“The Darwin Conspiracy” by John Darnton passed away quietly on June 27, 2012 at about 10:30 PM. It lived to ripe page of 153. It would have lasted 150 more had it not been put down. Humanely, of course. Mercifully there were no survivors. There will be no memorial service because there was nothing memorable about it. Cremation was seriously considered but it was decided that the body be donated to library science. The best thing to be said about it: it was only .60 cents.
Monthly Archives: June 2012
Hello, Folks! Sorry I’ve been remiss on posting the last few days, but something has come up. Something good. Remember the book review I did on “Better Known as Johnny Appleseed?” Well, as a result of that review I’ve been recruited to do a bit of writing on another Johnny Appleseed book. It’s not a long piece, but I am under a deadline. So, for the next week postings will be sparse. I apologize, but this is a great opportunity and I want to do the best job I can. I’ll tell you all more when I can.
In other news, I’m still turning pages on that novel “The Darwin Conspiracy.” I’m now on page 135 and I still am no closer to figuring out what the conspiracy is all about. Heck, I’m having trouble figuring out what this book is about.
There are three story-lines running along here. First, the adventure of Charles on the Beagle as he prepares to make history. Second, the investigation of Darwin’s family life by Hugh and Beth, researchers from our own time. Third, excerpts from a diary kept by one of Darwin’s daughters in the back of a financial ledger, which for some unknown reason no one has ever seen before. Yeah, right.
I don’t know what is worse, the dialog between Hugh and Beth, postmodern caricatures or the incessant whining of dear old Charles. Talk about your dysfunctional family head. The only interesting and intelligent voice in this book is Darwin’s daughter, Lizzie. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get as much time as the others.
I don’t know how much longer I can keep turning pages on this thing. If someone were to drop me a comment with the ending and spare me the labor of reading “The Darwin Conspiracy” to the conclusion, I would not be at all upset. So . . .
. . . please?
Anyone familiar with book promotions knows about the term “page-turner.” It generally means that a book is so engrossing and well written that the reader keeps turning the pages because they can’t help themselves. You know: “This new novel is a real page-turner!” One sees this sort of comment on the front or back of nearly every paperback. OK. Maybe I exaggerate.
Well, folks, I have found that there is another kind of page-turner out there. This one isn’t as positive.
I’m currently reading “The Darwin Conspiracy,” by John Darnton (Anchor Books, 2006). According to the “blurbs” this book will be “an elaborate scientific thriller” with a “thrilling fast pace” in which the “pages turn quickly.” Well, I’m still waiting for the scientific thriller and the fast pace. I am, however, turning the pages. Why? Because I’m waiting for something to happen! Anything! I’m on page 90 and have yet to find anything remotely thrilling in here.
So I keep turning the pages because this subject interests me and I’m hoping something will happen. Soon. Dean Koontz would have had the reader hooked 80 pages ago. It’s not that it’s badly written, but a “thriller” shouldn’t just amble along. There hasn’t been even a hint of what the so-called “conspiracy” is.
Has this ever happened to you? How many pages would you go before you called it quits? I’ll give it another chapter. Maybe two. It does help me go to sleep at night though.
I recently began reading N.T. Wright‘s book “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters” (HarperOne, 2010). I’m not far enough in for a review at this point, but Wright has made the point that virtues – courage, self-discipline, etc. – are the building blocks of Christian character and need to be developed. No argument from me on that one.
Out of curiosity, I went to my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary and looked up “virtue.” One of the things I love about this dictionary is the way it gives the language roots of various words. In the case of “virtue” I learned something very interesting. It seems that both “virtue” and “virile” come from the same Latin root, vir. That is the Latin word for man or male or hero.
The first definition for “virtue” given is “conformity to a standard of right.” These days, one would have to be very heroic to pull that off! Yet it seems the ancients considered it to be very masculine to adhere to a code of moral conduct.
Something to ponder.
Needless to say, I scored some great books as you will shortly read about. But first, let me say “Thanks!” to the “Friends of the Chino Valley Library” for all their hard work in putting this sale together. They do this once or twice a year and I never miss it.
So, from the bottom up:
1) “Winding Quest: The Heart of the Old Testament in Plain English,” by Alan T. Dale (Morehouse-Barlow Co., Inc., 1973)
2) “The Hebrew Scriptures: An Introduction to Their Literature and Religious Ideas,” by Samuel Sandmel (Oxford University Press, 1978) Sandmel was only one of the greatest Biblical scholars ever.
3) “The Unvarnished Gospels, Translated From the Original Greek,” by Andy Gaus (Threshold Books, 1988) A translation of the Gospels that “lets the original Greek speak for itself.”
4) “Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief,” by Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene D’Aquili, M.D., Ph.D., and Vince Rause (Ballantine Books, 2002) According to the back cover, “explorations in the field of neurotheology.” O.K. We’ll see.
5) “The People’s Bible: Revelation,” by Wayne D. Mueller (Northwestern Publishing House, 2002) A commentary on the Book of Revelation based on the New International Version of the Bible. Never my favorite New Testament book, so I figured I’d better learn more.
