I don’t usually go for books with an American flag on the cover. Fairly or unfairly, I expect them to have been written in six weeks with a shallow diagnosis of the problem (and the solution usually being “free-market economics”). But this one is different. The author began to win my trust when he said that a few of his earlier books were, in fact, just like that. Also, the intro is by David Goodwin, who has been in Christian classical education for years.
It’s pretty depressing to read how what Hegseth calls the Western Christian Paideia (WCP) was ripped out of American schools a few years before my parents were born (and how, in fact, the public school system was set up primarily to do this). It was replaced by a shallow new religion, a blend of Hegelianism with some nationalism thrown in to make it palatable to my grandparents’ generation. The goal of this new paideia was to populate a brave new, progressive, technocratic world with obedient and easily manipulated citizens, not with educated, critically-thinking grown adults. So, that kid on the cover looking at the American flag in a pose that looks suspiciously like worship? That’s not what the author is promoting. It’s what he’s criticizing.
by Larry Chambers and Dale Rogers, 2004 (3rd ed.)
Investors don’t get much more first-time than yours truly.
The big insight from this book – if I can summarize what I’ve read so far – is that it’s not possible to “pick stocks.” Stocks go up and down in a truly random way. (Which is gratifying to hear, since that’s certainly how it looks from the outside!) So, say the authors, the way to make money long-term on the stock market is to pick the right balance of kinds of stocks. And the kind that do the best, on average, are the companies that appear the least promising.
There. You got that for free.
by Jean Hanff Korelitz, 2021
Here’s my Goodreads review:
Hoo boy. Hokay. So.
This book is about a struggling author who “steals” a story that someone once told him, years later, after he finds out the person is deceased. Said story is so sensational that it catapults the author to success: the book becomes a phenomenon. The rise and fall of this author is the outer onion layer of this book.
The inner onion layer is the sensational story itself. It’s about a girl who, at fifteen, becomes pregnant by a random guy, an older married man to whom she intentionally loses her virginity, essentially as a big middle finger to her parents. Her parents force her, not only to carry the baby to term (horror of horrors!), but to raise it in their home. When the baby, which turns out to be a precocious girl, is sixteen and ready to go off to college, the mother kills her. This is the Big Twist that shocks readers and is responsible for the book’s success.
I have three thoughts. One, obviously this book is really well written and makes a compelling read. I finished it in four days, despite my busy life. Hence the four stars.
Two. Every single main character is this book is a sociopath. I include not only the mother, but the daughter (as far as we can tell), the struggling-to-famous author, and a couple of side characters as well. The mother is a smart sociopath with the courage of her convictions, and the author is a dumber, more cowardly sociopath. There isn’t a character we get to know well who is manifestly decent.
Three. Despite being a book about a mother who kills her teenaged daughter, this book somehow manages to be pro-abortion. The fictional pregnant teen is resentful that her parents won’t take her to go get an abortion. They don’t love her or the baby, she opines, they are making her raise it to punish her. Abortion is presented as a solution, as if it would have prevented this very tragedy rather than just anticipating it by sixteen years. The parents also, though “Christian,” forbid their daughter to adopt the baby out, again to punish her. This is the classic straw-man scenario used by abortion promoters, but I don’t think it’s actually very common, let alone widespread. The impression I get is that grandparents often end up raising their daughters’ out-of-wedlock children. Furthermore, Korelitz clearly has no love for pro-life counseling clinics, which are actually places that will give girls in crisis pregnancies assistance in adoption and will give them plenty of other kinds of support when those are lacking at home. These places, when mentioned in the book, are always called abortion “counselors,” with scare quotes, as if the fact they will encourage you not to have your baby killed makes them somehow less professional.
This abortion problem, plus certain things in the tone of the book, gave me the distinct impression that Korelitz is trying to make this kind of sociopathy relatable. For example, one character asserts that it’s sexist of the reading public to find it more shocking when a mother kills her child than when a father does the same. Truly, women’s lib has reached its zenith when women aren’t expected to have any motherly tenderness for their own children, but rather to be just as violent and sociopathic as men are “allowed” to be. And then we can all be good worshippers of Moloch. Yay? It is for this reason that I can’t give the book five stars. No matter how well plotted or rendered, my enjoyment of a story as a story is marred when I find its background assumptions this repellant.
