The Lost Diary of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Balliol College, Monday.—Read aloud my Essay on Equality to the Master. It began: “Treat all men as your equals, especially the rich.” The Master commented on this sentence. He said, “Very ribald, Prince Hamlet, very ribald.”

In training for the annual fencing match between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Doing my utmost to reduce my flesh which is far too solid.

The poet Maurice Baring wrote a collection of the “lost diaries” of historical and fictional characters, which is available on Project Gutenberg.

From the diary of Emperor Titus:

Rome, Monday.—The eruption at Vesuvius does not after all appear to have been greatly exaggerated, as I at first had thought on receiving Pliny’s graphic letter. One never can quite trust literary men when facts are in question. It is clear that I missed a very fine and interesting spectacle. In fact I have lost a day. Good phrase, that. Must try and bring it in some time or other.

From the diary of Sherlock Holmes:

January 12.—Found a carbuncle of unusual size in the plum-pudding. Suspected the makings of an interesting case. But luckily, before I had stated any hypothesis to Watson—who was greatly excited—Mrs Turner came in and noticed it and said her naughty nephew Bill had been at his tricks again, and that the red stone had come from a Christmas tree. Of course, I had not examined the stone with my lens.

From the diary of Oedipus Rex:

Wednesday.—Saw the Sphinx. Guessed the riddle first shot. It asked what was that which runs on two legs, has feathers and a beak, and barks like a dog. I said “pheasant,” and I added, “You put that in about the barking to make it more difficult.” The Sphinx was very angry and went off in a huff, for good.

What I Read in 2020

Below is a list of the books I finished this year. Back in April, I posted a list of what I’d read up to that point, along with some comments. No comments today, alas.

I also keep a running list of what I’m reading, watching, and listening to in my Media Diary (which I haven’t updated in some time).

(Thanks to my wife, whose yearly run-downs inspired me to do this.)

Theology & Christianity

  • The Reason for God, Tim Keller
  • Partakers of Grace, Douglas Wilson
  • From Silence to Song, Peter J. Leithart
  • Defending Constantine, Peter J. Leithart
  • Fruit of Lips, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
  • Selections from the Table-Talk of Martin Luther, Henry Bell
  • The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer
  • Job Through New Eyes: A Son for Glory, Toby Sumpter
  • Joy at the End of the Tether, Douglas Wilson
  • A Short Essay Toward the Improvement of Psalmody, Isaac Watts
  • Practical Christianity, A. W. Pink
  • Studies in Deuteronomy, Donald F. Ackland
  • The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis
  • Miracles, C. S. Lewis
  • Heretics, G. K. Chesterton
  • Migrations of the Holy, William Cavanaugh
  • Born Again, Charles W. Colson
  • Bruchko, Bruce Olson

Parenting & Teaching

  • Positive Discipline, Jane Nelsen
  • Parenting, Paul David Tripp
  • Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp
  • Something They Will Not Forget, Joshua Gibbs

Adult Fiction

  • The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco
  • Empire of Bones, N. D. Wilson
  • The Starbridge Series, Susan Howatch (Books 1-4)
  • Descent Into Hell, Charles Williams
  • Piranesi, Susanna Clarke
  • Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
  • Beau Geste, P. C. Wren
  • The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope
  • Earthfasts, William Mayne
  • The Unique Miranda Trilogy, H. W. Taylor (Books 1-2)
  • Kill Ship, H. W. Taylor
  • Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank
  • The River, Peter Heller
  • East of Eden, John Steinbeck
  • Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Children’s Fiction

  • New Kid, Jerry Craft
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
  • Afternoon of the Elves, Janet Taylor Lisle

Creative Non-Fiction

  • Blood Will Out, Walter Kirn
  • H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
  • Girl at the End of the World, Elizabeth Esther

Poetry

  • Motherland, Sally Thomas

Plays

  • Deathtrap, Ira Levin
  • Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Writing

  • Ploductivity, Douglas Wilson
  • The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
  • Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon
  • Show Your Work, Austin Kleon
  • Keep Going, Austin Kleon

Other Non-Fiction

  • Long Live Latin, Nicola Gardini

Total: 58

What’s At a Man’s Fingertips

In this blog post, Alan Jacobs casually quotes Isaiah Berlin, Michael Oakeshott, Robert Conquest, W. B. Yeats, and Christopher Hitchens, and makes several references to George Orwell. I have benefited from Dr. Jacobs’s writing over the years primarily, I think, because of his incredible range of reading and the ease with which he can tie together disparate threads of thought. It’s a skill to aspire to.

A Man’s Gone Serial

Lunch with NDW: Hello, Ninja on the tube, Ashtown on the rag

Nate Wilson taught me writing and rhetoric back in the day. For a long time, he was the only published author of fiction I knew, so I’ve always followed his doings with interest. With an output that includes ten novels, two non-fiction books, a feature film, two nature documentaries, and a Netflix show, he’s a tough guy to keep up with.

His latest endeavor is The Silent Bells, a young adult fantasy novel published on a monthly basis. Each chapter is mailed to subscribers in newspaper form (complete with funnies page and fake adverts). I’ve read most of Nate’s books, and I think this may be my favorite way to read them. His novels have lots of action and lush description that can be exhausting when you try to read a hundred pages at a go. At this new pace, the story is like drinking a Red Bull every four weeks. Not only that, his pacing shines even more, since you can’t just move on to the next chapter when you hit a (literal) cliffhanger. Gotta wait an entire month to find out how (if??) Cyrus will survive…

What a Man Read in 2020, Pt. 1

Fiction

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

I don’t know how I made it to thirty years old without reading this book. I saw the movie many years ago, so I’ve known the story. The book is almost perfect. Certain scenes, like Atticus shooting the dog, had me grafted to my seat. Who could wish for a better character than Atticus?

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

I went into this expecting six hundred pages on the depravity of man. Who would’ve imagined a 20th century writer so full of life! Anybody who could write a character like Sam Hamilton had at least part of his head on straight. (Part of his head…? Like the nose?) If the whole book had just been an extended conversation with Sam Hamilton and Lee, I would’ve still loved it. The story didn’t stick with me much, and Catherine/Cathy/Kate is just plain silly, but Steinbeck’s Bradbury-like verve won me over. I’ll read more.

New Kid, Jerry Craft

The first graphic novel to win the Newbery. Graphic novels are great at some things, bad at others. Sensations, impressions, and feelings are in the first category. This book was fun there. Subtlety is in the second category. But who cares? You’re reading a graphic novel!

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Because these aren’t real book reviews, I don’t have to talk about everything in this book. There’s a lot. One thing that stuck out to me is how often Raskolnikov gets tangled up with other people’s affairs despite his attempts to separate himself from humanity. But the scene that I will carry with me is the one in which Raskolnikov prays on the bridge. The minute he finishes praying, he realizes that he will carry out his gruesome plan. How often this happens! The very moment we ask for God’s help in fighting temptation is the moment in which we give ourselves over to it.

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

For a book that was supposed to be silly and disposable, this one has remained with me. I can’t call my daughter without thinking of Hester the governess, who is strictly committed to her policy of never chasing down her charges. They will come to her eventually, she says. And they do.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

My friends told me this book made them weep. That’s usually a guarantee that I will finish the last page with a clear countenance and dry eyes. Well, I cried. Tommy and Kathy bemoan the shortness of their time together, but how much longer do the rest of us really have? One of the great joys of the resurrection will be the reunion of soul and body, not only for each of us ourselves, but for those who love us. More than beating Death is the knowledge that Death will no more take away those whom we love.

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

I get something new out of this every time I read it. This time around, I was struck by Hamlet’s wit. He’s fairly lightning. “‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?” Also, thanks to the Ignatius Press edition I was teaching from, I recognized more Christian imagery than I have before. Specifically, I am convinced that the story takes place during Lent, and that Hamlet is a type of reluctant Christ.

Creative Non-Fiction

Blood Will Out, Walter Kirn

Not sure what I was expecting. I picked it up because Kirn apparently spoke at a Wordsmithy a few years ago. It’s the story of Kirn’s friendship with a man who called himself Clark Rockefeller, but who turned out to be a psychopath named Christian Gerhartsreiter. The “reveal” was old news when Kirn wrote the book, so he doesn’t expend any effort setting it up or dramatically pulling back the curtain. It’s mostly about Kirn, actually, asking himself whether writers and shape-shifting con-artists really are so different after all. There’s a disconcerting thought.

H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald

Began this ages ago on audio, finished it in print. Print helped me appreciate the writing more. It is, as Alan Jacobs said, “magnificent.” One oddity of MacDonald’s style is that her descriptions come in great blocks of prose. You’d expect more white space for such a dynamic subject as goshawks. But the formatting lends her words a weight and inevitability (dareisay, naturalness?) that really fits her story.

Girl at the End of the World, Elizabeth Esther

As my wife said, it’s amazing that this woman is still a Christian. A testament to the grace of God.

Christianity

Miracles, C. S. Lewis

I had begun this book years ago and never made it past the first few chapters. For Lewis, it’s dense. Finally got through it this time, stumbling over a few complicated logical blocks. Definitely worth reading closely. May do a blog-through of it someday (ha, as if!).

Migrations of the Holy, William Cavanaugh

Another one that needs more in-depth analysis. Check the tag at the bottom of the post.

Heretics, G. K. Chesterton

Reading Chesterton is an ongoing habit for me, one I pray I never drop. Here’s a quote to tide you over: “Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.”

Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp

Read this again for an online book club I’m doing with David and Jon, a couple of high school friends who are also dads to young kids. Recommended.

Writing

The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

Half whisky, half hogwash.

Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon

Austin’s book makes me want to be messier in my art. Which, I think, is a good thing.

Show Your Work, Austin Kleon

Ditto above.

Other Non-Fiction

Long Live Latin, Nicola Gardini

I heard about this book through Prufrock News and thought, as a Latin teacher and a lifelong language votarient, I should give it a shot. It was effusive. My favorite thing about it was Gardini’s attention to detail. He exults in Latin’s very vowels.

A Man Knows How to Covet

Late summer, 2018. My friend Dave and I are cataloguing Jim Jordan’s books in the Theopolis library. I come across a few books by a guy named Pink. I snicker and show Dave, who says, “That guy’s great.” I file away the comment and the book.

A few months later, I’m browsing the shelf at TPC where our pastor puts books he’s done with and I find a couple of books by this guy Pink, one called Practical Christianity and one called The Letters of A. W. Pink. I want to know what he has to say about Christianity before I start reading his letters, so I open that one first.

It’s been slow going. Pink writes densely, and I have to work to follow his arguments. But this one comment jumped out to me. Pink is explaining what Paul means in Romans 7 when he says, “I was alive once without the law.” Pink’s take is that Paul is referring to his life as a Pharisee. He knew the letter of the law, but it hadn’t taken hold of his heart. When it did, sin revived in him, and he died. The law, which was to bring life, had to kill him first.

Pink comments: “verse seven informs us that it was the tenth commandment which the Holy Spirit used as the arrow of conviction.” I imagine Paul reading or reciting the law, getting to “thou shalt not covet,” and going white in the face. I’d always assumed Paul was using covetousness as a synecdoche of the whole law. It’s number ten, after all, so it captures everything that came before. This is how John Piper takes it in this sermon. Pink, on the other hand, suggests that Paul mentions coveting because he was particularly convicted of this sin.

What on earth would Paul have to covet? He doesn’t seem to be particularly attracted to worldly objects, spending most of his ministry freeloading. (In Acts 20, he straight up says he hasn’t coveted silver or gold from anyone.) He writes a lot about money, but he’s always collecting it for the church in Jerusalem, not waxing eloquent on its evils. He’s a realist about money. Similarly, his writing on lust is very short and to the point.

The only thing I can think of that Paul would be tempted to covet is status. The praise of men. When we first meet Paul, he’s participating in the execution of Stephen, perhaps even as a prosecutor. The very next chapter opens with a description of his zeal for persecuting Christians. As a student of one of the most highly respected Pharisees, Paul was probably eager for a chance to prove himself and went the extra mile to show it.

How often does God call us to circumstances that test us at the very points where we’re most weak. The rest of Paul’s ministry is a constant reminder of his own weakness. He depends on help from others. He is beaten, mocked, and thrown out of town. When he and Barnabas go to Lystra and the citizens mistake them for gods, Barnabas, not Paul, is the one they call Jupiter.

I haven’t had a chance to dig up any hard evidence, apart from the conjectures above, but it does put a little bit of a different spin on God’s words to Paul at end of 2 Corinthians: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

A Man is Separated and Therefore Loved

This is taken from an old tweet thread by Susannah Black on the movie version of A Wrinkle in Time in which she explains the particular menace of “It,” the brainy baddy in L’Engle’s story. Essentially, “It” wants sameness, which was terrifying enough to me as a child, but Black explains here that absolute sameness is not just a lack of creativity or personality. Absolute sameness destroys love.

How does this work? Love means laying down your life for another. That’s only possible when an other exists. Where there is no distinction, there can be no love. (It’s worthwhile to note that, where there is no distinction, there can be no pain, either.) In order for love to exist, things must have distinct natures: Creator, creature; man, woman; one individual and another. Erasing these natures – these distinctions – is an attack on love itself.

As a kid, I always thought the end of A Wrinkle in Time was weak. Meg shouts, “I love you, Charles Wallace,” a million times and somehow that rescues him and saves the universe. The connection Black makes here between love and individuality has helped me understand how fitting Meg’s actions are. “It” pushes for sameness, thereby destroying love. Meg loves, thereby reinforcing distinction. Like all good fantasy, its a story about the true nature (and natures) of things.

A Man Works Smarter and Harder

I just finished read a book called Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder, which is about the recovery of the SS Central America, a sidewheel steamer that wrecked in the 1850s about two hundred miles off the coast of South Carolina. At the time, the shipwreck was one of the deadliest disasters in American history, claiming almost five hundred lives – at least one from every state in the union. Over the decades, people remembered the wreck for another reason: when it sank, the Central America was carrying several tons of gold.

The book flips back and forth between an account of the shipwreck, pieced together with incredible detail from the accounts of survivors, and the story of a young scientist named Tommy Thompson, who decided that he was going to locate the wreck on the ocean floor, send a submersible eight thousand feet below the surface, and recover the gold without damaging a single historic artifact. Needless to say, Thompson succeeds, but there are so many setbacks, so many false alarms, and so many twists along the way, that the story is worth reading even when you know the ending. The story of the shipwreck, too, is worth reading for its glimpses of the highs and lows of humanity.

Tommy Thompson appears to have come to an ignominious end, running from US Marshals, living under an assumed name, and paying his rent with moldy cash. But reading Kinder’s book, I was struck by Tommy’s methodical approach to the problem of working in the deep ocean. I bet you could take the core of Tommy’s approach and apply it to any seemingly impossible endeavor. Here’s a rough list of what I took away:

  • Prioritize – carefully consider what you have to do. Not all tasks are created equal. Choose the one that, when accomplished, will make all the others easier.
  • Ration your time – give yourself a certain amount of time to get something done, and then get it done in that time. If it’s impossible, increase the time slightly, but keep parameters on it.
  • Amass, assimilate, integrate, produce – always be researching. You can always get in touch with an expert by phone (or email). Keep calling until you find someone who will help you. Pepper them with questions. Put things together that don’t seem to go together. Keep attempting connections until something connects. Create and finish.
  • Simplicity of the quest – state the end goal as simply as possible. Put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Establish a working presence at the bottom of the deep ocean. The simpler the quest, the easier it will be to recognize wrong turns, distractions, redundancies, irrelevancies.
  • When you meet with investors, know your stuff. Demonstrate that you’ve thought this through before you ask someone to join you.
  • Distinguish between what is impossible and what is merely considered impossible.
  • Prepare for failure – Even when success seems inevitable, something may happen. Prepare for every contingency. Think through every outcome. Don’t be outsmarted by failure.

A Green Man

[Edit – I’ve actually finished this book now. I found this short post sitting in my drafts folder, so I’m Frankensteining it.]

I’m partway through Roger Deakin’s (not the cinematographer) book Wildwood, and I’m finding it almost exactly what I hoped: meditations on trees that vary from detailed (a whole chapter on ash) to general (living in houses made entirely from wood).

Random thoughts:

  • Wood is a bridge between man and metal. Knives have wooden handles. Guns have wooden stocks. The once-living connects the living and the dead.
  • David Nash, sculptor: three-dimensional art (sculpture, for instance) is experienced in relation to the human body, two-dimensional art is experienced more in the imagination. Also, objects increase in size when put indoors and decrease in size when put outdoors by a factor of about one-third.
  • Lots of interesting thoughts from Barthes and Ruskin on architecture and technology. Barthes: cars are the modern-day Gothic cathedral. They are almost mystical in their summation of our culture.
  • A bunch of crazy words: juglone, thwmps, bothy.

A Man Visits Sick Heart River

On Sunday, my father preached a wonderful sermon at TPC. One of his best, I think. He spoke of Christ’s loneliness on the cross, and afterward, a parishioner asked him if he knew of any artistic representations of that kind of loneliness. We have gory images in art, so we can imagine Jesus’s pain. But do we anything that communicates his abandonment?

Some suggestions were thrown out: Harry entering the forest at the end of Deathly Hallows; the film version of Endo’s Silence; part of The Power and the Glory. I mentioned Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest, which is a real bummer of a book. My dad brought up a John Buchan novel called Sick Heart River, which he had read years ago. It’s about a man who goes out into the Canadian wilderness to die. Google didn’t give us much information, until I discovered that the book was published in the US under a different name: Mountain Meadow.

I’ve been collecting books that have been released from Samford’s library. They put them on a little red roller shelf that sits in the lobby with a sign taped to it that says “FREE BOOKS.” One of the many volumes I’ve schlepped back to my office over the past few months is Mountain Meadow. When I picked it up, I knew nothing about it except that it was written by John Buchan. Now I know it is good enough for my father to remember it after twenty years.

Here are some photos of the object of my good fortune.