The California Honeydrops were rocking it out at the Golden Saloon in McCarthy on Wednesday night, and it was a blast.
For me it was a little strange to hear a Bay Area band in McCarthy. I haunt the Bay Area, during the cold winter months, but even so I’m usually still something like three hours away from the buzz of the San Fran scene or the East Bay (Oakland, Berkeley) action, and without a car, well, I rarely get out to these cultural Meccas. Lucky for me, The Honeydrops came to me, this time around, all the way up to the end of the road to our little bush community in the middle of wilds of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away. ~ Matthew 11:12
The Violent Bear It Away is one of the less-hyped works of Flannery O’Connor, but this is easily my favorite work of the great Southern Gothic writer.
A young boy was raised by his great Uncle, a former inmate at a mental asylum and self-anointed “prophet.” The Uncle raises him to be a prophet, but when the great Uncle dies, the boy is in his teens and must decide the course of his life. While drawn to the exotic and dramatic elements of a prophetic calling (e.g., calling fire down from heaven, etc.), he greatly fears prophetic poverty, most notably the hunger he senses from his Uncle, who longs for the Bread of Life to satiate his spiritual deprivation.
I finished The Goldfinch last spring, but it was hard to know what to write. I had pretty high expectations for the novel. I’d read and loved The Secret History (Tartt’s first novel), and The Goldfinch was a runaway bestseller, and that wasn’t all — the book also won a Pulitzer Prize.
Yep, so I had high expectations, and I enjoyed the novel, I did, and I’d recommend it; but there were a lot of parts that felt really bogged down to me. Specifically, I spent what I felt to be an excruciating amount of time wallowing with Theo (the narrator and protagonist) in his self-destruction and various drug-altered states of mind. And please note that I happen to be a big fan of exploring altered states of mind. It’s something I’ve written a good deal about — whether it be intoxicants or meditation or heightened states of religious expression, it’s all just super fantastic to me — but in Goldfinch, it all just felt to me a little bit repetitive.
That being said, I’d give Goldfinch a 3.8 on a 5 scale. If you find the plot and premise and subject matter (the place of art in dealing with modern neuroses) intriguing, then go for it.
The Goldfinch sparked an intense and ongoing debate among critics about whether or not this is a exemplary novel, a novel worthy to be held up as “good literature.” I didn’t find myself siding strongly one way or another. I felt I appreciated what Tartt was doing — for me it’s a good novel (read it) but it’s not great — on the other hand, Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History, was.
Yesterday an article of mine went up at Cinema Faith, comparing the James Bond and Jason Bourne films and the various versions of America that they present. The films are intertwined into American culture, spanning decades (29 films total, between the two of them), so I’ve planned it as a series of three articles.
Bourne’s journey mirrored my own, and many others. It mirrored our own spiritual and national amnesia. Like many of my peers, I was taught a sanitized, glorified version of American history, a Christian ideology of “one nation, under God.” Sure we had our messy periods — what with slavery and that nasty bit with killing all of those Indians — but we fixed all that, didn’t we? The America of today is a land of opportunity, opportunity for all, isn’t it?
I saw this film last night — enjoyed it and recommend it. Okja is the story of a young rural South Korean girl and her love of a genetically modified “super pig,” Okja. Yeah, it’s a strange-sounding plot, but it works. Along the way, there’s a critique of corporate power and a young band of animal liberation activists bent on exposing it that made me want to join Earth First! or PETA.
The film, however, is genuinely funny and heartwarming and for whatever ideological points it scores, the narrative never loses sight of the connection between the girl and Okja. Another success for Netflix.
We can’t sell it unless it’s dead!
This the CEO yells while standing on the killing floor, Okja’s life hanging in the balance, and it stands as sort of a religious credo for modern civilization. “We can’t sell it unless it’s dead!” This axiom also gets to the heart of the perverted reality of our world: economic success means converting the living world into dead money as quickly as possible. Profitability is linked directly to death. It’s a truth that’s buried beneath slogans and slick marketing, but the truth finds its way to the surface in this well-crafted and compelling film.
A few months ago I heard about the critically acclaimed Netflix Original film, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. I received the tip via Cinema Faith, a film site that I do a little writing for.
I enjoyed the film and recommend it, especially if you’ve already got a Netflix account. It was funny and relaxing, but as the film progresses the stakes are raised for the characters. By the end, the film becomes a rather reflective experience, reflective and perhaps even a bit unnerving. Read more
How I rate it: 5 of 5 stars
What I liked: This is a deeply intimate novel, and I’m hopeless and helplessly hooked. I’m a fan of historical fiction, but this, like all good historical fiction, transcends the era by its deep and honest engagement with the tensions of the characters inhabiting their time and place.
Plot Summary: Two exceptional and intelligent girls, Greco and Lila, form an unbreakable but complicated bond growing up in a poor, harsh, and at times violent neighborhood in Naples, Italy. The novel is set in the 1950s and is the first novel in the four-novel Neapolitan series that follows the two women through the course of their lives.
