Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Had the World Listened to Churchill, the Orwellian Century Might Never Have Happened


...Orwell can imagine that future so clearly because he has schooled himself in some of the worst things that men have actually done. No one else has gone so far in predicting how inhuman ideas will ultimately be translated into action. And it is possible that Orwell was right in divining the end result of totalitarian practice: absolute power will so deform the masters that they will forget any humanitarian pretense and will live for power alone—not only the god-like power over life and death that every sound Machiavellian wishes to exercise, but the even more monstrous power to control what the regime’s subjects think and feel…

But for all his probity and his clear-sightedness about some matters, he never quite left the Platonic cave of 20th-century politics; really he exchanged one cave for another, fleeing the redoubt of the respectable capitalist and imperialist English middle class, which he staggered his way out of by his mid-twenties, and finding sanctuary in the sweetest fantasy of socialism, which he defended even as he condemned the worst socialist realities and the lies that sustained them, but which left him in semi-darkness…

These two histories of Churchill’s [the six-volume The World Crisis and Marlborough: His Life and Times] were the most important works of political art to appear between the two wars, and if Churchill’s vision of honorable and prudent political life had been more widely recognized and seen into action the Soviet terror state might have been stopped before it started, Hitler denied his opportunity to sow devastation, and the Second World War averted. Nineteen Eighty-Four deserves its esteemed place in the post-World War II literature, but its searing horror reflects an experience of political evil that mankind could have avoided. Winston Churchill knew better than George Orwell what needed to be done in order to secure a decent and democratic world in which no one would even imagine such a definitive political catastrophe as the one that made Orwell famous. It needn’t have been Orwell who defined the 20th century. The world should never have been allowed to become Orwellian. 

From Algis Valiunas’ excellent essay “Orwell in the Orwellian Century” over at Claremont Review of Books.

Monday, May 11, 2015

More Answers to Twelve Tantalizing Questions for Book Readers

The first answers to the book questionnaire posted last week ("Twelve Tantalizing Questions for Book Readers") have shown up and I post them below. They come from 1) USAF Lt. Col (Ret.) Quint Coppi, a Vital Signs Board member and founding member of the Notting Hill Napoleons; 2) Barb Malek, one of the Directors of Assure Pregnancy Center, another original Napoleon, and author of Soft Like Steel; and 3) Pat Eberly, celebrated wit and a longtime colleague in pro-life ministry.

First, Quint's answers:

1) List ten of your favorite books in five minutes.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni, The Song of Roland translated by Dorothy Sayers, Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers, Adam Bede by George Eliot, Barnaby Rudge and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton.
2) What's the last really good book you read?
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.
3) Do you finish every book you start?
No.
4) Do you re-read books? Do you re-read any books more than once or twice? Like what?
Yes. The Chronicles of Narnia. Lord of the Rings books. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute.
5) Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Or almost completely? Who?
Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, JRR Tolkien.
6) Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?
Fiction stirs my imagination and I love a well told story. I also love excellent writing.
7) Do you recommend books? If you do, give an example or two.
Silas Marner. The Betrothed. Les Miserables.
8) Do you read books that are more than one hundred years old?
Yes.
9) What's more important to you: the way a book is written or what the book is about?
Both. A good plot is enhanced by excellent writing.
10) Have you ever written a fan letter to an author?
No.
11) Do you keep track of the books you read?
Yes.
12) Okay, take a look at the list you made at the beginning.  Any changes you'd like to make?
No, maybe later; once I've had a chance to go over the books I've read in total.

