Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hitchens

MortalityMortality by Christopher Hitchens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First off, this is a quick read. Very quick. Secondly, this is the best nonfiction I've read since Vanauken's A Severe Mercy.

Hitchens can undoubtedly write, and he is in peak form here. A serrated wit, a pragmatic realism, an impending end and an open-eyed anti-theist watching its inexorable approach. At times darkly funny, at times lightly flippant, always erudite and often drawing us off into an unexpected and absorbing aside, his account is entirely transfixing, glass-edged and heart-breaking. Typically philosophical, uncharacteristically personal, it is an excellent book, and his wife's afterword is devastating.

I don't know if this was the intent, but the structure of the book is as ghastly macabre, as haunting as it possibly could have been. It is chronological, beginning with his diagnosis and slowly, finally devolving into the disjointed, eerily aberrant, inchoate musings that the publisher informs you—in small print at the bottom, as a parenthetical aside; nothing important here—were unfinished at the time of his death. He was dead. I hit this mid stride and was slammed with the shock of seeing the author with whom I was conversing abruptly drop dead in the middle of his sentence, and slowly fade away even as I adjusted to the feeling of having stepped into a moving train.

I think he would have liked it that way.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

From the Son of a Gunn

Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing LifeWordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Taking care of your preschoolers or being deployed with the Seventh Fleet is far to be preferred over purchasinng a backpack and heading off to find America, or even worse, yourself."

So begins a book that I feel far too inadequate to review, as if I were asked to give a comic introduction to Bob Hope: I'd much rather shut up and sit down.

Having said that, read this book. Again and again and again. Memorize the blasted thing, and buy and read all the books he recommends. Or just follow him around till you see a chariot then steal his coat.

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(Unless it Doesn't)

The Sun Also RisesThe Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How have I just given Williams three stars and Hemingway four? More importantly, what does this say about the state of my soul? Bless me Craiggles, for I have sinned.

I found Hemingway to be far more friendly than I'd expected, though I have a feeling that our friendship might begin to feel a bit strained after page 250 and I'd have to go talk to Wodehouse or Chesterton before coming back. He has a light, playful, terse type of prose whose minimalism and lack of distance conceal what feels like a deep-seated cynicism. In any case, I'll be reading a lot more of Papa Hemingway, though never again The Snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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The Place of the Lion

The Place of the LionThe Place of the Lion by Charles Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When first I encountered Charles Williams, I sat stunned at his feet as the heavens were rolled back as a scroll and earth opened to receive my abandoned flesh. This time I had a beer.

I give this book a solid 3.5 stars, but Goodreads allows for no such nuance, so I (ever the cheerful cynic) err on the side of "all shall be hell" and just give it three. But don't get me wrong: it is a book well worth the read, just not so, well, not so tight, if you will, as Descent Into Hell. Yet it is vintage Williams, and therefore like nothing else you will ever read. The prose is still sublime, the characters are still so real as to almost make us mere caricatures of them, and the dialogue disdainfully dares you ever to speak again. I suppose that my discontent lies purely in the premise, which while still furiously fantastical, failed to be as personal as I was expecting after he burned, buried and exhumed me in our last meeting.

But permit me a few samples:


Interpretation of infinity by the finite was pretty certain to be wrong.

They also probably liked 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.

"I think you're rather unkind," Damaris answered. "We both like each other—"
"Dearest, I don't like you a bit," Anthony interrupted again. "I think you're a very detestable, selfish pig and prig. But I'm often wildly in love with you, and so I see you're not. But I'm sure your only chance of salvation is to marry me."
"Really, Anthony!" Damaris got up from the table. "Chance of salvation indeed! And from what, I should like to know?"
"Nobody else," Anthony went on, "sees you as you are. Nobody else will give you such a difficult and unpleasant time as I do. You'll never be comfortable, but you may be glorious. You'd better think it over."


The book is well worth reading, especially if—like me—you are tempted to attempt to tame the furious ideas of philosophy, or the shattering theophanies that lie within theology, if, in a word, you seek to fit your little world on a leash or teach it to only make wee-wee in the potty. For in this book the Ideas, Powers and Principles break free and nearly unmake the earth before Mercy harnesses the whirlwind so that we feel naught but a slight breeze.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Heather May Sisk

He was a boy who played the games, and she was a girl who watched. He had shaggy hair that looked weird on him, and he tucked his t-shirt into his shorts, never having been informed how mortally uncool that was. On top of that, being born and raised in California had somehow invested him with a semi-Irish accent that most people thought was fake. It probably was.

But if he was unaware of the ins and outs of cool, he had semi-creepy stalker guy nailed. People usually didn't like him, but then he would talk to them and they found themselves telling him everything, bad hair, worse clothes, weird accent and all. He listened well, understood everything—whether explained or not—sympathized perfectly and they found in him someone that truly knew them. Then they liked him, until the next day when he'd forgotten that he'd so much as met them, let alone become their dearest friend. Then they disliked him again, just with better reasons this time.

But her? She had a big smile, huge eyes and surprisingly little else. Unless it had recently rained, in which case she had extremely excited mad-scientist bouncy hair. And it rained a lot. On rain days, she resembled a very surprised, mischievous chipmunk with a fro. And half of the time her laugh was more visible than audible, shaking her tomboy farm-girl frame until her enormous eyes entirely disappeared.

But usually she sat, appearing happily astonished on her counter in the corner, leaning forward, legs swinging, shoulders shrugged to her cheeks with her eyes wide above them as she talked to Hayley. They giggled like girls the world over, and all the boys played all the harder knowing that the girls were watching, not knowing that the girls were not really watching them; not knowing that the girls were talking about movies, clothes and lip gloss; not knowing that the girls neither knew nor particularly cared what game the boys were playing, let alone who was winning. But the girls were polite enough to "ooh" and "ah" whenever, in the interest of arousing interest, some boy was simultaneously introduced to the laws of physics and a wall.

When the game ended, the boy rapidly found himself in front of the girl, laughing at her bouncing legs. Hayley said something that made her laugh just as he was about to ask her a question and his train of thought promptly jumped off a cliff. Freckles he'd known, but dimples? Had she no conscience?

So they talked till she went home, and the next week he found her in the corner with Hayley, legs still bouncing, and they talked, and the next, and the next. But he always remained the boy who played, and she the girl who watched. She only once told him why, and though he'd asked, for once he neither sympathized nor understood, nor did he even really listen. She knew him, and he thought he knew her.

Then the boy moved twice in as many months. And he forgot the girl who watched as he switched families, siblings and churches.

He became the boy who played the games in other groups, and she the girl who no longer watched the games at all. She sat on a bed, not a counter, and her feet did not bounce. She no longer talked to Hayley, but to her mom, and neither of them giggled when the doctors cut off her feet to save her heart.

The girl who watched died in a hospital far from her home and farther from the boy who played the games. She sent him a heart-shaped necklace: her broken heart and his.

The boy now has even shaggier hair that usually looks weird, or at least wild, without any assistance from him. He sometimes tucks his shirt into jeans, but never shorts. He invented a story for the accent, and occasionally he still plays the games, bad knee bad shoulder bad back and all. But usually he is found quiet on a counter in a corner, experimentally bouncing his legs, and watching.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Stop the Whistling

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Dare I even speak such heresy? Watch the movie, don't read the book.

Qualification: if you have ever been accused, in the vernacular, with digressions every third or fourth word, as Dunnett says, of being a narrow-minded bigoted Bible thumping hate mongering idiot whose continued existence would give humans a bad name if only you were a human, if this description of you would be recognized by someone you didn't realize thought she was dating you, then watch the movie, don't read the book.

