The Mother Tongue

First, thanks to Lauren for recommending this book!

The edition which I will be quoting from is by Perennial (an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) from 2001. I am somewhat familiar with Bill Bryson, as I once read his Neither Here nor There, an amusing account of his retracing, in midlife, his travels across Europe which he took as a young man. So, however informative The Mother Tongue turns out to be, I am sure to be entertained.

My interest in English is amateur, both in the sense that I am not paid to do anything with it (except, I suppose, speak it at work) and in the sense that I love the language. So I am looking forward to reading this book.

Note that I have used the label 'profanity' for this post, which means that at some point, I will use words considered profane. I will indicate at which point I do so; you have been warned.

The Wind Cries Kvothe

I have my work cut out for me commenting upon The Name of the Wind (by Patrick Rothfuss). As Keith said when he recommended it for selection:
I found the story to be really engaging initially, but it petered off towards the end (IMO). It still was a great read though, I highly recommend it, and perhaps you can put into words why I found the ending to be not nearly as engaging as the beginning!
So I have a specific task set out for me. My comments have to deal with passages that I think signify the shift from more to less engaging and, hopefully, illuminate why this shift takes place (if indeed I find it to take place).

The book itself is also more than 600 pages long, so I can't do a running commentary from start to finish in any case. The edition which I am using is the 2007 hardcover publication by Daw Books, Inc. I will cite chapter numbers to help if, for some reason, you feel possessed to get your own copy and read the passages for yourself.

Anyway, without further ado, let's look at The Name of the Wind. I should state now that, while I will try not to be free with the book's plot, I won't be working too hard to keep details out, especially if I need to refer to them to make my point clear. If you wish to read the novel without knowing what is going on, steer clear. This is also probably going to be more like a standard review, but I will work in as much marginal commentary as I can.


January Selections

Here are the three books I have selected at random to read and comment upon in January. Congratulations to those of you whose recommendations were selected!

The books chosen are:

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler

Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich

I would also like to thank those of you who made recommendations for January: Alyson, Dan, dee, Elizabeth, Emily, Matt, Paul, & Peter!

With any luck, having chosen the books in mid-December will allow me to get my hands on them in good time.

I'm looking forward to reading them; look for my marginal commentary on them, beginning in January.


The Four Pages: The Sermon

This is the text of a sermon I wrote according to the method of the 'four pages' which I have been trying to explicate in the past little while. I preached the sermon on Sunday, December 5 (the second Sunday of the liturgical season of Advent), and my chosen text was Matthew 3.1-12, which is the gospel reading for the day according to the lectionary.

I will include a checklist which is added as an appendix to Wilson's The Four Pages of the Sermon, as well as links to the rest of the posts in this series. The checklist is an aid to help evaluate the sermon (it is found in the book on pp. 261-2). Indeed, any sermon, whether it uses Wilson's method or not, can be evaluated by these criteria, because every sermon may contain material from each of Wilson's figurative pages. It is a matter of identifying whether what is heard or read belongs to one or another page. Should you wish to comment on the sermon, don't worry about trying to answer all of the questions raised in the checklist; if you like you needn't refer to it at all. However, it may be useful in evaluating the sermon according to the criteria Wilson has in mind.

First, to bring them to the forefront, the theme sentences I composed for each page for the purpose of writing an unified sermon.

Page One: The people of Israel needed to repent to be God's people.
Page Two: We need to repent to be God's people.
Page Three: God chose the people of Israel to be his people. [This is also the theme statement for the sermon as a whole.]
Page Four: Jesus chooses us to be his people.


The Four Pages: Grace in the World

Here I will be covering the last of Wilson's 'four pages', the page which focusses on God's action in our contemporary situation, with regard to the need identified way back when we were working on the unity of the sermon. In Wilson's discussion, it is 'grace in the world'.

My final post on the 'four pages' will be the sermon which I composed following this method, however imperfectly; so you will all have a chance to see for yourselves something of what it looks like in practice.


The Four Pages: Grace in the Bible

Continuing my discussion of Paul Scott Wilson's method of sermon composition, which he calls 'the four pages of the sermon', we turn to the topic of the third page (which Wilson calls Page Three), which is 'grace in the Bible'. The last two pages, you may recall (summarised here), dealt with 'trouble', the first as it is revealed in the Biblical text, the second as we find it in our contemporary situation (in whatever context).

This 'trouble' consists, in the sermon, of one thing, one aspect of life in the world which is harmful or which places the burden on us to change (either ourselves, our society, or the world).

I will explore what 'grace' means as it applies to the third page in more detail in this post, but in short it refers to the action God is taking (and, on page three, has taken, in or behind the Biblical text) about the 'trouble' of the first half of the sermon. Since for Wilson the proper object of the sermon is God and one of the most important tasks of the sermon (for Wilson) is to inspire hope and a sense of mission in its hearers, and to do so theologically, then it is appropriate for the focus of a sermon to be what God has done and is doing (and for Christians, has done and is continuing to do through the death and resurrection of Jesus).


The Four Pages: Trouble in the World

This is the next post in a series on writing sermons according to the method outlined by Paul Scott Wilson in The Four Pages of the Sermon. Before I get to this post's topic, you may want to see what the previous posts in the series were about.

Sermon Composition as Making a Movie
Ensuring Sermon Unity
Trouble in the Bible

The first two posts talked about the reason for using this method and the first major step in writing the sermon; the next four deal with each individual 'page' of the method; the last will be the sermon I wrote following this method, with requests for people to analyse it according to the method and see how well it does and - this is perhaps most important - where it falls short and could use improvement. I should point out that I preached the sermon on Sunday, December 5, so it was a real sermon for a real audience (congregation, to be more accurate); it was not only an exercise for fun.

On to the topic for this post, which is the second 'page' of Wilson's method, the page which deals with 'trouble in the world'.

Reader Recommendations: January

It's that time of month, for you out there to recommend books for me to read and comment upon for next month. I've enjoyed the recommended books for November (some of which due to various circumstances I have, ahem, not yet finished reading and writing about).

Before making a recommendation, I suggest you read the guidelines on the page, 'How to Recommend Books'. Just select the hyperlink here, or you can click on the link of the same name on the right-hand side under the heading 'Pages'.

Don't forget to make your recommendations in the comments section of this post!

For January, it can be any sort of books you have in mind. The three books will be randomly chosen (I shall draw them from out of a hat) from the list of recommendations. I will be selecting the books on Thursday (December 16).

I'm looking forward to seeing your recommendations!


The Four Pages: Trouble in the Bible

Update: Well, I'd hoped to finish this stuff last week for Sunday, but writing the actual sermon kinda had to take priority, for obvious reasons. Based on the reactions I got after preaching, with some in-depth discussion with the folks, I can say that Wilson's method of four pages works. I should send that guy a card.

Anyway, the first of the four figurative pages is, according to Wilson, 'trouble in the Bible'.


The Four Pages: Ensuring Sermon Unity

The first thing the preacher needs to do, according to Wilson, is, on Monday, to ensure that the sermon is unified. The mnemonic device for this is the sentence The Tiny Dog Now Is Mine, although I suppose any sentence whose words begin with those letters (TTDNIM) will do.

On Monday, then, the preacher's task is 'to identify: one text from the Bible [on which] to preach; one theme sentence arising from that text; one doctrine arising out of that theme sentence; one need in the congregation that the doctrine or theme sentence addresses; one image to be wed to the theme sentence; and one mission. [words in bold in the original; pp. 35-6]'

Let's look at this in more detail.


The Four Pages: Making Movies

I'm looking forward to next Sunday, the fifth of December, for I will have the opportunity to preach the sermon at my church that day; it has been a while since I last preached.

During the course of my theological studies, I learned a method of sermon composition called the 'four pages', set out in a book called The Four Pages of the Sermon (published in 1999 by Abingdon Press) by Paul Scott Wilson, who teaches preaching at Emmanuel College, one of the affiliates of the Toronto School of Theology.

I have found this method to be most useful in the writing and evaluation of my own sermons, in that I find I am more likely to say something worthwhile (this is not always immediately evident) and I find that when I receive feedback about my sermon, it is more likely to reflect what I actually said.


November Update

Having recently completed my marginal commentary of On the Beach, I should say that I am still waiting for the other two recommended books from the library. One may be available as early as next week; the next probably won't be until sometime December.

I've already noted that I will be changing when I request recommendations to take waiting for books to become available into account.

In the meantime, I will probably dig up some other book to read and comment upon.

'Sorry I couldn't get down to the beach'

If there is a lesson to Nevil Shute's On the Beach, at least, of the copy we have at home, it is the cliché, 'don't judge a book by its cover'. Because the copy I am reading from is dreadful to behold: a garish orange publication by Pan Books, with a naval man clutching a desperate woman (both drawn in that awful late sixties realist style) and, on the back, the whole story compressed into an unfeeling paragraph just to sell it.

