Monday, May 31, 2021

The Juggling Bookie: Remembrance of Faces Past

I first became enthused about remembering people’s names when I read an article in the Reader’s Digest - an entire book on memorization had been condensed into a mere three pages.  

The article claimed you could recall people’s names by associating the uniqueness of their faces with some related object. Perhaps, I thought, this would help me keep track of who my customers were. But when I looked for the complete book at the library what did I discover? The last borrower had forgotten to bring it back.

Fortunately this is a subject on which there are plenty of books, so I borrowed something else. 

I discovered that this association method is a common memory trick, but I also discovered that it’s very difficult to make conversation with a complete stranger while simultaneously focusing on their facial features.

Suppose you meet a Mrs Burton. You may note that her furrowed brow resembles her namesake Richard in his latter days. Your brain cells may connect this to craggy Welsh mountains or coalminers’ safety helmets or How Green Was My Valley.

But while you’re doing all this mental leaping and bounding, Mrs Burton may be wondering whether you’re an unenthusiastic conversationalist, or merely someone who’s on too much medication.

And six weeks later she’ll be startled to be addressed as Mrs Green, or even Mrs Taylor. 

Then there’s Mr Brown, a man who hasn’t a single outstanding feature about him. Peering at his face is like looking for an oasis in the Sahara. The likelihood is that in future meetings you’ll call him Mr Bland.

Anyone who’s had to attend any sort of gathering will have noted how hosts insist on introducing you to people in an offhand way, tossing in a word or two about them, and then dragging you off to meet someone else. Or they throw a roomful of faces at you and say, “Let me tell you all these peoples’ names.” And, encouragingly, they add, “Of course you’ll forget them anyway.”

Worse, even in Anglican circles, where tradition ought to reign, people no longer introduce others by both Christian and surnames. It becomes a major undertaking to hang hooks on a succession of Georges, Bills, Bobs and Brians, let alone Claires, Susans, Gillians and Joans. 

Having practiced hard at home, I know that the memory system works - and my brain knows it too. But given the opportunity to multi-task, my brain prefers to sulk.  

 Perhaps I’ll have to adopt the irritating approach someone recently used at church, on me. During our conversation, while I struggled to scan his face for spots or scars, cleft chins or twitches, this new acquaintance hammered my name onto the end of every sentence. 

I have no idea who he was. But at least I remember who I am.

This piece was originally intended for the column in the NZ Anglican magazine, Taonga

The Juggling Bookie: Bookaholic

Hi, my name’s Mike Crowl, and I need to confess that I’m a bookaholic. I don’t have any control over this - it isn’t helped by the fact that I have to work in a bookshop. My life has become unmanageable.   Well, it’s not my life so much as my bookshelves – they’re unmanageable.  

Can I blame them for my condition? Oh, I can’t. 

I’m told that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity, but the problem is, I’m sort of working for that particular Power, because it’s a Christian bookshop…

So it’s His fault. Oh, I can’t blame Him either.

Apparently I’m supposed to turn my will and life over to the care of God - as I understand Him.    Hmm, according to what I do understand, He’s infinitely superior to me in every respect, so I only understand a little bit of Him. No excuse, huh?

I need to make a searching and fearless inventory - of my bookshelves. This should be fun! Oh, you mean I need to do it now, not when I’ve finally read all the books. Actually I may not read them all – I’ve only just caught up with one I’ve had for thirty years.          

I have to admit to God, and myself, and to another human being, the exact nature of my wrongs. The trouble is, that the bloke I share my shop with is a secondhand bookshop dealer, and he’s even more of a bookaholic than I am. My wife reads books; my Aged Parent reads books (some of them several times over); my children read books. Oh, what shall be done with me, wretched man that I am! 

Am I entirely ready to have God remove my defects and shortcomings? Does this mean I have to send all these books to the local secondhand dealer? But I work with one!

So I need to make a list of all persons I’ve offended by lending books to them? Does anyone remember who they lend books to? Shouldn’t I be asking all my friends why they haven’t given the books back to me? 

