"The leader who intends to grow spiritually and intellectually will be reading constantly."

- J. Oswald Sanders
P. D. James Dies, 94

Crime novelist Phyllis Dorothy James, also Baroness James of Holland Park, died today in her home. She was 94.

Her publisher states, "This is a very sad day for us at Faber. It is difficult to express our profound sadness at losing P. D. James, one of the world’s great writers and a Faber author since her first publication in 1962. She was so very remarkable in every aspect of her life, an inspiration and great friend to us all. It is a privilege to publish her extraordinary books. Working with her was always the best of times, full of joy. We will miss her hugely."

In this interview last year, Lady James talked about growing old with this, "All things rather close down eventually. I was waiting for the old brain to shut down, but I do hope that is the last thing to go."

Glimmerglass

"Some years ago," writes John Wilson, "I described the novelist and poet Marly Youmans as "the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers." That's still true today (so I think), and if you haven't tried Youmans yet, her new novel, Glimmerglass, is a very good place to start." (via Prufrock)

Faber's Book of Loss and Strange New Things

Michel Faber has a fascinating story behind his novel, The Book of Strange New Things, as well as a curious story in the novel itself. The novel tells the story of an intergalactic missionary to works to translate the Bible to aliens who are not just a little different. They aren't beautiful Martian queens. They are completely foreign to human beings, and they want to know about Jesus and "the book of strange new things."

Steve Paulson of TTBOOK interviews Faber here as part of a show on science fiction.

'Joy Cometh with the Mourning,' by Dave Freer



Dave Freer is best known as a science fiction writer. I don’t know him personally, but we have several mutual friends. One of those friends sent me a free copy of Joy Cometh with the Mourning for review.

Reviewing this book is problematical for me, because of fundamental presuppositions. The main character is a female pastor, and most of you know I consider that unscriptural. Still, I read the book and found it appealing on its own terms.

Rev. Joy Norton, the protagonist, is a young pastor newly installed in a remote parish in Australia. She’s insecure about the call, as she’s never served in a rural church before, or on her own. The situation is complicated by the fact that her much-loved predecessor’s cause of death is unknown. What makes it worse is that she begins to suspect that there were improprieties in his conduct, which might have given one of her parishioners a motive to murder him.

Unlike the mysteries I usually review, Joy Cometh with the Mourning is a “cozy” mystery. Instead of turning over spiritual rocks and discovering evil, Rev. Joy looks into human hearts and finds goodness there. Even that particularly maligned species of humanity, the Church Lady, is treated with respect and affection in this story.

I enjoyed reading Joy Cometh with the Mourning. If you’re more tolerant than I am of egalitarianism in the church, you’ll probably enjoy it very much.

The Reason Lecrae Changed His Tune

Musician Lacrae has taken some heat for switching from writing explicitly Christian songs to writing songs on themes with broader appeal. He has appeared with artists and on shows that have drawn criticism from those who think the right thing to do is stick with people who claim to follow Christ.

But Lacrae says another believer, Andy Crouch, changed his mind a few years ago. Jemar Tisby explains, "Crouch says in his book, Culture Making, 'If culture is to change, it will be because of some new tangible (or audible or visible or olfactory) thing is presented to a wide enough public that it begins to reshape their world.' He proposes that instead of condemning, critiquing, copying, or uncritically consuming culture, something new has to displace the old. It appears Lecrae has been making new music in an attempt to do just that."

The tension point for this idea will be at the place where those who want to change people apply their cultural creations. I'm sure many will continue to create things that won't get anywhere near the people they want to influence, and they will say they are making new culture, but it isn't changing anyone. They're making Halloween candy in hopes of changing Christmas.

Le Guin: 'Resistance and Change Often Begin in the Art of Words'

Author Ursula Le Guin received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at this week's National Book Awards and inspired the crowd by holding up freedom as an author's best prize. "We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."

