Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quick review of "The Case of the Curious Bride" by Erle Stanley Gardner (1934)

I've often watched the Perry Mason television show, but this is only the second Perry Mason novel I've read. Both the character and the story structure of the two are quite different. The television show is a traditional whodunit. The emphasis is on finding out who committed the murder (always a murder) and seeing that justice is done. In the couple of books I've read, the emphasis is on Perry getting his client off, and he doesn't seem particularly interested in who committed the murder (always a murder.) In both books I've read, though we find out who committed the murder, it's unclear whether the murderer will ever face justice from the legal system. Even more different is the way the character of Mason in presented. As played by the large, imposing, yet also somehow soft Raymond Burr, Mason is rather tenderhearted toward many of his clients. He is quite obviously not a man of violence, preferring to depend on his wit and the law. He is wily, but upright and honest. Mason in the books...Is different than that. For instance, this is Mason in the book confronting police detectives: "Mason's jaw jutted forward. His eyes became steely. "Pipe down, gumshoe," he said, "or I'll button your lip with a set of knuckles."" Can't imagine Burr saying that. He also is much less interested in fair play than the TV character. In this book, he tampers with evidence, barely staying within the law. But hey, he gets paid and paid well at the end of the book, so he's got that going for him. (Trigger warning, if bothered by sexism or racism, these 1930's pulps might not be for you.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Review of "Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading" by Maureen Corrigan (Random House, 2005)

Looking at my Goodreads account, it lists over 1500 books I've read and there must be many books I've read in my life but I can't remember to post. We recently moved and gave away hundreds of books but still have hundreds more, some on shelves and some still in boxes. So it wasn't difficult for me to relate to and delight in Maureen Corrigan's love of books. Corrigan is most famous for her weekly book reviews on NPR's program about cultural trends, Fresh Air.
Especially since many of the books she loves, I love. When someone praises Raymond Chandler, I'm already well on the way to calling that person friend. But one thing made me wonder whether she would be hesitant to call me friend; because, I am, politically conservative.

You might not think a book about literature, about how books enrich us and occasionally deceive us would be a relatively nonpartisan affair. And much of the book is. But at times she puts her political leanings front and center such as in her account of a job interview at Columbia University where she says she "tried to pass myself off as a 'soft' Marxist (not exactly what Lenin had in mind." Whether she truly considers herself a Marxist or not isn't quite clear but she certainly considers herself part of the political left.

She can be quite dismissive of conservative lovers of books, such as in this passage, "Books are powerful. On that point, conservative culture cranks like William Bennett and Lynne Cheney and I agree. But, unlike those two purveyors of literary uplift, I think the influence of books is neither direct or predictable." (Yes, that's a point far too subtle for these conservative dunces to grasp.)

The worst thing Corrigan seems to be able to imagine is for a person to become coservative. She adores Kingsley Amis' satire of academia, Lucky Jim, but is distressed that Amis "transformed from an Angry Young Man to a club-going, Merrie Old England Tory bag of wind. How can such things be?" She notes other instances of awful transformation, "Similar invasion-of-the -body-snatchers-type conversions besmirch literary history: the defection of New York Intellectual Norman Podhoretz to the right, the mutation of progressive reporter Joe Klein, who had written a moving biography of Woody Guthrie, no less, into a centrist pundit and author of the anonymous Clinton parodic novel Primary Colors. Why? Why? Why? If reading good books doesn't necessarily make you a better person, apparently neither does writing them."

So, a progressive is a better person even than a centrist. And mocking the philandering and dishonest is over the line, I assume because it hurts "the cause".

But consider the moral behavior Corrigan give a pass. She laughingly refers to the fraudulence of the autobiographical writings of Lillian Hellman, but seems to find them delightful nonetheless. And she mentions when she teaches about Dashiell Hammett she speaks admirably about his deserting his wife and child to devote himself to writing. Apparently, their leftist leanings excuse such behavior.

