Category Archives: books

Ron, meet Kafka

King Ron is running into all sorts of trouble.  He’s now stuck in some sort of Catch-22 where the book’s status is Proof Review, i.e. it tells me I need to review the proof to get the book published.

Status: Proof Review

Status: Proof Review

But when I click on the link to take me there, this is what it shows:

Proof Approved!

Proof Approved!

And I can open the digital proofer, and approve it, but nothing changes.  So King Ron remains in an “out-of-print” limbo on…

First Picture Book Self-Published!

Welcome, King Ron of the Triceratops! The kindle version will go on a $0.00 special tomorrow, November 6th, for five days: be sure to pick it up!

The illustrations are by Milagros García of Venezuela, which encapsules the way globalization makes such ventures possible.  It was great working with her (through fiverr) and the story’s improved because of her contributions that went beyond mere illustrating.

The paperback is currently not available for ordering because the folks at CreateSpace thought I might have been trying to publish copyrighted material.  Even though they’ve since written they’d remove the suppression within the next 24 hours, it’s been over that much and the paperback is still suppressed.

Oh well.  I’m sure it’ll show up – I’d just hoped to get it to print sooner because it’s somewhat election-themed.

Beyond the Quiet Time

I used my inflight time to finish reading Alister McGrath’s “Beyond the Quiet Time: Practical Evangelical Spirituality.”  I’ll admit I struggled with it: on the one hand, because I feel like I fall short when it comes to spirituality, but on the other, because it is more of a Bible Study/Small Group book and I dislike books that ask me to pause and think about something or imagine something – instructions like “Spend a few moments allowing this sense of despair, hopelessness, and helplessness to sink in.”

(Here again, I see two factors: My imagination muscle isn’t particularly strong, and I feel patronized by these instructions, which I hear as “Since you won’t get it if I just explain it, let me walk you through a painfully detailed scenario so you’ll really get it.”)

But whoever knows Alister McGrath knows he has wise things to say.  Two stuck out to me:

Some people come to faith through some kind of conversion experience; others gradually absorb the faith, and cannot really identify any moment when they ‘became’ Christians.  Yet that does not matter.  It is your present faith, not your past history, that makes you a Christian!

Quoting Sheldon Vanauken:

There is a gap between the probable and the proved.  How was I to cross it?  If I were to stake my whole life on the risen Christ, I wanted proof.  I wanted certainty.  I wanted to see him eat a bit of fish.  I wanted letters of fire across the sky.  I got none of these.  And I continued to hang about on the edge of the gap . . . . It was a question of whether I was to accept him – or reject.  My God!  There was a gap behind me as well!  Perhaps the leap to acceptance was a horrifying gamble – but what of the leap to rejection?  There might be no certainty that Christ was God – but, by God, there was no certainty that he was not.  This was not to be borne.  I could not reject Jesus.  There was only one thing to do once I had seen the gap behind me.  I turned away from it, and flung myself over the gap towards Jesus.

I’ll close with his suggested further reading, so I can come back and see if I want to add to my amazon wish list.

One-volume commentaries:

  • D.A. Carson, R.T. France, J.A. Motyer, and G.J. Wenham (eds), New Bible Commentary (Leicester, UK: IVP, 1994; and Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1994).  This is an excellent and very scholarly guide to the entire Bible, with each book being dealt with by an expert in the field.
  • Alister E. McGrath, NIV Bible Commentary (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995).  This is based on the NIV text, and directed especially at those who are new to the Christian faith or to serious Bible study.
  • William Neil, One Volume Bible Commentary (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995).  Originally published in 1962, this commentary is a useful and scholarly guide to its subject.

A Bible reading guide:

  • Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, 2nd edn (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993).

Books on spirituality (skipping the scholarly articles and dictionary entries):

  • Peter Adam, Roots of Contemporary Evangelical Spirituality (Nottingham: Grove Books, 1988).
  • Robert M. Banks, All the Business of Life: Bringing Theology Down to Earth (Sutherland, NSW: Albatross, 1987).
  • Joch Cockerton, Essentials of Evangelical Spirituality (Nottingham: Grove Books, 1994).
  • Cheryl Forbes, Imagination: Embracing a Theology of Wonder (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1989).
  • David Gillett, Trust and Obey: Explorations in Evangelical Spirituality (London: DLT, 1993).
  • James M. Houston, The Transforming Friendship: A Guide to Prayer (Batavia, Ill: Lion, 1989).
  • James M, Houston, The Heart’s Desire: A Guide to Personal Fulfilment (Batavia, Ill: Lion, 1992).
  • Gordon James, Evangelical Spirituality (London: SPCK, 1991).
  • Alister E. McGrath, Spirituality in an Age of Change: Rediscovering the Spirit of the Reformers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994).
  • James I. Packer, Knowing God (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1978, and Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1978).
  • James I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1990).
  • Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1980).
  • Eugene H. Peterson, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988).
  • Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991).


Little Free Libraries

The SCBWI bulletin this month mentioned this project, and I thought it was worth sharing and remembering.  It’s deceptively simple: put up a weather-resistant box, fill it with books, and label it “FREE BOOKS.”  People find you on the online map, and come to take or swap books from your mini-library with a mini-overhead and no membership cards.

I know that kindles are mitigating the problem of having more books than shelf space, but it still strikes me as a neat way to combine decluttering with extra shelf space and new books.  Beyond that, a Little Free Library could be something for Grandpa’s yard – it might get him some visitors in a mood for conversation.  Or if you feel like donating one to an area that could use freely and easily available books, that’s an option, too.  Here’s where you can get started!

If you do set one up, please let me know!

San Luis Rey and the Valley of Vision

I recently finished two books unrelated to each other except by the accidental time of their completion.  Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” is a short novel about a bridge collapse in colonial Peru and a friar’s attempt to elucidate why precisely those five people were killed by it.  In style, it resembles “The Eighth Day,” another Wilder novel: it also assumes an omniscient narrator and a journalistic style.  I suppose these days Wilder would be accused of telling instead of showing, but what kind of omniscient is a narrator that doesn’t cut to the chase and explain a person in a sentence or two?  Besides, even in telling, Wilder turns beautiful phrases and paints interesting people, that do interact and change in the course of the novel.  The story is rather unremarkable, almost perfunctory; the novel shines with its philosophical musings and precise setting.  Thus, three quotes in lieu of a review.

Like all beautiful women who have been brought up amid continual truibutes to their beauty she assumed without cynicism that it must necessarily be the basis of anyone’s attachment to herself […].  This assumption that she need look for no more devotion now that her beauty had passed proceeded from the fact that she had never realized any love save love as passion.  Such love, though it expend itself in generosity and thoughtfulness, though it give birth to visions and to great poetry, remains among the sharpest expressions of self-interest.  Not until it has passed through a long servitude, through its own self-hatred, through mockery, through great doubts, can it take its place among the loyalties.  Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less than the child that lost a dog yesterday.

He possessed the six attributes of the adventurer – a memory for names and faces, with the aptitude of altering his own; the gift of tongues; inexhaustible invention; secrecy; the talent for falling into conversation with strangers; and that freedom from conscience that springs from a contempt for the dozing rich he preyed upon.

All, all of us have failed.  One wishes to be punished.  One is willing to assume all kinds of penance, but do you know, my daughter, that in love – I scarcely dare say it – but in love our very mistakes don’t seem to be able to last long?

Okay, four, with the conclusion:

Even memory [i.e. not being forgotten – ed.] is not necessary for love.  There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

The second book, “The Valley of Vision,” is a collection of Puritan prayers, assembled by Arthur Bennett from the following original writers: Richard Baxter, David Brainerd, John Bunyan, Christmas Evans, William Jay, Henry Law, William Romaine, Thomas Shepard, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Augustus M. Toplady, Thomas Watson, Isaac Watts, and William Williams.  What struck me time and again was the sharp sense of their own sinful nature that these men carried with them, something I believe is a gift God doesn’t distribute evenly.  In these men it brought forth humility and a great desire to share the gospel.

