Monday, March 13, 2017

The Latest Chapter: Reading Through 2017

We’re only a couple weeks into March but I’ve already been blessed to read several exceptional books this year.  I have already mentioned a few in my last “catch up” post (Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Edna Ferber’s Ice Palace, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Hamlet), but I’m pleased to list a few others that I've read since then that carry my enthusiastic recommendation.

Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute.  This 1960 novel was the February selection of our book club, the Notting Hill Napoleons, and the consensus from our group was overwhelmingly positive.  It’s rather rare for a popular novel written by a non-believer to contain such insight and inspiration for the Christian activists who make up our literary group, but Shute’s story of a middle-aged, introverted machinist being drawn into a dangerous journey to achieve a seemingly impossible goal did exactly that for us.  A common conversation theme between a couple of my friends (John Malek and Pat Osborne) is the need to be faithful to God’s call, including the unspectacular, dull, and seemingly insignificant details of ordinary life.  In fact, our recent reading in Randy Alcorn’s Happiness and Tony Evans’ Kingdom Man have made these matters frequent in our early Thursday morning coffee at Panera restaurant. Well, Trustee from the Toolroom demonstrated a remarkable clear and provocative picture of how those virtues can be lived out.  It's easy for me to give it 4 stars.

* Kingdom Man by Tony Evans.  This was easily one of the best books I have read in this line.  Thoroughly biblical.  Practical.  Acutely relevant insights. Effective illustrations.  Challenging on many fronts.  I began this book back in December and read it more slowly and more carefully in order to spend an appropriate time in thinking through the book’s applications in my life.  I heartily recommend you taking a similar approach.  4 stars.

* Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.  It had been many years since I had read this epic novel of revolution, suffering, injustice, and, throughout these cruel upheavals, the highs and lows of romance.  The novel is historically accurate, as far as it goes, and so the reader must face the extreme violence, hypocrisy, power lust, revenge, and mindlessness which was the Russian Revolution.  For these reasons (and because the novel is 523 pages), it’s not an easy read.  However, this time around, I also found it rather difficult reading because of the tragic weaknesses of the protagonists.  One might find them sympathetic characters. But, truth be told, they are not very likable nor can one find reasons to respect, let alone emulate, them.  However, for those interested in seeing the horrors the revolution represented (and that it created for later generations), then Dr. Zhivago remains a valuable read.  3 stars.

* Among my reading for mere entertainment are what I call “popcorn pleasure” books. Those are fast-paced, quick reads, usually in the adventure or mystery genre. Some of my favorites in this category are Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series.  I go through the whole set of 27 novels every few years and I started them again in February. So far, I've put a half dozen behind me this year.

* Finally, besides the read-through-the-Bible regimen Claire and I are following, there are two other books I’ve been reading these last few weeks. I’m not close to being done with either one but both are proving excellent.  They are Randy Alcorn’s Happiness and a collection of obituary columns written by William F. Buckley, Jr., A Torch Kept Lit. More on these in the next “catch up” list.

Happy reading.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Literati Alert: A Few Very Interesting Articles

Frequently over on Vital Signs Blog, I post compilation lists of articles that I believe will be interesting, equipping, even inspiring to my friends who check in there. I've decided it's a tactic I should employ here at The Book Den as well, occasionally listing for you some of the more provocative articles about books, history, and the arts that I've recently come across.

Here is the first of those posts.

* “The Master Obituarist: William F. Buckley’s glorious tributes to the dearly departed raised eulogy to the level of art.” (Herbert W. Stupp, City Journal) — Being, in part a look at A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century, by William F. Buckley, Jr. and James Rosen, editor.

* “The Seduction of Benedict Arnold” (John Daniel Davidson, National Review) -- Being, in part, a look at Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution.

* “The revolutionary vision of Jane Austen: Is Austen’s popularity starting to undermine her stature?” (Gillian Dooley, Mercator)

* “George Washington’s God” (Mark D. Tooley, Juicy Ecumenism) — Being, in part, a look at Michael and Jana Novak’s book, Washington’s God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country.

* “Horrors of Waugh” (Violet Hudson, TLS)

* “The Very Drugged Nazis” (Antony Beevor, New York Review of Books) — Being, in part a look at Norman Ohler’s book, Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich.

* “The New Unworking Class” (Mona Charen, National Review) — Being, in part, a look at Nicholas Eberstadt’s book, Men Without Work.