One wonders how Corrigan survives at National Public Radio and teaching at Georgetown University where there is such a diversity of political thought. (She does have some conservatives, apparently, in her life. When she talks about the diverse group of people at her wedding she says that there were "even a few Republicans.")

I did appreciate a chapter wherein she praises some Catholic novels from her youth. Though now she considers herself at best a nominal Catholic, she still values many of the lessons learned from nuns in her youth (though she has distain for much of the Church's theology and practice.) But she notes that much current literary criticism writes of Western religion with dismissive condensation.

I've long enjoyed Corrigan's book reviews on Fresh Air and I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed her tales of growing up, going to a parochial school in the '60's before going to graduate school and a career in public radio and academia. It's just a little sad to read about how she has in her life traded one rather narrow view of the world for another.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Favorite Books from Childhood

If I hadn’t loved reading books as a kid, I doubt very much I’d be writing children’s books now. I always loved TV and movies and video games didn’t come along until my adolescence. But books provided the best vicarious adventures and escapes.

Happily, I found a wonderful wife who also loved to read as a child. She still loves to read. She still loves to read children’s’ books as a matter of facts. No surprise that our kids were readers and it was a joy to pass on to them childhood favorites (though not all were appreciated.

10) Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson – Reading this to my kids as an adult, I was surprised by how violent and bloodthirsty this book. No wonder I loved it.

9) The Adventures of Homer Fink by Sidney Offit – What? You haven’t heard of it? Color me shocked. This story of a kid growing up obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology freed me to pursue quirky interests.

8) Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss – I liked a lot of Seuss, but this was my favorite. As the fifth of five kids, I related to the power struggle to be the top turtle.

7) Swiss Family Robinson by Jonhann Wyss – Yes, I saw the movie first. And I was a little disappointed they didn’t fight pirates with coconut bombs. But it seemed so real, and I wanted an island of my own.

6) The Danny Dunn Series (such as Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint) by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin – This was kid level science fiction, all the gadgets Danny got a hold of were either real or presented with a scientific rational. I wanted my own laser.

5) How to Care for Your Monster by Norman Birdwell – Before he made his fortune with the Big Red Dog, Birdwell made his true classic, presenting the Universal Studios Monsters as pets.

4) The Encyclopedia Brown Series (starting with Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective) by Donald Sobol – I have stolen shamelessly from this series about a police chief’s son who solves crimes for my Bill the Warthog series of kid’s mystery books.

3) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – I came to love The Adventures of Huck later, but as I kid, I wanted to be Tom (and kiss Becky Thatcher.)

2) The Great Brain series (starting with The Great Brain) by John D. Fitzgerald – Stories about a little con artist. He always gets a bit of a comeuppance, but I enjoyed the parts before that happened. (The first five books of the series are great…Not so much for the rest.)

1) The Chronicles of Narnia (starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) by C. S. Lewis – As a kid I loved the adventure and loved the theology. I loved explaining who Aslan was to friends who hadn’t figured it out. Still books I reread more than any others.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Goldilocks' Guide to Church Hunting

(This is an article of mine that was published in the now defunct magazine for teen girls, Brio & Beyond, for the October 2003 issue)

Once upon a time, Goldilocks went to college at Fairytale University in the Big Woods. Up until this time, Goldilocks had always gone to her parents' church, the Grimm Brothers' Church of the Safe and Cozy, but now she had to look for a church of her own.
The first church she visited was too big. There were not only a lot of people, but there were also bears. You can guess how she felt about bears. No one said "hello" to her except a big, bad wolf that she ignored.

The second church she went to was too small. She arrived a few minutes late, and everyone stared at her. The, because she was the only visitor, Pastor Rumpelstiltskin asked Goldilocks to stand up while everyone tried to guess her name.

The third church was too cold. The Snow Queen shook her hand at the door, and Goldilocks spent the entire service trying to thaw out. The last church was too warm. On her first visit the Pied Piper asked her to join the choir, and a woman asked her to lunch at her Gingerbread House.

Goldilocks couldn't find a church that was just right, do she gave up.