The movie is great, so long as you don't read too much into certain parts. The movie is wholesome and good and clean and one that (I think) I'd be fine showing in the presence of certain not so pink now as they were before nieces of mine, save for a few moments of violence that the story hinges upon. On top of that, it's one that cannot fail to absolutely captivate. I cannot praise it highly enough.

The book is prolific with immorality, though probably no more than most novels, and a lesbian (relationship? love affair? physical relationship?), well, a lesbian something is the center of the book. In the movie, it's a friendship, and a lovely, lifelong friendship, a David and Jonathan kind of friendship, just with a significantly cuter cast.

So, three of five, and barely three: three for the sake of the five star movie.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I Thought Ashes Were Light

Angela's AshesAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

So begins Frank McCourt's autobiography. And he's right: he had a hard life. But I still don't see that he had any cause to inflict it on the rest of us. I had a rather unpleasant childhood but at least I didn't write a book about it, and if I ever do it will be with significantly more humor and vivacity than this book contained. It wasn't a bad book, it just has absolutely no redemption.

The plot (spoiler): guy meets and impregnates girl in Brooklyn. Guy marries girl, the author is born. Lots of kids born, lots of kids die, father descends into alcoholism and can't keep work. The family goes "on the dole," more kids die, more drinking, more rampant poverty, cruel family, vicious teachers, etc. Then the war. Dad goes to get a job in England, never sends money. Mom gets sick but lives, Frank learns to steal, then gets a job, saves, steals and whatever else he can do to get enough money to move back to America, and the book ends. But oh look, it's an inclusio: we begin with a broke guy having sex in New York, and we end up with a broke guy having sex in New York. Yay!

Perhaps it's as bleak as it is due to looking back on life: whatever you endure as a child is normal. You have no standard beyond your own experience to judge by, so if you ever move from a difficult life to an easier life, you'll come to view your earlier years with more disfavor. But when you are going through them, they're fun, lively and thrilling, not just such extreme, bland lows as we might remember. Definitely not as bad as he remembers. But, c'est la vie.

I will say that between this book and Beloved, I'm beginning to wonder what kind of masochistic guilt motivates the Pulitzer committee: there's something there that isn't right. Sure, a book with no evil is an evil book, but a book with no good is hardly better.

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Please Stop Pattering

Kill Me If You CanKill Me If You Can by James Patterson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It has been rumored among the more unfeeling of my "friends" that Jesse is a cynical man. "Jesse," they say, "is a bloke" (I give all of my friends British accents so I don't feel badly for hating them); "Jesse," they say, "is a bloke who, when confronted with a beautiful, short, single, Calvinistic paedobaptist redhead with a flurry of freckles on her cheeks and a copy of Chesterton in her hands, assumes that she'll either turn out to be his sister, in favor of low-church liturgy, or she'll get hit by a truck. But probably two out of three."

True, not one among them is necessarily the brightest Guinness in the fish tank: I glum no puddles; I wiggle no marsh. I sail the ocean (usually) beating Lucy. Have they not heard my life motto? When I am faced with evils too great to be borne, such as Briana prevailing against me at chess, or Andrew shaving, or Dave, I say "Why so downcast, O my soul? Why so disquieted within me? This shadow too shall resolve into beauty, for if it didn't, then it wouldn't, and that would just straight-up suck." Am I not joyful? Is not this optimism at it's absolute, fatalistic finest?

I say all of this as a prelude to my review of Patterson. If any of you are aspiring smithies of the words, should any of you meander through Anglo-Saxon dictionaries looking for gems to glean, should any of your fingers be as inkstained as Jo March's and you know who I'm talking about because you read everything no matter what kind of feministic drivel with wretched sentence-construction it is, then buy this book. Don't read it yet, but buy it. Five years from now a moment will arrive. You will re-read that first chapter of yours and realize with horror and despair that some thirty-five year old greasy-haired, unemployed twit sleeping till two pm in his mom's basement while wearing the same pants you bought for your twelve-year-old niece this Christmas, that twit, still living off of Doritos and Coco-Puffs, the one who spends his time on-line gaming with twelve-year-olds, he wrote a blog post in ten minutes maintaining that Counter-Strike was totally way more awesome than Halo and his blog post was better written than your chapter. That moment of terrifying clarity will arrive. When it does, and you realize that you write like a twelve year old Pakistani immigrant who learned English for the sole purpose of compiling a phone book, that you can't put your pen to paper without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge and your delusions weren't of grandeur, but of adequacy, and they were definitely delusions, when your only hope seems to be gainful employment or suicide—at that moment, pick up this book, say audibly "this man is a NY Times best-seller," and read it. When you're halfway through, you'll print your manuscript and send it to his publisher complete with a request for an advance and a promise of two new books for him next week.

It was the worst book I've ever finished, and I've read Rick Joyner, Left Behind and Twilight. Was it train-of-thought? Three hundred pages, two hundred chapters? His characters have the depth of a mud puddle on a newly paved street after a drizzle and I know damned well which one I'd prefer spending my time with. Especially if worms are involved. I got it for a dollar, read it in an hour and felt as incredulous as Goliath looking at David, just fewer projectiles.

If prison libraries stock books like this then I think those against water-boarding as "cruel and unusual" have been straining out gnats through their teeth.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

No, He Isn't French.

Murder in Mesopotamia (Hercule Poirot, #14)Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first introduction to Poirot via the written word, and I can't get David Suchet out of my head. For the most part it doesn't matter: the finicky Belgian seems to have possessed the poor chap, save for his age. He's too young to be Poirot, and the moustache ought to be just a wee smidge bigger. And yes, computer, I know it's not a word, I don't care. Not a full smidgen, not even a small smidgen, but a wee smidge. But again, it was save for his age, and that did jar me a good deal. Here I was expecting a Belgian with a bit of hair on the sides, and his head is described as an egg? Not fair to me and my poor nerves.

I've always considered myself a writer, though non-practicing, of course. But this authoress went out of her way to shun credit: the person that wrote this let us know that the person that wrote this was informing us that someone else wrote it. In other words, Christie summons a Dr. to call in a nurse that happened to be present to write the account, so Poirot has unusually little face time. I presume it's unusual, that is—as I said, it's my first Poirot. In any case, I loved it. Light, flippant, and not too obvious (yes, I admit it, I was wrong: not only did I not guess the murderer, but the method of murder escaped me). I was right on a couple of less important mysteries, though, so my back shall be patted.

Christie is also a well known authoress for a reason, and the heroine / authoress of this little book is just great. She describes one character as being straight out of a P. G. Wodehouse novel, while another affords her no greater opportunity for kindness than "he must have been a lovely baby..." She's saucy, practical and entirely reminiscent of Lewis' old school of English innkeepers that view customers as a nuisance, but tempered with self-deprecating homour, compassion, and a good deal of grit. Just another fun book.

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Terry Pratchett, You Saucy Mynks.

Mort (Discworld, #4)Mort by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two things to note. First, I'm sorry Terry, I've resisted you too long. Second, if you giggle like a girl, and you are, in fact, not a girl, it can be rather uncomfortable to do so in a library full of huge hairy smelly unwashed homeless people that know where you sleep and carry pipe wrenches in leather holsters on their hips.

This book was just straight funny. Pratchett has a Wodehousian turn of phrase, and I caught both a line from Mortimer and a philosophy from Lewis, who of course published it some forty or fifty years before I oh-so-proudly formulated it for myself. Pratchett tends to get a bit dry when grits his teeth, spits on his hands and tries to force a plot into the book, but aside from said plot, the book was just great. Complete with red-headed freckled princess, awkward clumsy kid who takes an apprenticeship with a rather lonely Death (bones optional was the selling point), Death's adopted daughter and a two thousand year old wizard; yes, this book was fun. Kudos, Little Miss Ligon.

