April 14, 2015
"The war tried to kill us in the spring." From the first sentence of The Yellow Birds, we know that we are in capable hands. Kevin Powers is the well-named author who uses his formidable talent with understated power.
Private Bartle and his buddy Private Murphy do all they can to keep from becoming the one thousandth American death in Iraq. Yet thinking only of staying alive, they descend into deadness. The killing and destruction around them make them numb to life. They become increasingly incapable of experiencing joy or sorrow, hope or fear, love or hate.
Ten or twenty pages into this short novel, I thought, this is like an updated All Quiet on the Western Front. Like that classic, this is a first-person tale of a soldier caught in a war he doesn't quite understand, though the setting here is recent-day Iraq instead of early twentieth-century Europe. In both books the humanity of the main character fades away as each shocking, gruesome and agonizing experience loses its potency and becomes just one more event in a string of unremarkable events.
One of the ironies of my own reading was that halfway through the book I noticed the blurb on the front cover from Tom Wolfe: "The All Quiet on the Western Front of America's Arab wars." And so it is.
Powers effectively uses the technique of shifting back and forth between the war and Private Bartle's time back home afterward. It's a good thing too. We could not take the unrelenting grimness of his war experiences. We as readers need to go on leave ourselves.
Without a doubt this is the best-written book I've read in the past year. Certainly one of the most potent in many a year.
March 24, 2015
What to do with footnotes has been a problem since Gutenberg. To some they are an aggravation on par with elevator music and cable company service. To others they are the glory of the published word.
For those who want to be able to follow an author's sources, and for authors who want to make comments that don't interrupt the flow of the main text, notes are indispensible.
Two main categories of solutions hold sway: Put the notes at the foot of the page (so, footnotes) or at the end of the book (thus, endnotes). The advantage of footnotes is the information is right there for the reader. No turning pages; no disruption. But it can be distracting for those who don't care. Footnotes can be also make a book look intimidating--too smart for me.
The alternative is endnotes. No disruption, no intimidation, but it is more of a nuisance to find them at the back of the book if you are curious. As a result, academic books tend to use footnotes and general market books more often use endnotes. Keeping in mind the needs of the primary reader in each case is key.
But there is a third solution which is the worst of both possible worlds. That is end-of-chapter notes. With endnotes, at least a reader knows where to find them relatively easily. Not so with end-of-chapter notes. Readers have to flip forward, flip back, flip forward, flip back, until they find the notes--and even then readers may not be sure if they are at the end of the right chapter or not. Running heads only help if you remember the name of the chapter!
And yes, even for a man who loves the feel and smell of print and ink, I must confess that linked notes in an ebook is an elegant solution. Easy navigation back and forth. And I'm glad that IVP was one of the first publishers to routinely offer this feature in its ebooks.
IVP has stopped using a fourth option--"hidden" endnotes (without numbers) for two main reasons: ebook production and reader usability. Yes, it can be a cleaner reading experience without numbers embedded in the text, but readers may not realize that there are notes until they get to the end of the book. And for the ebook versions, with no note numbers, you'd have to tag some piece of the text itself, which has to be done manually and can delay ebook release.
So footnotes? Sure. Endnotes? That can work too. Linked notes? Sounds great. End-of-chapter notes? Never.
March 10, 2015
As we come up on the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, a must read is April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik. An historian and diplomat, Winik had the opportunity to see first-hand how civil wars around the world so often end so badly--either in the genocide of the losing side or an interminable guerrilla insurgency. Neither happened in the United States. This the remarkable story of why.
March 4, 2015
Troglodytes like myself have been slow to pick up on technology. You've heard of "early adopters" and "digital natives." I proudly consider myself to be a digital dinosaur. Years after the Kindle arrived, I got one. And just recently I went over to the dark side of a smart phone.
I do find my Kindle handy for carrying around a raft of proposed manuscripts IVP is considering for publication--as well as books we've already published. I generally am happier reading my Kindle when it is light reading. If the book is something I want to slowly study and digest, it's print for me.Continue reading "Is Print Better?"
January 28, 2015
The history of evangelicalism and the life of the mind is both well-chronicled and checkered. While Jonathan Edwards is hailed by some as the greatest intellect (not just evangelical intellect) in American history, suspicion and anger has often boiled over from within evangelicalism against the university world. The 1925 Scopes Trial, for example, set off decades of distrust that affected generations of Bible-believing Christians.
Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Seminary, is one such believer. He admired those who voiced simple faith in the face of intellectual challenges. Today Mouw is still sympathetic to those who think that being educated can draw one away from being holy. But he knows too that this is a false choice. One can also be a godly thinker or a sinful dimwit.Continue reading "The Life of the Mind"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:35 AM
January 13, 2015
"The movie is never as good as the book," so the saying goes. As always, there are exceptions; for example The Hunger Games and Tuesdays with Morrie were both better on the screen. Having read Unbroken when it first came out and now having seen the movie, I feel that the question is somewhat irrelevant. Both are excellent--and different.
Laura Hillenbrand's book tells an astonishing true tale. Louie Zamperini had a half dozen amazing episodes in his life--and if only one had happened, the book would have been a remarkable account of perseverance and strength in the midst of adversity. But all six episodes happened--to one man.Continue reading "Better Than the Movie?"