Monthly Archives: May 2012

Book Review: “What the Night Knows” by Dean Koontz

English: An illustration of the fairy tale Bet...

English: An illustration of the fairy tale Beth Gellert created by John D. Batten for Joseph Jacob’s collection Celtic Fairy Tales. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dean Koontz is amazing. Not only does he write great books; he writes so MANY of them! I’m not privy to his work habits, but the man must be supremely disciplined to produce such a huge body of work. And where do all those wild ideas come from? Year after year they just keep coming.

Can you tell I’m a big Dean Koontz fan?

“What the Night Knows” (2011 Bantam Books Premium Mass Market Edition) is vintage Koontz. Believable, likeable characters in comfortable and seemingly safe surroundings find themselves confronting something that their worldview never prepared them for. This is the classic fairy tale formula. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world.” When Koontz cranks it up, there are no madder worlds than his.

That Koontz intends this story to be a sort of fairy tale is clear from the very first lines of the book: “What year these events transpired is of no consequence. Where they occurred is not important. The time is always, and the place is everywhere.” He might well have written, “Once upon a time. . . “

A vicious killer is murdering entire families. During the murder of the fourth family, the monster is surprised by the last living member, a fourteen-year-old boy, who shoots him in the face. Again and again and again. Alton Turner Blackwood is dead. Very dead.

Jump ahead 20 years. The boy is now a homicide detective and he’s looking into a new series of family murders that re-create in detail those of Alton Turner Blackwood. Is someone copying the killings? Or has Blackwood somehow returned from the grave? Either way, John Calvino, the fourteen-year-old-turned-homicide detective, is pretty sure that his own family is in danger.

As Calvino races the clock to figure out who or what is doing the killings, Koontz takes the reader on an exploration of the nature and sources of evil.

This is familiar territory for Koontz, who has examined human evil in many of his recent novels. But in “What the Night Knows,” he expands his view of evil to include its supernatural aspects and the vulnerability of humans to things they have lost the ability to believe in.

The story ebbs and flows, whisking the reader along with the first page then slowing down a bit in the middle section before racing headlong to the finish. The characters are classic Koontz, but the one that truly stands out is John Calvino’s youngest daughter, Minnie. Of course, there’s a heroic dog.

But the star of this novel isn’t any particular character, or the clever plot, or the brooding atmosphere. The dark center that holds our attention here is evil, evil that is both human and supernatural. Evil that doesn’t care whether we believe in it or not.

Just before the story plunges into the frantic conclusion, John Calvino asks a defrocked priest the question about evil that humans have wrestled with for thousands of years: Why? The answer is perhaps the most frightening thing one can imagine: “Why not? Evil doesn’t exist to justify itself. It exists for the pleasure of corruption and the destruction of the innocent.”

And we are all vulnerable.


Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Book Review


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Irish Cats and Scribes

From a ninth-century manuscript by an Irish scribal scholar, quoted in “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” by Thomas Cahill:

I and Pangur Ban my cat,

„Pangur Bán“

„Pangur Bán“ (Photo credit: Михал Орела)

‘Tis a like task we are at:

Hunting mice is his delight,

Hunting words I sit all night.


‘Tis a merry thing to see

At our tasks how glad are we,

When at home we sit and find

Entertainment for our mind.


“Gainst the wall he sets his eye,

Full and fierce and sharp and sly;

‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I

All my little wisdom try.


So in peace our task we ply,

Pangur Ban my cat and I;

In our arts we find our bliss,

I have mine and he has his.



Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Old Books, Poetry


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A Sad Article About Libraries

English: View of the library at Kennet Compreh...

English: View of the library at Kennet Comprehensive School. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jon Reiner over at The Daily Beast has written a heart-breaking piece about the direction today’s large libraries are heading. Are they encouraging the reading of books or becoming yet more technology cafes? Please go here and read it.

What do you think? Are today’s libraries wandering down the wrong road?

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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Libraries


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To Graze, Perchance To Learn

A female Key deer grazing. This species is onl...

A female Key deer grazing. This species is only found on some of the Florida Keys. Français : Une cerf des Keys femelle broutant. Cette espèce est endémique à seulement quelques iles de l’archipel des Keys. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everybody has their own way of reading. Some enjoy parking it in a comfy corner and settling in for a good long read. Others will take a book along with them and grab 5 minutes here or 15 minutes there during the course of their day. Many people will only read one book at a time while some can juggle 2 or 3 books at a time.

I have employed several of these techniques at various times in my life, but one of my favorite ways of enjoying books is to “graze” through them. That’s right, “graze.” Let me explain.

The dictionary will give you two definitions of “graze.” The first involves letting livestock feed on grass or pasture land. It can also mean to touch or brush against something in passing. Combine the two meanings and you get something like roaming and eating lightly, a dining style still enjoyed by some. In my case it’s more like roaming and reading lightly.

Often I’ll spend some time in front of one of my bookcases and “roam” through the various volumes in front of me. When I find one that interests me for the moment I’ll pull it out and skim through it. When I come across a word or a sentence that attracts my attention, I’ll read that paragraph, or even that chapter, often underlining key points or making notes in the margins. A lot of times, an important idea will stay with me longer this way than if I had come across it in the course of reading the entire book.