A few snippets:

After five minutes Mort came out of the tailor's wearing a loose fitting brown garment of imprecise function, which had been understandably unclaimed by a previous owner and had plenty of room for him to grow, on the assumption that he would grow into a nineteen-legged elephant.

(A bit later, talking to Death:)

"What are we going to do now?"
D: BUY YOU SOME NEW CLOTHES.
"These were new today—yesterday, I mean."
D: REALLY?
"Father said the shop was famous for its budget clothing," said Mort, running to keep up.
D: IT CERTAINLY ADDS A NEW TERROR TO POVERTY.



She had silver hair, and eyes with a pearly sheen to them, and the kind of interesting but impractical long dress that tends to be worn by tragic heroines who clasp single roses to their bosom while gazing soulfully at the moon.

An inner-city area sorely in need either of governmental help or, for preference, a flamethrower...It didn't have so much a neighbourhood as an ecology...

(Of a river:) Even before it entered the city it was slow and heavy with the silt of the plains, and by the time it got to The Shades even an agnostic could have walked across it.

(A wizard's front door plaque:) Igneous Cutwell, DM (Unseen), Marster of the Infinit, Illuminartus, Wyzard to Princes, Gardian of the Sacred Portalls, If Out leave Maile with Mrs. Nugent Next Door.

...the kind of person who throws all his socks at the wall and wears the ones that don't stick...




Yes, this book was fun.

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Well and Glad.

Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gladwell, par for his course, remains preeminently readable and manages to assemble a pleasant, interesting book. But of his books, this one I liked the least. Perhaps too much Dunnett and Wiman make a simple sentence vaguely soporific; perhaps sleeping in my car in sub-zero weather leaves me less rested than I thought.

Either way, it was still a quick and pleasant little read. His thesis, simply (and far more pedantically) put, is that the miraculous stories of success of which we are aware are less miraculous than they seem. Maybe there was a sandbar, maybe mom did pack me a lunch, whatever. Rather than a miracle, a perfect sort of storm occurs, getting Bill Gates thousands of free hours on a computer when such a thing was unheard of, and getting Oppenheimer off of an attempted murder rap (yes, murder). Thus, when opportunity appears they are in the perfect position to grab the proverbially knocking hand and either take it off at the shoulder or drag the body in with it.

So the vast majority of professional Canadian hockey players are born toward the end of the Canadian hockey cut-off year: a kid that's seven years eleven months tends to be larger and stronger than a kid that's seven and a day, so he makes the team, gets the practice, gets sent to the camp, gets the extra practice, gets noticed by scouts, gets drafted, gets brain damage and ends up spending his fortune being fed soup through a straw; long live the Queen. The flurry of Jewish doctors and lawyers succeed because they were descended from the flurry of Jewish immigrants that had to work obscenely long and hard hours, passing the habit on to their children (who wiped the floor with the lazy earlier immigrants, like us), and many other circumstances, including Asian math skills of all things.

The magic behind success? 10,000 hours. Simple, straightforward. If you want to excel at anything, if you want to master anything, put in 10,000 hours. Or just marry aforementioned Jewish doctor or lawyer.

This book ends, however, with a rare, hushed, even sacred view of Gladwell's personal life—a touch that's absent his other analytical books, a touch that ushers the reader into the realm of confidant and Gladwell into the realm of human. So intimate a gesture intimates to me that when I part the covers of his next book, I'll probably sit back, light a pipe and greet an old friend whose conversation I've ever enjoyed, but one that I feel I'm finally getting to know.

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Broke and Broker

The BrokerThe Broker by John Grisham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is probably my favourite of Grisham's books, despite a smattering of sentimental cliches that make me desire to inspect the brains of some fairly central characters with a fire poker. The worst one:

(She:) "Have I offended you?"
(He:) "You could smile more."
She nodded slightly and her eyes were instantly moist. She looked away, through the window, and said, "I have so little to smile about."

This type of thing, along with the rhythm (wretched) of most of his prose convinces me that Grisham ought to be a screenwriter, not a novelist. The singular strength that has propelled him to stardom is that of his plots, which usually aren't bad. It is a rare writer that can combine intriguing plots with good prose and fully developed characters. Grisham is one for three, and that one is occasionally debatable. Yet, with his characters flat and his prose poor, I'm still reading him due to my inability to pass up fifty cent books when coins are flirting with the pens in my pocket. I'm just not reading him fast enough to be done with him before I'm annoyed at him.

To top it off, he spent six months in Italy "researching" gelato, architecture, cuisine and language for this book. I empathize. Let us say with the Hindu: life is suffering, get a helmet. P. T. Barnum's famous quip that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public gives me hope to one day become independently wealthy. Perhaps my first book ought to take place in the Mediterranean instead of Mexico...

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Arguably

Arguably: Selected EssaysArguably: Selected Essays by Christopher Hitchens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The late Christopher Hitchens shared one tremendous skill with his less notorious brother: the boys can write. And they aren't cowards. They remind me—I apologize in advance—they remind me of the scene in Miss Congeniality when fifty contestants for Miss Universe or whatever say they want world peace and then Sandra Bullock wants harsher punishments for parole violators. I get exasperatedly amused at Dufflepuddish people violently bowing to the variable light breeze of being PC and (all hail) Tolerant. No wonder they do yoga—I get whiplash just listening to them. But neither of the Hitchens brothers are cowed by the intelligentsia. Neither of the brothers are PC, nor are they crass, as most of those attempting to avoid the PC charge are. To top it off, Christopher Hitchens' fame gorged itself on the miracle-grow of (gasp) Intolerance in a world that tolerates everything but intolerance.

This book is quite simply splendid, and has something for everyone. From P.G. Wodehouse to John Brown there is great stuff on almost every page. Hitchens' research is impeccable, though his conclusions are often flat-out wrong (says the twenty-seven year-old who happens to be nine years into his four year degree). But wrong conclusions are often more profitable than simply reading all the things that you'd have written yourself, which seems a type of mental asexuality, if you will. Only with the introduction of that which is wholly other can your mind give birth to new thoughts, new life; without the stimulation of controversy the mind atrophies. And Hitchens, true to form, manages to polarize even from beyond the grave. He'd be pleased to know that a girl (whose appearance leaned toward the ailing piscine, as well as being endowed with... "sufficient" ears attached at right angles) managed to challenge the record for the standing high-jump when I expressed my reservations regarding Hitchens' views on Lincoln. (I shrieked "NO HE DIDN'T" in Applebees, and my server ended up wearing my root beer. I tipped well.)

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Friday, January 25, 2013

For a Glory and a Covering

May the Mennonites forgive me. And the Pierces. And Becca in an odd month. I am to be found in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16: the head-covering passage. And, to paraphrase Lewis, if your mind is shut, let at least your Bible be open.

The typical reading of this passage is that "a woman's hair is her covering; let's move on." And to an extent that's all good and true; verse fifteen is anything but ambiguous: a woman's hair is her glory and covering. But, should you have the misfortune to read the entire passage with one of your eyes only halfway closed, you'll come across a problem that cannot be satisfied without extremely... well, "flexible" exegesis. That problem is verse six: if a woman is uncovered, then let her also be shorn.

If the only covering in the passage is hair, we're in trouble. For Paul would be saying, "If a woman has no hair, then let her hair also be cut off." No, there have to be two heads spoken of. And the only other "head" for a woman in this passage is man.

So here's my thesis: verses 1-5a are speaking of the heads that verse three mentions: God the head of Christ, Christ the head of man, man the head of woman. After that, hair is introduced and the types of "heads" alternate, but not before. This would mean that verse six could be interpreted as "If a woman is not under authority..." This also makes it clear as to why men ought not to be covered: the authority over a man ought to be Christ, not the woman. And if a woman is acting like a man then she might as well look like one, and all hail Marine haircuts. But if looking like a man is shameful for a woman, then let her act in a feminine manner: let her be covered.

