My book addiction continues

In the ongoing saga of my addiction to book buying, I fell off the wagon hard tonight! A bookstore in town (actually a chain) called half-price books got a hold of a bunch of the Everyman’ Library versions of classic works. I had picked up some Nabokov, Conrad, Faulkner, and Mann previously but it proved too great temptation and I returned for Kafka, Kipling, and Hemingway. I also got a beautiful edition of Moby Dick and a couple of quality paperback versions of The Wandering Jew and Balzac’s The Bureaucrats. Whew! Now I have more books than I can possibly read but these are works that will be relevant for a long time so no rush.

I also bought my wife a beautiful art book on The Oriental in Western Art that she had been drooling over recently – see I am not selfish I can share my addiction!

The firs step is admitting you have a problem right?

Ambrose and plagiarism I wanted

Ambrose and plagiarism
I wanted to comment on the Stephan Ambrose plagiarism story, as it is one area where I have a small bit of qualification (I have a graduate degree in History and have read much of Ambrose?s work). I think the left right issue (raised by Kausfiles) is a stupid one. Oddly enough I think Talking Points is just about right – in other words this was sloppy scholarship and writing that should embarrass Ambrose but not serious plagiarism that should put him outside the pale of respectable scholarship (my paraphrase). I think the likely cause of the mistake is Ambrose’s recent slide from serious scholarship to quick topical books based on the historical record already available. This is all too typical of book publishing. An author gets hot and his publisher naturally wants to get as much product out as he can. Ambrose?s work on Eisenhower, Nixon, Lewis and Clark, the Transcontinental Railroad, and World War Two are all readable, enjoyable, and scholarly work. His recent spat of WWII works, however, seem to be increasingly focused on speed rather than precision. If you are putting out a book a year it is likely that you are not doing research but rather compiling material – hence Ambrose?s slide towards journalistic history and/or works made up of secondary source material. I am sure Ambrose has a great deal of material on WWII but does he need to constantly be issuing books focused on smaller and smaller areas of the war? It looks like his rush to publish has finally caught up with him. (BTW – The riddicuous number of books on the Cival War, World War II, and Vietnam, often linked to the lack of popular works on other subjects, frustrates some historians. The Greatest Generation hoopla has only added to this problem. Although I see some merit in this critique, I am a fan of Ambrose?s work.)

More on Harry Potter I

More on Harry Potter
I came across some more overblown rhetoric on Harry Potter and thought I would share: Here is a site that reveals the true danger of HP! A big clue that you are about to go off the deep end = this quote “The New World Order is coming! Are you ready? Once you understand what this New World Order really is, and how it is being gradually implemented, you will be able to see it progressing in your daily news!!” I am surprised George Bush and the trilateral commission aren’t involved! Here is another. Do these parents really fear anything not explicitly Christian? I am really taken back by the overblown seriousness of the accusations that Harry Potter is leading kids down the road to satanism and witchcraft. This reminds me of the Satanism and Rock music craze, popular among evangelical Christians when I was younger. Remember subliminal messages – its back with Harry Potter. Here is another. This quote typifies the sort of anti-intellectualism that Christians can easily fall into: “The Bible is clear that in the last days witchcraft and sorcery will be widespread. In fact, it even reveals that many Christians will be caught up in it! These Harry Potter books are right on time in the end time scenario. We all know it. We all expect it. But it is so sad to watch. It is hard to watch so many young children embracing blatant witchcraft. There was a time when children’s fiction stories contained dragons and witches; yet they were always evil. Then things began to change: 20th century fiction and fantasy began to divide witchcraft into the “good magic” and “bad magic”. Even magnificently talented writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) and C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) helped to plant the foundation for sorceries revival in our day. As wise as they were in so many things, they were often very naive in regard to evil and Satan’s whole agenda. Tolkien did write about evil goblins; yet he would make the wizard to be a good guy. C.S. Lewis followed this practice by pretending that there is good and bad magic, and that God Himself used the “good” kind. He would make “magicians” (i.e. sorcerers) to be the good guys. For these reasons, these most wonderful books, filled with deep, Christian insights, deserve to be thrown into the trash can. What a waste. No parent should allow a child to read such books.”
People – get a grip. Use common sense, a little good judgement, and communicate with your kids! Harry Potter will not lead your kids to the devil. Any parent who deprives their children of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis is rejecting intelligence and imagination not satanism and witchcraft. My very strict parents bought me my first copies of both The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. No wonder so many see Christians as naive anti-intellectuals – what a waste indeed.

For those of you into

For those of you into “heavy lifting” on topics of religion, literature, philosophy etc. Check out the excellent book review in First Things this month. Edward Oakes discusses the ubiquitous Stanley Fish’s book “How Milton Works.” It is not necessarily a quick or easy read for the uninformed but it does deal with some fascinating and important issues surrounding faith, knowledge, and religion. For example: Can rationality and empiricism lead one to God’s existence or does a belief in God lead one to search for empirical or rational “proof” of that existence? Should one be obedient to God because he is good or because he is God? These and other fascinating theological, philosophical, and literary questions also relate back to a 1996 give and take in the pages of First Things between Fish and editor Richard John Neuhaus. It is articles like this that make me long for graduate school – where ideas seem to take on real meaning and debates on important questions can be had regularly.
If you haven’t checked out First Things you really should – reliably thought provoking and well written material every month.

A late entry to the

A late entry to the Harry Potter discussion: I must admit that for a long time I simply tried to ignore the Harry Potter phenomenon. I thought the books would be silly stories filled with typical post-modern gobbledygook – all about diversity and tolerance. (Isn’t that what everything seems to be about in today’s popular culture?) I was wrong. The books (I have now read the first three) are great fun and a good read.
My interest was peaked because my friends were reading them to their kids or were watching their kids spend hours reading(!) large tomes. Having devoured C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, etc. when I was younger I was interested to see what could hold kids attention today. Throw in the witchcraft = Satan worship angle and I felt compelled to investigate. Herewith a few observations:
1) Anyone who makes dramatic generalizations about something they haven’t read and know nothing about should not be taken seriously. It pains me but churches and Christians have been caught up in a fuss based largely on ignorance and intellectual laziness (admittedly some parents have/had genuine concerns about the book’s background and content). When Christians throw out terms like “satanic” and “devil worship” willy nilly, however, they look foolish and they diminish their ability to speak to real issues (Here is an example of a more troubling book marketed at young people.) I recommend anyone worried about the dangers of Harry Potter to at least read the first book.
2) I think the books are well written, entertaining, and morally positive. The plots kept me interested and involved in the character’s lives. I usually had an inkling of how things would unfold but I was often pleasantly surprised and caught off guard. The characters wrestle with right and wrong and how character is developed. At the same time, the issues of friendship, trust, fear, and loyalty are all dealt with intelligently.
3) Rowling succeeds in creating an alternate world that is plausible, interesting, and entertaining – no small accomplishment. Harry Potter may not be a character for the ages but nevertheless I heartily recommend them to children and adults alike.
I found this article a good overview.
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