Saturday, December 29, 2007

Good point ...

... David Harsanyi on Andrew Keen: Is the Internet destroying our culture, or is it just annoying our snobs?

The problem, [Keen] maintains, is that those involved in Web 2.0 live in an echo chamber. “There isn’t a debate, and there isn’t a conversation,” he says. “They’re just listening to themselves.” If only mainstream media outlets had debated their future as often and as intensely as bloggers debate theirs, we might not have needed Keen’s book.


Cordial dialogue ...

... Two authors, a rabbi and an atheist, debate religion and science. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

But then Harris made a serious point, noting that Mother Teresa's superiors "recommended that she view all of this as a sign that she was sharing Jesus' suffering on the cross. Now, this is kind of a brilliant moment -- of hermetically sealing a world view. So when I wrote about this I said, 'Ask yourself, when even the doubts of experts are used to confirm a doctrine, how could it possibly be disproved?' You see this all the time in religion."

Actually, you don't see this all the time in religion. In religion, you are often unlikely to encounter a shadow of a doubt. When it comes to faith, however, doubt is ever-present.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I am off today ...

... and my stepdaughter Gwen and her family are coming down from Massachusetts for a visit. Blogging will resume when I have time.

I'd be more impressed ...

... if he were planning to tour the Middle East: Dawkins to preach atheism to US.

I'm sorry. I read The God Delusion and was singularly unimpressed. I think Dawkins has evolved into a horse's ass.

The rest is ...

... Keeping Silence. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

"Funny how when we think of ourselves as a thing, we truly come to acquire the attributes of that thing."

Our discomfort with silence is telling. Even I, who try to spend some time every morning in silence, feel that discomfort from time to time. I was made aware of this especially when I started watching the film Into Great Silence. I have since tried to curb my tendency to multitask. I also think that if we want to get at the truth of reality, we have to start with what we most directly experience of it - ourselves. And we do not know ourselves as machines or chemical reactions or even as effects of causes. We know ourselves as persons. The fundamental thing I know about myself is that I am I. Duns Scotus was right to emphasize the mystery of individuation (what makes this particular thing what it is in particular is precisely what it does not have in common with anything else).

A look at the future ...

... to see if it works (apparently it does, and quite well): The future, ahead of schedule. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Well, I tried it with Jacques Brel, listened to him live singing "Les Bourgeois," which was followed by a Leonard Cohen song that sounded interesting. I will have to play with it some more. I listen mostly to classical music, so I guess it has less to offer me - though I'd be interested in learning how it tracks my tastes.

I came, I saw. ..

... I blogged: Timeline: The Life of the Blog.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What is and isn't ...

... Raymond Tallis on Parmenides.

It may be time ... to go back to the time when our cognitive godfather set us on a road to the secular understanding that has been so wonderfully elaborated over the 2,500 years since. We need to return to the Parmenidean moment to see whether, without losing all the gains that post-Parmenidean thought has brought us, there might be another cognitive journey from that which western thought has taken.

I think it worth noting that around the same time as Parmenides - earlier, in fact - Heraclitus had introduced the term logos, which actually has much the same meaning as the Chinese term tao, itself introduced at around the same time by the Lao-tse. Parmenides and Heraclitus are thought of proto-philosophers, but there seem to religious implications in what they were saying.

Hard faith ...

... A Christmas in Wales - but not a child's. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Classics long and short ...

... I ponder Putting the classics on a diet.

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 24, 2007

Poetry and Christmas ...

... courtesy of Rus Bowden:

Jump Cut: War is hell, but inspires deep poetry.

Britain celebrates Charles Wesley's life, legacy.

William Winstanley: The man who saved Christmas from Cromwell's misery

More holiday verse.

Christmas without faith

Philip Pullman is right ...

... about C.S. Lewis: Their Disbelief Is My Strength. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Occasionally, there have been comments posted here asserting that my evident lack of virtue (as perceived by the commenters) contradicts my professed faith. I have been meaning to point out that my profession of faith should not understood as an assertion of holiness. Quite the opposite, in fact. My profession of faith is an admission of my sinfulness. This is something many unbelievers seem to have a hard time grasping.

A timely move ...

... Call for a new awakening. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Parmenides matters not just for philosophy. One of the effects of the moribund state of intellectual enquiry that Tallis worries about is found in science. Physics is reaching an 'arrest of understanding', in say the extremes of string theory. Or in neurobiology, the study of consciousness has hit a brick wall, for all that its exponents engage in elaborate strategies of denial: we are being led towards a third-person understanding of ourselves, when we have first-person consciousness; as if we were machines not minds. That is dangerous.

Another part of Tallis' concern is that along with this scientism, though diametrically opposed to it, comes an 'oppressive supernaturalism'. You see it in the confrontation between bleak, deterministic Darwinism and fundamentalist, Christian creationism. They compete for the right to respond to our deepest human needs, to understand, forcing out the infinitely more subtle Parmenidian spirit in the process.

Miraculous art ...

... by Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of this country's best painters: The Annunciation.

Yuletide Nige ...

... Monday, December 24, 2007.

R.S. Thomas is my candidate for best British poet after Auden. (I say British because Thomas himself would have insisted he was Welsh - though he wrote in English.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Nige and I ...

... are kindred spirits: A Happy Clappy Squirmalong.

I had to endure one of those ghastly pop hymns this morning, something called "Gentle Woman," about Mary. And of course every Sunday my ears are assaulted by psalm settings - horribly clunky recitative and refrain jobs - written by one Owen Alstott, my candidate for the worst composer who has ever lived

You heard it here first ...

... sort of, but this is a different take, to be sure - naturally, I support it: A New Common Language for the European Union. I should think this would appeal to the clerisy. What better way to distinguish themselves from the common herd?

Virtually unreal ...

... However virtuous, virtual science is no substitute for the real thing.

Edward O. Wilson is mentioned in the article linked to above. He is interviewed in today's Sunday Times by Bryan Appleyard: We’re not as selfish as we think.

Today's Inquirer book page ...

... featuring Picasso, Nureyev, and the Tyson-Douglas fight - and much more!

Since Maxine has brought up Christopher Fry in the comments, I thought it might be worthwhile to post a link to his obituary: Christian humanist playwright who brought a spiritual elan to the drab world of postwar theatre.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Former PM becomes RC ...

... Tony Blair Converts to Catholicism.

Three years ago, I reviewed Philip Stephens's Tony Blair:The Making of a World Leader. Here is part of what I wrote:

Blair is openly and seriously religious. "If you want to really understand what I'm all about," Blair once told an interviewer, "you have to take a look at a guy called John Macmurray. It's all there. "

An Oxford philosopher, Macmurray (1891-1976) was a personalist, holding the view that what is real is the personal, that the characteristics of personality - consciousness, freedom, purposefulness - are also the fundamental characteristics of reality itself. For Macmurray, religion is fundamental to human life and the essence of religion involves the creation of community. This, Blair has said, makes "sense of the need to involve the individual in society without the individual being subsumed in society. "

In an essay he wrote in 1993, Blair declared that the Christian faith is about "the union between individual and community. . . . The act of Holy Communion is symbolic of this message. It acknowledges that we do not grow up in total independence, but interdependently. " Sounds almost as if Jesus is Blair's favorite political philosopher.


... so this is what Expelled is about: Scientists Feel Miscast in Film on Life’s Origin. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I now agree with Jeff McDonald's comment here, since I happen to agree that "the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature." In other words, science is about how nature works. Religion is about something else.

Dave Lull sent me what Ben Stein has to say about the Times piece. It's only available on subscription, but I think it only to quote a bit of it:

But then why am I in the article? I didn't schedule the interviews. No
one I interviewed ever asked me what the movie was about. So far as I
know, all of the people interviewed were paid and paid well. None of
them ever complained to me. So why am I in that article?

First, because I told the reporter that I thought Darwinism sometimes
led to racism and to the Holocaust as evil people believed they would
just help along "survival of the fittest." This, according to the
reporter, is a view commonly held by Creationists. So now I am a
Creationist, you see, a knuckle-dragging Creationist like the William
Jennings Bryan character in Inherit the Wind. ("Mr. Stein, do you now
or have you ever believed in a God of Creation?")

Second, because I denied that I ever misled anyone. So there's a photo
of me in a silly outfit with the caption, "Ben Stein denies he misled
anyone." The caption--of course-implies that I did mislead someone but
that I deny it. Now here comes the great part: NO ONE IN THE ARTICLE

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The easiest thing to forget ...

... Atheism and the Avoidance of the SBO.

Well, Bryan is right on the money with this. Actually, I have had a nearly lifelong suspicion that the clue to understanding the meaning of things is right out there in the open for all of us to see, that we're in fact looking at it all the time practically, but simply don't notice it. I still haven't noticed it myself, which is why I can't tell you what it is.

Better late ...

... than never: Buying books for Christmas.

Ludamus ...

... Tom Hurka Interview on Bernard Suits's The Grasshopper. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

A list of lists ...

... Best of the Year Roundup.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Coming soon ...

... to a theater near you: Expelled. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Disingenuous ...

... The Vatican’s Relative Truth. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

In each case, Benedict was actually trying to make a deeper point worth hearing. In Auschwitz, his contention was that objective truth grounded in God is the only bulwark against the blind will to power; his Regensburg address was devoted to reason and faith, arguing that reason shorn of faith becomes nihilism, while faith without reason ends in fanaticism and violence; and in Brazil, he argued that since Christ embraces all humanity, he cannot be foreign to anyone’s spiritual experience.
Those ideas, however, were overshadowed by a few throwaway phrases that betray a worrying insensitivity to how unfamiliar audiences are likely to hear what he says.
But serious reading means not basing your understanding of a piece on throwaway phrases.

Let the listings begin ...

... 2007 The Best Books: Poetry.

and here is Eric Ormsby on Ted Hughes: Autobiography of a Mythic Life.

(Links courtesy of Dave Lull.)

The future of teaching?

... we can only hope: Becoming a Web star.

Laughing matter ...

... E pluribus unum.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ignorance as bliss ...

... Laws of Nature, Source Unknown. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Au contraire ...

.... Carlin Romano ponders When Thinking Is a Dissident Act. (Hat tip, dave Lull.)

Ezra Pound, blogger ...

... and not too good at it, either: `A Nut-Job Blog Before the Fact'.

A teacher's legacy ...

... The Books.

End days ...

... pondering a world without reading: Twilight of the Books. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

... pondering a world with readers. I like this: “an enthralling tour of the world … anticipating, often poetically, what a planet without us would be like.” Well, it wouldn't be "like" anything, since there would be no one to make the comparison. Further evidence that D.H. Lawrence may have been right and that many who warn against apocalypse deep down yearn for it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

That's not all ...

... the eight issue of Autumn Sky Poetry is up.

Poetry on the Net ...

... via Rus Bowden:

xmas cheer.

Blue's Reviewing the Bookstore Massacre. (Really neat.)

Carol Saba looks at Adam Zagajewski's Ordinary Life.

Some Randy Adams computer poetry: 1 blue 5 red.

And Hedgie has Some More Short Poems.

I'm with Glenn ...

... and Jorn: Advice to new bloggers.

The importance of linking has eluded many in the MSM who undertake to blog.

Yes this deserves a look:

Leave it to Keith Ward ...

... to turn the multiverse notion to the advantage of theism: God and the multiverse. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Britain's greatest poet ...

... in the last century: George Mackay Brown. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Here's To the Tibetan Refugees.

Floating man ...

... or the Nobelist from Trinidad. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Holiday list ...

... Searching for the holly grail. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Intellectual abrasion ...

... a chat with Terry Eagleton: The armchair revolutionary.

This is a very good article (despite this preposterous assertion: "His early years were shaped by fundamentalist religion." I'm a year older than Eagleton and had much the same sort of education as he had. It was Catholic, not fundamentalist. And damned good, I might add.) I hardly agree with Eagleton across the board, but it is hard not to sense - and admire - how passionately engaged he is.

To kill or not ...

... I have become involved in a discussion over at Bryan's blog: New Jersey's Death Penalty.

Young readers ...

... and writers:Poetry Stand: How a precocious group of high school poets
learned to provide verse on demand.

Today's Inquirer book page ...

... featuring Melville, Henry Adams and Inanimate Alice.

Also, Carlin Romano looks at Two polar, persuasive stands on reproductive genetics and offers a roundup of books Exquisitely brewed for the coffee table.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

In memoriam ...

... Laura Huxley has died: Widow of Aldous Huxley preserved his legacy. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Franklin the blogger ...