Diary of a Mad Black Woman
I know this is not a new movie, but I’d never seen it before. All I can say is, Tyler Perry really “gets” women. (Far more than Jean Hanff Korelitz does, now that I think of it.)
I did expect Madea to bring more action/solutions and not just comic relief, but interestingly, in this movie the solutions come from … God. I’m fine with that. Now before you go thinking that the frequent references to God mean this movie has an unrealistically rosy outlook on human nature … it’s also a revenge fantasy. Also, it’s got the usual Tyler Perry crude jokes, including Perry playing, not just cousin Brian and Madea, but also Madea’s pervy octogenarian brother.
The Last Stand
This film is very violent, very shooty-shooty-bang-bang. If you can tolerate that, it’s a great movie. It starts out looking like a crime/thriller flick. I didn’t realize until about 3/4 of the way through that it’s actually an updated Western. There is a noontime shootout on Main Street and everything, except instead of just the sheriff on one side and the outlaw on the other, there’s about a dozen people on each side.
There’s also a bonnet-wearing Texas granny who pulls a shotgun out of her knitting basket, which as you can imagine, I loved.
“Evan Parker,” the guy said without preamble. “But I’m thinking about reversing it, professionally.”
Jake frowned. “You mean, as a pen name?”
“For privacy, yeah. Parker Evan.”
It was all he could do not to laugh, the lives of the vast majority of authors being far more private than they likely wished. Maybe Stephen King or John Grisham got approached in the supermarket by a quavering person extending pen and paper, but for most writers, even reliably published and actually self-supporting writers, the privacy was thunderous.
So, I finally read Nora Ephron’s iconic (?) I Feel Bad About My Neck. I bought it because it was on sale at the library table for $1 and, when I started browsing through, it did not fail to charm me.
IFBAMN came out, according to the cover flap, in 2006. At that time, I had been married for about five minutes and had no interest in crepey necks. Now, the topic is of mild interest because I am older and wiser. (So old! So wise!) It’s fitting that I picked up this book during the week before my birthday. Perhaps we can call this my I-am-within-sight-of-turning-50 post.
Ephron and I do not have a lot in common. Unlike me, she …
is at least ten years older than my parents
wrote the screenplays for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail (basically she wrote the screenplay for Meg Ryan’s career, it appears), Hanging Up, and Bewitched, among others
has been married three times
lives in New York City, and if this book is to be believed, pays money for things like manicures, pedicures, Botox, a semiweekly wash and blowdry, and hair color every six weeks
All of this puts our worlds pretty far apart.
(However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Nora Ephron and I also have quite a few things in common:
both have been through labor
both kind of goofy
and somewhat cheap
and somewhat disorganized — me somewhat, her very, again if this book is to be believed)
Anyway, all that to say, even with our experiences being so far apart, I find this book of collected essays enjoyable and funny. I can only imagine how hilarious it must be to Ephron’s fellow New Yorkers.
And no, it is not all about necks. That is only the first essay. I am really glad, because there is no way anyone could sustain an entire book about their neck. The second essay, for example, is about how every time Ephron tries to get a new purse, the interior of it instantly becomes a disorganized Bermuda Triangle of Tictacs and Kleenexes and things, and it was this essay that really won my heart and convinced me that this New Yorker and I are kindred spirits.
I’ve just surfaced from spending several days in a state of rapture — with a book. I loved this book. I was transported into its world. I composed a dozen imaginary letters to the author, letters I’ll never write, much less send. I wrote letters of praise. I wrote letters relating entirely inappropriate personal information about my own experiences with the author’s subject matter. I even wrote a letter of recrimination when one of the characters died and I was grief-stricken. But mostly I wrote letters of gratitude …
Litte Sara Crewe in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic A Little Princess was my alter ego. Oh, how I wanted to be an orphan! I read The Nun’s Story, and oh, how I wanted to be a nun! I wanted to be shipwrecked on a desert island and stranded in Krakatoa! … Cut to a few years later. I’m reading The Godfather by Mario Puso, a divine book that sweeps me off into a wave of romantic delirium. I want to be a mafioso! No, that’s not quite right. Okay then, I want to be a mafioso’s wife!
