The Finally Fall Tag

I thought this image looked sort of autumnal.

Today I will be doing the Finally Fall Book Tag, which I got from Riddhi. A tag is a series of prompts that the blogger responds to, usually by naming one or more books. At the end, we are supposed to “tag” other bloggers, but we all know that I don’t do that because it just gets too complicated, what with not wanting to leave anyone out, not wanting to hand anyone a task they hate, etc., etc. It’s sort of like planning a wedding that way.

In fall, the air is crisp and clear: Name a book with a vivid setting.

The Lord of the Rings.

OK, look, TLOTR could actually be the perfect answer for every one of these prompts, am I right? So I’ll just name it for each of them, and then one other one that is my backup answer.

Beyond Middle Earth, I suggest you check out the setting in Ursula Le Guin’s Hainish cycle. It’s on a planet that, because of its orbit, experiences seasons that last for lengths of time that we on Earth would call years. The people who live there have eyes with no whites to them. After intermarrying with immigrants from Earth, they develop a skin tone that is navy blue in the upper classes and “dusty” blue in the lower classes. It’s fascinating, brutal, and beautifully written.

Nature is beautiful… but also dying: Name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief.

The Lord of the Rings. They kill off Gandalf.

The 6th Lamentation by William Brodrick

Also, this book. The Holocaust, survivor’s guilt, lost children, neurological disease. Are those topics heavy enough? See my full review of it here.

Fall is back to school season: Share a non-fiction book that taught you something new.

The Lord of the Rings will teach you terms like weregild (“person-money” – money paid in compensation for someone’s death).

The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell

Everybody please go read this and as many other Thomas Sowell books as you can get your hands on.

In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love: Name a fictional family/household/friend-group that you’d like to be part of.

I would like to live with Tom Bombadil and the River Daughter.

Failing that, I would be honored to live and work with Mma Potokwane, the forceful woman who runs the orphanage in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

The colourful leaves are piling up on the ground: Show us a pile of fall coloured spines!

I didn’t intend it, but every book in this pile except for The Family Mark Twain is indie published.

And Neanderthal Woman is homemade.

Also … the golden-leaved mallorn trees of Lothlorien.

Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside: Share a book wherein someone is telling a story.

One of the best things about Lord of the Rings is the way you keep getting hints of yet more ancient places, people, and stories.

And for my backup answer, we have Ursula Le Guin again. In her Earthsea trilogy, there is a very creepy story told about a stone that if you so much as touch it, steals your soul. In her book Left Hand of Darkness, the main story is interspersed with short myths to help us get a feel for the culture of the planet the story is set on, where glaciers cover about half the landmass and people are sexless for most of each month.

The nights are getting darker: Share a dark, creepy read.

The Balrog, and Shelob, and the Ring and the effect it has upon people, are all pretty doggone creepy.

Also, The Dark is Rising and the whole series that follows it deals with pre-Roman paganism still alive in Britain.

The days are getting colder: Name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day.

The Hobbit. Annndddd …

Allie Brosch’s new book Solutions and Other Problems.

It’s not heartwarming in the sense that it presents the universe as a rational or hopeful place, BUT it did make me laugh so hard it brought tears to my eyes. It’s not short in the sense that it’s a big, thick hardcover, BUT that’s only because it is packed with her funny (and actually very artistic) drawings. It’s a fast read.

Fall returns every year: Name an old favourite that you’d like to return to soon.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

Also, this book, The Everlasting Man, by the ebullient GKC. I recently ordered my own copy so that I could mine it for future quotes on the blog, and I quickly discovered that GKC was the original source of all my suspicions about ancient people having been just like us, but smarter.

Fall is the perfect time for cozy reading nights: Share your favourite cozy reading “accessories”!

Bears and coffee.

The Guilty Reader Tag

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For the uninitiated, a “tag” is when a fellow blogger asks you to answer a bunch of questions, which usually revolve around a theme. I, for some mysterious reason, tend to get tagged by bloggers who are interested in books, writing, and reading.

This tag was created by  Chami @ Read Like Wildfire and passed on to me by my faithful friend The Orangutan Librarian, a fellow INFP who, like me, is also an expert in guilt. Maybe that’s why I love her sensitive and lighthearted book reviews and parodies.

One. Have You Ever Re-Gifted A Book You’ve Been Given?

Hmm. I don’t think so. But probably. I have been known to buy a book for myself, read it, and then a few years later, give the nearly-new copy to a fellow reader as a gift. And then, after they have enjoyed it, after another few years I have even been known to re-claim it.

Also – fun fact! – I was once given a book that eventually turned out to be a library book. It was pretty good, too.

