Category Archives: Book culture


Carol just sent me my horoscope, which quotes Rebecca Solnit on the necessity of revolution:

“I still think the revolution is to make the world safe for poetry, meandering, for the frail and vulnerable, the rare and obscure, the impractical and local and small, and I feel that we’ve lost if we don’t practice and celebrate them now, instead of waiting for some ’60s never-neverland of after-the-revolution. And we’ve lost the revolution if we relinquish our full possibilities and powers.” — Rebecca Solnit, interview by Benjamin Cohen in The Believer, September, 2009.

And this reminded me what Adrienne Rich said about poetry and social change back in 2006:

“Poetry has the capacity — in its own ways and by its own means — to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still-uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on owndership and dispossession, the subjection of women, torture and bribes, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom — that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the ‘free ‘ market. This ongoing future, written off over and over, is still within view. All over the world its paths are being rediscovered and reinvented: through collective action, through mahy kinds of art.Its elementary condition is the recovery and redistribution of the world’s resources that have been extracted from the many by the few.” — Adrienne Rich, Poetry and Commitment (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007), p. 36.

Type Greek

Every once in a while, I need to type something in ancient Greek. Sure, it’s easy to type Greek letters on most computers, using the Symbol font or equaivalent — but getting the diacriticals right, that’s a real problem. There are rough breathing and smooth breathing marks; and there are oxia (acute), varia (grave), and perispomeni (circumflex) accent marks; and a few other little odds and ends. You can find free ancient Greek fonts (e.g., Brill ancient Greek font), but then you have to change your keyboard settings; not something I want to do when I only need to type in ancient Greek once a year or so.

Then I found this great Web site, TypeGreek. You can learn their simple system for typing accents in about 4 seconds. Then just cut and paste the text into your favorite word processor. And if you can’t get the font to work in your word processor, or if you want to use it on the Web, do a screenshot and insert the image into the document:

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 6.14.29 PM

How easy is that?

William R. Jones writing retreat

Hassahan Batts writes: “Practitioners Research and Scholarship Institute ( is having another writing retreat where we are bringing together students of Dr. Jones in Allentown, Pennsylvania. If interested please email .”

No date given, so if you’re interested I’d suggest writing to the above email address right away.

Go to a bookstore

It’s the last day of Banned Books Week 2015. Local bookstores are often on the front lines of fighting local book bans. (And while I rely on the big behemoth booksellers, face-to-face bookstores can be centers of cultural resistance in a way that chain bookstores and online booksellers will never be.) With that in mind, I dug up some bookmarks from some of my favorite local bookstores:


Poems as theology

I have a tough time reading academic theology, and prefer to get my theological fix from poetry. I’m promiscuous in my theological tastes when it comes to poetry — how can I resist the cranky Buddhism of Gary Snyder? or the strange pacifistic Roman Catholicism of Denise Levertov? or the Black humanism of James Weldon Johnson?

Of course, sometimes it’s good to be parochial, and engage with one’s co-religionists. When I started listing some of the poems by Unitarian Universalist poets which have most influenced my theology, I realized that I prefer poets who are mystics and Transcendentalists. Since mystics and Transcendentalists are theologically suspect, I further realized that I shouldn’t be wasting my time getting theology from poetry rather than from works of academic theology.

Yet I’ll bet there are other people out there who get their theology in poetry. If you’re one of them, which poems have most influenced your theological thinking? If you happen to be a Unitarian Universalist, which poems by Unitarian Universalists are your theological mainstays?

And in the interests of full disclosure, below I’ll list some of the poems by UU poets that influenced me. Continue reading

How I read

Mr. Elphinston talked of a new book that was much admired, and asked Dr. Johnson if he had read it. JOHNSON. ‘I have looked into it.’ ‘What, (said Elphinston,) have you not read it through? Johnson, offended at being so pressed, and so obliged to own his cursory mode of reading, answered tartly, ‘No, Sir, do you read books through?’

James Boswell, Life of Johnson, April 19, 1773 (in my 1924 Oxford University Press edition, vol. 1, p. 493)

UNCO 14: writing as a spiritual practice

Mindi convened a session at UNCO 14 on writing as a spiritual practice, and as a way to make money. Participants in this session included several bloggers, a novelist or two, and nonfiction writers writing about contemporary religion. We talked a bit about the mechanics of the publishing world, and the pleasures of writing, but what interested me most was to hear about the writing projects people were working on or contemplating.

And I felt the most interesting writing project anyone described was a memoir by an unchurched young adult who became a progressive Christian. We hear too much from people who leave organized religion (usually in a huff), and from people who convert (often loudly and spectacularly) to conservative Christianity — it’s about time we heard from a None who became a religious progressive.

We also talked about how to make money writing. Carol said one editor told her that since 2008, books sell about half as many copies and make about half as much money as they used to make. Beyond books, no one seemed to have a good plan for monetizing a blog. There was quite a bit of talk about niche markets, and how to reach them. One final tip from this workshop: Mindi said that many agents use the Twitter hastag #mswl to request manuscripts on specific topics.

Questions for discussion

Driving home from the youth service trip yesterday, we were delayed by a major accident on I-5; what should have been a six-hour trip turned into a nine-hour trip. We spent a lot of time talking, and one of the more interesting conversations was a long discussion of the Harry Potter universe.

Here are some of the questions we discussed (spoiler alert: plot twists are revealed in these questions):

(1) J.K. Rowling has said she thought of Dumbledore as being gay, but when she started publishing the books it wouldn’t do to have GLBTQ characters in books aimed at young people. We speculated that other characters might actually be GLBT or Q. Question for discussion: Which characters did you picture as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning, and why?

(2) At the end of the series, we learn that Harry marries Ginny. There has been, of course, lots of online discussion about whether Harry should have married Hermione. But Harry could also have married one of the minor characters, instead of one of the central characters. Question for discussion: If Harry had to marry one of the minor characters, which one would he marry, and why?

(3) Final question for discussion: If you could be any character or creature in the Harry Potter universe, which one would you be?

The New Gilded Age

At the very beginning of the Gilded Age, Louisa May Alcott wrote the novel Eight Cousins. In the course of that novel, she offers several pointed moral critiques of the American love of money, as in this exchange:

“‘Yes, but there’s no time to read nowadays; a fellow has to keep scratching round to make money or he’s nobody,’ cut in Charlies, trying to look worldly-wise.

“‘This love of money is the curse of America, and for the sake of it men will sell honor and honesty, till we don’t know whom to trust, and it is only a genius like Agassiz who dares to say, “I cannot waste my time in getting rich”,’ said Mrs. Jessie sadly.”

— Chapter 17, “Good Bargains,” Eight Cousins

Today we live in the New Gilded Age. The only reason to read now is to learn how to make money. Morality is tied to value in dollars. And if we have any Agassizes today, their voices are so few and so quiet that they can’t be heard over the clamor of the marketplace, where everything and anything — honor, honesty, morals, trust, duty — may be bought and sold.

What I did on vacation

Some people take trips when they go on vacation. Some people catch up on their sleep. I’m taking a week of vacation, and I decided to finish up the collection of Christmas carols that I’ve been working on for several years, and finally turn it into a book. Here it is:

YuletideSongAndCarolBook“The Yuletide Song and Carol Book” — This is a collection of four dozen Yuletide songs, in easy arrangements for SATB voices. Songs include familiar classics such as “Joy to the World,” lesser-known favorites like “Sussex Mummers Carol” and “Los Posadas,” familiar songs such as “Go Tell It on the Mountains” that are hard to find in SATB arrangements, and a few little-known gems such as William Billings’ “Shiloh.” The texts mostly come from older Unitarian, Universalist, American Ethical Union, and Quaker hymnals and songbooks, and will appeal to most religious liberals. Suitable for carolers, choirs, and informal groups that enjoy singing four-part harmony. 8-1/2×11, 100 pp., $9.99.

Now available through

(Soon to be available for distribution through Ingram, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)