Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Taras Shevchenko: The Poet of Ukraine

You read the newspaper and watch the television and social media reports, and you wonder how a tragedy like the Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen. You learn of atrocities and possible war crimes, and you say, “This is the 21stcentury?” Well, yes, it is. You might ask, “How does this happen?” In the case of Russia and Ukraine, the poet Taras Shevchenko might have an answer. 

Shevchencko (1814-1861) was born in a village near Kyiv in Ukraine. Given his later literary fame, it’s surprising he was born to a family of serfs. The region had been under the control of the kingdom of Poland, but various dismemberments of Poland had eventually led to control of Ukrainian territory by Russia and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Russia controlled the area where Shevchenko was born, but it was a relatively recent control.

To continue reading, please seems post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, May 16, 2022

“Flappers and Philosophers” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Published in 1920, Flappers and Philosophers was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first collection of short stories. First appearing separately in such magazines at The Saturday Evening Post and Esquire, these eight stories were collected and published the same year has his first novel, This Side of Paradise. It was the novel that turned Fitzgerald into an overnight literary sensation – and at age 24. But it was the short stories that he continued to write for the rest of his life that supported him financially.  

The stories are generally about people in the upper middle and upper classes. They’re set in the first two decades of the 20th century and are something of period pieces – the slang, the music references, and social manners mark them with their time. Two of the stories, “The Offshore Pirate” and “The Ice Palace,” also contain references that today, 100 years after their publication, could only be called racist.


“The Offshore Pirate” is about a young woman who is bored with life and chooses only the worst men, whose uncle and guardian is at his wits end to marry her off (and make someone else responsible for her). She’s agreeably kidnapped on her uncle’s yacht by a young irate who, with his band of musicians, is making off with a stolen fortune. “The Ice Palace” is about a young woman from the South who’s determined to escape her town (and the young men it contains) and marry a Northerner. She almost gets her wish.


The young F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Head and Shoulders” concerns what seem to be a highly mismatched couple, a brainy man who exists only for the study of his books and a stage actress. They’ll end up changing positions. “The Cut-Glass Bowl” is the story of a woman of fading beauty mirrors the decline in the family wealth.


“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” is set right at the beginning of the flapper age. A young woman visiting her cousin undergoes something of a “Pygmalion” change at the hands of the cousin, whose verbal cruelty will eventually get its comeuppance. “Benediction” is something of an abrupt change of subject – a young woman visits the brother she hasn’t seen for 17 years – the brother who is studying to become a Jesuit priest. During the visit, she has an unexpected experience.


“Dalyrimple Goes Wrong” is about a war hero from the Great War who comes home to adulation which quickly fades. He takes something of a menial job, until he realizes that burglary might be more lucrative. And “The Four Fists” is the story of a young men who’s punched in the jaw on four separate occasions of his life – and each punch teaches him something important.


The collection is eight very different stories, showing Fitzgerald at the very beginning of his literary career. Each has something of a surprising twist. And each has characters who are recognizable, even at a distance of a century.


Sunday, May 15, 2022


After Matthew 5:10-16 

Salt poses a conundrum. 
Too much, and it ruins. 
Too little, and no one notices. 
Left too long, it turns stale, 
losing its flavor, its power, 
its purpose. In that case, 
it’s good for nothing, 
no longer good for anything 
except the ash heap, to be 
thrown out and trampled. 
So choose what kind of salt 
you will be, and learn how 
to be it. It’s a lifetime education. 

Photograph by Jason Tuinstra via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Saturday Good Reads - May 14, 2022

When you see man-on-the-street interviews about what Russians think of the war in Ukraine, a word that seems to continually pop up is “Nazi,” as in, “We’re fighting the Nazis.” One of Russia’s best-known artists, Alexey Beliayev-Guintovet, is a Putin supporter, and when The Art Newspaper asked him why he supported the war, he said it was to free Ukraine from “a Nazi dictatorship.” And yet if there’s anything the Russian invasion resembles, it’s the invasion of Ukraine and Russia by the Germans in World War II.  

Yes, propaganda can be effective. The man considered the father of public relations, the field in which I spent a lot of my professional career, is Edward Bernays. In 1928, he published a book entitled Propaganda, arguing that propaganda, and molding public opinion, was necessary for democracy to work. And those lessons are still relevant. Ryan Matters at OffGuardian discusses six lessons from Bernays on the psychology of manipulation. (And I understand why I never made it to the top of the heap in PR; I was aware of this stuff but never believed it and never practiced it.)


Christians tend to read a lot of books, especially Christian non-fiction books. Douglas Monroe at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics discusses a book he calls “the greatest Christian book you’ve never read.” I’d heard of it, and its author, but I’ve never read it. Who knew?


More Good Reads




A Church of Suspicious Minds – Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition.


Prayer Consists of Attention: Reading as a Spiritual Practice – Charlotte Donlon at The Millions.


We’re All Manhattan Now – Stephen McAlpine.


On Fearing the Silent Places – Chris Martin at Terms of Service.


Why Mainstream Scholars Often Differ with Evangelical Pastors on the Gospels – George Sinclair at The Gospel Coalition.




The moral blindness of Putin’s generals – Daniel Johnson at The Critic Magazine.


The Russian War on Ukraine Has Always Been a War on Its Language – Askold Melnyczuk at Literary Hub.


Bragging about blowing up Russian generals could get us all killed – Damon Linker at The Week.


Life and Culture


My Slave, My Choice – Nathan Eshelman at Gentle Reformation.


The Technocrat’s Dilemma: Expert rule is destroying itself – Alexander Stern at The New Atlantis.


In Response to the ‘In This House’ Sign – Brian Yapko at Society of Classical Poets.


Severe Mercies and Magnanimous Despair – Jeffrey Bilbro at Front Porch Republic.


Writing and Literature


Sigrid Undset’s Kristin 'Lavransdatter' Turns One Hundred – Cat Hodge at Plough Quarterly.


The Irrevocable Step: John Brown and the Historical Novel – Willis McCumber at The Baffler.


Hobbits and Empire: Geography and the Life of Nations in Tolkien’s Writings – Holly Ordway at Mere Orthodoxy.


News Media


The New York Times can't shake the cloud over a 90-year-old Pulitzer Prize – David Folkenflik at NPR. 


Detailed ‘open source’ news investigations are catching on – David Bauder at Associated Press.


How do newsrooms talk to readers when they’ve really screwed up? With process, transparency, and trust – Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab.




Sabbath – Ursula Bethell at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).


Triumph of the New – Morri Creech at New Criterion.


I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow (John Newton) – Sovereign Grace Music

Painting: The reader, oil on canvas by Antoni Vidal Rolland (1889-1970).


Friday, May 13, 2022

It's what they do to prophets

After Matthew 5:10-16

All kinds of ways,
all kinds of reasons
to persecute a person,
a believer, but only
one that matters:
when it’s persecution
for righteousness’ sake. 

And what is righteousness,
you might ask; some
examples, please. 

When they revile you.
Lie about you.
Utter evil things about you.
Attack you with words
and deceptive charges
and unfounded accusations
and outright lies simply
because you’re a believer.
You don’t even have to do
anything; just be. And they
hate you because when they
see you and they see me. 

You are blessed.
You inherit the kingdom.
|You receive a great reward.
So be glad, for this is what
they do to prophets. 

Photograph by Possessed Photography via Unsplash. Used with permission.


Thursday, May 12, 2022

"The Two Hundred Ghost" by Henrietta Hamilton

The Two Hundred Ghost by Henrietta Hamilton was first published in 1956, the first of eight Sally and Johnny Heldar mysteries. The first thing that struck me was the title: shouldn’t “ghost” be plural?

As it turns out, no. The “Two Hundred” refers to an address, 200 Charing Cross Road in London. In the 1950s, Charing Cross was the domain of a slew of bookstores – Foyle’s, used book shops, antiquarian bookstores, and more. It was a book lover’s paradise. Even today, 70 years later, it still boasts of a considerable number of shops. 


The “Two Hundred” of the title is the address of Heldar’s Antiquarian Bookstore, one of the venerable book businesses of London. Johnny Heldar is one of several Heldar family members working there, continuing the family’s long-time involvement in the business. Sally Merton (before she becomes Sally Heldar) works in the front shop, deftly handling customers and directing them to the appropriate person. Members of the firm are keeping a wary eye out; a number of thefts of valuable rare books have been reported up and down the street.