For example, while “grazing” the book “Weigh the Word” I came across an article by Mortimer Adler about how to use a dictionary. In the article I learned that Noah Webster created his one-volume dictionary because he was worried about the state of education in our country after the Revolutionary War. He designed it to help the self-education of the masses. According to Adler, it was one of the first self-help books to become a best-seller in this country. Interesting stuff.

The next time you have a few minutes to kill and you’re near some books give it a try. You could come away with a new idea or two to play with.

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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Go Here Now!

The New Yorker has a great blog for book lovers called Page-Turner. The “Book News” posts by Andrea DenHoed are especially fun. If you love books and ideas, go check it out!

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Blogs, Ideas


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A Moment With Gil: “The Maniac”

No, not Chesterton. “The Maniac” is chapter 2 of his book “Orthodoxy,” in which Gil takes aim at so-called freethinkers. A few quotes for your entertainment.

“The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who  has lost everything except his reason.”

“For we must remember that the materialist philosophy (whether true or not) is certainly much more limiting than any religion . . . Mr. McCabe thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism. I think Mr. McCabe a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies.”

“Detached intellectualism is . . . all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton did have a way with words.

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Authors, Quotations, What I'm Reading


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Another Threat to Books

Computers and E-readers aren’t the only things threatening books. Check out this article from the Sun Sentinel. Is it even near acceptable that only 50 percent of ninth- and 10th-graders reached reading levels that were deemed “satisfactory?”

Granted, this is only one part of one state, but it’s scary anyway. Not good, folks.

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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Education, Reading


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Book Review: “The Place of the Lion” by Charles Williams

The ancient Celts had a saying that went something like this: “The wall between the worlds is very dark but very thin.” Certain times, such as dusk, and places, such as the edge of a forest, were held to be specially thin since they were physical manifestations of the borders between one realm and another. In “The Place of the Lion” Charles Williams uses this idea as a springboard to a somewhat muddled discussion of philosophy.

As I explained a couple of weeks back, the story examines what would happen if “between a world of living principles, existing in its own state of being, and this present world, a breach had been made.” In other words, what if Plato’s ideals and Jung’s archetypes found their way into our world? Interesting premise, no?

Unfortunately, wooden characters, weak plotting and overly long interior and exterior discourses on what’s happening ruin any chance the book has of keeping the reader’s attention. As Anthony, the main character, thinks to himself, “Why did he always ask himself these silly questions? Always intellectualizing, he thought. . .” Indeed.

It’s not that Williams is a bad writer. He isn’t. I mean, you didn’t belong to the Inklings by writing junk. He makes some very good observations, such as,”They also probably like their religion taken mild – a pious hope, a devout ejaculation,a general sympathetic sense of a kindly universe – but nothing upsetting or bewildering, no agony, no darkness, no uncreated light.”

It’s just that, maybe, some people aren’t meant to write fiction, although it seems that Williams wrote 6 other novels. I’m guessing that this wasn’t one of his best. On that basis I’m willing to give him another chance later on.

In the meantime, if the concept of “thin places” intrigues you at all, try the Celtic fantasy novels of Stephen R. Lawhead, particularly his Song of Albion trilogy or the more sweeping Pendragon Cycle. You won’t be disappointed.

As for “The Place of the Lion,” on a scale of 1 to 4 bookmarks, I give it a 1.


Posted by on May 20, 2012 in Authors, Book Review


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Good Book Hunt Today

While out and about running errands today, I ran by our local library as I am wont to do each weekend. They have an ongoing used book sale to help support their operations. I am a dutiful supporter!

Today I was rewarded with a nice hardbound copy of “The Abingdon Bible Commentary,” a single volume containing commentaries on each book of the Bible as well as specilaized articles on various aspects of biblical history, customs, languages and many other topics.


As you can probably tell, I am deeply interested in religious and theological matters, and this book was a nice addition to my growing library in this field.

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Posted by on May 19, 2012 in Book Hunting, Libraries, Old Books


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A Moment With Gil: Intro to “Orthodoxy”

The war between atheists and believers has been going on far longer than many people realize. It’s modern form with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is but a graceless reflection of what was happening back in the early 1900s. Witness G.K. Chesterton’s book “Orthodoxy” which was published in 1908.

Back at the turn of the previous century, Chesterton’s sparring partners were the likes of George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. No slouches, those two. But unlike today, there was a sort of collegiality between Chesterton and some of his opponents. Bernard Shaw and Chesterton considered themselves to be friends and actually enjoyed their arguments.

“Orthodoxy” was meant to be a companion volume to his previous book, “Heretics,” in which Chesterton had a go at the modern, humanistic philosophies of the time. He was roundly criticized for not offering any alternative philosophy of his own. As one of Chesterton’s targets, G.S. Street, put it, “I shall not begin to worry about my philosophy of life until Mr. Chesterton discloses his.” Chesterton’s “disclosure” turned into one of his greatest works.

In the brief opening chapter, Chesterton lays out his goal this way:

“We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable. It is this achievement of my creed that I shall chiefly pursue in these pages.”

By “creed” Chesterton meant the Apostle’s Creed, “as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed.”

So off we go! Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with blow by blow summaries of each chapter or detailed analyses of various positions. I will share with you Chesterton’s best lines and try to make his key ideas clear.

See you next time with a “Moment With Gil.”


Posted by on May 19, 2012 in Authors, Book Review, What I'm Reading


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