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!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year’s Best Reads (2016)

Of the 73 books read in 2016 (besides the Bible itself), I found the most challenge, information, enjoyment, and overall appreciation in the following. The ones in bold typeface represent the ones I recommend the most heartily. Of course, you might well smile when you see that all of the re-reads are in bold but why not? I read them again and again because they are, in fact, outstandingly excellent.

Books read for the first time:
* The Snakebite Letters (Peter Kreeft)
* The Smoke at Dawn (Jeff Shaara)
* Fool’s Talk (Os Guinness)
* Cheaper by the Dozen (Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey)
* The Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss)
* Bob Flame: Rocky Mountain Ranger (Dorr Yeager)
* The Damsel in Distress (P.G. Wodehouse)
* Vandemark’s Folly (Herbert Quick)
* The Battle of Gettysburg (Frank Aretas Haskell)
* The Overcoming Life and Other Sermons (D.L. Moody)
* hand in Hand (Randy Alcorn)
* Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Colin Duriez)

Books that were re-reads:
* Heaven (Randy Alcorn)
* The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas)
* Twenty Years After (Alexandre Dumas)
* The Vicomte de Bragelonne (Alexandre Dumas)
* Louise de la Vallière (Alexandre Dumas)
* The Man in the Iron Mask (Alexandre Dumas)
* The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
* Out of the Silent Planet (C.S. Lewis)
* Perelandra  (C.S. Lewis)
* That Hideous Strength (C.S. Lewis)
* Manalive (G.K. Chesterton)
* Orthodoxy (G.K.Chesterton)
* The Magician’s Nephew (C.S. Lewis)
* The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis)
* The Horse and His Boy (C.S.Lewis)
* Prince Caspian (C.S. Lewis)
* The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C.S. Lewis)
* The Silver Chair (C.S. Lewis)
* The Last Battle (C.S. Lewis)
* The Black Arrow (Robert Louis Stevenson)
* Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
* Ben-Hur (Lew Wallace)
* The Church Before the Watching World (Francis Schaeffer)
* The Chimes (Charles Dickens)
* A Christmas Longing (Joni Eareckson Tada)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Quiz --- Number Three

For the previous quizzes, simply scroll down through the blog.

1) In what year did Charles Dickens write A Christmas Carol? A) 1790 B) 1843 C) 1890 D) 1933

2) Which popular Christmas song was actually written for Thanksgiving? A) “Frosty the Snowman” B) “Winter Wonderland” C) “Jingle Bells” D) “It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” E) “Deck the Halls”

3) In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus reads about the real reason for the season from what book? A) The gospel of Luke B) The gospel of Matthew C) “The Little Drummer Boy” D) A Christmas Carol

4) After worshiping the baby Jesus, the magi from the east were warned by God in a dream not to return to: A) Egypt B) Parthia C) Jerusalem D) Bethlehem

5) “Adeste Fideles” is more commonly known as: A) “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” B) “Frosty the Snowman” C) “The Christmas Song” D) “Silver Bells”

6) Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus the Savior literally means: A) Salvation B) House of bread C) Without a home D) Anointed home

7) Who wrote the short story, “The Gift of the Magi”? A) Charles Dickens B) Lewis Carroll C) O. Henry D) Clement Moore E) Mark Twain

8) The Messiah, George Frederick Handel's beloved Christmas oratorio, was first performed in 1742. In what city was it performed? A) London, England B) Jerusalem in what was then known as Palestine C) Dublin, Ireland D) Berlin, Germany

9) One of the marvelous adventures of the great detective, Sherlock Holmes, is set in the Christmas season. The story involves: A) The murder of a man disguised as Father Christmas B) A valuable gem discovered in a dead goose C) A secret message hidden in a child's doll D) A bomb in a Yule log designed to assassinate the King of England.

10) The first people to receive a “formal announcement” of Jesus' birth were common laborers who were looked down upon as social inferiors. Who were they? A) Shepherds B) Tax collectors C) Reporters D) Actors

11) How many wise men visited the stable on the night Jesus was born? A) 3 B) 7 C) 12 D) None

12) In the poem, “”Twas the Night Before Christmas,” what headgear was worn by the Momma? A) Nightcap B) Red towel C) Christmas stocking D) Kerchief

13) In Victorian times, Londoners would have been familiar with a “goose club.” What was that? A) Holly boughs wrapped up and set on the fire B) A three-stringed musical instrument C) A method of saving to buy a goose for Christmas D) A group of Christmas merry-makers, usually involved in mischief

14) For what singing cowboy was “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” a smash hit? A) Gene Autry B) Tex Ritter C) Hank Williams D) Roy Rogers E) Rex Allen