I’ve got to make direct amends to such people where possible? Have I got to pay them for borrowing my own books off me? 

Right, so I need to make a personal inventory. Right, so I spend several weeks putting all the books on my computer and then I’ll know who’s borrowed them. Oh, I don’t think I’m quite getting the picture here – and I’m not sure how some of this stuff is helping me with my problem. 

Okay, so I’ve had a spiritual awakening as a result of following these steps, and tried to carry this message to others…but, just a minute, if I tell them I’m a bookaholic, will they still buy any books from me? 

Maybe I need to join a different group – like a monthly book reading club.

This piece was originally intended for the column in the NZ Anglican magazine, Taonga

The Juggling Bookie: Reading long books

Classic long books are full of great things, rubble and trivia – and most deserve to be read more than once. 

This year I became a member of the I’ve-read-The-Lord-of-the-Rings-twice Club, though I must admit it was a struggle. I was determined to re-read it, having what I thought were fond memories from thirty years ago of my first reading, and inspired by the three movies, but it turned out to be a sometime exciting, sometime turgid, sometime overblown, sometime extraordinary book. With songs. 

I’ve also discovered that I’m an honorary member of the I-don’t-seem-to-be-able-to-finish-a-book-by-Thackeray Club. Neither Becky Sharp or Barry Lyndon have managed to entice me beyond the half way mark. Something more interesting has always turned up, and these two languish unacknowledged in their peculiar long-winded story-telling.

Victor Hugo
Did I mention that I’m also a member of the I’m-practically-the-only-person-you’ll-meet-who’s-actually-read-Les Miserables Club? I began this book in the summer holidays one year and couldn’t put it down. I have to admit that I skimmed one of the ‘essays’ that Victor Hugo scatters throughout the book, but apart from this I read it thoroughly. The story is full of coincidences, the pursuit of the hero by the detective is interminable, the characters manage to be involved in revolutions and the Battle of Waterloo, and yet you take all this in your stride because the author grabs you by the hand and whisks you along. Grace and forgiveness permeate the story, and the last couple of hundred pages are so gripping that at the time I read them everything else in life went on hold: wife, children, sunshine, picnics. 

Last year I read The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s as if, as I get older, I need to take an annual journey into some huge novel, in order to say I’ve done it, or just to prove I can stick with it. This book, like many of Alexandre Dumas, was hastily written, with some sections thrown together months apart. There’s no doubt it’s badly plotted (a colleague wrote the outline, apparently) and it has a long digression in the centre. The hero is a strangely uneven character, some of the characters behave very oddly, and yet it’s extraordinarily enjoyable.   

When these 19th century serial writers are at the top of their form, they plunge your imagination into what is best about storytelling. At their worst you have to keep reminding yourself that they wrote to horrific deadlines and had to get something out to their readers, even if that something was mostly padding. (Dickens seems to be one of the few serial writers who was able to overcome this problem by his sheer genius – and humour.)

I’d love to sit down and read some of them again: the Anthony Trollope Barchester series, many of Dickens’ best novels (I’ve read Bleak House twice – which has one of Dickens’ more sympathetically portrayed Christian characters in it), and Middlemarch, that wondrous achievement of George Eliot’s, which wasn’t produced in serial format, and which she abandoned after writing some hundreds of pages, and began again.* 

But will I live long enough?  

This piece was originally intended for the column in the NZ Anglican magazine, Taonga

* I have lived long enough to read Middlemarch again; there were some disappointments, some oddities, and quite a bit of enjoyment. I've written a rough review on Goodreads which I'll add here:

My memory of this book was that it was terrific, and a wonderful read. Well, I was younger then, and something about it must have clicked with me to think so.

This second time round, I found some of it turgid, to say the least. I didn't enjoy Eliot's author comments much, although they, like everything else, improved as the book went on. I found it took a long time to get moving, and yet the last 100 pages or so are top notch, moving along faster than you can keep up. It's as if she spends most of the book setting things up, and then all of it comes to a great climax at the end. It's just that the setting up is long-winded.

