More Books Under My Belt

As I wait for the rain to stop so I can go out and grill chicken–and from the look of the weather radar, I think we’ll either be eating a very late supper, or cooking it indoors–I’ll tell you about some more books I’ve read recently.

Several years ago, someone recommended Zenna Henderson’s “People” stories as being excellently-written religious speculative fiction. I found Ingathering and purchased it then, but didn’t start reading it until this summer. A hefty 577 pages, it’s a compilation of all Henderson’s stories about “the People,” originally published in short story form in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.

It’s true that the writing is excellent. Henderson weaves words like a beautiful tapestry. And though it’s not Christian fiction, it’s definitely religious in nature. But before I was halfway through the book, I realized it was a chore to read, not a pleasure. I plugged away at it a little longer, but eventually I decided I’d had enough and put it aside.

The stories simply seemed too much of the same thing after a while. Moreover, I didn’t care about a group of wonderfully kind, ever-cheerful, and supernaturally gifted extraterrestrials who’d fled their dying home planet and came to earth to try to re-establish themselves on a planet where they were persecuted as freaks. That’s not all there was to it, but it eventually bored me, so I decided to move on to something else.

That “something else” was Unknown Enemy, written by a friend. I’ll be posting my review both here and on Amazon once the title is released on August 2, so stay tuned!

From there, I moved on to a short nonfiction piece, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev.

Now there’s a fascinating read! The author was born of Russian parents, but they left the USSR  and he was raised in the UK. Later, as an adult, he  lived and worked in Russia for almost a decade. As a result, he has a lot of stories to tell, and he tells them with skill.

I won’t be reviewing this book on Amazon because it already has plenty of reviews, and I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on it. I did enjoy it, though, and I recommend it for anyone who’s interested in that sort of thing.

The book was published in 2014, by the way, in case you were wondering how current it is. The situations discussed are all post-USSR, but a few years distant by now.

And finally, an update on a situation I know you’ve been consumed with curiosity to know more about: it’s still raining, and I ended up cooking the chicken indoors. It was a little disappointing. But we’re fed, cozy, and dry, so no complaints.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

It’s Criminal

Are you wondering what I was doing during my six months of blog silence? Well, I’ll tell you:  among other things, I was relocating from one Ohio city to another.

Some of the activities surrounding that moving event (pun intended) included sitting around at the new place waiting for contractors to show up and do their thing. I didn’t mind that, because it gave me an excuse to read.

Ordinarily, I feel guilty if I read in the middle of the day; something in the back of my mind tells me that’s something you should only do when your daily work is done. The problem is that by then, I’m too tired to read without falling asleep. That’s why I don’t do as much reading as I’d like. (Sadly, as my husband could tell you after we hauled all my books from one home to another, I have more than I can get through in my lifetime. And that’s just the bulky print books, not counting my Kindle.)

Be that as it may, as I sat in a camp chair in my empty living room, I entertained myself with an anthology of old crime novels from the 30s and 40s entitled… wait for it… Crime Novels. It contains the following stories:

  • The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
  • They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy
  • Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson
  • The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing
  • Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham
  • I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich

You might recognize the first two titles from the movies that are based on them. There’s also an old 1950 movie adapted from the novel I Married a Dead Man, called No Man of Her Own.

I’ve never seen any of the movies, but I found all the novels to be engrossing reads. I liked Nightmare Alley the least, but all in all thought it a good addition to the collection. All the stories are a little dated, but skillfully written.

Some general thoughts went through my mind as I read them, and that’s what I’m here to talk about today.

All these stories involve a crime or crimes, deception, or other forbidden act, and are told from the point of view of the people who committed them. Probably because these were written in a time when society held clearly-delineated and generally-agreed-upon standards of right and wrong, things didn’t end well for these protagonists.

A couple of them died at the end. One was charged with murder and presumably executed after the story closed. One character ended up a circus geek—and if you’re not familiar with what that was, here’s a detailed explanation. (Note that the article credits the novel in question with popularizing the term). And one character was condemned by circumstances to live the rest of her life emotionally estranged from the man she loved. The only exception to this pattern of “just deserts” endings was The Big Clock, at the end of which the reader is left with the impression that although the erring protagonist escaped this time, he knew his lifestyle would catch up with him eventually.