Now Barb's:

1) List ten of your favorite books in five minutes.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, Les Miserables, Pride and Prejudice, All Creatures Great and Small, Winds of War, War and Remembrance.
2) What’s the last really good book you read?
Mysteries help me relax, and I enjoy them. But I wouldn’t define them as “really good” especially compared to the classics.
3) Do you finish every book you start?
No, I don’t. Especially modern books I get on Kindle. Sometimes they are so badly written I can’t make myself keep reading.
4) Do you re-read books? Do you re-read any books more than once or twice? Like what?
Yes, I do. Especially my favorites. I think I read the Lord of the Rings books at least a dozen times. I may have read the Space Trilogy that many times as well. I have reread all my favorite books, except for Les Miserables (but I have seen most of the movie versions and the musical several times).
5) Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Or almost completely? Who?
I think I have read most of C.S. Lewis’s works, and much of Tolkien's. I have also read most of the books by Leon Uris. There are a few mystery writers that I have read almost all of their books as well.
6) Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?
I have a preference for fiction, because they are easier to read, but I usually have one of each that I am actively reading on my Kindle.
7) Do you recommend books? If you do, give an example or two.
I think everyone should read the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. He is so brilliant and insightful and those books are amazing. And, even if people have seen the movies, they should read the Lord of the Rings books as well.
8) Do you read books that are more than one hundred years old?
Yes, many.
9) What’s more important to you: the way a book is written or what the book is about?
By far, the way a book is written. If a book is badly written, I don’t care what it is about.
10) Have you ever written a fan letter to an author?  No.
11) Do you keep track of the books you read?  Not officially.
12) Okay, take a look at the list you made at the beginning.  Any changes you’d like to make?
No.

And Pat's:

1) List ten of your favorite books in five minutes.
Isaiah by Isaiah...Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe...The Great Divorce by CS Lewis...The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade...Lorna Doone by Richard Doddridge Blackmore...Victory by Joseph Conrad...Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim...Peace Child by Don Richardson...Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain...A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean...Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
2) What’s the last really good book you read?
A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin.
3) Do you finish every book you start?
Nearly all…..some after putting them down for months……some for years.
4) Do you re-read books? Do you re-read any books more than once or twice? Like what?
Have read some 7-8-9 times.  All on my top ten at least twice, most three times or more.
5) Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Or almost completely? Who?
Most of Conrad, Wolfe, Sherwood Anderson, C. S. Forester, Anthony Burgess, Dos Passos, Dreiser, Orwell, Twain, Larry McMurtry up through Lonesome Dove (gaccck), all but one of Kerouac's, Wells, etc. Also with some I read all that I happen to come across. (A good portion of my books are from thrift stores.)
6) Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?
Ficton when I was younger, nonfiction for the last 15 years.   Why?  1. Ran out of fiction I wanted to read.  2. Wanted to see if reality matches ideas/ideals.
7) Do you recommend books? If you do, give an example or two.
Have recommended all on my 'favorites' list above, and many more.
8) Do you read books that are more than one hundred years old?
Yes, as long as the cover isn't falling off, or there are missing pages.  Hard to find them that old, tho.
9) What’s more important to you: the way a book is written or what the book is about?
Both, but if I am going to waste my time, I would rather read a well written book about nothing, than a great subject poorly written. Shakespeare, for example.
11) Do you keep track of the books you read?
I keep a big majority of books I read.
12) Okay, take a look at the list you made at the beginning.  Any changes you’d like to make?
Yes. I need to get up earlier, and cut back on sweets.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Interested in Culture & the Humanities? Check Out These Articles.

* “Progressives Love Anti-Religious Art — as Long as It’s Anti-Christian” (Jonah Goldberg, National Review)

* “E-Books Are Damaging Your Health: Why We Should All Start Reading Paper Books Again” (Lecia Bushak, Medical Daily)

* “The Conference Manifesto” (Christy Wampole, New York Times)

* “Frank Capra’s America and Ours” (John Marini, Imprimis)

* "Monsters: Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Victorian imagination" (John J. Miller, Claremont Review of Books)

* “If You Read To Your Kids, You’re ‘Unfairly Disadvantaging’ Others” (Katherine Timpf, National Review)

Two Minutes with David McCullough (On His Favorite Writers)

Bernard Cornwell Describes His New Book on Waterloo

In this extremely interesting and enjoyable 10 minute podacst, popular author Bernard Cornwell talks about his new non-fiction book, Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles.