Each minute I spend away from the book pretending to be interested in everyday life is a misery. How could I have waited so long to read this book? When can I get back to it? Halfway through, I return to New York to work, to finish a movie, and I sit in the mix studio unable to focus on anything but whether my favorite character in the book will survive. Every so often I look up from the book and see a roomful of people waiting for me to make a decision … and I can’t believe they don’t understand that what I’m doing is Much More Important.
Nora Ephron, excerpts from the essay On Rapture, in I Feel Bad About My Neck, pp. 117 – 121
I paid for an honest review of The Strange Land by one of the reviewers over at OnlineBookClub. Reviewers bid to review books in a genre that interests them. I ended up getting E.F. Emmanuel. You can view his review here:
I know this sounds like a book lovers’ blog tag, but actually, this question was asked of me by my reader son. I love that he has reached an age where it’s not uncommon that we will have discussions about books while I chauffeur him to his different activities.
However, feel free to answer it as you would a tag.
I had to think about this one, because I’ve been having emotional reactions to fictional characters probably since before I could read.
I remember weeping buckets over the doomed friendship between Todd and Copper, as experienced by me through the little book accompanied by a 45 record that we had and played on our little record player.
So I guess you could possibly say that Todd was my first fictional crush. I was certainly in love with the woodsy setting as well.
I continued to be drawn to wilderness-dwelling characters who were thin, spry, quick, fey, and solitary. As a little girl, of course, it wasn’t so much that I consciously had a crush on these characters as it was hero worship. I wanted to be them. I remember feeling that way about Peter Pan, and this guy:
At the age of about twelve, I had a thing for Durnik from the Belgariad. He was strong, quiet, capable and practical … everything I wasn’t.
But now we are getting closer to my teenaged years, about which, the less said the better. I’ll give you one more though, which was a literary crush when I was about thirteen: Odysseus. That was the year that I read a simplified version of The Odyssey in school. Odysseus is a beefcake like Durnik (after all, he is the only one who can draw that big bow!), but he’s also clever and quick like my old favorites.
America is not lost. It is better to say the United States, as a whole, is lost; the GAE [Global American Empire] has captured it. But parts of America are certainly not lost. Hundreds of counties in the United States have a majority of conservative Christians, as do several states. … [W]e should organize and support Christian political visions for towns, counties, and states. In many places, our success or failure is not a matter of numbers but of whether we have the will for success.
Many claims in this book will worry American conservative Christians. I’ve said that political governments can suppress false religion, establish a church, even require people to attend church. I also wrote about a “Christian prince,” which is not the sort of title one would find in America. I will not walk back these arguments; I affirm my conclusions as good and true principles. But I have demonstrated that Christian nationalism can and should look different in different places, for all principles are applied according to a concrete situation. One application that is righteous in itself is not necessarily suitable for all situations. The means by which a Christian people achieve their good depend on their identity, their experiences, and their way of life.
(In case you are not familiar, Shrek was just caught reading the old childhood diary of his now-wife, Fiona. This clip should help you imagine the title of this blog post being delivered in a Scottish accent.)
But, here is the actual book that skeered everybody real bad:
And … behold! I have posed it with my scary black nail polish.
In my experience so far, the people who are most alarmed by this book are just reacting to the title. And it is a scary title, because Wolfe is trying to do something that many people try to do, which is take a derogatory term and own it, while of course redefining it somewhat or at least clarifying the definition. In fact, this book is nothing more nor less than one big, extended definition/explanation of what Wolfe means by the term, and what he thinks Christians should mean by it.
Most of the people who reacted to the publication of this book as if their hair were on fire, apparently did not read it, because their definitions of Christian Nationalism are very different and, in many cases, the opposite of the extended definition found in this book. I will demonstrate this with quotations from the book, below.
(To be fair: the other possible problem is that they did try to read it, or else they listened to an interview with Wolfe trying to explain it. I have heard a few such interviews, and I cannot say that Wolfe is the clearest at expressing himself in person. The book, too, is … dry. It sounds like it was written by a lawyer, or a more-than-usually-dry theologian. Combine this with the fact that many of the concepts in this book are entirely foreign to modern Americans, especially those who have not been raised Presbyterian, and I can easily imagine that someone could dip in, get dizzy, and quickly flee … or else fix on a phrase or two and completely misconstrue them. If you want to hear Wolfe’s ideas expressed in a vivid, accessible, and much clearer way, seekouttheblogposts of DouglasWilson.)