6) “Brewer: The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,” by E. Cobham Brewer (Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1993) From the back cover: “This invaluable dictionary explains the origins of the familiar and unfamiliar in phrase and fable. It includes the colloquial and the proverbial, embracing archaeology, history, religion, the arts, science, mythology, books and fictitious characters.” The new and enlarged edition was published in 1894. This is going to be fun!
7) “The Weekend Book,” Francis Meynell, editor (Duckworth Overlook in association with The Nonesuch Press, 2006) I haven’t a clue. It caught my eye and then my attention. Best I can tell, it’s like one of those “bathroom readers” but intended for an English weekend. I’ll get back to you.
8) “Inspirational Library,” four small books of compilations; Prayers for all Occasions, Psalms and Hymns, The Parables, and Best Loved Carols. Illustrated by Janet Robson Kennedy (Blue Ribbon Books, Rudolph J. Gutman and Samuel Nisenson, 1949) Four small books with beautiful period drawings by Robson. For the pure, simple pleasure of owning them.
I’m a happy daddy. Happy Father’s Day!
So who said that? Pat Robertson? Max Lucado? Rick Warren?
That quote comes from a Mr. John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. That also happens to be the name of the book I’ve been reading the last week or so. “Better Known As Johnny Appleseed,” by Mabel Leigh Hunt (J.B. Lippincott Company, 1950) is a charming little book that I picked up many years ago and am finally getting around to reading.
For as long as I can remember, American folklore has always captured my imagination. I couldn’t swear to it, but it may have been Walt Disney Studios’ marvelous animated features of these great tales that started my life-long interest in them.
These folk stories, or “tall tales” as they’re sometimes called, are more than fanciful yarns made up to kill time or establish bragging rights around a frontier campfire. They can tell us much about the spirit and character of our nation and its people when both were young. If you doubt that, consider what the television programs streaming into American living rooms each night can tell us about our current culture. A people’s stories are windows into their hearts.
The tales of Johnny Appleseed are among my very favorites. Perhaps this is because Johnny was a living, breathing human being who was born about the same time as our country and wandered unhindered through the land at a time when the national imagination was limitless. As Mabel Leigh Hunt beautifully states in the preface to her book:
The panorama of Johnny Appleseed’s life and legend is like a delicate old tapestry, its fabric worn with age and much handling, its fabulous leaves and flowers and fruits, its beasts and men ofttimes undiscernible, its fantastic story not quite clear. It is rich and humorous and lovely. It could never be anything but American.
Cleverly arranging historical sketches and a collection of tales, “Better Known As Johnny Appleseed” is divided into three sections: The Seeds, The Fruit and The Harvest. The first and third parts give us the facts of John Chapman’s life and bookend the tales by which we have come to know him.
He was born on September 26th, 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts. His father, Nathanael, was a “Continentaler” and fought in the Revolutionary War. His mother, Elizabeth, died when he was but two. Closed to history but open to conjecture is the origin of Johnny’s love of apples and nature. He was also very religious, a follower of Emanuel Swedenborg. As did many in the young country, Johnny caught the “western fever” and in 1792, along with his half-brother Nathanael, he headed west.
Of course “west” back then didn’t mean Texas or Arizona:
The West was the Wyoming and Lebanon valleys and a web of streams that led to the great westward-flowing highway of the Ohio. . . The West was aching farewell and perilous adventure, hardship and hope and faith. It was a great dream. And the heart of it was a freedom such as men had never known before.
It was in the West that John Chapman became Appleseed John and ultimately Johnny Appleseed. The nine tales that make up “The Fruit” of the book are, as Mabel Leigh Hunt tells us, “based upon both truth and tradition.” They not only show us a young man becoming a legend, but a country becoming a nation.
There’s the story of Andrew McIlvain, 13 years old and carrying the United States mail between Franklinton and Chillicothe in Ohio. Johnny meets him on the lonely road and shares tales and news. Or Zack Miller, 18 years old and the youngest of four government scouts during the War of 1812. They run across Johnny in northern Ohio and he warns them not to hunt game because “the report of a gun will bring the Indians a-swarming out of their hidings.” They ignore him and barely escape the peril that comes.
What shines through in these stories isn’t the amazing feats that Johnny performed; he wasn’t Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill. What he was, however, was a true American character. He wandered alone through the American wilderness wearing old worn clothing or burlap bags, mismatched shoes, a cooking pot on his head (yes, really) and absolutely no gun. The pioneers and farmers who came to know him relied on him sometimes for news, sometimes for preaching and always for a sampling from his “bag of stories.” His kindness and generosity to people and animals alike were well-known on the frontier. As Hunt notes, “Johnny was legendary in the minds of men while he still moved among them.”
On March 18, 1845, in an old Indian hut near Fort Wayne, Indiana, John Chapman passed away. A few days later the Fort Wayne Sentinel ran a notice:
Dies . . . in this neighborhood, at an advanced age, Mr. John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed). The deceased was well-known throughout this region by his eccentricity, and (his) strange garb . . . He submitted to every privation with cheerfulness and content, believing that in so doing he was securing snug quarters hereafter . . .
Johnny Appleseed lived a life almost perfectly suited to a new country born for freedom. Reading the stories of his comings and goings, one gets a small sense of the overwhelming experience of freedom the people of this new nation must have had.
I pray that some tiny part of that experience still flows through the American bloodstream.