Two. Have You Ever Said You’ve Read A Book When You Haven’t?

Photo by Marcela Alessandra on Pexels.com

I have definitely implied it.

Back in my college days, when I made an idol of being intellectual and was consequently a poser about it, I would talk as though I was familiar with philosophers like Plato, when I had not read their works but only heard about them.

(Hot tip: if you make an idol of your intellect, you will always feel like a dummy who is about to be exposed.)

Three. Have You Ever Borrowed A Book And Not Returned It?

Yes. I borrowed a book about children in history from a history prof, let it sit around unread, and then eventually returned it. At least, I thought I returned it. She was unable to find it, as was I.

Four. Have You Ever Read A Series Out Of Order?

All. The. Time. Some series seem to stretch on forever into both the past and future, having neither beginning nor end. *Ahem* Dragonlance!

Also, I love Tony Hillerman’s Navajo police procedurals. But they have a big flaw: they are not numbered as a series! Each one can be read as a standalone, but if you read more than a few of them, you realize that they develop over time. You have to read each book to find out where it fits in with the others in terms of Jim Chee’s disastrous love life, for example. I’ll bet that somewhere on the Internet, someone has listed them in order just for people like me.

Five. Have You Ever Spoiled A Book For Someone?

Um, probably, but I can’t remember. What I remember, of course, is when people spoil books for me. The most egregious instance was when a friend spoiled Things Fall Apart.

Six. Have You Ever Dogeared A Book?

Um, so, this is one of those habits that I have had to belatedly realize makes me uncivilized, and have had to train myself out of. (I won’t tell you the others.)

Seven. Have You Ever Told Someone You Don’t Own A Book When You Do?

Maybe, if I forget that I own it. Or, I might think that I own a book, but do so no longer.

Eight. Have You Ever Skipped A Chapter Or A Section Of A Book?

In nonfiction, all the time. Often you can see where a section is going (if you’re wrong it will quickly become apparent), or the author is laying out background that you already have.

In fiction, I occasionally skip atrocities.

Nine. Have You Ever Bad Mouthed A Book You Actually Liked?

Yes. I still feel bad about a review that did for a reviewing site, where I gave a very decent historical fiction volume 2 out of 4 stars just because the characters occasionally spoke like modern people. Once I got more experience, I got more fair with my reviews.

Moral: The Heart is Deceitful

So, it turns out that I have committed every single pecadillo on this list, from the harmless (forgetting I own books) to the prideful (posing as an intellectual). Not super surprised by this. Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.

But one question was left off this list: Have you ever been lost in a book at a time when, in the opinion of people around you, you should have been doing something else?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

I’ll post a quote about that tomorrow.

You post your book pecadillos in the comments.

Best to you all.

Call for ARC Reviewers for The Long Guest

“The year is 10,000 B.C. All mankind was united in one project: to build a great city with a magnificent tower that reached to the heavens. But the tower fell; God confused their languages, and overnight, their world dissolved into unimaginable chaos.

Family groups, still tied by language, salvage what they can and flee to the countryside to survive. On the way, the family group of Enmer stumbles upon a highborn man, who does not speak their tongue. He lies paraplegic and near death, having survived a fall from the tower.

The matriarch of the family insists they save him; he is a human being, is he not? But he is also hateful, demanding, and useless. But if they don’t save him, who are they? And, if they do, he will leave them forever changed.

This sweeping epic starts at Babel and carries the action across the continent of Asia, even to the ends of the earth.”

That’s the official back cover copy. Coming November 1! But you can get the book before then.

ARC means Advance Review Copy or Advance Reader Copy. Here’s how it works. You use the contact button on this blog to send me your snail-mail address. I send you a free copy of the book. If you manage to get through it, you post a review on your blog or on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever else you typically post reviews. If you are a fast reader, your review might even go up around the time that the book is coming out. Either way, you get a free book, I get a review (probably); everyone’s happy!

And yes, sorry, the book is only available in hard copy at this time, not as an e-book. You will want to hold it in your hot little hands, flip back and forth to view the maps and family tree, mark your favorite passages for memorization, etc., etc.

My love to all of you! Especially to advance reviewers!

PSA: In case you didn’t know, Andrew Klavan has a YA series out

PSA … Public Service Announcement

YA … Young Adult

Andrew Klavan is a hard-boiled crime novelist who became a Christian around the age of 50. He is a master storyteller who gets what literature is supposed to do for a person. Consequently, he is not afraid of the dark, so to speak. His characters, particularly in his adult novels, often have major flaws. Some Christian readers don’t like the fact that Klavan’s novels often include sex scenes and a lot of language.