* “How King Arthur became one of the most pervasive legends of all time: Brave, noble, kind -- everything that is missing from our modern world?” (Raluca Radulescu, Mercator)

* “On the trail of the Man in the Iron Mask” (David Coward, TLS)

* “After the exile: poetry and the death of culture” (Anthony Esolen, Mercator)

Uh, About Those Unmanly Churches

From Tony Evans' excellent book, Kingdom Man:

In most lives, albeit exceptions always exist, women were built to respond to relationships while men were built to respond to ruling. Women were wired to respond to cuddling, while men were wired to respond to conquering. We are made differently so we respond differently. Yet what frequently happens in the church is that the church will call for relationships without giving men an opportunity to rule. Or the church will offer nice, warm fuzzies to cuddle emotionally with while withholding or ignoring any potential challenge that men can conquer. Often the temperature in the church is set for women, and therefore, men sit there cold.

So many men come to church only because they are pushed to do so or because they feel guilty for not doing so. They stand there as the music plays with a feeling that something just doesn't seem like it fits. Kind of how I would feel if Lois ever asked me to hold her purse. Something just doesn't seem manly about church for many men. It's cute with pretty decorations, soft music, long songs, and an atmosphere often geared toward evoking emotions -- which is why a lot of men simply do their time, albeit sincerely, rather than view it as a vehicle through which they are to change the world.

Yet that wasn't the church Jesus established.

Amen brother Tony. Amen.

I most heartily recommend Kingdom Man.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

To Reject or Revisit Shakespeare: That Is the Question

Who is the best writer in the English language?  Who is the most influential? Who provides the most valuable insights into human nature, political leadership, the development (or digression) of personal character?  The answer to these questions, of course, is easy.  And it's been the answer for over 400 years.  It is William Shakespeare.

So why has the reading of Shakespeare fallen out of favor?  Indeed, why have even professional educators suddenly kicked the noble Bard into the gutter? The recent study conducted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni reveals just how dramatic has been this new disdain. That study showed that only 4 of the nation’s 52 highest ranked colleges require their English literature majors to take a course in Shakespeare. Unbelievable.

Why has this happened? Well, there have been several fine articles published in the alternative media which deal with this perplexing question. But may I boil it down to two basic issues?

1) Reading Shakespeare is just too hard for today’s students.  Sadly, our dumbed-down society doesn’t go in much for reading anyhow.  We prefer visual stimulation, especially TV, movies, and computer games that are heavy on sensuality and action and politically-correct propaganda.  And we certainly don’t have the time, the inclination, the attention span, the work ethic, or the literary skills to read the works of a writer as complex and profound as William Shakespeare.

Therefore, rather than admit the obvious; namely, that we have produced a nation of 100 pound weaklings for whom Shakespeare is just too heavy to lift, we merely read something easier, quicker, and more fitting to our self-flattered egos. Better yet, we watch a movie.

2) Reading Shakespeare has been determined by the post-moderns who control academia as an activity geared primarily to racists, misogynists, and elitists. After all, Shakespeare was a white male who was gifted, well-educated, and who associated with the upper crust of society.  Even worse, Shakespeare’s plays and poetry reflect a Christian worldview which is, to use a word newly popular with liberals, deplorable.

This unreasonable but determined neglect of Shakespeare’s genius by today’s academics is, of course, sad for the culture as a whole, not to mention individual students who miss out on Shakespeare in preference to the scratchings of irreligious, untalented hacks. As Professor Jonathan Bate, a leading Shakespeare scholar at Worcester College, Oxford put it, “Shakespeare remains the greatest author and most rewarding to study who ever lived. American students who do not study Shakespeare are missing out on the depth of his characterization, the brilliance of his language and the universality of his themes.”

Claire and I have become particularly frustrated with the situation. In fact, we take it a little personal. After all, we have been fans of Shakespeare since our youth.  We read him in high school.  We took college courses on him.  We have seen many of the dramas performed; listened to his work through audio recordings; and read many of the plays over and again.  So, as we considered this new trashing of the Bard by the post-modern powers that be, we decided to double down on Shakespeare. We will now read, study, and promote his work with greater vigor than ever.

Our plan of action involves several steps. 1) We’re going to be more aggressive and organized.  For instance, we are committing to read at least one Shakespeare play every month. We will also be watching more of the plays, many of which you can find for free.  2) We are currently taking the online course on Shakespeare offered for free by Hillsdale College.  We have only two lectures to go and have found them very interesting and motivating.  3) We are going to re-read some of the excellent books in our library that persuasively argue that the real author behind the pseudonym of William Shakespeare was Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. And 4) we will be encouraging others more than ever to read and watch the Shakespeare plays.

Want in on the fun? Just let us know.

(The photo at the top of this post is An Early Reading of Shakespeare by Solomon Hart, 1838.)

Getting the Year Started in Books

For the first personal “reading review” of 2017, I have, as is usual, a pretty eclectic list which includes a couple of books I had actually started in 2016 but only finished early in January. Both of them earned 4 stars. The first was a brand new read for me -- Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It was instructive, interesting, heart-warming. And then there was a re-reading of C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer which I found of great value.

January also saw me go through several of William F. Buckley’s espionage/thriller series starring CIA agent Blackford Oakes. They were Saving the Queen; Who’s On First; Marco Polo, If You Can; and See You Later, Alligator.  Some of these Blackford Oakes novels were better than others but, because of scenes which some would find offensive, I wouldn't recommend any of them.  These scenes, by the way, were unnecessary, distracting, and remarkably out of sync with what else I know of Buckley’s character.  Too bad.

Last week I read a couple of Alistair Maclean adventure novels. I normally like MacLean quite a bit but these were not his best. Partisans only made it up to 2 stars. The Way to Dusty Death was a bit better.

But these first 6 weeks of the year have yielded 3 other treasures, all of them 4 star reads. Ice Palace by Edna Ferber (which was our January Notting Hill Napoleons’ selection) and, from William Shakespeare, the tragedy Hamlet and the comedy The Tempest.

Happy reading to you.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Recommended Books for Conservatives (And Those Who Might Become Conservative After Reading Them!)

I'm printing below the text of an article written by Christopher N. Malagisi for the Conservative Book Club. It is titled “The Top 10 Conservative Books of 2016.” The link to the original is right here. However, because the article is one of those you have to click for every one of the several pages it is spread across, I’ve done you the service of printing the text below.

2016 was a huge year in conservative publishing, thanks to the wild ride of the 2016 election. From pro-Trump tomes to anti-Hillary jeremiads to the key policy debates of our time, the Right got to write about who and what was right. There were also great books of history and reflections on the state of America’s culture and social fabric, touching on the more intellectual side of the conservative movement.

Our Top 10 Conservative Books of 2016 were selected by the Conservative Book Club’s Editorial Advisory Board and were based on three primary criteria: 1.) Influence – Did the book have a large-scale influence on the national debate? 2.) Conservative – Does the book espouse conservative values of American Exceptionalism, reverence to the Constitution, etc.? and 3.) Value-Added – Did the book add value to the conversation or provide original research?

With that in mind, here are the 10 best conservative books of 2016!

10) The Fractured Republic by Yuval Levin.
The story of the 2016 election could not be told without the underlying context of American cultural and institutional decay. The social contract is fraying under the weight of individualism — this, in essence is the problem that Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic: Our Dissolving Social Contract In The Age of Individualism sets out to solve. Combining the communitarian ethos of Russell Kirk with the sociological focus of Charles Murray, Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic offers a conservative solution to America’s existential crisis.

9) A Torch Kept Lit by William F. Buckley, Jr, edited by James Rosen
For the first time ever, William F. Buckley, Jr’s greatest eulogies have been collected together in one accessible tome, edited by Fox News’ James Rosen. A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century is, as the title says, a collection of eulogies for the greatest political, cultural and historical figures of the 20th century. A Torch Kept Lit  lets readers enjoy Buckley’s signature style and wit while also appreciating the legacies of these great men and women.

8) The War On Cops by Heather Mac Donald
The police have become an intense topic of national debate in the aftermath of protests and riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere. The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald makes the conservative case for law and order — and the case against anti-cop rhetoric and policy — in The War on Cops: How The New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe. Mac Donald busts liberal lies about the use of force, incarceration rates, and so-called racial bias in policing, making it a timely, essential read in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

7) Clean House by Tom Fitton
One of the Democrat Party’s great lies is that the Obama administration has had no scandals. Unsung hero Judicial Watch, headed by Tom Fitton, has consistantly exposed the truth, from Benghazi to the IRS to Obamacare. Fitton’s book Clean House ends the Obama administration’s furtiveness, chronicling all of Obama’s scandals and the efforts of Judicial Watch to reveal them to the public. 

6) Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War by Dr. Sebastian Gorka
One of 2016’s breakout performances was counterinsurgency expert Dr. Sebastian Gorka, seen often on Fox News. His book Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War studiously details the rise of ISIS and Radical Islam, and offers a national defense strategy to win the War on Terror.  Dr. Gorka reminds us that the right leadership can win this war.

5) Killing The Rising Sun by Bill O’Reilly O'Reilly
Every year, Bill O’Reilly makes a “killing” on the Conservative Bestseller List with his bestselling Killing series of history books. For the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, O’Reilly wrote Killing The Rising Sun: How America Vanquished WWII Japan. From Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal, to the atom bomb, O’Reilly recounts the victories of the Pacific theater in a fun and accessible style. 