But anyway, here are a few of the assumptions people often make when they hear the phrase Christian nationalism, and quotes from the book that show Wolfe’s actual take on the topic:
Here’s what the scared people are saying:
“Nationalism means imperialism or jingoism“
Several ethnicities can share the same language, of course. But since language is a particular and is necessary for civil fellowship, it follows that at least some particularity is a prerequisite for civil fellowship. Hence, sharing only what is universal — viz., common humanity — is wholly inadequate for a complete social bond. And even a cursory reflection on one’s daily habits and everyday life reveals that more extensive unity in particulars is necessary for living well. We do not, and indeed cannot, live (let alone live well) according to universal rules. Nor can we live well among contrary particulars; there must be a normal to which all conform or assimilate, at least in order for people to live well together. Thus, an instinct for a suitable normal is a good instinct; so too is the moral expectation that people conform to that normal or else face some degree of social separation.
Exclusion [of out-group members] follows not necessarily from maliciousness or from the absence universal benevolence, but from a natural principle of difference that recognizes for oneself and for others the goods provided by similarity and solidarity in that similarity. To exclude an out-group is to recognize a universal good for man — a good made possible only by respecting and conserving difference. Since it is a universal good, you and your people are entitled by nature to a right of difference. This is a natural right, because particularity is necessary to live well according to the nature of man.
pp. 144 – 145
The principle of exclusion does not preclude the reception of foreigners absolutely. Nations ought to be hospitable. At the individual and family levels, hospitality demands generosity to strangers, especially to those in need. A nation, as a sort of corporate person, can and ought to be hospitable as well. But hospitality is subordinate to higher duties: no individual, family, or nation is duty-bound to welcome strangers to the detriment of the good of those most near and bound to it. Furthermore, guests have duties toward their hosts.
“Christian nationalism is a code phrase for wanting an all-white America (a.k.a. White Supreme Pizza)“
Nations express Christianity like they express gender through dress — a universal is expressed in a particular way. Christianity perfects the whole not by eliminating earthly particularity, just as any man who comes to Christ does not lose his personality and other unique characteristics. The Christian nation is still a nation as described in the previous chapter, having intergenerational memory and love, degrees and types of loves, and a delight in people and place. Grace sanctifies sinners, but it does homogenize personality; likewise, Christ sanctifies nations but does not eliminate national distinctness.
“Christians should not have any loyalty to any particular country or family, because ‘all are one in Christ.'”
Man’s limitedness is expressed in the natural need for a sort of directed gregariousness. That is, he is close at heart with a particular, bounded people, who ground and confirm his way of life in the world and who provide for him his most cherished goods. [Even] Unfallen man is benevolent to all but can only be beneficent (i.e., act for the good of) to some, and this limitation is based not merely in geographic closeness but in shared understanding, expectations, and culture.
Cultural diversity is, therefore, a necessary consequence of human nature, and so it is good for us. It is good that particular practices are made habitual by localized socialization and are “owned” in a sense by a particular place and people. It is good that the particularity of each community distinguishes it from the others. Man’s limitedness was not a divine mistake; neither is cultural diversity, separated geographically, an error. It was God’s design for man and thus a necessary feature of his good.
“Christian nationalism” mean getting rid of the First Amendment, and establishing a national church to which every citizen is required to belong.
Althuis states, “Franz Burckhard therefore errs, and the Jesuits with him, who think that the magistrate is not able to tolerate diverse religions.” Burckhard, a Roman Catholic professor at Ingolstadt, is reported to have said, “What more just than to cut off the heads of all these villains of Lutherans!” Burckhard … called for Roman Catholics to rescind the Peace of Passau (1552), which granted religious freedom to Lutherans within the Holy Roman Empire.
This rigid position is natural enough for Roman Catholic theology, which asserted that it is the one true visible church … But in Protestantism the church is essentially invisible and composed of the elect by faith, and belonging to that church is not conditioned on or grounded in one’s outward belonging to a visible, centralized communion. Thus, Protestants of different doctrinal persuasions can mutually recognize their shared faith. This is the basis for principled toleration and religious liberty in Protestant commonwealths. Indeed, the unfolding of Protestant principles — not Enlightenment or Roman Catholic “doctrinal development” — is what led Americans to affirm religious liberty in the 18th century, which I demonstrate in the next chapter. The point here is that a Protestant people have principled flexibility when faced with religious diversity. How a Christian magistrate navigates this complexity requires wisdom, prudence, and resolve.
