Wednesday, January 18, 2017

For the Glory, by Duncan Hamilton

If you've seen the wonderful movie Chariots of Fire, you know about Eric Liddell, the Olympic sprinter from Scotland.  But if that's all you know about Liddell, you're missing the rest of the story.  In For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Jour from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr, Duncan Hamilton tells Liddell's full story.

The first third or so of For the Glory covers Liddell's early life, university days, and his running career.  Hamilton refers to the movie several times, pointing out the occasional differences between film and reality.  Hamilton does not minimize Liddell's sacrifice not to run the 100 meters at the 1924 Paris Olympics, which he skipped because the trials were on a Sunday, but he does correct the record, which is a bit different from what is portrayed in Chariots of Fire.

Where For the Glory really earns attention is Hamilton's description of Liddell's life after the 1924 Olympics.  He raced for a bit after Paris, but by 1925 he was on his way back to China, the country of his birth, where his parents had been missionaries.  Liddell taught school, taught Sunday School, and preached.  In 1934 he married the daughter of Canadian missionaries.

Conditions for missionaries and other expatriates became more dicey and complicated after the Japanese occupation of China.  Liddell sent his family away to Canada while he made the heart-wrenching decision to stay in China.  Ultimately, the Japanese interned him and many other non-Chinese in a large camp, where he lived out his years.  He died there of a brain tumor shortly before the end of the war.

Hamilton emphasizes both Liddell's spiritual legacy and his legacy of service.  Liddell longed to know God and help others know him.  He wrote a book on spiritual disciplines that is still available today.  On prayer, he wrote that Christians should always have a designated time of prayer in the day. He was known in the internment camp to be up earlier than anyone each morning, spending time in prayer.  He wrote, "Anyone who, neglecting that fixed hour of prayer, [will] say he can pray at all times but will probably end in praying at no time."

Certainly one would be hard-pressed to question Liddell's commitment to service, given his choice to live and serve in China.  But during his time in the internment camp, that commitment became widely known.  All around the camp he was known as a tireless worker, a peace maker, an honorary uncle to the youth of the camp, one who truly led by his service.  When he passed away, the whole camp mourned for days.

Hamilton sums up Liddell's legacy like this: "Valorous lives like his--which must be calculated in terms of value rather than length--encourage us to make our own lives better somehow.  In his case that's because everything he did was selfless, each kind act bespoke for someone else's benefit."  Liddell saw his Olympic fame as a means by which God gave him opportunities to service.  His eyes were always on a higher prize; he knew that "the glory of gold was nothing in this world compared to the glory of God."

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, January 16, 2017

First Deer, by Brian Gasiorowski, illustrated by Thomas Hilley

For a young hunter, there is no better memory than getting your first deer.  In First Deer, Brian Gasiorowski captures the joy and community of deer hunting.  Thirteen-year-old Joe has grown up around hunting, but this year's hunt will be extra special for Joe.

Gasiorowski builds up the anticipation as Joe watches the signs of the season leading up to hunting season.  We read about Joe's life on a farm in Tabernacle, New Jersey, see him interact with the friends and relatives who prepare for and gather for the hunt, and pray with him as he asks God for help getting a deer.  Thomas Hilley's illustrations look great and add a lot to each chapter.

First Deer centers around the deer drive.  Unlike hunters who sit in a deer blind or tree stand, waiting for deer to come by, in a deer drive one group of hunters walks through the woods driving the deer toward a second group of hunters who are poised to shoot.  The deer drive a hunting style full of tradition and community.  Gasiorowski's detailed play-by-play gives a great feel for what a deer drive hunt is like.  Joe is thrilled to be a part of the hunt, a rite of passage to manhood for him, topped off by shooting his first dear.

First Deer is the first book in Gasiorowski's "Sticker Burr Outdoors" series, which Gasiorowski is writing for boys to "learn about outdoor life while being molded into men of character."  These entertaining and highly readable books are suitable for mid-elementary kids up to teens.  Parents will be pleased with the positive tone and the wholesome values the characters exemplify.  At the end of the book, he includes "Ten Commandments for Sticker Burr Boys."  For more information about the series, and about Sticker Burr Outdoors clothing and gear, go to

Thanks to the author for the complimentary review copy!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Grumpy Cat: Grumpus, by Ben McCool, et al.

You may have seen Grumpy Cat memes on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet.  You may not know (as I didn't) the back story.  Introduced to the world by her owner in 2012, her uniquely grumpy face became an internet sensation.  She has made media appearances and is featured on calendars, clothing, books, and the subject of this review, a comic book.

Grumpy Cat: Grumpus is a collection of seven comics featuring Grumpy Cat and her little brother Pokey.  They live a typical cat's life, and have typical cat adventures.  Of course, the atypical adventures are the more memorable ones.  The flea circus manager recruits Grumpy Cat to join the circus as a sideshow attraction, the world's grumpiest cat.  The humans all disappear and the cats decide in their post apocalyptic lifestyle that humans are pretty useful after all.  (It was only a nightmare, though.)  A grumpy cat is conned into being Santa's cat-elf and turns into the evil Grumpus.  A magical lamp opens up all kinds of possibilities for the cats' imaginations.

The stories are somewhat clever.  The art is somewhat attractive.  But the whole project seems sort of unnecessary, like maybe the memes were the extent of the humor that one cat can produce.  I can't blame the purveyors of all things Grumpy Cat for capitalizing on her sure-to-be-short-lived fame.  Kids who like animal comics and Grumpy Cat's internet fandom will enjoy these comics.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Trump Survival Guide, by Gene Stone

The overblown reactions to Trump's election victory have been remarkable and amusing to watch.  The weeping and wailing, the scare-mongering, and the plans--by the press, elected officials, and activists--to work against Trump's agenda are, in my my memory, completely unprecedented in American politics.  Sure, there have been unhappy losers, but the intensity of the reactions to Hillary Clinton's electoral loss beats them all.

Gene Stone has written a guide to help those who want to respond to and work against Trump and his agenda.  The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen covers twelve policy areas.  Each chapter is laid out something like this:
  1. Historical background of a particular policy, with emphasis on how George W. Bush and the evil Republicans tried to block progress and screw up America.
  2. The many ways that President Saint Barak Obama, the Holy and Infallible, worked to make the United States and the World better by his many unassailable works and pronouncements.
  3. The many ways that the evil usurper President Donald Trump will assail human rights, good governance, and common decency, overturning Saint Obama's good works and dragging the United States to oblivion.
  4. Ways that you, the citizen, can work to preserve sanity and work toward good policy even under the reign of Trump.
Obviously, I am exaggerating.  In case you couldn't see through my subtle elocution, Stone and I don't see eye-to-eye in evaluating the Obama legacy and the prospects of the Trump presidency.  You can certainly figure out from the title that Stone's agenda is quite liberal.  So it's not surprising that his policy proposals and suggestions for action are all quite liberal, and that he does not leave any opening for opposing views.  An objective analysis this Survival Guide is not.  I say this as observation, not criticism; partisanship has its place.

As much as I disagree with Stone's policy positions, I do have to give him some props.  The introductory background portion of each chapter is actually pretty decent.  He gives a quick nutshell, something like a Wikipedia overview.  Also, Stone's calls to action are very reasonable.  He lists some organizations to support, books to read, and offers a few practical suggestions for action.  But nowhere does he say march in the streets, block highways, chain yourself to a desk, or any other obnoxious "activism."  (Although I suppose some of the organizations he lists have been known to do such things.)  His assessment of Obama's presidency, unsurprisingly, is overly generous, and his predictions of the Trump presidency overly critical.  He talks about the "horrific possibilities" of the Trump presidency, but does call for us "to be disciplined and try to confine our attention to [Trump's] actions."

The Trump Survival Guide was not as ridiculous as I thought it might be when I picked it up.  Some keys to survival will be to realize that, like all politicians, campaign rhetoric is toned down to more accommodating positions once someone is elected to office, and once in office, a president's agenda has to go through many filters.  As Stone says, "most of Trump's drastic plans, if he chooses to implement them, will not be easy to accomplish."  His closing advice is worth heeding, no matter whether you're on the left or right: "Appoint yourself the ambassador for the America you believe in." Amen to that!

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Talking Back, Talking Black, by John McWhorter

A white person could not write this book.  If a white person said some of what John McWhorter says in Talking Back, Talking Black: Truth's About America's Lingua Franca, he would be labeled a racist.  But McWhorter, a linguist who teaches at Columbia University, can say these things.  He writes frankly about the use of Black English, calling on Americans to recognize its legitimacy.

