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Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Liebster!

Friend and fellow blogger Jubilare has nominated me for the Liebster Award!

Liebster-Award-Badge

Liebster-Award-Badge (Photo credit: Adrienne Third)

Don’t worry, I have no clue either. But it’s an award! YAY! What’s really cool about this award is that, as far as I can tell, if you’re nominated, you win. How the heck can I argue with that?

But it DOES require some effort on my part. Evidently I have to answer five questions the lady has put forth, dealing with such matters as walking into a book and eating strange food with your favorite character and his plant. Or something like that.

I think I’m also supposed to nominate some other bloggers for this award, but I really don’t follow that many and the ones I like have already been nominated, so . . . Not this time.

Anyway, it’s going to take me a bit to get my thoughts in order to answer said questions. Not too long I hope, though at my age I never promise. But I intend it to be soon. Really.

So, thank you, Jubilare! I’m truly flattered you like my posts enough to nominate me. That you trust me after reading what I did with Bilbo and Beorn in my review of “Queer Lodgings” from the Hobbit is a real confidence-builder. I’ll try not to let you down.

I do, however, have one question of my own. Just what in the Sam Peckinpah is a Liebster?!

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Posted by on September 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Attila the Hun . . . For Kids!

Well, actually, the book is called “The White Stag,” but it’s about the history, albeit legendary, of Attila’s origins. The White StagWritten by Kate Seredy and published in 1937 (the copyright was renewed in 1965), it has since been released as a Puffin Newbery Library edition which I was fortunate enough to find at my local library’s book sale.

Recommended for ages 8 – 12, this book contains all the elements this 59-year-old kid finds irresistible. This fine blending of history, heroic legend and mythology purports to tell the tale of the early history of the Hungarian, or Magyar, race. As Seredy describes it in her foreword, “Those who want to hear the voice of pagan gods in wind and thunder, who want to see fairies dance in the moonlight, who can believe that faith can move mountains, can follow the thread on the pages of this book. It is a fragile thread; it cannot bear the weight of facts and dates.”

Most of the tale proceeds before the coming of Attila. After Old Nimrod, Mighty Hunter before the Lord passes on, his sons Hunor and Magyar, the Twin Eagles of Hadur, migrate westward from wild Altain-Ula. Led by the miraculous White Stag, they journey in search of their new homeland, “a land, rich in game and green pastures, between two great rivers rich in fish, surrounded by mountains . . . ”

This story has all the wonderful elements that can capture a young person’s imagination. Historic legend, fantasy, adventure, action, exploration and heroic characters. As Hunor and Magyar lead their people west, they must deal with magical creatures, including a pair of moonmaidens, the stern tribal prophet Damos, their pagan god Hadur and even a tribe of people called the Cimmerians (is that you, Conan?).

Attila is born in the final chapter, the grandson of Hunor. His coming was foretold in tribal prophecies and heralded by the old prophet Damos: “Attila is born! Attila, with the mighty voice and wings red as blood. Attila who will lead you into the promised land, the Red Eagle, greatest of all warriors, Attila.” Indeed, the Red Eagle leads his people into the promised land, but not before facing a crisis that threatens his tribe and his beliefs.

Despite the pagan motif, this is a story that displays the virtues of persistence and faith in the best of lights. There is an air of the biblical epic here and Seredy even includes some references to scriptural tales from the Old Testament as part of the tribe’s ancient memories. Using strong, lean prose, Seredy conveys a sense of great time passing in a mere 94 pages, including her own illustrations, which are wonderful.

Get this book for your young reader. When they’re finished with it, you read it. You won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2013 in Book Review, Children's Books, Old Books

 

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Faith Without Knowledge

In the land of megachurches and the Bible Belt, one would think that the faithful would be very knowledgeable

English: Christian Bible, rosary, and crucifix.

English: Christian Bible, rosary, and crucifix. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

about matters of religion. The books of the Old and New Testaments, the names of key figures and the stories they are in, as well as the basic history and doctrines of the Christian faith, should all be common knowledge to most American church-goers.

Not so much.

In Stephen Prothero’s book “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t,” we get a splash of cold water in the face. It turns out that American Christians, especially Protestants, don’t know as much about their faith as it would seem. Things like the history of the Reformation, or what the basic orthodox Christian creeds say, are not part of the common knowledge background of most Protestant church-goers today. This is dangerous, not only for the churches, but for our nation as well, “putting citizens in the thrall of talking heads and effectively transferring power from the third estate (the people) to the fourth (the press).”

Prothero, chair of the religion department at Boston University, gives the reader a fascinating and whirlwind history of religion in America, from colonial days to the present. Modeled on E.D. Hirsch’s now classic book “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” this volume is loaded with facts and statistics contained in 45 pages of footnotes.

While it was the various Christian groups that drove the desire for wider education in early America, ironically it was people of faith that started the nation on the path to religious illiteracy. Prothero shows us how, as public schools spread across the country, people of faith reduced or eliminated doctrinal teachings about Christianity in order to keep religious instruction in the schools. By doing so, by attempting to make religion generic, they succeeded in collapsing religion into morality and “values.” Because of this, true theology and religious ideas have been lost to the culture and to many of the non-denominational churches.

