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The Dastard’s Dictionary: Literary Edition

For those familiar with Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary (an online version is located here), this is my attempt–librarian style.

1024px-Nouveau_Dictionnaire_Larousse_pageAdult, n. Someone under the delusion of having grown up. This delusion usually develops in conjunction with a teenage effort to extend one’s curfew.

Adult fiction, n. Adult fictions may be found in three categories–that the grass on the other side is greener, that money grows on trees, and that cats are nice creatures.

Book burning, n. 1. The enraged reader’s final recourse. 2. The enraged non-reader’s first recourse. 3. What some Divergent fans want to do to Allegiant.

Censorship, n. 1. Ship sent ahead of the fleet to locate torpedoes. 2. The humane alternative to book burning.

Contradiction, n. When the features of a situation are opposed to one another. Example: The librarian shelved The Brother’s Grimm in the children’s section.

Fantasy, n. 1. The reason people repeatedly vote in presidential elections. 2. The attempts of some authors to simultaneously show multiple layers of reality while rearranging aspects of reality. See contradiction.

Fiction, n. This word is imaginary.

Genre, n. The cell block in which similar books are imprisoned.

Graphic novel, n. Cheating.

Intellectual freedom, n. The right of six-year-olds to read things that only interest their elders.

Library, n. A place where one goes to steal DVDs. Libraries own printed books, which are not as worthwhile to steal, and some also have e-books, which cannot be stolen at all.

Mystery, n. A literary genre explicitly designed to confuse the reader. Psychologists have attempted to explain the value of truthfulness to mystery writers, but without success.

Nonfiction, n. Boring, with the exceptions of tell-all memoirs, which should also be destroyed, but for different reasons. See book burning.

Oxymoron, n. A contradiction in terms, as in the phrase “a serious work of fiction.”

Pleasure, n. 1. An excuse for reading poor fiction. 2. A reason for reading good fiction. See oxymoron.

Reading, n. This phenomenon is most commonly associated with one’s Facebook feed. Prolonged reading requires concentration, which may cause furrows to appear in the forehead, and is generally discouraged for cosmetic reasons.

Romance, n. The literary genre in which bad titles result in higher library circulation.

Thriller, n. Genre designed to increase adrenaline while one slouches on the sofa.

Western, n. A literary genre frequently written and read by people who have never ridden a horse. See wish fulfillment.

Wish fulfillment, n. Achievable by fairy godmother.

Young adult, n. An adolescent under the delusion that he is growing up, but ought to be treated as if he had grown up already. That this is strictly a delusion was made clear by the marketing of Twilight as young adult fiction.

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Posted by on September 23, 2014 in Humor

 

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To People Who Write in Books

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Note: I found this slipped under my door one morning. But since there is a bookcase near the door, I’m afraid that it didn’t slip under the door, and was slipped off the shelf instead by a badly treated copy of The Lord of the Rings. In which case I have at least one literate and very grumpy book in my bedroom. I’m borrowing my sister’s dagger. It’s not sharp, but a book wouldn’t know.

Dear poltroons, fiends, and knaves,

(and also some very nice people with poor study habits):

I write in defense of books—pure, clean, involiate. We realize that accidents happen. Little children want to read about Frodo, and they aren’t of an age to understand reprimands like Don’t read with dirty fingers and Don’t leave the book lying open for six weeks. We feel the pain of those mistakes, but we understand them. It is the adults who are the true problem.

My cousin lives in a library. It’s a hard life, but he tries to be understanding. His cover gets sticky, and the librarians are too busy to clean it off. His pages are torn, and there is nothing he can do. But he says the day that sticks out in his memory is the day a mature adult scrawled Frodo lives! across his title page.

Don’t get us wrong. We love to see people writing Frodo lives! on appropriate targets, like pigs, and bedspreads, and other people’s privacy fences. But writing in a book—a book!—is unconscionable.

We have feelings. We also have pages that are white where they aren’t black (or purple, red, orange, etc.). We would like to keep them that way.

Please, we beg of you. By all that you hold dear on this good earth—alarm clocks, styrofoam, and the little plastic microbeads that are currently poisoning fish in the Great Lakes—we charge to control yourselves. Restrain your pencil.

Better yet, burn it. There ought to be a pencil-burning occasion in revenge both for book-burnings and for all the damage we suffer when pencils are applied to our pages by people who ought to know better.

Many illustrious people have written in books. Some of them were monks. Those monks wrote notes in copies of the Bible. And since that time Bible scholars have been fighting tooth and nail about which words count as original text. People who write in books enjoy stirring up conflicts that can last for generations to come.

You may be thinking, “But I write in cursive. Nobody would confuse my pencil marks with actual text.” Try to remember that not everyone who wrote in books was a Gothic-scribbling monk. Vikings probably wrote in the books they stole, after they stripped all the gems off. And they probably wrote in the Viking equivalent of cursive. So by writing in books, you are joining with people of ill repute. (Or boring people–Alexander Pope wrote in books.) Also remember that there might be a dark age in the future. All elements of our culture will be forgotten. The archeologists of future generations might not know that you markings are not part of the original text. You could start a war.

You say, “Well, I want to stop writing in books, but it’s hard not to. I’ve developed a habit. What should I do?

First, try taking notes about the book somewhere other than in the book. That is the proper way to record ideas from a text, or your feelings about those ideas. Second, remember that there are nerve endings located within our pages. We feel pain when a pencil touches us. That pain leads to stress, which can lead to severe spinal injuries, which can lead to our untimely deaths. By writing in books, you may become guilty of bookslaughter. Third, bear in mind that we have feelings, including pride in our appearance. And many of you have bad handwriting.

If you ignore this warning, beware. You may have books in your house. And they never sleep.

Yours,

A Very Resentful Volume

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Humor

 

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A Summer of Books

Someone asked me a few weeks ago if I would be reading much this summer. I was stunned at first. Finally I managed, “That’s like asking me if I am going to breathe much this summer.” I think my initial shock is probably the sign of a severe book addiction. My family would certainly agree.

My room is dominated by bookshelves. Four of them. There’s the little one that I’ve had since I was in "Bookshelf," Tom Rustebergelementary school, the heavy one with glass doors, and the two matching shelves that are six or seven feet high. There are also books on my chair, books on the floor, and books on the night table.

As of right now, I’m in the middle of It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. It’s a fabulous book if you’re a Christian who is at all interested in the arts. It covers the biblical philosophy behind art, as well as an interview and chapters written by Christian artists. Also, it has pictures. (That is, color photographs, of artwork, in this case—unusual to find in a paperback book, especially one meant for adults.)

The book includes chapters that deal with theatre, music, and writing, but its focus is largely on the visual arts. I’m no artist, of course. Thankfully the book uses very little technical jargon. The book builds on some of the concepts outlined by Gene Edward Veith in his book State of the Arts.

As for the rest of the summer? A friend took it upon herself to get me addicted to the Les Misérables musical, so I’m hoping to read the book this summer. I need to finish The Iliad, which classes forced me to abandon. And I want to get into Dostoevsky.

Most likely, however, those books will get read very slowly. Having four bookshelves in your bedroom is wonderful. And their contents are a horrible distraction.

 
 

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Stealing the Right Books

It can be odd, trying to define what makes a “classic” book. It’s tempting to call classics “serious” literature, but some classics aren’t serious at all–some of Shakespeare’s comedies, or Alice in Wonderland, for example. There are, of course, theories about how humor is good for the psyche and so on, but it’s doubtful at best whether Shakespeare or Lewis Carroll were thinking about the psychology of the human race while they wrote.

A better definition of a classic book is a book that is simply good–it does what it is supposed to do. If the book is intended to be a humorous story, then it is as fully humorous as possible. There aren’t damaged or unnecessary elements that drag the story down. As a result, a true classic may be easier to read than some modern books.

Unfortunately, I did not begin to realize that until I was nearly finished high school. Full understanding took even longer. Most of the “serious” books that I read in high school were modern nonfiction. I assumed that old fiction was stuffy and boring (although, simultaneously, I thought I should be reading more of it). Then, as part of a library reading program, I picked up Wuthering Heights.

The library had loaned out several copies of the book, if I remember correctly, and only had a large print edition left. As a result the book was lengthened to roughly 400 pages and was as large as a textbook. But even though I wasn’t used to the type, the book captivated me in a way I thought impossible for a 19th-century classic. Typically what draws me into a book is a strong atmosphere, and as I read Wuthering Heights, I was pulled completely into the world of Emily Brontë’s northern England. The empty moors, the rainy nights, the darkness…I had no idea that a classic could so completely consume my imagination.

C. S. Lewis wrote an introductory essay to a translation of Athanasius’s De Incarnatione that addressed that very issue–the fear many people feel about reading classic literature. In his words:

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

Lewis went on to recommend that, for every modern book we read, we balance it with three old books. Not only are classics easier to understand than lesser books, modern or otherwise, they help us be aware of our own presuppositions. I haven’t reached Lewis’s recommendation yet, but I’m at least trying to change my current ratio, which is weighted more with modern books.

I don’t know whether Lewis would have considered Great Expectations an “old book” or not. But I’ve stolen my brother’s library copy anyway. I had heard the book was extremely long, although it doesn’t seem too length right now–certainly no worse than Three Musketeers. In any case, stealing books can be delightful, so long as you steal the right ones.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Classic Literature

 

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Digesting Presbyterians (Or, Reading Rutherford)

There are some books that are readable in an afternoon. I just finished one of those, actually—largely to break up what would have been an afternoon of uninterrupted studying. Then there are the books like Boswell’s Life of Johnson, which was rudely interrupted by the end of last summer, and which I haven’t yet picked up again (with apologies to the friend who started me on it). A month of reading only got me two-thirds of the way through, despite my initial goal of reading five chapters per day.

And then there are the books that take years to read. I began Samuel Rutherford’s Letters about four years ago. Granted, life rudely interrupted that reading, perhaps making my total reading time more like two and a half years.

In any case, I expect to finish the book after the presidential election—that is, the one in 2016. Yes, I lack initiative. But Rutherford also isn’t the sort of author that invites fast reading.

I believe it was Francis Bacon who wrote, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Not being a fan of Bacon’s, I consider that statement living proof that no one is wrong 100% of the time. Because Bacon is right. Some books, like my read from this afternoon, aren’t worth spending a lot of time on. But a few others, if read too quickly, are robbed of their full value. And the Letters of Samuel Rutherford is unquestionably a book of the latter sort.

Samuel Rutherford was born in Scotland around the year 1600. His father was a farmer, and the Rutherfords lived in a village where religion wasn’t something that the people generally connected to their daily lives. Likewise, the young Rutherford showed no evidence of any serious religious commitment. He left his native region for Edinburgh, where he received a Master of Arts degree and served as Professor of Humanity. But after four years in that position, rumors began to circulate that Rutherford had committed some sort of misconduct, and he resigned.

It was at this low point in his life that he seems to have become seriously interested in spiritual things. Rutherford began studying theology and, two years after his resignation, entered the ministry. But the politics of the time were not exactly conducive to an easy existence as a pastor. It was in Rutherford’s time that the king began attempting to fuse the English and Scottish churches together, an attempt that Rutherford fiercely opposed. He was also fierce in his writings against  Arminianism. Both positions combined to make Rutherford’s existence less than comfortable, to say the least. He was banished to Aberdeen at one point (where the clergy, in an expression of an unusually meek Christian love, began launching verbal assaults on Calvinism). He authored Lex Rex [Law Is King] during his time representing the Scottish church to the Westminster Assembly. That book, although written in the 1640s, came to the attention of a highly offended Charles II twenty years later, who ordered him to appear before Parliament to defend himself against the charge of high treason.

Unfortunately for the hangmen of Charles II, Rutherford was already dying. His message to the king stated that he had been called before a superior Judge. “I behove,” he wrote, “to answer my first summons; and, ere your day arrive, I will be where few kings and great folks come.”

How Charles responded to Rutherford’s impertinent message, I do not know. In any case, Rutherford died at home. The hymn “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” contains his last words: “Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”

I do not know enough about Scottish complicated history to have an informed opinion about Rutherford’s political involvement. I have not read his attacks against the Arminians, but, having grown up among Christians that were somewhere in between Calvinism and Arminianism, I doubt whether I would agree with all of his arguments. Yet, in reading Rutherford’s Letters, one fact shines through. Whatever the politics of his time, Rutherford never lost his focus on the most important thing—Christ. In the words of an English merchant: “[Rutherford] showed me the loveliness of Christ.”

Reading Rutherford’s Letters is humbling. Perhaps I could look down my modern nose at Rutherford, viewing him as an overly nationalistic Scot who refused to see the value of fellowship with certain kinds of Christians. But, whatever Rutherford’s mistakes were, I highly doubt that I love Christ as much as he did.

During his exile in an unfriendly Aberdeen, Rutherford wrote his friend Robert Gordon:

Oh, what do I owe to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus! who hath now let me see how good the wheat of Christ is, that goeth through His mill, and His oven, to be made bread for His own table. Grace tried is better than grace, and it is more than grace; it is glory in its infancy. …Who knoweth the truth of grace without a trial? Oh, how little getteth Christ of us, but that which He winneth (to speak so) with much toil and pains! And how soon would faith freeze without a cross! How many dumb crosses have been laid upon my back, that had never a tongue to speak the sweetness of Christ, as this hath! When Christ blesseth His own crosses with a tongue, they breathe out Christ’s love, wisdom, kindness, and care of us. Why should I start at the plough of my Lord, that maketh deep furrows on my soul? I know that He is no idle Husbandman, He purposeth a crop. O that this white, withered lea-ground were made fertile to bear a crop for Him, by whom it is so painfully dressed; and that this fallow-ground were broken up!

Such faith was rare enough in Rutherford’s day, and no more common in our own. And so I inch through Rutherford’s Letters, envying (in this case, I’m not sure that it is a sin) his love for Christ, and longing for the day when a similar love will be mine.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Nonfiction, Spiritual Writings

 

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Books Are Amazing! | IWasteSoMuchTime.com

Well…they are. Even in a world addicted to electronics.

Books Are Amazing!

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Guest, Humor

 

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