The original book was published in 1957, so the events it portrays would have been, for its first readers, speculative fiction about the future, for it occurs sometime in the early sixties. The Pan Books edition I have (from which page citations are taken), was first published in 1966 and had reached a fourth printing in 1969, indicative of the book's popularity at the time.


On The Letter

Time for some marginal commentary on The Letter, a novel by Richard Paul Evans.

Unlike my posts thus far on the Harry Potter books, which have been, in essence, attempts at literary criticism, I will be sticking mostly to citing passages from this book and commenting upon them - which is what most marginal commentary in fact is.

References to page numbers are from the 1997 hardcover publication by Simon & Schuster.


Changing Reader Recommendations

You'll have to wait a bit for my marginal commentary on some the books recommended by readers for November. This is because the wait for two of the recommended books at the Ottawa Public Library is long, and I may have to wait until next month to get my hands on one or both of them.

Because I anticipate this sort of thing is likely to happen frequently (that is, that I will be waiting to get my hands on recommended books because no copies are available at one or another library), I will be changing when I take suggestions for books to read and write about.

I won't be taking reader recommendations for the month of December this year. Instead, in mid-December, I will hold my next reader recommendation post for January of the new year. If I sought recommendations for books in mid-November for next month, it would follow too closely on the heels of this month's post; besides which, I will be lucky if I get my hands on some of the books before December that I am supposed to have read and written about this month.

I'll be updating the page on recommending books to take account of this change.

Keep your eyes peeled for my first marginal commentaries on the books recommended by readers!


Tragedy in the Goblet of Fire

If J. K. Rowling had written Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as a tragedy, the protagonist would not be Harry Potter, but Barty Crouch, Sr.

Now, upon investigation, the story of Barty Crouch, Sr., does not follow the Aristotelean definition of tragedy; still, I think there is no question that Crouch is a tragic figure, at least if tragedy is loosely understood.

I want to explore the tragic story of the Crouch family because upon further reading of and reflection upon The Goblet of Fire I believe that it is this story that drives the plot. It is in many ways one of the most important elements of the book, and the degenerate form which it took in the film was a weakness. Barty Crouch, Sr., became a timid old fart; and Barty Crouch, Jr., a cardboard nutjob with a tic. One of the most enjoyable aspects of The Goblet of Fire (the book, I mean) is the discovery of the wider wizarding world, to which Harry has been (despite his importance as the Boy Who Lived) a peripheral figure, and which has a life and energy of its own apart from Harry and Hogwarts. The story of the Crouches is part of that world.

Dumbledore's epitaph on Barty Crouch, Jr. is applicable in part to his father: 'see what that man chose to make of his life! [p, 615]' We shall see how essential the tragedy of Barty Crouch, Sr., is to the plot of The Goblet of Fire, how the Crouch family dynamics and relationships implied or discussed in the book imitate, in however fantastic a way, those of ordinary families, and what lesson, if lesson there is, we can take from the example of the Crouches.


November Selections

I decided upon reflection to randomly choose three books for November, instead of two as I stated when I asked for recommendations.

Thus I've selected at random the three books to read (and comment upon) for November!

The selected books are:

The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

I am also reading a 'bonus' book, The Letter, by Richard Paul Evans (thanks Mom!).

Thank you to everyone who submitted recommendations: Dan, Taylor, Jeff, Keith, and Lauren!

Depending on how swiftly I am able to finish some of these, I may be able to read one or both of the other suggestions.

Keep your eyes peeled for commentary on these books, as well as my ongoing marginalia about the Harry Potter books.


Reader Recommendations: November

Here's the first opportunity for you, my readers, to recommend books for me to read and comment upon this month.

Before making a recommendation, I suggest you read the guidelines on the page, 'How to Recommend Books'. Just select the hyperlink here, or you can click on the link of the same name on the right-hand side under the heading 'Pages'.

Don't forget to make your recommendations in the comments section of this post!

I'm looking forward to seeing some interesting suggestions. Throw them out there, I want lots to choose from. This month, it can be any sort of books you have in mind. The three books will be randomly chosen from the list of recommendations; I will draw them out of a hat or something.