... What If Ben Were One of Us? (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I suspect he would be. Though I must confess that regarding Ben, I am of one mind with D.H. Lawrence: "I admire him. I do not like him."

Lessing's lamentation ...

... in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Doris Lessing deplored what she called the inanities of the Internet: A hunger for books.

Chris Berg begs to differ: Bookish pessimists are elitist and wrong: the internet is good for you. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Good point: "Doris Lessing and Andrew Keen compare the best of the past with the average of the present. With a formula like that, it's no wonder today always loses."

Friday, December 14, 2007

And another ...

... discovery, that is: Errol Morris Creates a New Literary Form. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I have to say that what I found especially interesting is that Ron Rosenbaum and I share a fondness for Pale Fire, The Anatomy of Melncholy, and Urne-Buriall (how resist "and Charles V will never live within two Methuselahs of Hector"?).

A discovery ...

... 1966 Fowles Letter to High School Student Sheds Light on The Magus.

Open-ended creativity ...

... otherwise known as being: God debates.

I like this from John Polkinghorne: ". . . the order and disorder which intertwine in the process of the world show that the universe upheld by the divine Word is not a clear cold cosmos whose history is the inevitable unfolding of an invulnerable plan. It is a world kept in being by the divine Juggler rather than by the divine Structural Engineer ..." And having had the privilege of meeting and interviewing John Polkinghorne, I can attest to what Archbishop Hapgood says of him. A wonderful man.

Forget Dickens

What's so good about these indigestible birds? My goose was cooked — and it wasn’t very good. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The principal problem I have with goose - and I've cooked a good number - is that, when all is said and, there isn't a lot of meat to be had from one. So it takes a good deal of effort to make a meal for a relatively small dinner party.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thank God ...

... or whoever you want, but I'm glad somebody said it: On a stairway to Hell.

It must say something about how tame youth music has become that the year's most talked-about gigs star a “girdle power” group and boring even-older farts who had a nice cup of tea afterwards.

Real vs. ideal ...

... The Back Page: Fighting the Good Fight. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Apparently, I have been a subscriber to the Panzaic theory without knowing it. This afternoon, Debbie and I went to the art museum (as we Philadelphians refer to the Philadelphia Museum of Art) to see the exhibition of Renoir landscapes. I have never been much of a Renoir fan and this exhibition didn't do anything to change that. There is one great painting - The Promenade. It has drama and psychological depth. And there were a few very good ones - Village Street, a snapshot in oil of Louveciennes, was one. But for the most part, Renoir seems to have had only a professional interest in landscape. The landscape is merely a pretext for a painting. He does not otherwise engage the landscape, and so does not draw the viewer into it. Sisley's Snow at Louveciennes, on the other hand, seems to me to have captured a specific time and place and its weather and mood for ever. One does not merely look at it, one feels it and lives it.

I'm off today ...

... and tomorrow. So blogging will be light - because there are other things I have to do.

Richard Rodriguez ...

... Race Poll Sign of Hope and Despair. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Why post this on a book blog? Because it has to do with humanity and that is what literature is all about. And also because Richard Rodriguez's is one of the most civilized voices in America.


... first, here is Terry Teachout's Sursum corda, in which reference is made to Conon McPherson's play, The Seafarer, which Terry reviews in Broadway's Back -- and Booming. And here is an interview with playwright McPherson: Conor McPherson Lifts the Veil.

(All three links come courtesy of the intrepid Dave Lull.)

Appalling ...

... I refer to a number of the comments appended to this post of Nige's: Pratchett's Embuggerance.

I haven't read Pratchett and it hardly matters in connection with the terrible news of his illness. Like Nige, I find the manner of Pratchett's announcement wholly admirable. He deserves prayers, not gibes.

Good to know ...

... Sage Words from Jeff.

Oh, really

The Battle of the Book.

I am actually old enough to remember when the same sort of crap was said about ... paperbacks!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Phallocratic ocularocentrism ...

... and more: Starting Out in the Evening.

Like Scott, I'm a Lili Taylor fan.

Latin lovers

When Virginia's all-star team of young scholars competes in a national quiz bowl, a dead language is very much alive.

I don't think there was much impact around here when, a few weeks ago, John Timpane and I weighed in on Latin (Seize the Latin, or fun with a dead language and The epic, and relevant, story of the Latin language), but maybe now that the Washington Post has noticed something similar to what I mentioned, that " 'there's a bit of a revival going on.' In 1977, only 6,000 students took the National Latin Exam. By 2005 that number had soared to 134,873" - well, who knows?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Talmud of Christmas

or, The Real Meaning of Chanukah. (Hat tip, Maxine Clarke.)

Changing times ...

... Quagmire and Grim Milestone (which actually happened earlier).

Where is it all leading?

New blog on the block ...

... let's all welcom Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Personal Memos.

Let there be lights ...

... Light Up My Life.

Blogger reviews

From A Book A Week: The Collection by Gioia Deliberto.

From BooksForKids: Spoofing Santa: A Cajun Night Before Christmas and Other Downhome Sendups.

From Debra Hamel: Somoza, José Carlos: Zig Zag.

From the Emerging Writers Network: Book Review: 2007-015 The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck.

Literary turmoil ...

... at the Underground Literary Alliance.

Bonfire no more ..

... No Longer the City of ‘Bonfire’ in Flames. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Power of the press ...

... according to Evelyn Waugh: Notable & Quotable. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hope vs. despair ...

... in a pair of Nobel Prize Speeches.

November Sky ...

... has had a makeover.

So what if it's Monday?

Hardboiled Fridays!

Be very scared

"Art is long and Time is fleeting"

Happy birthday, Emily

The Belle of Amherst turns 177. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

SciFi rumbles

Scalzi, Heinlein and more.

As Scalzi says:
Science fiction is and always has been a consumer genre; its roots are in engineering and pulp magazines, not in academia. This is why sales matter in science fiction; more directly than nearly any other genre, the people who eventually write science fiction are the people who grow up reading science fiction. People start writing literary fiction as they tumble through writing programs at Sarah Lawrence or Bennington or Iowa because that’s what they’re expected to write and they want to impress their professors and fellow students; people start writing science fiction, on the other hand, roughly ten seconds after they set down The Star Beast or Ender’s Game or Snow Crash because they get done with the book and think, holy crap, I want to do that. Academia generally wants you to show you can write; science fiction generally wants you to tell a story. It’s the storytellers who get picked up by the next generation of science fiction writers, and whose work is used as the blueprint for their own works.

The ethics of book reviewing

For all interested parties: The NBCC's 2007 survey results.

Feel free to weigh in.

More here: Ethics in Book Reviewing Survey: The Results.

I am amazed ...

... Bryan could even watch: A Vision of Hell.

In passing ...

... Bryan Appleyard on Conrad Black. (It isn't pretty.)

For sci-fi fans ...

... an interview and recommendations.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A different take ...

... on evolution: Teilhard de Chardin and the Noosphere.

Teilhard was also convinced that a further and even more profound change had taken place. On the one hand we could see humanity simply swept along in a evolutionary stream into the future over which he had no control. Or, we could see that an evolution conscious of itself could also direct itself. "Not only do we read in our slightest acts the secrets of [evolutions] proceedings; but for an elementary part we hold it in our hands, responsible for its past to its future." (p. 226) Noogenesis moves ever more clearly toward self-direction; it is now something we determine.

Teilhard was a major influence on me when I was in college. I believe in evolution, but I think it is purposeful.

Readers' choices ....

... Amazon's Customers' Favorites: Nonfiction. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

An interesting mix for sure.

Getting to know ...

... our fellow bloggers: The Carlisle HappenStance Poetry Party (I refer to the photo).

So you want to be ...

... a writer: On Dark Places.

Definitely so ...

... something for every day: Whatever is.

At wit's end ...

... in the midst of unforgiving violence: On the eve of Gujarat elections...

Birds and foxes ...

... from Peter Stothard: Birds for Christmas and Eat the fox cub.

Yesterday, I gather ...

... was Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day.

Caryl Johnston has made a more permanent move at Meta-Q.

When classicists go bad ...

... Name and shame for bad classicists.

I'm just now getting down to reading Mary's new book, The Roman Triumph. It's quite fascinating.

Language problem ...

... Climate Conflicts. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

"It took years for a consensus on the existence and causes of climate change to emerge."

