Herman Wouk 1915-2019

I was saddened to hear that Herman Wouk died last week, just 10 days short of his 104th birthday.

TheCaineMutinyHis novel The Caine Mutiny (1955) has long been one of my favorites, and I have had opportunity to teach it to several high school classes.the caine mutiny I was disappointed to read a recent piece by Professor Joseph Bottum* which seems a modern example of “damning with faint praise,” suggesting that Wouk was a good “middlebrow” writer, whose work (some of it, anyway) has stood the test of time better than others in his . . . league(?).

I think, that if Bottum were pressed, he would say that he was praising Wouk, just not “over-praising him.” But when Bottum says “In general, . . . he could be counted on to write a readable book with some serious ideas in it. Or, perhaps better, a readable book with some serious ideas on it, like figures embroidered on a tapestry,” it is hard not to hear that as a snide, uncharitable comment.**

In my view, The Caine Mutiny succeeds as a novel because it draws us in to care about a handful of deeply flawed people who actually grow in self awareness. Willy gains maturity, of course, but so do Maryk and Keefer — and May. The fact that Wouk does this in a long, believable, narrative, with deft humor and across many sub genres,*** is really quite impressive.

I hope that Bottum’s review does not dissuade a single person from reading (at least) The Caine Mutiny. Wouk’s accomplishment should not be disparaged for being accessible. That seems fair, doesn’t it?


*Joseph Bottum, “Herman Wouk, 1915-2019: Remembering a master of middlebrow,” The Washington Free Beacon (May 25, 2019) [link].

**Not convinced? How about this: “No doubt, [Captain Queeg] is wonderfully drawn as a character: memorable in every way, beginning with his name. But an author doesn’t get to give us a Dickensian type, and then reverse field just to flatter readers that they’ve just had a deep thought. All they’ve had is the picture of a thought, a simulacrum of ideas, unearned by the prose. Which is perfectly fine for a certain kind of fiction. This might almost be the definition, the archetype, of the middlebrow.”

***By which I mean, non-technically, that The Caine Mutiny is a war novel, a romance (modern sense), a comic novel, an adventure story, a legal thriller, and (yes) a morality tale neatly woven into one narrative.

Old & new

current reading 2This poor author proves that fact-checking old language (what would you guess “death recorded” means?) is really pretty critical. Yelena Dzhanova, “Here’s an Actual Nightmare: Naomi Wolf Learning On-Air That Her Book Is Wrong,” New York: Intelligencer” (May 2019) [link]. Alan Jacobs comments with compassion and a very appropriate pair of C.S. Lewis references. Alan Jacobs, “death recorded,” Snakes and Ladders (May 24, 2019) [link].


Matthew Butterick, “Typography 2020: A special listicle for America,” Practical Typography [link] delightfully describes the font choices and errors of the 2020 candidates (comparing them to those of the past):

small quotesFor those who think it trivializes our political process to judge candidates by their typography—what would you prefer we scrutinize? Qualifications? Ground into dust during the last election. Issues? Be my guest. Whether a candidate will ever fulfill a certain campaign promise about a certain issue is conjectural.

But typography—that’s a real decision candidates have to make today, with real money and real consequences. And if I can’t trust you to pick some reasonable fonts and colors, then why should I trust you with the nuclear codes?


Alan Jacobs, “choice”, Snakes and Ladders (Feb. 9, 2018) [link]:

small quotesYou can’t understand the place and time you’re in by immersion; the opposite’s true. You have to step out and away and back and forward, through books and art and music, and you have to do it regularly. Then you come back to the Here and Now, and say: Ah. That’s how it is.

But maybe 2% of the people you encounter will do this. The other 98% are wholly creatures of this particular intersection in spacetime, and can’t be made to care about anything else.

You can, then, have understanding or attention. Pick.

Pastoral prayer

NEHIn Nehemiah 9, there is an account of a huge corporate prayer as the faithful people of Israel have been returned to the land by God’s mercy. They gather, and pray together.

Let’s do the same, today, using Nehemiah 9 as a model.

96 You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

7 You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land . . . .

And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.

9 And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea. . . . 11 And you divided the sea before them, . . . .

You led them, you instructed them, you provided for them. (from vv. 11b-15)

But they did not submit to your leading, they did not obey your instruction and they rejected your provision. (from vv. 16-17a)

17b [Nevertheless] you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

Through many years and many rebellions, you patiently worked in the nation to bring about your purposes, and because of this we will serve you. (from vv. 18-38)

And Lord, like Israel in Nehemiah’s time, we have seen rebellion — our own rebellion — and tragedy and hardships, and we have seen your work to restore your creation and to save us.

Unlike Israel, we have also seen the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Messiah.

As we come before you today, we too desire to serve you.

[Y]ou are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and [you do] not forsake [us].

We ask that you would be as real to us as you were to the people of Nehemiah’s day, that you would be as present in our lives, that you would be our only strength.