Update! The number of books I will accept for recommendations this month has gone down to two. The reason for this is that I have already accepted a recommendation for a book to read this month from my mother. It's the least I can do for someone who feeds me and puts a roof over my head. When I make a post announcing which books, randomly selected, I am going to read, I'll include this one and you can all try to guess which book it was she asked me to read.


How Not to be Virtuous: Wormtail

I'm not going to remark upon the use of time travel in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Captain Kathryn Janeway, of Star Trek: Voyager, once said that thinking about time travel gave her a headache. Puzzling it out certainly gives me one. I'd be interested to see if the Harry Potter and Philosophy book has an essay on the subject.

Nor am I going to write about identity and the distinction between appearance and reality with regard to it, as I did for The Chamber of Secrets, even though that sub-theme is even more prominent (and with all those shape-shifters in The Prisoner of Azkaban, even more confusing).

What I am going to scribble in the margins about is how Peter Pettigrew - Wormtail - fails to display virtue.


The Heir of Slytherin

The question of identity is of paramount importance in the Harry Potter series.

In each book, Harry himself undergoes the process of discovering his identity. This process is long, arduous, and dangerous; indeed, answering the question, 'Who is Harry Potter?', takes all seven books to do and changes the wizarding world.

The nature of identity is at the root of problems for a lot of other characters. The crisis (krisis, to make it less hyperbolic) of every person in his or her teens is to make sense of one's identity, and how a person's identity is formed in childhood and adolescence goes a long way toward determining what kind of person he or she'll be as an adult.

Books one through three, and book five, probably have the most to do with identity, especially Harry's identity. The Goblet of Fire, it may be said, is the book which identifies the Ministry of Magic for what it truly is, while The Half-Blood Prince is in large part about Voldemort's identity, and The Deathly Hallows Dumbledore's.

Of the books which focus on Harry's identity, The Prisoner of Azkaban is probably the best in that regard. But I want to look at the question of identity in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. One weakness of The Philosopher's Stone, it may be said, is its occasional clumsiness with regard to the matter of identity. The uncovering of Quirrell as the real villain attempting to steal the Stone is not well handled, compared to nearly every revelation of a similar nature in the rest of the series, and in some respects Harry's discovery that he is a wizard is treated superficially. On the other hand, The Philosopher's Stone has some keenly felt and superbly written passages on the need to feel belonging (a yearning most poignant in Harry's case), such as the following:
A horrible thought struck Harry, as horrible thoughts always do when you're very nervous [notice the clumsy authorial interjection]. What if he wasn't chosen at all? What if he just sat there with the hat over his eyes for ages, until Professor McGonagall jerked it off his head and said there had obviously been a mistake and he'd better get back on the train [p. 90]?
One almost believes that Rowling consulted widely among eleven-year-old boys for this passage, because Harry's anxiety could hardly be put better, from a boy's perspective. Those of us who are grown-up would not think about our fear of rejection in such basic terms, but this passage (except for the phrase beginning with 'as horrible thoughts') is a piece of perfect characterisation.

What I specifically wish to treat in The Chamber of Secrets is the sub-theme (under identity) of appearance versus reality. A person (or situation; but my focus will be on people) will appear or seem to be one thing, but will really be another. The Chamber of Secrets is in many ways the liminal book of the series. Had Rowling been unable to master her treatment of identity in The Chamber of Secrets, I question whether she would have been able to complete the series at all (and certainly the remaining five books would have been the poorer for it, even if the series were completed).

So, we'll examine some of the characters in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and discover how Rowling handles writing about their identity, particularly as it relates to appearance versus reality.


The Boy Who Lived

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
So reads the first sentence of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the book, published in 1997, which began Pottermania, a phenomenon which has yet to run its course; if it subsides, it will be following the release of the second half of the film version of The Deathly Hallows (in 2011) and the official Potter encyclopaedia which J. K. Rowling plans to publish.



If you've ever taken a book out of a library, or read something about the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, you'll have encountered marginalia, which are comments or illustrations in (obviously) the margins of books. Library books frequently have words, sentences, or entire paragraphs highlighted, underlined, or circled. Maybe you like to write notes in the margins or highlight passages in your own books.

I don't like to mark my books, having grown out of doodling (in books) years ago. But as I enjoy reading books and often want to comment upon them, I decided to start this blog as a forum for just that; better still, I can have a conversation about whatever books I am reading, and what I think of them, with others.

I'm also interested in the theory and practice of virtue, so this blog is also going to be an exploration of the virtues.

I hope you enjoy what you read; please feel free to comment - I look forward to some interesting conversation.