’s that simple.
It’s that monumental.

Photograph by Junior Moran via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Saturday Good Reads

It was a good week for classic American literature. Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative took a look at James Fenimore Cooper and the American Republic, and Sarah Kay Bierle at Emerging Civil War discovered she liked Red Badge of Courage after all. I even read a classic American short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener” by Herman Melville. But not all is well. Charlotte Allen at Quillette cites the recent flare-up over Flannery O’Connor as an example of the ideological war on literature

Over the centuries, St. Thomas A’ Beckett has had his ups and downs. Originally a martyred hero for the faith, in more recent times he’s been deconstructed, if not outright canceled. Rec. Steve Morris at The Critic thinks London’s great saint needs a reboot.

Yoram Hazony is president of the Herzl Foundation in Jerusalem and chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation. He’s published a book called The Virtue of Nationalism, so you know right away he’s likely to be sympathetic to things like national borders and unsympathetic to things like “global citizens.” For Quillette, he’s written a longish discussion about Marxism, which is becoming the prevailing mindset among America’s academic, media, corporate, and political elites. They would never call it that, but that’s what it is. Judging by the comments, the article has also generated a healthy round of debate.

More Good Reads


Neither Past Nor Future – Brian Miller at The South Roane Agrarian.

Apocalypse, Again and Again and… – Jake Lee at Very Much Later.

We’re Still Living in the World That Inspired Animal Farm —75 Years Later – Tea Obreht at Time Magazine.

Hydroxychloroquine: A Morality Tale – Norman Doidge at Tablet Magazine.

Do You Trust Your Doctor? – Samuel D. James at Letters & Liturgy.


Altars of Attention and August Morning – James Crews at Plough Books.

We Came Together with an Open Mind – James Allen Kennedy at Society of Classical Poets.

Three Poems – I. Lamar Wilson at South Writ Large.

“The Riddle” and “The Horse Angel” – Marly Youmans at Cunning Folk.

Writing and Literature

An Open Letter to Barnes & Noble – Rob Eager at WildFire Marketing.

Mrs. Bridge Is a Perfect Novel. But How Does It Work? – Emily Temple at Literary Hub.

Remembering Elizabeth Spencer – Sally Greene at South Writ Large.


J.I. Packer: A Personal Remembrance – Terry Johnson at Reformation21. 

Why is the Culture Dark and Decaying? – Keith Mathison at Light in Dark Places.

American Stuff

Echoes of the Reconstruction Era, July 2020 – Patrick Young at Emerging Civil War.

The German island with a population of 16 – BBC News

Painting: Girl Reading, oil on canvas by Emil Rau (1858-1937).

Friday, August 21, 2020

The resistance

After Romans 7:7-25

A war rages.
On one side:
what it is
we’re supposed
to do, to believe.
On the other:
what our hearts,
our minds, our souls,
want to do instead.
There’s a sense, 
inborn, of what 
is right. There’s
a sense, inborn,
of what we want
to do instead.
It’s a war
we cannot win
without help.
It’s the war
Of already
not yet.
We cannot win
on our own,
no matter
how great
the desire.

Photograph by British Library via Unsplash, Used with permission.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Poetry of Speechwriting

The most solitary job in corporate America is not the position of CEO. It’s the position of the CEO’s speechwriter. It can be the loneliest job as well.

I spent about two thirds of my career in speechwriting. Forty years ago, no one aspired to be a corporate speechwriter. You would find people who wanted to be presidential or political speechwriters, but most people who ended up in corporate speechwriting did so by accident. In my own case, I was 25 years old and assigned to a huge issue threatening to disrupt the company. The executive in charge of marketing needed a speech on the topic. The regular speechwriters are unavailable, so I was asked to do it. My strength was, in this case, knowing the subject matter. I had written speeches for myself; I had taken a course in American speeches in college. But I hadn’t written for someone else. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Photograph by Alem Omerovic via Unsplash. Used with permission.

“Death of an Old Girl” by Elizabeth Lemarchand

Elizabeth Lemarchand (1906-2000) was an educator at several schools in England and Wales who, after retirement, turned her hand to writing mystery novels. Between 1967 and 1988, she wrote 17 novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector Pollard and his able assistant Sergeant Toye of Scotland Yard. She was often compared to Agatha Christie, but after reading the first in the series, Death of an Old Girl, I would say she’s a more cerebral Agatha Christie.

Meldon School for Girls, founded in the 1880s, is having its annual homecoming and meeting of the Old Meldonian Society. One old girl (alumnus) is Beatrice Bayne’s, who actually lives in a cottage on the school property. She doesn’t like the changes happening at the school, and in between making derogatory comments about the grounds crew and generally throwing her weight around, she’s been looking for an opportunity to get rid of the new art teacher. 

Another teacher, who happens to be Baines’ godchild, returns from her mother’s funeral with fire in her eye. She’s desperate to find her godmother. The art teacher isn’t happy with the meddling old girl. Neither is the head of school who’s making so many changes. Baynes seems to have managed to offend just about everyone at the school. And then her body is found stuffed into a puppet theater – the art classroom.

Elizabeth Lemarchand
When DCI Pollard and Sergeant Toye show up, they find a multitude of suspects with a number of petty motives – but enough to kill the elderly woman? Pollard and Toye are very different personalities that combine to form a well-balanced team. They painstakingly develop and keep revising a timetable of events, including where and when everyone can be accounted for. After several intense days of investigation, they discover that none of the suspects could really have killed the woman. They know she was killed in the art classroom, and they know the weapon was likely a stone paperweight, now missing. But everyone’s time can be accounted for.

It’s not until Pollard decides to crawl inside the mind of the victim and ask the question, what what she really doing in the art classroom, that light begins to break in the case.

Published in 1967, Death of an Old Girl is a well-written tale of everyone can be guilty and no one can be guilty – until some intensive police works identifies the villain.