Popular real-life outlaws Bonnie and Clyde

This all got me to wondering: Why are we so fascinated with criminals and crime? Is it because we harbor these tendencies ourselves? Do most people want to be wild, but feel restrained by the risks and/or a sense of morality? Is that why we like to live the outlaw life vicariously?

Or do we enjoy these stories because they make us feel superior, thinking, “I’d  never do anything like that”? Does looking down on others—even fictional others—give us an inflated sense of worth?

Why do all these characters get their comeuppance in the end? Did the authors write these as cautionary tales, intending to warn people away from the behaviors portrayed? Did they merely want to titillate the reader, but because of social mores felt they shouldn’t let the criminals come out on top?

I don’t know. What do you think?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Speaking of Habits…

Here’s a bad habit we haven’t talked about yet:  not reviewing books we read.

I confess that I seldom do this, for these reasons:

  • If the book’s been around for a while and already has a gazillion reviews, I don’t figure it needs one more.
  • If I don’t particularly care for the book, I feel compelled by professional courtesy to keep quiet about it. This is true for authors I don’t know as well as those I do.
  • If I do like it, it probably already has enough reviews and doesn’t need one from a nobody like me.
  • Laziness. If I’m reading for pleasure, I don’t want to add the work of writing a review afterward. What, am I in school or something?

Occasionally someone will ask for a review. When that happens, I’ll usually comply, but not always. A couple of times I declined because, well… my mother always taught me if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. On one occasion, the book was so bad I couldn’t even read it.

All in all, I’m not usually eager to write reviews. But shame on me! As an author, I know how important reviews are. No, Stephen King doesn’t need my help, but small-potatoes authors like me need all the reviews we can get. Many promotional services won’t accept a title that doesn’t have a certain number of Amazon reviews. Larger numbers of reviews help improve a book’s Amazon ranking, making it more visible. And bookstores are more likely to stock a book with a higher ranking and many reviews. So you see, we authors don’t crave reviews just to stoke our egos; they’re absolutely necessary for a book’s success.

If reviewing books intimidates you, rest easy. It doesn’t have to be difficult! In most cases, there’s to required format, and reviews don’t have to be long and involved. Take Ane Mulligan’s Amazon review of Stillwaters, for example:

Where should you post your reviews? Amazon, certainly, and also Goodreads. Those are the biggies. But if you feel inclined, you can post reviews to Barnes & Noble, Booktopia, other places online where books are sold, or your own blog. But Amazon is primo.

Am I writing this post for the purpose of begging for reviews? Yes. Absolutely. I need reviews!

But I’m also resolving to start reviewing books more often myself. In fact, I recently posted a review of a nice little book I ran across not long ago, Faith Unexpected: Real stories of people who found what they never imagined.  It is exactly as the title describes, and I won’t elaborate other than to say I enjoyed the book. If you look for it on Amazon, you’ll see my review.

It’s the sort of book that would be good to give as a gift to someone who’s “on the fence” as far as following Christ is concerned. A person who’s antagonistic toward the gospel wouldn’t appreciate it, but someone who’s curious probably would.

I don’t read as much as I’d like to, but I hereby resolve to make more of an effort to review the ones I read. At least, new books. I don’t think I’ll bother reviewing old classics.

Do you post reviews on Amazon? If you haven’t yet, would you please review mine (if you’ve read any)?

Yes, I’m begging—with apologies for the lack of dignity.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

More About Habits

Enough with the nuns’ habits joke already!

Okay. In our last exciting adventure, I posed some questions and promised to provide my own answers in the next post. Because I try to make it a habit to keep my promises, here goes:

Question 1: What unhealthy habits would you like to break?

I have two related ones: Overeating, and lack of exercise. Of course my sister had to go and beat me to the punch in her comment, but that’s okay. It’s nice to know I’m in good company.

