Saturday, November 27, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Nov. 27, 2021


It’s difficult to find anything in print or online these days that doesn’t mention the word “polarization.” It’s lamented, wept over, editorialized about, commented on, written about, broadcast about, tweeted, and posted about. R.R. Reno, the editor at First Things Magazine, made a rather provocative statement about polarization this past week, that it is not a problem but a symptom. The problem that it’s a symptom of is the reality that “the credibility of our ruling class has eroded.” 

Shakespeare wrote great plays, but a lot of people have written great plays and not become world-famous like Shakespeare. How did it happen? Andrew Murphy at The Independent says it was publishers who made Shakespeare’s reputation.

 

George Macdonald and his works had a defining impact on both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Dr. Kristen Jeffrey Johnson, a leading authority on Macdonald, says the Scottish author started out life as a farm kid and built a lifetime of relationships. See her interview at Radix Magazine.

 

More Good Reads

 

Writing and Literature

 

Diagnosing Billy Pilgrim: On Tom Roston’s ‘The Writer’s Crusade’ – Hannah Gersen at The Millions.

 

Why I didn’t Start a Substack – Micah Mattix at The Spectator.

 

The Life and Times of Iconic Cuban Novelist José Lezama Lima – Gabriel Pasquini at Literary Hub.

 

The Hidden Life of Ignatius J. Reilly – Christian McNamara at Front Porch Republic.

 

A Place Where The Unwordable Happens: The Novels Of Russell Hoban – Mathre Lyons at The Quietus.

 

Life and Culture

 

We Need More Families – Joel Kotkin at Spiked Online.

 

Ted Lasso and the Temptation of “Aww, Shucks” Idealism – Chris Schumerth at Front Porch Republic.

 

Into the Metaverse – Samuel James at First Things Magazine.

 

The vaccine moment, part one – Paul Kingsnorth at The Abbey of Misrule.

 

Poetry

 

C.S. Lewis: A Sonnet – Malcolm Guite.

 

Sometimes It’s Easy to Know What I Want – Julia Spicher Kasdorf at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).

 

How to Ready Seamus Heaney: Part 1 and Part 2 – Andrew Roycroft at The Rabbit Room.

 

Farewell to Berwyn – James Matthew Wilson at New Criterion.

 

Faith

 

How Much Foes a Good Deed Weight? – Seth Lewis.

 

Sociology as Theology: The Deconstruction of Power in (Post)Evangelical Scholarship – Neil Shenvi at CBMW

 

Once Upon a Time in the West (Ennio Morricone cover) – Steffi Vertriest



Painting: Captivated, oil on canvas (1875) by Adolphe Alexandre Lesrel (1839-1929).

Friday, November 26, 2021

Send them away


After Mark 6:30-44
 

Surrounded by thousands,

the thousands who thronged

to see him and to listen,

his people say what

would be expected

in the circumstances:

It is late, there isn’t exactly

a restaurant or a supermarket 

or even a convenience store 

nearby, so send them away

to find something to eat,

we have no way to feed them,

and not even enough to feed

ourselves.

Feed them, he says.

With what, they say, do you

have the small fortune

it will take to feed them?

He smiles.

Feed them, he says.

 

Photograph by Jaanus Jagomagi via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

"A Fatal Night" by Faith Martin


It’s the Big Freeze of December 1962 to March of 1963 in Britain, and Oxford’s snow-packed roads are icy. Many people are trapped at home, few roads and fewer sidewalks are cleared. A few have ventured out for the traditional New Year’s Eve parties.  

A man is found dead in his car; it looks as if he must have skidded off the road and ploughed into a tree. He was likely coming come from a party and may have had too much to drink. Because of a shortage of police officers, Women’s Police Constable (WPC) Trudy Loveday is dispatched tot her scene. And because the regular morgue physician can’t get there, she stops at the Oxford coroner’s house, and Dr. Clement Ryder accompanies here to the accident scene.

 

Dr. Ryfer is noticing the effects of his Parkinson’s Disease more and more, but so far, he’s managed to keep colleagues and friends from finding out. WPC Loveday qualifies as both; she and Dr. Ryder have worked together successfully on several murder cases.

 

Faith Martin

D. Ryder examines the body; he’s not convinced they’re looking at an accident. There are signs the man may have been drugged, and the autopsy will confirm it. As they trace the man’s movements, they discover an angry party hostess and her two rather venomous children, a party gate-crasher, a business partner the dead man had stolen funds from, and a host of others with motive and even opportunity.

 

A Fatal Night by Faith Martin is the newest entry in the Ryder and Loveday mystery series, and it can hold its head up with pride with its six predecessors. It even includes a fight scene that is one of the best described such scenes I’ve read. Martin effectively develops both detective characters individually and together. And adding to the interest is the appearance of Dr. Ryder’s son Vincent, who sees something is wrong with his father and finds himself attracted to WPC Loveday.

 

In addition to the Ryder and Loveday novels, Martin (a pen name for Jacquie Walton) 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 several non-series detective stories. Both Cato and Martin are also pen names for Walton. (Walton has 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.

 

Related:

 

A Fatal Obsession by Faith Martin.

 

A Fatal Mistake by Faith Martin.

 

A Fatal Flaw by Faith Martin.

 

A Fatal Secret by Faith Martin.

 

A Fatal Truth by Faith Martin.

 

A Fatal Affair by Faith Martin.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Media and Kyle Rittenhouse


I’m not going to offer any commentary on whether the jury verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case was right, wrong, or something in between.  But something struck me about the entire incident. 

Virtually no one, other than a tiny handful of people, saw what happened on the night of Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Not one of the talking heads on the networks was there. Virtually no reporters were in the vicinity. Few police officers were in the area. The people who censor on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were (mostly) in California. Each of us who read, saw, or heard the story on Aug. 26 (and months afterward) were nowhere near Kenosha. 


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


Photograph by William Topa via Unsplash. Used with permission.

"Emmanuel Poems" by Jody Collins


If you want to find ways to slow down and reflect during the holiday season, Jody Collins just might have something for you. Her new Emmanuel Poems are in invitation to do just that – sit down, turn off the computer, tablet, and phone, and read 10 delightful poems. 

The poems address the season of Advent, how to “prepare him room,” Anna waiting in the temple (Simeon must be away for the moment), the cycle of Jesus’ life, the manger, the star of Bethlehem, the mystery of Jesus’s birth, and more. A lot more.  

 

Jody Collins

As Collins has done before with her poetry collections, these poems are quiet, thoughtful, and carefully considered. They offer insights into the Biblical accounts of the birth and childhood of the messiah, prompting you to go to a much different place than the commercial holiday we’re so familiar with.

 

A bonus is the watercolors Collins includes after each poem, artwork that resemble a kind of frosted stained glass.

 

Collins is the author of Hearts on Pilgrimage: Poems & Prayers and Living the Season wWell: Reclaiming Christmas. A retired teacher, she is both a writer and writing coach. She lives with her family in the Seattle area.

 

Slow down for the holidays and read Emmanuel Poems. It will do your heart and soul good.

 

Related:

 

Living the Season Well by Jody Collins.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Poets and Poems: Yahia Lababidi and "Learning to Pray"


In his introduction to Learning to Pray: a book of longing, poet Yahia Lababidi writes that he’d been considering a book of prayerful writing, or “unconscious spiritual autobiography,” for some years. “For some,” he says, “poetry is how we pray now.” With organized religion in decline, and a plethora of substitutes ranging from cults to political parties offered in its place, Lababidi is asking a question that many of us are asking. We can fill our stomachs with food and our lives with stuff, but how do we fill the vacuum in our hearts? 

He asks questions that have been asked for millennia; the biblical book of Ecclesiastes is some 3,000 years old, and it asks many of the same questions Lababidi is raising on Learning to Pray. And it is written in a poetic form, too, suggesting that the questions asked in 1000 B.C. are not unlike the questions being asked in 2021 A.D. 

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

Monday, November 22, 2021

"The Artful Dickens" by John Mullan


When you enjoy reading Charles Dickens as much as I do, you find yourself also reading biographies of the author as well as works of literary criticism. The literature about Dickens is vast. Just when you think there couldn’t be anything original left to be said, along comes a work to change your mind. 

The Artful Dickens: The Tricks and Ploys of the Great Novelist by John Mullan is exactly that kind of mind-changing work. Mullan looks at how Dickens wrote – the narrative devices employed to create works that were entertaining, often original, and typically precedent-setting, anticipating the work of numerous authors in the modern and contemporary periods.