She said many things needed to change, and that change often begins in art, specifically the art of words. Writing books according to marketing formulas for corporate profit is a rotten idea, she said. We need artists.

Her speech was short, so you can easily watch the whole thing here.

In an interview, Le Guin said, “If you’re going to create a world out of whole cloth, that is to say, out of words, then you better get the words right.” You can read about her and her many books in The Guardian.

Behind the Scenes of "The Princess Bride"

Cary Elwes, whom you may know as Pierre Despereaux from Psyche, has written a book on his experiences making the film The Princess Bride. The book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, is a delightful book for fans and possibly movie buffs, and we have some of the revelations in this article in L.A. Weekly. Here are some of them.

Fox bought the movie rights to the book as soon as it was published in 1973, but it was 1987 when it finally played in theaters. In the meantime, many directors wanted to do it, including Robert Redford. Can you imagine Redford as The Dread Pirate Roberts (if he cast himself in his own film)?

Author William Goldman had seen many of his screenplays produced before The Princess Bride, but he was unprepared for the filming of this one. He freaked out on the first day when they were filming the scene in the fire swamp. "As soon as the gas geyser lit up her dress, Goldman burst out screaming, 'OH, MY GOD! HER DRESS IS ON FIRE! SHE'S ON FIRE!!!' Later, he scolded Reiner: 'You're setting fire to Robin on the first day?! What are you, nuts? It's not like we can replace her!'"

There's a word for that reaction, if I could only think of it.

Celebrity Coffee Labels

Would you buy coffee from Joey Kramer of Aerosmith? How about Grace Hightower’s Coffee of Rwanda, sold at Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Maybe Laughing Man coffee from Hugh Jackman, which gives all of its proceeds to charity? Apparently, they aren't bad.

Also from our coffee connoisseur desk, confessions from baristas.

The Jack Stratton novels, by Christopher Greyson



It’s a rare treat to discover an author and a series of books I enjoy very much, and which I can recommend to our readers almost without reservation. But that’s the case with Christopher Greyson and his Jack Stratton novels.

Jack Stratton, the hero of the series, is a cop in a South Carolina town. He’s a good man, but wound tight. As a boy he was abandoned by his prostitute mother, but found refuge in a loving mixed race foster home before being adopted by a good family. As a young man he served in Iraq beside one of his foster brothers, Chandler. He saw Chandler die, and because of survivor’s guilt he hasn’t contacted his foster family since.

That’s until Replacement invades his life. “Replacement” is the nickname of a young woman who grew up in his old foster home, though after his time there. She shows up in his apartment and tells him Michelle, a foster sister to whom he was always close, has disappeared. She’d been studying in a local college, but supposedly transferred to a California school. Only she hasn’t gotten in touch with her family, and she wouldn’t do that.

With Replacement as his uninvited assistant, he starts looking into Michelle’s life, and discovers troubling things. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Points on Interstellar

Jeffrey Overstreet reviews Interstellar, whose trailer really draws me but I gather the movie may not get me singing. I haven't seen it read, nor have I read all of Jeff's review. Still, I'm sure it's good, so I wanted to link to it.

Our friend Hunter Baker says I enjoyed the film, but could not swallow a major plot rationale. Have you seen it? What do you think?

The Autobiography of a Pioneer Girl

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her autobiography before her Little House Series and could not find a publisher for it. This month, over eighty years later, an annotated edition will be published. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography has been edited by Pamela Smith Hill, who wrote her own biography of Wilder a few years ago. She blogs about her subject here. In a recent post, a Wilder co-researcher explains a bit of research on a story from a terrible winter.

Wilder places the story of the schoolteacher and his improvised igloo in the winter of 1884–1885, but the setup is strongly reminiscent of the “children’s blizzard,” a storm that struck without warning on a warm day in January 1888 and killed more than a hundred schoolchildren as they struggled to get home. Wilder did not always remember events in their true chronological order, and it seemed likely that she misplaced this one. But she does not give the teacher’s name, and the Kingsbury County newspapers that could complete the story have been lost, so there, it appeared, the matter would rest.

