Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pride and Prejudice

My family and I are watching the BBC/A&E version of Pride and Prejudice, which is considered by many to be the definitive video version of the novel. My wife and I have already watched it several times. It is fascinating to me how delightful I find this show even after all the viewings. And having read the book, I know it is very faithful to Jane Austen's story.

I first tried to read the book when I was in high school (in the early 70s) because one of my favorite authors, Nero Wolfe's Rex Stout had said Jane Austen was HIS favorite author. Back then, I found all the discussion of society and marriage and relative wealth, etc, to be nauseatingly trivial. But back then, I didn't get what Austen was really saying. It was her own commentary on those topics and attitudes from a very familiar perspective. Now, having a better understanding of the author's intentions, and the background from which she wrote, I can really appreciate and enjoy the story, whether from the book or the movie.

I highly recommend both book and movie, and Jane's other books as well. And of course, any Nero Wolfe story by Rex Stout!

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Twilight Zone

Last night my wife and I watched an episode from the second season of the original Twilight Zone series, "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room," about a very cowardly, small time criminal, anxiously awaiting instructions on a "job" he is to do later that evening. Finally, his "boss" shows up and tells him that he is supposed to murder someone who is being "uncooperative," and elderly shop owner, I think.

Of course, our criminal has never committed a murder, and he is very reluctant and fearful to do this one, but his own life is at stake, so he's in quite a quandary.

While he is arguing with himself in his cheap hotel room, awaiting the time to commit the murder, his less fearful, stronger alter ego appears in the mirror, and tries to convince his external self to be more courageous, and even to allow himself to be more dominant. Eventually, the stronger, mirror self takes over, becomes the dominant, external ego, while the cowardly one is relegated to the mirror to look on while the other takes control of the situation. The murder is not committed, the boss shows up to punish the criminal, who beats his boss and chases him out of the cheap room, and then himself checks out and resolves to change his own life, get a real job, and maybe even get married and have a family!

All pretty amazing stuff.

The thing that impresses me the most is that most of the Twilight Zone episodes tend to have negative outcomes, usually the main character "gets what's coming to him" something bites them back, some consequence falls to them.

But in this episode, the cowardly criminal gets his courage back, and he has ahead of him the option, the opportunity, to turn his life around, to leave his cowardice behind in the mirror of the $4 room. If he succeeds, there will be no more loneliness in cheap hotels, no more fear of the law, no more living hand to mouth, no more being subject to criminal bosses, no more nail-biting and general anxiety.

It seems that most of the time, our friend Rod Serling tended to see the Twilight Zone as a place where conscience comes to the fore, one way or another, and assigns the ironic, deserved pay back. Humans are flawed, sinful, selfish creatures who require a special "zone" to make sure they get their just due. In this episode, however, Rod takes pity on our petty criminal and gives him another chance. The Zone pays him back, not with a penalty, but with mercy. It's kind of an interesting twist.

Closing narration: "Exit Mr. John Rhoades, formerly a reflection in a mirror, a fragment of someone else's conscience, a wishful thinker made out of glass, but now made out of flesh, and on his way to join the company of men. Mr. John Rhoades, with one foot through the door and one foot out of the Twilight Zone."

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Happy New Year

Years ago, when I was much younger, I read Frank Herbert's Dune, which I enjoyed. Recently, I listened to a podcast about the book, (check out the site: http://agoodstoryishardtofind.blogspot.com/2016/09/good-story-141-dune.html ) And it piqued my interest to read it again. I think there is a good chance that as a teen or twenty-something, I didn't fully understand the book, and I never read the sequels. So, there is a good chance I may read it again.

I also recently read Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, a favorite story in our house, especially around this time of year. We annually watch George C Scott's version, although this year, we also watched the 1951 Alastair Sim version. I liked it, the rest of my family also liked it, but still prefer the Scott version.