I submit that this is a largely meaningless sentence. Climate, by definition, is a process. Like the ocean, it is never at rest, but continuously changing. So if you acknowledge the existence of climate,which it is hard not to do, you must necessarily acknowledge the existence climate change, since climate means the ongoing change in meteorological conditions. Note, though, that the link takes us to something about "global warming." So we do not mean "climate change" at all, but are referring instead to predictions regarding the direction such change may be taking. Regarding which, read this abstract of an article in the International Journal of Climatology. A 100 to 300 percent difference is not slight. Please note that what I am most interested in here is the weaselly mode of discourse.

Books and films ...

... or, Books, films, chalk and cheese.

I think that short stories make better movies than novels. Case in point: John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King, which I think is well-nigh perfect. Novellas do well also. The longer the work, the more the film becomes a Cliffs Notes version of the original. If filmmakers would realize this, they could help spur interest in shorter fiction, which is often better fiction.

Time for a paperback reprint ...

... Hopes raised and dashed.

Roar of approval ...

... A Postcard From the Jungle.

Blacke swan ...

... Misc. Notes, Holy & Empirical. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I, too, have not read Karen Armstrong, but that is because of the impression I got from what was written about her books - an impression different from the one I get from this post. Though I think genuine religion is grounded in experience, from which the trust referred to derives. After all, they must be some ground for the trust.

Very nice ...

... Fleda Brown's The Death of Cleone. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Fleda will be the IBPC judge for the first three months of 2008. Here's her web site.

Today's Inquirer ....

... Book Page, featuring the Cold War, tracking down a superspy, and a novel novel.

Also, Carlin Romano talks to Peter Gay: History of 'heresy' as artistic triumph. (Here is Terry Teachout on Gay: The Cult of the Difficult. And here is Tim Rutten: Exploring what makes defiant artists tick.)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Predicting is difficult ...

... especially the future, as Niels Bohr observed. Which is why everybody - especially journalists (and maybe the new breed of scientists) ought to read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan.

Update: On Yogi versus Niels.

Friday, December 07, 2007


... I’ll have a double espresso. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I have been drinking coffee, yes, since I was four years old. I would not give it up even it I were told that continuing to drink it would shorten my life. I wouldn't want to live without coffee. And I've given enough up. So there.

Two journalists ...

... two different views of blogs and blogging: Helen Thomas, on the one hand, and Don Surber on the other.

Unsentimental ...

... look at old age: Jacques Brel's "Les Vieux."

The future ...

... and what it may look like: Not According to Script.

Today cameras are ubiquitous and production software is easy enough to use that nearly any American with an interest in doing so can put together a film and post it online for public viewing. That many of the videos showing up on the Internet are just as or even more compelling to watch than what Tinsel Town throws up on the silver screen is both an indictment of Hollywood as well as an opportunity. It's of little mystery now what kind of war films consumers want to see. Most of them involve the good guys winning.

I think this is true of more than just film. People don't want a "take" on the information so much as the information itself.

USA Today ...

... pays some attention to the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance: Bluegrass Peril by Virginia Smith is up on CFBA this week!

Ah, controversy ...

... Is Our New National Literary Culture Left-Wing? (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Well, I suppose John Freeman's political views are noticeably to the left of my own - but that has never stopped the two of us from getting along (and occasionally disagreeing in, I might add, a quite cordial way). So John advocates for his point of view. So what? I advocate for mine, too.
I did think Elliott Weinberger's treatment of Bruce Bawer when the NBCC nominations were announced was uncalled for - because it was rude and because I think Weinberger thinks he knows more about geopolitics than he actually does.

By the way, I don't think reading has declined as much as we are often told it has and I certainly don't think this has anything to do with liberal vs. conservative. I will have more to say about this in the spring issue of Boulevard - but that's all I'm saying now. I'm stressed out.

Not in Britain, too ...

... How to Teach Poetry.

Why teach poetry, you may wonder. Because, as Heidegger - in one of his more lucid moments - observed, it is the essential form of speech. A great poem is an exceptionally precise form of discourse, which is why great poems have such depth and resonance. To borrow a phrase from Alan Watts, they are like pebbles dropped into the well of the mind. One is not really civilized if one is not familiar - and I mean familiar - with poetry. (I must add, though, that while Bryan's recommendations are all excellent, I think "The Listeners" and even "The Highwayman" are not bad poems at all.)

Certifiably not dead ...