So the fundamental principle of the passage? Men are to act like men. We ought to take responsibility. Women are to act like women. They ought to submit to man as Christ submitted to God.

But this has further ramifications. Christ's submission to God was in spite of His equality with God, and a woman's submission to her husband is in spite of her equality, which she ought not to consider something to be grasped at. The passage goes on to say that neither woman nor man is independent of the other. So—and be careful here—a woman's relationship with her husband ought to be similar to that of Christ's relationship to God: a wife ought to be able to say a good half of John 15 without batting an eyelash.

And of course, if her hair happens to hit the small of her back or at least go "poof" in a light drizzle, all the better.

Blessings,
JB

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Inked Girl With Poor Instincts Regarding Nature

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3)The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Only one review for the trilogy; I know, I'm tight lipped. But if they aren't read as a series they really don't make sense. Each book deals with a different aspect of Salander: her genius and dysfunction, her history, and finally her redemption. The plot was intricate, the prose was acceptable and the characters fantastic. Horrible people, but well drawn, like some of da Vinci's sketches: one wonders why on earth he bothered drawing that particular person. True, if you see a car wreck you'll see people around with cameras, but that type of morbid fascination doesn't always extend to the corners in art. With Larsson, it kind of does.

There is a disturbing moral vacuity that one finds on reading him. Adultery, theft, murder--all are acceptable. Rape is horrific, burning a rapist alive is good. Sodomy is appalling, unless it's in revenge. The one moral standard seems to be rage: if they deserve it, you damned well better give it. And smile as you do. So no, I'd not recommend him for much beyond a character sketch, except to a reader with a fine-toothed comb.

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Ecce, Charles!

Descent Into HellDescent Into Hell by Charles Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Charles the Inkling Williams. Wow. I've been planning on reading him for some time, but had been hesitant due to mixed reviews from unnamed persons. Upon finding Frank Peretti upon their shelves, I happily heaved their advice overboard and bought the first Williams I could find, which happened to be Descent Into Hell.

/>Reviewing this book is hard. It's a type of Supernatural Realism with a heavy dose of Mythical Faerie, and blended with some of the most superb, even sublime prose that I've encountered. Nothing really happens in the book, even with a succubus and opened graves, nothing really happens. You feel, at alternating chapters, as if you're walking either up a flight of stairs into an open vista of a far green country bordered by breakers curled like a lover's wet hair, or as if you're walking down a flight of stairs into a cellar of unnamed and unknown horrors with a whispered voice hissing "mad, mad, you are mad..."


There are two truly "main" characters, and then there are a handful of peripheral characters and one central character. There are two, yea verily even three timelines coinciding; there is Lilith and Death, there is Poetry and Life. There is the Real, and there is the Fake; Zion and Gomorrah, and I could explain the entire book without giving a single thing away.

The only explanation for Williams being as unknown as he is is two-fold: either this is by far his best work, or he was simply overshadowed by the vast output of Lewis and the incomparable genius of Tolkien. But this book is so very worth the read. I'll be adding him to my shelves as often as I find him.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Essay 4: Movie on Exodus

Jesse Broussard

10.15.12

Phil / RelS 303



Prompt #7:
If you were making a film based on the Exodus account in Exodus through Deuteronomy, what three key passages would you consider essential to include? Explain why you chose the three you chose. How do these passages capture important aspects of the Biblical Exodus account? If you refer to Tooze’s “Moses and the Reel Exodus,” be sure to cite it.




1). Were I to make a movie about the Exodus, it would be centered almost entirely on the life of Moses. His life simply dominates the story. As a result, the three scenes that I would find essential for a movie would be, first, from Pharaoh acquiescing to Moses and letting Israel go until the Crossing of the Red Sea; second, Israel at Mount Sinai sending Moses up the Mountain; and finally, Moses’ Song and Final Blessing as he prepares to die.

2). The first one is self-explanatory. The Exodus is a “going-out," so we have to have something for them to "go out" of, and tossing in the tyrannical Pharaoh simply sweetens the plot. He makes a magnificent villain, and is just as magnificently destroyed: unwilling to weaken his empire by losing all of his unpaid laborers, he ends up nearly destroying his empire by losing not only his unpaid laborers, but his army and his life. And the catalyst in all of this is Moses.

3). Moses seems to live his entire life as an intercessor: between Israelite and Egyptian (with fatal results), between Israelite and Israelite, between Israel and Pharaoh, and all of this is merely a prequel to his epic role as the intercessor between YHVH and Israel, which is established in the delivery of Israel from the land of Egypt through the Red Sea. His victory over Pharaoh within the land of Egypt sets him up as the leader of Israel, and the Red Sea solidifies his role in granite and steel, the "horse and rider thrown into the sea."

4). But the Red Sea "battle" demonstrates far more than this. Israel (and many Egyptians with them) is following Moses out of Egypt as if they were a conquering army. They are sent forth with the spoils of the Egyptians as all Egypt mourns behind them: the devastation of Passover is most destructive, most desolate when the Angel doesn't pass over. And this is but the climax of a long list, the tenth destruction wrought by God through His chosen intermediary, Moses. The Israelites have seen the might of Egypt buffeted by blow after blow until it's finally smashed, driven to its knees sheer by the miracles of God—“the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword"—and now, standing on the edge of an ocean with an already defeated army behind them, the instant response is one of abject terror; the instant reaction, to blame Moses. This attitude of rapid forgetfulness and seemingly nescient oblivion to all that has happened in the extremely recent past characterizes Israel throughout the Exodus wandering.

5). In spite of Israel's doubt and faithlessness, God saves them through Moses' upraised arms: a surer validation of Moses' role as YHVH's chosen vessel there can be none. Then the pursuing force is slaughtered at their very heels, again through Moses' operation. So this part of the narrative demonstrates Moses as YHVH's chosen representative without any room for doubt, and as such is an absolutely essential part of any story from this narrative. Omitting it would be akin to writing a history of Islam without mentioning Mohammed.

6). The second period that I'd choose to focus upon in a film would be when YHVH descends upon the mountain, and Israel decides to send Moses to speak for them. Not only would this be one of the most breathtaking and terrifying scenes imaginable—a mountaintop glowing as if the sun itself was settling upon it, the blinding light shrouded through billowing, blackening smoke thick as flesh that battles to mask the flames within, all while seven thunders round a throne shatter the deathly silence of the desert like a Seraph war: the great and terrible "qol" of YHVH described by Ezekiel when the Glory-Cloud descends to the earth and alights upon a mountaintop—not only all of this, but it is also where the stipulations of the covenant are established, the covenant that Israel proceeds to violate for the remainder of her history; the covenant that plagues her like a bastard child through the remainder of the Exodus narrative and every narrative from that day on.

7). In a very true way, this mountain is the foundation of the nation of Israel. This mountain is their identity: they are the chosen people of YHVH, and this is where His choice is revealed. This is His covenant with them, and every judgment they receive, every time they are occupied, conquered, or beset by disease, drought or any "act of God," it is all due to their violation of this covenant, and can only be repaired by repentance and a return to their God. For, if they are faithful and obey, He will be faithful and establish them in the land that He promised to them.

8). Very telling is the fact that Israel demands that Moses go between God and them: they fear that the Presence of God will destroy them (a fear that we see repeated almost every time the Angel of The Lord appears). No great surprise when we think of the sight that greeted them. But the requisite corollary is that they don't have this same fear of Moses. Indeed, as the mere mouthpiece of YHVH, they don't seem to fear him at all: is he not a man? Here is the saying proven true that a prophet is only without honor in his own country, for Moses is hailed as a savior of Israel in every age save his own. In his own he is opposed time and time again; attempts to replace him as a leader are endless, while on God's end, there are threats to replace Israel with some more prescient (or at least polite) followers. It is only Moses' intercession for those that seek to destroy him that preserves the line of Israel.