The political status of non-Christians in a Christian commonwealth is a matter of prudence. Since civil society is a human institution, it must guarantee equal protection and due process with regard to human things for all people. That is, it must guarantee justice and secure natural rights. But this does not entail equal participation, status, and standing in political, social, and cultural institutions. Thus, they are guaranteed a basic right to life and and property (the absence of which would harm the common good), but they may be denied by law to conduct certain activities that could exploit or harm Christians or the Christian religion.
This position, though fairly standard in the Christian tradition until recently, will be received with controversy today, and few would stomach any legal discrimination on the basis of religion. But even in the absence of legal distinctions, the cultural norms of a Christian nation will require non-Christians to be the exception to the norm.
pp. 392 – 393
“It means that the same person is the leader both of the church and of the country in a civil sense.”
I think that a strictly indirect role for civil leaders in intra-ecclesial affairs is both preferable and most consistent with Protestant principles. There is, I admit, a natural fittingness to Christian nationalism and the [civil leader] as the “head of the Church.” But granting the leader this title would be, in my view, an abuse of power and constitute the usurpation of Christ’s kingship over the church. I offer my reasoning below.
It means giving church leaders political power.
God does not (ordinarily) declare by special revelation that this or that person has civil power. Rather, it is “a characteristic property resulting from nature,” writes Suarez. He continues:
‘This [civil power] does not emerge in human nature until men gather in one perfect community and unite politically … Once constituted, this body is at once, and by force of natural reason, the site of this [civil] power.’
The people possess civil power as a necessary and natural consequence of their combination.
One important corollary is that recognizing the true God (or Christ) is unnecessary to possess this power, for having this power is simply a natural consequence of the people’s combination into human society. And they can likewise devolve this power upon those who do not recognize the true God. Hence, true civil authority does not depend on true religion, though certainly in failing to acknowledge the divine source of civil authority, the people and civil ruler are in a perilous situation. It doesn’t bode well for them, but being godless or idolatrous does not itself preclude true political order. Hence, Peter instructs his recipients to “honor the [Roman] emperor.”
pp. 283 – 284
Though we can in principle disobey unjust laws, we should recognize the difficulty in determining whether a law is unjust. It one thing for a law to be unjust and another for you to know that it is unjust. Civil magistrates are necessary, as I’ve said, because of natural epistemic limitations in individuals to determine expedient actions for the common good. … [M]any or perhaps most laws evade a simple evaluation, mainly because civil authorities are typically in a better position than private persons to make judgments about what serves the common good.
Pastors can admonish erring magistrates to correct injustice in the law, but pastors must not mistake their theological training or scriptural knowledge for expertise in jurisprudence. Pastors as pastors are no more competent to analyze or make civil law than any other private person.
p. 274, 275
“People who advocate Christian nationalism think that they can use outer means, such as laws, to compel people to believe.”
Civil power cannot legislate or coerce people into belief; it can only command outward things — to outwardly do this or not do that. No classical Protestant has ever claimed that civil action can itself bring about assent to, let alone true faith in, the Gospel. Though the ultimate purpose of civil action can be the spiritual good of the people, the direct object cannot be the conscience. Spiritual good is a matter of the heart before God in Christ. Thus, civil action for the advancement of the Gospel only indirectly operates to that end.
As for power over conscience, implicit power can influence beliefs, such as assent to Christian truth, but civil law cannot command belief. It can only direct bodies. It orders outward action. Civil power cannot touch the conscience. Why? Because the conscience is a forum of persuasion and civil power is the power of command. The civil command “believe in Christ” violates a necessary condition of belief, namely, that belief is a matter of persuasion.
It means that the entire Mosaic law, including the ceremonial laws, would become the legal code of the land.
[W]hether any civil law is good depends on the circumstances, which requires the discernment of a prudent man. Calvin writes, “[E]ach nation has been left at liberty to enact the laws which it judges as beneficial.” Nothing about this disparages the Mosaic law — a law of God. It is a perfect example of law. But it is not a universal body of law.
