Tag Archives: literature

Cracked and Yellowed vs. Freshley Pressed

Teddy Roosevelt

Please take my hand. I’d like to lead you to the literary place I’ve just now found. We will be traveling to Chapter 1, page 4 of “Theodore Roosevelt and His Time,” from the Yale Chronicles of America series, published in 1912.

Young master Roosevelt has just described being bullied by two boys his age on a stagecoach, writing that he was a “foreordained and predestined victim” for their rough teasing, and they “industriously proceeded to make his life miserable.”

After sharing that he could stand it no longer and engaged in the fight, he recounted feeling completely humiliated that either boy alone could handle him easily. He nary made a mark or any gain toward doing a lick of damage in return for what they were dishing out to him. It was after that incident he decided he must learn to defend himself.

Flash forward to his college days. The scene is now the still-primitive history of the Dakotas, but settlement is evident everywhere. Roosevelt wrote that the land of the West had “gone, gone with Atlantis to the isle of ghosts and of strange dead memories.” He further wrote, “A man needed to be able to take care of himself in that Wild West then.”

The action gets really juicy when the pages detail a story of Roosevelt entering a bar only to be called “Four Eyes” by a “grown-up bully” who taunts him. Further, the man announced to the room that “Four Eyes” was buying everyone in the place a round of drinks. Having trained in boxing ever since the incident of his youth, Roosevelt hit the man square in the jaw, and then again a cross punch to the face. His “1-2 punch” knocked the bully out cold and as the man fell to the ground, his head knocked against the bar for good measure.

Once the man came to he stood up, picked up his things, and checked on to the first train leaving town that evening. And that, my friends, is an account of only two pages of the book.

Cracked and yellowed, the pages of antique books invite me to their pages almost weekly. If you ride in my car and we stop suddenly, an antique book might slide out from under the seat and tap your shoe. If you dig around in my purse or briefcase, you’ll probably find another.

I am on a continuous journey in thrift or antique stores to find good priced books over topics that interest me and are in good enough shape to read. I hardly ever spend more than fifty cents for a book, but I can tell you that I get a priceless adventure almost every time.

While I love the feeling of opening a freshly pressed volume, I will always have a book from ages gone by to review, to help me reflect, and perhaps…to inspire me to learn boxing!

How about you? Any antique literary treasures you are reading?




Stories Written in Blood

by Josh Bottomly

Not long ago my wife, Amy, posted a picture of my night stand on her blog.

It was a picture of the books propped up on my stand.

From left to right.

Tim Keller’s The Reason for God.

Abraham Heschel’s God in Search of Man.

C.S. Lewis’s Quotables.

Eugene Petersons translation of the Bible, The Message.

And, N.T. Wright’s Matthew for Everyone.

An anonymous blogger saw this picture and posed this question directly to me (and indirectly to all Christians):

Why do so many Christians just read Christian books?

My first mental response was of course immature, arrogant, condescending, and reactionary:

How dare you try and pigeonhole!  I peruse the Fiction and Literature section at Barnes and Noble more frequently than I do the Spiritual Devotion section.

I have a undergraduate and graduate degree in English literature.

You name a classic or contemporary author, and I’ll bet I have studied him or her.  Shakespeare.  Check.  O’ Connor.  Check.  Camus.  Check.  Kerouac.  Check.

But later, after I had calmed down, I sat down to think a bit about that anonymous person’s question.  It’s an appropriate question, really.  And it was probably not meant to stir up conflict. But conversation.

So after some reflection, this is how I responded to this blogger.

Simply put: I’m interested in reading any story that is written in blood.

Take East of Eden by John Steinbeck, for example. Now that’s a book written in blood. Who of us hasn’t felt an acute sense of displacement? It’s not that we are living in the wrong place; just the wrong way. Or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  I’ve got a son now and the thought of dying for Silas – not a iota of fear. But the thought of Silas having to live beyond my dying love – nothing but fear.

Any story then that struggles with what it means to be human, what it means to walk upright in a bent world, what it means to live within tensions and questions and doubts – that’s a story I want to read and participate in because it is written in the author’s blood. Whether it is written by a Christian. Or agnostic. Or atheist. Or Buddhist. Or Muslim.  Because all truth is God’s truth.  And part of the theology of common grace includes the animating belief that when we tell the truth about our experience of being human, regardless of our “worldview” or religious belief system, somehow, in some mysterious way, a “gleam of the evengelium”, as J.R.R. Tolkien argued, shines through.

J.R.R. Tolkein, smoking his famous pipe.

So I pose this contagion of questions for you to ponder – Christian or not:

What books have you read that are written in blood?

What stories have spoken and resonated with your deepest humanity?

What narratives have shaped the way you understand the narrative we live in?

No doubt, I’m always looking for a good read. And by good, I mean a story where the author simply has the courage as Fredrick Buechner puts it,  to “open a vein.”