Off the Shelf: Flannery O’Connor’s Cartoons (& Her New Stamp)

Flannery - Twas the Night

I looked up yesterday at the local Half Price Books to see a display of Flannery O’Connor’s The Cartoons. Despite being a fan of all things Flannery, somehow I had missed this volume’s release in 2012. But the remainder list is the way of (most) all books, and also the blessing to all patient bargain book shoppers.

Flannery Cartoons Cover

The cartoons were done by student Flannery O’Connor at Peabody High School and Georgia State College for Women mostly as linoleum cuts. They are funny–some more so than others, to be sure–and touch on typical student themes like the injustice of writing themes over Thanksgiving break or the joys of summer break.

Flannery - Teachers

We even find that Flannery O’Connor predicted Twitter:

Flannery - tweeet

The book contains an introduction by legendary illustrator and engraver Barry Moser and an essay by Kelly Gerald placing the illustrations into biographical context.

Published at a price of $22.99, you can buy it at Amazon for $18.16, but don’t pay even that discounted price. I bought a new copy at Half Price Books for $6.99, and the ever bountiful Hamilton Book will sell it to you for only $4.95 (plus $3.90 shipping). No Flannery fan can be without it.

Flannery stamp

As an addendum, Flannery received her own stamp last week, an event widely celebrated. Flannery youngSome have claimed the portrait of O’Connor on the stamp actually doesn’t look like Flannery O’Connor. However, the photo of a young collegiate Flannery O’Connor used in The Cartoons is clearly the photo used as a basis for the postal stamp portrait. Lovers of Flannery, Southern literature, and good writing in general shouldn’t look a gift stamp in the mouth.

The Long Passing Away of the Visible: Fred Chappell Limited Edition Letterpress Broadside Available For Sale

Fred Chappell Back in my active letterpress printing days, the details of which I will at some point record here, I was blessed to work with wonderful writers like Wendell Berry, James Still, and Jane Gentry (Vance). The one non-Kentucky poet I worked with was North Carolina legend Fred Chappell, one of my favorite writers and later the poet laureate of North Carolina. (Adela Press was really a cover for me to work with writers I admired. Shhhh–don’t tell anyone.) If you’ve not read his novels I Am One of You Forever and Brighten the Corner Where You Are you should be locked in a room and not released until you finish them.

Fred provided me with an original poem he had written in honor of his late friend Jim Wayne Miller, a North Carolina native who graduated from Kentucky’s Berea College and taught at Western Kentucky University. Both are well known Appalachian writers, and it is fitting that Chappell begins the poem with the image of a mountain.

I handset the poem in Victor Hammer’s Hammer Uncial type, and printed it using a hand-pulled iron Washington press at the University of Kentucky’s King Library Press. The poem was hand inked in three colors and printed in one pull on dampened mould made Hahnemuhle Biblio paper in a numbered edition of 100, each signed by Fred Chappell.

Long Passing - title

It was the last thing I printed, and also the best thing I did in my short letterpress career. Fred Chappell liked it, too, writing in correspondence to me:

“It is lovely, edible, swoon-inducing.”

and

“I’ve never had such an opulent presentation, I think–in fact, I’ve rarely seen any so well done.”

True or not, I liked hearing it.

As I moved on to other things (probably should have stuck with letterpress) soon thereafter, I’ve ended up with several unsold copies that would be better on your wall than in my storage. So if you’d like to own one of Ol’ Fred’s limited broadsides, I’m offering some for sale. You can contact me via the Contact Page.

$35 each, including shipping in the US. I prefer Paypal.
12″ x 7 7/16″

Long Passing Away broadside

Long Passing colophon

Remembering Your Swing: A Review of Steven Pressfield’s ‘The Authentic Swing’

The Authentic Swing: Notes From the Writing of a First Novel
by Steven Pressfield
Black Irish Entertainment, 2013

Golf swingAfter years of writing unpublished novels, but on the verge of having a breakthrough as a screenwriter, Steven Pressfield’s Muse spoke. Listening, he decided to walk away from screenwriting and begin work on a novel about golf set in the 1920s. His agent fired him.

The Authentic Swing, written in the style of Pressfield’s previous books The War of Art and Turning Pro, is a record of the writing of the book that became The Legend of Bagger Vance. Pressfield explores the imaginative writing process and, above all, the search for what he calls the authentic swing.

