"Never judge a book by its movie."

- J. W. Eagan
Who Created Batman?

Today is Batman Day. The Bat-Man, as he was once called, is 75 years old today, and DC Comics wants everyone to celebrate. Ignoring rumors that one-year-old prince George is being groomed to take on the Dark Knight's mantle (don't call him Robin), Jim Lee talks about the future of the character with Entertainment Weekly. He mentions strong fan-boy love for Batman ’66 on Blu-ray. I guess the cheese is never too far from Gotham City.

Apparently there's one part of Batman's history the publishers have never quite settled: who actually created him? Today they are giving out special edition reprints Detective Comics #27 (1939), in which The Bat-Man first appears. The cover of this issue states it was "illustrated by creator Bob Kane and written by Bill Finger." The official word from DC Entertainment is that Bill Finger was a great guy who helped write many things, but Bob Kane was the first to imagine the hero.

[Steve] Korté, a 20-year DC Comics veteran, explains the sequence of events that lead to the creation and development of Batman. “After Superman debuted in 1938 and became an instant hit, DC editor Vince Sullivan asked Bob Kane to come up with a superhero, which he did with Batman,” he adds. “During that process, he went to a friend, Bill Finger, who gave him some tips on costume adjustments. For example, Bob initially drew bat wings on Batman. Bill suggested a scalloped cape. After Batman became a hit in May, 1939, Bob brought in more people throughout the year.”
Both men are dead now, but Finger's granddaughter is rally fans to give Bill the credit she believes he deserves.

R.I.P. The Rockford Files (James Garner)

The death of James Garner this weekend has affected me more than is reasonable. I certainly didn’t know the man, and we very likely wouldn’t have gotten along if we’d met. He was a lifelong lefty, and by all accounts a pacifist. His favorite movie of his own was “The Americanization of Emily,” an anti-war film whose message (as I recall it) was that anybody who fought in World War II was a chump.

I read Andrew Klavan’s laudatory post today, along with our friend S. T. Karnick’s more equivocal one. Klavan sees Garner’s Maverick and Rockford characters as laudable examples of American individualism, lost today in a flood of cop shows. Karnick finds the anti-heroism of those same characters a sign of cultural decline.

For me, although I like Maverick, The Rockford Files is a personal touchstone. I consider it the best network detective show ever produced in America. Over a six year run the characters remained lively (often very funny), the acting excellent, and the scripts only slipped a little at the end.

I read a critique once that described the Jim Rockford character as “pusillanimous.” I don’t agree. What he was, in my view, was a believable good guy. Unlike the standard American TV hero, he had no illusions of invincibility (you could sometimes detect the limp that came from Garner’s real life bad knees). Like any sensible man in the real world, he didn’t fight if he could talk his way out, and he’d run away if he had a chance. Because fights with other guys are rarely a good idea. But when he had no choice, or when a principle, or a friend or client, was threatened, Jim stood up and gave as good as he got.

The relationships made the show work. Jim’s father (the great Noah Beery, Jr.) loved him dearly and worried about him, and Jim clearly reciprocated. Nevertheless they nagged and teased each other all the time, and did not hesitate to trick each other out of a free meal or a tank of gas. Jim’s old prison buddy Angel (Stuart Margolin) was a brilliant addition – a man with no redeeming qualities whatever, but Jim remained loyal to him. We never knew why, but we loved him for his grace. His lawyer, the lovely Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) admitted she was in love with him, but had accepted the fact that the guy couldn’t be domesticated. And Sgt. Dennis Becker of the LAPD (Joe Santos) put up with a lot of flack from the department in order to maintain a sometimes stormy friendship with the low-rent PI. It was an ensemble effort, and a thing of beauty (by the way, I pulled all those actors’ names out of my memory without consulting Wikipedia, which will give you an idea how many times I’ve watched the credits).

The rusty trailer on the beach at Malibu. The copper-brown Pontiac Firebird. The wide-lapelled 1970s sport coats. The gun in the cookie jar. The answering machine. It all felt, if not like home, like a friend’s home to which we were welcome once a week. It meant a lot to me. Still does. I watch it every Sunday on the MeTV broadcast channel.

Jim Rockford made me want to be a better man. And it didn't seem impossible to do it his way.

I’m not sure I want to live in an America without James Garner in it. We take ourselves too seriously already.

