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January 31, 2016

Sunday Morning Book Thread 01-31-2016: Around the Edges of the Gospel [OregonMuse]


Cincinnatti public library - 500.jpg
Cincinnati Public Library, c. 1927


Good morning to all of you morons and moronettes and bartenders everywhere and all the ships at sea. Welcome to AoSHQ's stately, prestigious, internationally acclaimed and high-class Sunday Morning Book Thread. The Sunday Morning Book Thread is the only AoSHQ thread that is so hoity-toity, pants are required. And when I type up the book thread, my pinkies remain elevated the whole time, that's how classy it is. And don't forget your pants!


One is never lonely when one has a book.
-Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell


Stories From Sacred History

So in a thread earlier this week, the landlord opined that he thought the upcoming movie Risen might be a clever bit of filmmaking:

The trick here is that the movie actually begins (I imagine) like a pretty secular affair -- we've got a political problem with this uprising of Jews and these silly claims, so we're sending in a detective to find the body.

I don't think, in this movie, the centurion is going to find the body.

So what begins as a secular detective mystery (with odd historical trappings) winds up as a conversion piece.

I grew up Roman Catholic, went to Catholic primary school for 8 years, and am old enough to have witnessed the "modernization" of the RCC that happened as a result of Vatican II. I wasn't fooled one bit. Instead of an old priest wearing a cassock, which identified him as obviously a priest, these youngish guys with long hair and guitars kept showing up at school and church. But I remember thinking, "Yeah, this is just the same old boring religion that the nuns have been trying to beat into me for years, only it's now some clown pretending to be a hippie. Screw you." That was my attitude. I hated both, but if I had to have one or the other, I think that even back then I would have chosen the old one.

So ace is saying that Risen is kind of like that. Although it wouldn't be fair to call it "bait and switch" -- if the trailer doesn't make it completely obvious what you're getting, note that one of the production companies is a division of Sony called AffirmFilms which is also responsible for The Remaining ("After the Rapture, There Are Fates Worse Than Death") and Miracles From Heaven ("based on the incredible true story"). Given this, it seems unlikely that Risen is going to end with "Oh look, we found the stinking corpse. Hey everybody, it's all a big fake."

You really ought to take a look at those trailers I linked to. I don't know how they are from an artistic standpoint, but they certainly look good. Sony is obviously dropping a lot of money into them. And obviously, the suits believe these religiousChristian-themed films are going to make them a metric boatload of money.

But I'm getting off track. This is the book thread, not the movie thread. The point is, and this was pointed out in the comments, there are books which take this same approach, such Ben Hur, which is probably the most famous one, and also, The Robe:

A Roman soldier, Marcellus, wins Christ's robe as a gambling prize. He then sets forth on a quest to find the truth about the Nazarene's robe-a quest that reaches to the very roots and heart of Christianity and is set against the vividly limned background of ancient Rome. Here is a timeless story of adventure, faith, and romance, a tale of spiritual longing and ultimate redemption.

I've heard that the movie version wasn't very good. I wonder if the book is any better?

Another one is The Silver Chalice by Thomas Costain, which

takes place shortly after Christ's death and resurrection. Basil is called to design the case which will hold the silver cup that Christ and His disciples drank from at the Last Supper, and plans to sculpt their likenesses upon it. As he seeks out these followers of Christ, he encounters grave danger.

And I can't go on without also mentioning. Dear and Glorious Physician, Taylor Caldwell's novel about St. Luke.

So there's any number of these novels written "around the edges of the Gospel", in boulder terlit hobo's apt words.

Now here's something interesting that I learned from the comments. Remember Barry Sadler, the guy who did "The Ballad of the Green Berets" ("Put silver wings on my son's chest/Make him one of America's best...")? Well, he wass an author, too. In fact, he wrote a series of books featuring the character Casca Rufio Longinus, who was a Roman soldier, stationed in Judea, and who was assigned to stab Jesus' side with his spear as He hung on the cross. For doing that that he was cursed to not die, but to roam the earth until the Second Coming. Of course this is a variation of the old Wandering Jew myth. But Casca is condemned to a soldier's life wherever he goes, and the book series has him fighting in various historical times and places such as Rome, Byzantium, Germany, France, America (Civil War), Vietnam, Japan, etc. There are a great number of these Casca novels, like over 40 of them. Sadler is credited with writing 22 of them. And then the task was handed off to various ghost writers.

I guess they're pretty pulpy. Whoever's writing them can crank them out pretty fast.

There's also an official Casca web site.


Pander Bear

You morons may or may not have heard of Britain's Man Booker Prize. It's an "important" literary prizes that's handed out every year to the author of the novel that most greatly reinforces the liberal worldview and prejudices of Britain's literati. It's like a big, squishy group hug for progressives.

This winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, an author by the name of Marlon James, has apparently taken to Facebook to complain that writers of color (such as himself) are forced to cater to the tastes of white women.

Oh, the humanity:

At a sold-out Guardian event on Friday night, James said publishers too often sought fiction that “panders to that archetype of the white woman, that long-suffering, astringent prose set in suburbia. You know, ‘older mother or wife sits down and thinks about her horrible life’.”

The reason for this is obvious:

Women, particularly white women, make up the vast majority of regular fiction readers, purchasing two thirds of all books sold in the UK. Almost 50% of women classify themselves as avid readers, compared to 26% of men.

Sometimes reality is just like getting smacked in the face with a dead fish, and it looks like that is what happened to James here.

Now what's also true is that white women also predominate over the higher ranks of the book publishing industry as well. This makes them effectively the gatekeepers. So what gets published in America and England is mostly decided by a relatively small contingent of upper middle class white, liberal women.

Now that's a frightening thought, isn't it?

James certainly thinks so:

“If I pandered to a cultural tone set by white women, particularly older white female critics, I would have had 10 stories published by now,” he continued. “Though we’ll never admit it, every writer of colour knows that they stand a higher chance of getting published if they write this kind of story. We just do.”

Of course, it's not just "writers of colour" who have to pander to older white female critics; EVERY WRITER WHO EVER WANTS TO BE PUBLISHED has to run that gauntlet. If James thinks he's being singled out because of the melanin content of his skin, he's deluding himself.

I see two solutions:

1.) Write whatever you want, and self publish. It's a lot easier to do this now than it used to.

2.) "Writers of colour" should pool their resources and build their own publishing houses. And don't hire any older white women as editors. That way, they can see to it that none of the diverse voices they're always telling us about remain unheard.

The problem is, these are market-oriented solutions, and James sounds like the kind of guy to whom these will never occur, and if by some fluke chance they did, he wouldn't understand them, because he doesn't understand markets

But of course, this happens in other industries. Back in 1919, D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks, had grown so fed up by how the Hollywood Studios then in existence were running things that they founded their own studio, United Artists, in order to have better control their own work as well as their futures.

I think this is just another aspect of the clash between "writing as Art" vs. "writing as a 9-to-5 job". James is clearly resentful that he has to keep his audience in mind as he writes. But if the stories he wants to write are stories no one else wants to read, maybe he should just do something else with his life.

Or, just give it up and start writing to suit the sensibilities of neurotic, liberal, white women. There are worse ways to make a living.


The Great Courses

The Great Courses is an outfit that sells educational videos (and audio CDs) of all sorts.

There is a yuuge selection of topics to be explored in the Literature and Language section, among them:

Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques
The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals
The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins
Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis
How to Read and Understand Shakespeare
Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition
Great American Bestsellers: The Books That Shaped America
Classics of Russian Literature
36 Books That Changed the World
Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature's Most Fantastic Works

I didn't provide links, but you can easily get to them by the main 'Literature and Language' link I provided. The courses vary in price and some of them are rather spendy (prohibitively so, at least for me). On some of them, you can save money by getting audio CDs rather than the DVD set. For some of the courses, you don't need to see the instructor, anyway. Another way you can save money is to see if your local public library has any of them. That's what moron 'Dj' did, he found a course on How to Publish Your Book. Here's the course description:

In the 24 eye-opening lectures of How to Publish Your Book, Jane Friedman, publishing industry expert and educator, provides you with sought-after secrets of the publishing process that will help you navigate this difficult progression, bypass pitfalls that many novice authors get hung up on, and improve your chances of being considered for publication. She acts as your personal guide though the entire process from finalizing your manuscript, to writing the perfect pitch, to reviewing contracts and marketing your book. She provides the candid scoop on what you need to do in order to increase your chances of being considered. The knowledge you’ll gain by having an inside expert teaching you how to position your book for publication gives you a unique advantage and drastically increases your chances of getting noticed in this increasingly competitive industry.

You can purchase downloadable audio files of these lectures for $44.95. Or, if you're lucky like Dj, you can check them out from your local library.