A few staff members have reported seeing a ghost on the upper floors, a white figure who appears and then vanishes. The ghost talk is discouraged, until a particularly unliked staff member (with the appropriate last name of Butcher) is found in his office, stabbed to death. The police believe the murderer is inside the firm, and suspicion falls upon one of the family members. Johnny and Sally, however, know the police are wrong, and they work quietly together to investigate the case on their own. What they learn is that there’s a possible tie-in to the book thefts.


Henrietta Hamilton

A mystery involving rare and antiquarian books became Hamilton’s theme for the remaining seven novels in the series, and Sally and Johnny Heldar (they eventually marry) were popular sleuthing couple in the late 1950s and early 1960s. 


Henrietta Hamilton was the pseudonym for Hester Dunne Shepherd (1920-1995). A native of Dundee, she earned an honors degree in Modern Languages at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford. She served in the Wrens in World War II, and after the war worked at a bookstore in London, where she learned the antiquarian book trade. She also wrote nine other novels, none of which were published. 


The Two Hundred Ghost would definitely be classified as a “cozy” mystery today. The violence is safely off-stage, and the solution depends upon a twist at the end. But it’s a fun, intriguing story, with a little bit of romance and a lot of interesting information about the rare book trade.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The sheepfold's door

After John 10:1-18

To enter the sheepfold,

you go through the door.

It’s designated; there’s

no other entrance.

One way, only one.

The sheep follow

the shepherd through

the door, because

they recognize his voice.

They don’t know

the voice of others, but

only the shepherd’s.

Hearing any other voice

will cause them to flee.


The door is life; to enter

That door is to embrace

life, be given life.

The shepherd knows

his sheep, by name.

And he calls them.,

by name.


Photograph by Antonello Falcone via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Poets and Poems: Martyn Hesford and "Lilac White"

In 2013, I went to an exhibition of the paintings of L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) at the Tate Britain. I’d never heard of the painter, but the promotional materials were sufficient to inspire a visit. His paintings were almost entirely of a small industry city in Lancashire, where he lived for 40 years. In 2019, a movie about his life, Mrs Lowry and Her Son, was released, starring Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave. Spall had previously starred in a movie, Mr Turner, about another British painter, J.M.W. Turner.  

Watching Mrs Lowry and Son was like walking through that Lowry exhibition at the Tate. So many of the scenes in the movie seemed to recreate the paintings. The screenplay was written by Martyn Hesford. Hesford was once an actor, having studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and London. He worked for 10 years as an actor, playing roles at a number of theater productions and television programs and movies. And then he wrote a screenplay – his first – for A Small Mourning. The screenplay won the Radio Times Drama Award, and Hesford left acting and turned to writing screenplays and scripts full time. 


Hesford has now published Lilac White, his first collection of poetry. 

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

Monday, May 9, 2022

"Brisbane" by Eugene Vodolazkin

It begins with a chance meeting on an airplane, traveling from Paris to St. Petersburg. Gleb Yanovsky, a world-famous guitarist, is seated next to a writer, Sergei Nesterov. They eventually agree to write a book about Yanovksy’s life. And this begins years of a collaboration that takes Yanovsky back to his childhood, his youth, and his adulthood, a story that coincides with the decline and fall of the Soviet Union, the creation of Ukraine as an independent state, and the unsettled years that follow. 

Several books have been written about him, Gleb says, but none has told the story of his life. What plays a role in Gleb’s decision to allow Nesterov access for writing a book is that Gleb has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He’s facing the end of his career.


Yanovsky is Ukrainian, born in Kyiv. His father is an ardent Ukrainian nationalist. Early on, his mother separates and divorces his father. Gleb is essentially reared by his maternal grandmother. His mother’s dream is to live in Australia, and she will eventually correspond with a man in Brisbane and agree to marry him. Gleb remains home. He attends music school, but his father doubts whether the son has a gift for music. But the sound eventually proves the father wrong, although it will be many years in the future. 