Alton Brown, Media Mogul

At least twice on my current list of regrets is that I have not learn enough from Alton Brown. The man is the mad scientist of culinary delight. Grade school kids should have classes based on Good Eats. Here's a recent morning interview he did that briefly mentions his many media products.

The Changing World of Publishing

Philip Yancey writes about this many years of experience in publishing.

I had an enlightening experience with e-books in 2013. In April I finished the book The Question That Never Goes Away, based on my visits to three places of great tragedy. My traditional publisher wanted at least nine months lead time to publish it, the typical schedule for a new book, yet new tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombings, tornadoes, and school shootings were occurring almost weekly, the very situations my book addressed. So I signed on for an Amazon-exclusive program to publish an e-book for 90 days before the hard copy book came out. Leaning on my friends for email lists, I managed to sell about 3,000 copies. On September 11 and Thanksgiving weekend I offered free downloads and 40,000 people downloaded the book! The moral of the story, as many have learned: things can quickly go viral on the Internet but it's a tough place to generate income.

'There Are No Jobs in Academia.'

Ryan Anderson is a grad student in anthropology (not the clothing store). "I realized how bad things were when I was about half way through my PhD program—and it didn’t help that the global economy was literally crashing right when I started. You know, the whole 'Great Recession' thing. After one year, I nearly dropped out. Looking back, maybe that would have been the better decision. But, for some reason, I kept going…in part because of a vague hope that things would somehow 'work out.' I too pinned my hopes on that imagined employer."

The bottom line, he says, is this isn't the 1960s and there are no jobs in academia. He points to data showing about 36,000 new PhDs for every 3,000 new positions created. Is this education making 33,000 better people or just dragging them and their families down? (via Anthony Bradley)

The Cole Sage novels, by Micheal Maxwell

A few days back I reviewed Micheal Maxwell’s novel Diamonds and Cole, which I liked very much. I liked it so much that I went on to purchase the next three books in the series, Cellar Full of Cole, Helix of Cole, and Cole Dust, and read them all at speed. Though I have quibbles, I recommend the series highly.

First, the quibbles. The titles, as you can see from the previous paragraph, are a little silly.

Secondly, there are weaknesses in plotting. Occasionally our hero Cole Sage makes an improbable deductive leaap (always correctly, of course). And the stories tend to be episodic, a sin to which I too am prone in my own books.

And there are word problems. Author Maxwell is prone to homophone confusions, like “waste” for “waist.” At one point he describes Cole’s granddaughter’s hair, well established as dark and curly, as “flaxen.” Maybe he doesn’t know what flaxen means. Who sees flax these days?

But I easily forgive these minor sins, and I think you will too. Cole Sage is a fresh kind of mystery hero. He’s essentially optimistic, and he enjoys making life better for the people he meets. No cynical, hard-boiled attitude here. Cole likes life, and he likes people.

In the second book, Cellar Full of Cole, we find our newspaper reporter hero, newly relocated from Chicago to San Francisco, facing off against a serial killer who targets little girls. His investigation is motivated in part by his fears for his own granddaughter, who he never knew existed until the previous year.

In Helix of Cole he is singled out by an old ‘60s radical, on the basis of a news story he wrote decades ago. This radical has a nuclear device, and a god delusion, and he won’t let anybody but Cole near him.

Finally, Cole Dust is an entire narrative departure. Cole learns a relative he barely knew has died, leaving him a house in Oklahoma. In that house he finds the journal of his grandfather, a man he barely remembers. Spending a month in residence, he gets the chance to get to know a remarkable, courageous, deeply flawed man with a dramatic, tragic story. He also gets acquainted with the inhabitants of a nice little town, portrayed more sympathetically than such people would be portrayed in most mysteries.

Another book by Maxwell, a flawed but interesting non –Cole novella called Three Nails, provides some insight into the author. It would appear he’s a Christian of some sort. Probably more liberal than I am, but emphatically Christian, even evangelical. Which means he’s doing what so many of us talk about but rarely do – writing novels that aren’t evangelistic tracts, but straight stories in which Christianity is implicit rather than preached. For which I laud him.

There must have been some rough language, but I don’t recall much. There are a couple homosexual recurring characters, one of whom is what you’d call “flamboyant.” But there’s no preaching on the subject, pro or con.