... the stress test took longer than anticipated: I got there at 8:45 this morning, then left around 10:30, but had to come back for another photo shoot at 12:45. Results are expected by Tuesday. Considering that I walked to the office (which I estimate to be a tad over a mile) in about 17 minutes, I figure I can't exactly be at death's door.
My thanks to all who wished me well.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Blogging hiatus ...

... early tomorrow morning I am scheduled to have a stress test. I gather that my heart will be X-rayed, among other things, and that, presuming all goes well, I will be certified as alive. Blogging should then resume in the afternoon.

Mad as hell ...

... and not holding back: I'm spitting mad, Lee Lowe says.

Small wonder. It seems like an unusually stupid decision by Faber and Faber.

Mark your calendar ...

... at least if you're around here and interested in writing: Pennwriters 21st Annual Conference, featuring Joyce Carol Oates.

Reading for kids ...

... Children's books with a voice and empathy.

Minority report ...

... B.R. Myers on Denis Johnson: A Bright Shining Lie.

The examples of the prose are pretty damning.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Black dog ...

... Melancholy’s Whole Physician. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Many years ago I did some editing work for the Carrier Foundation Clinic. One of the paper's I edited had to do with the history of depression. It seems that at various times and places melancholy has been practically epidemic. I was so common the English during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods that it was known as "the Englishman's disease." It was widespread among Athenians during the time of Pericles.
When I was an adolescent and even as a young man I thought of myself as melancholic. But it was delicious sort of melancholy, a kind of sweet sadness - I think of Tchaikovsky's line, that "it is all so sad and yet so sweet to muse upon the past" - but nothing remotely like the truly crippling depression I have known others to truly suffer from. In my case, even that passed with age. I have a certain dispassionate interest in things and persons that makes of life a continuing pageant. Then again, I may just be shallow.

Congratulations ...

... PW Honors John Freeman and the NBCC.

John deserves it - and he is tireless (ah, youth!).

Grim milestone ...

... Yours truly has heard from a very good source that the Chicago Sun-Times will soon be the latest paper to take the ax to book coverage. As I understand it, on Dec. 30 the book pages will move to the Sunday Show section, where there will be much less space, necessitating that most reviews will have to be confined to something like 250-300 words. If all this be true, my heart goes out to book review editor Teresa Budasi.

More here: Half as Much Fun. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I didn't see this until just now (I was preoccupied last night and this morning with finishing a review for Sunday.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sad news ...

... Jane Rule has died. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

"... Ms. Rule retreated to her bed in the middle of November with a bottle of Queen Anne whisky and a bar of good chocolate on her bedside table, hundreds of love letters from friends and admirers and a circle of friends and family who cared for her physical needs."

Bravo, I say.

I wonder ...

... how many American writers of protest poetry would write it if this sort of thing were a real possibility for them: Poetry of Protest. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Wise observations ...

... Q & A with wordsmith Gary Snyder. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Gee, I saw him read some three decades ago, and he notice he's, well, grown old - he's 77, 11 years older than I am. Gee, I've grown old, too. Bummer.

Here's Snyder's
Once Only.

Good heavens ...

... Bob Hoover is not only doing video, but has also decided to join me in the ranks of the bearded:
An interview with poet Sheryl St. Germain. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Interesting picks ...

... a list of Movies better than the books that spawned them. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I don't think The Birds is one of Hitchcock's better films, actually, and I didn't much like The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (the film; I never read Benchley's book). I didn't like Carrie, either.

Something I missed ...

... Karl Kirchwey's review of Robert Pinsky's Gulf Music: Sifting through detail for myth and archetype.

Two views of Hanukkah ...

... Bah, Hanukkah. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

... Bah, Hitchens!

I'm with Roger.

Thank you, Maxine ...

... DigitalLit and innovation.

For many, I fear, innovation is one of those things they like to talk about. Or maybe write a trend story about.

Bryan 'fesses up ...

... Time to Cry.

I found myself crying at the end of A.S. Byatt's Possession. I can also remember crying a the end of Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey - which I read when I was a teenager. I cry at movies, too. What man could see Lonely Are the Brave and not be moved to tears at the end?

My colleague Carrie Rickey had a relevant blog post of her own about this recently: Tell Me Why You Cry.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Happy 150th ...