Brisbane by Eugene Vodolazkin tells the story of Gleb Yanovsky. First published in Russian in 2018 and now translated by Marian Schwartz, it is a story of music, politics, love, and family. Given the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia, it is also an unsettling book to read. 


Eugene Vodolaazkin

The underlying animosity between Russia and Ukraine is ever-present. Gleb’s father is a Ukrainian; Gleb, educated in both Kyiv and St. Petersburg, feels part of both countries. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of an independent Ukraine, Gleb experiences the animosity more directly. 


But the novel is more about music and how music comes to structure a man’s life. It is only by chance that a producer, attending an art gallery show in Munich, happens to hear Gleb play the guitar and hum while he pays (which becomes his artistic trademark). His career doesn’t so much take flight as rockets upward, until decades later when Gleb must confront Parkinson’s disease.


One suspects that Brisbane contains a not inconsiderable number of autobiographic elements. Like his protagonist, Vodolazkin was born in Kyiv and educated in St. Petersburg. Both initially become teachers (Volodolazkin remains one). Both are involved in philology and literature. 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


A word about the translation. I don’t speak or read Russian, so I can’t speak to the quality of the translation. But I can say that the novel doesn’t have any of the linguistic awkwardness one can often find in translations. Swartz also has extensive experience in translation works of Russian literature, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s multi-volume The Red Wheel, his story of the Russian Revolution.


To read Brisbane is to discover conflict, language, music, and life. It’s a wonderful novel. 




Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin.


The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin.


How the Russian and Ukrainian Languages Intersect in Eugene Volodolazkin’s Brisbane (by Marian Schwartz, the translator).

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Job description

After Matthew 5:1-10


Thank you, sir,

thank you, ma’am,

for your application.

I’d like to provide 

a little detail on what

we mean by “Wanted:



Qualifications include:

poverty in spirit,

an ability to mourn,


a hunger and thirst

for righteousness,


purity in heart,

peacemaking, and

an expectation 

of being persecuted.


Not the usual job

qualifications, I admit,

a bit unusual, slightly

eccentric, and not

exactly the qualities

of A-type personalities.

Or even B-types,

for that matter.


But then, there are

the benefits. Not a 401K,

medical, dental, vacation,

stock options, or pension.

No, these are unlike

any you’ve ever seen

or even heard about.

In fact, you might call

them eternal benefits:


the kingdom of heaven,

comfort when you mourn,

inheritance of the earth,

satisfaction for hunger,


seeing the face of God,

being called God’s sons, 

and let me repeat,

the kingdom of heaven.


Still interested?


Photograph by Tim Gouw via Unsplash. Used with permission. 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Saturday Good Reads – May 7, 2022

I’ve enjoyed the novels of Paul Kingsnorth. I subscribe to his Substack column, The Abbey of Misrule. This past week, I read “In the Desert of Real,” and I came away more unsettled than I’ve been for a long time. And better informed. It’s a longish post, but it is well worth the time to read it. We have reached a point, Kingsnorth writes, “at which our underlying cultural and spiritual brokenness is manifesting on the surface as politics – with explosive results.” 

Monday, May 9, is the 360th birthday of the puppet Mr. Punch (as in Punch and Judy). The first recorded note of the puppet show was by Samuel Pepys on May 9, 1662. There’s a big celebration tomorrow at St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, in London. You can find the story at Spitalfields Life.


I’ve been reading Brisbane, the new novel by Eugene Vodolazkin, author of Laurus and The Aviator, among several others. It was first published in Russian in 2018, and it’s a strange book to read right now, given the war in Ukraine. Vodolazkin was born in 1964 in Kiev, or Kyiv, making him a Ukrainian. He lives in St. Petersburg in Russia, and he met his wife there, when both were attending graduate school at Pushkin House. Brisbane displays a high degree of consciousness of the two languages, Ukrainian and Russian; at Literary Hub, Marion Schwartz, the translator, describes how the two languages intersect in the novel.


More Good Reads


Writing and Literature


Michel Houellebecq is no fan of Europe – David Sexton at The Spectator.


Phoebe Atwood Taylor: Prolific Mystery Novelist and Creator of “The Codfish Sherlock” – Otto Penzler at CrimeReads. 