Do Some Protestants Believe in Purgatory?

Gene Edward Veith points out a news story about Professor Jerry L. Walls, who teaches the idea of purgatory and has written about it in Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. Walls apparently buys into the Catholic understanding of the purification of believers. As this article explains, followers of Christ must be purified even if they are forgiven of all their sins. Their sanctification is not fully accomplished by Christ's work on the cross, but by some spiritual process between death and paradise. David Gibson of RNS states, "In recent years, the emphasis [for purgatory's purpose] has swung from 'satisfying' the justice of God through painful reparations to one of sanctification, or becoming holy.

“'To suggest instead that Christians will enjoy a kind of express executive elevator at the time of death is to suggest that those who work hard on holiness in this life are wasting their efforts,' John G. Stackhouse, Jr., a popular evangelical author at Canada’s Regent College wrote in an essay on Walls’ ideas in The Christian Century."

This Catholic writer explains, "Catholic theology takes seriously the notion that 'nothing unclean shall enter heaven.' From this it is inferred that a less than cleansed soul, even if 'covered,' remains a dirty soul and isn’t fit for heaven." But I guess Christ's atonement does not accomplish this, so though we are fully saved by his grace, we must be fully purified by purgatory's refining fire, which has been a big problem historically (not to mention the fact that the Protestant Bible doesn't allow for even prayers on behalf of the dead).

Jerry Jenkins' Christian Writers Guild Shuts Down

Popular Christian novelist Jerry Jenkins has closed the doors on the Christian Writers Guild. The Guild was founded in the 1960s. Jenkins has owned it since 2001. Christianity Today has some details on why it is shutting down, perhaps due to diverging interests for Jenkins and Dave Sheets, the recently resigned guild president. Sheets is now heading up BeliversMedia, which will offer many and more of the things found in the Christian Writers Guild.

Is a Content Creator Required to Interact with Readers?

Matthew Ingram argues that media companies, particularly content creators like Reuters, should allow their readers to comment on articles. If they don't, they are shutting out potential fan support.

Reuters recently removed its comment section, saying self-policing social networks were already handling lively discussion well so they didn't need to duplicate the effort. Ingram says by doing this, Reuters is handing a large slice of market value to Facebook and Twitter (among other networks) as well as move any arguments over an article onto other venues where Reuters' writers will have to decide how to respond on their own. He explains:

Is moderation a pain, and an expensive proposition? Sure it is. Lots of things that matter to your business are expensive. And if you have an engaged community, they can become your moderators, as successful online communities like Slashdot and Metafilter have shown — which in turn helps strengthen your community. Ending comments means removing any chance that this will ever happen.
A news service probably needs all the love it can get. Does Reuters really want their writers to tweet their defense of contentious reports or take the debate to Medium?

Will Bill Watterson Return to Comics?

Is Bill Watterson returning to comics? Gracy Olmstead suggests, "Now, after all this time, Watterson is free to create again—to create something new." (via Prufrock)

Pixar Is Reviving Disney Animation Studios

Caitlin Roper tells the story. "Once upon a time, around the turn of the century, in the sunny town of Burbank, there was a great old animation company that was no longer great. Its films were various kinds of bad, but they all had some things in common: They didn't resonate with audiences, they didn't introduce unforgettable characters, and they didn't sell tickets or DVDs."

Disney Animation wasn't being run by artists anymore, perhaps not even by people who loved movies, Roper says. They had unremarkable business people picking stories and making movies happen.