Well, if you want to enjoy Andrew Klavan minus all the adult stuff, look no farther than this series.

Main character Charlie goes to bed in his room one night and inexplicably wakes up strapped to a metal chair in an enclosed room, surrounded by instruments of torture. He remembers who is he (a high schooler with a black belt in karate), but he has no idea how he got here.

That’s the opening to the first book in the series, aptly titled The Last Thing I Remember. Klavan has long been fascinated with characters who have trouble remembering things, distinguishing fantasy from reality, or trusting their own thinking. Charlie is no exception. It will take him a good bit of the first book to realize that he’s forgotten an entire year of his life … and it will take nearly the whole series before he can trust himself again.

I can imagine someone will object: “Wait, because these are YA novels, there is no sex … but the very first scene includes torture?” Yes, there is plenty of violence in the Homelander novels. They are thrillers, after all. But a couple of factors mitigate this. First, sex and violence are not the same in the contexts in which they occur, what their purpose is, or the effect they have on the human mind. So I don’t think it’s necessarily hypocritical if a supposedly “clean” book excludes sex but includes some violence.

Secondly, the way the violence is handled is not exploitative. Charlie wakes up sore, in a torture room, and has obviously been through some stuff, but we don’t actually see him getting tortured. And the violence throughout the rest of the series is handled in a similarly dignified way. Klavan gives us plenty of blow-by-blow descriptions of fight scenes, chase scenes, and escape scenes, in some of which Charlie (or other characters) get hurt pretty bad. He does not give us any detailed blow-by-blows of helpless people being brutalized. And, though there are probably some deeper issues here that I haven’t thought out, this feels like an important distinction. It’s as if he allows the characters to have their choices and their dignity.

The titles of the books are:

  • The Last Thing I Remember
  • The Way Home
  • The Truth of the Matter
  • The Final Hour

Quote of the Week: No Good Choices

“Except it wasn’t your cheek to turn, was it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you hadn’t shot that guy — with his wife and his kids and his mom who loved him — he’d have thrown that grenade and killed every single one of us. Nicki. Jim. And your girlfriend Lady Liberty too.”

I looked away from him so he wouldn’t see me blushing. “Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

“I bet if you asked them, you’d find out they have moms too. Nicki and Jim. Meredith. They maybe all have moms.”

“Maybe even you,” I said.

“Well, let’s not jump to conclusions,” Palmer drawled.

I walked another moment in silence. It was a pretty miserable choice, you know. You either kill a guy or he kills your friends. Either the murderous rebels win or the murderous government. It was like the whole country was just one big series of bad choices.

If We Survive, YA novel by Andrew Klavan, p. 229

Five Reasons You Should Read This Book

The Quest for Cosmic Justice, by Thomas Sowell, 1999
  1. It’s short (189 pages, not counting index and endnotes). You can read it in a weekend.
  2. The author is a black man, educated at Harvard, Columbia and University of Chicago, and was a Marxist in his 20s but is no more. In the video below, you can see him give some of his story.
  3. Endnotes! There are gobs of endnotes citing books, Supreme Court cases, and other sources. Besides backing up the book’s claims, these are a useful source for further reading. Sowell cites his own works a lot, but we can hardly blame him considering how prolific of a writer he’s been. I now fully intend to read through his entire corpus of work.
  4. Amazingly quotable. I thought about posting quotes from this book this week, but was afraid I would get to posting long sections and then just the entire book. Below, I will include a quote from each of the book’s four parts … but this is minimal, as each section has many passages that are equally weighty, clever, and succinct.
  5. Happy Fourth of July! One of the heroes of this book is the American constitutional system: mistrust of all authority; limited government; and the rule of law, not of people. You probably can’t order Quest in time to read it on the 4th, but always remember that you heard about it in time for that holiday.

Quotations from The Quest for Cosmic Justice

From Part I, “The Quest for Cosmic Justice”:

Since “undeserved inequalities” extend beyond prejudicial decisions made by others to encompass biological differences among individuals and groups — the fact that women are usually not as large or physically strong as men, for example — and profound differences in the geographical settings in which whole races and nations have evolved culturally, not to mention individual and group differences in child-rearing practices and moral values, cosmic justice requires — or assumes — vastly more knowledge than is necessary for traditional justice. …

With justice, as with equality, the question is not whether more is better, but whether it is better at all costs. We need to consider what those who believe in the vision of cosmic justice seldom want to consider — the nature of those costs and how they change the very nature of justice itself.