4) Guilty As Sin by Ed Klein
No one has been as thorough and prolific in investigating the crimes of the Clintons than Ed Klein. His latest book,  Guilty as Sin: Uncovering New Evidence of Corruption and How Hillary Clinton and the Democrats Derailed the FBI Investigation, dives into the latest and perhaps most fatal of the Clintons’ many scandals — the FBI investigation into Hillary’s emails.
Klein exposes what really happened, from Bill Clinton’s airplane rendezvous with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch to Klein’s own exclusive interview with President-elect Donald Trump. Written during the heart of the campaign, Guilty As Sin may just have been the book that brought Hillary down for good.

3) Crisis of Character by Gary J. Byrne
Earlier in 2016, former Secret Service agent Gary Byrne reminded America what happened the last time the Clintons were in the White House. His stunning expose, Crisis of Character: A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience With Hillary, Bill, And How They Operate ensured that America knew everything there was to know about the Clintons — including the 90s scandals that people may have forgotten. From salaciousness to corruption, Byrne blew the door open on the Clintons’ walk-in closet of skeletons.

2) Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
The shocking victory of Donald Trump has left many in the media asking “how did this happen?” The National Review’s J.D. Vance has been rocketed into the national spotlight with his book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. He examines the forgotten rural white voters that made President Trump possible from two angles — one as sociologist and one as participant. Using his own life in Appalachia as a touch point, Vance examines what caused the cultural and social crisis in rural white America — and the moral and cultural solutions to their plight.

1) Hillary’s America by Dinesh D’Souza
More than any other anti-Hillary book, Dinesh D’Souza’s Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party did the most to prevent Hillary’s America. Accompanied by a hugely successful documentary movie, Hillary’s America gave America the truth about what a second Clinton presidency would look like and about the sordid past of the Democrat Party, from their antebellum roots to Progressivism, to their radical transformation of America in modern times. Hillary’s America took the country by storm in theaters and bookstores, and helped marshal the wave that brought Trump — and conservatism — into the White House.

In Trump We Trust by Ann Coulter

Settle for More by Megyn Kelly

Foreign Agent by Brad Thor

The Conservative Case for Trump by Phyllis Schlafly

Clinton Cash: A Graphic Novel by Peter Schweizer

Monday, January 30, 2017

Aspiring to Greatness

Tony Evans writes in Kingdom Man, a remarkably helpful and challenging book that I have been reading.

I'll admit it: I don't mind -- I want to be great. And if you were brutally honest, I would bet that you also want to be great. but what might surprise you, and what I would like to suggest, is that far from what we often hear in the biblical teaching on servanthood and humility is that God wants you to be great as well.

Not only does God want you to be great in His kingdom, but He has also destined you for it.

Greatness is maximizing your potential for the glory of God and the good of others. The apostle Paul urged those under his influence when he wrote to the church at Thessalonica to "excel still more" in how they obeyed god's commands (1 Thessalonians 4:1). he urged the Corinthians to always abound in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58) and to seek greatness in all that they did since all that they did, according to 1 Corinthians 10:31, was to be done to glorify God.

Men, I want you to experience this truth. Hear me when I say this -- it is okay to want greatness. That is not something you have to mumble when no one is listening or an idea you have to check at the church door. I realize it may seem to fly in the face of what you have heard as a call to be meek, humble, and a servant of all, but authentic greatness never negates any of those characteristics. In fact, authentic greatness includes the true definition of all of them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Doctor Zhivago Revisited

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Boris Pasternak’s famous novel, Doctor Zhivago. Problems with Russian censorship meant it was first published by the Italian publisher, Feltrinelli; the English translation followed in 1958, which was the year I first encountered it, aged twelve. This was the year that Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, an event given an ominous dimension when he was forced by the Russian authorities to either renounce the prize or be exiled. Pasternak, for whom to live outside his homeland would have been unthinkable, chose the first option. Expelled from the Writers Union, he died, disgraced, in 1960...”

Read the rest of Francis Phillips' Mercator article, Doctor Zhivago at 60: A Spiritual Masterpiece right here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Tony Evans on "Kingdom Men"

“My concern is that Christian leaders have leveraged our men to build church buildings and run church programs, but we have failed to disciple them in what it means to be about the kingdom…   One of the greatest failures, I believe, of the American church has been that we have not equipped men to fully understand, realize, and implement their divine destiny of biblical manhood. We have stripped them of their manhood while attempting to redefine it with things such as church attendance in churches primarily geared toward women (from the decorations on the walls to the music to the short-lived and often less effective mission trips, and to the service on numerous committees). While each of those things is important and good, without a common vision on a common goal against the common enemy -- we often wind up simply busier than deliberately strategic.” (Tony Evans, Kingdom Man)

Boy, am I liking this book!