Feb 6 2014

Quotable: J. B. Morton

“Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” from Rex v. Sussex, though I first heard it in the 1985 movie The Black Arrow, based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel of the same name.

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Apr 23 2013


n., A romantic and sentimental film or book.

“Who’s Nicholas Sparks?”

“Oh, you know, that guy that writes all those weepies.”

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Apr 10 2013

Bonnet Ripper

n., a romantic novel set in Amish country. The phrase is a play on the term ‘bodice ripper,’ which refers to a typical romance novel. Unlike most romance novels, known for their sexual content, bonnet rippers are entirely chaste–though they may contain as much as a kiss or two.

Credit for coining the term goes to the L.A. Review of Books. via Tim Challies, who has drafted an amazing Ultimate Christian Novel.



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Feb 15 2013

Quotable: Sherlock Holmes

“Women are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own secreting.” –Sherlock Holmes in A Scandal in Bohemia

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Dec 1 2012

Goodbye 2nd Street Books

I have written before about 2nd Street Books in Osceola, Missouri—pretty much my favorite bookstore ever. Sunday morning after Thanksgiving this was all that was left of it:

The entire building, as well as a couple of others, caught fire Saturday night.

I bought a lot of my favorite books, and favorite editions of books, in that store. I had visited it pretty regularly since my in-laws moved to Osceola in the late 90’s.

Anyway…anyone out there have a favorite used bookstore?

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Apr 4 2012

Thankful for Twilight

It’s pretty easy and popular to hate Twilight: the hundred year old guy who hangs around a high school, the vampires that aren’t affected by the sun, the sparkles, Kristen Stewart’s expression(s). But the fact is I’m actually thankful for the Twilight series–at least the books.

I have always wanted my children to be readers (actively choosing to read–not simply lacking illiteracy). I got one of the girls hooked on reading at age 6 by lending her my Calvin & Hobbes books. One day she proudly announced, ‘This is the sixth time I’ve read this book!” So I decided that she was ready for something bigger, and gave her Bertrand Brimley’s Mad Scientists Club. She acted like I gave her dish-duty. She complained a lot, but eventually read it.

“Dad, that book was awesome!”


The other child didn’t take to reading so quickly. She was 11 and still did not read for pleasure. Sure she sang and drew pictures, but I was obviously a terrible parent.

Then the Twilight books hit big, and suddenly she wanted to read, and she read the entire series. Now she reads regularly, and has polished off several much larger books, including Gone With the Wind. She has since professed a distaste for the girly vampire books.

In August of 1931 a 14 year old Forrest Ackerman–the man who would, among other  accomplishments, coin the term ‘sci-fi’–wrote a letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs regarding an argument he had with his teacher over what constituted ‘good’ literature. Two days later, the author of the Tarzan and Jon Carter books wrote him back. The excerpt below sums up my sentiments (emphasis mine):

“My stories will do you no harm. If they have helped to inculcate in you a love of books, they have done you much good. No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment. If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature, or its kind. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature.

You can read both letters in their entirety here at Letters of Note.

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Mar 23 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

I haven’t read The Hunger Games, and haven’t really paid attention to the book series. I had the barest concept of the story from The Baby, who liked the first book, was cool to the second, and hated the third. So I had pretty much no expectations going in. I only went because the girls wanted to go to the midnight showing, and I had Friday off work.

The movie was amazing.

The concept is that in a dystopian indeterminate future, there was an uprising that was quashed by the world government. Every year since, 74 years running, they select two teens–one male, one female–from each of the empire’s 12 districts to compete to the death until a single winner is crowned.

Parental Info:

  • Sex: nonexistent.
  • Language: I counted three swear words.
  • Violence: realistic, unglamorized, but not gratuitous

Go see it.


Spoilers follow:


You might wonder how they can tell a story aimed at teens and tweens about teens killing each other (apart from the Tri-Wizard Tournament in Harry Potter) and keep it from glorifying killing. Really well, actually. The movie has a good share of violence, but it’s not what you expect from a typical Hollywood movie about people forced to kill one another for sport. The violence is ugly. There are no witty rejoinders or bad puns or catchphrases uttered as your opponent dies. Ugly things happen.

The movies avoids so many clichés. The lead character is Katniss Everdeen, a late teen girl who uses a bow to hunt game to feed her impoverished family. With so many other movies, having a female lead means she is either, as my daughters succinctly pointed out,  1) an independent woman who doesn’t need a man or 2) really needy, or 3) an independent woman who doesn’t need a man–until she gets one–and then she is needy. Also, she should be ridiculously hot.

Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is attractive, but she doesn’t look like a supermodel. She just looks very real. Her character is strong, smart, tough, caring, and a little socially awkward. She acts very real.

There is a romantic relationship in the movie–kind of. There were so many clichés that they could have fallen into with the relationship, but chose not to. Even though the couple seem close, things are a little ambiguous, and there are hints that some other things are irreparably altered because of the relationship.

The entire movie was excellent. The camerawork, the music, the production design, the acting. I was really surprised to enjoy it, and enjoy it so much.

However, because it avoids so many common pitfalls that could have really turned this into every other action and romance flick, I wonder how well it will do at the box office.

Here’s hoping it does.

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Feb 8 2012

Quotable: two from Theodore Roosevelt

“Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.”

“Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.”