9). After the destruction of Pharaoh and the theophany of Mount Horeb, the Song of Moses seems a bit anti-climactic: no great storm, no ocean divided by wind, just a poem. But it is this poem that foreshadows the cyclical nature of judgment, repentance, restoration, fall and judgment that constitutes the remainder of Israel’s history. As the Jewish Publication Society’s commentary on Deuteronomy puts it:

In recent years, under the impact of studies of Near Eastern treaties and biblical covenants, scholars have proposed that the poem belongs to a genre that they call the "covenant lawsuit." This genre is supposedly based on the literary form that a suzerain would use in appealing to the gods to condemn a vassal for violating the terms of a treaty that they had witnessed; the suzerain would do so prior to declaring war on the vassal to punish that violation.1


10). The quotation goes on to assert that this interpretation seems to be too limited, though noted Old Testament scholar Meredith Kline, in his Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy spends a great deal of time defending it quite adequately. But whether or not the poem is a covenant lawsuit, the poem definitely affixes curses for obedience and blessings for obedience to the covenant, and it is these blessings and curses (further enumerated in Leviticus 26) that haunt Israel’s history at least until the end of old Jerusalem in AD 70.

11). The reason for these blessings and curses is put forward in the poem quite simply. As Israel is the chosen nation of YHVH, their obedience and disobedience reflect upon Him. They either honor Him or dishonor Him, but they cannot, as His people, fail to reflect back to Him. In the words of The Torah, a Modern Commentary:

In Moses' song, it is not compassion that motivates God; rather, it is the divine honor that must be protected. Israel is both endangered and saved because it is close to the Divine and is thereby involved in God's needs as well. God must be seen to be God, and if Israel endangers that majesty it must suffer the consequences. At the same time, it will be rescued from perdition because God cannot allow Israel to be destroyed. The fate of the covenant people is thus forever hammered out on the anvil of history, for the ambivalence of the divine Partner makes Israel the object both of love and of anger. The nations are the tools of divine action, but God's goal is to create an evermore loyal and observant Israel. Thus does the song explain the relationship, and in the mouth of Moses it becomes a statement of fundamental belief.2


12). The Song of Moses threatens Israel with the consequences of her status. She is an example to the nations; she is the child at the chalkboard: her failure to keep the covenant of YHVH will be punished with a terrible and public punishment, and her obedience will be blessed, to the wonder of the corners of the world. This is the legacy established by Moses, and this is a fitting end to the Exodus.





Endnotes: 1. Page 509, Tigay, Jeffrey H. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1996. 2. Page 1403, Plaut, W. Gunther, and David E. S. Stein. Torah: A Modern Commentary. New York: Union for Reform Judaism, 2006.


• Three fundamental aspects of a film narrative include: Pharaoh acquiescing to Moses and letting Israel go to the Crossing of the Red Sea; Israel at Mount Sinai sending Moses up the Mountain; and Moses’ Song and Final Blessing are the three most essential aspects of the Exodus narrative for a film to include o Pharaoh’s decision through the Red Sea Crossing  Foundation of the entire Exodus narrative  Sets Moses up as the leader of Israel  Demonstrates YHVH’s faithfulness and Israel’s disbelief and forgetfulness • YHVH had already performed miraculous signs to affect the freedom of Israel o Israel at Mount Sinai sending Moses up the Mountain  Again, a veritable visual assault  Demonstrates the overall relationship between Israel, Moses and God • Israel’s fright and Moses’ intercession • The Fear of the Lord is only present when He Is Present • Moses as the intercessor receives the commands from YHVH and the blame from the people.  Further demonstrates Israel’s forgetfulness  Establishes the covenant of the law that Israel later continually violates o Moses’ Song and Final Blessing  A promise and a threat • Covenant lawsuit  Israel as a chosen nation • Her sins and her failures reflect on YHVH Works Cited:

Plaut, W. Gunther, and David E. S. Stein. Torah: A Modern Commentary. New York: Union for Reform Judaism, 2006.

Tigay, Jeffrey H. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. Philadelphia Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1996.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Evangellyfish, Doug Wilson

EvangellyfishEvangellyfish by Douglas Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As you wipe your feet before entering the house, here I shall open with a confession: when I was introduced to the writings of Douglas Wilson, I didn't like them. I have gone this far, allow me to go further: having all the literary discretion of a vacuum cleaner and taste located solely in my mouth, I owned, read, re-read and enjoyed books that shall not here be named, but were written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

Now that my ethos lies in a smouldering ruin, allow me to say that my appreciation for Wilson's writing has increased enormously over the years. But even with this confession, there is simply no denying that Evangellyfish is the high-water mark of his writing: from the dedication onward it is absolutely hilarious, fluctuating from wry cynicism to popping optimism, lightly flippant without sacrificing depth; all in all, wholly refreshing. It skips around from character to character with an obviously deep affection for all of them, and the entire story is heavily scented with grandpa's whiskey cavendish, deep belly-laughs, and a warm, easy humour. The shift from perspective to perspective is smooth as a jazz progression, and there's nary a two dimensional character to be found, from the twitterpated bellhop to the drily cynical priest that doesn't even appear in the story, every person has depth, warmth, and a certain level of sympathy. It is a sheer, racing delight to read, packed with Wodehouse and Chesterton, Lewis and Mencken, and--dare I say it?--deeply rooted in the blues.

On a side note, any of you who read the story when he began posting it chapter by chapter will be, as the KJV would say, astonied. Not only is everything better and lighter, the ending creates a new world. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Adam, Noah and the New World

2. Some argue that the flood story begins as an "uncreation" story and ends as a re-creation story. What elements of Genesis 1-3 and Genesis 6-9 support that interpretation? What would the effect be on the primeval history of Genesis 1-11, if this interpretation is followed?

1). My essay is taken from the second prompt, and my thesis is quite straightforward: the text, in similarity of speech, story, and in the numerological indication, necessitates a de-creation and re-creation interpretation. I'll begin by taking the textual indications--similarities of word choice, location, etcetera, and then will move on to overarching thematic elements that are similar or identical, and will conclude my argument with the numerological significance that the author gives us in the age of Noah. I will then move on to one possible interpretation of the Noah and Ham facet of the narrative in light of this reading.

2). Before noting similarities in the text, we need to understand that the deluge was leveled primarily against dry land (which had been cursed in Genesis 3), man (taken from the cursed earth), birds, and land animals (which at the least, live on the cursed earth). Sea creatures would have had a grand time, taking field trips to the Carpathian peaks; light and dark, sun, moon and stars would have been unaffected, while the land would have been covered and man and land animals would have been annihilated. Therefore, if this is a de-creation, any de-creational language would mirror the creational language of dry land, man, birds and the animals, and that is how we find it. This language is infrequent, but impossible to misconstrue: Genesis 7:21, 24 give us almost a verbatim destruction of the Genesis 1 creation. "Cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth... everything that creeps upon the earth..." in Genesis 1, compared to "cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth..." in Genesis 7. This, combined with the otherwise rare phrase "in whose nostrils was the breath of life" that in Genesis 7 is a persistent refrain, force us back to the 1st chapter's account of creation.

3). Also important to note is the flood narrative's consistent reference to the earth: twenty one "earth's" (a combination of two numbers that are already significant to the Hebrew mind: three sets of seven) as well as three "face of the ground" references. There is an obvious preoccupation with the earth being cursed, and we as readers are not allowed to forget it. Creation was defaced and is being washed.

4). Perhaps less striking than the verbatim textual similarities but no less apparent is the order in which events happen: in Genesis 1, water above from water below, and water below from the dry land. In Genesis 7, the water below undoes the creation of the land, and the water above undoes the separation of the two firmaments. Creation literally is working backwards. Then we are given the primordial picture once again: the earth is formless and void, and the ark, not the Spirit of God, is "moving" upon the surface of the waters. But soon, the darkness and light are separated as the clouds break, the intermingling waters are separated (the rain stops), then the water and dry land begin to separate, Noah opens the window and there are sun, moon and stars; he sends out a raven and a dove and the birds and fish are restored, and finally, beasts and man descend from the ark: the new creation.

5). The final part of the narrative mirroring is when the ark comes to rest upon a mountain (Genesis 8:4). Looking closely at the text we can see that the Garden of Eden was also on a mountain (the rivers proceeded from it, and we're presuming that water has always flowed downhill). So, we have men, on a mountaintop, surrounded by animals and descending water. God gives them a promise, a command, and attendant blessings and curses, much of which is a strict repetition--often a verbatim repetition--of His earlier dealings with Adam. But here, for the first time, capital punishment is instituted, eating animals is allowed and eating blood is forbidden: man is given yet greater responsibility and freedom, while this time, all the surrounding animals, instead of plants, are for their use. Now all of this so far has been fairly clear and self-explanatory, the kind of thing any serious student would notice on a first reading of the text. But this next part is slightly more abstruse; it kind of goes out onto the skinny branches of exegesis, though it fits, as Dunnett would say, like an old man cutting cloth in an attic.

6). Numbers have a huge role in the Hebrew mindset. The Bible is full to the brim of genealogies, lists of tribal populations, and strict (though not chronological) accountings of the timing of events. In Genesis we're given genealogies that in some cases have an obvious significance: Enoch lives a perfect "year" of years, 365, and disappears; his son dies in the year of the flood, just failing to reach a trinity of tens (ten x ten x ten). The two "sevenths" from Adam are starkly contrasted: Lamech, the murderous poet, and Enoch, the disappearing prophet, and this is just the surface of this one genealogy. Now in this particular narrative, we're given Noah's age again and again and again, and always in the set of three: in this year, and this month, and this day of the month. But the most notable of these is the last of these sets of three, in verse thirteen of chapter eight: "And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first (month), the first (day) of the month, that the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and indeed the surface of the ground was dry."

7). This is the big change: the ark has come to rest, the dove has not returned, the rain has long since stopped, and here, the ark is opened. Here, the world is again presented to man. This is when man again looks out over the creation. And when does it happen? The first day of the first month of the first year after Noah's six hundredth year. God created the world in six days, and on the seventh, He rested. Noah lived six hundred years, and now he is viewing the earth again. The work is done, the world has been de-created and re-created, and now the waters, the ark, and, in a sense, Noah, are all at rest. If this is not at the least a sideways nod to the six days of creation, our author is singularly dense, and, as we are given ample proof, dense is one thing that he is not.

8). But as I said before, this could be construed as reaching. So let us follow it out. If we are being referred to creation in verse thirteen of chapter eight, what ought to happen next? God ought to give man a mandate. He does so in verse sixteen. Man ought to express dominion over the animals, and verse twenty of chapter eight satisfies that requirement. We ought to find man in a garden, and in verse twenty of chapter nine, after the extended covenant, we find this as well. There ought to be a snake in that garden, and we are given Ham. The list goes on.

9). So there are simply too many similarities for this to be anything but a new creation, but how ought this to alter our reading of the text? This is my final point, and it is one that I shall have to buttress a great deal. I am seeking to posit that we are given a second "fall in the garden story," and that, loosely and typologically speaking, Noah ought to be read as an image of God, Ham as the snake, and Shem and Japheth as man. This may at first seem counterintuitive, as we have a drunk "god" and a view of dad naked in place of a fruit (not to mention the snake-man Ham), but upon closer inspection, it fits remarkably well, as I will demonstrate.

10). The first thing to note is that Noah has labored, and is now resting, as God had done with His garden in Eden. So far, the interpretation fits. But now we come to the issue of "drunk," and this is one of the chief objections to the interpretation that I'm supporting: how can Noah represent God if Noah is drunk? The Hebrew language is not perfect, but it is quite clear on this point: the word rendered "and became drunk" at the absolute least means that Noah drank like he'd just turned twenty-one. The word is never interpreted as anything less than a lot to drink, so any wiggling within various meanings of the words is out, but why is this a problem to reading Noah as an image of God? This is long before man is given any command to avoid drunkenness, so construing Noah's actions as inherently sinful is a long, long stretch, as there is nothing in the text that criticizes him. Also, he's in his tent, not dancing naked in the streets: the text is just as clear on that point. Ham has to enter his tent to see his father's nakedness, so his father is "covered" by the "garment" of the tent. And finally, even if Noah is acting like Attila with a harem like Suleiman's, the author is the one drawing the allusion, and he deliberately avoids making a judgment of any kind, so we ought to follow his example if we would see what he wants us to see.

11). So Noah is in his tent, in relaxed attire, and Ham saw the nakedness of his father. The text here does allow for Ham's sin to be anything from raping his father to simply walking in at an inopportune time, and the only thing that sheds any light on what he does is his brothers' response, designed to undo what Ham did. And what do they do? They cover their father with a garment, while keeping their heads turned so "the nakedness of their father they did not see." The text says that Ham uncovers and sees, while Shem and Japheth cover and do not see. Without any further elucidation by the author, the reading that does the least violence to the text is to assume that Noah was naked (or nearly) in his tent, and Ham invaded his father's privacy, then told his brothers.

12). The reaction of Shem and Japheth is very interesting, however. First off, they refuse to see their father (another allusion to God, who is always shrouded in smoke or behind a veil). But they do seem to feel that immediate action needs to be taken, so they (naturally) take a garment, place it over both of their shoulders, and walk it backwards into their father's tent (drawing, perhaps, an allusion to the veil in the tabernacle with the stitched cherubim facing outward [itself drawing an allusion to Eden]), where they drape the garment over their father. As opposed to, for example, telling Ham to knock it off. Why? Why is this elaborate act of clothing their father necessary?

13). The key to this whole story is the garment. In the Jewish mindset in particular, your garment, your cloak, was your sign of office. This is why David's conscience smote him for cutting Saul's robe while Saul was going to the bathroom (lifting his hand against the Lord's anointed), why Elisha got the cloak of Elijah, why tearing your robe was such a humbling thing, and why Joseph's brothers were so furious when their brother was given a cloak of many "breadths"--a cloak stretching to the palms of the hand and soles of the feet--which we (for some inexplicable reason) translate "colors."

14). So the action of draping a cloak over their father was, in a very symbolic way, not only Shem and Japheth's refusal to shame or mock their father, not only their way of honoring him, but also their way of submitting to him, their way of investing him with the authority that he was temporarily divested of. This explains why the curse upon Ham is in terms of submission to his brothers. It is also wholly possible that Ham took his father's cloak, and this is the garment that the brothers draped back over him (though the text is silent). So, the snake takes fruit from the tree--he takes the authority of God--and he offers it to mankind, who take it. Ham uncovers his father's nakedness--he tries to remove his father's authority--and "offers" it to his brothers, who refuse it.

15). If this fails to convince that the author is drawing a parallel, it is all but proven by what follows: Adam sinned by taking to himself the office of God (judging good from evil), and his sin was followed by his son Cain's sin of building a city (God had commanded man to spread out and Cain responds by building a city). Ham attempts to rebel against the office of his father, and is thwarted, and his sin is followed by his grandson Nimrod's sin of building a city, which is also thwarted. So the story of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth is the story of a new mankind in a new garden, in which man is not rebellious and cursed, but submits, and is blessed; a new world in which man's sinfulness will be checked, and not overrun the world as it did before.