All in all, I endorse the Cole Sage novels highly, though your mileage may vary. E-book only, and not expensive.

Bullies on Mars Hill

The stories out of Seattle regarding Mars Hill Church are one of the reasons this past year has been one of my hardest. I hate this news. Many stories are coming forward through many venues.

This co-founder of the church, who left in 2007, says:

It has been written, spoke of and declared, that in order for a church to be “On Mission” that sometimes people need to be “Run over by the bus” and a large pile of bodies is a good thing. I know where this kind of thinking came from because I believed it to be true and was in full agreement. While it is true that those who desire to lead people astray (the bible calls them wolves) need to be dealt with, I believe we went way too far and responded with anger and self-righteousness’ in throwing people under the bus. I ask your forgiveness for my part in promoting and approving this kind of behavior, it was godless!
Run over by the bus? Is that a line from the Inquisition?

A long article with many stories of spiritual abuse appeared this week on Crosscut.com. It describes Driscoll's inflammatory language, the congregation's habit of shunning disgraced members, and narcissism from many leaders. Witnesses claim the church encourages misogyny and sermons are "relevant" at all costs.

Stacey Solie writes, "Driscoll also started to preach more about male privilege and sexual entitlement. This had a damaging impact on many marriages, said Rob Thain Smith, who, with Merle, was acting as an informal marriage counselor to many young couples.

'He created enormous abuse of wives,' Smith said. 'He helped young men objectify women, by his over-emphasis of sexualization of women and subservience.'"Read the rest of this entry . . .

ThinkGeek's Useless Box

An Illustration on Paying Attention

“(And whatever is placed in active and direct Oppugnancy to the Good is, ipso facto, positive Evil.)” Patrick Kurp ties this line by Coleridge to this line by Waugh: “Civilization has no force of its own beyond what is given it from within."

Heresy Alert! People Prefer Instant Coffee

In a world where over half of everyone prefer tea to coffee, over half of everyone also prefer instant coffee to wonderfully fresh-roasted coffee, according to a new report by Euromonitor International. Even in Mexico where great coffee grows in the streets and children suck on sun-roasted beans between baseball games, people see instant coffee as the affordable choice for their active lifestyles.

But I don't care. Live and let live, I say. Maybe they don't have a few minutes to brew a cup of joy for themselves. If that's the case, they might enjoy throwing back their insta-junk in pop-up paper mugs from Nescafé.

Are reader-friendly Bibles just marketing hype?

J. Mark Bertrand echoes another reader of the ESV Reader's Bible in finding he reads more in this edition than in other editions. Readability, he says, is a thing, and it influences how we read. "Yet, like Steve, I’ve found myself getting sucked into the reader, coming up for air much later than expected."

Two Tolkien Movies Aiming for Easter Release

Two films, Tolkien and Tolkien & Lewis, are being developed by small companies with the hopes of capturing the ticket money of a bunch of us Tolkien/Lewis fans. (via Overstweet)

'Joe Average,' by Duncan MacMaster

Duncan MacMaster is the proprieter of The Furious D Show, one of the most interesting movie blogs in operation. His focus is not movie art or movie personalities, but movie business. In other words, his focus is a particular brand of insanity. And that’s always entertaining.

He’s also written a novel which isn’t bad at all. Joe Average is a satire in the form of a superhero story.

Ken Burton is pretty much Superman, but less romantic. Overweight and physically unimpressive, he was nevertheless struck by a meteor as a teenager, and acquired incredible strength and the ability to fly (he lacks x-ray vision). The only person who knows his secret is his girlfriend Mina, who happens to be a brilliant scientist. She’s spent her life trying to figure out exactly what gave Ken his powers.

After hiding his light under a bushel for years, Ken as an adult begins to intervene in situations where people need rescuing and bad guys need stopping. Mina happily provides him a suitable costume (no tights, thank you) and a base of operations. Through a misunderstanding, his chosen superhero name, “The Avenger,” ends up as “Joe Average.”

All this does not escape the notice of powerful figures in government, who wish to hitch their political wagons to Joe’s popularity. And if he won’t play their game, they are more than willing to use innocent people to extort his cooperation, and even to attempt to produce their own custom-made superhero to displace him.