It is difficult to cull from Theodore Roosevelt’s vast store of brilliant quotes. I was barely aware of him outside of Looney Toons caricatures until I read James Chace’s 1912, about the 1912 election between Woodrow Wilson, Eugene Debs, William Howard Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt. It was clear from the book who the author’s favorite was.

Later I read Candice Millard’s  River of Doubt, about TR’s ‘vacation’ float up an undiscovered tributary of the Amazon river. When I was telling my pa-in-law about these, he told me that in his grandfather’s eyes, Theodore Roosevelt ranked right behind Jesus. He later gave me Christmas gift of Edmund Morris’s Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which chronicles TR’s life from birth to the end of the vice presidency.

All three books were excellent. However, no matter how cynical you think you might be regarding American politics, you will find you probably aren’t jaded enough.

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Dec 5 2011

Christmas Lists

As I worked on this year’s Christmas list, I had to ask myself why I do this; I can’t remember why I started writing a list like this. I think I got in trouble for not providing a list at all, and wrote the 2008 list to be a smart aleck. After that it was entertaining to write, and some people claimed it was entertaining to read.

As I wrote my list this year, I found out that there are some things I don’t really want. I don’t mean to say that I don’t want them at all, as I obviously kind of want them enough to put them on my Amazon wish list. But there were several items I started to add to the list but then realized that I couldn’t make an interesting or meaningful sentence to justify–even to myself–why I wanted them. So they didn’t make the cut.

I mean, what do you say about a book of Alphonse Mucha’s artwork? “I really want to commit suicide, but can’t quite manage to get motivated, what with the wonderful wife and children and nieces and students. If only I had a big book of art by an artist who is better than I will ever be to taunt me with inadequacy to push me over the edge.” Who’s going to buy me a Mucha book after that?

Now, if the book shows up I will know who wants me dead.

There are some things I know people think are a joke. They think my Christmas lists have jumped the shark.

“He doesn’t really love bitter soda that much. He’s just putting things on the list because he knows I’ll never find it.”

They have obviously never tasted Brood. But maybe I did put it on there knowing you will never find it. Same with Dreams of Flight–where the heck will you find it–and at a reasonable price?

I stopped putting black jeans on my list because I was told no-one was going to buy me black jeans–by the person who had once bought me black jeans. Fine.

Anyway, what I realized was that writing things out forces me to really think, instead of just throwing something out. And really, if I ask you for a Christmas list, it’s because I really want to buy you something, preferably something you just can’t live without. One, it will bring you some happiness, or fill a specific need (professional grade network cable crimpers don’t bring happiness per se, besides the quiet happiness of having the right tool for the job does remove the sadness that doing a job with the wrong tools often brings).

But secondly, when you use said gift you will likely think of me–and how awesome I am.

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Sep 21 2011

Most loved and overlooked

Probably one of the gifts I most appreciate–and most take for granted–is a gift that is quite common in the 21st century United States. Most people have it, it is free, and it is available to all. In fact, it is even imposed on a good deal of people quite against their wills–as it was with me.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me how much I love books. I love shopping for them, acquiring them, repairing them. Of course I love reading them; the aforementioned verbs were merely symptomatic of a bibliophilic life. As I have mentioned earlier, some of my earliest happy memories involve books.

But it wasn’t always so.

Literacy was forced upon me in first grade. I had no desire to read. It wasn’t that I was proud of my ignorance or deficiency, but I simply didn’t realize I was ignorant, and wasn’t aware that I was missing anything. Learning to read was easy for me–too easy, probably. It unlocked nothing for me, solved no problems.

From the time I was three I was always drawing and always watching cartoons. Decades after I developed a genuine love for the written word, I would still denigrate writing as the dumb stepbrother of drawing. I remember in one of my many cartooning books the author had stated, “Good writing will carry bad art, but good art won’t carry bad writing.” It was the most heretical blasphemy at the time, but now so obviously true.

There was only one story that I cared about as a small child–The Legend of Sleepy Hollow–and that was because Dad told it to me. Right before bed. When I was three. I loved, and was terrified by, that story.

So when Mom gave me $5 to go take to the first grade book sale to get whatever I wanted, all I wanted was information, not stories. Specifically, information on snakes and dinosaurs. After that lack of literature, I would get my book choices supervised.

Still, Mom did do one very clever thing: she bought lots of children’s books, and then promptly did not make me read them. Just left them around the house. When we hit garage sales, action figures were maybes, but books were almost guaranteed to be approved (providing they weren’t about snakes or dinosaurs).

Tonight I started The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay. I’m still in the middle of reading The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. As I write this I am flanked by a giant pile of books, two large bookshelves full of books (one of which I built), and in the midst of typing this I had to give in to the sudden urge to purchase Burton Raffel’s translation of Beowulf.

I realize that I owe a debt of gratitude to the following people:

  • My mom and dad
  • Mrs. Handley
  • Benjamin Rush
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Robertson Memorial Library
  •  Trails Regional Library, Corder branch
  • Mrs. Sheehan
  • Mrs. Redden
  • Mrs. Smith
  • Mrs. Alfino
  • Mrs. Craig
  • Any of you who have ever given me a good book

If you can read this, give thanks to God that you have working eyes and a working brain, and give thanks to the parent or teachers who taught you how to read, or how to read better.

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