A Map of Dante’s Inferno in Three Touchstones – James Matthew Wilson at Church Life Journal.


Life and Culture


The Virtue of Argument – Lindsay Ralls at The Circe Institute.


CDC Tracked Millions of Phones to See if Americans Followed COVID Lockdown Orders – Joseph Cox at Vice.


Living the Satyricon – Victor Davis Hanson at New Criterion.




Nightmare Journal: From the first days of war – Nikita Petrov at Psychopolitica.


Ukraine’s Patriotic Master: Painter Ilya Repin – Michael Prodger at The Critic Magazine.


Russian Tycoon Criticized Putin’s War. Retribution was Swift – Anton Troianovski and Ivan Nechepurenko at The New York Times.


Searching for a Lost History in Modern-Day Russia – Marcia DeSanctis at Literary Hub.




Words “in Praise of General Berry”: Hiram Berry Memorial Poems – Chris Mackowski at Emerging Civil War.


‘Crank Out a Few, Please’: Observations on Poetic Composition – Joseph Salemi at Society of Classical Poets.


Triumph of the New – Morri Creech at New Criterion.




How do We Respond if We Are the Incompetent Colleague? – Russell Gehrlein at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.


Imperial Migrations – Vika Pechersky at Mere Orthodoxy.


When Belief is Agony – Susannah Black at Mere Orthodoxy.


A Molech Primer – Jesse Johnson at The Cripplegate.


Highland Cathedral -- André Rieu

Painting: Reading the newspaper on the subway 1914, oil on canvas by F. Luis Mora (1874-1940).

Friday, May 6, 2022

The reading of the will

After Matthew 5:1-10

It’s like the reading 

of the will and testament, 

the will for the family.


The poor in spirit, who

know they are in need,

receive the kingdom.

The mourners, for

whatever reason, receive

comfort and embrace.

The meek, the gentle ones,

inherit the earth.

The hungry, the ones who

know righteousness does

not come from within,

will be filled.

The merciful, who show

mercy and compassion,

are granted mercy.

The pure in heart, who

seek to purify their lives

fully and completely, 

will see God.

The peacemakers, who

seek God’s peace, not

man’s, are named sons

of heaven.

The persecuted, the ones

treated unjustly for what

they believe in faith, who

remain steadfast to the end,

inherit the kingdom.


Photograph by Melinda Gimpel via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

"The Irish Inheritance" by M.J. Lee

Jayne Sinclair is a former police detective, now turned private genealogical researcher. An elderly American dying of cancer gives her what looks to be an almost impossible task: identify his birth parents. All he knows is that, when he was 4, he was adopted from a British orphanage by an American family. He has a photo of his and his adopted father at that time and a book. The child is desperately clutching the book in the photograph: The Lives of the United Irishmen. His birth certificate lists the names of his birth parents. The only problem is that his father died in World War I, six years before the elderly man was born. 

Jayne sets to work. Her husband Paul is not impressed; their marriage is foundering, and Jayne always seems more interested in work than in trying to salvage their relationship. And he’s right; she believes their marriage is dead.


The research task looks almost impossible, and Jayne has only eight days to complete it. Her client is dying from leukemia, and he must return to the United States. Slowly, she makes progress. And she will eventually discover something the reader knows long before she does: someone doesn’t want her to complete the research and has gone so far as to hire a hit man to take care of the problem if necessary. And then elements of the IRA get involved.


M.J. Lee

The Irish Inheritance
 is the first of seven Jayne Sinclair genealogical mysteries by British author M.J. Lee, and it’s a fast-paced, action-packed story that not only entertains but also teaches some 20th century Irish history. Lee alternates the story between Sinclair’s investigation in 2015 with what happened during the Irish Easter Rebellion in 1916 and the uprising against British rule in the early 1920s.


In addition to the Jayne Sinclair mysteries, Lee has also published two other crime-related series, the Ridpath series and the Danilov series. He’s also the author of Samuel Pepys and the Stolen Diary. Writing as Martin Lee, he’s published The Fall, a historical novel about the fall of Singapore during World War II. He lives in the United Kingdom. 


If you like genealogy tied to a current-day mystery, The Irish Inheritance is written for you. And if you only like a good mystery story, it’s written for you as well.