Monday, January 26, 2009

Other Favorite Books I Read in 2008

January is just about over, so I guess I should stop dwelling on 2008 and move along. So a quick summary of my other favorite books I read last year.

If anyone was reading this, they might notice I haven't got to any novels yet. I read novels last year, just enjoyed the nonfiction more.

Part of the reason for this was political. Authors I've enjoyed in the past kept slipping in their political agenda with views quite different than mine. That's okay, but I'm just not entertained by attacks on my belief, especially unbalanced attacks. John Grisham is not an artist for the ages, but I've enjoyed some of his novels in the past, especially "A Time to Kill", "The Firm" and "The Testament". But "The Appeal" which glorified ambulance chasing lawyers and smeared corperations was stomach turning. I loved everything by Robert Harris including "Fatherland" and "Enigma", but "The Ghost", which had some clever plot twists and interesting observations on writing, was also a mean spirtited attack on Prime Minister Blair and President Bush.

I started reading Lee Child's Jack Reacher books last year and enjoyed many of them, especially "Killing Floor" and "The Enemy", but liberal sucker punches are found throughout them. I've been reading them to know better how I can write action and thrills. But I laughed out loud when Reacher found the tax returns of a dead old friend. His friend had given to PETA. Reacher thought that he didn't know much about the organization, but his friend was so thoughtful and rational, it must be a good organization. Yes, the organization that is trying to end fishing by popularizing the term "sea kittens" for tuna is thoughtful and rational.

So I found much more pleasure reading "Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony's Long Romance with the Left" by Ronald Radosh and "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Goldberg that thoughtfully explored and refuted much of what the media has been saying about the history of socialism. Yes, Virginia, there were communists in Hollywood and they did not have our best interests at heart. (And Joe MacCarthy did not pursue them, that was other Democrats in Washington.) And National Socialism was not a far right party, they were, as the name implys, socialists.

So back to reading new books in 2009. Wasn't too impressed with Carrie Fisher's "Wishful Drinking", but more Reacher and Sarah Vowell's "Wordy Shipmates' are to come.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Couple of Other of My Favorite Books of 2008

I got into a bit of a Lincoln kick and read two very books about President #16, one from 2008 and one from 2007.
The more recent publication, James M. McPherson’s “Tried By War: Lincoln as Commander in Chief” focuses on Lincoln as the war time president. The thing I came out really appreciating about the man was his perseverance. Lincoln had to put up with generals who were at turns hardworking and self-serving, farsighted and foolish, brave and cautious.
His greatest frustration was the caution of his generals. Time and again he urges his generals to take the offensive, but they refuse to move until all the men and supplies are in place. But the generals never seem to believe enough men and supplies are in place, so the more mobile Confederates always seem to be at the advantage. Until he finds his men in Grant and Sherman.
I couldn’t help bet think of George W. Bush throughout the read. In spite of political pressures and military setbacks, both men held firm for victory. War is never tidy. But when it begins it is vitally important that the side of right wins. I believe right eventually won in the Civil War. And I pray that it will again, bringing freedom to the people of Iraq.
Andrew Ferguson’s “Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America” is a very different kind of book. It is set modern America and Ferguson travels the country investigating the historical sites of Lincoln’s life and the tributes that have been made to him.
Many people have made Lincoln anew in their own image. Ferguson is at turns sentimental and savage as he interviews Lincoln imitators (I’m sorry, “presenters”), museum curators and especially historians.
The thing I found most interesting in the book was how everyone tried to make Lincoln in their own image; much in the same way as we try to make God and Jesus in our own image.
A fun and enlightening read.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bollywood Dickens - Slumdog Millionaire