 

As Mullan notes, Dickens was the first author to use smell as a narrative device, and not just the reeking smells of London and the Thames but individuals’ smells as well. Dickens often changed tenses from past to present, adding both immediacy and urgency (and often inviting the criticism of his contemporary writers and critics). His contemporaries (and some of ours) deplored how he used cliches, even if the word itself didn’t come into common use until after his death. And he did use cliches, but not in ignorance; he used them deliberately both to make fun of them as well as point to a truth in his characters (and in life). 

 

John Mullan

Other devices Dickens commonly used include fantasizing, haunting and ghosts, laughing, naming (his characters’ names are deservedly famous), coincidences, speaking, drowning, and breaking the rules. Regarding speaking, Dickens would practice (out loud) for many of his characters; their voices became both distinctive parts of the characters and parts of the stories and novels. As Mullan explains, T.S. Eliot was so impressed with the voices of Our Mutual Friend that he considered the title “He do the Police in different voices” for the title of the poem that was eventually published as The Waste Land.

 

Mullan, the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London, has published extensively about eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature. His books include What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles SolvedSentiment and Socialability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth CenturyEighteenth-Century Popular Culture: A SelectionHow Novels Work, and Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature. He is also a broadcaster and writers on contemporary fiction for The Guardian. He lives in London.

 

The Artful Dickens (the title a play on the Artful Dodger of Oliver Twist) is less about tricks and ploys of the subtitle and more about the techniques and devices Dickens used. It adds to our understanding of the author and his works. And with an accessible style itself, the book is a pleasure to read.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

He sees a great crowd


After Mark 6:30-44
 

He sees a great crowd

of people come to hear,

to listen, to touch and be

touched, people desperate

to feel the hem of his robe.

His compassion wells up

and overflows upon

these sheep without

a shepherd, gathering

in the roads and hillsides,

waiting. And he does what

he knows to do, what flows

from understanding and 

compassion, and he begins,

he begins,

he begins to teach,

he begins to teach them,

he begins to teach them many things,

there in that wilderness,

that desolate place.

 

Photograph by Derek Story via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Saturday Good Reads - Nov. 20, 2021


Thought control, part 1: I begin reading the novels of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was working as a newspaper copy editor and wrote the headline “Soviet exposé published” when the first volume of the Gulag Archipelago was published. I read all three Gulag volumes and most of his writings since then. Solzhenitsyn and others have documented the immense suffering Russia experienced under Soviet rule. Reading his works has led me to be continually amazed at the ongoing drive for collectivization of thought in the United States. Roland Brown at The Critic Magazine says Solzhenitsyn and his intellectual heirs have a warning 

Thought control, part 2: Artist and exile Ai Weiwei is known for his strong stands for human rights and abuses by totalitarian regimes, like in his own home country of China. He was interviewed by Margaret Hoover of PBS recently about his new memoir, and he shocked her when he said the United States was slipping into a similar kind of control of its citizens, through the enforced collectivization of thought

 

Fyodor Dostoevsky turned 200 on Nov. 11, and a number of articles have been published to recognize the writer and his contributions to literature. Kevin Birmingham at CrimeReads discusses what Dostoevsky learned about freedom and murder from his fellow convicts in Siberia, and then at Literary Hub he writes about Dostoevsky’s early literary ambitions.

 

More Good Reads

 

Life and Culture

 

An Unfillable Chair: Grieving the Loss of a Special Friendship Formed on My Balcony – Darcy Wiley.

 

Andrew Lytle and the Order of the Family – Mark Malvasi at The Imaginative Conservative.

 

Liberal Arts and a Free Republic – Ted McAllister at Real Clear Policy.

 

Faith

 

Running Out of Options – Terence Sweeney at Church Life Journal.

 

Church is Back, But Where Are the People? – Dan DeWitt at Theolatte.

 

Having Faith in Thrillers – Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson at CrimeReads.

 

The Gobsmacking Wisdom of the Book of Judges – Chase Padusniak at Church Life Journal.

 

Poetry

 

Going underground: English poet Alexander Pope’s hidden grotto to be saved – Maev Kennedy at The Art Newspaper.

 

Reading Poetry Will Save the World – Auguste Meyrat at Crisis Magazine.

 

What Does It Mean to Find Your Poetic Voice? – Daniel Brown at Literary Hub.

 

The Geometry of Daisies – C.L. Fisher at Ekstasis Magazine.

