Friday, February 01, 2008

Pop Culture Roundup

I recently finished A Private History of Awe by Scott Russell Sanders, which is a memoir that largely takes place during the 1950s and 60s but occasionally jumps forward to the present day. The author shares his experiences of growing up first in Tennessee and then on a military base in Ohio. Later on, he shares his life while studying at Cambridge, and his reactions to some of the great events of that era including the assasinations of both Kennedys and King, Vietnam, and the civil rights movement. These events greatly shape the author's stances on equality and pacifism, on patriotism and religion, on how he views his home country. A particular point of interest for him is how this all relates to the stories of Jesus with which he grew up: he tries to reconcile what he's learned in the church with hearing white pastors denounce racial equality or reading about the ongoing conflict overseas. He strives to wrap his head around MLK's assasination in particular in light of what Jesus advocated and what he saw King advocate. This is not solely a book on spiritual awakening, but it emerges as a major theme. Another is the ongoing care for his mother in a nursing home, and how he strives to remember her as she once was: a vibrant, passionate, protective person rather than the whithered body suffering from dementia. This was a good and involved read which I enjoyed.

Since finishing Awe, I started If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, which is widely considered a classic on the art of writing. Those looking for a book on technique are going to be vastly disappointed, as this is no such book. Ueland is very encouraging of the amateur writer, stating in chapter after chapter that one shouldn't hinder themselves by worrying about technique and publishing so much, as those things cause people to write for others; to write solely on what one thinks others would like and would get them noticed. The book, in my opinion, is about 70% helpful, 20% fluff, and 10% crazy. Her statements about and examples of vivid imagery and unbound prose are helpful, but occasionally veer into sort of a new age-y "everyone is a great writer just by writing" sort of thing, and then sometimes she just seems to go off the reservation completely. When noting the importance of sitting for a while thinking rather than writing, she provides the hero from Crime and Punishment, who sat and planned out how to murder two people before doing it, as her model. Short on examples of writers who sit and think for that one? Maybe a sculptor who stares at a block of concrete or a painter who stares at a blank canvas? Nope, a guy planning to kill people was the best she had. Mmkay, then.

This past week we watched the movie Waitress, which stars Keri Russell as a "pie genius" working in a diner. She has a scumbag husband by whom she winds up pregnant after a weak night involving lots of alcohol. She has an affair with her doctor, played in a wonderfully awkward manner by Nathan Fillion. The dynamic between Russell and Fillion seems genuine and strong and made for some good laughs. Andy Griffith as the cranky diner owner and voice of wisdom was good, too. But the movie as a whole wasn't anything special.

Non-wrestling fans can go ahead and skip this paragraph. This past Sunday I ordered the WWE Royal Rumble on pay-per-view. It's my favorite event that they do all year because it features a big match where 30 guys enter 90 seconds apart and try to eliminate each other to earn a title shot at Wrestlemania. The other matches (or the "undercard" in wrestling jargon) weren't that great. They didn't go any longer or feature anything different than what one typically sees on RAW or Smackdown from week to week. The Rumble match itself wasn't outstanding either, until entrant #30 came in...a returning John Cena. I can count on one hand the number of times I've truly cheered for this guy, and his surprise entrance at this event was one of them. He ended up winning the Rumble, too...which was much less surprising. During the Rumble match, we also got surprise entries by Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper, both of whom looked about 80 years old. All in all, not one of the better Rumbles. But it did have one good surprise.

Around the web, here are some New Years resolutions for preachers.