The front row. That’s what I used to think was the ideal place to be in a movie theater, the summer after first grade when my sister worked at the Park Cinema across the street from Howarth Park. My sister worked at the theater and so I could get in free. The musical Oliver was playing for weeks, and I saw it several times -- always in the front row.
I enjoyed many things about that film: the music was wonderful, and I still occasionally listen to the sound track. Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger, was quite good, and he would go to star in one of my Saturday morning favorites, “H. R. Pufnstuf” (sadly, when I look back on that television program, I realize now it was heavily influenced by the drug culture of the time). I also had a crush on the woman who played Nancy (Shani Wallis, who went on to do very little else.)
But I think the greatest appeal of that film was the original Charles Dickens story. The original tale, of the orphan that begins in abject poverty, stumbles into the criminal underworld and then miraculously discovers love and wealth, has been brought to the screen in many forms. The great director David Lean (Bridge Over the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia) filmed a classic version of the story with Alec Guinness as Fagin. Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby) had a darker take on the tale with Ben Kingsley as Fagin. Its polar opposite may be the Disney film with Oliver played by an animated kitty in Oliver and Company.
I’m thinking about this because I felt a bit like I relived that childhood experience last weekend. I was at the same theater, though it now has another name, the Rialto. The film had a different name as well, of course. This one is called Slumdog Millionaire. It is set in India and features a contestant in the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” But in many ways, it is the same story.
Jamil and Salim, young boys in the slums of Mumbai, are orphaned when religious violence (Hindus attacking Muslims) takes the life of their mother. They struggle to survive on their own, joined by an orphan girl named Latika.
Like Dickens, the screen writer Simon Beaufoy (basing his screenplay on the novel by Vikas Swarup) does not shy away from the darkest shades of human nature and experience. This film is rated R and does present rather grim and violent scenes and images. But there is also hope.
Jamil goes through many horrendous experiences, but never gives up on the chance of finding love (quite like young Oliver Twist). Of course, the means of redemption in this film are quite different than in Dickens’ tale. Instead of redemption coming by way of a long lost relative, it comes through an appearance on a game show.
I’m not giving anything away that the studio publicity didn’t promote by telling you he appears on “Millionaire”. The poster for the film shows a question presented in the format of that TV show: “What does it take to find a lost love? A. Money, B. Luck, C. Smarts, D. Destiny”
The heroes of Dickens are rarely rich. They usually aren’t lucky for the majority of the novel. They aren’t necessarily even very bright. But ultimately, destiny is on their side.
In the film, Jamal’s brother Salim buys into the wisdom of the world that security can be found in wealth (their friend, Latika, to some degree buys into the same “wisdom”). Salim goes from the slum to a place of high position in the criminal world. But he comes to realize, perhaps too late, that only God offers true salvation. Jamil is not as “wise” as Salim. And that’s not a bad thing.
It reminds me of what Paul wrote concerning the church in I Corinthians 1, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”
One word about the director, Danny Boyle: his work is eclectic to say the least. His breakthrough film was Trainspotting, a rather sordid but witty film about heroin addicts. Probably his most financially successful film was 28 Days Later, a very scary zombie film. I’ve written about Millions, a heartwarming parable about children who discover a great treasure. All very good films in very different genres. This film may be his best.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Party Skit (performed at Healdsburg Community Church)

“This Is A Party?”
By Dean Anderson

Time: 5 minutes
Cast Breakdown: 5 any combination of M, F

Characters: Guest #1, Host, Guest #2, Guest #3, Guest #4
Props: 5 glasses (four with water, 1 with something that looks like prune juice) and 5 pieces of dark, dry toast

Setting: Living room in house

(Skit begins with guest #1 Guest knocking on door, and is welcomed by Host. Meanwhile Guest #2 is tapping foot, Guest #3 is sitting and drumming fingers on knees, Guest #4 twirling thumbs)

HOST: Welcome, to the party. Please, come in.

GUEST 1: Thanks, great to be here.

HOST: Would you care for a refreshing beverage?

GUEST 1: Sure, what have you got?

HOST: Water, tap or distilled. Grapefruit or prune juice.

GUEST 1: Oh, ah, water. Um, tap would be fine.

(HOST goes off, GUEST #1 goes to guest #2)

GUEST #1: So, how’s the guest of honor?

GUEST #2: Oh, me, yes. Adequate, doing adequately.

GUEST #1: So, what you drinking there, you old dog, you?

GUEST #2: This, oh, I went with the prune juice. I’ve had some regularity problems, and…

GUEST #1: Yes, well, hey, what are you two up to?

GUEST #3: Me, oh I was mentally composing my grocery list.

GUEST #4: And I was calculating and comparing insurance premiums.

(HOST returns with cup for GUEST #1 and a plate with burnt toast)

HOST: Now a toast to our guest of honor.

(GUESTS #2, #3, & #4 take toast from the plate, as does HOST and GUEST #1 does so reluctantly, all raise toast in air, then take a bite)

GUEST #1: You know, I don’t want to be rude, but this is the dullest party I think I have ever attended! Where’s the music, where’s the laughter, where’s the celebration?

GUEST #3: That is so rude.

GUEST #4: Who invited this rabble rouser?

GUEST #2: This is how we’ve always done parties.

HOST: Yes. If you were looking for a celebration, why didn’t you go to church?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My Favorite Books of 2008

The Year of Living Biblically
by A.J. Jacobs

This was my favorite new book last year. It was the second book I’ve read by Jacobs. The first was The Know-It-All in which Jacobs described his adventure of trying to read the Encyclopedia Britannica in a year. That project introduced this secular Jew to many new sections of Scripture and theological concepts.
So he decided to take another year of his life to try to live out the precepts of Scripture; eight months for the Old Testament and four months for the New Testament. I think the project began as an attempt to show the folly of Biblical fundamentalism and literalism. But Jacob was honest with himself and found that in many ways the Good Book changed him for the better.
I was also impressed that he realized that he could not live out the New Testament unless he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
He encounters people of various religious perspectives and practices. And he treat most all with respect (with the possible exception of some vile anti-Semites.)
I look forward to more books by Jacobs. His humility and humor are charming. He’ll also be in my prayers that his faith journey will continue.
(This is the first of my very short series reviewing the books I read last year.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Saw this film today. If I had seen it in 2008, it definitely would have taken a place on my top ten film list. I'll write about it soon.