Back to Real Life

OK, you know this was just a fairytale. But the problem is real for girls who have to look for their own church for the first time. Remember, God wants you to be with other believers. Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together , as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Many people have the fairy tale dream of finding a church that is "just right." But that's not always possible. People aren't perfect, so no church is perfect. Someone once said, "If you find a perfect church, don't go - you'll probably spoil it."
So how do you find the church God wants you to be in? Start with prayer. Ask God to direct your steps to the church He has in mind for you. Ask others to pray with you, too.

Next, ask people you trust for advice on churches. If you're moving to a new area, ask your pastor or youth pastor if they know any good churches in the area you're moving to. If you're going to a school to a school with on-campus ministries such as Campus Crusade, InterVarsity or Navigators, ask leaders and members of the groups for advice on churches in the area.

If you don't have a talking mirror to consult, you'll probably want to consult the internet. You might want to call the church to answer questions that aren't answered in a church's website. Here are things to consider when looking for a church:


Goldilocks wanted a church that had neither too many nor too few people. There are advantages and disadvantages to churches of different sizes.

A large church is more likely to offer a greater variety of programs and groups with people your age. But initially it may be difficult to avoid getting lost in the crowd.

A small church may give you an opportunity to become involved more quickly. In a small church you may be able to get to know people of different ages. It can provide a good opportunity to learn from the wisdom of older people and to enjoy families with children. But, you may feel awkward because everyone already knows everyone else.

As you hunt, you'll find churches with a couple of dozen members, some with thousands of members and many churches with sizes in between. God uses all His churches, but you need to find the one where He wants you to be.

The people who attend a church will be a key component in your choice. You might select a church because you have friends who attend it. You may also end up in a place where you have to make friends. Would Snow White have dreamed she would get along so well with those seven small men?


You may remember the battle between Jack and the giant over the golden harp. That fight was nothing compared to the way Christians have fought over music.

In Psalm 150, God calls His people to worship with music, yet what God made to be good often becomes a source of division. Some people claim that the only true way to worship is with the grand old hymns of the faith, and other people argue that only praise songs express worship from the heart.

Different music styles are similar to different languages.
Some people decide to become multilingual with more than one worship language. Others want to stick with the language they know.
You need to decide how important the aspect of music and worship style is to you. Is one style of worship your top priority? Or are you willing to adjust to another form of worship? Someone I know who loves music attended a church that included only one hymn after the sermon. Even though he would have enjoyed more music in the service, this guy stayed at the church because there were other things about it that he valued.


When you're church shopping, don't just consider how a congregation can minister to you; also think about how you can minister in the church. Are there opportunities for you to serve? Is there a youth group you can work with? A ministry to the poor? You may decide it's more important for you to find a church where you can be useful than to find a church that's useful to you. You never know how much you might enjoy bringing baskets of goodies through the woods to the elderly.


This is a biggie. What does the church you're visiting teach about the reliability of the Bible? About salvation? About Jesus?

These are important questions that'll help you learn if the church is a solid choice.

If the church is part of a denomination, some of your questions about theology (religious beliefs) will be answered easily. You may already know the stated beliefs of denominations such as Baptists, Presbyterians, Nazarenes, Methodists or Lutherans. (But even then, individual churches can vary differ within a denomination.)

Most churches also have a statement of faith to read. If one isn't available at an information booth or church office, ask a church leader for a copy. If the church doesn't have a printed statement of beliefs, you may need to set up an appointment with a church leader to ask the questions yourself.

You may want to consider questions such as, "Is there a way for a person to be saved outside of believing in Jesus as his or her personal Savior and Lord?" or "Is the Bible true in all it teaches?"

There are other issues to ask about: the role of the Holy Spirit, baptism, the role of women in the church, etc. Think about which issues are important to you and ask about them.

It's also important to see if the preaching turns you into Sleeping Beauty and to watch out for growing noses. In other words, is the teaching interesting and true?

It's not always fun to look for a new church (although it might be), but it's certainly important. God will be faithful to lead you to a place where He can work in your life and use you to encourage others.