Bennett laid out the prayers like prose poetry, and I found that an apt approach, not only because the prayers contained sufficient poetic elements to justify looking like a poem, but also because I struggled to finish the book just like I struggle to finish poetry tomes.  Absent any narrative, the writing is so dense with meaning that more than one poem or prayer at a time starts muddling things in my mind; a few of them really resonate with me, but get overwhelmed by the sheer amount.  So it takes me a long time to read the book, and at the end I feel like I have gotten far less from it than I should have.  It’s worse when the authors are eminent hymn-writers such as these!  I suspect I need an instruction manual for reading poetry collections…

At any rate, Jon pointed out that Sovereign Grace Music published a CD based on excerpts of this book, so unless you like poetry and prayer anthologies, the CD may be the way to go.  I think I would have preferred it, too.  It would have taken me less time, and I might have been able to remember more of it.

The Silent Swan

Lex KeThe Silent Swanating’s riff on the lesser-known fairy tale “The Seven Swans” sets the characters in today’s high school scene and gives them tempers and hormones worthy of the youthful athletes they are. I enjoyed the story for both character development and the satisfying resolution, even though I found it hard to identify with both the setting and the tempers most characters display.

Keating’s writing pops and fizzes to match the characters and kept me reading well past my bedtime. I enjoyed not being told everything, but after staring at the screen for hours (I read a PDF ARC, free, no strings attached), elliptical references to past events sometimes were a little much. Not getting it doesn’t hurt the plot, though, and I’m sure I’d do better on a second reading and enjoy discovering the added depth that gives the novel.

The plot doesn’t quite follow the fairy tale, but closely enough to make it clear where the tale’s heading. Keating throws her characters more than a few curve balls, and generally (after they’ve said “Gah!” and called a close relative a moron) even the minor characters develop and grow through the course of events. Food lovers get lots of cooking, romance lovers get romantic tension (with tissues), and sports lovers get baseball – what’s not to like? Why only 4 stars?

Ratings are personal, and that’s true in my case. The characters were a bit too agitated for me to identify, my high school experience was vastly different, and baseball’s really not my thing (it speaks to Keating’s ability that I still burned midnight oil on this book with those three strikes against it). I have some minor detractions: I would have wished for more sounds and smells of the Low Country, for one calmer, less awkward character (some respite for my poor phlegmatic heart), and for a more sparing use of “Gah!”

But would I recommend it? Gah! Moron.  Of. Course. I. Would.

P.S. For typo fiends: I’d estimate no more than a dozen in the ARC, which will still see editing before the print run. Read without worries.

P.P.S. Lex Keating is an old friend of mine.  Please buy her book!

Der talentierte Schüler und seine Feinde

Der talentierte Schüler und seine Feinde(This is a review of the book by Austrian author Andreas Salcher, Der talentierte Schüler und seine Feinde.  Because the book is written in German, so is this review.  In short, Salcher says schools pay too little attention to discovering and nurturing the talents of their students.  His three-sentence summary can be roughly translated as this: It’s all about the teachers, only about the teachers.  We all are the talented pupil’s worst enemy.  We bear the responsibility for our children’s talents.)

Andreas Salcher fasst sein Buch gleich selber in drei Sätzen zusammen: Es geht um die Lehrer – und nur um die Lehrer.  Der grösste Feind des talentierten Schülers sind wir alle.  Die Verantwortung für die Talente unserer Kinder liegt bei uns selbst.  Die Zusammenfassung ist insofern interessant, als dass sie die Systemkritik, die einen Grossteil des Buches ausmacht, nicht aufgreift.  Ebenso Salchers Lösung: Wir sollen als Lehrer nur die besten nehmen, sie anständig bezahlen, und dazu schauen, dass sie hoch geachtet werden.  Diese Schlussfolgerungen überraschen um so mehr, als er mit seinen Kritiken durchaus ins Schwarze trifft.  Vom Leben isoliert seien die Schulen, ein überholtes Produkt des Industriezeitalters nach Fliessbandmodell, sie verbissen sich in Schwächen und förderten die Stärken zuwenig, sie gewichteten nicht alle Arten der Intelligenz (nach Howard Gardner) gleich, sie schafften eine Atmosphäre, wo alle auffallenden Kinder zurückgestutzt würden.  An den Lehrergewerkschaften lässt er kein gutes Haar: sie würden die nötigen Veränderungen stur blockieren, den Lehrern zwar den einen oder andern Ferientag zuschanzen, aber dafür ihren Ruf ruinieren.  Politikern fehle der Mut; den Linken der Mut zur Förderung begabter Kinder, den Rechten der Mut zur Förderung des Gesamtniveaus.  Und all diese Probleme würden mit einer besseren Lehrerauswahl hinfällig?

Natürlich hat der Autor seine Gründe, und seine Aussage, es liege nur an den Lehrern, fusst auf Studien, allen voran der McKinsey-Studie von Michael Barber und Mona Mourshed.  (Es gibt seitdem eine weitere Studie dieser Autoren.)  Selbstverständlich kann ein guter Lehrer einem Kind den nötigen Anschub geben, um Erfolge zu erreichen – so selbstverständlich, dass man sich fragt, weshalb es eine Studie dazu brauchte.  Aber wenn das System krankt, kann es denn reichen, die Lehrer auszutauschen?  Wenn ich in einem Döschwo alle rostigen Schrauben durch neue ersetze, verhindere ich vielleicht gewisse Schäden, aber letzlich stehe ich immer noch mit einem Döschwo da – fahrtüchtig zwar, aber nicht Stand der Technik.  Implizit fordert Herr Salcher auch einen Systemwechsel, wenn er uns ermutigt, die Dienstleistungen des Schulsystems mit jenen des Gesundheitswesens zu vergleichen – fehlt ihm zum expliziten Aufruf der Mut, den er fordert, unterlässt er den Aufruf aus Kalkül (lieber das Machbare fordern), oder kann er sich schlicht kein anderes System vorstellen?  Diese Frage kann ich nicht beantworten, vermute aber, dass es eine Kombination der letzten zwei Gründe ist, unter anderem, weil er den Heimunterricht mit keinem Wort erwähnt.

Dabei wäre der Heimunterricht eine kreative Möglichkeit, viele seiner Forderungen nach Begabungsentdeckung und -Förderung zu erfüllen.  Er sieht diese Möglichkeit aber nur so weit, dass “Eltern […] Volksschullehrern […] sehr dabei helfen [könnten], wenn sich ein bestimmtes Lernfenster bei ihrem Kind gerade geöffnet hat.  Diese individuelle Förderung, die im Interesse des Kindes wäre, ist aber heute fast nie im System der öffentlichen Regelschule vorgesehen – und auch nicht im Zeitbudget der Eltern.”  Wenn die Eltern keine Zeit haben, ihre Kinder neben des Schulunterrichts begleitend zu unterstützen, so wird es sehr wenige geben, die ihre Kinder gänzlich selbständig unterrichten wollen – wahrscheinlich so wenige, dass Herr Salcher, wenn er an den Heimunterricht gedacht haben sollte, diesen als ein Minderheitenprogramm ausgeklammert hat.

Ganz generell stösst Andreas Salcher aber ins richtige Horn.  Er hat mit scharfem Blick einige Missstände erkannt und analysiert, und sagt klipp und klar: “Jeder Mensch und daher jeder Schüler ist total verschieden.  Eigentlich brauchten wir für 28 Schüler daher 28 Klassen mit eigenen Lehrern.”  Vor dem Hintergrund, dass die Individualität unserer Kinder so viele Formen annimmt, sollten den Eltern auch so viele Unterrichtsformen wie nur sinnvoll möglich zur Verfügung stehen – von Volksschulen mit exzellenten Lehrern bis zum Heimunterricht mit jenen zwei Lehrern, welche die grösste Verantwortung fürs Talent ihrer Kinder tragen.

Ich empfehle das Buch zur Lektüre und leihe es auch gerne aus, wenn unterstrichene Stellen und Gekritzel nicht stören.  Wer lieber aktueller sein will (das Buch ist 2008 erschienen), kann auf Herrn Salchers Blog weiterlesen, wo es auch zum talentierten Schüler und seinen Feinden Einträge gibt.

