Pieces of Today, October 29th

#1. Matthew Perryman-Jones singing O Theo, slow and soulful — the song is based on Van Gogh’s letters to his brother and it strikes me as a far more honest and more meaningful take on Vincent’s legacy than Don McLean’s more well-known Vincent (Starry Starry Night).

#2. Fast watercolor sketches:

Having Decided To Stay, Bryana Johnson, 1 Tim 6:11, Bamboo
#3. W.S. Merwin’s grandiose hymn to gratitude:


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

(W.S. Merwin)

Having Decided To Stay Released for Kindle!

Having Decided To Stay, Bryana Johnson, Kindle

My poetry collection, Having Decided to Stay, has just been released for Kindle! You can now get the e-book for only $3.99. If you prefer the paperback, it’s available here.

Also, don’t forget to enter your name for the goodreads givewaway that ends in just three days…

If you have read Having Decided to Stay and enjoyed it, I invite you to help a struggling author and share your thoughts in a review over at Amazon or Goodreads. I’m grateful for every one of your words!


Desdichado, Having Decided To Stay, Bryana Johnson I came upon this lovely piece by Dorothy Sayers over at Noel’s blog. I find the title especially fascinating, as it appears in Ivanhoe when the mysterious knight appears at the tournament, identifying himself as ‘Desdichado.’  The book claims the term is Spanish for ‘Disinherited One,’ (although a more literal defintion is ‘unfortunate’).


Christ walks the world again, His lute upon His back,
His red robe rent to tatters, His riches gone to rack,
The wind that wakes the morning blows His hair about His face,
His hands and feet are ragged with the ragged briar’s embrace,
For the hunt is up behind Him and His sword is at His side, . . .
Christ the bonny outlaw walks the whole world wide,

Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me,
Lie among the bracken and break the barley bread?
We will see new suns arise in golden, far-off skies,
For the Son of God and Woman hath not where to lay His head.”

Christ walks the world again, a prince of fairy-tale,
He roams, a rascal fiddler, over mountain and down dale,
Cast forth to seek His fortune in a bitter world and grim,
For the stepsons of His Father’s house would steal His Bride from Him;
They have weirded Him to wander till He bring within His hands
The water of eternal youth from black-enchanted lands,

Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me,
Or sleep on silken cushions in the bower of wicked men?
For if we walk together through the wet and windy weather,
When I ride back home triumphant you will ride beside Me then.”

Christ walks the world again, new-bound on high emprise,
With music in His golden mouth and laughter in His eyes;
The primrose springs before Him as He treads the dusty way,
His singer’s crown of thorn has burst in blossom like the may,
He heedeth not the morrow and He never looks behind,
Singing: “Glory to the open skies and peace to all mankind.”

Singing: “Lady, lady, will you come away with Me?
Was never man lived longer for the hoarding of his breath;
Here be dragons to be slain, here be rich rewards to gain . . .
If we perish in the seeking, . . . why, how small a thing is death!”

(Dorothy Sayers)

What I’ve Recently Finished Reading

The Island of the World, Bryana Johnson, Having Decided To StayIsland of the World (Michael O’Brien) –5 STARS– It took me a little while to realize that I do like this book and then a little longer to realize just how much I like it. However, since it’s 838 pages long, I had plenty of time in which to make those decisions. The Island of the World is a novel about one man, but written in epic form to illustrate the way that all our lives are epics in themselves. The Odyssey is referenced frequently and provides a backdrop for the book, which draws heavily on the beautiful theme of nostos, the homeward journey. Indeed, this is the theme of the entire book, although on a grand and cosmic scale. Josip Lasta, the central character, is a Croatian boy whose life is traced from childhood until old age during a period of massive and tragic turbulence in the Balkans and wanders through hell itself on his search for a reason to live. While I grew frustrated in the middle of the story with imagery that didn’t seem to make sense, I was pleasantly surprised by the way that all of the clues were woven into the story by the end. Note that O’Brien does not shy away from writing about violence. On the contrary, he seems to revel in it when it is necessary to the telling of the story he has set out to tell. Sensitive readers should be forewarned.

Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton (Kevin Belmonte) –4 STARS– This is a decent biography of Chesterton. Belmonte capitalizes on the sequence and contents of his writings (which were many and varied!) and doesn’t add as much insight into his life – especially his childhood and conversion – as I would have liked, so I didn’t learn quite as much as I was hoping I would.  Overall, however, this is a solid look at the legacy of a mighty wordsmith.

Letters To Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer (C.S. Lewis) – 4 STARS – I think Letters to Malcolm is quite underrated. An insightful collection of thoughts concerning the subject of prayer, it gives the reader a glimpse into a more private side of the mind of C.S. Lewis, revealing questions which that great man asked and yet perhaps was never able to answer on this side of the gray rain-curtain. However, the fact that he didn’t understand everything doesn’t seem to have bothered Lewis overmuch and this happy fact makes the book all the more precious. Of course, in addition to these more theoretical and philosophical considerations, Letters To Malcolm also provides practical ideas for cultivating a habit of prayer.