"Disney's movies just seemed to lack ... heart," Roper says. "Take Home on the Range. From its predictable opening song to its by-the-numbers plot about a cow that's lost her home and her friends, the movie was a dusty ride through stock archetypes and one-note sidekicks. In contrast, Pixar's The Incredibles, which came out the same year, immediately introduced audiences to a unique and relatable protagonist as he struggles to attach a microphone to his spandex supersuit.... Mr. Incredible may be a superhero, but he's just like us. That epitomizes Pixar's approach to storytelling. 'The connection you make with your audience is an emotional connection,' Lasseter says. 'The audience can't be told to feel a certain way. They have to discover it themselves.'”

'One Bright Star to Guide Them,' by John C. Wright



“Innocence and faith are the weapons children bring to bear against open evils; wisdom is required to deal with evils better disguised.”

You might be tempted, on the basis of its description, to think John C. Wright’s novella, One Bright Star to Guide Them, is simple Narnia fanfic. A story of four adults, who were once children who entered a magical land peopled by magicians and talking animals.

But it’s more than that. This story is a transposition of Narnia. Author Wright moves the whole concept onto a different level. It's a meditation on the most terrible line in all the Narnia books – “Susan is no longer a friend of Narnia.” Thomas, the protagonist, is summoned to take up a new fight against a revived evil. But when he contacts his childhood companions, he finds that – for one reason or another – they are not willing to join him. So he has to test his faith alone, except for the help of their old guide, a mystical kitten called Tybalt.

One Bright Star to Guide Them is a quick read, but entirely worthy of the material that inspired it. Beautiful in places. Highly recommended.

Starr endorsement

Author Rachel Starr Thompson takes up valuable space in an interview to say nice things about my work.

I could never do the grit Lars Walker does, but I kind of wish I had written The Year of the Warrior. Wolf Time is amazing too. Actually, I love all of Lars’s books. - See more here

New Book on George Whitefield

Thomas Kidd has a new biography on one of America's great evangelists, George Whitefield.

Although I deeply respect and appreciate him, my Whitefield is not a perfect man. As Whitefield readily admitted, he struggled with the temptations of fame, and I also show his besetting difficulties in relating to other evangelical leaders such as the Wesleys. Most disappointing (as Dallimore noted too) was Whitefield’s advocacy for slavery, and his personal owning of slaves.
I thought I had read that he opposed slavery and got into trouble with some Georgian businessmen for saying so.

DIY Coffee for Blue Collar Workers

When Edward Samudro started his Yellow Truck coffeeshop, affordable coffee was not available in his city Bandung, West Java, Indosesia. If students or blue collar workers had a taste for good coffee, they would have to spend half a day's pay (if they had an income) on one cup. At Yellow Truck, customers can work the coffeemaker themselves. Samudro "wants them to know that coffee 'actually has taste;' it doesn’t have to be bitter."

As a roaster who sources the beans from local farmers, he also has a social mission: to improve the welfare of the families that make their living from selling coffee. That means educating coffee drinkers to demand the flavor that comes from good beans. Mr. Samudro says it’s a long term investment that he hopes will pay off eventually. In the meantime, he’s creating a no fuss, bare bones hangout that epitomizes the Indonesian art of nongkrong – essentially sitting around and chatting for hours.

Unbelievable, True-to-Life Hollywood Mystery

When director William Desmond Taylor was murdered, no one in 1922 Los Angeles knew who did it. William Mann spins all the details into a wild noir that "seems far too cinematic to be credible. Yet every word of it is true," writes Stefan Kanfer.

... the author spins a terrific yarn, though he frequently goes into overdrive, with staccato, machine gun-style sentences, as if to keep his readers’ attention from wandering: "Three long blond hairs. Clearly not Taylor’s. With a tweezers, the detective removed the hairs and placed them in an envelope. Now he just needed to match them to someone’s head."
(via Prufrock)

Child on 'Day of the Jackal'

From this interview in England last September, author Lee Child mentions Fredrick Forsyth.

