In Other’s Words: Truth and Tone are often strange bedfellows.

When people are overly concerned with tone or are sensitive to the tone police, fewer people will be willing to speak hard truth. Joshua Gibbs examines the surge in accusations of “tone deafness”. You should really read the entire piece, Tone Deaf: Our Favorite New Pretentious Complaint. An  excerpt:

Modern men care very deeply about tone. Such concern goes hand-in-hand with our endless thirst for flattery.

In a prior age, “tone” was a minor concern of rhetoric teachers, but that’s it. No one grumbles about “tone” in the works of Homer or Virgil. No one carps about “tone” in the Divine Comedy. The writers of the Old Testament are curiously silent about tone— imagine Moses writing, “said God sullenly.”  Or, imagine Luther hearing out Eck’s arguments at Worms and opening his rebuttal with, “Well, I’m sure Mr. Eck made some fine points, but honestly, I couldn’t discern them due to the unfortunate shrillness of his tone,” at which point the Keystone Cops would show up in court, led by the fearless but foppish Capt. Winsome. Really, tone became an obsession when dilletantes took over, which is exactly why internet arguments cannot take two steps forward without someone clutching his pearls and making a scene about his opponent’s tone. If you would speak to the master while he sits on his social media throne, you must bow thrice before opening your mouth.

I am not suggesting that everyone who has ever been accused of tone deafness is innocent altogether, but I would say that tone deafness is a peevish, self-important thing with which to charge anyone. What we call “tone deaf” might be arrogance, hubris, or vanity— but if that’s what the tone deaf man is really guilty of, then we ought to have the guts to define his vice in more precise terms. Really, “tone deaf” just means “not zeitgeisty enough.” It means “not on the right side of history”— if we take “history” to mean nothing more than “how we have felt for the last 48 hours.” As sojourners on this earth and citizens of another World, Christianity is always going to be tone deaf.

What he said.

 

 

Lots of Extra Time to Read These Days…

The latest call to self-isolate means a lot of people are currently finding themselves with a lot of extra time their hands. Yesterday, our daughter reported that her coworker complained that, given the need to avoid the usual away from home distractions, it’s unfortunate that he can’t find anything worth watching on Netflix. He was promptly reprimanded that he could always read a book, and I totally agree! Of course, the wonderfully insightful Joshua Gibbs offers some movie suggestions for those so inclined:

Fourth, a few recommendations… If you’re going to allow your children to watch just one movie a day over the coronavirus break, I would suggest imposing a rule on your selections— as in, resolve to not watch anything less than fifty years old. Whatever you do, don’t have a Lord of the Rings marathon, a Star Wars marathon, or what have you. It isn’t not gluttony just because you’ve attached the word “marathon” or “contest” to whatever you’re doing.

While the word “classic” means something much less when referring to a film than to a book, older films demand more patience, more intellection, and repay third and fourth viewings. Here are several older films which any student attending a classical school ought to see.

1. Vertigo: In the last ten years, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has replaced Citizen Kane as the film which most regularly tops critic’s lists of the greatest films ever made. Like Psycho and The Birds, Vertigo is a retelling of the Tristan and Iseult myth, though it easily the most sophisticated of the three.

2. The Night of the Hunter: A good film to show anyone who thinks old films are boring. The Night of the Hunter is a humid, terrifying film about two children on the run from an ersatz preacher who murdered their mother. It is one of just two films written by legendary film critic James Agee (his other screenplay is The African Queen). Made in 1955, but not recommended for anyone younger than high school.

3. Paths of Glory: One of Stanley Kubrick’s early films, Paths of Glory is a vexing, aggravating movie set in World War I about a French general (played by Kirk Douglas) whose men are unfairly condemned for refusing to take part in a suicidal charge. Part war film, part courtroom drama, fans of René Girard will adore this scapegoat story.

4. Casablanca: The Bogart-Bergman classic needs no introduction, but have your sons and daughters watch this one, then have them read Umberto Eco’s “Casablanca, or, the Clichés Are Having a Ball,” which is one of the most delightful film essays ever written.

5. Black Narcissus: Powell and Pressburger’s gorgeously shot psycho drama about a bunch of nuns high on the Himalayan mountains who are trying to 1) run a school and 2) not fall in love with a shirtless David Farrar who play the lusty but cynical handyman who knows their school won’t last.

Three of these five recommendations are movies I am wholly unfamiliar with, so I appreciated the list.

The fortuitous thing about living where we live is that self-isolating in early March need not mean being stuck indoors. Fresh and sunshine are superb health tonics and we are experiencing that in spades right now, along with moderate temperatures and lower humidity than we’ll enjoy a few weeks hence. I’m encouraging my kids and other people I know that taking long walks during this season can only serve your health, not endanger it.

Of course, I recognize that many Americans are not living where it’s sunny, breezy, and 80 degrees in Mid-March, and so won’t be sitting on their patio reading books, as I am about to do after I throw in the next load of laundry. My kids are currently meeting online with one of their teachers since classical co-op class meetings are on temporary hiatus. Here are a few books I am adding to my current queue over the next couple of weeks:

I was considering adding Bowling Alone, but there will be a new updated version of that book available this summer, so I’m going to wait. The new addition will consider the role the Internet has played in the increased disintegration of community and social capital in the 20 years since the original book was published.

My question for readers is two-fold:

First: how are you handling the requests for increased isolation and social distancing? Are you changing your lifestyle and habits during this time?

Secondly: If you are changing your routine a bit, are you increasing the time you devote to reading? And if so, what will you be reading? I’m endlessly curious about what other people are reading!

The Slow Destruction of Fantasy Fiction.

I’m not a huge fan of fantasy fiction, as I’ve explained here before, but the state of things in all corners of the publishing world interests me. They interest me not only as an aspiring writer but also as a lover of classic literature. I previously expressed my concern about the recent trend of denigrating older books. Most of the increasing animosity directed toward those books is due to their alleged racial and cultural insensitivity, a problem you’d think might be all but eliminated with those publishing in our postmodern, politically correct zeitgeist.

Lately, however,  it seems that even progressive authors are falling prey to the increasingly broad swath of culturally inappropriate or racially triggering offenses. It’s gotten so bad that even fantasy fiction, which by definition isn’t concerned with realistic portrayals of events and people, is being routed by the political correctness brigade. The result is that many authors are having to postpone the releases of their books to make edits of appeasement lest they offend the masses of people who were never going to read their books anyway. From The Spectator’s Even Fantasy Fiction is Now Offensive:

It was Lionel Shriver who saw the writing on the wall. Giving a keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival three years ago in which she decried the scourge of modern identity politics, Shriver observed that the dogma of ‘cultural appropriation’ —which demands no less than complete racial segregation in the arts — had not yet wrapped its osseous fingers around the publishing industry. But, she warned: ‘This same sensibility is coming to a bookstore near you.’ Reader, it has come.

Indeed it has, and the outrage isn’t being directed solely at authors of European descent, as many people might automatically assume and sadly, be perfectly okay with. Oh, no. This is an equally opportunity scourging:

Next month a young, Asian-American author called Amélie Wen Zhao was due to celebrate the publication of her debut novel Blood Heir, the first in a three-part fantasy series for which Zhao was reportedly paid a six-figure sum by Delacorte Press, a children’s imprint of Penguin Random House. Set in the Russian-inspired ‘Cyrillian Empire’, Blood Heir tells the story of a magic-wielding princess who is forced to flee her kingdom following her father’s murder. ‘In a world where the princess is the monster, oppression is blind to skin colour, and good and evil exist in shades of grey… comes a dark Anastasia retelling,’ blurbed the publishers.

Can you spot the problem here? It’ll all be clear in just a minute:

Before the manuscript had even reached the presses, however, a furore erupted when Zhao, a 26-year-old banker born in Paris and raised in Beijing, was accused of racism. Armed with merely the blurb and a handful of excerpts from the book, her critics — many of them fellow authors, editors and bloggers in the Young Adult genre (known as YA) — repeatedly tore into Zhao on sites such as Twitter and Goodreads, outraged by, among other things, the novel’s depiction of indentured labour. For despite Blood Heir’s Slavic setting, her detractors assumed the plot was inspired by American slavery and thus something Zhao had no business writing about because she is not black. In a tirade that might surprise students of Russian antiquity, one critic reportedly raged: ‘[R]acist ass writers, like Amélie Wen Zhao, […] literally take Black narratives and force it into Russia when that shit NEVER happened in history.’

I was tempted to leave aside the minor detail that slavery was actually a thing in Russia right up until the mid-late 19th Century, but it occurs to me that it would be a grave mistake to do so.More:

One prominent writer even claimed the very premise of a fictional world in which ‘oppression is blind to skin colour’ was racist and joined others in pillorying Zhao for creating — and then killing — a ‘black’ character in the novel. No matter that the only discernible evidence for the character’s ethnicity was a vague description of dark curls and ‘bronze’ skin. Another YA author, Ellen Oh, who joined in the fray by piously tweeting ‘colourblindness is extremely tone deaf. Learn from this and do better’, was herself forced to issue an apology after being castigated for using the phrase ‘tone deaf’, a turn of events that would be comical were it not so preposterous.

Stabbed by her own pitchfork. It is both comical and preposterous in my opinion. The utter ignorance of the woke brigade is the issue here. The fact that people so ignorant are wielding the  the power to influence and impact an industry which should be -at its heart- driven by educated people with literary and historical knowledge does not bode well for the future of publishing, literature, and literacy.

One wonders when peak absurdity will intersect with a plurality of people willing to display the courage to declare that enough is enough.

 

 

 

 

In Other’s Words: In Memory of Sir Roger Scruton

Capture4

I learned on Sunday morning that Sir Roger Scruton, the intelligent and insightful conservative British philosopher, passed away at the age of 75. After reading the headline, it occurred to me to post a few thoughts outlining some of the ways his writing and commentary made me think.  As it happens, a writer more articulate than I ever hope to be, beat me to the punch (a luxury of writing for a living I suppose), so I decided to simply share a bit of what he wrote with which I heartily agree.

Before I offer the thoughts of another, I’ll note that Scruton’s observations on the intersection of the decline of architectural beauty and death of community are what first spring to mind when I see his name, whatever else a particular article he wrote happens to be about.

His discourse of beauty on a macro scale was also worth examining, but he was most convincing, at least to me, on the subject of the ugly architecture which has become the template for our postmodern work and living spaces. That, however, is only a small part of how Scruton critiqued postmodern culture and thought. Joshua Gibbs offers his take on the legacy of his “hero”, Sir Roger Scruton:

I only discovered Roger Scruton five years ago, which means I’ve barely scratched the surface of his work; however, in these five years, no living intellectual explained beauty and tradition with greater lucidity than Scruton. My thesis that all human artifacts can be divided between common, uncommon, and mediocre is borrowed from a passage on the importance of neatly setting the dinner table in Scruton’s Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (2011). Anything reasonable I’ve ever said about tradition (and especially about the Canon) is downstream from Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism (1980). Scruton was by no means an original thinker, though I mean this as the highest praise. He was a hand pointing at the sky. Without him, the sky would nonetheless exist, but I would not know where to look. Roger Scruton explained important things simply. Why do people graffiti ugly buildings but not beautiful ones? Why have old churches lasted? Why do exciting things not last? Why is it impossible to create a new tradition from scratch, try as we may? Scruton not only anticipated the questions of a restless mind, he answered them. My students quote Scruton every day when performing their catechism: “The world of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation slow, laborious and dull.” Every time I say these words, they offer a fresh justification for what I do.

I completely agree. This is an image of Scruton’s home library, the room of my dreams:

That tells you almost everything you need to know, doesn’t it? At the very least, it should dispel any confusion about why I’ve taken the time to remember Sir Roger Scruton in this space.

Rest in Peace, Professor Scruton.

 

 

 

Friday Faves: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Happy New Year, y’all!

Since this is the first Friday of 2020, I decided to do a quick review of what was and preview of what I hope to see as the calendar has flipped. I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but swimming in the sea of new beginnings such as we all are, it’s impossible not to get splashed. Once splashed, it’s impossible to ignore the drops of water on my skirt, and so my mind was drawn into thoughts of things that have gone, and things to come. First up, a look back:

I reviewed 30 books on the blog this year. However, I also read several books that I didn’t review for various reasons. Some of those are:

  • Marriage for Moderns: I’m still sifting through this old textbook from the 1940s written by Dr. Henry Bowman. It’s not readily available, which is one of the reasons I’m not planning to review it. A quick perusal of the two reviews it garnered on Amazon offers a snapshot of how Bowman’s ideas play in 2020. I don’t find it nearly as objectionable as those reviewers. Perhaps I’ll review it this year, but probably not.
  • The Hormone Reset Diet by Dr. Sarah Gottfried: I’m not getting any younger, and I don’t have any qualms about acknowledging it.  I refuse to jump on the cultural bandwagon which asserts that continuing to live is somehow offensive or something to apologize for. The reason I didn’t review the book is that it’s niche-y, and I don’t suppose everyone is interested in the tweaks I have to make along the way to maintain optimal health, which I am grateful to enjoy, but it costs.
  • Julius Caesar: I read this in conjunction with some exquisite and delightful literary homeschool mothers over the summer. It was fun, but it’s a story everyone knows and most people have read, only if in high school, so I didn’t bother to review it.
  • The Father Brown Mysteries, by G.K. Chesterton. I love these stories, and I may pick a few to highlight some time during the first quarter of 2020, but I read them sporadically for my personal enjoyment in 2019, and never got around to offering reviews.

There are times when I want to read unimpeded, and writing reviews I’ll be satisfied with requires a level of distraction that necessarily precludes my ability to do that. Which is why I decide not to review certain books.

Here are my favorite books reviewed here at Reading in Between the Life, by category:

  • Fiction: A Girl of the Liberlost. This is a beautiful, poignant story with a satisfying conclusion. It’s a middle-grade book but appeals to all ages.
  • Nonfiction: There’s a three-way tie for this one. That sounds like a lot until you consider that most of the books I read and review here are nonfiction. My three favorite nonfiction books of the year are Beauty Destroys the Beast, The Black Girl’s Guide to Being Blissfully Feminine, and Digital Minimalism. They each encouraged me in different but profound ways. Amy Fleming touches on things that Christian women need to think about, Candace Adewole taps into truths only black women can fully appreciate, and Cal Newport is a postmodern prophet crying out in the digital wilderness.
  • Christian: How to be Unlucky, by Joshua Gibbs. In reality, Beauty Destroys the Beast is also a Christian book so it could go here as well. Unlucky is more metaphysical, which is what I was originally thinking of as I considered this category.

Looking ahead to 2020, and addressing that New Year’s splash I mentioned at the beginning of the post, there are a few endeavors I’m looking forward to dipping my toe into. There are also other things I began last year but would like to dive deeper into as the year unfolds.

  • I need to write more, and by more, I mean more than just here and in my prayer journal. I often feel as if my vision of being published is slipping away. This could mean that my dream is not on the path God has for me, but it also could mean that I haven’t applied myself to the task as much as I should.
  • Improve my copyediting skills and build a resume. I went back to school. I put in the work. I got the piece of paper. The only thing left is to take advantage of it, which I didn’t work at in 2019.
  • Learn to sew the perfect skirt. I’m not a seamstress, and I don’t have any real desire to be one, but I love a great skirt, at just the right length, with usable pockets, in colors that flatter my caramel skin tone. Every now and again I run across one and if the price is right, I grab it. But as a 5’9″ pronounced hourglass, it’s in my interest, if I can manage it, to learn to make my own. So I’m going for it.
  • Lose weight. Spiritual weight, that is. I’m always working on strengthening my physical temple, but this year my focus is on Hebrews 12:1b let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…

As far as reading and what you can expect around here? More great (and sometimes not so great) books, and more reviews so you’ll know which is which. We’ll have more discussions about education, language, and all of it interspersed with occasional snippets from my crazy, busy, blissfully mundane life.

Happy 2020!

Friday Faves: Thanksgiving Edition

thanksgiving capture

In less than a week, most of us will join our extended families and friends, break bread, and give thanks for all of the blessings we enjoy. In the interest of the spirit of the season, I decided to have a conversation about the best things about Thanksgiving Day, at least in my personal estimation.