Every time I read a Dickens book, I am impressed by his powers of description, his ability to bring life to a character and a setting, and make a story very interesting, and to weave multiple plots into a book.

I would be very happy to be able to write like him.

I have heard that authors like Thomas Hardy and Stephen King, and I think also Dickens, would start writing early in the morning, for a set length of time, or a set number of pages, whether they felt inspired or not. And of course, I have read that a writer who waits for inspiration will get the end of life without ever having put a word to paper.

I am resolving to do something similar, to write a certain amount every day, no matter what. We'll see what the fruit of this resolution is.

Happy New Year!

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Friday, July 18, 2014

What Have I Been Reading Lately

I know, it has been a while since I have posted anything. I apologize.

For a while, I was reading Oz books, by L. Frank Baum, and a few by Ruth Plumley Thompson. I had only been familiar with the Wizard of Oz, and for most of my life, only with the famous Movie. I found that the movie is fairly faithful to the book, or shall I say, to the books, because it seems there are some elements in the movie not found in the book, but hinted at in the other books.

One thing I noticed, that I found fascinating, was that some of the Oz natives (Scarecrow, Tin Man) are somewhat vain! This comes up quite often in the books. They think quite highly of themselves. The "meat" people, like Dorothy and Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger, see to have a more humble opinion of themselves. In fact, the "non-meat" people like Scarecrow and Tin Man tend to think of themselves as better off than the "meat" people because they are more easily repairable, less easily damaged, and not subject to weaknesses like needing to eat or needing to sleep. So, once they fixed their one perceivable lack (no brains, no heart) they were quite satisfied with themselves.

Dorothy, in most of the books, is the real hero, as you would expect. She is competent, humble, very kind and thoughtful, intelligent, imaginative, has great initiative, and is very self-sacrificing, as most of the "good" characters are, but she more so. In fact, the girls in Oz are the real heavyweights. There is only one novel that I can think of, in which the story revolves around a boy character.

Ozma is the princess and absolute ruler of Oz, and she has a great benevolence for her country, although she is unfamiliar with some lands and some peoples. One important thing I had not know before reading the books is that the natives of Oz, all of them, are immortal, and they are basically fairies, or descended from fairies. They can't be killed. Even if they are dismembered and sunk to the bottom of a sea, they won't die, but they'll be helpless, out of commission (and conscious) until they can be rescued and restored. (There is a grim scene in which Tin Man and another tin fellow made by the same tin smith meet the still living original head of one of them, which has been sitting on a shelf for quite some time, sleeping and thinking, and not wanting to be bothered!) There is a great deal of magic, good and bad, in Oz, but Ozma and Glinda are the only ones, along with the Wizard who has special permission and tutors under Glinda, who are legally allowed to practice magic. The stories introduce various characters, some bad, some irresponsible, who practice magic and are found out, and are punished mildly or strongly depending on their actions and intentions, but in the end, Ozma and Glinda and the Wizard are the only ones allowed to practice magic.

Baum admits in his forwards that many of his ideas came from his readers, children who wrote to him and begged him to write more book, and who suggested characters and themes and adventures. It appears that at least a couple of times he tried to end a story such as to prevent the possibility of having to write another, but each time, through the pleading of his readers, he finds a way to overcome his own obstacle to write yet another book, until his death, when Ruth Plumly Thompson and others took up the pen.

The books are great escapism, which is partly why I read them. I read all the books I could find in e-format for free. It is only after the first couple by Thompson that I have been unable to find e-books, and I'm reluctant to pay for bound copies.

So, I went on from there and downloaded a couple of other Kindle Daily Deals. I am sort of reading Joseph Pearce's memoir about his conversion from racism to Catholicism, which is good and interesting, but not gripping. I read some stories by Louis L'Amour, whose westerns are another great form of escapism. I was somewhat (based on wikipedia) expecting them to be very similar because of formula, but actually found each story to be different enough to hold my interest, and a couple of them WERE quite gripping.