15) The flight into Egypt was: A) Saint Nicholas' escaping from the Turks B) The magi fleeing from Herod C) The nation of Israel being delivered from Pharaoh D) The Holy Family traveling to safety after a message from God

Answers: 1) B 2) C -- James Pierpont composed the song in 1857. It's original title? “One Horse Open Shay.” 3) A 4) C – King Herod (in Jerusalem) had told the magi to return to him and give a report on Jesus' whereabouts. However, he wanted not to worship Jesus (as he had lied), but rather to murder him. 5) A 6) B 7) C 8) C -- Handel wrote the work to aid charities in Ireland. 9) B -- In “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” Holmes recovers a gorgeous diamond and, in the charitable spirit of the Christmas season, allows the repentant thief to escape imprisonment if he promises to leave England forever. 10) A 11) D – The Bible does not say how many magi there were who came to visit and worship Jesus. Most Bible scholars believe it was probably several. However, the visit of the magi almost certainly did not occur on Christmas night but many months after Jesus' birth. 12) D 13) C -- “Goose clubs” were popular with the working-class of London, who paid a small amount every week towards the purchase of a goose or turkey to eat for Christmas dinner. 14) A 15) D

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas-Themed Reading Suggestions

1) Reading aloud the Christmas accounts in Matthew and Luke should be an indispensable part of a family's Christmas celebration. But Papa should also instruct his children from his study of these texts and others relevant to the Advent of Jesus. For instance, the mystery of the magi, the significance of the shepherds, the nuggets contained in the genealogies, the miracle of the virgin conception, and many other of the profound details of the first Christmas should be fully explored. Christmas literature can be tremendously inspiring and fun, but the emphasis should always be put on the historical, supernatural truths of the Savior's Advent. With that understood, then, here are a few suggestions to expand your Yuletide reading.

2) Joni Eareckson-Tada's A Christmas Longing. A splendid work featuring inspirational art done by mouth-artist Joni and profound biblical commentary. This is an important book for your complete enjoyment of Christmas.

3) John MacArthur's God With Us. MacArthur is one of America's best Bible scholars and he shows it to great effect in this very interesting look at Christmas.

4) Our old pal, the very talented Calvin Miller has a nifty little Christmas novel entitled Snow that I joyfully recommend.

5) Of course, Charles Dickens is indispensable to the full-bodied Christmas that we love. But besides A Christmas Carol (that most exquisite of short stories), Dickens has also given us Cricket on the Hearth, The Haunted Man, The Chimes, and many other seasonal gems. Got your library card? Or a Kindle?

6) Don't settle for just watching the movie. Why not read the original text of Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies? You'll be pleased you did.

7) A definite must for Claire's and my holiday season is sitting down with a hot mug of something and listening to an old recording of Dylan Thomas reading his own fabulous poem, “A Child's Christmas in Wales.” I feel sorry for you if you don't have access to that experience, but you can at least read it yourself. So grab a copy at the library – or maybe whip up a batch of cookies and pay us a visit We'll be more than happy to heat up the old Victrola!

8) Henry Van Dyke wrote several religious Christmas stories but “The Other Wise Man” is his not-to-be-missed classic. It is a perfect family read.

9) “The Gift of the Magi” is O. Henry's claim to Christmas fame and rightly he earned it. But he has several other Christmas stories you'd enjoy as well.

10) G.K. Chesterton's Christmas gifts not only include some of the wonderful poetry we include in these pages, but a Father Brown detective story entitled, “The Flying Stars.”

11) Did you know that even Sherlock Holmes has a Christmas adventure? You bet! Check out Conan Doyle's “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.”

12) Poetry – man, there's a gang of excellent Christmas poetry that's been written but in our post-Christian culture, you have to work hard to find it. It's another reason to cultivate friendships with old books. However, you can find a few of the best by perusing The Book Den postings listed under the Christmas category.

13) And here’s a few more suggestions from our Christmas reading of recent years: Don Reid’s O Little Town; Richard Paul Evans’ Finding Noel; Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from G. K. Chesterton; John Snyder’s The Golden Ring: A Christmas Story;  Bess Streeter Aldrich’s The Drum Goes Dead; Louisa May Alcott’s short story, “The Quiet Little Woman: A Christmas Story;” Washington Irving's Old Christmas; Fr. Val J. Peter’s Gifts for a Joyous Christmas; William Dean Howells’s short story, “Christmas Every Day;” Anthony Trollope’s Christmas at Thompson Hall; Kate Douglas Wiggin’s The Bird's Christmas Carol; and finally, Joseph Bottum's “Wise Guy.”

Happy Christmas, dear friends, and happy reading!