I enjoyed Joe Average very much. The sympathetic characters were appealing, and the political satire – at times – delicious. The weakness of the story is that more time is spent with the evil people than with the good guys, resulting in what I think of as That Hideous Strength Syndrome, named after one of my favorite novels, one which many people find hard to read because the time with the villains is so aggravating. Which is one of the points of the story, but it can make it hard going for long stretches.

Cautions for language and adult situations (the young lovers fall into bed as soon as they declare their feelings. Waiting for marriage isn’t something that comes up). All in all, pretty good, though. I liked it.

How Orthodox Must a Christian Publisher Be?

The National Religious Broadcasters has pressed WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, to resign from its organization over the publishing of a book under a new sister imprint, Convergent Books (for more on that book: "'Biblically Based' Author Argues Against Biblical Morality"). Convergent is a little more than a year old. I could care less about this, because I've been ramping up to lead the Lars Walker's Awesomest World Publishing Group for the last few months. Soon that will be the only label you'll want to watch for. You heard it here first.

But seriously, NRB President Jerry Johnson explained the problem in a letter to his board. According to Christianity Today:

"Unfortunately, while the Multnomah Publishing Group is separate from Convergent, as a legal and business entity, the staff of the Multnomah and Convergent operations are substantially the same," Johnson wrote. "Most notably, Steven W. Cobb serves as the chief publishing executive for both groups. … Other Christian workers do so as well. … This issue comes down to NRB members producing unbiblical material, regardless of the label under which they do it."

I understand how the book in question is unbiblical, but what about other books? For years, thoughtful Christians have criticized Christian bookstores for selling pablum and heresy. Are these publishers accepted in the NRB? It's one thing to sell The Prayer of Jabez; it's another to sell Joel Osteen's Break Out. Jabez was a mid-90s book from Multnomah. Osteen is published by Faithwords, a division of Hachette.

The publisher's About page shows its diversity: "Based near Nashville, Tennessee, FaithWords has grown dramatically by acquiring a solid list of faith-building fiction and high-profile authors with edifying messages, including bestselling authors Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, John Eldredge, and David Jeremiah. Several FaithWords titles have appeared on national bestseller lists, most recently Every Day a Friday, by Joel Osteen, Living Beyond Your Feelings, by Joyce Meyer, and I Never Thought I’d See the Day!, by David Jeremiah."

Two sister imprints to Faithwords target mainline and "uplifting" divisions in the broadly based spiritual book market, and none of them are members of NRB.

'Vengeance is Mine,' by Harry James Krebs

Benjamin Tucker is a true crime writer living in North Carolina. He’s the divorced father of a teenage daughter, and has recently been remarried, to a woman who is both beautiful and very rich. His new wife and he love each other – though they fight a lot – and he mostly lives in the guest house behind the mansion, just because it’s convenient for his work. He’s fond of his mother-in-law, an elegant alcoholic (sort of a mature Nora Charles, and her name is indeed Nora), and devoted to his goofy dachshund. The key to his personality is the teenage trauma of the murder of his girlfriend, of which he was briefly suspected. He spent some time in a mental hospital, overcoming the shock.

Now a serial killer has started murdering women in Ben’s town. Because Ben writes about these things, he gets involved with the investigation, and it soon becomes clear that the killer has fixated on him and his loved ones. All Ben’s brains and courage will be needed if he’s to protect the women he loves.

That’s the premise of Vengeance is Mine, by Harry James Krebs. It was an enjoyable novel, with engaging characters I learned to care about. Ben isn’t always prudent in his decisions, and I didn’t always approve of his moral choices. But he was relatively believable, and quite likeable.

I hope there will be more novels featuring him.

Cautions for the usual stuff.

Leawood Boy Allowed to Keep Free Library in His Yard

Last month, I linked to a story on a 9-year-old boy who had his "little free library" taken down by his city government. Yesterday he appealed to the Leawood, Kansas, city council and won a temporary moratorium on these structures. The council will take up a permanent resolution this fall.

But all was not good in the hood, according to The Daily Signal. “Why do we pay taxes for libraries and have those boxes on the street?” asked one attendee. Another member claimed the little libraries were eyesores and argued, “You will destroy Leawood if you destroy our codes and bylaws.”

