Sunday, January 31, 2021
Saturday, January 30, 2021
Timothy Miller had a draft of his first novel and was just about ready to sign the contract with the publisher – when he had a stroke. At Writer’s Digest, he describes what happened when he woke up five weeks later.
The empire is striking back. Cancel culture is going full tilt at Big Tech, but it’s not only there, and it’s not only the far right being purged. A literary agency fired an employee not because of what she said or posted, but simply because she had accounts at Parler and Gab. Remember McCarthysim and guilt by association?
What’s old is new again. Few may remember, but it was Irving Kristol who first began writing about America’s “new class” way back in the 1970s. In 1996 came Christopher Lasch’s The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy. The Obama years brought another surge of interest in a new globalist class that reportedly had no national ties but whose only loyalty was to itself (I’ve called it the “Davos Syndrome”). Michael Lind at Tablet Magazine takes a look “the new national American elite,” while Alan Jacobs at The Hedgehog Review discusses our “manorial elite” (which makes the rest of us peasants, or serfs, or deplorables, or something).
Poet and critic Clive James died in 2019, nine years after he learned he had emphysema, leukemia, and possible kidney failure. Imminent death became an everyday reality, but James kept going, writing poetry, songs, and literary criticism. Ian Shircore at Quadrant, who’s written two books about James and his works, considers the man and his body of work.
More Good Reads
Surfin’ Girl – Darren Beaney via Nigel Kent.
The Snowfall – Franz Werfel at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).
Verbum Dei – James Sales at Society of Classical Poets.
“Between the Lines”: A Conversation with Diane di Parma – Hilton Obenzinger at L.A. Review of Books.
Prophetic strain: the roots of Milton’s radical zeal – Rhodri Lewis at Prospect.
Life and Culture
Twenty-One Reasons That the Handwriting Is on the Wall for the Abortion Industry – George Grant at Ligonier.
We No Longer Make Boys into Men – Anthony Esolen at The Imaginative Conservative.
Generation Covid – Andrew Gardner.
The New Censors – John Tierney at CityJournal.
Wikipedia Turns Twenty – Adam Wakeling at Quillette.
Journalists Mobilize Against Free Speech – Armin Rosen at Tablet Magazine.
Writing and Literature
The Business of Books: The high-stakes world of pirate publishing – Andrew Pettegree at History Today.
America’s Angriest Writer: 'Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck' by William Souder – Margot Enns at Kirk Center.
The Extraordinary Disappearing Act of a Novelist Banned by the Nazis – Arvind Dilawar at Smithsonian Magazine.
The Stone Hefter Text – Jack Baumgartner at The School for the Transfer of Energy.
Voices of the People: On Folk Music as a Living Art Form – Ellen Harper at Literary Hub.
David Laird and the Christian Commission at Gettysburg – Jon Tracey at Emerging Civil War.
Prayer Worrier – Stephen Kneale at Building Jerusalem.
Celebrity, Success, and the Kingdom of Heaven – Michael Farmer at Front Porch Republic.
In the Garden (a capella) – Anthem Lights
Painting: Man reading in a park, oil on canvas (1914) by August Macke.
Friday, January 29, 2021
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Eric Ward is back. After a diminished role in The Slaughterhouse Murder by Roy Lewis, the former police detective turned attorney has a starring role in The Tattoo Murder.
Ward is retained by what at first appears a casual acquaintance at a bankers’ dinner. An executive with a merchant banking firm in Newcastle is worried about an investment in a major development project in the city. One of the key people involved in the project is another attorney, Jason Sullivan. Sullivan is the attorney and lover of Ward’s ex-wife and one of the reasons why they were divorced.
If Sullivan is involved, then it’s likely his ex-wife’s business is one of the investors in the project. Complicating everything is that Sullivan seems to be missing; his project accountant is nearly beside himself with concern about being held responsible for certain investments made with money for the development project. And Sullivan is at the center of it all.