Cornwell describes what was at stake on June 18, 1815, whether Napoleon or Wellington was the better general, and what it was like to be an ordinary soldier on the battlefield.

Check it out.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Twelve Tantalizing Questions for Book Readers

Using some of the existing questionnaires I found around the web, I've compiled this list of questions for my "bookish" friends. Would you like to answer, perhaps copy the list to pass around to friends and family? By all means, do so.

After listing the questions, I will post my answers below -- and Claire's too.

Then I'm going to send the questions to my fellow members of the Notting Hill Napoleons, our long-standing literary club. Maybe they'll send along answers I can post here as well. And if you would like to join in the project, send your answers along.

Here are the Tantalizing Twelve questions:

1) List ten of your favorite books in five minutes.

2) What’s the last really good book you read?

3) Do you finish every book you start?

4) Do you re-read books? Do you re-read any books more than once or twice? Like what?

5) Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Or almost completely? Who?

6) Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?

7) Do you recommend books? If you do, give an example or two.

8) Do you read books that are more than one hundred years old?

9) What’s more important to you: the way a book is written or what the book is about?

10) Have you ever written a fan letter to an author?

11) Do you keep track of the books you read?

12) Okay, take a look at the list you made at the beginning.  Any changes you’d like to make?

And now for our answers.

1) List ten of your favorite books in five minutes. (I'll naturally assume the Bible would make your favorites list.)
Denny's answers:
Heaven by Randy Alcorn
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Manalive by G.K. Chesterton
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Civil War: A Narrative (3 Volumes) by Shelby Foote
A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Whichever Charles Dickens novel I last read

Claire's answers:
Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
The Mitford series by Jan Karon
The Sherlock Holmes canon by Arthur Conan Doyle
Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Heaven by Randy Alcorn
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

2) What’s the last really good book you read?
Denny's answer: Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow
Claire's answer: The Gentleman from Indiana by Booth Tarkington

3) Do you finish every book you start?
Denny's answer: No.
Claire's answer:  No.

4) Do you re-read books? Do you re-read any books more than once or twice?
Denny's answer: Yes.  Along with those mentioned in #1, I re-read with frequency the novels of Dickens, Dumas, Buchan, Tolkien, and several others.
Claire's answer: Yes. The Mitford series. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Tolkien books. Charles Dickens. Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

5) Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Or almost completely?
Denny's answer: Yes. Shakespeare. Solzhenitsyn. Dostoevsky. Dickens. Tolkien. Lewis. Chesterton. Schaeffer. James Mills. Erle Stanley Gardner and a whole lot of other mystery writers.
Claire's answer: Willa Cather. Jan Karon. Arthur Conan Doyle. Tolkien. C.S. Lewis. Charles Dickens. Alcorn.

6) Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?
Denny's answer: Fiction. Because it's often more true.
Claire's answer: Fiction. I love the combined experience of learning, entertainment, challenge, and appreciating the creative talents of storytellers.

7) Do you recommend books? If you do, give an example or two.
Denny's answer: Yes. Besides the Bible, my most regular recommendations are Heaven by Randy Alcorn and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
Claire's answer: Yes. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute, the Mitford series by Jan Karon, and Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

8) Do you read books that are more than one hundred years old?
Denny's answer: Yes, many.
Claire's answer: Yes.

9) What’s more important to you: the way a book is written or what the book is about?
Denny's answer: Both.
Claire's answer: Both.

10) Have you ever written a fan letter to an author?
Denny's answer: Yes. The most notable was one which created a friendship between James Mills and I.
Claire's answer: No.

11) Do you keep track of the books you read?
Denny's answer: Yes.
Claire's answer: Yes.

12) Okay, take a look at the list you made at the beginning.  Any changes you’d like to make?
Denny's answer: Only if I could add to the number.
Claire's answer: I couldn't take any of them away, but I could certainly add a lot more.

The Notting Hill Napoleons: A Christian Book Club Extraordinaire

A successful book club is one that provides intellectual stimulation, motivation, and accountability. But, good grief, it had better be fun too!

And, with those considerations, one of the most successful of all is the Notting Hill Napoleons, a literary society which has (for 23 years and counting) been a very rich source of blessing for its members.

The Napoleons started back in 1992 when Claire and I asked a few reading friends to join us in a monthly book discussion.  The club we proposed was one that would concentrate on quality novels; that is, books by talented writers who examined the most important human values and ideals.  We especially sought novels of literary richness that would sharpen our own thinking and communicating skills. Therefore, among the novels we chose in those early years were ones written by Charles Dickens, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, G.K. Chesterton, Sir Walter Scott, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alexandre Dumas, Evelyn Waugh, Leo Tolstoy, Walter Scott, Willa Cather, and William Shakespeare. Now, many of these authors had already been read by at least a few of the Napoleons, but usually only as a school project in our distant past. One of the quickest lessons we learned in our new club was that reading a book for a discussion with like-minded friends was ever more enriching and enjoyable than reading it for any school report.

All of the friends we invited to participate were dedicated Bible students, family-oriented, and involved in a variety of interests and ministries. Most of them were or had been teachers. More relevant, they were readers...readers of all kinds of books.  Nevertheless, whatever our reading amounts and skills were at the start, there is no doubt we are all stronger and more perceptive readers now because of the years of disciplined reading, the practice of reflection, and the talents in literary criticism derived from all of our book discussions.

And though we still read mysteries, biographies, history, politics, pop culture, and Bible studies, I think all the Napoleons would agree that the book club has spurred them to read much more classic literature than they would have ever done on their own.


However, I can almost hear some of you asking, “How can anyone find time to read War and Peace and still go to work, feed the kids, and put the cat out?”  Believe me, it can be done. Remember, the Notting Hill Napoleon members also have jobs, families, church responsibilities, numerous other interests, and ministry responsibilities. It comes down to two keys. 1) The Napoleons have all increased their reading speed and comprehension. And 2) We have all decreased the time spent in watching television and reading inferior stuff.

Also, for those of you who have less time or who read at a pace which would prohibit getting through War and Peace in a single month, there is a very simple solution.  Just make your book club one which meets every other month or even every quarter.  Any schedule or format that yields an increase in profitable reading and Christian fellowship is well worth it.

How to choose books?  That’s a problem that has ended many book clubs before they ever really got started.  The Napoleons understand that creating as much of a consensus as possible is paramount.  The members must have a common vision of what they want to read.  Simply using someone else’s reading list or even awarding each member a slot usually won’t do it.  Based upon our backgrounds and personal tastes, the Notting Hill Napoleons chose classic novels as our focus and over time we developed an election process which stresses consensus.

Other book clubs might opt for politics or history or perhaps a mix of genres. For instance, many years ago Vital Signs Ministries created a reading program which focuses on non-fiction: history, culture, religion, etc.  Among the authors we’ve read in this program are Chuck Colson, Whittaker Chambers, Randy Alcorn, Joni Eareckson-Tada, Nancy Pearcey, and Francis Schaeffer.  The schedule for that program is also a lot more flexible than the Notting Hill Napoleons.
What else can you get out of an effective book club? How about ongoing education? Or the conquest of “giant books” that heretofore overwhelmed you?  Don’t forget the development of conversational skills, critical thinking, and insights into legitimate literary criticism rather than those snide and heavy-handed techniques you learned in college.

And, not to be undervalued in the least, is the sheer enjoyment which comes from a successful literary club.  It’s all good.  Indeed, every Notting Hill meeting is a party, even when the discussion itself is pretty heavy.  We are good friends who have become even closer through the fellowship of the book club and who are more effective Christians because of the stimulation, accountability, and helpfulness we provide each other.

The Lordship of Jesus Christ should extend to every area of life – stretching, sharpening, and better equipping His servants to represent righteousness in our darkened world.  A Christian book club can be a part of that discipleship.  So why not consider getting involved in such a group yourself?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

So What Are English Lit Profs Teaching If Not Shakespeare?

The dumbing down of American students is, of course, preceded by the most bizarre fancies among the politically correct academicians who teach the poor kiddies.

A case in point?

Philip Sherwell, writing in the Telegraph, observes that only 4 of America’s 52 highest-ranked academic institutions [Harvard, University of California, Wellesley College, and the US Naval Academy] require a Shakespeare course in their English departments. How come? The American Council of Trustees and Alumni suggest that “Shakespeare’s demise as a subject of specialist study mirrored an increase in courses with emphasis on race, class, gender, and sexuality such as ‘Literature, Food, and the American Racial Diet’ at Princeton University.’”

Your tax dollars at work.

The Hobbit Movies: A Long & Lousy Adaptation

With the release of DVD box set of the The Hobbit, Peter Jackson’s stronghold on the Hobbit trilogy may finally be over. Undeniably, the trilogy has been incredibly successful on a US and worldwide stage. The three-film trilogy cost around US$765m to produce and made almost US$3 billion worldwide – so, a triumph for all those who had anything financial to gain from the franchise.

But despite this, it gained little attention. No mention on the award circuits. Not a very positive reception. The problem is, the films just aren’t very good. The Hobbit trilogy can be seen as one of the lowest points of the blockbuster culture and modern Hollywood film-making…

Watching The Hobbit is like a bad taxi ride in a new town. Instead of staying on the perfectly scenic direct route to your direction, your driver decides to take you up every side street just to show you the sights. Eventually you get so tired that you lose all interest in what attracted you to the town in the first place.

This is what can happen when you take a small novel and transform it into three overly long films…

What a disaster. Neither Tolkien’s family nor we can think of another film series that has adapted a well-known and beloved book in a less authentic and truthful way. There is hardly any resemblance left, except for some occasional names that readers might have heard before and that might resonate emotionally, only to certainly be destroyed in the next scene. The Hobbit not only fails as a cinematic achievement; it is also a lousy adaptation.

We can only hope that Peter Jackson’s epic failure might provide a blueprint to future directors as to how not to make a movie.

(From “The Hobbit box set released and finally, the Jackson saga is over” by Tom van Laer and Thorsten Hennig-Thurau in The Conversation.)

Is Robert Redford the "Most Influential" Actor Ever? Hardly.

“Looking at his work, past and present, I don’t think there’s any other actor who has had a bigger influence and impact on American cinema than Bob Redford.” (Jane Fonda)

Like usual, Jane is crazy. Whether one grades actors regarding to who set the trends in how movies would be made and marketed, box office appeal, achieving icon status, or setting the mark for quality cinema, there are a whole gang of actors whose influence has been more profound than Mr. Redford.

Want a list?

I nominate Douglas Fairbanks, Lon Chaney, Lilian Gish, Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Orson Welles, Greta Garbo, Shirley Temple, Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Marilyn Monroe.

A few more? How about Charles Laughton, Gary Cooper, Sidney Poitier, Cary Grant, Claudette Colbert, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, James Cagney, Vincent Price, Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly, Barbara Stanwyck, Woody Allen, James Dean, Ingrid Bergman, Robert De Niro, and Edward G. Robinson?

But I'm not done yet. There is Burt Lancaster, Lauren Bacall, Eddie Murphy, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Errol Flynn, Peter Sellers, and Steve McQueen.

And don't forget Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Sylvester Stallone, Marlene Dietrich, Charlton Heston, Rita Hayworth, George C. Scott, Charles Bronson, Alec Guinness, Doris Day, Jason Robards, Peter O’Toole, and Elizabeth Taylor.

And I didn't even mention Bugs Bunny.

No, Ms. Fonda, Robert Redford is an excellent actor and a moderately successful director. But the most influential ever? Not even close.