I saw immediately what Madeline Basset had meant when she said that he had lost his diffidence. Even across the room one could see that, when it came to self confidence, Mussolini could have taken his correspondence course.—
P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters
I picked this up at B&N yesterday on a whim because it looked cool and it was on the “under $10” table. It’s probably the first physical book I’ve purchased (new) from a brick and mortar store in 10 years. And the time before was I probably used a gift card.
If Strange and Norrell had not been such perfect examples of their class, both so unquestioning about their duty to uphold the status quo, then it seems to me unlikely that the revival of English magic could have been achieved. The Government and the Army would not have given them anything to do. All the Government’s energies would have been directed to getting rid of them. Only a man as boring as Norrell could have brought magic back.—
If anyone were interested I could in fact point to the piece of ground Mr Norrell came up out of. I could give you a grid reference. A corner of a muddy field between the villages of Blackhall Rocks and High Hesleden in County Durham. I used to wander the footpaths round there in the summer and autumn of 1992 thinking up ideas for the book I wanted to write. At that particular moment I was trying to conjure up an English magician who had a library, and then there he was. I saw him very clearly—small, nervous, librarian-like, friendless, book-obsessed.—
But of course he wasn’t unalterable. I could have changed him. Just as I could have changed Jonathan Strange into a woman. Except that Strange was a character who had been hanging round my imagination for years; I had wanted to write about him for a long time. Unfortunately that’s not true for Johanna Strange.
I don’t imagine the story first and find the characters to fit it. Rather I rely on the characters to help me puzzle out the story. If the characters are completely changeable and unfixed, then where is my thread to find the story? I place a lot of faith in the idea that characters (or story elements) present themselves to me in a particular form for a reason. Strange and Norrell meant something to me. They were bubbling with possibilities (odd, to think of Mr Norrell as bubbly). There were things I could find out about them. Writing often seems more like a process of unearthing detail, of archaeology rather than making stuff up.
The Kindle version is free on Amazon right now.
Ayn Rand gets 5 stars for portraying the dangers of central planning and government intervention with a brilliant and believable reductio ad absurdium, but 3 stars for presenting an alternative that is at best incomplete and at worst downright immoral. Rand skewers and indicts modern socialistic-liberalism, with all its nanny-statist leanings and empty platitudes about the social good and the greed of the businessmen. It’s incredible that she wrote in the 50s, because I felt like I was reading one potential future of the Democratic Party. Yet Rand’s personal moral philosophy—Objectivism—which this novel is simply a vehicle for, and which is presented in an often heavy-handed manner through the lives of the protagonists, leaves much to be desired. For the life of me, I don’t understand how Rand is unable to see the illogic of founding a system of morality on man himself, on his own reason, with no adherence to an external standard, and manage to call it objective. She does a brilliant job systematically demolishing the moral relativism of her antagonists, but the alternative she glorifies fails its own requirements.
In addition to the philosophical problems with it, her worldview simply doesn’t align with practical reality. Condemning altruism as immoral, and advocating that every single decision—including all interactions with people—be calculated with one’s own self-interest as his ultimate guide and goal, is a cold-hearted way to live. Yes, our society could do with a great deal more economic freedom and less government intervention, but pure capitalism requires a people with a biblically moral foundation in order to work to the best.
The other thing that annoyed me is that Rand blatantly mischaracterizes the religious. It’s like she never actually met a winsome, intellectually engaged Christian—because they definitely don’t exist in her novel, even as antagonists; they are simply left out of her equation. There are enough straw men in her tirades against religion to fuel a Taggart Comet from San Francisco to New York.
Part of me had expected this novel to be drudgery, but with the exception of the 40-page
sermon speech by John Galt near the end of the book, I was fully engaged the entire time. I read it much more quickly than I anticipated. Considering English is her first language, Rand’s writing is excellent—readable, insightful, and well-paced. This is a serious work of intellectual fiction—and I mean that in every sense, both good and bad.
All these discussions make a serious effort to engage with the data of current science. The arguments are often ingenious and, given Plantinga’s premises, the overall view is thorough and consistent.— Thomas Nagel reviews Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Alvin Plantinga.
The interest of this book, especially for secular readers, is its presentation from the inside of the point of view of a philosophically subtle and scientifically informed theist—an outlook with which many of them will not be familiar. Plantinga writes clearly and accessibly, and sometimes acidly—in response to aggressive critics of religion like Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. His comprehensive stand is a valuable contribution to this debate.
I say this as someone who cannot imagine believing what he believes.
It is illuminating to have the starkness of the opposition between Plantinga’s theism and the secular outlook so clearly explained. My instinctively atheistic perspective implies that if I ever found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is true, the most likely explanation would be that I was losing my mind, not that I was being granted the gift of faith. From Plantinga’s point of view, by contrast, I suffer from a kind of spiritual blindness from which I am unwilling to be cured. This is a huge epistemological gulf, and it cannot be overcome by the cooperative employment of the cognitive faculties that we share, as is the hope with scientific disagreements.— Thomas Nagel reviews Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Alvin Plantinga
Margery Williams: The Velveteen Rabbit
plus Battle Royale
Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games
Reader Submission: Title by comedian Tyler Snodgrass
Reader Submission: Title and Redesign by Megan Pallante.
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings
Reader Submission: Title by a fantastic teacher, Megan Weiskopf.
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter