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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Book Hunt Results and Some Thoughts

Book Hunt Results and Some Thoughts

Thank goodness for my local library. When the Old Book Junkie needs a fix, he knows where he can go. It paid off nicely this past Saturday.

I found something I’ve been looking for for quite a while; a volume of the collected stories of Edgar Allan Poe. “Edgar Allan Poe Stories: Twenty-seven Thrilling Tales by the Master of Suspense” (Platt & Munk, 1961) has what most Poe fans would expect like The Telltale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Murders in the Rue Morgue. But it also has a story called Metzengerstein, about the transmigration of souls (brownie points for those who know the difference between transmigration and reincarnation!) The volume ends with a nice selection of his poetry.

I also snagged a copy of “Tozer on the Holy Spirit” (Christian Publications, Inc., 2000). It’s “a 366-Day Devotional” which includes a daily scripture reading, extended passages from A.W. Tozer‘s best books as well as quotes from other authors. This will be a welcome addition to my mornings!

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One of my favorite Sunday activities is going over the book reviews in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. This weekend, however, reminded me of why I prefer older books.

Some of the books reviewed included books about small behaviors such as yawning and sneezing, books about natural versus technological navigation and books about the future of cities. Now I’m sure these are all fine books, but there wasn’t a big idea to be found anywhere. Our culture seems to become more self-absorbed with each passing year. We’re fascinated with our smallest of behaviors, with how we do this or do that, how we created our technological wonders, where we live and how we’ll live in that great promised-land called the “Future.”

It all seems a bit superficial to me somehow. Maybe it was just a slow publishing week.

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It wasn’t a totally negative WSJ Weekend, however. There was a great piece in the Off Duty section of the paper called “E-Books, A Breakup” by Joshua Fruhlinger. Well written and funny, Joshua cuts to the heart of the matter with one succinct sentence: “I realized then: E-readers are needy, but a paperback will always be there for you.”

Right on, Joshua!

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A while back I wrote about my experience writing the foreword to “The Core of Johnny Appleseed”. For those of you interested, here’s a link to the book as it appears in the Christian Bookstore. Go check it out!

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in Authors, Book Hunting, E-Readers, Ideas, Old Books

 

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“Ye Shall Be As Gods”

The Tree of Knowledge, painting by Lucas Crana...

The Tree of Knowledge, painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die – to bear witness – for its faith. And it is a simple, rational faith that inspires men to live or die for it.

It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.

Whitaker Chambers, from “Witness”

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2012 in Quotations

 

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“A World Lit Only By Fire”: Part 2

A World Lit Only by Fire

A World Lit Only by Fire (Photo credit: Vankuso (Dominik Starosz))

It’s back to history, folks. Sorry, but someone has to bring it up.

In part one of my review of William Manchester’s “A World Lit Only By Fire,” I covered the first of the three essays which make up the book. In The Medieval Mind, Manchester exposes us to the mental world of the medieval human. I won’t spend time reviewing that here. Go check out the first part of the review if you’d like to brush up.

The next essay, The Shattering, is the longest piece in the book, running over 190 pages. As I said in part one, I don’t plan on going into any detail here. I don’t want any glazed eyes out there. Let me draw a broad sketch for you.

As Manchester explains it, the “shattering” is the collapse of the medieval world over a period of about 500 years. From the Dark Ages we see the Renaissance, or renewal, blossom as various scholars begin to recover some of the forgotten knowledge and arts that were lost when the Roman Empire fell. We are introduced to the humanists, particularly Desiderius Erasmus, whose calm genius shines brightly in these pages. Humanism, with the help of certain practices of the Catholic Church, helped to bring about the religious revolution we know today as the Reformation. The religious upheaval of the Reformation effectively ended the Renaissance and set many of the historical patterns we see to this day, especially the conflict between the secular humanists and many fundamentalist believers.

Before I go on, let me just say that I am NOT an historian. The above outline is what I came to understand from reading Manchester. It’s entirely possible I’m mistaken. Indeed, in other reviews of this book, Manchester was sharply criticized regarding his facts. However, it wasn’t “facts” that kept me reading.

The strength of this book is Manchester’s portrayal of the key events and players in the long drama that was the Middle Ages. In clear, workman-like prose, Manchester draws fascinating portraits of such personages as Alexander VI, the Borgia pope, who was known as much for his depravity as for his famous daughter, Lucrezia. Then there is the Augustinian friar, Martin Luther, whose genius was haunted by his father’s pagan superstitions. Luther not only believed in the devil, but saw him and engaged in, shall we say, foul competitions with him. Of course, even a cursory view of the Reformation has to include John Calvin, the brilliant but “humorless and short-tempered” theologian, whose obsession with rules and statutes belied his understanding of St. Paul’s epistles.

There are many more persons Manchester brings to light, but his main point is that whereas before the Reformation there was one Church and one Faith, after it there were many different religious leaders and doctrines which did not strengthen Christianity but made it more susceptible to the attacks of the humanists. While not a fan of the faith, Manchester none-the-less holds a certain regret at what he sees as its weakening. At the end of the book he writes, “The specter of skepticism haunts shrines and altars. Worshipers want to believe, and most of the time they persuade themselves that they do. But suppressing doubt is hard. Secular society makes it harder.”

The final essay, One Man Alone, is an absorbing account of Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the earth, included primarily because by doing so, Magellan proved that the earth was round and further shattered the old worldview.

“A World Lit Only By Fire” is an absorbing read and will help you to understand some of the philosophical currents that still run through our world today. Manchester readily admits that the interpretation of history varies from person to person. What’s important to understand is that “History is not a random sequence of unrelated events. Everything affects, and is affected by, everything else. This is never clear in the present. Only time can sort out events. It is then, in perspective, that patterns emerge.”

I highly recommend this book.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Book Review

 

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“Foreword!” He Wrote

Advance Sample Excerpt of “The Core of Johnny Appleseed” by Ray Silverman

No, I didn’t just misspell a political slogan.

The title of this post is a shameless ploy to get your attention so I can share a story with you. I hope this little tale will offer a bit of encouragement, especially to my fellow bloggers out there. If you’re not a blogger, well, you’ll see that blessings can drop into your lap when you least expect it.

Back in the middle of June I did a book review of “Better Known As Johnny Appleseed,” by Mabel Leigh Hunt. Two days after I posted it, I received a comment from a gentleman named Ray Silverman, who was working on a new book about Johnny Appleseed. He wrote that he enjoyed my writing and wanted to know if I would like to write the Foreword to his new book.

After I ran a virus scan and rebooted my computer to make sure this wasn’t some glitch, I emailed Professor Silverman and told him I’d love to do it. When he received the OK from his executive editor at Swedenborg Foundation Press, my work began. About 850 words and a couple of edits later, I was finished. The photo you see above is an “Advance Sample Excerpt” of the book used to promote it before publication. Amazingly, my Foreword is included in it.

So how did Professor Silverman find my review? It seems his editor was surfing information about Johnny Appleseed, came across my blog post and forwarded it to him. Which shows that you just never know who may be out there in internet-land reading your words, and you never know what the next comment will bring.

Keep writing. Keep posting.

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If you have any interest in American history or folklore, I highly recommend “The Core of Johnny Appleseed.” Ray Silverman examines in-depth a side of Johnny that most authors overlook: his faith.

While many people know that Johnny was Christian, they don’t know that he was a Swedenborgian, a member of the New Church. In fact, he was one of their greatest missionaries. Professor Silverman is also a Swedenborgian and a teacher of New Church theology. Because of this, he can shed a light into Johnny’s psychology that others simply overlook or willfully ignore.

More importantly to me, Dr. Silverman is combating something I call Speculative Revisionism, where an author or historian tries to change the meaning or context of history based on their own speculations. Guesses really. A lot of times this serves no further purpose than to help them sell books or appear on talk shows. A good example of this is another book about Johnny Appleseed recently published in which the author concluded that John Chapman was basically insane and compared him to a homeless person on the streets.

His book got great reviews.

Again, if you like American history or folklore and wish to read something insightful rather than speculative, I highly recommend you get a copy of “The Core of Johnny Appleseed” by Ray Silverman. It is scheduled to be published this November by Swedenborg Foundation Press in an affordable paperback edition. Dr. Silverman’s writing is clear and straightforward and you will gain insight not only into an American legend but also into a faith that many know nothing about.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2012 in Authors, Blogs, Book Review

 

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“Dead” Matter?

“Dead” Matter?

I would say that if “dead” matter has reared up this curious landscape of fiddling crickets, song sparrows,and wondering men, it must be plain even to the most devoted materialist that the matter of which he speaks contains amazing, if not dreadful powers, and may not impossibly be, as Hardy has suggested, “but one mask of many worn by the Great Face behind.”

Loren Eiseley, from The Immense Journey

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Ideas, Quotations

 

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Books You Read To God

I like prayer books. I have at least a dozen of them, probably more. I have Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish and even a Billy Graham, Evangelical prayer-book. Yes, there is an Evangelical prayer-book, though it’s not a standardized one intended for corporate worship.

My wife and I attend an Anglican church that uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It is designed for both liturgical and personal use, as are the Roman Catholic, Jewish and Lutheran ones. Not all prayer books are meant for liturgical use. I have several that are designed for personal devotion and meditation, and some that are simply collections of prayers through the ages.

Of course, I have many books that are ABOUT prayer, including Richard J. Foster’s “Prayer.” I’ve lost count of how many of those I own.

I’ve always felt that prayers were a type of poetry. Some of the most beautiful words I’ve read were arranged in prayer to God. Offerings, if you will. In reading these various prayers, I often find myself actually praying, which is a good thing!

There are some, I know, who are skeptical of using prayers that are written out and arranged for corporate or personal use. These prayers may seem to be mechanical or “canned.” However, if read with a real awareness of the words, these prayers are actually teachers which can lead us into deeper communication with God. They can widen the areas we speak to God about and help us to become better pray-ers.

I will share some of these prayer-books with you in future posts.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2012 in Prayer, Reading, Words

 

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“Supposing We Really Found Him?”

“The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. . . But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband – that is quite another matter. . . There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (Man’s search for God”!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He has found us?

“So it is a sort of Rubicon. One goes across; or not.”

C.S. Lewis from “Miracles”

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in Quotations

 

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“A World Lit Only By Fire” : Part 1

I find as I get older, I enjoy history more and more. I don’t know if that’s the age-wisdom thing kicking-in or if it’s just because I’m getting close to being history myself. Whatever the case, I can see more clearly the importance of understanding history in today’s world.

I recently finished reading William Manchester‘s “A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance; Portrait of an Age,” (Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company, 1993). I’ve referenced it in previous posts, one on Robin Hood in particular. I believe I wrote at one point that I wasn’t sure I was going to attempt a review of this book because of the sheer density of information and illustration that Manchester packs into it.

Yet here I am.

William Manchester was a renaissance man in his own way. His medium was words. He was journalist, a biographer, an essayist, an historian and a novelist. He is probably best remembered for his book, “The Death of a President: November 20 – November 25, 1963,” in which he recounts and analyzes the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Manchester’s writing is straightforward, but with a clarity and immediacy which puts the reader into whatever situation he describes. This talent serves him well in the telling of history.

“A World Lit Only by Fire” is divided into three sections, or essays, rather than chapters. The first and shortest concerns The Medieval Mind, the second and longest recounts The Shattering, and the final essay, One Man Alone, is his vivid telling of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe.

In The Medieval Mind, Manchester gives an idea of what the common person’s mind and worldview were like in the earliest days of the Middle Ages (between about 400 A.D. and 1000 A.D.), also known as the Dark Ages. (Interestingly, Manchester tweaks the politically correct historians who dislike the term “Dark Ages” because of the perceived value judgement implied, noting that “there are no survivors to be offended.” Good man!)

Try to imagine living in this world, people.

The collapse of the Roman Empire had plunged Europe into darkness indeed. It was a time of “incessant warfare, corruption, lawlessness, obsession with strange myths, and an almost impenetrable mindlessness.” The common person usually lived in a nameless village or hamlet, with no sense of location save some landmark such as a large tree or a stream. There were no maps available for them. If someone went off to a war or wandered away, they would likely not find their way back home.