One must ask how many towns across America will be destroyed before the freedom to read will be abolished. One can only hope that citizen will vandalize the boy's little library in the name of John Adams, George Washington, and all of our great forefathers who looked upon their children with books in hand and said, "Not today, son. That's not what this country is about."

Don't Call Thor 'Miss'

"No, it's a myth, a myth!" he said.

"Yes?" she replied.

In more exciting comic book news, Marvel wants to make its lineup more gender-balanced, so they are retrofitting old characters. In October, Thor will be a woman.

On Twitter, FlannelJedi observes, "By my count, a woman has wielded the power of Thor 3 times so far- in official & What If? scenarios. Storm, Black Widow & Thora (Earth X)." The NY Daily News spells out Marvel's other offerings, "In recent months, new titles have focused on veteran heroines Black Widow, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel and Elektra, as well as introducing series around a new Ms. Marvel character, whose secret identity is a Muslim American teenager from Jersey City. Marvel also launched an all-female “X-Men” title last year."

Norway Day, 2014

The Viking Age Club at Minnehaha Park (artist's conception)

Sunday was Norway Day at Minnehaha Park, so I went forth in my PT Cruiser, Miss Ingebretsen, and faced the challenge of human contact.

We’d had a Swedish Day too, about a month ago, in the same location, but it was rainy and dank and not very lively. This Sunday was beautiful; just about ideal. I did not do any fighting; my disability has me sidelined. It was kind of relaxing to watch the young guys bash each other.

I’d bought a wooden staff, and that’s what I use for support when I’m in Viking character. My experience is that staffs are mechanically inferior to canes in terms of support. I wonder why they were so popular for so long in history. Maybe it was because they double as pretty formidable weapons.

The other Vikings were all impressed with my “new” car. In fact, listening to their comments, I realized that they’d been concerned about my safety, driving around in the rattletrap that Mrs. Hermanson, my Chevy Tracker, had become. Which suggests to me that I made the right decision, if a little late.

They also noted that little black bugs were attracted to her, landing on her skin and just staying there, like yuppies in a Starbucks. I wonder if anyone’s ever done a biological study of the affinity of little black bugs for PT Cruisers.

Had some shocking news – two of my dearest friends are moving to another state. What was most shocking was the fact that I’d been informed about it some time back, and had completely forgotten about it. It was the first time – at least the first time I’m aware of – that I’d ever completely suppressed unwanted information. I’m as good at self-delusion as any man, but I usually don’t just block stuff out. I’m too pessimistic by nature.

Kind of disturbing.

I’d hate to think I’m becoming an optimist.

You catch more flies with PT Cruisers than with vinegar, after all.

R.I.P. Archie Andrews

This week's issues of Life With Archie will include the main character's death. Archie, who has had a 73-year run as one of America's favorite comic book teens, will bite it this week by taking a bullet for his gay best friend. His publisher said it could have ended in other ways, but "metaphorically, by saving Kevin, a new Riverdale is born."

Do Christian Artists Get Fair Reviews?

Mike Duran points to the films of Dinesh D’Souza and Scott Derrickson this week to ask if these films are hitting their intended marks and attracting negative reviews because of that or are the reviews fair?

"My point here is not to endorse (or pan) either film, but to simply ask whether the artists’ beliefs or their film’s point-of-view make them unfair targets to critics," Mike says.

I think there's merit to this idea. Any work of art or entertainment gains attention or snores based on how its subject matter resonates with its audience. Even bad art gets praised because it resonates. In comments on the NPR review for Deliver Us From Evil, one person asks, "Will you lighten up? Why should this movie be seriously reviewed?" and another person says, "And J.J. Abrams 'Star Trek', MESS, got a 95% from 'serious film critics'??!!"

I don't think we're talking about objective, humble film reviewing here. What is humble film reviewing, anyway? Critics aren't the kind of people you give your daughters to marry. Am I right?

'Cooper's Daughter,' by Mark Yorst

Wall Street Journal columnist Mark Yost has written a really gritty detective story, Cooper’s Daughter. I’ve talked about Raymond Chandler’s rules of private detectives before in this space. Max Allan Collins has commented on this blog about his creation of a detective who would break those rules, but Mark Yost takes it further. His private eye, Rick Crane, who operates in upstate New York, extorts sexual favors from straying wives in return for his silence to the husbands who've paid him, and also acts as a collector for organized crime bosses.

