Sunday, May 16, 2021
Saturday, May 15, 2021
It was a unique photograph – Queen Elizabeth II sitting by herself in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle for the funeral service of her husband, Prince Philip. Mark Meynell at The Rabbit Room was struck by that photograph, and what it says about a private grief expressed in public and the universality of human experience.
Kit Wilson at The Critic Magazine has an interesting idea about fiction: the decline of the English novel is contributing to a decline in empathy and the rise of “stay in your lane” identity politics.
Paul Kingsnorth (who writes strange, brilliant novels) published an article at First Things Magazine this week, explaining how a journey that started with atheism, meandered through Buddhism and witchcraft, finally came to land and be anchored in Christianity. At his own site, The Abbey of Misrule, he continues his discussion about the long decline of Western culture.
New York attorney Joshua Raff decided to do something different during the pandemic lockdown – he reads the novels of Jane Austen. Now he’s wondering why he waited so long to do it.
More Good Reads
Writing and Literature
What the Fountain Pen Told Me – Annie Nardone at Literary Life.
About all those unproduced screenplays William Faulkner wrote – Walker Caplan at Literary Hub.
Gabagool and Malapropisms: Dialogue Lessons from The Sopranos – Lincoln Michel at Counter Craft.
The Enduring Mystery of Mary Roberts Rinehart, America’s Answer to Agatha Christie – Otto Penzler at CrimeReads.
‘The Praise of Age’ by Walter Kennedy (1450–1508) – translated by Margaret Coats at Society of Classical Poets.
Fusion – Laura Reece Hogan at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).
Icarus – Robert Cording at Poetry Daily.
Life and Culture
Is ‘Woke’ Broke? The Perils of Living in a Parallel Universe – Jon Horvat at The Imaginative Conservative.
Precious Procedure and Process – Joseph Salemi at Society of Classical Poets.
Op-Ed: When reading to learn, what works best for students — printed books or digital texts? – Naomi Baron at Los Angeles Times.
Why We Still Need St. Damien of Molokai – Lisa Lickona at Church Life Journal.
The Anger of Man Does Not Achieve the Wisdom that God Requires – Samuel D. James at Insights.
I Thought You Should Know – Kristin Couch at The Palest Ink.
“This Sudden Expedition”: The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga – 246 Years Later – William Griffith at Emerging Revolutionary War Era.
Battle Belongs – Phil Wickham
Painting: Reading Girl, oil on canvas (1828) by Gustav Adolphe Hennig (1797-1869).
Friday, May 14, 2021
Thursday, May 13, 2021
It’s September 1939, and Inspector James Givens of the Warwickshire Constabulary is having something of an existential crisis. He’s barely recovered from the wounds (physical and mental) he received in his last case, his boss has assigned him the duty of organizing old police case files, his Jewish family is pressuring him to find his missing uncle somewhere in Paris, Germany invades Poland, and Givens is ready to chuck it all in with the police.
He goes to Paris to find his uncle but has no luck. He’s called back home; what had appeared to be a suicide by an Anglican clergyman turns out to look like something else, and Givens is needed to sort it out. The case is difficult; the minister was found hanging in a room behind a brothel. Givens soon learns that this was no suicide. Finding the killer, however, is nothing but a series of dead ends.
A Patient Man by Charlie Garratt is the third in the Inspector James Givens series, and it’s a cohesive blend of murder investigation and personal crisis. Givens has adopted an English name and identity to avoid the anti-Semitism which seems as much present in England as it is in Germany. But too many things force the detective to keep grappling with who he is and where he comes from.
And an additional complication arises. In the course of looking for the missing Kindertransport girl who’d been staying with his parents, he meets her music teacher, Rachel Stevens. Rachel is also Jewish; and Givens finds himself doing what he thought he could never do again – fall in love. But er brother expects any potential husband for his sister to be a practicing and faithful Jew.
Garratt is the author of four Inspector Given mysteries, including A Shadowed Livery, A Pretty Folly, A Patient Man, and Where Every Man. He also published several community participation guides, until he retired and began writing short stories. One of those stories led to his first novel, A Shadowed Livery. He lives in Shropshire in England.
A Patient Man is a good mystery, depicting the frustrations of the job of a police inspector who’s struggling with his own identity. And the threat of war has now become something more than a threat.
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
In late December, a story idea took possession of my head, and I began to write. The narrative flowed like it never had before with five previous novels. This one was different; its predecessors had been part of a series, while this one was a completely different story.
On Feb. 18, I write this note in my writing log: “Reach 90,543 words. First draft is completed.” While I can’t say it was effortless, the writing of this story was surprisingly easy. I knew from the beginning how the story would end, and, working without an outline, I kept moving toward that end.
