Friday, August 5, 2011

Ashtown Burials

This is a trailer for N. D. Wilson's next book, starring the Super 8 star Joel Courtney.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

And I the Lord Have Not Done it?

Death in the CityDeath in the City by Francis A. Schaeffer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My favorite section in this book was a single throwaway paragraph in which he commented on Cantica Canticorum, the Song of Songs. Overall I was surprised with how readable he is: I was expecting more of an erudite, even an elitist tone, but he would have been perfectly intelligible to anyone. He speaks from a tremendous compassion, and there is in him a humility so vast that you almost don't recognize the depth of genius behind it. Almost. Yet for all of this, he has a simple, stark, prophetic view of our culture and its relation to God that is on the knife edge of desolation.

He would have been an astonishing man to know: to see so great a genius bent in such humility, in such tenderness lowered down to the most shattered of the lives God made. This was not a man who wrote from his ivory tower, but from the filthy, smoldering ruin; his arms bloody to the shoulders. "The hippies also speak of love, but they have made Haight-Ashbury a desert," and "Orthodoxy without compassion stinks to God."

As this is the first Schaeffer that I've read, I can't say with certainty, but I would guess this to be a decent introduction. It's comprised of lectures, and while it isn't Augustin's Confessions, it isn't like wading through deep mud either. I did very much like it, and am greatly looking forward to the next time I lift him off my shelf.

"How can we speak of judgment and yet not stand like the weeping prophet with tears?"

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why Do the Heathen Nations Rage?

The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to FaithThe Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peter Hitchens can write. His prose in this autobiographical journey from atheism to faith is at times elegant, precise, poignant, poetic, mystical and melancholy, and is almost universally exquisite. This book was like candy. Yes, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly," but it's so refreshing to encounter someone that does it well. Here are a few samples of what I mean.

"It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time."

"It was illustrated with soppy pictures of Christ looking--in C. S. Lewis's potent sneer at stained-glass sentimentality--"like a consumptive girl."

"Unlike Christians, atheists have a high opinion of their own virtue."

"There were other things too. During a short spell at a cathedral choir school (not as a choirboy, since I sing like a donkey) I had experienced the intense beauty of the ancient Anglican chants, spiraling up into chilly stone vaults at Evensong... The prehistoric, mysterious poetry of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, perhaps a melancholy evening hymn, and the cold, ancient laments and curses of the Psalms, as the unique slow dusk of England gathers outside and inside the echoing, haunted, impossibly old building are extraordinarily potent. If you welcome them, they have an astonishing power to reassure and comfort. If you suspect or mistrust them, they will alarm and repel you like a strong and unwanted magic, something to flee from before it takes hold."

"My own confirmation, by contrast, was a miserable modern-language affair with all the poetic force of a driving test..."

"Utopia can only ever be reached across a sea of blood."

"The delusion of revolutionary progress, and the ruthlessness it justifies, survives any amount of experience."

So yeah, I was fond of this book. But more than just his voice when writing, his organization and progression through his experience and his understanding of the surrounding events is clear and extremely insightful. It is, in a word, a delightful book: it is not often that a book on this type of topic this feels more like a reward than a duty, but this is that rare one, and I highly recommend it.

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Smart Cat Says Dumb

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory SchoolingDumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is definitely a 3.4 star book. A very quick read: I finished it in a good bit less than an hour of actual reading, and it's easily worth ten times that. It is tremendously subversive, and in a very wholesome way.

The author, John Taylor Gatto, is a fairly big deal in the NY state school system--Teacher of the Year and all that jazz--and his thesis is that our school system actually hinders learning. One of the analogies that he uses is the difference between a painter and a sculptor: a painter puts something on a canvas, and we view education this way. A sculptor takes away the obstacles, as Michaelangelo reputedly said, a sculptor "liberates" what is within the stone, and this is how we should view education. A teacher's job is not to fill the student's head with facts, but rather to facilitate their desire and ability to learn.

Which, to a great extent is true. And he goes back further than this; he goes back to the seven things that all teachers teach children and what the ramifications of these things are, and he carries it out further than this; he carries it out to what needs to happen to actually change the school system as it is. And this is why it is closer to three stars than to four in my mind: while it is extremely insightful and absolutely essential for anyone interested in education to, at the very least, encounter, it is operating within the framework of the public school system.

And he understands this system: he goes back to Horace Mann and he truly and profoundly knows what he's dealing with, but he thinks it can be saved, while I think it's invention was a catastrophic event the likes of which the American world will never see again. It is the single damning weakness of our nation: it has created a generational gap, ripping (indeed, aborting, as it were) the children from the wombs of their parents long before they were ready to be on their own, thus depriving them of all of the wisdom and truth that their parents possessed. And to fill the void that is created? What is it that replaces the discipline and culture of a family? A lowest common denominator cookie-cutter classroom run by teachers that typically look at our children as the one thing standing between them and a couple stiff martinis (you know the ones I mean, straight out of a Pink Floyd song). So we foster this mental infanticide, and the most influential thing that many a mother will ever say to her son is "I'll see you after school, honey," and all of this simply because we live within the failed experiment and view it as the natural state of affairs.

But in any case, Gatto sees the failure of the system in a way that very few people do. This book is a necessary read to understand how the government schools fail our children.

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Thanks to the Valkyrie

Jane AustenJane Austen by Peter J. Leithart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was fascinating, and in some ways kind of an exposé. I'm actually quite delighted by the fact that the far-inferior Bronte's really didn't like Austen at all. Especially as I know several people that always mix up who wrote what, which is simply inconceivable to me. It's like asking who wrote King Lear: Edward de Vere as Shakespeare or Stephanie Meyer.

What I chiefly had not known was the depth of her religious conviction. If you read the books, you get glimpses of it. Very little of that survives the screenwriters (if any), and it's typically forgotten. But this is a woman whose last words were "God grant me patience. Pray for me, oh pray for me."

She was delightful, flippant, lively, witty and at times downright savage in her prose. Consider a few examples. When a woman gave birth, or 'was brought to bed' untimely due to a fright, Austen speculated "I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband." Or in a letter to her sister, she commented "Expect a most agreeable Letter for not being overburdened with subject--(having nothing at all to say)--I shall have no check to my Genius from beginning to end." In what ended up being one of my favorite sections of Leithart's book, he quotes her as having said that she (and I quote): "attended the theater to see Don Juan, 'whom we left in Hell at 1/2 past 11.' One home was full of 'modern Elegancies,' but lacked an air of seriousness: 'if it had not been for some naked Cupids over the Mantlepiece, which must be a fine study for Girls, one should never have Smelt Instruction.' "

Not exactly the Austen that most people describe: far more vivacious, far less Victorian prudishness, let alone Edwardian weirdness that has been attributed to her as of late. She was a good deal more like Eliza Bennett than we typically seem to think, delighted and amused by the folly of others, and not the first person you'd want to cross swords with in the dinner-time chatter.

So this was a great book, an especially fine read after just going through her novels. Also, I was called in to arbitrate as to which was better: Persuasion or Northanger Abbey. In an attempt to avoid being slain by a very diminutive, Chesterton loving girl, I shall gladly (and nervously) say that Persuasion is Austen's finest serious novel, but of all her books (which is to say, of all her heroines), the one I'll return to most often out of a simple, childlike affection will be the lovely Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.

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Wodehousian Fun