  • Time with family: Our life is busy, and we are blessed to spend a lot of time with great people and awesome Christian friends, but we don’t spend as much time with our extended family. Family, even when things are hard, is still family. To spend a few hours eating good food and engaging in stimulating conversation is an opportunity that most of us don’t get to enjoy often enough.
  • Preparing good food: While turkeys and sweet potatoes are available year-round, it just never occurs to most people -at least not us- to smoke a turkey or bake a sweet potato pie in March. Our family cooks together pretty often, but cooking a Thanksgiving meal is a special meal preparation that’s not quite like any other. Everyone in our house has a particular specialty, and putting them all together is lots of fun.
  • Table settings: One of our kids has a God-given eye for beauty and a gift for design. I suspect her father bequeathed her his artistic eye, but hers has a particular feminine flair and she is wonderful at designing just the right look for the table.
  • A spectacularly clean house: We are constantly cleaning around here. Floors are mopped daily and all that good stuff. But when 12 or more people are visiting to sit around your table and hang out at your house for an afternoon, a deeper cleaning is in order; the kind of cleaning that gets relegated to seasonal scheduling when life is extremely busy, which ours usually is.
  • The crash afterward: The run-up to Thanksgiving can be kind of frantic. I started this afternoon with most of my shopping for the day. The next few days will be consumed with preparations and by Wednesday, I’m ready to get on with it. Thursday will be a lot of fun, laughter will rule the day, and after the clean up is done, I’ll be excited for the moment when I can shower, put on some comfy clothes, lay my head on my husband’s shoulder and play a Christmas movie. Of course, the chances that I’ll get 1/3 of the way through the movie without falling asleep is are pretty slim.

Those are a few of my favorite things about Thanksgiving.

What are some of yours?

 

Friday Faves: Seasonal Anticipations

Halloween is over and November has arrived, so it’s official: The high holiday season is upon us. With that, we all start preparing for that most wonderful, and most expensive, time of the year. For those of us who celebrate the Incarnation, however, there’s more to this time of year than wrapping paper, Scotch tape, and near-constant Amazon Prime deliveries. For many of us, this time of the year is about pausing to remember the most important things in life; the eternal things.

With that in mind, I thought we’d start November with a few things I most look forward to at this time of the year. Shopping is not on the list:

  • Cooler weather: We live in a very tropical climate; so much so that the temperature this Halloween was 90 degrees. The hot humid blanket has been hanging on to us for what seems like longer than normal this year. However suddenly, as if on cue, the projected high temperature for today, November 1st, is between 79 and 80 degrees. That may not sound like cool weather, but relatively speaking, it’s fabulous. Hopefully, from here we can settle down into our normal “wintery” mid-70s temperatures.
  • Outdoor fall festivals: This is the time of year for art festivals, free movies in local parks, charitable 5K races, and numerous other opportunities to get outside and soak up the weather that made Florida a favorite winter vacation spot from the late 19th century onward.
  • Thanksgiving: This is the holiday that we spend the most time with extended family, and because ours is a family full of women who not only can cook, but enjoy cooking together, preparing the meal is more fun time than a burden, as it should be. I am suddenly remembering this book, which I read to my kids:
sweet potato pie book

Those of us with Southern roots do enjoy our sweet potato pies!

  • Christmas Decorating: To be honest, this is not my favorite thing, but it’s included here because I love seeing the joy it brings my husband and kids to decorate for the Christmas season. And once it’s all done, the festive atmosphere is very uplifting. I do enjoy seeing the wreath on the door!
  • Advent Devotions: One of the things I have become increasingly wary about over the past ten years is the crass commercialization of Christmas that we excuse by slapping platitudes such as “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!” on things that have little to do with Christ’s Incarnation. Picking and reading a book devoted to reminding me of why we celebrate and how we should celebrate tempers a lot of that uneasiness in me. Jesus does indeed become the reason for the season.
  • Holiday movies: We kicked things off on Halloween with Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and every week I hope we’ll be enjoying an uplifting, family-friendly production that reminds of the angels’ greetings to the shepherds in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night: “And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14).

Those are a few of the things I anticipate as we move into the most wonderful time of the year.

What are you looking forward to now that November is upon us, the holidays loom, and the year is speeding to a close?