Then came the formal editing.
To continue reading, please see my post today at the ACFW Blog.
Photograph by Andrew Neel via Unsplash. Used with permission.
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
I start this review with a disclaimer. How to Write a Form Poem: A Guide to 10 Fabulous Forms by Tania Runyan includes a poem I wrote. I also once tapped some lively feet to a performance by Runyan when she played the fiddle. Neither affected my judgment about the book.
Well, the fiddle might have.
If you like form poems, Runyan has some advice. And a guide. Even if you don’t like form poems, Runyan has some advice. And a guide. And for those who like form poems and those who don’t, she offers this seeming contradiction: form poems are liberating. Liberating? Who knew?
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Monday, May 10, 2021
H.M. Denham had enjoyed a successful naval career. After graduating from the Royal Naval Colleges at Osbourne and Dartmouth, he served on a number of Royal Navy ships, including as captain. Then, in 1939, with war looming, he joined Naval Intelligence.
In 1940, he was sent to Sweden, a neutral country that appeared to be staying neutral only with Hitler’s indulgence. To get there, he traveled by boat to northern Norway, then occupied by the German Army. He found his way to Finland, from which he was able to cross the border into Sweden and make his way to Stockholm. His journey was actually easier than that of a colleague, a woman assigned to the Stockholm embassy who traveled there via Capetown, various African railways, a ship from Cairo to Istanbul, and eventually into the Soviet Union and on to Finland and Sweden. The trip took six months.
Inside the Nazi Ring: A Naval Attaché in Sweden 1940-1945 is Denham’s account of his years in Stockholm (six years in all, during which he did not see his wife back in England). As a neutral country, Sweden hosted embassies from all recognized countries, so that Denham often found himself pursuing similar ends as his German counterparts.
He tells a story that is rarely emphasized in historical accounts of World War II that focus more on military actions or life in occupied countries. Denham’s story is about ball bearings, iron ore, port facilities, and how the British (and presumably the Germans) often resorted to smuggling and deception to ensure needed supplies left Sweden and arrived in the U.K. This is the industrial counterpart to the military aspects of war.
Not that the military situation is ignored. Denham tells the story how, two days before the invasion of Norway by the German Army, Winston Churchill discounted the reports from his own intelligence agents. And Denham himself played a critical role in alerting the British of the movement of the German battleships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen into the Atlantic Ocean, where they met their ends at the hands of the Royal Navy. He also describes his experience of having his Stockholm apartment bugged and his movements watched – by the Swedish intelligence forces. And he must have done an effective job for the British, as the Germans and others were routinely seeking his expulsion.
Denham (1897-1993) wrote a number of military memoirs as well as travel books, including Dardanelles: A Midshipman’s Diary 1915-1916; The Aegean; The Adriatic; The Ionian Islands to Rhodes; The Tyrrhenian Sea; and Southern Turkey, the Levant, and Cyprus. After retiring from the Royal Navy in 1947, Denham became a travel writer and published a number of sea guides. He died in London in 1993.
Inside the Nazi Ring, first published in 1984 and now reprinted by Sapere Books, is a fascinating account of diplomatic life in wartime Stockholm, with its successes, failures, and dangers, and how “war” was waged even in neutral countries.
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Saturday, May 8, 2021
Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic was bursting upon the world, Gracy Olmstead found herself in an unexpected and unwanted position. She was pregnant. She tells her moving and encouraging story at Plough Quarterly.
You read the news about America’s universities, and it all seems bad. Cancel culture run amok, free speech being actively muzzled, any opinions contrary to the prevailing (progressive) orthodoxy resulting in demands for expulsions, denial of due process, professors and administrators cowering before mobs of woke students, Shakespeare and the classics being booted out of the curriculum. And more. It’s not all bad, of course; doomsayers can raise a lot of money (and ratings) on such things (ask CNN, Fox, and MSNBC). And then along comes James Matthew Wilson, a professor and poet who decides not to curse the darkness but, instead, to light a candle.
And speaking of the cancel culture mob mentality, Nicholas McDowell at Aeon Magazine says we have a lot we could learn from the 17th century poet John Milton. His Areopagitica had little effect on his own time, but it had an enormous impact on the American Revolution and similar upheavals.
If our current news media culture resembles anything, it’s the highly partisan period of the 19th century, when newspapers were founded to promote specific political viewpoints, often serving as extensions of whatever party the newspaper owner favored. Kenn Ellingwood at Literary Hub explains how newspapers became “utterly ubiquitous” in the 1830s. And Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist says it’s important to be honest about what today’s media actually are.
More Good Reads
Keeping the Faith – Christian Smith at First Things Magazine.
We Need the Faith of Noah – Jordan Standridge at The Cripplegate.
How Far Back Can We Trace the Fourfold Gospel? – Michael Kruger at Canon Fodder.
The Birth of Religious Freedom in Early Christianity – E. Gregory Wallace at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.
Life and Culture
They Can’t Cancel Your Soul – Caylan Ford at The American Mind.
The Abyss of Grievance – Glenn Arbery at The Imaginative Conservative.
Dactylic Proverbs – James Tweedie at Society of Classical Poets.
From a Lookout in the Woods – Jonah Lynch at L'Osservatore Romano on Wendell Berry.
House of Air, Hours of Fire – Donika Kelly at Literary Hub.
Writing and Literature
The Austen Years: A Review in Six Movements – Tessa Carman at Mere Orthodoxy.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles and the Inception of Hercule Poirot – Liberty Hardy at Novel Suspects.
Blackbird Letters #4: Writing as Discontent – Lore Ferguson Wilbert at Sayable.
Remembering Walt Wangerin, Jr. with Luci Shaw – Matthew Dickerson at The Rabbit Room.
Did mainstream media distort America's religion-and-politics divide? Are they still doing so? – Richard Ostling at Get Religion.
Good to Me – Rhett Walker
Painting: Bearded Man Reading, oil on canvas by Johannes Weiland (1856-1909).
Friday, May 7, 2021
Thursday, May 6, 2021
Trudy Loveday, 19, is a woman police constable (WPC) with the Oxford police. Actually, she’s a probationary WPC. It’s 1960, and a probationary WPC ranks pretty low in the police pecking order. As in, Trudy makes a lot of coffee for her bosses, answers phones, and does file work and the other duties women police officers are expected to perform. Her parents, especially her mother, are not pleased with her choice of profession.
But Trudy is determined to succeed. She’s smart, bright, and alert enough to tackle a purse snatcher and and a flasher. And she’s determined to do more. But what she needs is an opportunity.
The police have a serious case on their hands. A local business executive has been receiving threatening letters, saying something will happen to his son at a specific time unless the executive “does the right thing,” whatever that might be. The son is protected, but then a gardener is found murdered for no apparent reason. The gardener turns out to be the executive’s son from a liaison some 30 years before.
The coroner is Clement Ryder, the bane of policemen everywhere. Ryder was once a big-name London surgeon, until he suddenly quit and became a coroner in Oxford. Only he knows the reason – he’s in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. He’s not ready to throw in the towel quite yet, so he keeps himself engaged and busy in life with his coroner duties.
At the inquest, Ryder sees a face he recognizes from a case five years before, the mother of a young woman who died accidentally. And the dead gardener was tangentially involved in that case. And Ryder wonders if there’s a connection between the cases, and he wonders if the girl’s death was accidental after all. He decides to investigate the older case. But he needs someone in police uniform for the questioning to be official. And Trudy Loveday’s bosses see the perfect solution to her constantly asking for more responsibility.
A Fatal Obsession is the first of seven novels in the Ryder and Loveday series by Faith Martin. The pairing of the older and ailing coroner with the intelligent but green woman constable provides an entertaining overlay to the mystery story being solved. It’s a solid story, with a few twists and enough clues for the reader to produce an eminently satisfying mystery.
In addition to the Ryder and Loveday novels, Martin has also published the series she’s best known for – the DI Hilary Greene novels, as well as the Jenny Sterling mysteries. Under the name Joyce Cato, she has published a number of non-series detective stories. Both Cato and Martin are pen names for Jacquie Walton. (Walton as another pen name as well – Maxine Barry, under which she wrote 14 romance novels.) A native of Oxford, she lives in a village in Oxfordshire.
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
In 1983, a colleague at work suggested I might be interested in a new masters program at Washington University in St. Louis. It was the Masters in Liberal Arts, and it had been designed for “older students,” people who had been out of school and working. I looked into it, talked with the program coordinator, and decided to try it. It was only one night a week per class, and my employer generously subsidized college-level courses as long as they were part of a degree program. I figured it was extremely low-risk; if I didn’t like the program, I could simply stop.
The deal clincher was what my colleague said about the professors who taught in the program. They were among the very best professors at the university; in fact, there was something of a waiting list to teach MLA courses. The reason: the students were older, more experienced, firmer in their convictions, more inclined to challenge the teacher, and interested in the subject being taught for its own sake.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.
Photograph: Dr. Michael Friedlander, 1928-2021.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry collection Native Guard, Natasha Trethewey reminds us that history is complicated.
“Native Guard” refers to a military regiment and an event during the American Civil War. The 1st Louisiana Native Guardwas a regiment of Black men who fought for the Union. The regiment was based in New Orleans and was comprised of a few free men of color but mostly escaped slaves from area plantations. The regiment played a prominent role in the Battle of Port Hudson, a Confederate fort north of Baton Rouge then on the Mississippi River that bears the distinction of enduring the longest military siege of any town in North America. The town surrendered to Union forces a few days after the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Monday, May 3, 2021
From an old girlfriend who moved away, Ben Wickens learns that he has a son. The girlfriend apparently wanted a child but not a marriage. He supports the child financially, and he even increases the support when the boy is determined to be autistic. He wants to be more involved, but the girlfriend has married and doesn’t want Ben to disrupt the family.
Three years later, the doorbell rings, and it’s the girlfriend, turning over the boy, Kyle, to Ben. She’s pregnant, focused on her marriage, and she thinks it’s time for Ben to step up and take over with Kyle. Given her decision to have the child in the first place and not telling him for two years, Ben does indeed step up. And he gets full custody.
What he’s not prepared for is Kyle’s autism. He knows nothing about dealing with it, or how to best help his son. He enrolls Kyle in kindergarten at the local school. Despite getting off to a really bad start with Kyle’s teacher, Kyle, and Ben, begin to make progress. The class is an experiment in mixing autistic children with normal children.
The teacher is Melanie Nichols. She has an older autistic brother, and she’s been specially trained in teaching autistic children. While her initial reactions to Ben Wickens are almost entirely negative, she slowly comes to see he truly wants to learn how best to raise his son. And she begins to find herself attracted to Ben.
Autism Goes to School is the first of six novels in the School Daze series by Dr. Sharon Mitchell. Mitchell uses a fictional story to explain autism, what it is, what it isn’t, and the resources available to help parents deal with it. The story could have easily become a clinical report, but the author neatly sidesteps that with an engaging story with sympathetic characters.
Mitchell has worked as a teacher, counselor, and consultant for several decades. She holds masters and Ph.D. degrees in autism spectrum disorders and has focused on helping children with autism reach as much independence as possible.
My only nit to pick with the story is the occasional use of profanity, mostly by the character of Ben. The narrative doesn’t need it, and it tends to be a distraction at times. But Autism Goes to School is still a good story about an important subject of vital interest to the parents of children with autism – and the rest of us as well.
Sunday, May 2, 2021
Saturday, May 1, 2021
Paul Kingsnorth, the author of the novels Beast, The Wake, and, most recently, Alexandria, has been reading Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, published in 1926. He finds it has much to say to our current cultural moment. (The story is behind a paywall; if you want to see excerpts, you can find them here.)
For a very long time, literary scholars and history understood The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer as essentially a written text. Then along came a young American named Milman Parry (1902-1935), who turned that understanding on its head.
Critical race theory is now the reigning social and cultural philosophy for corporate, academic, government, and media elites. Christopher Rufo has spent considerable time studying it, tracking where it’s going, and understanding its implications. And he says it’s a philosophy that needs to be fought.
More Good Reads
Tucker Carlson Goes One-on-One with Outkick – Bobby Burack at Outkick.
Read Not the Times. Read the Eternities: A Review of Reading the Times by Jeffrey Bilbro – Arthur Hunt III at Front Porch Republic.
Life and Culture
Getting Rich in the Diversity Marketplace – Sean Cooper at Tablet Magazine.
Does Anyone Read the Law? – Jeffrey Polet at Law & Liberty.
4 More Reasons Planned Parenthood Should Apologize – Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition.
Defounding America: On the erosion of American freedoms – Myron Magnet at New Criterion.
Identity Politics, Opium of the People – Carl Trueman at First Things Magazine.
A Child’s Hymn – Charles Dickens via Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).
If They’ll Do It For You, They’ll Do It To You – Seth Lewis.
In Praise of a Brazen Poet: On the Essays of Kay Ryan, Outsider – Jason Guriel at Literary Hub.
An Ode: ‘Spring Mourning’ – Daniel Leach at Society of Classical Poets.
Writing and Literature
Writing and the Truer Path of Worship – Aaron Weinacht at Front Porch Republic.
Literary and Manual Labor: Pittsfield, Massachusetts – Jeffrey Lawrence at Public Books.
Excavating the Life of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Author of an American Classic – Ann McCutchan at Literary Hub.
Were the New Testament Authors Aware of Their Own Authority? – Michael Kruger at Canon Fodder.
‘Welcome to Exile. It’s Going to be OK’ – Alistair Begg at The Gospel Coalition.
Fragments of Memory – Victor Davis Hanson.
Is He Worthy – Maverick City
Painting: Woman Reading, oil on canvas (1888) by Lovis Corinth (1858-1925).