We ask that you would increase our devotion to you,

that you would lead us to repentance,

that you would strengthen our marriages,

that you would release our anxieties,

that you would heal our sicknesses,

that you would hear our fervent prayers.

For we are indeed your people, and we desire to worship you in Spirit and in truth.

Amen.

If the salt has lost its savor . . .

current reading 2An interesting take on the expected reconstruction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris:

small quotes blueYou can’t understand the current rebuilding project without understanding the crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III, in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Day of the year 800; and Pope Gregory VII’s role [in] the Investiture Controversy, with its culmination in the humiliation of Henry IV in the snow at Canossa; and the emergence of the Cuius regio, eius religio principle in the Reformation era; and the violent dechristianizing of France during the Revolution; and the vain struggle of Pio Nono against the unification of Italy, ending in the elimination of the Papal States and the loss of all secular power for the Papacy; and the emergence of the Deutsche Christen in the Nazi era, when German pastors competed with one another to defend the celebrate the subservience of (especially but not only) the Lutherans to Hitler.

Alan Jacobs, “The building on the Île de la Cité,” Snakes and Ladders (April 17, 2019) [link].


A convert reflects on how the emptiness of secularism . . . and Christian practice:

small quotes blueI had plenty of opportunities to engage with orthodox Christians, and I sincerely wanted Christianity to be true. It was clear to me that what the authorities in my world celebrated—the collapse of family life, the slaughter of the unborn, the deterioration of high culture—were, in truth, social evils that followed from the decline of the Church. Christianity seemed the natural alternative to secularity.

Jacob Williams, “Why I became Muslim,” First Things (May 2019) [link]. Rod Dreher comments on the First Things piece in The American Conservative: “Why convert to Islam?” (April 15, 2019) [link].

Good Friday

IV

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind us of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood-
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

 T.S. Eliot, “East Coker, pt. IV,” Four Quartets (1940).

The Endless Afternoon

It has seemed to me that the afternoon of Jesus’ crucifixion would have stretched out forever in the minds of those who were present, and in another sense the events of that afternoon stretch to our day as well. We consider the viewpoints of a priest, a thief, Mary, John, Simon, and others and the seven last words they heard from Jesus.

20190420 Service

For anyone in Jacksonville tomorrow, a service titled “The Endless Afternoon: Words and Witnesses at the Cross,” at 7:00p at Westside Chapel, 4541 Shirley Avenue, Jacksonville, FL 32210, 904 388-5117.

Simon Tam

Simon Tam 2I attended a great event (at the Chester Bedell Inn of Court) last night with Simon Tam (@SimonTheTam) of The Slants (“The Band Who Must Not Be Named”)*, who described his odyssey to the Supreme Court** and why reclaiming an ethnic slur could be so critical to young Asian-Americans.

Excellent speaker, moving story, important take away.

*http://www.theslants.com/
**Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017) [link]; see page at SCOTUSblog [link].

slanted

 


I am also looking forward to reading his new book: Slanted: How an Asian American Troublemaker Took on the Supreme Court (2019). I’ll have a brief review up soon.

No excerpts

current reading 2Sarah Willard writes about choices, and the will of God and finding a place to light, mentioning Jayber Crow, and Amy Carmichael and Galatians 5. Today, I am giving no excerpts—you need to read this whole thing: “Freedom also for her to stay (and our ever sure place to light),” Blind Mule Blog (Apr. 8, 2019) [link].

You should follow this wise young woman.


Another piece you should just read in its entirety is Kyle Korver, “Privileged,” The Player’s Tribune (Apr. 8, 2019) [link], in which he thinks about how white men should react to racism.

 

Databall

Digital BaseballWith baseball season comes baseball writing — two interesting pieces on pitching:

Tyler Kepner focuses on the coefficient of friction, and things (substances?) which affect it (“The Secrets of Pitching’s Outlaws,” The New York Times (Mar. 29, 2019) [link]):

small quotes blueNext time you go to a game, notice all the surfaces a pitcher touches with his hand. Pitchers are fidgety creatures, constantly tugging and swiping and scratching their caps, their sleeves, their skin, something. Corey Kluber, the two-time Cy Young Award winner for Cleveland, grabs his tongue on the mound before every pitch — which became legal again years ago — then wipes his hand on the side of his pants.

(Kepner does not suggest that Kluber is doing anything illegal.)


Tom Verducci turns to spin rates and pitch shape (“From Trackman to Edgertronic to Rapsodo, the Tech Boom Is Fundamentally Altering Baseball,” Sports Illustrated (Mar. 28, 2019) [link]):

small quotes bluePitch shapes, break charts, leveraging the ball, hoppy fastballs, sloppy wrists . . . this is part of the language of the game now, a language that didn’t exist a few years ago. [Houston Astros’ minor leaguer Forrest] Whitley speaks it fluently, not because he picked it up as a high school requirement, but because he grew up with it, organically. He and his fellow disrupters are only getting started.