Ward, after a somewhat angry meeting with his ex-wife, heads off to the northern French coast, where Sullivan is likely to be, where he meets an attractive woman who works for the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, who’s also looking for Sullivan. Sullivan has a painting, a painting looted from the Rijksmuseum during the Nazi occupation. The museum wants the painting back and is willing to pay for it.
Then the middleman who is supposed to be arranging the meeting with Sullivan is found dead by hanging. It looks like suicide, but it will turn out to be murder.
In The Tattoo Murder, Ward finds himself dealing with Nazi art, an ex-wife’s lover, missing funds, and rising gangland tensions – and that’s only for a start. The story moves quickly, requiring (and deserving) a close reading to keep track of all the plot developments and characters’ motives.
Lewis is the author of some 60 other mysteries, novels, and short story collections. His Inspector Crow series includes A Lover Too Many, Murder in the Mine, The Woods Murder, Error of Judgment, and Murder for Money, among others. The Eric Ward series, of which The Sedleigh Hall Murder is the first (and originally published as A Certain Blindness in 1981), includes 17 novels. The Arnold Landon series is comprised of 22 novels. Lewis lives in northern England.
It’s a cracking good story, and it’s good to see Eric Ward back to the major role in it.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Peyton Shellhouse has just secured her family’s island home in Magnolia Bay, South Carolina, in advance of a hurricane, when the bridges are closed. She stays with the property, but she loses all communication with the outside world. Her best friend, Will Maxwell, lives and works in London, and is so desperate to make sure she’s safe that he flies to the States.
Will is the younger son of an earl, which means no inheritance and no title, except “gentleman.” His two best friends from Cambridge University are younger sons of titled aristocrats as well. They call themselves the gents, and they’re going about trying to figure out how to make living like everyone else.
Peyton and Will may be best friends, but they both harbor strong feelings for each other. And perhaps something stronger than “strong feelings.” As Will stays to help cleanup from the storm damage, he convinces his two friends to come over and help as well. And then Will’s old girlfriend Bianca arrives. They’ve broken up numerous times, always because of something outrageous Bianca has done. She may be beautiful, but she’d give Cruella De Vil a run for the money.
Will suggests, and Peyton reluctantly agrees, a sham dating relationship to make Bianca go away. What Will doesn’t expect is that Peyton, with steel magnolia charm, will not only run rings around Bianca but Will as well.
The Royal’s Best Friend by Brenna Jacobs is the first in the Gentlemen of Magnolia Bay series by Brenna Jacobs. It’s a fund, light read, telling a good story about two people have to learn how much they not only care for each other but actually love each other profoundly.
Jacobs has published numerous romances in three series – the Sweet Romantic Series, the ABC’s of Love series, and the Gents of Magnolia Bay series, which includes The Royals’ Enemy and The Royal’s Fake Bride.
With The Royal’s Best Friend, if you like southern charm, an island romance, with a dash of British aristocracy, I think you may have found your story. Not to mention a villainess who gets her comeuppance.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
The best way to describe a poem by Laura Reece Hogan in her new collection, Litany of Flights, is, first, to let the poem speak for itself and, second, read it three times. The only introduction is that the collection uses birds as an organizational theme.
On Adoring You
In dark cords of night you weave for me
a cocoon of yourself. Splinters for silk,
thorns your thread, a love poured, an emptied
truth. I drink. In stripped unknowing. I long
to emerge winged, a bloom from black earth,
for love is stronger than death.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Monday, January 25, 2021
Sidi lives outside a village in Tunisia. He is a beekeeper, carefully tending his hives and what he calls “his girls,” the thousands of bees who prosper under his care. His primary form of transportation is his donkey, which he rides to and from the village when he needs supplies. The village is fond of the beekeeper; the people know the importance of the bees and what “the girls” do for growing food.
Political times are changing. The old regime in Tunis has fallen; an election is held that elects a radical Muslim government. Sidi notices the changes but is relatively unaffected. Then comes the day he finds one of his hives decimated, the bodies of thousands of bees almost torn in half and littering the ground. He keeps watch and eventually finds the culprit, or culprits – a hive of hornets the likes of which he’s never seen before.
He finds the source – a shipment of blankets and goods given out by the radical Muslim candidates. He enlists help from university friends in Tunis, and learns the hornets are native to Japan. Only one bee species has learned to resist the hornets, and it, too, is in Japan. And that’s where the salvation for his girls can be found.
The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai draws upon the oral tradition of Tunisia to tell two stories. First is Sidi and his bees; second is the story of another kind of hornet, that of the radical government regime determined to impose religious and social conformity upon the country. The novel even contains a scene of cancel culture at a Tunisian university that could have easily been adapted from various American universities. Eventually, these two stories will almost inevitably converge.
A native of Tunisia, Manai currently lives in Paris. He is both a writer and an engineer. He had published three novels in French; The Ardent Swarm is his first novel to be published in English. first novel published in English. It’s been translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud.
The Ardent Swarm is a story about the importance of both tradition and freedom in standing against the fundamentalism that seeks to strangle both. It’s set in Tunisia, in a small and remote village, but its theme is universal.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Yesterday, I counted four major stories in the news section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that should have been labeled “news analysis” or “commentary.” All four of the stories were by the Associated Press. I don’t know if the blame lies with the AP or the Post-Dispatch; likely both. But it’s indicative of what passes for news in today’s newspapers. Not coincidentally, the public’s trust in the news media has hit a new low. Felix Salmon at Axios has the story.
For years, I was a huge fan of the Swedish crime writing team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, creators of the police detective Martin Beck. They wrote a total of 10 crime novels, and they helped transform the police procedural genre and inspire the writers who gave birth to “Scandinavian noir.” Neil Nyren at CrimeReads offers a retrospective on the two writers.
It has the distinction of being one of the oldest forms of digital technology around, and it’s still doing a blockbuster business. Rob Walker at Marker talks about what has made the lowly pdf so popular and long-lasting.
More Good Reads
Life and Culture
Thinking with Bob Dylan (sort of): Everything is broken in the three Americas of 2021 – Terry Mattingly at Get Religion.
The Historical Case Against Censorship – Drew Maglio at The Imaginative Conservative.
“Antiracism” Comes to the Heartland – Christopher Rufo at CityJournal.
Dreher and Martin: Two Prophets for Today – Father Dwight Longenecker.
Who Was Idelette Calvin? – Joel Beeke at Tabletalk Magazine.
Three biblical examples of believers disobeying civil authority – Joe Lum at The Cripplegate.
We Prophesy Grief, Not Grace – Tim Challies.
Generations – Angeline Schellenberg at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).
Priam, King of Troy, Addresses Cassandra’s Concerns about the Horse – Michael Vanyukov at Society of Classical Poets.
Writing and Literature
When Poe Invented the Detective Story, He Changed the Literary World Forever – Olivia Rutigliano at CrimeReads.
Why George Macdonald Matters – Timothy Larsen at Marginalia.
Writing Through the Silences of a Lost Family History – Jonathan Lichtenstein at Literary Hub.
The Dystopian Imagination – Theodore Dalrymple at CityJournal.
Plutarch on envy & hatred – David Warren at Essays in Idleness.
Thomas and Jesus – Jack Baumgartner at The School for the Transfer of Energy.
Gloria Dei Cantores: Then Sings My Soul (How Great Thou Art)
Painting: Woman Reading 1, oil on canvas (1921) by Henri Matisse (1869-1954).
Friday, January 22, 2021
Thursday, January 21, 2021
On Thursdays in this space, I usually post a review of a mystery or crime story. Today, I post my periodic lament, this time about mystery stories.
I began reading one by a British author, highly recommended, promoted by various book services, and enjoying almost 5,000 reviews on Amazon (all authors should all be so fortunate). I start to read. It begins well, if slightly gruesomely (the discovery of a body). The writing style is okay, if slightly stilted. But by the time I reach page 45, (15 percent of the ebook), there have been two graphic sex scenes, discussions of several more, and a horrifyingly graphic description of a child’s murder. I’d had enough. End of story.
For relief, I turned to a cozy mystery. At one time, the author was a newspaper columnist that I followed, who had left the newspaper business (like so many other journalists) and started writing mysteries. I hadn’t read any of the stories – they seemed aimed exclusively at a women’s reading audience. But I saw one and decided to try it. It’s part of a series with a rather original premise.
The writing was certainly better than the first one I tried, if a bit on the sarcastic side (the author was a former journalist, so the sarcasm is somewhat understandable). I made it through about the same 15 percent as the earlier one. No character was even remotely sympathetic, including the heroine. We’re not talking people with flaws; this is more about people completely comprised of flaws with no redeeming characteristics, like many of the characters in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities (same kind of shallow rich people).
When I hit a discussion between four women characters about the virtues of a tongue piercing tied to graphic sex, I powered off my Kindle. (The character with the piercing also brightly said it would heal in a day or two. I looked it up. It’s more like four to six weeks in real life.)
Publishers know better than this: something billed as a cozy mystery doesn’t get into graphic sex discussions. Nor do cozy mysteries slip into recurring use of four-letter profanities.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by either book. But to hit two in a row, by two different authors, was something of a bizarre coincidence. I also shouldn’t have been surprised when even national magazines for teenaged girls feature how-to articles on various sexual practices.
The regret here is that both books didn’t need the gratuitous sex and serial profanity. The first book didn’t need the horrible description of a child’s body. But I’m arguing here with almost 5,000 mostly five- and four-star reviews on Amazon, and with the second book more than 100 four- and five-star reviews. If numbers are the measure, then I lose the argument. But I know I won’t be reading anything by either author again.
Coincidentally, I received a book service promo for one of the authors, offering the entire multi-book series for free. Seven books at no cost.
Disappointment happens. And once it does, it’s not easily overcome. It’s not the end of the world, but it creates a sadness at what we’re writing, what the world applauds, and what it means.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Chase Harrington is a young writer, beginning to establish her reputation with several well-placed articles. She’s driven from Seattle to Manchester, Vermont, to see what she might be able to find to write about. She feels a pull toward the small town, even though she’s never even visited the place.
She gets lost, and the first person she meets provides directions. Gavin Bennett is a young farmer, packing an agricultural degree from Boston College and working with his dad on the farm. He’s interested in the attractive newcomer, and Chase is rather interested in him.
The realtor she’s contacted shows her n interesting property she can rent or buy – a decommissioned Catholic church, left after the congregation built a new building. It’s a beautiful old building, restored and well-cared for by the couple who previously lived there. The church also has four beautiful Tiffany stained-glass windows depicting different scenes from the life of Christ.
Chase soon learns that everyone in this town has a story. The owner of the inn where she spends her first night has a story about a daughter killed in an accident some years before. The realtor has a story. The sheriff has a story, and he knows just about all the stories in town. Even farmer Gavin has a story.
But the biggest story is the town’s story. It hasn’t celebrated Christmas with a big bonfire on the nearby mountain for six years, since the innkeeper’s daughter in an accident on an icy road.
And then Chase’s dog wakes her one evening with his incessant barking. When she investigates, she discovers he’s barking at one of the Tiffany windows. At first, she can’t see what’s causing the dog to bark. And then she sees something remarkable. The window is changing. And the small town in Vermont will never be the same.
Manchester Christmas by John Gray tells the story of what happens with those Tiffany windows. It’s a story about a small town and its people, it’s a love story, and it’s a story about healing.
Gray is the author of three children’s books, God Needed a Puppy, Keller’s Heart, and Sweet Polly Petals. Manchester Christmas is his debut novel. An Emmy Award-winning television journalist and columnist, he lives with his family in upstate New York.
Christmas may be just past, but Manchester Christmas is a good way to bring back the spirit of the season – and give you a fine story to read.