Some civil laws in the Mosaic law are universal in a way. But they are universal because they are necessary for any just and commodious human society.
Though not universally suitable, the civil laws of Scripture provide certainty as to their inherent righteousness. They are, therefore, morally permissible in civil law, and the closeness of the circumstances aid in determining whether any of them is suitable.
pp. 267 – 268
We can just have a neutral, secular nation, with no national religion at all.
This “neutral” or “common” space lasted only about twenty years, which shouldn’t surprise us: the most common human arrangements in history for public space are decidedly not neutral. It is a shame that we treated this neutral world as normal and universal.
Experience over the last decades has made evident that there are two options: Christian nationalism or pagan nationalism. The totality of national action will be either Christian, and thus ordered to the complete good, or pagan — ordered to the celebration of degeneracy, child sacrifice (e.g., abortion), mental illness, and idolatry. Neutrality, even if it was real for a time, will never hold, because man by his nature infuses his transcendent concerns into his way of life and into the place of that life. The pagan nationalist rejection of neutrality is correct in principle …
For decades, theologians have developed theologies that exclude Christianity from public institutions but require Christians to affirm the language of universal dignity, tolerance, human rights, anti-nationalism, anti-nativism, multiculturalism, social justice, and equality, and they ostracize from their own ranks any Christian who deviates from these social dogmas. They’ve effectively Christianized the modern West’s social creed. The Christian leaders most immersed in the modern West’s [actual] civil religion are those who loudly denounce the “civil religion” of “Christian nationalism.”
I picked this up with moderately high hopes. The protagonists are all sixty-year-old ladies who spent their youth as private assassins. I thought there would be more old-lady thoughts, but in the end, they mostly seem like 21-year-olds in 60-year-old bodies. So, the character development and themes disappointed a bit.
What did not disappoint was the research and the plot. Unlike some novels, where the premise is only half-developed, this one takes us on a very thorough ride. We get to see how the ladies got recruited, how they got trained, and to see a number of hits they did in their youth, in exotic locations throughout the world. These interleave with hits they are carrying out now, in their old age, in self-defense. There is not just one but many tense, intricate, detailed climatic action scenes. And it all works together into one big, overarching tale of betrayal. It’s like not just one, but all of the Mission: Impossible movies, in novel form. If this had billed itself just as a thriller, then these factors alone would cause me to give it four or five stars.
But unfortunately, the cover and premise promised not just Thriller, but a study of what it’s like to be a woman of a certain age. Have your goals changed? Do you miss what you were able to do in your youth, or are you content with that and ready to move on to something else? Have you left a legacy? Had any children? Are you ready to go?
No, none of that. One of the four women has married, but the only effect of her recent widowhood is to make her lose her nerve in survival situations. Another has married another woman; another is still chasing younger men at sixty. Meanwhile, the main character, Billie, never married or had children.
He was six years older than me and ready to settle down, build a life, make some babies. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out how to make myself small enough to fit into that picture.
So, Billie, you think making and raising people is a small life, huh? It is sooo much smaller than your life of traveling around the world killing people. You couldn’t reduce yourself to being a mom.
This quote pretty much encapsulates the book’s shallow yet heavy-handed feminism, and it is the reason I have bumped it down to three stars.
“Jo Marshall, Dashiell Hammett’s only surviving daughter, in 2006 said ‘Yes!’ to a prequel to the The Maltese Falcon. Jo gave me not only her blessings and inspiration but also the idea (and the research) for much of part III of the novel. Vince Emory let me write the introduction to Hammett’s Lost Stories, then shared his vast knowledge of San Francisco and Hammett with me. A history of the coroner’s office from 1850 to 1960 gave me the idea for part II.”
Ten stars. Ten.
This is so well researched and written, so atmospheric. Naturally worked into the story, we find a wealth of details about San Fran in the 20s: how people dressed (including disguises), what they ate, and how much it cost. (They ate well, and for cheap!) There are ferryboats and fishing boats, there are foghorns, there is lots and lots of fog. There are immigrant communities: Greek, “Portugee,” Chinese, and German. Stuff happens that will rip your heart out, and Spade reacts to it in his characteristic hard-boiled way. Twists are many, revenge is sweet. This book covers the years 1921 to 1928.