Goodbye F-O-X Books

Fox Books

Fox & Sons Books closed its doors this week, the latest in the long line of big-box brick-and-mortar bookstores to bow to the ever-expanding Amazon.com. Fox rode the wave longer than most, in part because of its CEO’s savvy choices to get into online sales early on.

Joe Fox was an early adopter of the internet side of the book-selling business, telling ACME News in 2000, “I’ve been intrigued by the internet for a long time. I even met my wife in a chat room!” Fox has been married to Newbery Award-winning children’s author Kathleen Kelly for more than 15 years. Fox Books actually put Kelly’s independent bookstore out of business before the two found their spark, but the couple seem to have put all that behind them. The New York-based Fox & Sons Books went on to become one of the nation’s more notable big-box chains, in part because of its owner’s business philosophy: “Go to the mattresses.” Joe Fox fought, but in 2015 Fox & Sons Books posted losses in all four quarters, and the company’s death was inevitable.

One of FoxBooks.com’s most outstanding features was its online customer service, known for its tagline, “Quicker than an F-O-X.” That feature will stand former CEO in good stead for the future, as Amazon agreed to purchase the customer service arm of the business for $2.2 billion earlier this year. Joe Fox also has significant investments in an elevator company. He cryptically explained that business choice in a 2010 interview, “Let’s just say an hour in an elevator changed my life.”

Exchange

In our study this week, my Bible study group looked at the passage in Romans that says, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).

I wrote a note in the margin of my book: Jane Eyre.

I adore the novel Jane Eyre. I have multiple copies and if I ever find one for a good price at a library sale, I pick up a copy to have on hand to give away. I’ve given away more copies than I own.

When I was packing to move up to Alaska, I decided to get some audio books and listen as I worked. I picked up Jane Eyre from the library and started in on it. Quickly, I discovered that I was noticing things I’d completely missed in my reading of the text. I was so familiar with it that I often would consume whole pages, rather than read individual sentences.

And then, just before the climax of the story, I came to a line that changed my whole understanding.

Jane Eyre is a redemption tale. It’s a story about a governess who goes to work for a man named Mr. Rochester. He’s wild and untamed, and she’s quiet and chaste. And they fall in love.

On their wedding day, his past sins find him out, and Jane discovers that he keeps a madwoman in his attic—his wife. He intended bigamy, because life had given him pain and he had found purity and joy and wanted it.

It’s easy to see Rochester’s character arc in Jane Eyre. He was sinned against, and he sinned against others in response, and only when Jane leaves, ripping away from him all hope of happiness, and his physical prowess and sight are taken from him in a fire that also kills his mad wife, does he begin to repent of his sins. At the end of the book, he says,

I did wrong: I would have sullied my innocent flower – breathed guilt on its purity: the Omnipotent snatched it from me. […] Divine justice pursued its course; disasters came thick on me: I was forced to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. His chastisements are mighty; and one smote me which has humbled me for ever. You know I was proud of my strength: but what is it now, when I must give it over to foreign guidance, as a child does its weakness? Of late, Jane – only – only of late – I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere.

It is easy to see Jane as simply the victim of Rochester’s sin. She, after all, entered the relationship in good faith, with pure intentions.

But the line that caught my ear that day was just before everything goes sideways, during the happy weeks of the couple’s engagement. Jane says of that time: “My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for his creature of whom I had made an idol.”

I read Romans 1, and it is so simple to see the list of sins and excuse myself from the remonstrance of the passage because I’ve been “good” and avoided the things on that list. But the ultimate accusation against mankind in that passage is one of exchange: we exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator.

And suddenly I see myself standing with Jane, recognizing the things that stand like an eclipse between me and the sun, the idols I make.

Words, Words, Words

I learned a new word today.

I love learning new words, particularly when they’re multi-syllabic and fun to say.

WordsToday’s word was “concatenation.” Both multi-syllabic and fun (and defined as a series of interconnected things or events). Evidently, listening to NPR does make you smarter.

It reminded me of some of my favorite words of the past and my adventures in using them. Like when I worked my hardest to get the 18-month-old, highly verbal son of friends to start saying “caterpillar,” “hippopotamus,” and “hobbledehoy.”

I discovered the last one on an evening during college when my friend Bekka and I were either bored or determined to waste time, and rather than doing it sitting in our distinct dorm rooms and chatting with each other on AOL Instant Messenger (where we would sign off with threads of text that said things like, “Farewell, Gorgeous.” “No, you’re gorgeous.” “No YOU’RE gorgeous.” “No, you—”…if you ever needed proof that college students are like preschoolers, I’ve got plenty of stories for you), we were hanging out in my room and exploring the dictionary.

One of the things I regret about our digital age is the loss of the codex dictionary. While I adore being able to type a word into Google and have the precise Merriam-Webster definition pop up immediately, I miss seeing all the other words on the page—that was where the fun lay. For on the same spread as “longitudinal” in my dictionary are words like “loofah” and “lollipop.” I can’t look up “summa cum laude” without seeing “Sumerian” and “sumac.” Natural curiosity leads me to read more definitions on the page than I went there to find, and in the process I learn new things—words, concepts, history, connections.

Anyway, Bekka and I sat on the floor and thumbed through the dictionary and found fun words, and when we happened upon “hobbledehoy” we knew we’d found a keeper. Its origin unknown, but dating from 1540, the term means, “an awkward, gawky youth.” We were sophomores in college, surrounded by 19-year-old boys. It was a descriptive-term-to-situation match made in heaven.

I’ve used the word any chance I can ever since, including trying to introduce it to every toddler I know. Perhaps, though, my favorite use of it I found when reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. She describes the first meeting of Molly and Roger this way:

To Molly, who was not finely discriminative in her glances at the stranger this first night, he simply appeared “heavy-looking, clumsy,” and “a person she was sure she should never get on with.” He certainly did not seem to care much what impression he made upon his mother’s visitor. He was at that age when young men admire a formed beauty more than a face with any amount of future capability of loveliness, and when they are morbidly conscious of the difficulty of finding subjects of conversation in talking to girls in a state of feminine hobbledehoyhood.

That right there? I don’t think I shall ever be able to top it.

Speaking of fun words, I want this book.

Stopping by the Woods: A Review of A Year in Weetamoo Woods

I’ve never written a poetry review before, so perhaps I’m doing this all wrong. Perhaps I should talk of meter and rhyme, cadence and word choice. But I’m not going to do that. I shall leave such things to those better versed in the criticism of poetry.

Instead, I shall approach these verses as a reader. For, though I’ve studied its creation and taught its analysis, I am simply a reader when it comes to poetry. From time to time my thoughts present themselves in poetic structure, but such is a rare occurrence. More often I find myself going to poetry as a devotional experience—my favorite poems being those which consider the things of this earth, the things of heaven, and the age-old wrestling match between them.

I shall have to add some pieces from Christopher Yokel’s new book of poetry, A Year in Weetamoo Woods, to my collection of wrestling poems. As the title implies, it is a book of nature poetry, primarily. For a year, Yokel walked in the woods and wrote his poems and then collected them by season in a book. And honestly, if you had woods nearby named “Weetamoo,” wouldn’t you be moved to use their name in a title?

I like the pictures Yokel presents of his creation process throughout these poems. In “Arden” he writes, “Here I come/ where Adam’s curse is felt/ less cruelly, . . . / Here there is space to think/ to be,/ to draw out poetry from trees.”  In “The Price of Art” he writes, “I have flung myself over/ tree and trail,/ rock and stone,/ in payment for what I have come to take.”

Overall, what stood out to me about Weetamoo Woods were the pictures. Yokel is gifted in painting with simple words images of what he sees (or smells, or hears, or feels)—both in physical reality and in his imagination—and making them clear to his reader.  Leaves, branches, paths, stones, water, earth, wind. All are seen, felt, smelled, heard, touched: the rush of a breeze in “Stirring,” when he says, “All the trees stir together,/ as God passes/ through the midst of the garden”; the fluttering summer leaves  in “Flags,” when he writes, “The sun glinted and glimmered through/ a hundred spear shafts standing to the sky/ their bright green banners snapping in the breeze”; the frozen fields in “Tinidril,” when he says, “The fields are laid to rest/ stiff with winter’s embalming.”

Perhaps it is because I read these poems in the short, dark days at the turn of the year that those in the section titled Winter stood out to me most vividly. “The Barren King” was a favorite poem of the collection; its images of a frozen stream and the snow-covered forest bring to mind memories of hushed walks through winter woods in northern climes. Yokel captures precisely what I’ve always thought of those days in his final stanza:

Snow glorifies the branches of winter,
covers over their naked shame,
and makes them kingly for a day,
with memories of greening leaves.
The monarch in winter is a monarch still.

The images of “Ghosts of the Old Year,” also stood out from the rest—“dead leaves creak/ like ribs rubbing together,/ quiver and vibrate/ like frozen cicadas.” I love the idea of the old leaves as ghosts of the old year—what is gone is not forgotten in its lifelessness. There is a solidity to that season that looks like death, though we know it will give way to resurrection in the spring—as Yokel writes in “Awake O Sleeper” looking at the “corpses of trees” he hears “the sound of the/ robin, singing the first/ notes of resurrection.”

In this, you see, there is that wrestling of heaven and earth—and of the New Heaven and Earth with this one that will pass away. Yes, I shall have to add some of these poems to my collection.

And perhaps, after mulling them for a while I will find myself where Yokel does at the end of his year—looking back to where he set off, “another person ago.” I will be changed, like a tree in a wood from season to season changes, and I may not know myself at the far end. But perhaps, to paraphrase Eliot, that is where I will know myself for the first time.

The End

When you come to the end,
to the place where the light is
you will look back and see
the weight of your soul,
how the journey has given you
more than you carried
when you set off another person ago,
how you traded your cheap wares
for precious possessions,
ingots of memories,
experience in folds,
to arrive like a beggar in guise
but your treasure
all carried inside you
where it cannot grow old.

A Year in Weetamoo Woods was released on January 6, 2014. More from Chris Yokel can be found at his website: chrisyokel.com. Yokel’s book of poetry is available for purchase from Lulu, Amazon, and B&N.

A Year in Weetamoo Woods Book Trailer

By Design: Book Review (ish)

By DesignAlmost a year ago I began working with Dr. Martha MacCullough, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Cairn University to shape her manuscript on educational philosophy into a book. I learned a lot about the editing process, educational philosophy, page layout, and the awesome name pairings of educational scholars (seriously, “Chubb and Moe”? “Long and Frye”? “Bigge and Shermis”? I came to the conclusion they should either open pubs or start law firms). It’s been a long, crazy journey, and once or twice I wasn’t sure we’d ever get this thing done in time…

But last week, just in time for the first classes to use it, By Design: Developing a Philosophy of Education Informed by a Christian Worldview showed up from the printer, looking all spiffy.

The educators who have reviewed the book are singing its praises already. I’ll let you read their notes rather than giving you my own, as I put too much work into this one to be objective, but I think we can look forward to it being useful and helpful for Christian educators around the globe in the future. For now, though, it’s a matter of getting the word out. By Design is available for sale now from the Cairn website and will be available in other venues soon. Check out the first chapter on the site, and tell your Christian friends who teach – whether it be in a Christian school, home schooling, or even in public schools – that this is a resource for them.

Book Info:
By Design: Developing a Philosophy of Education Informed by a Christian Worldview
by Martha E. MacCullough, Ed.D.
Cairn University, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0-615-74352-3

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes: Book Review

“Adventure ho!” reads the author’s inscription on the first page. Jonathan Auxier is a friend of a friend who lent me her signed copy of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes for a read. Auxier wasn’t wrong. From the first page, Peter Nimble rollicks forward through adventure with barely a missed beat along the way.

Peter Nimble is an orphan, blinded by a raven, found as a baby floating in the river by sailors, who turn him over to the town magistrates, who name him and leave him to fend for himself. He takes up with a family of cats under the porch of an alehouse until the whole lot are found by the tavern owner, scooped into a bag, and tossed in the river. There Peter’s innate skills as a thief show themselves when he looses the knots and swims to safety.
And that’s in the first two pages.
Even better, this line comes at the end of it: “Until this point, you have been witness to Peter’s rather typical infancy—probably not unlike your own.”
Peter’s career as a thief takes off, and by age ten he’s well-known enough to capture the attention of those who know that goodness is not the same thing as following the law, but something much deeper and much greater altogether. His encounter with them sets him on the journey of the story – with a cursed knight, Sir Tode, as a sidekick – to find the vanished kingdom and answer the plea for help they sent out.
A giant dogfish named Frederick, thieves and criminals in deserts, an unkindness of ravens, a king who keeps children for slave labor and makes their parents forget about them, an army of gorillas, sea serpents, and a ten-year-old princess with a temper fill in the rest of the pages of Peter’s adventure.
Auxier’s writing style is extremely clever, with comments throughout that parents will probably find as funny as their children. Comments like these and the fact that he does not shy away from portraying real violence and real evil probably skew the book slightly older than its ten-year-old protagonist, but smaller children could enjoy it being read to them. There are complicated relationships between children and adults, but in general, once all enchantments are broken, there is mutual respect and love on both sides. Peter is a delightful hero – one who does not think too highly of himself, except once, and then he finds that working without the aid of his friends is much more difficult than working with them.
The book itself is gorgeous, with cover illustrations that hint at the adventures within without giving away too much. Auxier himself drew the illustrations at the start of each chapter. The text is set in a font that’s easy to read and lovely to look at. The effort put into book design makes holding it in your hands an honor.
In the end, the reader is left with a sense that all is well and a hope that perhaps, if the fancy strikes him, Jonathan Auxier could tell us more about Peter’s adventures.
By Jonathan Auxier
Amulet Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4197-0025-5

 

The Real Battle

As I listened to The Hobbit on CD today on my drive, I was struck by Tolkien’s comments about Bilbo just before the hobbit sees Smaug for the first time.

“Wisps of vapour floated up and past him and he began to sweat. A sound, too, began to throb in his ears, a sort of bubbling like the noise of a large pot galloping on the fire, mixed with a rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring. This grew to the unmistakable gurgling noise of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him.

“It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.”

So often it is our own fear that is the greatest obstacle we face. Whatever the adventure that lies before us, whatever the risk we may take, the real battle is fought in the tunnel alone. We must first choose to step forward, before any tremendous adventure can come our way.

Eleven Years

I first met him in the Oxford Valley Barnes and Noble on a rainy afternoon about eleven years ago.

I’d heard he would be a bad influence on me, but I wanted to draw my own conclusions before entering the debate. And time was running short: a discussion about his worth was planned for the next day.

It was a tentative first meeting – I wasn’t sure I was ready to invest in the relationship, but I wanted the option to do so if things went well.

So I did what any frugal college student would. I found a comfy chair in a quiet corner and sat down overlooking the parking lot (no, the view from the Oxford Valley B&N is not what draws one to spend time there). Three hours later, my stomach growled, reminding me that as a frugal college student, I should eat in the dining commons. I sighed. I stood. I looked down at the paperback book in my hand, my finger marking the spot a couple hundred pages in, and I decided to take the plunge.

I walked downstairs to the counter and bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

I wolfed down dinner then returned to my room. Less than three hours later I closed the cover on the final page and took a deep breath, returning to the rarified air of reality after reveling in the rich atmosphere of fantasy for the bulk of my day. And I knew I’d made a new friend.

I won’t say the relationship wasn’t rocky at times. I went to the panel discussion and heard one of my favorite professors recommend staying away from Harry, not because he was necessarily evil, but because the Bible tells us to avoid even the appearance of evil. Another favorite professor lamented: “Fantasy writers create fantasy worlds. That’s how it works. I wish, for the sake of Christians, that Rowling had used something other than the trappings of magic for her world, but that’s what she used.”

They didn’t sway me away from my newfound friend. The trappings of magic were no trouble to me. They were simply the décor in a world unlike my own.

I started late in the relationship. Many were there before me. Rowling had already aged Harry four years by the time I began, and so I was able to work my way through books two and three in good time.

Then came the wait. I’d finished The Prisoner of Azkaban, but Goblet of Fire was only available in hardcover. College student that I was, I couldn’t justify spending $25 on a book that wasn’t for class. I waited for summer vacation, hoping I’d earn enough to justify the expense. A birthday present of a Borders gift card sent me to Border’s Express, where I found the book for just $19, and devoured it within three days.

I thought the wait was awful when I went a few months between books, but after Goblet, we were all forced into three years of agony. The pain was mitigated, slightly, by Harry’s arrival on the screen.

I remember going to meet him in visual form for the first time. The theatre was huge. I was with my friend Bekka. I sat in the vast darkness and watched quidditch for the first time, just as thrilled as I’d been to imagine it in the books.

In the time it took for Harry to turn from 14 to 15, I aged three years. I finished college and found myself working in the summer programs at SEND the next time I was eagerly anticipating Harry’s visit. I’ve never been a midnight showing kind of girl, and midnight book releases hold little more appeal to me, so I waited until the day of his release, after work, to find a copy of Order of the Phoenix.

And then, in panic, I searched in vain. Barnes and Noble, Borders, Borders Express – no luck at any one of them; all sold out. Unwilling to give up, a brainstorm occurred to me: Meijer. The great, the wondrous, Meijer. I swung into the parking lot at Eight Mile, hopped out of the car, and ran inside. Meijer has probably 20 aisles of groceries, a good acre of clothing and home goods, and another half acre of electronics, toys, pets, etc. But there’s only one row of books.

I went directly there. And found many copies of Order. I picked up the thick tome and took it to check out, proud that I’d out-smarted hundreds of other obsessed fans.

Order was probably the most difficult point in our relationship. As a 15 year old, Harry became annoyingly whiney and brooding. Sirius, who I’d come to love in Azkaban, wasn’t much better. I ignored my urge to slap Harry and pushed through to the end. And then, of course, Sirius’ shocking death. But I heard the prophecy for the first time, and another piece of the grand puzzle fell into place.

I finished Order staying in a tent on Grandma’s back porch over July 4th weekend. The house was full of guests, we added the tent for space. It was hot, and humid as only Southeastern PA can be. By the time I finished, the books pages were wavy

The two-year wait for Half-Blood Prince seemed like a blip on the screen after the longer one for Order. But when the book was released I found myself in a conundrum. I was living in rural Alaska, far from a bookstore. I hadn’t ordered the book online, because there was something about getting it off the shelf that appealed to me. But I wasn’t planning to head into town around its release. I considered ordering it, hoping it would make it to me promptly, but I knew if I could just ask someone to get it for me, I’d have it sooner. Problem was: I was living in a community with a lot of those Christians who were caught up in the fact that Rowling had used the trappings of magic. Not wanting to offend, I didn’t know who to ask…until one (again rainy) afternoon on a boat in the Prince William Sound, when I overheard Larry say, “I’m going to town this weekend. We need groceries, but really, it’s because Josh wants the newest Harry Potter book.” And Kelly, his wife, chimed in, “Yeah, Josh reads through those things faster than anything. I’ve never seen him so focused on a book.”

And I’d found my solution. I sidled up to Larry a little later, and looking out over ice floes and glacier silt, I asked him to get me a copy. A few days later I had the green-covered book in hand, and I was happy to discover that Sirius’ death, though tragic, seemed to have pushed Harry out of his whiney phase and back into a nice form.

Throughout these years the movies came out one by one. I watched most of them in the theatres with friends, though Order, which I dreaded, I didn’t see until it was on DVD. Happily, time constraints forced the writers to reduce Harry’s whining significantly, and he was a much nicer person in visual form than on the page.

Waiting for the final book, I began to look back at them all with a critical eye. I thought I detected a chiastic structure which gave me ideas of what would happen in the end. I debated with friends questions of who would live and who would die. And I hoped for an ending worthy of the choice I’d made years earlier to invest in the relationship.

Then came the final anticipatory summer. Back in civilization, I got The Deathly Hallows from the bookstore the day it was released, and, not working at the time, I settled in to the final chapters of my relationship with Harry similarly to my first experience with him. The final book is significantly longer than the first, of course, so I couldn’t go straight through in a day, and besides, I wanted to make it last – but I allowed myself to be engulfed in the world of Potter, it’s magical trappings, and the friends I’d made along the way.

And at the end, I once again took a deep breath of the rarified air of reality and returned, satisfied.

It’s been five years since that summer when I stepped onto platform 9 ¾ for the last time with Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and their children. Filmmakers have given me layers of the relationship to continue to explore – seeing Half-Blood Prince come to life and reveling in the quiet emotion of Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1 on the screen have sated my desire for “more” when the author inside me knows there can be, and should be no more.

But this weekend, the final part of the final version of the final chapter of this friendship will project onto screens. I’m not sure when I can see it – I have responsibilities this weekend which prevent me from going right away. I’m embracing the delay, though. I anticipate seeing the translation to visual Harry, but I don’t want it to end. I don’t want to experience that epilogue’s finality again. I know I have to.

But here’s the great thing about this friendship that started eleven years ago on a rainy afternoon: it doesn’t ever have to end. If I want, at any time, I can go back into the world of Hogwarts and Muggles. I’ll never experience them again for the first time, but I can experience them again.

So it’s not an end, per se. But it is a close. And the world is different than it was eleven years ago. But then, so is Harry. And so am I.

You see, there’s this book…

There are some books that I always have in the back of my mind when I’m in used book stores or wandering the wide web. They’re often the ones from childhood which are just so worn (after all, even if they were just given to my sisters and not passed down from our mom, they’d been through nearly 10 years of children before I was even born!) that they won’t last to another generation.
Some have been “easy” finds – they’ve been reprinted in another edition, and while they don’t have quite the charm of the old books, they do – the story is still there. Others have proven more difficult.
One in particular is The Big Jump-Up Animal Book, which, if it were as boring as its title I would care nothing about. But it’s not. I’ s the kind of book you just can’t judge by its cover. There’s this lovely story within of five jungle animal friends who need food, so they all go out searching but can’t find anything. When they gather again, they realize that the giraffe is missing, and so they go searching for him, only to find that he has discovered a feast of food, but, since he has no voice, he couldn’t call out to them to help him carry it back.
It’s a great story, with beautiful illustrations, and yes, “jump-up” animals, but honestly, that’s the least appealing factor of the book. But that’s its title, making it all the more difficult to find.
So, I’ll continue the search; Google on my side, I shall persevere. And maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll find a copy with the binding still intact.