Abecedarium: Death and Beauty

A Beautiful Death



Aardvark is a Dutch word, descended from early Afrikaans, and it means "earth pig." In possession of a tongue whose glory may reach up to a cubit, this eighteen-toed hunchback is the Assyrian empire of the ant world. Consuming up to fifty-thousand lives in a single night, the three-foot long, magnificently snouted pig-like creature is a walking Holocaust, exuding extermination and trailing genocide like a garment.

Bull sharks infrequently attack humans, but it is not unknown. One boy, Jesse Arbogast, age eight, was swimming in shallow water off the coast of Langdon Beach, Florida, when he was bitten twice by a seven foot bull shark. The first bite severed his right arm between the elbow and the shoulder, the second tore off a large chunk of his upper thigh. His uncle entered the water and pulled the boy ashore, then turned and re-entered the water in pursuit of the shark. Having caught hold of it, he managed to wrestle it to shore where a park ranger shot it three times in the head. The ranger inserted his baton into the shark's mouth and a fireman managed to retrieve the arm from its gullet. The arm was wrapped in damp cloth, packed in ice, and sent off to join the eight year old boy where he was in the hospital in surgery. It was successfully reattached.
The 19 year-old boy now enjoys almost full use of his arm, a magnificent story of survival and the triumph of the human spirit and all that crap. Personally, heck with the kid, I'd like to meet the uncle.

"Caterpillar," I feel, is one of the more infrequently entered words under "cause of death." But one Canadian woman, at least, gave her all to rectify this grave injustice: she went barefoot in the Amazon, and stepped on a poisonous caterpillar. Upon feeling the pain, she assumed that she had sprained her toe, and as icing reduced the swelling, she returned home unconcerned, but felt more and more ill as the week wore on. Unfortunately for her, Amazonian caterpillars weren't exactly high on the Canadian doctor's list of possible causes for her condition, so it wasn't until ten days later that the autopsy discovered the sore between her big toe and the toe next to it.

Don't weep, don't cry, your salt-wet tears won't heal me.
I need to see your smile,
Light up my world with a laugh,
To know that you'll love me forever,
Long after my breath is gone.

A freckled little girl wrote these words to a loved one early one spring. The words were largely forgotten until the slideshow at her funeral that winter.

"Evocative" was her favorite word. Apparently poet types are allowed favorite words. I generally feel that words are like cells, and only when words form a body is there real loveliness, whether almost a surfeit of beauty, as in Victor Hugo, or Dickens, the almost tweakeresque garrulousness, paid by the word and often irrelevant to any point or story but still lovely, or, the minimalists, such as Christopher Wiman, the dying author of such lines as "antic, frantic, penny-ante Ahab stabs of madness," and "there are keener griefs than God, they come in clear daylight, leaving you with nothing and the means to feel it."
But I have since decided that my favorite word is "evanescent," both in meaning and in sound. The slow, fading, death.

"Fire On the Hills," by Robinson Jeffers.

The deer were bounding like blown leaves
Under the smoke in front of the roaring wave of the brush-fire;
I thought of the smaller lives that were caught.
Beauty is not always lovely; the fire was beautiful, the terror
Of the deer was beautiful; and when I returned
Down the back slopes after the fire had gone by, an eagle
Was perched on the jag of a burnt pine,
Insolent and gorged, cloaked in the folded storms of his shoulders.
He had come from far off for the good hunting
With fire for his beater to drive the game; the sky was merciless
Blue, and the hills merciless black,
The sombre-feathered great bird sleepily merciless between them.
I thought, painfully, but the whole mind,
The destruction that brings an eagle from heaven is better than mercy.

God: what does this word conjure? What unspeakable, unavoidable Presence shall be unveiled when this nature, this anesthetic fog, fades away? Go not near the mountain, do not enter the tomb. Where is Moses? Who shall speak for us? Men shall seek for death but shall not find her, men shall woo death as a lover, but she shall flee from them. Men will cry to the mountains to fall on them, and hide them from His face, but at His face heaven and earth flee away, and we stand naked in the dark, broken parts, remnants of humanity, with nothing left, no illusion here to hide behind. The Truth shall set you free. So will a bullet.
Men say He is an Author. So what play? Sometimes it seems to be Hamlet. But, with Prufrock, I am not the Prince, nor was meant to be, and the other characters suck. And there is not a single daisy chain in Shakespeare while my nieces wear them like diamonds. Lilting laughter, light feet and tickle-able ribs, side-saddle shoulder rides and bedtime stories play too little a role for Shakespeare to be a realist.
So what play? I don't know. But I know stories, and I know characters: the narcissistic fool, the catty girl, the sadistic bastard, the noble hero, the lecherous frat guy, and so many more. I've played so many roles, and so few of them are characters that I like, that I could like, or that anyone could like. What play? Does it matter? Or ought the question be, regardless of the play, what character?
So if there is an Author, I thank Him for my role, full of raging death and quiet glory. If there is an Author, I am humbled to be a character. If there is an Author, I will play the small, faithful bit-part I am given, until my day to quietly slip offstage, and I'll play the kind of character that I would like to actually be. Who knows? I just may wake up and find that I am that character, the decent, quiet character: a faithful husband, loving father, a bit too obsessed with Chesterton and literature perhaps, some odd ideas about AIDS not being sexually transmitted and Edward de Vere writing the works of Shakespeare, but a wife that truly likes being barefoot, a library that smells of a grandfather's pipe tobacco, strong sons, lovely daughters, and the yard covered in flowers and grandchildren. The type of character about whom an author could sit back and say, "Well done. Go die now." For every book on this earth needs a final chapter.

Holly. My brother Dave had spent a summer in love with her while her best friend was in love with him. Holly spent the summer alternating between bemused exasperation and resignation. Dave told me I'd love her, but it turned out I already knew her: she was easily the cutest 16oz soy chai that I'd ever seen. What with her coy grin, tomboy clothes, flaming hair and dusted freckles, I'd always stared like a fool. My eyes were gluttons, and she the feast. Soon I found out that her eyes, the color of clear water over mossy rocks, were always laughing. She had two older sisters and two older brothers, her mom's kidney in her stomach, and the scars on her beautiful, tiny hands were from the cats that found her wherever she went, whether feral, starved, poisoned and smaller than a dying man's hope for a house loan, or well-fed strays with their lazy, boneless yawns, it didn't matter, they all loved her and she loved them.
But then it was ever so: those that loved her always drew blood.

Ichneumon: in medieval literature, this creature was mortal enemy to crocodiles, snakes and in particular dragons. It was famed for its habit of covering itself in mud, letting the mud dry, and repeating until it had four or five coats of mud as a form of armor. Indeed, cats were the only animal that were rumored to be able to kill it. Due to the symbolic nature of its enemies (especially snakes and dragons), the Ichneumon became a symbolic hero to the medieval church.

Jannisaries were the elite corps of the Muslim army. White Europeans kidnapped in their youth, they were raised with but one wish: to kill and die for Allah. When the Crusaders in Jerusalem looked out on those robes, flowing like blood down an altar and white as a martyr's bones; when the ululated "Allahu-akbar" turned the world silver with scimitars and the earth rolled toward them, undulating as the sea, I wonder if any would recognize a single face among the horde as his long-lost son, returned with his sins to slay him.