The author has some good suggestions on how to correct this problem. Most important, from my point of view, is to inform the teachers in our schools that it IS constitutional to teach students about religion in an objective, scholarly manner. Many instructors today are petrified to even mention the subject thanks to confusing court rulings and high-pressure humanist groups anxious to erase any mention of religion from the public arena.

Finally, Prothero includes a thorough “Dictionary of Religious Literacy” at the end of the book, which is almost like an introductory course on religious studies by itself.

“Religious Literacy” is a fairly quick and entertaining read. If you really want to understand our country and what role religion plays in our society, you need to understand the religious influences at work in it. As Stephen Prothero puts it, “one needs to know something about the world’s religions in order to be truly educated.”

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Quick Koontz Review

When is a haunted house not a haunted house? When it’s in a Dean Koontz novel, of course.

English: Film poster for The Haunted House

English: Film poster for The Haunted House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Koontz’ “77 Shadow Street,” as in so many of his novels, things aren’t what they seem to be when the trip begins. Take an old, luxury apartment building called the Pendleton that used to be a mansion, add a cast of 10 or so wealthy tenants and employees, throw in an elevator that descends below the basement and a swimming pool with something strange in it and you have what seems to be the beginning of a supernatural thriller.

Koontz loves to explore the nature of evil, and in this story he looks at it from a different angle. Told through the varying viewpoints of different characters, we see that the source of evil isn’t always something intentional but can easily come from the unintended consequences of human actions. Especially if those actions come from the desire to play God.

Truly, no other author that I know of today can create a believable character in so few sentences as can Dean Koontz. He always amazes me. The problem with this novel is that there are so many of them that the reader has trouble deciding which character to focus on. Add to that that the layout of the building is a key part of the story (there is even a 2 page diagram of the Pendleton at the start of the book), and it becomes increasingly difficult to follow the thematic thread of the novel.

Because of the nature of the story, I can’t go into much detail about the events in it. I don’t want to spoil anything for you if you decide to read it. And you should read it. Despite the drawbacks, it IS a Koontz novel and even one of his sub-par stories is better than many of today’s tale spinners’ best efforts. Yes, I am a fan.

By all means, pick up “77 Shadow Street.” Get the paperback edition if you can because it contains a bonus novella titled “The Moonlit Mind.” At 137 pages, that’s a nice extra and won’t take much of your time. Plus it’s got a dog in it.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Book Review

 

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An Open Letter to Meghan Cox Gurdon

Dear Ms. Gurdon,

Every Saturday I cruise down to the local market to get the weekend Wall Street Journal. It is one of my weekly pleasures to come home from church Sunday morning, enjoy a nice brunch and open the pages of a good newspaper. In particular I enjoy the Review section, mainly for the books. I have to say I’m surprised, but extremely happy, that you have a regular column on children’s books in the Wall Street Journal. After reading reviews of books about the history of mahogany and a travelogue based on the origins of noodles (really, WSJ?) your weekly exploration of children’s and young adult books is a welcome oasis.

Last week I received the July/August issue of Imprimis (a bit late) and was pleased to see your picture and byline on the front. Your topic, “The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books,” was immediately appealing, with the added bonus of referring me to an article you wrote for WSJ in 2011 titled “Darkness Too Visible.” I knew that the young adult category was growing increasingly dark, but I was thinking of all the titles with vampires and zombies and such. I didn’t realize you were writing about human monsters. They’re even worse.

What I don’t understand is how books with such things as abductions, rape, self-mutilation, parental molestation, and oral sex can be labeled as “young adult.” Even less understandable is how writers, librarians and others see your reasoned and intelligent critiques as a threat to freedom of expression. Encouraging taste and discrimination in choosing and producing juvenile literature is a bad thing? Who knew?

While we’re on the subject of darkness in today’s books, have you seen the novels your colleague, Sam Sacks, has been reviewing in his “Fiction Chronicle” column? Granted that these are for adults, but the books he reviews contain debilitating grief, depression, misery, addiction, isolation, loneliness, breakdowns and family tensions. His words. From this weekend’s column. I can’t wait to walk past those books at Border’s. Does Mr. Sacks actively seek these novels? Are they sent to him? Does he see his therapist once or twice a week?

But wait, there’s more! Forget the books. There’s another kind of darkness lurking around the Review pages, the kind that sneaks into people’s subconscious, burrows in and sends roots all through their world view. In the “Mind & Matter” column, written by Robert Sapolsky and Alison Gopnik, human life is observed through the lens of materialist science. Biology, neurology, anthropology, psychology, chemistry and, of course, evolution, pretty much explain all our behaviors. Which basically means we are merely meat machines marching to orders we have no control over. Puts a smile on my face.

OK. I know. This wasn’t much of a letter. More of a rant, actually. But I really did mean what I said about your “Children’s Books” column. And your piece in Imprimis gives me hope that there are people still fighting to let some light into this ever darkening world. Keep up the good fight, Ms. Gurdon, and know there are lots of us out here cheering you on.

I’ll do what I can in my small corner, too.

All the Best,

Rob

P.S. –  Could you slip Mr. Sacks a copy of “The Wind in the Willows” or “The Hobbit” maybe? Thanks.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Children's Books, Ideas

 

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