Pressfield confesses early on that Bagger Vance was stolen. Well, at least the structure was (he encourages you to do this, too). The novel was based on the Hindu text The Bhagavad Gita, which he explains as a mentor-protege story. But the mentor comes as the servant–in the case of Bagger Vance, the caddy. Golf is not only the subject of the novel, but also Pressfield’s explanatory device for The Authentic Swing.

Pressfield - Authentic Swing coverGolf, as Pressfield explores, is an individual sport. You have no teammate to blame for failure. Even your opponent is not a direct factor on your performance. He can’t stop you. You can only stop yourself. Anyone familiar with Pressfield’s concept of The Resistance, the inner voice we each possess that seeks to sabotage our success, will recognize immediately why Pressfield was drawn to it.

Writing is the search for one’s own swing, the authentic swing. “[T]he golfer cannot swing anyone else’s swing. He can only swing his own.” Pressfield argues everyone’s swing is innate: “The golf swing is not learned, it is remembered.”

This is the search for what one is supposed to be, fighting the Resistance that so desires to excuse us to be something else. Golf, Pressfield’s metaphor for writing, turns out to be his metaphor for life.

 

Read the Pinstripe Pulpit reviews of Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro and Warrior Ethos.

[A copy of this book was supplied by the publisher for review purposes.]

Being a Man of Conviction: Eric Metaxas’s ‘7 Men’

Review of 7 Men And the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas Thomas Nelson, 2013 7 Men coverGeorge Washington could have been king. William Wilberforce was on a path to be prime minister. Eric Liddell had a guaranteed Olympic gold medal. All of them walked away. But why? Fresh from blockbuster success of his biographies of Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas returns to the biographical genre that has treated him so well. This time, rather than a full length biography on a single subject, he has written a set of biographical vignettes of great men of faith and sacrifice, individuals who achieved their greatness by sacrificing for a larger cause. Metaxas states that his goal is to address two questions with 7 Men: “what is a man?” and “what makes a man great?” Modern manhood is at a crisis, as most of us recognize. Metaxas writes, “Young men who spend their time watching violent movies and playing video games aren’t very easily going to become the men they were meant to become….[I]t is vital that we teach them who they are in God’s view, and it’s vital that we bring back a sense of the heroic.” Hearkening back to such examples as Plutarch’s Lives and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Metaxas believes that to have strong exemplars of what real manhood is an age old method of training for virtue.

Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas

As the title makes clear, Metaxas has chosen seven men for his twenty-first century version of Lives. It’s a diverse collection held together primarily by Metaxas’s personal admiration of those featured. Starting with the Indispensable Man, George Washington, Metaxas highlights the challenges each faced in life, but particularly the temptation of embracing personal success at the expense of what is right. What sets these men apart is their willingness to walk away from obvious personal gain, to sacrifice for principle and the greater good. Washington, having defeated the most powerful military in the world, did something unthinkable: he walked away from power. King George III remarked that if Washington truly gave up the opportunity to rule he would be “the greatest man in the world.” Wilberforce, who made a mission of ending the slave trade in Britain, and Bonhoeffer, who lost his life for plotting to kill Hitler, were obvious choices for Metaxas. Their stories are anchors to the book, and the chapters certainly lure you to read Metaxas’s full treatments. I found the chapter on Eric Liddell equally compelling. Liddell was the subject of the classic movie Chariots of Fire, which highlights his religious faith, particularly his refusal to run in his strongest event, the 100-meter, during the 1924 Paris Olympics because it would have required him to compete on a Sunday. Like Bonhoeffer, Liddell would himself die in a World War II prison camp. It was not the gold medal Liddell won that ensured his fame, but rather the one he refused to win. Jackie Robinson, Metaxas documents, showed the extraordinary courage of self-restraint as he broke the color barrier in baseball. Although taunted and mistreated, Robinson repeatedly turned the other cheek knowing that the ability of other black players to play professional sports could be set back years if he were to retaliate. 7 Men ends with chapters on Karol Wojtyla, known to the world as Pope John Paul II, and Metaxas’s own mentor, Chuck Colson. Wojtyla showed personal courage throughout his life in his opposition to communism, working behind the scenes as pope in his home country of Poland. Colson, who had reached the heights of power as special counsel to President Richard Nixon, saw it all fall apart during the Watergate scandal. It was then he embraced his faith, which led to his well-known prison ministry, a man of power and arrogance brought low to serve those who desperately needed the power of God’s Word. Metaxas is an enjoyable writer, and 7 Men is solid popular biography. Through this surprising collection of admirable men, we find that becoming what we ought to be in life is not a matter of circumstance or background, but, as Metaxas shows, a willingness to sacrifice, perhaps sacrificing that which we might desire the most. It is then that we truly embrace the heroic

.

Book Notes: The Impact Equation

Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, social media and Internet gurus, have just released their new book The Impact Equation, which challenges “Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?”

We live in a unique time. We don’t need permission or have to wait to be picked, as Seth Godin reminds us. Anyone with Internet access–and that’s anyone–and an idea can begin to broadcast that idea to a networked world.

Brogan and Smith propose their “impact equation” to explain how a message cuts through the noise so that it has an impact rather than ending up in the dustbin of Twitter.

Impact = C x (R + E + A + T + E), or CREATE. Yes, the acronym is a bit hokey, but it is memorable. Your idea has to Contrast, be different. It has to have Reach and Exposure. It must have Articulation, or clarity of message. There must be Trust and Echo, or connection.

The reality is, such strategic thinking really is necessary if you want to amplify your message. It may make your eyes glaze over, but at least some of this sort of heavy lifting is part of the process. It’s not simply content. In fact, some have shown they can be quite successful without substantive content at all.

Whether you’re spinning your wheels or just looking to get started in the Internet world, Brogan and Smith can guide you through the process of amplifying your message.

[An advance copy was supplied by the authors for review.]

Inner & Outer Battles: Steven Pressfield’s Warrior Ethos

A Spartan mother handed her son his shield as he prepared to march off to battle. She said, “Come back with this or on it.”

Review of
The Warrior Ethos
by Steven Pressfield
Black Irish Entertainment, 2011

Fighting the Resistance, our daily inner battle, has been a theme of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and its followup, the newly released Turning Pro. But Pressfield is a novelist primarily where he has focused on wars past and future. The Warrior Ethos grows out of the years of research and writing on war.

From where does this Warrior Ethos, common across times and cultures, originate? Pressfield sees it as a necessary component of man’s development from hunting band to tribe to army. “It all comes from the hunting band’s need to survive.” The Warrior Ethos “evolved as a counterpoise to fear” and “the instinct of self-preservation.”

Warrior cultures are shame based cultures–as opposed to guilt based cultures–according to Pressfield. He writes, “A shame based culture imposes its values from outside the invdividual, by the good or bad opinion of the group. The community imposes its code on its members by such acts as shunning and public shaming.” Pressfield tells of Spartan maidens who were taught to sing songs of ridicule aimed at young men who did not demonstrate proper courage.

The Warrior Ethos is not simply a matter of overcoming fear, but rather it leads to higher and nobler virtues. “Courage is inseparable from love and leads to what may arguably be the noblest of all warrior virtues: selflessness.” Central to the Warrior Ethos is respect of the group, the unit, over the individual.

For Pressfield, the prototypical warrior culture was Sparta, which found its highest expression with the stand of the 300 at Thermopylae. Leonidas led his men on a suicide mission that ultimately saved Western civilization. The Warrior Ethos proved its worth.

The book is filled with anecdotes from Sparta to Alexander to Gen. Anthony McAuliffe at Bastogne. For Pressfield, though, this is not simply of historical interest, but rather of finding principles that will help us fight our own battles. “We all fight wars….We are all warriors.”

This leads us from the outer battle back to Pressfield’s focus on our inner battle. The former is an outworking of the latter. In the Bhagavad-Gita’s tale of Arjuna and Krishna, and in Alexander’s encounter with a recalcitrant Indian wise man, we find that the ancients recognized that inner battle, too.

Man’s war with Resistance stretches back over millennia, each generation, each individual fighting the same battle again and again. It is the battle with themselves. It is only with the Warrior Ethos that we will beat back our own Resistance.

 

[Related: Review of Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro]

A Week in Corinth With Ben Witherington

Review of
A Week in the Life of Corinth
by Ben Witherington III
IVP Academic, 2012 | $16

Anyone who has studied Scripture has faced the challenge of understanding historical and cultural context. Asbury Theological Seminary professor Ben Witherington III has made a career of explaining just that with his series of “socio-rhetorical” commentaries on New Testament books. His new A Week in the Life of Corinth approaches the issue of cultural background with a different method: historical fiction.

The setting is the time of Paul’s residence in Corinth recorded by Luke in Acts 18. Witherington follows Paul as he works as a tent maker and through his appearance before Roman proconsul Gallio. Paul’s presence is a unifying element in Witherington’s fictional account, but the real protagonist is a freedman named Nicanor, a former slave of Erastos. Erastos is running for town aedile, a Roman magistrate akin to a treasurer (we know he wins from Romans 16:23 where he is mentioned as “Erastus”).

Witherington tells a story of intrigue that involves Erastos’s rival for the office of aedile, Aemilianus who is a ruthless man of privilege. Through the story we explore the role of the pagan temples in daily life as well as the complicated world of patron and client social roles. Nicanor is a man on the make whose loyalties and religious views are challenged. He is forced by circumstance to make life changing decisions.

The idea of teaching history through fiction is a time honored method. It makes the past come alive through story rather than lecture, showing rather than telling. If done well, historical fiction can open up a long gone era far more vividly than a straightforward history.

Witherington straddles the fence as he both tells and shows. His story is interspersed with “A Closer Look” inset boxes as well as maps and pictures that explain issues raised in the narrative. These can sometimes be distracting to the story flow, but serve well Witherington’s overall goal of providing background for Acts era Corinth.

Witherington’s plot and characters are strong enough to make reading the book pleasant. There are occasional anachronisms such as a reference to a horse’s stirrup (not used in Europe for several centuries), as well as Witherington’s corny references to such things as “an offer you can’t refuse” and “live long and prosper.”

The weakest point of the book, however, is Witherington’s imagining of a Christian worship service at the home of Erastos. Although Witherington uses a long quote from 1 Corinthians 11 when Paul leads the Lord’s supper, Witherington appends the communion service to the end of a common meal, which is something Paul specifically condemns in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22.

There is also questionable use of women speaking in the assembly and the voice of Jesus speaking through a prophetess in an assembly. One must be careful about literally putting words in Jesus’ mouth (or, I suppose, putting Jesus’ words in someone else’s mouth) particularly in a context for which there is no precedent. I did find Witherington’s application of 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 regarding a visitor to the assembly intriguing.

Other theological biases (or modern projections) appear when slaves play the lyre during hymn singing (another anachronism) and communion is taken by dipping bread in a goblet of wine. The goal is for our worship to look like those of the first century rather than vice versa.

Despite the frustrations, the novel has enough useful historical background material to reward the critical reader. The preacher, Bible class teacher or independent student will find value from Witherington’s foray into historical fiction. A Week in the Life of Corinth stands as a useful companion to the standard commentary and reference works.

Kicking the Resistance

Review of
Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work
by Steven Pressfield
Black Irish, 2012

Resistance. You face it (whether you know it or not). I face it (all. the. time.). Steven Pressfield has made a mini-career of writing about it, and we are the better for it.

Author of numerous novels exploring warfare in the past, and even the future, Pressfield also explores our inner warfare, the struggle that keeps us from creating, from doing the work. He first wrote of that Resistance in the classic The War of Art. The Resistance is that inner self that seeks to distract us, sabotage us. It is why during finals week I had the irresistible urge to go to the local arcade rather than study Latin. It’s why you check your email/Facebook/Twitter every five minutes. It’s why some turn to alcohol or drugs. Why aren’t you able to finish that novel, dissertation or sermon series? Doing the work, it turns out, looks a lot like work.

It is both a comfort to know that one is not waging the only such battle, but also sobering when confronted with the reality of our own shortcomings. The Resistance leverages our weaknesses against us and, most of all, our fears so that the work we should be doing, that Great Thing, never gets done.

In this sequel to The War of Art, Pressfield uses the battle with the Resistance as a jumping off point to discuss what the transformation from an Amateur (one controlled by the Resistance) to a Pro (one who controls the Resistance) looks like. Those are the only options. One can never vanquish Resistance.

Pressfield breaks Turning Pro into three sections “The Amateur Life,” “Self-Inflicted Wounds” and “The Professional Mindset.” As is his wont, Pressfield tells his story through small, often less than one page, vignettes. Most are autobiographical.

Initially, he was in hiding from his desire to write. Pressfield reveals, “In the back of my Chevy van, under piles of junk and rusting spare parts, sat my ancient Smith-Corona typewriter. Why didn’t I throw it away? I certainly wasn’t using it.” The quest away from that work, driven by his own Resistance, takes him from picking apples in Washington state to truck driving.

Pressfield puts forth a theory of “shadow careers.” These are lived out metaphors for our true calling. The Resistance pushes us away from what we ought to be doing into something lesser for “[i]f we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.” But while we are insulating ourselves from failure, that shadow career can also point us to the substance that it is obscuring.

At root “[t]he amateur,” Pressfield explains, “is a narcissist.” And “the amateur’s self-inflation prevents him from acting. He takes himself and the consequences of his actions so seriously that he paralyzes himself.” Ease of distraction, jealousy, seeking instant gratification are all the marks of the amateur.

But life becomes simple (as distinct from easy) when we turn pro: “we stop fleeing.” The pro has a different mindset. He embraces habit and constancy. Pressfield asks, “Do you understand how the mystery can be approached via order?”

Like The Art of War, Turning Pro is a challenge. It is a challenge to stand up to the Resistance that weighs us down, that tricks us, and lies to us. It makes us stop looking through a glass darkly, but finally face to face.

Pressfield writes in many ways as an old pagan rather than from a Christian worldview. He comes to us from Sparta rather than Jerusalem. But while some of his pronouncements may run counter to our sensibilities, in its essential elements Pressfield is writing truth. It is a truth that we will recognize one way or another if we are ever to do that thing we are supposed to do.

As Pressfield writes, “Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.”

 

Wrecking Your Life

Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life
by Jeff Goins
Moody Publishers, 2012
[At the time of this writing you can buy Wrecked for $.99 for Kindle.]

The longing for heaven, even among Christians, likely is at an all time low in the Western world. Technology, wealth, “progress,” have done well in providing a comfortable, insulated existence for us. We are all bubble boys now, and as a result we are at ease on earth with little perceived need of heaven. Satan has anesthetized us with materialism, tricked us into turning God’s material blessings against ourselves.

Jeff Goins has written a book about what happens when a fallen world intrudes into that bubble. It surprises us, makes us uncomfortable. We are “disabused of the status quo.” Goins argues it can leave us wrecked.

Goins recounts his personal experiences from Spain and Mexico to the streets of Nashville as he comes face to face with beggars, the homeless and destitute single mothers. Goins writes, “these are the experiences we need. Our brokenheartedness at the injustices we witness is what gives us compassion. So when we rush past these messy and uncomfortable moments we take away the experiences that teach us mercy.”

It also challenges our self-centered assumptions about life. “We’ve believed a lie. We’ve been told life is about us.” Being wrecked is when we are whacked on the side of the head with the realization that it is not.

Built around the framework of Goins’s own life experience, Wrecked also includes episodes from others, mostly missionaries. By day, Goins works for a mission organization helping missionaries tell their stories. It’s a job that constantly brings him into contact with the newly wrecked, men and women often overwhelmed when they come face to face with the distress and poverty that exists beyond our shores.

Goins recounts the restlessness that the “wrecked” feeling brings, that it can lead to a dangerous self-righteousness, looking for hits of compassion to assuage the guilt. But these are in some ways necessary stages to lead us to a point where we can truly be useful.

Being wrecked is in some ways an easy thing. It’s not comfortable; it is reorienting. But the initial realization that there is suffering is but a first step. Some never move past this stage. Their lives can become chaotic, overwhelmed with trying to fix the world. Goins rightly warns, “The world is broken and remains that way, in spite of our efforts to help it.”

In perhaps the most valuable section of Wrecked, Goins calls for moving into a life of mature commitment. This is not simply a commitment to helping others, but creating a habit of balanced commitment in our lives: a commitment to our marriages, our children, our church, our jobs. It’s picking up our lives when the adventure ends, which is when we begin to have true lasting impact on the world. Goins writes, “God wants to use our restlessness to call us out of the world and into a new reality characterized by order, not chaos.”

Goins’s book is not easy. It’s often raw. And it does challenge, challenges us to do the hard things, not the exciting things. He tells us, “What you ought to be looking for in your search for your life’s calling is struggle, not resolution.”

Indeed, “it’s hard to get your heart broken on the couch. You have to go.”