Knights of St. John of Malta were formerly the Knights Hospitalers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. One of four militant orders in Jerusalem, they were sworn to poverty, chastity and obedience, and were known to be vehement enemies of Islam. They were also known to fire live enemies out of their cannons. When they were driven out of Jerusalem the Knights were given Malta under the condition that they protect it. The Maltese, who, as the great medievalist Dorothy Dunnet phrases it, possessed nothing but a rock and the language Christ spoke, were not happy to see them, recalling that before the Knights arrived, they hadn't needed protection.
They needed it now. The year was 1565, and the seventy year-old Suleiman raised a nearly fifty-thousand man army and around two hundred warships to reduce the anathematized Knights and the barren Malta with them. The five-hundred Knights sent out for aid, and managed to scrape a force of 5,600 others when they included their galley slaves and servants. They then determined that if Suleiman wanted their death--which he most definitely did--they would extract in blood, drop by intractable, excruciating drop, the steepest price possible.
The Knights, in three-hundred pounds of plate armor, rolled over the landing parties like an avalanche before retiring behind their dual-walled cities. During the four month siege, when the outer walls of St. Elmo were reduced to inclines of rubble and the Janissaries were pouring in and dying like a shallow stream into hell itself, the Knights that were too badly wounded to stand had benches put in the breaches of the walls, and sat there sheathed in steel, a gun in the left hand and a sword in the right, killing as many as they could before they were themselves killed. The famous corsair and heir to Barbarossa, Dragut Rais (also known as Turgut Reis), now eighty and gentle as a wrought iron wrecking ball, was killed here during the siege of the first fort. The besieged at one point told their Grand Master that the citadel could not hold another day. The next reinforcements were all volunteers who had fought for the honor of dying with the fort. It held on--despite the fact that it was more rubble than wall--for another three weeks. There were 9 survivors who were too wounded to manage to get killed.
When, two months later, a mine destroyed a chunk of wall in the capital city of Mdina and the Turks swept the defense back and began pouring into the city, the seventy year old Grand Master cursed his men for cowards and led a charge to the breach, his sword shattering skull after skull, galvanizing the remnant of his men into action, turning back the Sword of Allah once more.
Suleiman never took Malta. He ordered his army to retreat on September 11th (a date Muslims later had even more reason to remember when the Ottomans were turned back from Vienna on September 11, 1683). Suleiman lost around 30,000 men on Malta, including over half of his Janissaries, and his empire never recovered.

Lemmings, I am sorry to report, do not actually lemming. I know. Gary Larsen's "Lemming with a water-tube" is wholly fictional. Lemmings do mass migrate, and if they have water to cross, some often drown.

Melanoma, n. A malignant tumor of melanocytes. The most deadly type of skin cancer.
Stage 0: 99.9% survival rate.
Stage I / II: 85-99% survival rate.
Stage II: 40-85% survival rate.
Stage III: 25-60% survival rate.
Stage IV: 9-15% survival rate.

Numinibus vota exaudita malignis: the latter part of "enormous prayers, which heaven in vengeance grants." --Juvenal, translated by Johnson. This quote, rather ironically, was used much later to refer to Tithonus. Eternal life was asked for and granted; eternal youth was never mentioned. Over thousands of years, Tithonus lived and aged, and when revisited and asked if he desired anything else, he uttered one nihilistic prayer: "To die."

Overdose: When I was an ambulance driver, I picked up the same woman twice in a night for an overdose. I finished restocking the ambulance after the second time, and heard the other crew get paged out to an overdose. Third time was the charm: she died en route.

Plath: “God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of "parties" with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter - they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship - but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”

Quem di diligunt adulescens moritur: "those whom the gods love die young."

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Seductive wisps of lethal fog, reach out, caress with lies:
the heavy white belies the night, veils dying Siren sighs

and songs to the Sirens, sung by the damned, who, hopeless, still would hope
for death as sweet as mortals meet: with sleepless dreams, elope.

Now languid eternities, elaborate symphonies, a moaning, delirious moon
chaunting over, beneath our winter, of falling, fall, and swoon.


Termite:
Some primal termite knocked on wood, and tasted it, and found it good.
And that is why your sweet aunt May fell through the parlor floor today.
--Ogden Nash

Underworld, in Greek and Roman mythology, was ruled by Hades and his kidnapped bride Persephone. Hades had become enamored with Persephone and stole her. Zeus brokered the deal that half of each year she would spend with his brother in the underworld, and half on earth. Hence, we have the seasons: every time Persephone goes to the underworld, the overworld dies.

Veronica Mars, the critically acclaimed TV series created by Rob Thomas, premiered on September 22, 2004. It starred Kristin Bell as Veronica Mars, a high-school girl plagued by questions regarding the death of her best friend. The mystery is resolved, however, when it turns out that not only was the best friend's boyfriend recording their sexual escapades, but the best friend was also sleeping with her boyfriend's father, who killed her to protect his reputation.

Weight: not more than 60lbs. Probably not even that. Height: 5' 1 3/4". Age: 22. December 5, 2006, the flaming redhead Holly Beth Broussard, who loved poetry, photography, historical fiction, cats and chai, died of stage IV malignant melanoma. She was survived by two sisters, two brothers, her parents, two nieces, five nephews, and her husband. She had fought off the beast for over two and a half years with next to no immune system, defying the odds again and again and again, and she finally decided to go home: an island in the mouth of the Eel River, Humboldt County, California. Her house was the only house there.
She was born on her mother's bed, married on that lawn, and she died on the couch, her family there each time. I carried her stiff corpse to the sink and held her head while her mother washed her hair. I carried her back to her mother's bed, and picked the clothes that her sisters dressed her in. I lay on the bed next to her and wondered when the merciful shock would submit to the ragged edge of reality. I still wonder. Two days after I put her on her mother's bed, I put her in a coffin, her hair still damp, her skin still marbled white, her hands still scarred. I shut the lid, and my life ended. O mother, hath one grave room for two?
The next thing I remember is an Applebee's. I was alone with thirteen pens, a mechanical pencil and a pitcher of Blue Moon, and it was the end of February. I pondered how God could forgive God. But of course, if I'm right, He didn't. If I'm right, He crucified Him. So I wondered how I could forgive God: bless you, you were blameless; I the net. For you and God forgive and I forget.
Then I stopped wondering about God, and began writing. "I know not why, why lovers, lovers die: the priests and gods, with downcast eye, fail simpler men, who, shattered, lie; while heretics? They curse, we curse the sky." "And since she truly meant so much to me, truly life, earth, sky and sea, and from whose end to mine I'd flee, then what, and who, and why must I now be?" "For your eyes shall not open, my dear, O my Luv, as you wait, entombed in the hill. And what of the eyes I beheld with my own, the hour your flesh betrayed your will? Winter has come, O Despoina, my Luv, for you are gone, Persephone. Hades has come, taken all the dancers under hill, the houses all under the sea."
Her play has been done for nearly six years; she who sweetly smiled while ragged on the rack. For she played her part well: she was the girl that was always in the corner with a book, a cat and a cup of tea, sitting with one leg curled up under her. She was the wife that hid notes for her husband to find, the wife that planned picnics on roofs, fields and a canoe, the one that seemed to have a green thumb unless you knew how many things she actually planted--maybe one in twenty survived. Swimming with dolphins (with a collapsed lung), planning her garden, deciding what to do with my hair, trying on clothes and setting records on rides at the fair, making pies and cookies with her nieces, going swimming at our river, getting our horses half-stuck in quicksand: she was the one that never noticed death's approach because she was too busy with life, with love and with laughter. A full life.

Xenophobia, oddly enough, played no part in the Rwanda genocide, in which the preferred weapon of the massacre was the machete. Initially the Tutsi were defined by anyone owning more than ten cows, and the Hutu anyone not owning more than ten cows. The distinction was socio-economic.

"Youth of the Nation," a song by the Christian rock band POD, was inspired by the school shooting at Santana High School, an imitation of the infamous Columbine massacre.

Ziggurat: A temple of Sumerian origin, built in the form of a pyramidal tower. The Aztecs claim to have sacrificed 84,400 victims in four days upon one ziggurat; historians disagree. But the Aztecs were there.

Wodehousian Fun