I didn't enjoy her minor, representative characters who she introduces into certain sections as a kind of chorus on the events. Apart from their general meanspiritedness, they all sound much the same, and you feel there might have been a better way to do this. Compare these to minor characters in Dickens, who often outshine some of the leading characters!

Sometimes she explains her characters far too much, and doesn't give them room to explain themselves - which they certainly can do, when allowed. However, these explanations are interesting for their psychological insight, and are certainly ahead of their time, coming closer perhaps to Henry James in their style.

I wonder how many readers over the years have breathed an enormous sigh of relief when the abominable Mr Casaubon dies, somewhat prematurely, and alone. Now, you think, things will improve for Dorothea. Nope, they don't much, and in fact things go far downhill for several of the characters before the book ends. But Eliot doesn't leave us at the bottom: perhaps improbably she lets Mary Grant and Fred Vincy marry; Fred never really seems to have changed, although Eliot claims he has. She finally allows Will and Dorothea to marry, which is a relief, too, but Lydgate and his self-centred wife are condemned, you might say, to struggle on for two or three more decades. Not everything can be solved in this particular world.

The book is about a lot more than the married lives of its characters: politics and reform, medicine in a time of transition, money and greed, Christianity and the lack of it. There are almost too many subjects for one book. But at least it has a heroine with spunk (even if she is missing for chapters at a time in some parts of the book) and a few men who are mostly her equal. None of your wishy-washy Dickensian heroines here...!

The Juggling Bookie: Eidam on Bach

Earlier this year I came across Klaus Eidam’s biography, The True Life of Johann Sebastian BachEidam uses the word ‘true’ to show he’s dispelling the myths that other, older biographers have cluttered up the facts with.

Why read about Bach? Well, in recent years I find I’m playing his music more and more – and enjoying it. I was introduced to him some forty-five years ago by a teacher wise enough to believe that students should get to know great music even if it didn’t necessarily enthral them. The teacher recommended laying out good money on the two volumes of the 48 Preludes and Fugues, and I did. I learned a few scattered pieces, sight-read those I could get away with (without the teacher knowing) and ignored the rest. But it was like puddling in Bach’s paddling pool, rather than swimming with him in the ocean.

The two volumes travelled with me to England and back, lost their covers, and occasionally got a dusting off - mostly to see if I could still get my fingers round their intricacies.

But now, in my grandfather years, I’ve begun some dedicated work on these astonishing compositions, and the effort’s been rewarded so mightily all I can do is enthuse about their creator.

There are passages in Bach when you feel as though you’re doing a kind of knitting – except Bach never bothers with plain and purl.There are places where you think the piece should finish, but the grand old genius frolics on for another dozen delectable bars. Sometimes he stops right in the middle of something and hives off in another direction, at a different tempo, and with different material. How unbaroque! 

There are bars when the clashing chords are so twentieth-century you ask: did he know he was preempting Stravinsky or Messiaen? Sometimes he’s so intent of keeping the various ‘voices’ running that he’ll swap them back and forth between the hands until the brain goes into meltdown. (Eidam says Bach could effortlessly hold half a dozen different ‘voices’ in his head, being thoroughly aware of them at all times.)

Or he writes passages of astonishing mathematical structure, taking a subject and playing itself against itself, upside-down, back to front, slower, faster – and not just one voice against another, but several together. (He often improvised in such a way without blinking an eye.)

And then there are the sublime moments. In the middle of something that’s already taken wings he opens a window to heaven – just for a couple of bars. You wonder if God hadn’t elbowed him aside - ‘Excuse me, Jo!’ - and written those bars himself.

I recall one particular Bach orchestral concert in London. There was a moment in the evening when the musicians, the audience and the angels took off, skimming along Bach’s great river of joy in such a way that forty years later I still get emotional at the thought of it.

What a man!

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2005 



The Juggling Bookie: Mr Beaver and Books

 If you’re going to complicate your life, make sure you do it thoroughly. July and August this year were jam-packed with complications.  

I’d been asked to take the part of Mr Beaver in a full-length adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. July was rehearsal month, with five performances in the last week. I haven’t acted in a play for at least thirty years, so not only did I have to learn a heap of lines, I had to work out how to build a character from scratch, how to relate to other people on the stage, and how to ignore the fact that during the performances various close relatives sat scrutinizing my every move.

To my surprise, I was able to forget who I was and become exuberant and eloquent. Furthermore I shared with around fifty people that wonderful sense of being part of something larger than myself, and actually did the thing well enough to impress the aforesaid relatives.

However, as soon as the play was over, I went straight from that euphoric state into intensive preparations for shifting our shop, and then into the hard work of the shift itself. All within a fortnight.

Because of a considerable rent increase, we’ve had to move our shop from Dunedin’s main street to a site which, while it’s only a block from our old location, isn’t quite as accessible. We not only lost our street frontage – we went upstairs. Shifting thousands of books, as well as heavy shelving and other shop furniture up twenty-six stairs is an energy-challenging exercise, even with the help of a large number of volunteers.

We last shifted four and half years ago, and weren’t planning on moving again in a hurry. Loathe to vacate, I didn’t organise this shift as well as the previous one, and when, on the Saturday, I finally stood in the midst of a sea of boxes and shelves all thrown together higgledy-piggledy into a room I’d thought previously was more than spacious, my brain said, ‘I’m out of here,’ and refused to function.

Nevertheless, with a little forceful encouragement from my wife, my brain returned to its normal working habits, and we began the task of putting things where they were most likely to spend the next stage of their lives.

Now I had to play the part of The Manager, a role that doesn’t allow for time off in the dressing room.  And while all of us, volunteers and staff, had a sense of being part of something much bigger than ourselves, I don’t think ‘wonderful’ came into it.  

Equally, I’m not sure that on this occasion I managed to impress the rellies as well as I did in the play.    Playing yourself isn’t half as entertaining as playing a Beaver.

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2005 


The Juggling Bookie: Christian Booksellers

It pays for Christian booksellers to have a couple of side talents: being able to pick winners at the races, for one, and being able to juggle.

They have to have a nose for up-and-coming winners, or, as they’re called in the trade: the ‘latest trends.’ In my decade or so of being a Christian bookseller, I’ve seen several trends push to the top of the pile, including a Feminist trend, a Spirituality trend, a Spiritual Warfare trend, and, perhaps most famously, a Celtic Christianity trend.  

I remember when you could put the word Celtic in front of anything, and people would lap it up. Celtic Christmas music? Yep, there are still a couple of those albums on our shelves. But what about, How to Celebrate a Celtic Ascension, or the Celtic Book of Herbs and Garnishes, or Bible Stories for Little Celtic Ears?  

I’m kidding. Though people have thought OC Books was short for Outstanding Celtic Books.)*  

Now the latest trend is Postmodernism: Postmodern Evangelism, Postmodern Preaching, and how to find the real gospel in The Simpsons, Harry Potter and The Matrix. Alternative Worship is only a neck behind. Hmm, I see that the slow starter, Islam, is coming up fiercely on the outside.

Booksellers juggling in their shops might keep the punters amused for a time, but I really mean it to represent juggling our customers’ broad-ranging requirements.

Evangelicals like to see Philip Yancey’s mop of curls displayed foremost in the window, with John
Piper and John MacArthur - in solid dark suits - holding up his arms on either side. Liberals demand that John Shelby Spong get pride of place, even if he did borrow Luther’s famous catch phrase for his latest novel (sorry, biography).

The feminists will want to know why Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza haven’t got the window to themselves, while the End Times patriots will be sure the Last Days have come if you haven’t got all of the Left Behind series on a massive display-stand just inside the door, and additional copies in precarious stacks on the counter.  (Having feminists in the window may also give them cause for concern.)

HillSongs will be blaring from speakers at one end of the shop while Taize sings demurely (and occasionally out of tune) at the other. 

Woe betide if you’re a new Christian, or worse, a Seeker. The overwhelming range of material catering for every species of Christian - except those who don’t yet know anything - is likely to send them back to Whitcoulls for a no-frills no-pictures NIV.   

No doubt Christian Booksellers throughout history have always had to deal with a broad range of tastes: “Got the latest Manichean in yet, mate? I’ve done me dash with those Gnostic novels.”

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2003, and was the first column under the Juggling Bookie masthead.

*Otago Christian Books

Image courtesy Penguin Random House

The Juggling Bookie: Christianity in Movies

 At the time the NZ Catholic’s film critic, Graeme Evans, reviewed Dogville, I hadn’t seen the movie. Nevertheless I was puzzled about his claim that “conventional religion is now regarded as box office poison,” and that the only way in which film-makers can present religious content is by disguising it, and ‘conning the audience.’ 

Well, I’ve now seen the movie, been surprised, shocked and amazed by it, and perplexed that anyone could miss the point that the main character, Grace, suffers increasingly as she offers (Divine) grace to the most ornery collection of villagers you’ve ever seen. (People have missed the point, however: some reviewers saw it as an attack on America.) 

Dogville, which hasn’t been widely distributed in NZ, requires its audience to spend most of the film thinking about what they see. No easy three-point sermon here. 

In the last couple of decades, theology has increasingly been debated in movies, many of them made in Hollywood. 

Leaving the oddball Christian connotations of The Matrix trilogy aside, there are plenty of other movies dealing with religion, God and spirituality, often with a Christian perspective.    

Some of them are fantasies, such as Jim Carrey’s two movies, The Truman Show and Bruce Almighty.    (Carrey’s Liar, Liar is another moral movie.)  

I delighted in the way God was presented in Bruce Almighty. His He has sense of humour is infinitely more subtle than Bruce’s, He has wisdom, wit and compassion, and you have no doubt He knows what He’s doing. 

Then there’s Brother, Where Art Thou?, which in spite of being based on Homer’s Odyssey, not only has a river baptism scene early in the piece and a redemption scene much later (in the midst of a Ku Klux Klan meeting, no less), but sports a one-eyed prophet (Cyclops – he turns up in Dogville too) who sets the main character thinking very seriously about God’s providence.    

The peculiar Keeping the Faith dramatizes the moral dilemmas of a Rabbi and a Catholic priest.   The Rabbi comes off as the lesser moral character, seeming to have no compunction about making mad passionate love to a woman he’s not married to, while the priest actually struggles to overcome the same temptation.  

There’s the very strange Dogma, which for all its crazy casting, foul language and off-the-wall moments, still asks solid questions about why humans are offered grace, and why Christ should have died for them. (God appears in two guises in this one, alongside angels, demons and a very strange toilet monster. Don’t ask.) 

And there’s The Man Who Sued God. If you can get past Billy Connelly’s foul-mouthed leading character, you’ll find the film is interested in matters much deeper than whether the insurance notion of ‘an Act of God’ has any real meaning.  

Finally, there’s Signs, in which Mel Gibson makes a better case for belief in God, perhaps, than he does in The Passion. 

Disguised or not, con-job or not, spirituality no longer seems to be box-office poison.

A scene from Dogville

This piece was written for The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,Taonga, in 2004, but possibly not published at the time. 

The Juggling Bookie: Dancing

Courtesy Daily Mail

For almost as long as we’ve been married, my wife and I have said, We must learn to dance.  For years we’d watched dancers sail round the floor with the easy grace of Rogers and Astaire while we trailed behind holding each other tightly in case we fell over.

Last year we began dancing classes. Coming in a bit late, at week three, we found the other learners still trying to get their feet to do as they were told. Without looking at them. While smiling.   

We thought it would be really difficult, but soon discovered it doesn’t take a lot of talent to dance. Most people can move in time and get the steps right. It just takes practice.

We assumed at first we’d learn enough to get us into the Rogers/Astaire mode, but no: we were learning Round dancing. (That’s right, as opposed to Square.) Round dancing uses common steps like the Cha Cha, the Rumba, and the Two-Step - but only as a basis for an infinite number of variations.  And in order not to have to remember the sequence of all these variations, a caller tells you what’s coming up next, and you get on and do it. 

Thus, allied to the art of keeping your feet from tripping over themselves - or your partner’s - is the art of remembering what these variations require you to do. Many of the names bear little relation to the movement you perform. Though in the Fence Line you stretch your arms out before and behind, in the New Yorker you fling your outside arm back and your inside foot forward. It’s easy once you know it, but the reason for the title is lost in the mists of choreographic history. 

The movements for The Sliding Door, The Scissors and The Hitch (not hitching your trousers up, gents) relate to their titles, but the Fan moving into the Hockey Stick is a bit of a conundrum. 

In the early weeks, connecting the intended movement to their arcane names wasn’t too difficult. But when we got to the Two-Step, we found variations piled on variations. There’s the basic box-step, and the reverse box, then ‘progressive’ boxes (which is a misnomer), left boxes (which go full circle) and a broken box - which isn’t. It’s both frustrating and enlivening, and shows that old brains are as good as new ones at learning. If you practice!

However, the problem with practicing at home is finding enough room. The earlier dances we learnt didn’t move too far from their starting place, but the Two-Step grazes all over the field. By the time we’ve done an eight-step Crab Walk, we’ve squeezed through the door of our lounge and out into the hall. The following steps take us to the front door; in the wintertime that’s where we stop, and go into reverse. 

Maybe in the summer we’ll open the door, trip lightly down the path and out onto the street where there’s not only plenty of room, but possibly a ready-made audience.

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2004


The Juggling Bookie: Invisible

Ghost writers used to be invisible. Consider the Holy Ghost Writers who ‘took dictation’ from God for the biblical canon. Most were swept into the ranks of Anon, or worse, had their books named after someone else. 

Back when this column was written I surfed the Net to see if being a Christian ghost writer was a common trade, and found one called Charlene Davis. Charlene (who, to keep the record straight, is a Christian writer rather than a Christian ghost) used to run a site called At that time it had an interactive CD containing 42,000 family recipes; a downloadable e-book: Make Your Own Gift Baskets!; and generous five-days-a-week Tips For Busy Moms!  

All accompanied by exclamation marks!!

Now when you try and link to busymomsrecipes it seems to take you to some dark place on the Internet. 

One of Charlene’s ghost-writing ventures was: The Ultimate Baby Naming eBook – its ‘proper’ author was Jesse Horowitz. The book, we’re told, contains the 21 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid in Naming Your Baby!  (“How to make absolutely certain that you’ve considered all possible religious interpretations of any name before deciding on it…”)   And a foolproof, new way to choose the perfect name for your baby!!   

Charlene is also an editor. I’m sure she’s pleased that editors, like most ghost writers, are invisible. One of her recent jobs was: Confessions of a Womanizer! by Stephen E. Chatman.  (Note her influence in the exclamation mark!!)

On her site Stephen E. Chatman made the following claim: “Ordinary men can't compete [with me] because I am not a regular adorer of women. I am specialized, a champion of sexual desire.”

Hmm. Such comments make me, as a man, want to be invisible.

I said earlier that invisibility was the main trait of ghost-writing. No more.

The famous Left Behind series had a very visible ghost writer in the person of Jerry Jenkins. It appears that Tim Lahaye’s contributions to this series consisted of the original idea and thirty-page outlines for each book, or approximately one thirteenth of the total series. Lahaye’s name sold the books, but the person who did the hard graft was Jerry Jenkins.

Lahaye expanded his outlining skills. Babylon Rising was the first of a new series that would be “a little
lighter theologically,” with an archaeologist hero similar to Indiana Jones.

Then the visible ghost writer was Greg Dinallo, who is mostly known for several fast-paced Cold War thrillers written around the early 90s. Whether he suited Lahaye’s fastidious readers is another matter: the comment of one reviewer regarding Dinallo’s own novel, Red Ink, is a little ominous: ‘I would have preferred if this book had been written in invisible ink.’

Maybe there’s something to be said for being unacknowledged, after all.

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2004. The version above has been updated.         

The Juggling Bookie considers Second Childhood

While trying to find out whether there are any books relating to the topic of Second Childhood (not that I’m considering dropping into it at any moment, or am in real need of figuring out how I’ll cope) I Googled across a particular title that had some relevance to the matter in hand.  

Rhymes of second childhood: a gift item for those who at last have come to their senses, by Arthur
Stavig. It sounds just the thing I need, except that it’s out of print.

The curious thing is that it was advertised, along with several of Mr Stavig’s other titles, on a site entitled Economics Student Books (sic). I couldn’t quite see the connection, except in a peculiarly postmodern sense, but it was a little like going out in the rain looking for a dry dog and stumbling over a frozen cat. I’m sure you understand what I mean.

Anyway, Mr Stavig is also the author of Red Riding Hood story disputed as the wolf speaks up, and the equally awkwardly titled, Trolls: thewhipping boy of Norwegian folklore.  (Yup, only one boy.)   Mr Stavig, as well as residing on the Economics Student Books site, seems, for someone writing thirty years ago, to have been a little ahead in the postmodern stakes.  (BTW, did you know on Google’s Advanced Search you can ‘find results without the words?   How postmodern is that?)

Perhaps the piece de resistance (if I may be so bold as to show off my electrical learning) of Mr Stavig’s featured works, was Dear Elmer: the unuxpurgated (sic) memoirs of a bloviated Norwegian.

Now before you suspect that someone has had a little mishap with the spelling of Mr Stavig’s title in regard to unuxpurgated, a word which I think henceforth will enter my vocabulary as a way of bemusing my grandchildren (and perhaps making them think I really have entered my second childhood) let me point out that it also appears in with this spelling on

Bloviated, on the other hand, is a perfectly respectable word, meaning to discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner.  One George Rebeck, (a person who doesn’t reside on an Economics site) wrote: “the rural Babbitt who bloviates about ‘progress’ and ‘growth.’” Hmm. Perhaps my grandkids might think I’m bloviated.

This almighty phrase, (which turns up three times in a row on Google), first appeared in the Utne Reader for November/December 1991.

Oh, you want to know what on earth an Utne Reader is? It’s a magazine founded in 1984 by one Eric Utne, and it reprints the best articles from over 2,000 alternative media sources. Alternative to what?   The Utne Reader?

But we haven’t finished with the inimitable Arthur, who plainly has a sense of humour even without his titles being mangled.   He also wrote: Things you’ve always wanted to know about lutefisk but were too politeto ask. As we all know, a lutefisk is a dried cod soaked in a lye solution before it’s boiled to a gelatinous consistency.   

Oh, if only all of us could reach the stage of gelatinous consistency! How untroubled the world would be.  

Or perhaps gelatinous consistency is really just Second Childhood…

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,Taonga. It was written in 2005 


Monday, May 10, 2021


Facebook's idea of reviving items you posted a year or two or more ago sometimes brings up some happy memories. 

Today I just found a delightful Australian video in which adult kids say all the things their mothers wish they'd say instead of the usual slanging-off things. It's called Things Mums Never Hear From Their Kids. 

And following that video was a post containing a review from 2017 of my book, The Disenchanted Wizard. This review doesn't appear on either Amazon or Goodreads, sadly, so I've decided to publish it here. Sadly, the writer of this review, a good friend of mine, passed away in November 2019. 

Here's what she had to say: 

Just read 'The Disenchanted Wizard' by my friend, Mike Crowl. Simply amazing what an author with a vivid imagination can do with the love of soccer, the discovery of a map, a long ago act of revenge and 2 youngsters - oh, and lots of extras in between.
A fabulous read for children (I would say 8 - 14 yrs) and also for adult children like myself.
Seriously, it really had me captivated.
This is an exciting, fast-paced, and at times 'on the edge of the chair' read, with beautiful use of language particularly in the descriptive passages.
Affordably available on kindle 🙂