The New Rules of PR and Marketing

I’ve owned the New Rules of PR and Marketing for long enough that mine’s a hardcover, and that on first reading the titular adjective didn’t feel out of place.  Now, having re-read it six years after publication, a lot no longer sounds new but common sense, and even a little dated at times.  Mostly, that means David Meerman Scott was right, and that the book is a good collection of online business dos and don’ts.  Here is a very short summary of ideas I took down:

  1. Use media (video, audio) freely: there’s software and hardware out there that makes it cheap and simple (e.g. Castblaster)
  2. Make purchasing easy: link to purchase pages
  3. Make the website reflect your (company’s) personality, especially on the About me page and the testimonial page
  4. Think of buyer personas and design the site around them, even with separate landing pages for them (a 21-year-old and a 61-year-old will want different champagne for different purposes)
  5. Who might blog about your site and product?  Comment there, appropriately and knowledgably
  6. Try to find out how people find your site – search terms used, incoming links, etc. – and reuse what brings in the right people
  7. Get a good domain name that’s as unique as possible for search engines and describes your product; and for certain pick a unique company name
  8. Make pages “sharable”; enable social bookmarking like, DIGG, Reddit
  9. Think of keywords and use them – all over
  10. Link to other content providers, even competitors
  11. Make free information available, downloadable even, especially if it can establish you as knowledgeable in your field
  12. If you blog (and by extension, tweet), have a plan and follow it: random blogging is likely to bog down
  13. Tag pages
  14. Send David Meerman Scott the blog link

It’s up to you to make and sell something now!

The Book of Tea

As part of my decluttering effort, I’m trying to read books that I’ve wanted to read for a while but haven’t managed to.  One of these, a likely candidate due to its brevity, was the Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura.

Okakura’s premise is that “teaism” is Taoism, encapsulated in a single ritual.  His book is an interesting look at the worldview of an enlightened Japanese at the outset of the 20th century.  Although Okakura can be commended for preserving a good amount of Japanese art forms, his elevation of Japanese culture above everything else sometimes feels dated.  It’s clear he’s preaching against a current evil of his time, though a number of statements still ring true today.  I’ll summarize the book with a few quotes and some fun facts. Continue reading

Father’s Day

One specific advantage of marrying an American woman is that she’ll remember Father’s Day, and this time I got a whole day off to myself.  I got up bright and early to catch a 5:46 bus, so as to arrive in Stuttgart shortly after ten.  My goal: a writing workshop on historical fiction led by Tracy Barrett.

My Y chromosome set me apart from everyone else present, but that soon faded into the background (except for the occasional group “Yay”) as Tracy took us through the Ten Commandments for Historical Fiction (though I still haven’t found out which of them was condensed from originally two).  After lunch and a free writing exercise the workshop concluded with animated chatting and, for some of us, a manuscript critique.  It was the first time I’d had my manuscript critiqued, and I found Tracy’s comments encouraging and helpful, especially her suggestions on what might be painlessly cut.  Kirsten Carlson organized a lovely event for her swansong as Germany/Austria RA of SCBWI; her successor, Maria Bogade, has some large shoes to fill!

On the way home I got to finally sink my teeth into Stephen Lawhead’s “Skin Map,” a Christmas gift.  It’s a quick read, though everyday life has me stalled even on that.  Maybe it was the workshop, but I have some nits to pick about his research (nobody in Macao would call a foreigner “gaijin”).  Back in Lucerne at 21:49, I dashed into the Drinks of the World shop to use up my point cards I’d rediscovered while decluttering.  I figured that with a closing time of 22:00 and my bus leaving 22:02 getting enough Newcastle Browns to total just over 5 francs would be easy, but I’d discounted that the local youths would be grabbing their last breezers and swelling the line.  On a whim, I checked the Scottish beer section and – Happy Father’s Day! – discovered that Drinks of the World had heeded my plea and added Innis & Gunn to their offering.

The bus driver wasn’t too happy to see me board the bus with two beer bottles in my hands a minute or two before departure, but I assured him I wouldn’t drink those lukewarm, and set to gently arranging them in my backpack.  I emptied one the following day to go with my Father’s Day meal, and the other’s waiting for another momentous occasion.

I wonder if I can wait until July 14th…