Then, not finding any other deals or freebies of L'Amour, I downloaded some free Kindle versions of Zane Grey. I think I had read one of his books as a kid. I am now reading Riders of the Purple Sage, which is a very enjoyable book. He has good powers of description and fairly good characterization, and a good story. AND, I am listening to Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, by C. S. Forester. I understand that Captain Kirk of Star Trek is somewhat based on Horatio Hornblower, and I can see it. I am enjoying the book, and would like to read or listen to the whole series.

I am also reading, as a daily spiritual exercise, Pope Francis' Evangelii Gaudium. I will tell you what strikes me most about this letter. The beginning is criticism, of just about everyone. I was amazed. This pope that everyone loves and praises as being so accessible and gentle: he has strong words to say about just about everyone. And I don't get the impression that these words are off the cuff, as if thought of for the first time for this letter. I get the impression that he has given this a lot of thought for a long time.

However, once he got past that long section of criticism, he started offering ideas and analyses and courses of action, and I can see that this man loves Christ and the Gospel and dearly wants the church to get off its butt and really focus anew, and deeply on evangelization, real evangelization. But I do wonder how many people finished reading the letter, have been offput by the long section of criticism. Or how many read for a while, and skipped to get to the more positive parts.

I read Death Comes for the Archbishop, which was quite good, a condensation of the life of the figure of the title. I read Daybreak, a murder mystery that takes place in Iceland. North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell. I had seen part of the movie, but couldn't finish it because it seemed so dark and hopeless, but the book is less so. I also read a book called The Golem and the Jinni, which was a wonderful, enjoyable, gripping, original book. There was another memoir about a woman who sings in a NYC choir, called Imperfect Harmony. There was Edible, about eating insects, and Alice at Heart, about women descended from mermaids, living right here in the USA. A very good good. I read Brain Rules, explaining research on what we understand now about how the brain works (as well as what we still don't understand.) That was an excellent book.

I read How George Washington Fleeced the Nation, which was a good premise, but turned into a wearying collection of historical gossip. I read a wonderful book about winemaking in Spain called The Winemaker. It had everything, romance, mystery, war, wine. A very enjoyable book. I read The Shrinking Man by Matheson. I'd seen the movie a couple of times, and in some ways the book was quite different, but similar enough to be recognizable. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I read The Great Santini, which was also a very good book, though in some ways it demands a lot of the reader. The main character is a mixed bag, admirable and despicable at the same time. It does make me want to see the whole movie based on it. I read a murder mystery called a Drop Of The Hard Stuff, which contained many scenes, and I mean many, that take place at AA meetings. I mean, the main character is an ex-cop who is a recovering alcoholic who goes to at least 3 meetings a day. I gained a lot of insight into AA and the recovery process, and I did enjoy it very much. I CAN, however, easily imagine some readers growing weary of the AA meetings, and the recovery theme under the mystery. But it was a very important element and I, personally, am glad it was there.

I would recommend all the books I have mentioned here, and there are others as well. As time goes by, I may take the time to provide more detailed reviews of individual books, but this at least, in terms of my reading, brings us up to date.

Thanks for reading!

p.s. I've changed a bit since the photo in my profile. You're less likely to see me wearing a tie, and I have eschewed shoes for the most part. I now wear xero-shoes, very thin sandals that allow one to "feel the world." Once likely to be bundled up in long sleeves and long pants, I now wear short sleeves and can be seen with my pants legs rolled up, or wearing shorts, and am barefoot whenever I can be. Mostly it is about being a little more comfortable, carrying less weight around, but also about health, getting sunlight for Vitamin D, and being, as much as my life allows, a little freer, a bit more natural, a bit closer to the earth. I will have to write, perhaps on my Brief Think blog, about how the Paleo-Primal way might be closer to the simple, humble way that Jesus called his followers to, you know, birds of the air and that sort of humble simplicity and reliance on God's providence.