Miracle in Moscow (David Benson) – 5 STARS – David Benson’s story of distributing Bibles and meeting with followers of Christ in Russia during the cold war is chilling, to say the least. It’s also educational and fulfilling, but I wouldn’t tack on any light and fluffy words like “inspiring.” It is a chronicle of great faith and its rewards, but the rewards mostly consist of assistance on the battlefield of the world and in desperately dark places. This isn’t a book that will leave you with warm and fuzzy feelings about leaning on the everlasting arms, but will point out to you instead that leaning on the everlasting arms is not always a matter of settling into heated blankets. Indeed, it is more often like walking through the valley of the shadow of death with four cold fingers taking refuge in One Great Hand. The nobility of the upside-down Kingdom is portrayed very beautifully in this book, as well as the harried and haunted people of God who have lived in all ages in fear for their lives and yet not afraid. I suppose this is the aristocracy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Landlady’s Master (George MacDonald, edited by Michael Phillips) – 4 STARS – I’ve already reviewed this book here.

The Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis) – 5 STARS – This is a book I will probably come back to more than once, in order to spend more time going over some more complex portions, particularly the chapter on transposition. My favorite essays from this collection were The Weight of Glory, Learning in War-Time, The Inner Ring, and Membership. The title essay, The Weight of Glory, is an exploration of sehnzucht, what C.S. Lewis calls “your inconsolable secret.”  It questions if the answer to our unfulfilled longings might not be ultimate acceptance by God. Of course, in so doing, Lewis lays bare a score of other delightful things. I want to post about three pages of quotes from this book, but will refrain from doing so, and simply admonish you to pick up this book and read at least the first chapter, if nothing else.

The Defendant (G.K. Chesterton) – 4 STARS – The Defendant is not really built around a unifying theme but is a collection of observations concerning varied and mostly unrelated topics. Chesterton’s two great weaknesses – carelessness and generalization – render a few of the essays unsubstantiated and shallow reasoning is evident in some places. However, there are also many moments of stunning brilliance contained in this volume and these make it well worth the read. Some of my favorites of the “defenses” were Rash Vows, Heraldry, Humility, Baby-Worship, and Patriotism.

Autobiography of George Muller (George Muller) – 5 STARS – This classic is simply written and easily read in a few hours. It is well worth it. Don’t let the title fool you: it is not really an autobiography of a man, but a chronicle of the ways of God with one man who wanted to give everything. And oh, what would we see if we would once realize the heights and the depths of the riches that are ours in Him?

A Damsel in Distress (P.G. Wodehouse) – 4 STARS – Wodehouse delivers again with another entertaining novel spiced with his typical verbal gymnastics and the recycled stock characters we’ve come to know and love.

How to Read the Bible as Literature & Get More Out of It (Leland Ryken) – 4 STARS – This is a magnificent look at the literary nature of the Bible. The preface and first chapter (which, in my opinion, are the best parts of this entire book) attempt to show the reader the artistry of the Bible and the importance of the imagination in coming to a true understanding of the Word of God. Ryken works from the premise that the story is the meaning, explaining that, “because literature aims to recreate a whole experience, there is a certain irreducible quality to it.”  He shows why our abstract dissections of the Bible so often fall short of truly communicating the truth contained in the text. This book gave a context and an expression to things that I have felt for many years but have not been able to coherently verbalize.

The Club Of Queer Trades (G.K. Chesterton) – 4 STARS – Solid Chestertonian fiction, riddled with farce and mystique. I listened to this on Librivox and heartily enjoyed the reader, David Barnes, who reads in a delightful British accent, well-suited to the characters in the story.

Adela Cathcart (George MacDonald) – 3 STARS – Novel about a sickly and psychologically weary young woman who is restored to health through the efforts of a group of acquaintances who form a storytelling club. The plot is rather thin, and some of the stories are annoyingly sentimental, but a few of MacDonald’s classic short stories are also included in this volume, such as The Light Princess and The Giant’s Heart. Overall, I have read better things by MacDonald and expect to read more of them in the future. I was super excited to find 53 of MacDonald’s books in one book on Kindle for $1.99. Now I won’t have to settle for anymore abridged and edited versions of his writings!

The Cold War: A History In Documents (Allan Winkler) – 3 STARS – I would hesitate to recommend this book. Despite its claim to rely on documents for evidence, the author’s bias toward modern liberalism is made all too evident. While Winkler does try to approach most issues more or less objectively, some statements he quotes (or makes himself) serve as windows into his own ‘progressive’ worldview. Take, for example, one towards the beginning of the book which deplores the fact that women in the US during the 1950s “could identify with nothing beyond the home – not politics, not art, not science, not events large or small, war or peace, in the United States or the world…” A discerning reader may be able to pick out the fact from the opinion, but I’m going to keep looking for a better book on the Cold War.

What I’m still reading

The Iliad (translated by Martin Hammond)
A Patriot’s History of the United States (by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen)
The Complete Poems (W.H. Auden)
The Collected Fictions (Jorge Luis Borges)
The Road to Serfdom (F.A. Hayek)

What else I want to read in the near future

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)
Middlemarch (George Eliot)
The Weapon of Prayer (E.M. Bounds)
Hudson Taylor (by Howard Taylor)
The Gulag Archipelago (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)
The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers

Having Decided To Stay Giveaway at Goodreads!

Goodreads is hosting a giveaway of my poetry collection. Click on the widget below to enter to win! If you haven’t yet signed up for an account with goodreads, I highly recommend it as an excellent tool to keep yourself accountable in your reading habits and keep your reading list manageable. Goodreads allows you to regularly update your booklists and share reviews and reading recommendations with your friends. I find myself taking advantage of the resources it offers on a near-daily basis.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Having Decided To Stay by Bryana Johnson

Having Decided To Stay

by Bryana Johnson

Giveaway ends October 30, 2012.
See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

   Enter to win