There were no watches or clocks or what we would recognize as a calendar, so there was no real sense of time save the passing of the day and the seasons. There was no news media to keep the people informed and aware of what was happening in the world around them. The “mindlessness” Manchester writes of is an almost total absence of a sense of “self.” People for the most part harbored no personal hopes and dreams. The ego which we today are so familiar with was minimal then.

Before Rome fell, it spread Christianity over much of Europe but few people really understood the new faith. Consequently, during the Dark Ages paganism remained dominant and actually influenced the Christianity of the day. Some churches were even built where pagan temples once stood. But the Church was not without its power and purpose. Despite their lack of understanding, many people looked to the Church for a sense of stability and order during chaotic times.

Thus the stage is set for The Shattering, the onslaught of change carried by the Renaissance and the Reformation. This is the longest section of Manchester’s book and because I don’t want anyone’s eyes to permanently cross or have anyone fall asleep, I’ll continue this review in Part 2. Because it is so long, I’ll try to draw more of sketch rather than present a detailed photograph of the events that follow.

These events which we often forget or ignore in these high-tech times are still shaping who we are now and will continue to influence us in the decades ahead. It is important for all of us to understand them and I hope you will join me again in Part 2.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Book Review, History

 

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Power and Truth

Pilate confronts Jesus with two questions: don’t you know that I have the power to have you killed? And – what is truth? That is the language of kingdom, power and glory that the the world knows. Notice how the two halves support each other. In order to be able to say, ‘Support my kingdom or I’ll kill you,’ pagan empire needs to say that there’s no such thing as truth.

N.T. Wright, from “The Lord and His Prayer”

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Quotations

 

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The “Odd” Miscellany

Geek that I am, about two years ago I wrote a fan letter to Dean Koontz. Much to my delight the author had the kindness and grace to write me a personal reply. I also merited a subscription to “Useless News,” Mr. Koontz’s quarterly newsletter which contains updates on his writing projects as well as recently written afterwords from new editions of his novels and other pieces of, well, useless news. But believe me, it’s all very entertaining.

Anyway, I received my Summer 2012 issue the other day and it had a bit of news in it that has me very excited.   One of my favorite Dean Koontz novels will be coming to movie theaters sometime this winter. “Odd Thomas” was directed by Stephen Sommers (of “The Mummy” and “Return of the Mummy”) and stars Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the 2009 film “Star Trek”) as Odd Thomas.

Mr. Koontz was given a preview of the film and, as he describes it, he was “whacked flat by happiness.” This is a major sign of good. He has previously been very disappointed with film versions of his books. Indeed, Hollywood and books have had a long and rocky relationship. Hollywood loves books, but often treats them poorly. Fortunately for us, this book was treated right.

Now there are two major films I have to see this winter: “Odd Thomas” and “The Hobbit.” Can’t wait!

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I guess this must be a book and movie kind of day. While roaming through a thrift store yesterday I nabbed a copy of “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende, the award-winning German author of children’s novels. The novel was first published in Germany in 1979 and was made into a movie by Wolfgang Petersen in 1984. The movie was very good, but as the cliché always goes, “the book is so much better!” At least, that’s what I’ve read and been told.

I’ve always wanted to read this book, and for 50 cents the price of admission was right. It’s a Puffin Books paperback bearing the same cover art as the hardback, which is beautiful. My initial skimming of pages was promising. This should be fun!

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While I was perusing the used books at the thrift store yesterday, I heard a bright, young voice exclaiming,”That’s BIG book on wizards!” A few minutes later, the voice’s owner and his mom and sister came around the corner.

The boy looked to be about 9 or 10 years-old and he was carrying a plastic basket that was filled with various books. As he walked past I couldn’t resist and asked him, “Hey, buddy. Are all those books yours?”

As he nodded his head happily, he added, “I got a book about dragons, too!” This put a big smile on my face. I gave him the thumbs-up sign and told him, “Keep on reading!”

Things like this give me hope.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2012 in Authors, Book Hunting, Children's Books

 

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