 

British Stuff

 

Well-preserved Tudor Wall Paintings Discovered Beneath Plaster at Medieval Manor – David Kindy at Smithsonian Magazine.

 

Writing and Literature

 

How Herman Melville's 'Moby-Dick' anticipated modernist writing – Deutsche Welle.

 

Our Brains Are Wired for Story – Garry Rodgers at Kill Zone Blog.

 

Break My Heart Again – Finneas



Painting: Man Reading a Book by Lamplight, oil on canvas (1839), attributed to the British School.

Friday, November 19, 2021

No rest for the weary


After Mark 6:30-44
 

They return with their stories

of what they have done,

of what they have taught,

and he says it’s time to rest,

retreat for a time

to a desolate place

to rest.

Crowded by needs,

by constant demands

and cries for help,

they need rest. First,

they sail placid waters,

calmer and more isolated

than taking a walk, sail 

to their desolate place,

their place of rest,

where they are met

by the crowds hurrying

to catch them.

No rest for the weary.

 

Photograph by Liamannung via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

"The World Cup Mystery" by Peter Bartram


Colin Crampton of the Brighton Evening Chronicle is in Sicily with his girlfriend, Shirley Goldfarb. They’re there for Colin to kneel on bended knee and propose. The ring in in his pocket. The moment is at hand.  

And then they hear a woman screaming.

 

It’s 1966. Crime reporter Crampton attracts murder and mayhem like bees to honey. Or flies to flypaper. In short order, the pending proposal is he and Shirley are helping the young woman escape from her husband – and perhaps the Mafia.

 

It’s back to England, where everything is World Cup; the championship game will be happening shortly at Wembley. In the meantime, Colin is looking into the murder of the young woman’s father, ostensibly an Italian restaurant owner but actually a cover for smuggled liquor and cigarettes. Soon Crampton is on a roller coaster ride, involving thugs, stolen trophies, fraud, smuggling, North Korean spies, and the looking World Cup game – which may include an assassination in front of 100,000 fans.

 

Peter Bartram

The World Cup Mystery
 is the latest Colin Crampton novel by British author Peter Bartram. It has so many twists, turns, surprises, and upsets that you might search for a page or two with a quiet sit in a church or a meditation in a wood. You might search for that, and your search will not be successful.

 

Bartram has published several Colin Crampton mystery novels and story collections. He had a long career in journalism, including being a reporter on a weekly newspaper, an editor for newspapers and magazines in London, and freelance journalism – all of which have been utilized in creating the character of Colin Crampton. Bartram is also a member of the Society of Authors and the Crime Writers’ Association.

 

The World Cup Mystery is wisecracking fun (Crampton is an old-style, hard-drinking reporter, after all). But the biggest mystery is – will Crampton complete his proposal of marriage to Shirley? And will she kill him if he doesn’t?

 

Related:

 

My review of The Poker Game Mystery by Peter Bartram.

 

My review of The Comedy Club Mystery by Peter Bartram.

 

My review of The Tango School Mystery by Peter Bartram.

 

My review of Murder in the Morning Edition by Peter Bartram.

 

A Journalist and Crime – Stories and a Novella by Peter Bartram.

 

My review of Front-Page Murder by Peter Bartram.

 

My review of The Mother’s Day Mystery by Peter Bartram.

 

My review of The Beach Party Mystery.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The U.S. Media and Russian Collusion


In December of 2016, shortly before the presidential inauguration, a story appeared in the Washington Post about an electric utility in Vermont being hacked by Russians, threatening the entire U.S. electric grid. The version of the story that is now on the Post’s web site is different from the original. That’s because, over the course of a few weeks, the story was discovered to be largely wrong. 

The electric grid was not threatened. The utility involved was not hacked; what was hacked was a laptop of a utility employee. The original story was even more unusual because it had no reference or comment by the utility itself, which had not been contacted by the reporter. It’s standard, basic reporting that all journalists are (supposedly) taught: you contact the victim and ask for a comment or response. If none is forthcoming, you say “the subject declined to comment.” 

 

You write a story about a utility being hacked by Russians, threatening the U.S. electric grid, and you don’t ask the utility for its explanation of what happened? And you heard about the story in the first place from an anonymous official in the outgoing presidential administration?

 

The story did fit the Russian collusion and election interference narrative that had rapidly taken hold in the U.S. news media.

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

In Praise of the Writing Pack Rat


I admit it. When it comes to writing, I’m a pack rat.  

I keep everything: blog posts that never saw the light of day, book reviews I write 13 years ago, ideas that I excitedly wrote down and then rejected later, emails I’ve sent to readers explaining something that might have been confusing, whole manuscripts, partial manuscripts, and fragments of stories that might (one day) become something more. I’ve kept scenes I’ve cut from my novels to shorten them or because they really added nothing to the story. I bookmark online articles that I want to read and refer to again. 

 

I don’t do these things in hopes of leaving my literary estate to a university. I do them because I’m a writer. Ideas and inspiration come from everywhere and all the time. I save, I file, and I hope I remember.

 

Recently, I went through a file that I hadn’t looked at in more than three years. It concerns a manuscript that I worked on rather erratically from about 2007 to 2018, and then set aside.

 

To continue reading, please see my post today at the ACFW Blog.

 

Photograph by Wesley Tingey via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Pets and Poems: Kelly Chripczuk and "The Courage It Takes"


Poet Kelly Chripczuk writes about alignment, the alignment between the inner self and the outer reality we occupy. It’s a story as old as humanity, and as new as this morning. Each of us feels the disconnect between what we know and believe, especially about ourselves, and what and where we are. We might call this the tension between the ideal and the real. Whatever we call it, it is a condition we’re aware of, a condition we live every day. 

In The Courage It Takes, the new collection of 21 poems by Chripczuk, the idea of alignment is ever present. It’s most apparent in the disconnect she experiences between what she knows she’s called to do and the opportunities to do it. That disconnect creates a mental, emotional, and spiritual pain, a pain that can be mitigated and eased but never eliminated or cured.


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

Monday, November 15, 2021

"The Aviator" by Eugene Vodolazkin


Innokenty Petrovich Platonov slowly awakens. He’s in a hospital bed. At first, he doesn’t know his own name or why he’s there. Slowly and over an extended period, a nurse and a physician, Dr. Geiger, explain. 

Childhood memories come first. His favorite book to read was Robinson Crusoe; he can recall his grandmother reading it to him when he was sick. His fascination with airplanes and aviators. Memories of traveling to a summer retreat and playing airplanes with a cousin. 

 

The nurse unintentionally leaves a bottle of his pills on the beside. And he sees the manufacture and expiration dates – 1997 and 1999, respectively. It’s the first indication that something is not right. He looks like he’s 30 years old, but he was born in 1900 and is “as old as the century.”

 

As more is gradually revealed, the doctor has him keep a journal. Innokenty comes to understand that he raised in the middle or upper middle class of pre-Revolutionary Russia, that the Revolution destroyed the life he’d known, and that he was eventually imprisoned in the Gulag of Stalin and the Soviet system. And more: he became a test animal in a scientific program – he was frozen in a tank of liquid nitrogen to be thawed at some future date. Dr. Geiger succeeded in unfreezing him. Innokenty is now living is a culture and time he doesn’t understand, where little outside a few buildings in St. Petersburg is recognizable. He is a man of a vanished time having to make his way, much like the Robinson Crusoe of his childhood stories.

 

Eugene Vodolazkin

Innokenty had a great love, a young woman named Anastasia, a professor’s daughter. He will learn she is still alive, barely hanging on in a hospital, watched over by her granddaughter, also named Anastasia. 

 

The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin (translated by Lisa Hayden) is a novel of Russia in the immediate post-Soviet period and the pre-Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary periods. Innokenty Platonov is a representative of a vanished time and the soul so many strive for, the people who believed that the end of Soviet dictatorship would bring true democracy, only to be disappointed. Innokenty sees and understands this disconnect, and his story because a debate, not only of the Russian soul and Russian people, but a debate about all of us. And while his name implies “innocence,” his personal history may not.

 

Voloalazkin works in the department of Old Russian Literature at the Pushkin House in St. Petersburg, where he is an expert in medieval Russian history and folklore. The author of several novels, he was awarded the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Literature Prize in 2019. His novel Laurus won the Russian Big Book Award and the Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award

 

The Aviator is a remarkable, wonderful story. It is a Russian story and a universal story. It’s a love story, and a story about science and faith. It is a novel of the gulag. It is a story about the Robinson Crusoe in each of us, we strangers in a strange land. And it’s a romance of the dashing aviator contained in each of us, the hero taking both courageous and foolhardy risks. 

 

Related:

 

Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin.