‘Writing A Novel with Ulysses’ by David Hewson 📚

I’ve been on a string of high-minded books lately, but now I’ve dove into a few books about writing itself, and the first one was novelist David Hewson’s Writing A Novel with Ulysses III.

Yeah, it’s about as low-level as you can get, reading a book about how to write another book in a specific app. Whee!

It was really useful. I’ve recently started using Ulysses for most of my writing for this blog, Story Team, and Storyteam.org. I have the start of a novel project in Scrivener (which I like quite a bit), but the idea of having all my working in a single app and library was appealing. But from what I knew of Ulysses, I wasn’t sure I could really use it for a novel. Hence, this read.

The best review I can give of the book is this: it is short, thorough, and I’m now convinced I can write a novel quite well in it. And I am going to try.

If you like writing in Markdown and the idea of a very basic writing app (NOT word processor as you know it) appeals to you, I would highly recommend both Ulysses and Writing A Novel with Ulysses III.


‘How Dante Can Save Your Life’ by Rod Dreher 📚

I was really skeptical about Rod Dreher’s new book How Dante Can Save Your Life. When he started writing about it on his blog I wasn’t interested—at all. I started skipping posts about Dante. After being deeply affected by his two previous books I was not even going to read this one.

I was wrong, and I’m glad I was.

I decided to read it when he started talking about how it intersected with his life. As relayed in his last book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Rod struggled mightily with family issues of loyalty, trust and place. When I realized that this book would continue where the previous book left off, I decided to take a chance.

It was wonderful. I honestly don’t remember why I doubted it would be. Rod used light literary criticism and memoir to spin a deeply emotional and personal tale of how God works on our hearts through art. This was right up my alley, and I was going to pass it by.

As a reader, you don’t have to know anything about Dante or his Divine Comedy to read and appreciate this book. Rod’s careful treatment and plain-spoken approach make it an approachable experience for all readers. But in doing so he does not shy away from the complexities of the work.

It was a wonderfully fun read, I ripped through it in just a few days. If this sounds even slightly interesting to you I highly recommend it.


‘All the Pretty Horses’ by Cormac McCarthy 📚

He’d never touched her and her hand was small and her waist so slight and she looked at him with great forthrightness and smiled and put her face against his shoulder. They turned under the lights. A long trumpet note guided the dancers on their separate and collective paths. Moths circled the paper lights aloft and the goathawks passed down the wires and flared and arced upward into the darkness again.

This is my favorite paragraph in the whole book. It’s a beautiful paragraph that inspires and taunts me. In many ways McCarthy’s style runs so counter to my own, yet I cannot help but aspire to it. Of course, it’s a hopeless aspiration, because even if I was to achieve writing on this level, it would be my own and not his. But it’s an aspiration nonetheless.

Cormac McCarthy is an author who intimidates me. He does so more than any of the other authors I admire so much. More than Hugo, Hemingway, Lewis and Rowling, Cormac McCarthy’s work seems like a towering statue on the horizon, an unmovable stone giant lording over the barren waste before him. He is who he is, and his work stands above all.

I’ve often heard that All the Pretty Horses is his most accessible work. I think that’s true, but I’m not sure that is where I would advise someone to start. It’s either this or The Road, and depending on who the recommendation is for it’s probably a coin flip.

Our focus falls upon John Grady for this book. He’s the final heir to a long line of Texas ranchers, and he longs for a way of life that is long gone. He leaves for Mexico, looking for remnants of a world that has past, and maybe never was.

In his travels and travails we find the dying cries of the Old West. McCarthy writes in a manner that suits the land, economical in pace, beautiful in language, and honest about the ugliness of the world John Grady found. It’s a powerful story of love and honor, and one that feels all to real.

This book in particular moved me in a way that I miss. It reminded me of the joy of reading a great writer at the height of his mastery. Like the best works, it makes me want to write. It drives me to create, even if I can never reach the bar it sets.


The Evolution of Podcasting: Inquisitive, The Record & Welcome to Macintosh

Serial blew up the podcasting world last fall. For many, many people Serial was their first impression of podcasting. For many others, myself included, it was a very visible step forward in a medium that has been full of less visible, but even more important, steps forward for the last 10 years.

Serial is a very different show than the one that formed my first impression of podcasting, Adam Curry’s The Daily Source Code in 2005. The public radio polish and production quality is miles ahead of those original podcasts, and of many popular shows today. Many old guard podcast folks from the tech world scoffed at Serial as nothing new, just an evolution of one of the most popular radio shows-turned-podcasts in the world, This American Life.

They might be right, but I don’t care if that’s true. In the more traditional world of tech podcasting there a few new shows who are taking their cue from public radio-style storytelling podcasts. Because these are shows without public radio budgets and they are still doing top-notch work, they are the ones really driving the medium forward. Where Serial may have been the general public’s introduction to podcasting, shows like Inquisitive, The Record and Welcome to Macintosh are podcasting’s introduction to storytelling.

I am sure that there are other shows doing similar work, but these are shows that made their appearance in my corner of the internet, in this case the Apple fanboy section. Inquisitive rebooted the show in episode #27: Behind the App #1. The show evolved from its one-on-one interview style to a story-driven format featuring multiple guests and telling one long story over the course of many episodes. By documenting the history of the iTunes App Store and the app industry up to the current moment, Myke Hurley is creating a valuable historical record while also weaving a compelling narrative. Along with Welcome to Macintosh (currently on episode #1) and last year’s The Record from Brent Simmons and Chris Parrish will document one of the most interesting aspects of the (current) world’s most valuable company.

My hope is that more and more podcast producers, and people who aren’t making shows yet, are inspired by this growing number of shows that tell compelling stories in long form. Storytelling is a powerful medium. Narrative stories connect with people in ways that nothing else can. I hope that this is the beginning of a new renaissance in storytelling, and podcasts lead the way. The podcasting world and all of us will be better off for it.


‘Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully’ by John Piper 📚

Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitfield, and C.S. Lewis by John Piper is a short, powerful and inspiring shot to the heart for any lover of words and Jesus. It’s one of the most fulfilling books I’ve read in a while, and one that left me wanting more.

Piper sews a common thread through the works of three great Christian Englishmen, namely that proclaiming the gospel of Christ beautifully helps us see him more beautifully. It’s a powerful assertion that he backs up clearly, and one that invites the reader to join these three giants.

George Herbert was a 16th century country pastor and poet, seen by scholars as an immensely pivotal figure in the history of English poetry. His works, published posthumously and published continually since, are entirely focused on his faith and devotion to Christ.

George Whitefield was an 18th century English preacher and key figure in the Great Awakening in both Britain and the American colonies. He preached an enormous number of sermons, an impossible number actually. Piper estimates that for many weeks of his life, actually preached for sixty hours a week. As Piper points out, for most of his career, Whitefield spoke more than he slept.

The most well known of these three men to readers today is of course, C.S. Lewis. Lewis was the foremost spokesman for British Christianity in the mid-20th century. He was an awe-inspiring public intellectual, taking three First Class Honors at Oxford, the top expert of Medieval English literature in the world, and a best-selling novelist.

Piper starts the book with an extended discussion of eloquence, particularly what kinds of eloquence either honor Christ or elevate the speaker and dishonor the cross. In turn, he then takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of each these three mens’ autobiographies, theologies, and professional lives, then settles into a different aspect of their work, each on this common thread of proclaiming the beauties of Christ.

This book is a must read in my mind for any Christian who is a writer, speaker, pastor, poet or avid reader. Even if you do not see yourself in any of these categories, I would commend this book to you. The illustrations draw from each of these men’s work will stretch your understanding of beauty in words, and your imagination of the glories of Christ. It’s an inspiring read that prompted me to pick up the pen and expend more poetic effort myself.