I began to weep with lonliness. What was I? Who was I?…What signs did I carry? What fate? I thought of the neighborhood, as of a whirlpool, from which any attempt of escape was an illusion.
How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars
What I liked: It was a thrill ride, a thinkers thrill ride, but a thriller nonetheless. It’s a bit creepy to contemplate the reach of the government in the post-9/11 world. Even creepier, I submit, when a skilled author brings characters to life who have to grapple with the issues in real time, on the run.
Plot Summary: A clean up by the NSA leads to a cover up, and cover ups lead to more cover ups. The body count and loose ends lead an analyst inside the agency to start to ask questions, questions that she knows she isn’t ready to answer, questions that peel back the curtain on the NSA’s power and god-like reach.
“Something about all that power seemed to make the assholes who wielded it believe they were invulnerable.”
How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars
Plot Summary: A coming of age story of Junior, a fourteen-year-old boy living with his family on the Spokane Indian Reservation. With a sense of humor along with the blanket honesty of a young adolescent, Junior narrates stories of being bullied and making a major step forward in an attempt to take ownership of his life.
Significance: Controversial as well as comedic, there are many beautiful moments in this novel that speak to the experience of growing up on “the rez.” For those, like myself, who have extremely limited knowledge of what it is like to grow up on the reservation, it was riveting and at times heartbreaking to read Junior’s diary.
How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars
What I liked: The main protagonist Lisbeth Salander. She is intriguing, combative, and unyielding, something of a rage against the machine dynamic.
How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars
Plot Summary: A young Nigerian woman travels to America, discovers race and blackness, and navigates a wide range of deep experiences that are intense and demanding.
What I most appreciated: The author digs into the various experiences of Africa and of America and of the lived experience of what it means to be “black.” It truly feels like a privilege to read a narrative so well-crafted and yet also so deeply informative, something that the author conveys through the characters and the story.
An important novel? Very. The discussions of race are open and raw, difficult for the characters and for the reader, but very timely in this so-called “post-racial, America.” In addition to the deep discussions of race, the author manages to speak to 21st century people navigating their lives in global and multicultural societies. Takes you into both the intellectual and emotional element.
What if Bob Dylan had never sold a record? Imagine that.
Imagine that none of us have ever listened to one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters. What if one our most icononic musicians had cut two albums – just two – but we’ve never heard the songs, we’ve never heard ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ or ‘Watchtower’ or ‘Tangled Up in Blue’? Try to picture an America where no one in 60s counter-culture had ever heard ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’, because maybe Dylan had to hang it up early because his albums just didn’t sell, so he had to be realistic and work a construction job to provide for his family. And maybe way back in the day you actually worked with Dylan – think of that – but instead of being an icon, he was just “Bob” to you, one of the guys, and that was a long time ago. He used to play music, you recall, he mentioned that, but you actually never heard Bob play, come to think about it. Then one day you discover that those two albums he cut all those decades back are super sensations overseas and that they’ve have helped to inspire a resistance to totalitarian rule in a land far away….See the rest of my review at Cinema Faith.
By way of a holiday reflection, I wrote a review of It’s a Wonderful Life for Cinema Faith. Cinema Faith is a new film website with thoughtful articles and a reviews written by insightful young Christians.
Here’s a quote from Frank Capra, creator of It’s a Wonderful Life, a quote I discuss in my short review:
Forgotten among the hue-and criers were the hard-working stiffs that came home too tired to shout or demonstrate in streets … and prayed they’d have enough left over to keep their kids in college, despite their knowing that some were pot-smoking, parasitic parent-haters. Who would make films about, and for, these uncomplaining, unsqueaky wheels that greased the squeaky? Not me. My “one man, one film” Hollywood had ceased to exist. Actors had sliced it up into capital gains. And yet – mankind needed dramatizations of the truth that man is essentially good, a living atom of divinity; that compassion for others, friend or foe, is the noblest of all virtues. Films must be made to say these things, to counteract the violence and the meanness, to buy time to demobilize the hatreds…
American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It can be baffling and debilitating to try to understand American culture — but perhaps this is because we should be thinking in the plural: cultures. The current political polarization is especially frustrating, and Colin Woodard’s thesis went a long way toward helping me get a better sense of where we are as a culture. There’s more to the story, I think, but tracing the ethno-regional history of big swaths of North America is invaluable. Different cultures within America inherited specific core values, ethics, and ways-of-being that set them against each other in ways that continue to perpetuate conflict. Of particular concern are the “Yankee” culture and the “Deep South.” Many of us are familiar with these differing values, but there are more subtle shades that Woodard explores, as in the “Far West” or “The Left Coast.”….This is one of those Aha! books that sticks with me, that I continue to digest.
View all my reviews
Savages by Don Winslow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The ending surprised me. I enjoyed reading the novel, but that ending, man. Woah. After finishing the novel, I get this Great Gatspy feel. Winslow performs something of a deconstruction of the life of the privileged and powerful….I listened to this via audible.com and enjoyed Winslow’s snappy, hip, minimalistic prose. A good read with a gripping conclusion.
View all my reviews