Spring Update

Reading… (or Read)

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. Better than the last time through. I savored passages I hadn’t before, and got a real sense for why LOTR seems bigger than any other fantasy I’ve read. Nothing comes close, and now I realize a bit more why. Post to come on this subject.

A Wrinkle in Time/A Wind in the Door, Madeleine L’Engle. I haven’t read these since grade school. Now I see why they don’t make the lists of great values-based fiction that I’ve been collecting. L’Engle’s universalist tendencies shine through in the first book especially. And the theme, that children should be allowed to go their own way, is medicine with serious side effects. A Wind in the Door has a different problem: It’s just boring. Largely cerebral and very preachy.

Solaris, Stanislaw Lem. Infinitely better than the forgettable movie starring George Clooney. What makes us human? And how can we live with the bitterest of our memories? These questions haunt this excellent novel, and Lem has the guts to explore them without finding pat answers on the final page.

Diary of an Early American Boy, Eric Sloane. Written around the actual 1805 diary of a 15-year-old boy named Noah Blake. Sloane uses the laconic entries as a framework to support a moving narrative of life in and around a nineteenth century farming community. And Sloane’s pen-and-ink drawings shove his already vivid descriptions off the page and into the imagination. I’ve already started another Sloane, A Reverence for Wood. Buy ’em from Rick Saenz at Cumberland Books.

The Contrary Farmer, Gene Logsdon. Also from Cumberland Books. Gene Logsdon is an apologist for a disappearing breed, the yeoman farmer. I say disappearing, but he’s reappearing in pockets all over the country. Logsdon’s writing crackles with Berry-an wit, singing the song of his land and his work with tremendous skill.

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Despite two degrees in English, I’ve never read the great Russian novels. So now I’m going to.

I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, Twelve Southerners. This apology for Southern culture is the original Agrarian statement. Arising from and around the work of four Nashville poets and critics (Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, and John Crowe Ransom), the book aroused (and arouses) the ire of every generation since. “Impractical” is the mildest criticism it’s received.

Listening…

That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis, narrated by Geoffrey Howard. This third and final installment to the Space Trilogy brings the cosmic battle to the silent planet, Earth (called Thulcandra by Lewis). It is a fictional exploration of the ideas Lewis put forth in The Abolition of Man. And if I may say so, frightening in its anticipation of some of the latter twentieth century’s social and educational experiments.

Snowbeast, Luke Temple. Inventive and weird. I can’t stop listening to this one. (ht: Cam)

Pride, Phosphorescent. Good music, made me think of Bon Iver a bit. Another ht to Cam.

Raising Sand, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. As good as the press says it is.

Watching…

No Country for Old Men. I saw this twice in as many weeks, and it only got better. The Coen brothers made a fascinating film, a study in the human will. Ultimately nihilistic, the film’s atmosphere is palpable thanks to the craggy Texas landscape and Tommy Lee Jones’s craggy face and voice. Jones’s speech near the end, about his expectations for God…wow.

Gone Baby Gone. Directed by Ben Affleck, this Boston crime drama follows two detectives on their investigation of a child’s disappearance. Surprising, this meditation on what makes us who we are doesn’t offer any easy answers. It left me uneasy and a little frustrated, but at the characters, which probably means the film was believable. Great performances by Casey Affleck and Ed Harris.

Bunny Lake Is Missing! Surprisingly good sixties-era thriller starring Laurence Olivier, Noel Coward, and a pre-2001 Keir Dullea. Some parallels to the forgettable Flightplan, starring Jodie Foster.

The Boys of Brazil. Another Olivier thriller, this one an Academy Award-winning role as a Jewish Nazi hunter. Gregory Peck also stars as Josef Mengele.

A Love Song for Bobby Long. Maybe John Travolta’s best movie. Travolta stars as the titular washed-up professor. What might have been a wallowing in the decadence that sometimes follows tragedy, it’s more a celebration of the new life such tragedy can engender in the long run.

The Thin Red Line. Terrence Malick’s triumphant (though not at the box office) return to filmmaking was this adaptation of the James Jones WWII novel. It follows C Company’s fighting for Guadalcanal and features an enormous ensemble cast, including future bright lights James Caviezel and Adrien Brody.

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