But his life takes a turn when an old man asks him to investigate the beating death of his daughter, who had been dating a local minor league baseball star. His investigations cause him to step on important toes, and guys with heavy fists try to persuade him to stop poking into the matter. But he’s moved by his client’s grief, and seeks a kind of personal redemption in finishing the job.

The morals of this story are interesting. Rick commits adultery both recreationally and romantically, but also tells us he’s a regular churchgoer.

Rick Crane is an interesting and complex hard-boiled gumshoe, and I look forward to further stories about him. Cautions for adult themes and language.

Talking 'Bout My Education

Andrew Furgeson writes about nationwide education reform and why we love it every time it returns:

Common Core was announced only eight years after President George W. Bush and Sen. Edward Kennedy introduced another revolutionary approach to learning in public schools, an expensive and ambitious program called No Child Left Behind. NCLB, as it’s referred to in the acronym-crazed world of education reform, forced states to raise their academic standards, which were considered too low, and to improve scores on standardized tests, which ditto.

NCLB itself came eight years after President Clinton thought up Goals 2000, a nationwide school reform program to enact “standards-based reforms” and thereby improve test scores. Goals 2000 was a reworking of a school reform plan called America 2000 that President George H.W. Bush launched in 1990 as a way of raising standards and getting better test scores out of America’s public schools. He wanted to be called “the education president,” President Bush did, and his approach, he said, was revolutionary.

And in 1983, only seven years before the ambitious launch of President Bush’s America 2000, the nation received an alarming report commissioned by President Reagan, who was troubled that test scores, along with standards, were too low among public school students. The report was called “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” It concluded that higher standards were necessary to raise test scores. “A Nation at Risk” was written by a blue-ribbon commission in an attempt to end-run the Department of Education, which had been started in 1979. The department was Jimmy Carter’s idea. He worried that lax standards were destroying American public education. A federal department, he reasoned, might be able to oversee a revolutionary new approach that would set things right.

For nearly 40 years, it’s pretty much been all reform, all the time for the nation’s public school students, teachers, and parents.
(via Prufrock)

'Raylan,' by Elmore Leonard

I read a couple Elmore Leonard novels decades back and concluded that, although he was a good writer, I just didn’t like him. He knew his business, but he wasn’t a somebody whose company I enjoyed.

After I started watching the FX TV series “Justified,” based on his character Raylan Givens, US marshal, I decided to give him another try. I think the series is pretty good. I especially like the way “rednecks” are treated as actual human beings, with a range of IQs and wisdom levels. So I tried Leonard’s novel Raylan.

Consumer report: Nope. I still have the same reaction to Leonard that I had when I was younger. I can’t say precisely why he rubs me the wrong way, but he does. The same characters I enjoy on TV get on my nerves in this book.

Which is not saying it’s bad. It just doesn’t please my palate.

It's about lawmen and drug dealers in Kentucky coal country. Some plot lines are discernible from the TV series, but in a much modified form. Cautions for adult themes and lots and lots of rough language.

How the French Buy Books

Shakespeare & Company

We don’t force French people to go to bookstores,” explains Vincent Montagne, head of the French Publishers Association. “They go to bookstores because they read.”

And the French government doesn't allow them to discount their books more than 5%, so Amazon.com isn't undermining local stores through deep discounts. France has around 2,500 bookshops now.

We couldn’t have opened our bookstore without the subsidies we received,” Ms. Pérou said. “And we couldn’t survive now without fixed prices.” She and her husband own L’Usage du Monde in Paris.

Pamela Druckerman suggests this plethora of bookshops affords the French the choices we all want, but what do the booksellers offer that publishers don't produce? Is choice in reading a selling, not a publishing, option? (via The Literary Saloon)

'Diamonds and Cole,' by Michael Maxwell

My plan was to handle the stack of book reviews I’ve been planning in chronological order, so I could tell you about the oldest books before I forget them completely.

But Diamonds and Cole by Michael Maxwell, which I finished yesterday, changed my plan. I’m so excited about this book that I want to tell you about it right away. Also, you can get it for Kindle (it’s only available in electronic format) free, at least as of the date of this review.

Cole Sage is a Chicago newspaper man. There was a time when he was a Big Deal. War correspondent, investigative reporter. But the fire went out of him, and for the last couple years he’s been reduced to writing filler stories thrown to him, like bones, by his editor.