Free Book Sites

I found a new one the other day, or, at least one I hadn't seen before, Loyal Books. There isn't anything new here that you can't find elsewhere, but I like it because it's set up as an attractive interface so you can browse through their catalog quickly and easily. I've never much liked the Project Gutenberg site, even though it has pretty much every public domain text that's ever been digitized. I've only gone there when I knew exactly what book I was looking for. The Gutenberg interface is clunky and primitive and looks like something from 1997. The whole Gutenberg front end could use a serious makeover to bring it into the 21st century. So, as I said, I don't go there much.

But maybe you'll find Loyal Books a bit better, as I did.

Also, one of the 'ettes tipped me to Book Angel, a British site that highlights free Kindle book deals featured on amazon.co.uk, but American readers can take advantage of them, too.


What I'm Reading

I'm glad that the Android Kindle app has a function that allows you to tap on a word to see the dictionary definition pop up in a separate window. I've been using that feature a lot ever since I started reading book 1 of the Aubrey/Maturin series Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian. I've had to look up words like pertinacious ("holding firmly to an opinion or a course of action."), mumchance ("silent, tongue-tied") and, because one of the main characters (Stephen Maturin) is a physician and surgeon, we get to see some antiquated medical terminology, such as "gleet" (which is kind of disgusting, so I'm not going to tell you what it is. But I will say that referring to an MSNBC news show, or indeed the MSNBC network entire, as a "gleet-fest" would not be amiss). Also, one of my favorite old-timey medical terms, laudable pus has not yet made an appearance, but perhaps it will later.

But I like these old words, they add authenticity to the story. One of my pet peeves is period fiction that sounds modern. The trick is to avoid modern speech patterns (as well as modern thinking patterns) without going down the Howard Pyle route where the text gets so overloaded with "thees" and "thous" and "ye this" and "ye that" that it just comes off sounding like really crappy Shakespeare. O'Brian manages to avoid both of these ditches to good effect. I will say, though, that it's sometimes hard to read, particularly when he's describing the shipboard operations, what sails are being furled and unfurled, and how the ship is being steered to take full advantage of whatever wind was available. There's a large and complex vocabulary used to describe all of these operations, and for a lubber like me, it all kind of blurs together into a confusing ball.

But having said all that, I must say it doesn't diminish my enjoyment of the book, and I intend to continue on with the series.

Incidentally, the movie version of Master and Commander is very different than this book. In fact, I'm tempted to say the only thing they have in common is the title. Both are good, just different products.

One more thing. Even though I knocked Howard Pyle for his crappy dialog, you should read his wiki entry I linked to. He sounds like he was an interesting guy.

Book bleg: OK, speaking of seafaring stories, I'd like to tap into the repository of HordeKnowledge™ to see if we can come up with the title of a book I read when I were a wee lad, but that is now sadly lost. The author claimed to be a 97-year-old man writing about when he first went to sea about the time of the California gold rush. He signed aboard one of the then new-fangled "clipper" ships whose hull design this book explained was such that the ship sliced through the waves rather than were carried by them, so the speeds attained were incredibly fast. So this adventure book, geared to a (male) YA audience, shows him learning the ropes (literally) of shipboard life, going south over the equator and around Cape of Good Hope Horn enroute to California, and ends up in a disaster as he has to fight his enemy while the ship is burning. One scene that has stayed with me was when the author describes being up in the rigging when the ship slices through a particularly uuuge wave which then collapses onto the ship so that the entire deck is awash, and looking down and seeing the masts sticking out of the ocean, and wondering if the ship was ever going to come back up. Powerful stuff.

The author claims the story is true, but I'm guessing it probably isn't, but so what, it's a ripping good yarn nonetheless, and it's too bad I can't remember the title or the author. I remember the book looked old, like it was printed in the 40s or 50s, or maybe even earlier. It definitely wasn't a recent book. So I'm hoping at least one of you morons knows which book I'm talking about.

___________

Once again, remember the the AoSHQ reading group on Goodreads. It's meant to support horde writers and to talk about the books, great and otherwise, that come up on the book thread. It's called AoSHQ Moron Horde and the link to it is here: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/175335-aoshq-moron-horde.

___________

So that's all for this week. As always, book thread tips, suggestions, bribes, rumors, threats, and insults may be sent to OregonMuse, Proprietor, AoSHQ Book Thread, at the book thread e-mail address: aoshqbookthread, followed by the 'at' sign, and then 'G' mail, and then dot cee oh emm.

What have you all been reading this week? Hopefully something good, because, as you all know, life is too short to be reading lousy books.

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