Quest, p. 13, 27

From Part II, “The Mirage of Equality”:

The difficulties of satisfying envy … increase exponentially when there is no unambiguous way to say that A is better off than B in whatever dimension each values. Many parents, for example, are familiar with the situation in which each child thinks that a sibling is being treated better by the parents and therefore each has envy and resentment of the other or others. Nor can an objective third party, if one could be found, necessarily be able to declare which person has the net advantage when one is more fortunate according to one array of characteristics and possessions and the other is more fortunate according to another array of characteristics and possessions. Moreover, even in cases in which a third party regards A as clearly better off than B, it does not follow that either A or B will value and weigh the particular advantages and disadvantages the same way as this third party, much less the same as each other.

Quest, p. 91

From Part III, “The Tyranny of Visions”:

On issue after issue, the morally self-anointed visionaries have for centuries argued as if no honest disagreement were possible, as if those who opposed them were not merely in error but in sin. This has long been a hallmark of those with a cosmic vision of the world and of themselves as saviors of the world, whether they are saving it from war, overpopulation, capitalism, genetic degradation, environmental destruction, or whatever the crisis du jour might be. Given this exalted vision of their role by the anointed visionaries, those who disagree with them must be correspondingly degraded or demonized.

Quest, p. 103

From Part IV, “The Quiet Repeal of the American Revolution”:

There is no way to specify in precise general rules, known beforehand, what might be necessary [for employers] to achieve results that would meet the standards of cosmic justice. In short, there can be no rule of law for such things and courts seeking cosmic justice can no longer strike down such laws as “void for vagueness.” These edicts do not happen to be vague, they are necessarily vague. They could not be otherwise. … For purposes of cosmic justice, discrimination must be defined by retrospective results, whether “disparate impact” or “hostile environments” or failure to provide “reasonable accommodation.” This is only one of many ways in which the quest for cosmic justice is incompatible with the rule of law.

Quest, pp. 159 – 160

Happy Birthday, Prof. Sowell!

P.S. Serendipitously, after I had already written and scheduled this post, I found out that this week is Prof. Sowell’s 90th birthday! I am beyond happy that he has had such a long and prolific career. Click here for an econ blog’s birthday post about him which summarizes his thinking and makes some suggestions about how we can apply his principles of “traditional justice” (as opposed to cosmic justice) to reduce bad outcomes for black Americans.

The Right of Every Man to Go his Own Way

“What I know about Mendoza,” Palmer said slowly after a while, “is that he’s a petty gangster who enjoys pushing people around. I’ve already told you what I think of Cobar: a psycho killer.”

“But in his book –“

“I know,” Palmer said, lifting a hand. “But a killer who writes a book is still a killer — even if it’s a book about peace and justice. A thug with a lot of high-blown political ideas is still just a thug in the end.”

“But he’s at war with a brutal government …”

“Gangsters get in wars with each other all the time,” said Palmer. “That doesn’t make one side good and the other bad. And it doesn’t mean I have to care which bunch of bullies and thugs wins the day. You think the people in this village will be any better off when it’s Cobar’s government murdering them instead of the government they had before? The only one who’ll feel better about it is you, because you’ll think it’s all for some higher cause — fairness or justice or whatever they’re calling it nowadays. Whatever they do call it, it always translates to the same thing in the end: obey the man with the gun or he’ll kill you. The truth is, Professor, there’s only one higher cause I know of. That’s the right of every man to go his own way and spend his own money and speak his own mind and find his own salvation. You show me the side that stands for that and I’ll fight for them.”

If We Survive, YA book by Andrew Klavan, pp. 218 – 219

Jaundiced Literary Quote of the Week

Somehow, your protagonist has to be able to do something heroic, or you might as well be James Joyce.

There are people who read James Joyce. Most of them are graduate students. You can’t do that to undergraduates. They’re not ready for it. They don’t have the discipline to put up with that amount of garbage.

Orson Scott Card, in his interview with Ben Shapiro, May 23, 2020

Gobekli Tepe, the World’s Oldest Temple?

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

I wonder whether you’ve ever heard of Gobekli Tepe. I hadn’t until just a few years ago, which makes sense because it wasn’t rediscovered (and so, presumably, begun to be excavated) until the 1990s.

It’s called the world’s oldest temple because it dates back more than 10,000 years. In the article I will link to below, dates of 11,500 years ago and even 15,000 years ago are mentioned. This puts it in the Neolithic: the Stone Age. Like many other ancient complexes that have been given more recent dates, it is made of megaliths placed with geometrical precision.