Then one day he’s sent to cover the rescue of a cat from a tree. Only, by the time he gets there, it’s become a hostage situation. Cole is shocked back into his old consciousness, and writes a great story.

But when he gets back to the office, he finds a phone message on his desk. Ellie has called – Ellie, the love of his youth, the one who got away, the woman he thinks about every day. All the message says is that she needs help. He gets on a plane back to California, his home, without delay. Read the rest of this entry . . .

And how have you been?

Hello. I’m back, at least now and then, for the next month or so.

I just finished my summer course in graduate school. The class was Music Cataloging, and it was kind of like studying law, but in an unfamiliar culture. My work was pretty lackluster, but I still came out with an A-minus grade, which is clear evidence of grade inflation. Or else I finally sighted that mythical “A for effort” I’ve been hearing about all my life.

Tonight after work I picked up a new (used) car – a 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser. White, with woody panels (!). Yes, I finally parted company with Mrs. Hermanson, my ancient Chevy Tracker. I can’t deny an emotional tie, but she’s aged past my ability to maintain her in the manner to which she has become accustomed. I passed her on to an owner better qualified than I to minister to her aches and pains.

I’ve named the Cruiser Miss Ingebretsen, after my kindergarten teacher.

Coming up, a bunch of book reviews I’ve been piling up, plus deathless insights, madcap frolicking, and prophecies of doom. Fun for the whole family!

Changing: The English of the Future

Most English speakers today learned it as a second language, so how will their habits, struggles, and primary languages change the English language? Prospero says it has already gotten simpler. It may continue down that path.

"For example, European Union bureaucrats are likely to use the English 'control' to mean 'monitor' or 'verify', because contrôler and kontrollieren have this meaning in French and German....

"What, then, can we predict English will lose if the process goes on? An easy choice seems to be 'whom'. English was once heavily inflected; all nouns carried a suffix showing whether they were subjects, direct objects, indirect objects or played some other role in a sentence. Today, only the pronouns are inflected. And while any competent speaker can use I, me, my and mine correctly, even the most fluent can find whom (the object form of who) slippery. So whom might disappear completely, or perhaps only survive as a stylistic option in formal writing."

Derrickson Talks Horror, Reality with New Movie

Scott Derrickson is the writer and director of the new movie, Deliver Us From Evil. He was also the man behind for Sinister , The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. He believes fear strips away the lies we usually tell ourselves and forces us to face reality. He sat down with Steven Greydanus to talk about his style and the new movie.

More here.

A Debut Novelist: 'Subject Matter Matters'

Ted Thompson, author of The Land of Steady Habits, talks about his business in ways that make him uncomfortable. "I feel like I’m bordering on saying something sacrilegious here, but here it goes: There’s a common strain of thinking among writers, particularly literary writers and the institutions that foster them (conference/colonies/workshops), that insists a book is only as good as its writing."

Although he still believes in the preeminence of good writing, he know believes subject is very, very, and also very important. "Once a manuscript leaves your desk, subject matter is the primary (and often only) way it is discussed. So if you haven’t figured out a quick way to answer that cringe-inducing question 'What’s your book about?' in a way that interests other people, somebody else will. And that will be how the book is sold..."

He goes on to say how surprised he was that people in publishing actually want to love your book and that the slowness of the whole process is understandable.

Alone with Classics

Author Sarah Perry was "raised by Strict Baptists" in Essex and not allowed to watch movies or read contemporary books. The result? "I turned my back on modernity and lost myself to Hardy and Dickens, Brontë and Austen, Shakespeare, Eliot and Bunyan. I memorised Tennyson, and read Homer in prose and Dante in verse; I shed half my childhood tears at The Mill on the Floss. I slept with Sherlock Holmes beside my pillow, and lay behind the sofa reading Roget. It was as though publication a century before made a book suitable – never was I told I ought not to read this or that until I was older. To my teacher's horror my father gave me Tess of the D'Urbervilles when I was still at primary school, and I was simply left to wander from Thornfield to Agincourt to the tent of sulking Achilles, making my own way."

And she soaked in the King James Bible. Her debut novel, After Me Comes the Flood, is reviewed here. (via Prufrock)

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