... to Joseph Conrad. (Hat tip, Dave Lull,)

See also The moral agent.

I think J.B. Priestley got it right when he described Conrad as "the novelist of lonely men who find themselves hard-pressed and try to do their duty, of unfamiliar and unfashionable heroes who, with some tragic exceptions, are genuinely heroic."

Speaking of Vikram ...

... check out Review—Gods Behaving Badly.

Don't miss the video at the bottom.

Noticed in New Delhi ...

... Vikram Johri on "DIY cataloging".

Equally heartwarming ...

... Lapham’s latest folly. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

“When I complicate the proceedings with a superimposition of marginalia reaching across a distance of fifty years and written while traveling in cities as unlike one another as Chicago and Havana, I can begin to guess at what the physicists have in mind when they talk about the continuum of space and time.” What can we say? Mr. Lapham has mastered the art of transforming sentences into little semantic train wrecks: They begin on track, but then swerve unpredictably.

Heartwarming ...

... Anthony Daniels on Kahlil Gibran: The false prophet. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Try this:

Dip your oar, my beloved,
And let me touch my strings.

"It is impossible to plumb the shallows of this."

or this:

"Let me leave you with a typical Gibran aphorism:

"The flowers of spring are winter’s dreams related at the breakfast table of the angels."

"If that doesn’t nauseate you, you must subsist on a diet of marrons glacés: though there is, in fact, a big difference between Kahlil Gibran and marrons glacés. It is that the first mouthful of marrons glacés is delicious."

I once saw a television interview with Alfred Knopf during which that great publisher made a sort of confession. It seems there was only one book published by Knopf that he did not himself read beforehand. When that one book sold its millionth copy, he felt he ought to read it. And so he did. It was The Prophet. "I would never have published that book," Knopf told the interviewer. Its appeal is perplexing. It's the sort of thing that's so sweet that - to borrow a phrase from Alexander King - it makes every aperture in your body pucker.

War Zone ...

... the New Republic looks at the plight of book reviewing:

Critical Condition.

The Battle of the Book.

... and the way it was: The Judge.

My wish list ...

... Light up a reader's eyes.

Amazon's Kindle hadn't come out when I wrote this - and I haven't had the opportunity to use one. I have noted that it sounds better than the Sony Reader, though.

Let the roundups begin ...

... A Year in Reading 2007. (Hat tip, Richard Barron.)

The only way ...

... to read - with passion: Bryan on Shirley Hazzard. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

If not culture ...

... then what?For Roger Scruton, Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

In her spare time ...

... Joyce Carol Oates, well, writes: The Wand of the Enchanter. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Napoleon the writer ...

... id doing better than I am. See second item in Ed Champion's Roundup.

Ed, by the way, has thrown his hat in the ring: Edward Champion for NBCC Board Member.

At Critical Mass ...

... Thinking About New Orleans: An NBCC Reading by and for New Orleans Writers.

There's more than just this one link. So click on the main page and scroll down.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advent begins today ...

... so I thought I'd post a poem of mine that I wrote on the subject. It's a villanelle and it was published in Boulevard last year. The painting is by Sassetta.


The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear
(Though winter’s scheduling an arctic flight).
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

Some say a telling sign will soon appear,
Though evidence this may be so is slight:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

Pale skeptics may be perfectly sincere
To postulate no ground for hope, despite
The rumor that a rendezvous draws near.

More enterprising souls may shed a tear
And, looking up, behold a striking light:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

The king, his courtiers, and priests, all fear
Arrival of a challenge to their might:
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

The wise in search of something all can cheer
May not rely on ordinary sight:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

Within a common place may rest one dear
To all who yearn to see the world made right.
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

© 2006

Christmas books ..

... past, present and future: Part one.

... Part two.

... Part three.

(Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

At the TLS ...

... Books of the Year. (Let's be honest: The Times Literary Supplement is hands down the premier book review. People who think they NYTBR is to any extent comparable aren't provincial; they're parochial.)

In defense of ...

... science fiction: Why don't we love science fiction?

Calling Dave Lull ...

... library fragrance. (Hat tip, Laurie Mason.)

Today's Inquirer book page ...

... with everything from World War II to a medieval buddy tale.

Online aficionados may want to pay particular attention to Visit to LibraryThing can bring together readers and collectors.