Welcome to The Once Lost Wanderer. The name is derived from two poems: Amazing Grace by reformed slave trader John Newton, and All That is Gold Does Not Glitter by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (84 down 16 to go)

Tristram Shandy or The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne

…there never was a great or heroic action performed since the world began by one called Tristram ~ Walter Shandy, Tristram's father

This is the first time I’ve read Tristram Shandy (though I started it and did not finish years ago) and the only work I’ve read by Laurence Sterne.  The novel was originally published under the longer title referenced above, but most modern editions go by the shorter version. Tristram Shandy is a first person narrative, though it is difficult to categorize it further, using the common fiction genres. I call it a comic novel, and satire, of the Enlightenment era.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novel satisfies 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge category #5 – A classic published before 1800.

In spite of the original title, the novel is not much about Tristram’s life though it is certainly about his opinions. Most of the book is Tristram relating comic settings and conversations between his father and uncle: Walter Shandy and Uncle Toby. Nearly half the book takes place before Tristram’s birth; he narrates earlier events that were presumably passed down to him. It takes place in early to mid-18th century England.

Walter Shandy intended his son to be named Trismegistus, but the chambermaid sent to relay the message can only remember it begins “TRIS”. The officiating parson, concludes it must be Tristram – a name Walter Shandy thought was unison to Nincompoop.  Walter also believed, for he’d read numerous books on the subject, that large noses were a sign of intelligence and nobility. He was therefore again disappointed at Tristram’s birth, when the Doctor permanently crushes Tristram’s nose by use of forceps.

As I said it is a comic novel – one of the earliest and considered one of the best. Hmmm, for me, not so much. There is no doubt much of the humor was lost on me owing to a quarter millennium separating the author’s day and my own. I know the book is filled with double entendre and subtle allusions relevant in Sterne’s day. I caught some of them, but I’m sure I missed more.

Sterne, or Tristram, makes many allusions to other writers and books, and I’m sure I missed many of these for the same reason. His favorite was Don Quixote. Sterne makes repeated explicit references to writings and characters from Don Quixote as well as many subtle allusions. Tristram’s Uncle Toby and his aide Corporal Trim are very reminiscent of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Sterne makes other allusions to:  Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Locke, John Bunyan, Rabelais, and more.

Another comic device Sterne used was digression – in fact, it was his main gag. He seldom finishes a chapter without chasing some digression and promising to return to the previous subject in some future chapter. Then he often digressed from the digression, and often yet again, and etc. Often he does not get back to the original point for many chapters – if at all – though he occasionally reminds the reader that he has not forgotten and intends to return to unfinished portions. I know it was intentional, but for me it bordered on absurd. I’m convinced Sterne was intelligent, witty, very well read, and used clever word play, but for me, it just didn’t work well.

The book concludes with a very clever double entendre though – really more of a quadruple entendre. After one character relates an amusing story, a listener concludes:

A Cock and Bull, said Yorick – And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard.

As I’ve suggested, the reader can take that statement one of at least four ways: one quite literally, a second figuratively, a third rather bawdily, and a fourth – that may just be the author’s self-effacing commentary on the entire book.

I’m glad I read Tristram Shandy. It has been on my TBR for a long time and I think it is historically significant, but I didn’t really enjoy it – so, I’m also glad to be DONE reading it.

Have you read Tristram Shandy? Did you like it any better than I did?

Other excerpts:

I have but half a score things to do in the time – I have a thing to name – a thing to lament – a thing to hope – a thing to promise, and a thing to threaten – I have a thing to suppose – a thing to declare – a thing to conceal – a thing to choose, and a thing to pray for – This chapter, therefore, I name the chapter of Things – and my next chapter to it, that is, the first chapter of my next volume, if I live, shall be my chapter upon Whiskers, in order to keep up some sort of connection in my works. ~ narrative

Sciences May Be Learned Rote But Wisdom Not ~ narrative

Let love therefore be what it will, - my uncle Toby fell into it. ~ narrative

Then he will never, quoth my father, be able to lie diagonally in his bed again as long as he lives. ~ Walter Shandy upon learning his brother Toby was to be married

It was a consuming vexation to my father, that my mother never asked the meaning of a thing she did not understand. ~ narrative regarding Tristram’s mother

The French have a gay way of treating every thing that is Great; and that is all can be said upon it. ~ Tristram Shandy

I’m persuaded there is not any one prince, prelate, pope, or potentate, great or small upon earth, more desirous in his heart of keeping straight with the world than I am – or who take more likely means for it. ~ Tristram Shandy

Monday, July 17, 2017

Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman

Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman

…the grace of God doesn’t simply invite us to follow…it teaches us to follow. ~ Ken Idleman from Not a Fan

The premise of this book is nothing new – The distinction between being a nominal Christian and being a committed follower of Jesus. I’m certain there are thousands of books on the subject.

Ken Idleman’s approach, which you might infer from the title, contrasts being a “fan” of Jesus with being a follower.

He defines a fan as: an enthusiastic admirer. It’s easy to be a fan, quite another thing to be a committed follower.

John 3:16 emphasizes believing.
Luke 9:23 focuses on following.
There is no believing without following. There is no John 3:16 without Luke 9:23.

Idleman opines that many, if not most, good church-going, Christians in North America are probably fans, but not necessarily committed followers. He does not imply they are not true Christians, though he does draw attention to an important warning that Jesus gave: in Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

Idleman points out one important word in Jesus’ warning that is often overlooked and particularly alarming. Jesus did not say: there will be a few, or there will be some, but there will be MANY – MANY who thought they knew the Lord, MANY to whom the Lord says: “I never knew you.”

This isn’t the main point of the book though, just something I found particularly important. The book is intended to help the fan recognize themselves as such, and then to make the switch from fan to follower.

In the final section of the book Idleman points out that Jesus has three pretty demanding requirements of followers: willingness to follow WHEREVER he leads, willingness to do WHATEVER he leads them to do, and willingness to follow NOW.

As I said, there are thousands of books on the same subject. I’ve read a few. I don’t remember exactly what caused me to pick this one up, but I think the title caught my attention. In spite of liking the title, and the analogy, I liked a different comparison Idleman makes even better. At one point he asserts that many Christians treat Jesus like a consultant. A consultant is recognized for their expertise and is polled for their advice, but ultimately the consultee is free to heed or ignore the consultant’s advice. Idleman then points out:  God doesn’t do consulting. Never has. Never will. He does God. When we treat him as a consultant, he simply stops showing up for the meeting.

Idleman’s style is a little different than what is usually associated with Christian non-fiction. He is humorous and entertaining, throwing in random things like quotations from Indigo Montoya, writing in Klingon, or using TV ads as illustrations.

In short, I found it useful and timely commentary that was easily accessible.


Friday, July 14, 2017

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Speckled Band is part of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collection. Chronologically, it is Holmes’ fourth case, and the second in which Dr. Watson assists Holmes.

A distressed, and of course beautiful young woman, Helen Stoner, comes to Holmes early one morning. She confesses a vague feeling of dread and enlists Holmes’ assistance. She tells how her twin sister died of no apparent cause two years earlier. Her sister’s death was preceded by mysterious incidents in their step-father’s country manor. Now, with the advent of similar incidents, Helen is in fear for her own life.

I don’t suppose it will be a spoiler to reveal that a “speckled band” plays an important part in the mystery.

I am certain that I read this story many years ago, because I had a very specific idea of what the speckled band referred to, which proved to be correct. It will certainly mystify a reader unfamiliar with this tale.

Doyle thought The Adventure of the Speckled Band was his best Sherlock Holmes story. It is certainly the best I’ve read thus far, though I’m not very far into the canon. In the three stories that precede this, Holmes solves mysteries, but there is no criminal brought to justice, nor innocent who is saved. In this story a villain is indeed brought to justice and the terrified woman is saved from certain doom by Holmes' extraordinary powers of deduction.