The Dating of Gobekli Tepe

It sounds really to cool to say that a til-recently-unknown stone structure in Turkey with an exotic name is the “world’s oldest temple.” But as we sometimes mention on this blog, it’s very possible that some of the other megalithic structures found around the world are in fact older than conventional dating would have it. An argument has been made, for example, that the Sphinx and the pyramids at Giza are closer to 20,000 years old. Gobekli Tepe, then, is the oldest megalithic temple that has been able to convince mainstream archaeologists of its bona fides. At any rate, it clearly hails from a very ancient time when people all over the world were for some reason (and with some method???) building stuff with megaliths.

The ancientness of Gobekli Tepe creates a problem for its excavators when its obvious sophistication comes into a head-on collision with their beliefs about the abilities of Stone Age humans. That clash happens several times in the Jerusalem Post article Israeli researchers unveil architecture secrets of ‘world’s oldest temple.’

Two archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, PhD candidate Gil Haklay and his supervisor, Prof. Avi Gopher, have now unveiled new secrets of its sophisticated architecture, highlighting an intricate geometrical pattern that was conceived before humans had even discovered agriculture or pottery.

Ibid

… Um, are you sure they hadn’t discovered agriculture or pottery, Professors?

Göbekli Tepe features dozens of monolithic pillars four to five meters tall placed along at least 20 concentric rings, which archaeologists refer to as “enclosures.” The pillars are decorated with remarkable reliefs depicting animals including gazelles, jaguars, Asiatic wild donkeys and wild sheep. …

“We found that there is a center point in each enclosure, which we identified not only in the three in the main excavation area, but also in others located outside it,” Haklay explained. “We also found out that the center of these enclosures was always located between the two large central pillars aligned with the front side. These pillars also presented an anthropomorphic structure and they have a front side. In each enclosure based on the surrounding peripheral pillars was found an alignment with the narrow front side. This was our first observation: an abstract design rule.“We later noticed that the role of those center points extended beyond an individual enclosure, because the three center points of enclosures B, C and D form an almost perfect equilateral triangle,” he added.

Haklay highlighted that they went on to verify whether the geometric pattern was confirmed by further observations, for example the orientation of the central pillars. They found many other elements supporting it. Among others, the main access to the structure was located between the only two pillars carrying anthropomorphic as opposed to animal reliefs.

Ibid

But how was all this accomplished?

[I]t is not clear how long its construction took but it might have been centuries if not more, with different people initiating it and adding to it.

Ibid

But yet later, we get this:

This discovery also overcame a previous theory common among researchers that the enclosures were conceived and built in unrelated stages.

Ibid

Huh? So it was built over hundreds of years, added to a little at a time, but yet planned by one or a few masterminds?

“We are talking about hunter-gatherers, but at the same time we see signs of a very complex social structure,” Haklay said …

But how could such a complex design be envisioned by people who did not even know how to create a simple pottery vessel?

Ibid

Oh, stop. Just … stop.

Gobekli Tepe in Fiction

There is one novel that I know of which focuses squarely on Gobekli Tepe: The Genesis Secret, 2009, by Tom Knox. See my review of it here. Interestingly, though Knox is not a believer in the Judeo-Christian God (quite the opposite, in fact), he takes seriously the accounts of giants walking the earth in Genesis 6 and, in fact, his novel ends up revealing that Gobekli Tepe was built at the initiation of a violent, giant race who left large, misshapen skulls behind them.

In film, within the last year I saw on a Netflix a Turkish show called The Gift. In it, a young artist who lives in Istanbul finds that a symbol she has spontaneously drawn all her life has recently been uncovered at the ancient site of Gobekli Tepe. I enjoyed this show, but be warned it has some entirely gratuitous sex scenes.

And Now, for a Really Wild Speculation …

People who take Genesis seriously as history have speculated about the location of the original Garden of Eden. Genesis mentions four rivers as arising from the Garden (or running into it; the linguistics are ambiguous). Two of these are the Tigris and Euphrates. The other two (the Gihon and the Pishon) have been lost to time.

Of course, to try and locate the original Garden is probably impossible. If you suspect, as I do, that the Flood was a result of continental-drift like changes in the Earth’s geography, then nothing anymore is located where it was in Adam’s day, including rivers. On this view, the modern-day Tigris and Euphrates are probably just named after some much more ancient rivers, which could have been in a completely different location.

But if we assume that the continents look more or less the same now as they did in Adam’s day, we can try to guess the region where Eden once stood. One likely candidate is northeastern Africa, or even what is now the floor of the Red Sea (sea levels having risen).

Another candidate is the mountainous region of eastern Turkey, near the headwaters of the modern-day Tigris and Euphrates, along with several other rivers.

And also not too far from Gobekli Tepe.

Just sayin’.