I think that Without Fail [2002] would actually be my homage to Day of the Jackal, because it explicitly references Forsyth’s book. The emphasis there is placed upon the assassins planning for escape, as opposed to the [1993] Clint Eastwood/Wolfgang Peterson film, In the Line of Fire, in which the assassin knows he won’t be able to escape. As I said at the CWA Diamond Daggers ceremony, The Day of the Jackal … was Year Zero for the current generation of thriller writers; it was different, and re-set the clock, and we’ve all had to deal with it ever since. So, I didn’t mean it as a direct homage but acknowledged--for all of us, readers and writers--that Fredrick Forsyth is a giant figure, and his debut novel casts a giant shadow over the genre.

Lessons Learned by Reading Book Inscriptions

In Theodore Dalrymple's essay "Eternal Youth, Eternal Kitsch," we learn of the dangers of inscribing a book to just about anyone. Of course, the reason a book has been discarded and subsequently found in a second-hand shop isn't necessarily singular, so you might dedicate a copy of Love Everlasting to "My Dearest Wife without whom I could not live" and find that you no longer have the space for it in your library (or that the story was pretty awful) and, despite the love note, discard it. I find the book in a second-hand shop, I am not forced to conclude that your love did not last. But there are other lessons. (via Anecdotal Evidence)

One of the lessons it teaches is that one should never inscribe a book intended as a gift with a poem of one’s own, for it is sure to be bad and probably pretentious, ridiculous in the eyes of anyone other than the person one wishes to impress with it. Bad poetry fulfils a social function, of course, for reading bad poetry is an easy way to learn to appreciate good poetry; but still the rule holds that if you feel a compulsion to inscribe a gift with poetry, it is best to quote someone else’s.

The Jimmy "Soldier" Riley mysteries, by Michael Lister



For a little while, while I was reading the first Jimmy “Soldier” Riley mystery, I thought I’d found something wonderful to recommend to you. Alas, the execution did not live up to the promise.

Jimmy Riley’s nickname is “Soldier,” which embarrasses him a little. World War II is raging, but he never actually served in it. He’s missing his right arm, but he lost that in a gun fight in his capacity as a cop. Now he’s a private detective in Panama City, Florida.

But his mind isn’t on his work these days. He’s desperately in love – with the wife of a rich banker. He thought she felt the same way about him, but she broke their affair off one day, without explanation. Now he’s mooning around the office, and his partner is worried about him.

But one day Lauren, the Woman He Loves, comes to his office to ask if he’s been following her (he hasn’t). She refuses to hire him to investigate, but he starts looking on his own initiatve.

That’s the promising set-up of The Big Goodbye, the first book in a trilogy. Unfortunately, the following books, The Big Beyond and The Big Hello, don’t live up to expectations. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Your Reformation Day Treat: A treasury of insults

"Your words are so foolishly and ignorantly composed that I cannot believe you understand them."

The Luther Insult Generator may be found here. Hours of innocent fun for you and your family.

Why Read Calvin's Institutes?

Justin Taylor quotes J.I. Packer on how great and necessary reading Calvin's Institutes is for modern believers.

Packer explains that Calvin’s magnum opus is one of the great wonders of the world:

Calvin’s Institutes (5th edition, 1559) is one of the wonders of the literary world—the world, that is, of writers and writing, of digesting and arranging heaps of diverse materials, of skillful proportioning and gripping presentation; the world . . . of the Idea, the Word, and the Power. . . .

The Institutio is also one of the wonders of the spiritual world—the world of doxology and devotion, of discipleship and discipline, of Word-through-Spirit illumination and transformation of individuals, of the Christ-centered mind and the Christ-honoring heart. . . .

Calvin’s Institutio is one of the wonders of the theological world, too—that is, the world of truth, faithfulness, and coherence in the mind regarding God; of combat, regrettable but inescapable, with intellectual insufficiency and error in believers and unbelievers alike; and of vision, valuation, and vindication of God as he presents himself through his Word to our fallen and disordered minds. . . .

Legacies of the Reformation

Two pastors are celebrating the legacy they see in the Reformation. Tony Carter notes that one principle of the Reformers was universal literacy.

"The will of God is first and foremost a written revelation and if we are going to faithfully seek and understand his will we are going to have to be readers of God’s word. Luther’s translation of the Bible into the language of the people was key in making sure the Reformation would continue past his generation."

So for people who are reluctant to read well and have been denied education in the past, the Reformers are their champions. They say, "You are the chosen people of the book. Take up God's Holy Word and read it yourself, because in the Word is abundant life no matter your circumstances."

Louis Love talks about the church of his youth buying new hymnals that came with responsive reading, creeds, and a confession. His pastor began incorporating new, doctrine-based elements into their worship, and Love was surprised to learn this new material was from the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833. They were learning from old ministers who had been discipled in Reformation theology.

"Be not ashamed of your faith," he quotes another pastor. "Remember it is the ancient gospel of the martyrs, confessors, reformers, and saints. Above all, it is the truth of God, against which all the gates of Hell cannot prevail."

Philip Duncanson shares a personal story of his discovery of Reformation history as a high-school boy who had yet to surrender to Christ, despite growing up in a Christian home. "It wasn’t the courage of Martin Luther to stand up against the powerful Catholic Church that fascinated me, although that was good drama. It was the fact that for the first time I realized that the Christian experience that I thought I had known all my life was actually tied to human history. Imagine that, at 15, Christianity was a concept that I had only tied to my generation, and at best, my parent’s generation."

Luther Keeps It Simple

Carl Trueman writes, "If Augustine freed the church from the back-breaking self-martyring piety of Pelagius, Luther freed her from centuries of obfuscating complication. . . Luther saw clearly that the Christian life is actually distinguished not by elaborate complexity but by its beautiful, simple, accessible Christ."

Book Recommendations from Librarians or Algorithms?

"Librarians have been suggesting books to patrons for literally forever, mostly during actual face-to-face conversations," Jessica Leber states. Can math model do it better, and more importantly, do we want it to?

Brooklyn's public library set up a title recommendation service in which their librarians would read your submission and respond with appropriate books. It took a while at first.

"Wait time aside," Leber says, "when I received my own response two weeks later, I had in hand not five, but six well thought out suggestions of literary science fiction novels I might enjoy (as per my request), all from authors I’d never read before. I felt really good about the list--not because I’ve actually read the six books yet, but by simply knowing there was a human being involved in creating it. The titles genuinely all seemed like books I might read, and Emily Heath, the librarian who fulfilled my request, had even placed a card catalogue-linked list in my online library account so I could more easily find and borrow them."

The human element is part of what David Swartz misses in bookless libraries. When everything is digital and can only be found through search requests, you may be able to find what you're looking for but not be able to stumble across the extra information you need. (via Prufrock)

The State of Theology in America

Wittenberg

The wonderfully Reformed Ligonier Ministries issued a survey through LifeWay Research to identify what points of doctrine Americans believe. As you would imagine, Americans are all over the theological map, but what statements do they believe reflect reality? Will there be people in heaven who have never heard of Jesus Christ? Forty-one percent believe so. Is even the smallest sin worthy of damnation? Only fifty-one percent of self-professed evangelical protestants believe that's true and only ten percent of all respondents agree strongly. Is God unconcerned with my day-to-day decisions? Twenty percent say he is unconcerned. And pertinent to the central question of the Reformation, must someone contribute his own effort to his personal salvation? Seventy-one percent of surveyed Americans agree, fifty-four percent being evangelical protestants.

Dr. R. C. Sproul believes our country is sliding into a new dark ages of spiritual life, and this survey doesn't change his mind. Get all the details on their website, including a great infographic.

Notice the section on worshipping alone. That's one of those points of application that reveal our theological assumptions. Do we need worship the Lord together? Is our salvation essentially individualistic? Does a local church have any spiritual authority over us? Americans appear to have lost an understanding of the purpose of a local church.

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