Many years ago, I joked that my mother-in-law had been on the same diet since I’d known her—it was the “Starting on Monday” diet. I’ve been on a similar one in recent years: the “Should Eat Less” diet. I love food, and many of the foods I enjoy are good for me. I seldom eat fast food, my taste for sweets has dwindled over the years, and I eat a healthy diet. I just eat too much of it! If I could form the habit of taking smaller portions and stopping before I feel full, I think it would be good for me.

Lack of exercise? I have a ready supply of worn-out excuses for that. I used to walk 3 – 5 miles a day, five days a week. But in the past few months, I fell out of the habit—until three days ago, when I discovered Rising Park.

Actually, I knew it was there, but I only just now made the effort to check it out. The trail to the top of Mt. Pleasant is a super-short trail, and it’s not much of a mountain by Maryland standards*, but it’s a better aerobic workout than doing nothing. And, you can do more walking than just up to the top and back. Three days ago I resolved to visit Rising Park at least 5 days a week to get my heart rate up on a regular basis, and I’ve done it now for three days straight. I hope to make a habit of it.

*see this three-year-old post about that

Question 2: Do you find it a continual struggle to maintain healthy habits?

Not too much. It’s a struggle to form a healthy habit, but once it’s ingrained, a minimum of effort is required to maintain it. That’s the case for simple habits, like brushing my teeth before going to bed. How that applies to taking that little uphill trail every day, though, remains to be seen. I’m still in the process of forming that habit.

Question 3: What habits enable you to fly?

It took many years to develop it, but my habit of spending time every morning in prayer and Bible study keeps me buoyant the rest of the day. (I’ll bet you thought I was kidding when I asked that question, didn’t you?)

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Habits

https://dcarchives.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/habit-change-1964-mcphee-priller.jpg

No, not that kind of habit!

Yes. That’s what I’m talking about.

As you may observe, I’ve fallen into the habit of neglecting my blog. Whether that’s a good habit or a bad, I think I’ve finally straightened out the technical difficulties that have been plaguing me, so maybe I’ll break the neglecting habit and start posting every now and then.

I’ve been thinking about habits recently, so that’s why I’ve chose to write about them today.

I’ve long observed that good habits take diligence and determination to form, whereas bad habits can get started with just one repetition. But bad habits, though easily acquired, are difficult to break, while it’s ridiculously easy to fall out of good habits. Why is that?

I won’t venture an opinion. I’m just making the observation.

Sometimes, it’s hard to say which category a habit falls into. Several months ago, I kicked the caffeine habit. Is caffeine bad for you? That seems to depend on who you talk to. I can’t say that I suffered any ill effects from caffeine consumption, but it bothered me that I was dependent on it—and there’s no question that I was. I was a bona fide* caffeine addict.

*I just now learned that bona fideis two words. Interesting tidbit!

Where was I? Oh, yeah… I was addicted to caffeine for many years. Now I’m not. I’d say that’s a good thing, in that I no longer require my morning coffee in order to feel well. But neither am I anti-caffeine. About once or twice a week, I’ll indulge in a little—a cup of coffee here, a Coke there, the occasional bite of chocolate.  So I guess it’s good. No addiction, no obsession the other way. It’s quite freeing, actually.

It seems breaking a bad habit takes as much or more effort as forming a good habit. It’s kind of the same thing, when you look at it. Forming a good habit in place of a bad one is the same as breaking a bad habit.

What make a habit “good” or “bad”? Today’s society doesn’t like to speak in those terms. Maybe I should talk about “healthy” and “unhealthy” habits instead, because it seems to be bad these days to say anything is bad.

Because I’m paying rent on this server, I might as well make use of my blog. So, for the sake of fiscal responsibility, I’m going to work on developing the habit of blogging more regularly. You can expect to see posts more frequently, but don’t expect them to be very meaty. I’m not quite ready to form the habit of keeping my efforts focused.

What unhealthy habits would you like to break? What healthy habits have you formed after much effort? Do you find it a continual struggle to maintain the healthy ones? What habits enable you to fly?

In order to encourage myself to keep up with this blog, I’ll provide my own answers to those questions in my next post. But if you’re willing to share  your thoughts in the comments, I’d be happy to hear them!

