406. TMTF Reviews No More

I won’t be reviewing stuff anymore on this blog.

(That’s the short version of this post, so you may stop reading here if you like.)

Since the dawn of time—well, since late 2011—I have reviewed media for this blog. Yes, I know I have a problem. I have the spiritual gift of nitpicking. I can’t help it. Since I already reviewed things in the privacy of my muddled mind, it seemed logical to write expanded versions of those reviews for TMTF.

I wound up tearing through books (and later video games) faster than I could review them, so I eventually decided to review things in groups instead of individually. A single Review Roundup could replace five or six individual blog posts. Perfect!

A problem arose, however: Reviews become really tedious to write. In a small way, they also made reading books, playing video games, and watching movies kind of a chore. I found myself frequently making mental notes: I have to remember to mention this in the review. I can’t forget to talk about that. Oh, I’ve got to bring up this point. With so many notes and observations rattling about in my head, I found it harder to enjoy whatever I was doing.

In other words, reviews took the fun out of fun.

I’m always reluctant to remove features from this blog. I like consistency, and I don’t like giving up on things. All the same, like other abandoned features before it, Review Roundups shall cease. TMTF shall blunder on without them, with heavy heart and lighter step.

I don’t regret reviewing stuff. Reviews were good mental exercises. Besides, I’ll continue making mental reviews; I just won’t write ’em down anymore. Ending this blog’s formal reviews leaves more room for… um… whatever it is we do around here. Heck if I know.

There is at least one good thing we’re doing around here—we’re raising money to provide clean water to impoverished people for Christmas! Please take a moment to check out Operation Yuletide. There are even rewards and stuff! Check it out here!

357. The Reviews They Are a-Changin’

For years, I have reviewed books and video games for this blog. What can I say? I have a talent for being snobbish and judgmental. Finding fault with things comes naturally to me. It’s a gift. For that reason, TMTF Reviews have long been a feature on this blog.

This is about to change. I’ve decided to replace TMTF Reviews with a new feature: Review Roundups.

TMTF Review Roundup title cardTMTF Reviews are in-depth critiques of individual books or video games. By contrast, Review Roundups will assess several books, games, or films at a time. Roundups will be less formal than the old Reviews, offering brief impressions instead of long, detailed analyses.

Why are TMTF’s reviews a-changin’? The short answer is that comprehensive reviews are not much fun to write, and probably not much fun to read. As satisfying as it is to critique a book or video game at length, it’s also a bit tedious. Review Roundups will give me the opportunity to review more media without going into exhaustive (and exhausting) detail.

Review Roundups won’t be terribly frequent: maybe once a month or so. They certainly won’t take over this blog or steal the spotlight from… whatever it is we do around here. I don’t know.

Why do I review things at all? I suppose it’s for the same reason I write this blog—it’s fun! That said, I’m excited to continue nitpicking reviewing media for this blog.

325. TMTF Reviews: The Book of the Dun Cow

It sure has been a while since TMTF reviewed a book, hasn’t it? I blame Les Misérables. That novel is roughly the size of Alaska.

Some time ago, I set aside Les Misérables in order to read some books on loan from friends and relatives. (I’ll finish and review Les Mis eventually.) One of these borrowed works is The Book of the Dun Cow. This fantasy novel chronicles an ancient war against Wyrm, a colossal beast imprisoned beneath the earth. All that stands in the way of this unspeakable evil is… a pack of farm animals.

Was it worth putting down the story of Jean Valjean for the tale of some barnyard animals, or should I have continued Lez Mizzy and let the creatures of The Book of the Dun Cow fend for themselves?

The Book of the Dun Cow

Despite a slow start, Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s The Book of the Dun Cow is an engaging, original, and surprisingly thoughtful fantasy.

TMTF Reviews - The Book of the Dun Cow

Ordinary, Extraordinary Heroes

When the world was new, God imprisoned Wyrm, a creature of absolute evil and unimaginable size, deep inside the earth. God’s creatures, oblivious to the peril beneath their feet, live their precious little lives in peace… until Wyrm begins to break free. As his land is threatened by horrors he can’t understand, Chaunticleer the Rooster prepares his fellow animals for battle. There is only one gleam of hope: the mysterious and angelic Dun Cow.

The Book of the Dun Cow is quite an original work, though some of its elements are familiar. I saw a lot of Aesop’s Fables and a bit of The Chronicles of Narnia in this tale of animals struggling against an ancient evil.

One of the most striking things about the book is its avoidance of the sword-and-sorcery clichés common in fantasy. There are no swords, wizards, princesses, prophecies, or any of the other tired trappings of fantasy fiction. Like Watership Down, which spins an epic around ordinary rabbitsThe Book of the Dun Cow tells its story without depending on flashy fantasy tropes. It’s an extraordinary tale of ordinary creatures.

The novel does three things outstandingly well.

First, its characters are simple yet memorable. The author has a Dickensian gift for creating characters that are more like caricatures. Individually, they would quickly become tiresome. All together, alongside a few well-developed protagonists, they make for a colorful cast. The names chosen for characters are inspired—John Wesley Weasel, for example.

The second thing at which The Book of the Dun Cow excels is building up a sense of dread and unrelenting tension. This is not a story in which the heroes are guaranteed to win. Heck, its heroes are farm animals. Their struggle is desperate. Every battle brings tragedy and the risk of failure… and failure means unleashing an unstoppable evil upon the universe.

This brings us to the third thing: the novel has an unexpected theological bent. It doesn’t preach or moralize. It merely depicts the harsh reality of a world in which God seems absent, and the roundabout ways he works his will. (I would add this book to my list of novels that contemplate the silence of God.) This is a book echoing Job and Ecclesiastes, a novel that seems to cry out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Book of the Dun Cow isn’t just a fantasy. In its own understated, roundabout way, it’s a meditation upon the inscrutable workings of God.

Slow and Steady Wins Races, Not Novels

The style of The Book of the Dun Cow is excellent, wasting no words yet conveying vivid impressions. The dialogue is particularly enjoyable. Many of the animals have their unique habits and mannerisms. John Wesley Weasel, bless him, butchers proper grammar. Lord Russel Fox rambles with self-conscious verbosity, the Turkeys gobble with nonsensical extra syllables, and the Dog loses himself in such bitter self-reproach that it’s hard for other characters to get a few plain words out of him.

My chief complaint about the novel is that it takes a long time to get going. As much as I appreciate a slow, steady approach to telling a story, The Book of the Dun Cow hardly begins moving until nearly halfway through. The excitement of the second half is belied by chapters and chapters of meticulous and largely unnecessary buildup in the first. A few early chapters foreshadow the sinister events of later ones, but most of the novel’s first half is forgettable.

The Review of the Done Book

In the end, although it takes a long time to set the stage, The Book of the Dun Cow tells an exciting, original, and oddly contemplative story. After spending so much time in Les Misérables, I felt satisfied to finish a book for a change.

Now that I’ve finished The Book of the Dun Cow, I have just half a dozen or so more books to read before picking up Less Misery where I left off. This is going to take a while.

Thanks for reading! If you have a moment, please check out TMTF’s charity fundraisers this month and make this Christmas awesome for a person in need!

264. TMTF Reviews: Struggle Central

This seems to be a good week for reviewing things, so I think it’s time for a look at Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian. An alternate subtitle for the book could be The Book Adam Has Been Meaning to Read and Review Since, Like, Last September. What can I say? I forget things.

Thomas Mark Zuniga is a blogger, introvert, Christian, coffee drinker and wordsmith. When he released an e-book some time ago, I snagged a free copy for review purposes. It spent the next few months gathering digital dust in a folder on my laptop. Around the time TMZ agreed to write an excellent guest post for this blog, I remembered his book and resolved to finish it. I bought the paperback version—I will always prefer ink-and-paper books to virtual ones—and walked with TMZ through twenty-five years of struggles.

Appropriately enough, one of the first significant autobiographies in history was titled Confessions. For its author, Augustine, the story of a life is a series of confessions. Whatever our accomplishments, we make mistakes. We all struggle. Struggle Central, a memoir in the tradition of Augustine, testifies to the fact.

Is Struggle Central a good memoir? A good story? A good book?

Struggle Central

Despite minor stylistic flaws, Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian is an honest, vulnerable memoir that never loses sight of its purpose.

Right from the beginning, TMZ makes one thing clear: Although Struggle Central is his story, it isn’t really about him. The book is meant neither to shock nor impress its readers with his mistakes and triumphs. Its purpose is to encourage. It tells its readers, “You’re not alone!”

In Struggle Central, TMZ is remarkably honest, seeming to hold back nothing, making some heavy confessions. This is a book about loneliness, insecurity, fear and isolation. It deals with pornography, homosexuality, shame and doubt. If I wrote a memoir, I doubt I could be so vulnerable.

In all its confessions, Struggle Central tempers honesty with its strong sense of purpose. The book could easily have been a pleading, self-conscious cry for attention. It could have been a halfhearted attempt at openness, gilding its mistakes with excuses and rationalizations. Struggle Central is neither of those things. Its confessions are made as evidence of the book’s fundamental message: “You are not alone; there is hope.”

A number of the confessions in the book resonated with me. As an introvert, I relate to TMZ’s failed attempts to connect with people in churches. As a sinner, I understand the rationalization, shame and self-loathing in TMZ’s struggles to overcome pornography. As an insecure person, I know TMZ’s discouragement at how everyone else seems to be talented, successful or perfect. Struggle Central may not touch all of its readers, but it sure touched me.

On a literary level, Struggle Central has a surprisingly strong narrative. It recounts not a random string of events, but a structured story. TMZ doesn’t merely spit out facts. He highlights certain experiences, adding digressions and flashbacks wherever necessary to keep his story flowing smoothly. In the book’s story and structure, nothing is wasted.

The style of Struggle Central is a different matter: the book is packed with modifiers. If I had a penny for every qualifier, adjective and adverb, I would probably have enough cash to buy coffee at Starbucks.

Despite its many modifiers, the writing in Struggle Central isn’t bad. It’s engaging, readable, informal and crammed with sentence fragments and one-sentence paragraphs for emphasis. All the same, my nitpicky sensibilities were rubbed the wrong way by the constant use of modifiers and dramatic sentence fragments. The more they were used, the less impact they made. There were also a few puns and pop culture references that made me roll my eyes.

In the end, though, the writing takes secondary consideration to the book’s message and purpose—and these are excellent. Struggle Central has a clear and positive purpose, and it does a fine job of sticking to it. It could use a little polish, yet Struggle Central is a touching read for anyone who struggles—that is, for any human being on Earth.

258. TMTF Reviews: Orthodoxy

I received some lovely presents for Christmas last year: an Edgeworth-colored coffeemaker, a few gift cards, a picture of ponies drinking milkshakes and a paperback copy of G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

I loved Chesterton’s novels and stories, but I had never read any of his nonfiction. Orthodoxy and Heretics had been recommended to me for years by friends and teachers. It was clear there was no getting out of it. My unalterable destiny was to read at least one of these books, and so I settled upon Orthodoxy as a Christmas gift when my loving mum insisted on buying me something for the holidays.

Was Orthodoxy worth all those recommendations? Is this spiritual memoir a worthy read, or should Chesterton have stuck to writing stories?


Orthodoxy was thoughtful, engaging and lively—but not at all the book I expected it to be.

You see, I had assumed Orthodoxy would be a work of either apologetics or lay theology. I expected either a focused defense of Christianity or something along the lines of The Gospel According to ChestertonOrthodoxy turned out to be something much different, and much more interesting.

In his book, Chesterton lays out a sort of spiritual quest—no, a spiritual ramble, which began with his basic beliefs about existence. His views of the world required a certain set of facts or principles. No existing worldview seemed to fit his revolutionary ideas. Every ideology he tested rang false; every philosophy had some damning flaw.

It was with great surprise he realized his daring new ideals were perfectly matched to one very ancient worldview—Christianity.

Chesterton loved paradoxes: things that seem contradictory yet are true. It came as absolutely no surprise to me that Orthodoxy is packed with fascinating paradoxes from start to finish. Christianity, despite its ancient heritage and old traditions, is the most revolutionary creed on the market, maintains Chesterton. It is a system of ludicrous extremes, and it is the only system to make sense.

I wondered at the beginning whether Chesterton would try to prove any of his assertions by logic. He does not. In fact, he cheerfully confesses, “This is not an ecclesiastical treatise but a sort of slovenly autobiography.” Orthodoxy is not a work of lay theology. It’s more like a wandering essay packed with poetic prose and cheerful sarcasm.

Anyone looking for a concise defense or explication of religion in Orthodoxy won’t find it. The book is a lively discussion, not a lecture or sermon. For those contented to read a clever set of perspectives on faith and modern worldviews, Orthodoxy is absolutely a worthwhile read: thought-provoking, unapologetic and witty.

My only notable criticism of the book is the way Chesterton constantly alludes to thinkers ancient and contemporary (for his time) without explaining their philosophies. He tosses out names like Zola and Bellec, apparently expecting his readers to know exactly who they were and giving only the faintest hints of their ideologies. I recognized a few of these allusions, but most of them sailed over my sad, ignorant head. Chesterton clearly assumed I would be a good deal better educated than I am.

Its frequent allusions to random thinkers aside, Orthodoxy is a fascinating exploration of ancient doctrines, modern philosophies and the strange habit old things seem to have of being more revolutionary than new ones. Readers expecting structured arguments will be disappointed, but anyone looking for a wry discussion of ideologies sacred and secular is in for a superb read.

246. TMTF Reviews: Heart of Darkness

A few days ago, a coworker and I had an interesting discussion about lunatic asylums, survival horror games and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

My coworker had just finished a survival horror game set in an insane asylum. (Survival horror is a scary genre of video games.) It reminded me of an article that questioned the use of lunatics in horror fiction. While some victims of mental illness are certainly dangerous, it’s unfair to stereotype them all as murderers, cannibals or psychopaths. Most lunatics are innocent people suffering from mental disorders. Compassion, not fear, is the appropriate response.

My coworker’s game was apparently an excellent (and terrifying) artistic work, but its scares came at the cost of demonizing and dehumanizing an entire group of people.

That reminds me of something.

Heart of DarknessJoseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a great book, but not a good one. Its impressive style and thematic complexity come at the cost of human dignity.

Heart of Darkness is the tale of Charles Marlow, a nineteenth-century sailor who tells of his fateful trip up an African river in search of ivory. Marlow captained a steamboat deep into the dark, wild heart of the inscrutable African continent, meeting indolent Europeans and barbaric Africans—and one very terrible man, the tortured Mr. Kurtz. It is Kurtz who embodies the eloquence of Europe and the savagery of Africa, and Kurtz whose ambition and cruelty are finally summed up in four whispered words: “The horror! The horror!”

As I told my coworker, I thought Heart of Darkness was a fine artistic work, just like his game. My book made its point about human depravity; his game was very scary; both works achieved their ends. However, both works accomplished their goals only by exaggerating and debasing a group of people. His demonized the lunatic. Mine demonized the African.

At first, I didn’t think twice about Conrad’s stereotyped Africans. Racism was almost universal among the Europeans of his day. It was my cousin who recommended this thought-provoking essay by Chinua Achebe. Achebe, an African, showed me how Heart of Darkness creates a stark, racist contrast between the white European and the black African. Kurtz is horrifying because he—a cultured European—descends into the savage brutality of those wild Africans.

I get it. For Heart of Darkness to work, it needs that contrast. For savagery to seem savage, it must be compared to sophistication. Kurtz has fallen from Point A to Point B, and the reader can’t appreciate how far he falls unless she sees both points. Sane, sensible Marlow is Point A. There must be a cruel, primitive Point B—and Heart of Darkness makes Africans its Point B. The book debases Africa’s people not out of malice, but out of necessity.

That doesn’t make it right.

That is my fundamental criticism of the book. How could it have been fixed? Well, Marlow might not have sought Kurtz in the dark heart of Africa—the dark heart of London would have sufficed. There were plenty of debased, primitive Europeans in Conrad’s day.

Heart of Darkness makes its point very well. Kurtz is a fascinating character, and he’s prefigured so well throughout the story that I was almost as eager as Marlow to meet him. While the book’s contrast of Europe and Africa is morally questionable, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s artistically excellent.

The book’s style is either great or horrible, depending on the reader. Conrad’s writing is dense and slow. Thoughtful readers will probably savor it. Impatient readers will hate it. Conrad has a tendency to wax meditative for pages and then say something crucial to the plot in just a few sentences. I repeatedly overshot important information because Conrad’s style had lulled me into a literary stupor.

Heart of Darkness is a great literary work—but is it a good book? I don’t think so.

217. TMTF Reviews: Have His Carcase

People in detective stories have a way of finding dead bodies. Really, it’s ridiculous. Anyone would think from reading mysteries that murder is more common than speeding.

Harriet Vane, being a character in a detective story, naturally stumbles upon a dead body soon after the novel begins. She is quick to report the incident to the local police, and Lord Peter Wimsey—able to resist neither Harriet nor an interesting murder—wades into a case involving missing gold, deadly razors and sentimental old ladies.

Should readers, like Lord Peter, entangle themselves in this mystery?

Have His Carcase

I’m all for interesting murders—in fiction, I mean—but this is definitely one to skip.

There are basically two kinds of detective stories. They can be called magician stories and policeman stories. I prefer call them great stories and dull stories.

In the first kind of story, the detective is like a magician. As a magician produces rabbits from empty hats, the detective produces answers from clues that appear meaningless. When the detective weaves these clues into a brilliant solution, it seems almost magical.

In the second kind of story, the detective is like a policeman. As a policeman does dreary procedural stuff, the detective does the same: checking alibis, comparing timetables, interviewing suspects and eliminating options until a solution is reached. This kind of story is more realistic, and also less interesting.

Have His Carcase is a policeman story, and a dull one. There are few surprises or interesting revelations. I recall only one clever plot twist in the entire novel. This twist came right at the end of the novel, after many chapters of slow, realistic, boring investigation. It wasn’t worth it.

As an example of how tedious the novel can be, Lord Peter and Harriet spend an entire chapter solving a complex encrypted message and outlining every single step of the process. That’s pages and pages of dense, nigh-unreadable explication. After one or two paragraphs, I gave up trying to understand any of it.

There’s some interesting chemistry between Lord Peter and Harriet, but it’s mostly lost in the dull minutiae of their investigations. Apart from those two—and Lord Peter’s wonderful butler, Bunter, who I swear must be related to Jeeves from the novels by P.G. Wodehouse—the characters in the book are pretty forgettable.

In fact, the entire novel is forgettable. Dorothy Sayers wrote some great short stories starring Lord Peter Wimsey—true magician stories—but Have His Carcase is a disappointment.

212. TMTF Reviews: Scott Pilgrim

I’m on vacation this week, so my typewriter monkeys are handling all blog updates from September 23 to September 27. Blame them for any mishaps. If I get Internet access at any point this week, I’ll be sure to check in!

Relationships are hard. Growing up is hard. Life is hard.

Just ask Scott Pilgrim. He’s a Canadian slacker, twenty-three years old, “between jobs,” mooching off his roommate, dating a high school student and doing his best to maintain his precious little life.

Then a mysterious girl rollerblades into his dreams, and people start attacking him with swords, and things get complicated.

I’d been meaning to read Scott Pilgrim, a graphic novel series, for some time. My search at the local library yielded all six volumes. Was it worth it?

Scott Pilgrim

Heck yeah, it was worth it.

Scott Pilgrim begins in a very ordinary way: Scott lives an average life in an average city with average friends. Then, little by little, almost imperceptibly, things get weird. A girl skates through Scott’s dreams because they’re a handy shortcut on her route delivering packages. A man crashes through the ceiling and challenges him to a duel. Before long, Scott is picking up video game-style extra lives and fighting guys with katanas, all to defeat his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes.

The Scott Pilgrim books are steeped in magic realism, a literary style that combines ordinary stories with surreal details—in this case, video game tropes. Scott and his friends take for granted this bizarre blend of video games and real life. As far as they’re concerned, robots and psychic powers are no more surprising than cars or libraries. This weird, wonderful blend of mundane and fantastic is probably my favorite thing about Scott Pilgrim.

I was also taken aback by how compelling the story turns out to be. The early volumes of Scott Pilgrim aren’t particularly deep, but the last two take a surprisingly compelling turn. The books may not seem serious at first, yet they have meaningful things to say about the importance of growing up and learning to take responsibility. Even some of the story’s most ridiculous elements can be interpreted symbolically… or not, depending on how seriously you choose to view them.

Besides being unexpectedly meaningful, Scott Pilgrim is often hilarious. Characters occasionally allude to previous events in the story by referring to the volume in which they took place. A villain develops psychic powers because of his vegan lifestyle. Scott’s fights are taken for granted by his friends; at one point, they chat calmly about their lives as Scott struggles for his life in the background against a stubborn opponent.

Scott himself, despite being insecure and cowardly, is an inexplicably gifted martial artist. (Someone calls him “the best fighter in the province.”) He’s also a self-centered loser. His faults are played for laughs early on, later becoming a serious part of his character’s development. Scott Pilgrim is, appropriately enough, a pilgrimage: the journey of an irresponsible jerk toward being a decent person.

I should note that Scott Pilgrim has a 13+ rating, the graphic novel equivalent of PG-13, and it earns every bit of it. Characters smoke, drink, curse, treat sexuality with casual abandon and insult each other mercilessly. Hardly anyone—least of all Scott himself—acts respectfully or responsibly. To put it simply, most of the characters in Scott Pilgrim are terrible role models. The books contain no shockingly offensive material, but sensitive readers may want to give them a miss.

In spite of its moral shortcomings, Scott Pilgrim is a marvelously unique, gloriously silly, unexpectedly compelling series. I recommend it.

203. TMTF Reviews: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft

Before Stephen King and Ray Bradbury, before The Exorcist and Dawn of the Dead, before Resident Evil and Silent Hill existed the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft.

Don’t be fooled by his pleasant-sounding name—Lovecraft is one of the most famous horror writers in history. He created an entire mythology, later dubbed the Cthulhu Mythos, which represents our world as a speck adrift in a cosmos of madness, horror and chaos. Lovecraft’s vision of the world is named after Cthulhu, the ancient, tentacle-faced abomination which slumbers in a hellish city beneath the sea.

Cthulhu, more or less.

Cthulhu, more or less.

The Cthulhu Mythos is a minor phenomenon, influencing everything from modern literature to pop culture. Now, I dislike horror fiction. It’s grim and gross and creepy. All the same, I decided to give H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories a try.

The Best of H.P. LovecraftThe Best of H.P. Lovecraft, cheerfully subtitled Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, is a collection of some of Lovecraft’s most famous stories. It’s also quite a good read, with two great strengths.

First is the dark existential background of the stories. They feature pretty much the sort of scares you’d expect from horror fiction—insanity, cannibalism, monsters, aliens, gruesome and highly creative deaths—but they’re mostly depicted against the stark backdrop of an unknown, unfriendly cosmos seething with God knows what dreadful things.

Yes, declares Lovecraft, there’s a monster in the attic, but what really matters is that the universe is full of monsters.

The story that unsettled me most was the only one that was not a horror story. “The Silver Key” has some supernatural elements, but it’s not overtly scary. No one goes insane. There are no monsters. Nobody dies. What makes the story disturbing is its oppressively nihilistic worldview, its vision of a blind cosmos that “grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in the darkness.”

Lovecraft’s monsters are mildly scary, but what really puts me on edge is his philosophy of an empty existence in which life is fleeting and futile: a spark that flares for an instant in the darkness and illuminates nothing.

The second great strength of Lovecraft’s stories is their variety. There’s psychological horror in spades, from madness to cannibalism. Fantasy horror shows up in the form of demonic entities, ancient cults and dark magic. Much to my surprise, sci-fi horror makes appearances in the form of extraterrestrial creatures and eerie technology. Despite differences of genre, most of these stories are consistent with Lovecraft’s mythos, and the lines between genres are sometimes wonderfully vague.

Lovecraft’s literary style is plain and mostly unimpressive, and he occasionally tries too hard to convey a sense of horror by describing it openly. Dark hints would have been scarier than matter-of-fact phrases such as “Now, indeed, the essence of pure nightmare was upon me.” As Lovecraft himself pointed out, “the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” His stories might have benefited from fewer explanations and more haunting implications.

It is worth noting Lovecraft’s stories aren’t scary in the way, say, most horror movies are. There are few, if any, abrupt scares. The terror lies in the slow, steady buildup of tension. Impatient readers will be disappointed.

If horror is your cup of tea, H.P. Lovecraft delivers some genuinely creepy stories. If you’re sensitive to blood, existential angst or old-fashioned prose, Lovecraft is a good writer to skip.

188. TMTF Reviews: The Inspired Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln

When I read a book, it’s generally for one of three reasons.

1. The book has literary significance or has impacted society in some way.

2. The book was written by an author whose other books I enjoy or appreciate.

3. The book was shoved in my face by a friend or relative who commanded me to read it.

For the most part, the books in the third category prove to be good reads. I discovered classics like Beau Geste and Peace Like a River only because my relatives quite literally pushed them into my hands.

My grandfather, a kindly gentleman of tremendous intelligence, gave me a book last month titled The Inspired Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln. As far as I understand, the book impressed him so much that he purchased a brand-new copy for every one of his grandchildren—that’s roughly a dozen books.

If a book is good enough to buy nearly a dozen copies, I decided, it’s probably worth a look.

The Inspired Wisdom of Abraham LincolnThe Inspired Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln is a biography of the man who held the United States of America together when its dissolution seemed inevitable. More specifically, the book traces the development of Lincoln’s religious thought throughout his life by examining his speeches, letters and memorandums.

Was Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the greatest leader in American history, a believer or a skeptic? Did the fiery trial (as he put it) of devastating battles and political infighting destroy or strengthen a faith in a living God?

I won’t spoil the book’s answers to those questions—you’ve probably guessed them already—but I will say this: The Inspired Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln is an excellent read. The book mostly refrains from using second sources; the author writes, “I make my case stronger if the reader can be certain that he or she is reading the words of Lincoln.” Every major inference about Lincoln’s religious thought is drawn directly from his recorded statements.

These statements—contained in excerpts from memorandums, letters and speeches by Lincoln—are woven into a basic outline of his life. The author provides commentaries upon Lincoln’s statements, clarifying allusions to Scripture and giving historical and biographical context.

I knew about Abraham Lincoln. Don’t we all? He led the United States through the American Civil War! He saved the Union! He freed the slaves! Some of us are familiar with the images of the young man splitting rails in the Illinois frontier or the top-hatted politician pacing the halls of the White House. Beyond these vague ideas, however, I knew very little.

In the end, Abraham Lincoln turns out to be someone to whom I strongly relate. For much of his life, he suffered from intense depression. He loved literature. He wrestled with doubts about Christianity and religion in general. In many ways, he reminds me of myself. Lincoln and I even share a thing for hats.

The thing that impressed me most when I read The Inspired Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln is the way he kept calm and carried on. The country was falling apart—no, it was being actively pulled apart—and he held it together. His depression never left him. Lincoln and his wife lost a son during the Civil War; somehow, he pushed through his grief and kept making the shrewd decisions that saved his country. Lincoln’s sufferings would have broken an ordinary man. They would certainly have broken me.

In the end, Lincoln expressed a principle that may have carried him, and the Union, through the Civil War: “Without the assistance of the Divine Being . . . I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail.”

The Inspired Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln is a fine work of scholarship. It’s hardly a gripping read, but its conclusions are well-written and meticulously backed up with clear, unambiguous statements from Lincoln himself. Amid these statements and the biographical details surrounding them, the book includes occasional anecdotes that give a vivid picture of a fascinating man.

Inspired? Yes, I rather think so.