When the national press got a hold of a story about Oakland public schools teaching "ebonics," McWhorter was teaching at nearby Berkeley.  He became the go-to linguist for interviews.  His goal then and now is to get people to understand that "black Americans' colloquial English is not a degradation of English but one of many variations upon English."  Many other people groups around the world speak differently at home and in the marketplace, school, or business.  Black Americans' vernacular language is just as legitimate as any other.

Most white people, and in fact many black people, find fault with McWhorter's stance.  But, he argues, Black English is not just bad English, or "a series of exceptions to using Standard English rules."  Black English has rules and structures of its own.  Further, to say that someone sounds black shouldn't be viewed as racist, but acknowledging reality.  "There should be no guilt in squarely attesting to the fact that there is such as thing as a black-sounding voice."

Ultimately, McWhorter wants "to help the reader actually hear Black English in a new way, to hear it as an alternative kind of English rather than as bad grammar and a lively slang. . . . It is spoken alongside Standard English, not in opposition to it."  McWhorter makes a good argument, but it's tough to get past the question of racism.  The reason it's not considered OK to "sound black" is that the implication is that the sound is inferior to white (or many other nationalities) sound.  The reason man black people do not want to be considered speakers of Black English is a desire not to seem uneducated, uncultured, or underclass.  It's racism. 

I am interested to hear from my black friends what they things of McWhorter's arguments.  But even to raise the question seems racist.  McWhorter himself points out that his black peers--Ivy Leaguers, professionals, educated and cultured all--"sound black" and even those that deny using Black English can be heard slipping into it every now and then.  So maybe, just maybe, he can break down some of the resistance to talking about the obvious. 

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, January 9, 2017

The 10 Cent War, ed. Trischa Goodnow and James Kimble

When the United States went to war against Germany and Japan, the whole country stood behind the armed forces.  Joining the cause and promoting the interests of the U.S. were the comic books.  In The 10 Cent War: Comic Books, Propaganda, and World War II, editors Trischa Goodnow and James Kimble have gathered a collection of articles which discuss the role of comic books in backing the war.  The comic book industry had grown tremendously in the years before the war.  Comics became a natural vehicle for propaganda during the war.

Comic books didn't have any trouble rallying against Hitler.  Since many leading figures in comic book publishing were Jewish, they naturally raised their voices against the Nazis.  They naturally rallied to the cause of the war, even without control or connection to the government or military.  "The unofficial campaign was as vigilant and patriotic as any government-sponsored poster. . . ."  Comic books even beat official U.S. policy to the punch so to speak:  "Months before the nation officially entered the war, the cover of the first volume of Captain America showed Steve Rogers (Captain America's alter ego) punching Adolf Hitler."

Several of the authors pointed out that typical comic books from the era were "often violent, overly polarized, frequently repetitive, invariable sexist, occasionally distorted, and routinely racist."  Well, yeah.  None of this seems surprising.  It's actually sort of refreshing.  Today's comics tend toward more political correctness than relishing in the black and white nature of comic book conflict.  Sure, WW2-era comics exaggerated racial stereotypes of the Japanese and Germans, but hey, they were the enemy.  Thus, propaganda.

These essays, written by a variety of academics, read much more like academic papers than like anything written for a general audience.  They tend to be rather ponderous and jargon-filled.  Not to sound like an illiterate boob, but the analytical language tended to sap the fun and wonder out of the subject matter.  Including more examples of the comics would have helped.  Even better, they should work on an anthology of exemplary propaganda comics from the era.  Even without an accompanying volume of war comics, the descriptions and analysis of the comics in The 10 Cent War inspired me to hunt down some of these now-classic comics and read them with the context of the war in mind.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, by Damian Duffy

Perhaps you have read Octavia Butler's 1979 novel Kindred.  If you haven't you should!  Butler tells the story of an African-American woman who is mysteriously and repeatedly transported to the antebellum south.  When a white boy who turns out to be an ancestor of hers is in danger, she is whisked through time to assist him.  Her life becomes tumultuous because she can't predict when she will be taken.

Damian Duffy has adapted Kindred as a graphic novel, with a satisfying result.  It's been long enough since I read Kindred that I can't tell you if Duffy is faithful to the original in all the details.  In the spirit and story of it, though, he certainly is faithful to Butler's work.  The art makes it more graphic--well, it is a graphic novel--so that the disturbing content of the novel is brought colorfully to life.

Both Kindred and Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation are worth your time.  The story is a stark reminder of the not-so-distant past of slavery, and the heroic lives many slaves led in order to protect their children and their future.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!