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

The Theory of Everything

I’m not sure why, but it’s like pulling teeth to get me to update my blog.

Which reminds me… I had a bit of a dental drama last month, which finally resolved with my having a tooth extracted — a back molar, so I don’t have a visible gap. Whether I eventually get an implant, I haven’t decided. For now, the pain is gone, and I’m happy with the situation. But the best part is, I’ll spare you all the gory details — which I’m sure you appreciate!

Now I’ve gone and lost my train of thought… oh, yes. Updating my blog. I’ve been wanting to share this for a while now, but am just now sitting myself down and sternly commanding that I may not get up until I’ve written a post about it.

Okay, so, a couple of months ago, I read Who Made God? Searching For a Theory of Everything, a surprisingly readable book written by the very-brainy Dr. Edgar Andrews (whose biography on the back cover lists no less than six degrees following his name, some of which I’ve never heard of before: BSc, PhD, DSc, FinstP, FIMMM, CEng, and CPhys). He’s no dummy, in other words.

In terms that I could kind of mostly understand, almost, he told of scientists’ dream “to develop a ‘theory of everything’ — a scientific theory that will encompass all the workings of the physical universe in a single self-consistent formulation.” (His words, page 12.) Just when science seems to have found it, they discover something new that doesn’t fit, so then they have to come up with another theory of how all the scientific disciplines work together.

He also notes that there are a number of non-material entities as well, the existence of which we all accept despite lack of physical evidences (love, beauty, faith, justice, etc.); and it would be nice if these, too, could be included into this “theory of everything,” so we can see how all things that exist, in whatever form, have one origin and work together in perfect harmony.

I’m not sure how many scientists share that desire, because I don’t know that many scientists. Usually, I think they’re more concerned with how every material thing works; many might be content with merely enjoying love and friendship and beauty without worrying about how all that meshes with physics and biochemistry.

In any case, I read that book a while back — long before my tooth troubles. Then a couple of weeks ago, I read another one that also mentioned this Theory of Everything: a short nonfiction, The Kingdom of Speech, by novelist Tom Wolfe (author of more than a dozen books, including Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff, and A Man in Full).

It might seem odd that a successful novelist would suddenly write a nonfiction book, but as I understand it, he started out as a journalist, so I guess it’s not that much of a stretch. And, it makes sense that Wolfe’s wordsmithing career may have given him a fascination with words and language. What he’s turned out here is a snarky and enjoyable history of the theory of evolution in general and the evolution of language in particular.

Wolfe gives numerous reasons why language cannot possibly have evolved, Darwin-stylereasons I won’t list here, but if you’re interested, read the book. In sum, he quotes a scholarly, 10,000-word paper published in 2014 by eight brilliant scientists, led by renowned linguist and evolutionist Noam Chomsky, called “The Mystery of Language Evolution.” In that paper, these eminent scholars declared that, after extensive research, they were able to find “essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved.” (Quoted on page 156.)

Wolfe states there is only one logical conclusion to which we can come on the subject: language is not an evolved trait, but is an artifact (something man created). Not only that, but it was mankind’s first artifact, and the one that has enabled all others thereafter.

Interesting theory. And who am I to argue with someone as educated and intelligent as Tom Wolfe? I won’t argue, but I will submit that there is another possibility that he’s overlooked — one that I, personally, find more likely, and one that fits not merely the physical evidence, but the scriptural as well.

Think about this:

  1. Man was created in God’s own image, Genesis 1:26-27.
  2. God created all things with words. (“Let there be light,” Genesis 1:3, and so on.)
  3. One Person of the triune God is “the Word,” John 1:1-3.

I firmly believe that each of those statements sheds light on far more than language development; there are depths to all three not touched on in this discussion. But, isn’t it possible —isn’t it probable — that language is neither a trait carried over from some supposed evolutionary ancestor, nor an artifact that early man came up with, but rather, one aspect of God’s “image” that He gave us from the beginning?

From God’s mouth to ours, Genesis 2:7

I think we should look at all the evidence, don’t you?

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter