- Roy Jacobsen, on his blog "Writing, Clear and Simple"
I don’t know whether to take pride in this or feel like the kid not invited to the party.
Oh heck, I guess I’ll go with Number Two. It’s what I know best.
I saw a display from Myheritage.com on somebody’s blog the other day (if it was yours, I apologize. I just can’t remember which blog it was). They’re a genealogy site, but they have a sideline that uses face recognition software to tell people (on the basis of an uploaded picture) what famous people they resemble. They encourage you to post the result on your blog.
I thought, “That’s cool. I’ll probably be matched with somebody really embarrassing and be able to bounce a couple jokes off it.”
So I tried it today.
No matches. Not a single famous person looks at all like me.
This leaves me just where I was before with the eternal question, “Who would I choose to play me in a movie based on my life?”
I’ve agonized over this decision for years. Especially since Michael J. Pollard stopped working.
I’ll have to play me myself.
But who will play The Young Walker?
Maybe Michael J. Pollard has a kid.
Today is a good day. A day that will live in my yellowed book of memories, for reasons I’ll explain below.
Dave Lull sent me this link, about how it looks like some Norwegians served in the Roman legions.
Archaeological findings have strengthened notions amongst scholars that quite a few Norwegians, from the farthermost north of Europe, in all likelihood served as soldiers in the Roman legions.
You may or may not know that it was the practice of the Romans to station “auxiliaries” (that is, legions made up of “barbarians” from the provinces) in corners of the empire farthest from their original homes, so as to prevent them growing sympathetic to local insurgents. A large number of the soldiers who served in Palestine came from Germany. Assuming that the Norwegians would have been lumped together with the Germans, some of my ancestors (my great-grandfather was born at Avaldsnes) might have been witnesses to the life, death and even resurrection of Christ.
Might have scourged Christ personally, as a matter of fact. Though I prefer to imagine virtuous centurions.
Anyway, the good thing that happened today was that I came home to a package from Norway in the mail (you thought I was writing about your package, weren’t you, Phil? Well, your package was great too. Thanks again). This was from Cousin Trygve in Hardanger, and it was the CD De Beste, by Sissel Kyrkjebø (sorry, no picture there).
As is to be expected in a “Best of” album, a lot of it is stuff I already have (as if I can ever have enough copies of Sissel’s songs). But it includes some cuts from the very beginning of her career, when she was a girl soloist on a Norwegian TV show called “Syng Med Oss” (“Sing With Us”). One of them is a song that was on an album the show’s cast did for the Norwegian National Cancer Foundation, which I once borrowed from a friend and of which I made an illegal copy, one of my treasured possessions to this day. (No, I don’t condone illegal copying, but this was an album absolutely impossible to acquire by legal means. That’s not an excuse, just an explanation.)
The song was Sissel doing the Japanese international hit “Sukiyaki.” I know it sounds ridiculous—a Japanese song sung in Norwegian by a Norwegian. But it’s heartbreakingly beautiful. Sissel was born to sing that song. According to the liner notes, I’m not the only person who’s been dreaming of a re-release of that cut. They’ve been getting requests from all over the world (Sissel is actually very big in Japan). And now it’s here. And I have it.
If I never post again, it’ll because I’ve died of joy. Life can only go downhill from here.
Update: In case anyone should be thinking of ordering the De Beste album (and I do recommend it), I should give one warning. What I've heard so far has been almost uniformly great, with some wonderful surprises, but one big disappointment. One of the cuts on the second disk is Sissel's "duet" with the rapper Warren G, over the music to Borodin's "Prince Igor." It's a very odd mix, with Borodin's lovely music and Sissel's transcendent voice backing up Warren G's hostile and frankly dirty rap lyrics. There's a lot of profanity in it, and it sits like a cowpie in the middle of a cathedral. I understand the song did well commercially, but I wish Sissel had turned it down. So be warned.
I have run out of time this evening, so let me copy and paste:
Legion of Lit Mags event on Saturday, December 2, 5-10pm at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, New York. Nine prominent literary magazines will team up to showcase the latest issues of their magazines, raffle off incredible prizes, and offer an opportunity to meet and talk with influential literary journal editors in a celebratory evening filled with readings and entertainment. Lit mags, Small Spiral Notebook and Ballyhoo Stories will host the event.
The Legion of Lit Mags includes: Ballyhoo Stories, BOMB, Opium, Pindeldyboz, Post Road, Quick Fiction, Small Spiral Notebook, Swink, and Tin House. Readers at the event include: Noria Jablonski, Irina Reyn, Brian McMullen, Aaron Hamburger, Elizabeth Searle, Salar Abdoh, Brian McMullen, and others. Musical Performances courtesy of Pindeldyboz.
Today, I heard an interview with professor Arthur Brooks, who wrote Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism. He makes remarkable claims which contrast the books by atheists which we've discussed briefly in earlier posts. The book cover summarizes one of Brooks' points: "Strong families, church attendance, earned income (as opposed to state-subsidized income), and the belief that individuals, not government, offer the best solution to social ills-all of these factors determine how likely one is to give." That points a political spin on it, but in the interview today, Brooks said religious people in general are more charitable than irreligious people--er, I mean, secular people. He didn't distinguish between religions, at least in the interview, so I understand him to say that faithful commitment to broadly religious ideas indicate a charitable spirit. Brooks went so far as to say that if you take out local religious people, the local PTA will fall.
Here's a shout out to Read and Relax bookseller in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for supplying me with a new copy of Wolf Time when Amazon.com could not.
Also, kudos go to Sea Shell Books of Clearwater, Florida for another copy of the same book and a few others. Sea Shell has under 400,000 titles for sale through Alibris.com, if not other used book networks.
Still feeling punk. Left work early again, as soon as an assistant was in to watch the library.
I put my (artificial) Christmas tree up over the weekend. It’s in front of one of the big windows at the front of my house, so that you can see it from outside, and it gives the interior a warm glow.
I don’t belong to the “Welcome to St. Nick’s Casino” school of Christmas lighting. I prefer my lights to say, “This is a home full of love” (that mine isn’t a home full of love is beside the point.).
When people pass by I want them to say, “It looks warm and cozy in there. I’d like to be in that house.”
But of course they can’t come in. It’s my house. Mine, mine, mine!
And after all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Talk show hosts Michael Medved and Dennis Prager disagree today on whether freshman congressman Keith Ellison should be permitted to be sworn in on the Koran. Medved says yes, Prager says no.
Since I’m going to be one of Mr. Ellison’s constituents (for my sins), I’ll break the tie.
Medved is right.
There is no religious test for public office in America. If that puts the Koran into an American ceremony, well, I may not like it but I’ll have to live with it.
Redemption returns with 'Christmas Carol' by Tony Brown
"And while others give gifts, an undertaker, a charwoman and a laundress sell a dead man's belongings to the local fence. Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas' is no walk around the tinseled mall."
"Ex-Scrooge is a fine director of `Christmas Carol' present by Chris Jones
Last year, old Ebenezer at the Goodman Theatre was starting to look dangerously like an undigested bit of beef. This year, a recovering Scrooge has swung open the coffin door of this seasonal perennial and breathed notable new life into its tired Dickensian veins."
'Christmas Carol' stays true to Dickens' voice by David Lewellen
"Charles Dickens' novella became an instant classic when it was published in 1843, and stage versions have proliferated ever since."
A Veritable Chorus Of `Carol's By Deborah Hornblow
From downtown Hartford to Westport to Ivoryton and Stockbridge, Mass., the spirit of Christmas has arrived at theaters, where six distinct productions of the Charles Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol" inspire holiday cheer in audiences of all ages.
Vision Forum has staged a three-phase treasure hunt for a chest of 400 solid gold coins. They say, "To crack the code and find the four hundred gold coins, you must take a journey through history that will reveal America’s greatest national treasure — the providential hand of God in the life of this nation." Read about The Jameston 400, which coincides with the 400th anniversary of its founding, May 13, 1607.
This will be short, if I have anything to say about it. I’m not feeling very well. One swollen gland (on the left side of my jaw, in case you’re making a diagram), and feeling run down. I chickened out of work a little early today, and hope to spend the evening on my back.
My renter has moved in, and so far he has made himself almost invisible. That’s how we like our renters around here. He’s even found a couple things in the house he thinks he can upgrade for me.
Of course that’s how it would start, wouldn’t it, if this were a slasher movie? The quiet, helpful tenant moves in and proceeds to gradually take over the house, and then my life, until the moment when he finally reveals his horrid, unspeakable plans for me…
However, I’ve noticed that real life generally resembles horror movies only in this regard, that if you feel under your seat you’ll find dried gum.
Dennis Prager had a guest on the other day who’d written a book on grammar. One subject they brought up was the common “John and I” mistake, where the person says, “He delivered the pizza to John and I.”
In fact it ought to be “John and me” in this sentence. You can figure out what to do by simply dropping John (and believe me, honey, you should have dropped the bum long ago) and seeing how the sentence goes without him. “He delivered the pizza to me” is obviously correct. Adding John to the mix does not change the matter.
But I know where the problem comes from. It comes from overextended rule-following. I remember even today my mother hearing me say, “Moloch and me went out into the grove,” and she corrected me. “It’s ‘Moloch and I went out to the grove.’”
She failed to add (and I probably wouldn’t have understood it if she had, at that age) that this only applied to the objects of sentences, not the subjects. (Or is it subjects, not objects? I always get them confused. Look it up? I’m sick, you sadist!)
Anyway, many people never get past that lesson and believe that “X and I” is correct in all situations.
Thus do we try to apply as absolutes rules which are only conditional. No doubt there are many such situations, in grammar and life.
But I’m too tired to think about it.
Are science books back in demand? Bryan Appleyard talks about them and some of their problems. A loathing of religion and dismissal of philosophy . . .
Such crude certainties are, of course, absurd, since good science is predicated on uncertainty, but it was essential to the marketing of these books. Uncertainty, it was thought, doesn’t sell. What sold were big final statements. These books — especially those by Dennett, Hawking and Dawkins — were preaching to the converted, to people who broadly accepted the terms of this impregnable certainty. They sold well because they became the texts of the dominant faith of our time: secular scientism. They were exclusive works: you were either in or out. It’s not stretching a point too far to say that their hard certainties and exclusivity played some part in the decline of interest in science among the young. They lacked the essential ingredient that turns children into scientists — wonder.I'll give that a hearty amen!
One of the books Appleyard doesn't mention is the latest by astrophysicist Hugh Ross, called Creation As Science. Ross attempts to give four viewpoints a fair shake: evolution, theistic evolution, old age creation, and young age creation. This description may tease your interest a bit. Ross' concludes his book with predictions from each viewpoint on matters he believes will be revealed at least in part within a few years. He argues that good scientific theory should be able to predict what will happen under certain circumstances, and he hopes one of the four viewpoints will have demonstrably more supporting evidence after a few years of research announcements. I hope to see a big bang out of that.
[via Kenyon Review's blog]
BitterSweetLife is asking for quotes from authors about other authors. He leads in this quote from Flannery O'Connor:
This book of C.S. Lewis on prayer is a good one but I don't like to pray any better for reading it. I also just read one of his called Miracles, which is very fine. Deceptively simple. You really need to read every sentence twice. Go among the biblical scholars, says he, as a sheep among wolves. - "Habit of Being"The only one I can contribute is one I added to the quotes at the top of BwB this weekend. P.G. Wodehouse in the later part of his life said, "I don't want to be like Bernard Shaw. He turned out some awfully bad stuff in his nineties. He said he knew the stuff was bad but he couldn't stop writing."
Sherry has several quotes though.
A Salt Lake City, Utah couple has been accused of stealing millions of federal grant money intended for textbooks. One example from the indictment states the school paid $93 for $13 books.
They say, "You can't tell me how to live. 'Judge not lest ye be judged.'"
But change the subject, and they say, "What you are doing is bad for you and dangerous to everyone else. Stop it."
The worst possible thing happened at Thanksgiving, from a blogger’s point of view.
Everything went fine.
Moloch and his wife drove up on Wednesday night, so as to roust me out of bed early, to remind me that Turkeys Take Time. With their supervision I set about the mighty enterprise, le grande ouvre, den store gjerning.
And it was a total success. I followed Martha Stewart’s turkey instructions (brother Baal had sent me a link to her site), and the result was as perfect a turkey as I’ve ever enjoyed. I don’t think I’ll go to the extent of following her giblet gravy recipe again in the future (it was a lot of work and I didn’t like it any better than the kind we usually make), but even I, who live to make jokes about myself, can’t find any reason to quibble.
It was, in fact, pretty much the kind of holiday experience I’d hoped to facilitate when I bought a house that could be a central holiday gathering place for the Walker clan. Blithering Heights is a little cramped with more than five people in it at once, but we got along well in the close quarters. Not so much as a political or theological discussion arose to trouble the waters.
We laughed loudly when The Oldest Niece spoke to her boyfriend on the phone thus:
TON: “I’m here in Minneapolis with my family.”
TON: “Yeah, well, you don’t know my family.”
(Fill in the blank yourself.)
We also had some laughs when The Oldest Nephew brought out his newly purchased Wii gaming box and hooked it up to my TV. He showed us the games he had. Moloch’s wife showed remarkable enthusiasm playing the boxing game against Moloch. I averted my eyes, wounded by this gratuitous display of virtual domestic violence. But Mrs. Moloch seemed to enjoy herself a whole lot.
The best part of the Wii system, in my opinion, was the opportunity to create avatars of ourselves. We worked as a committee to caricature each one of us in turn, and we got some remarkable likenesses. My avatar, everyone agreed, was the most successful, largely because my hair and beard are fairly distinctive. Smooth-faced kids are the toughest.
I’m sorry that this report isn’t as entertaining as a “drop-kick the turkey” Thanksgiving horror story would be.
But not very sorry.
Help me out with a couple questions on matters of serious fantasy. In this age of brand name appliances, Playstations, video games, hand-crafted swords, and premium roasted coffee, is it more likely that Santa Claus has become the world's largest importer, bringing in products from Sony, Intel, Tyco, Random House, BMW, and GE for distribution around the world, or that Santa Claus has contracted with foreign manufacturers to produce "toys" for him? The latter possibility would mean Santa is the mind behind Steve Jobs of Apple Computers and Bob Eckert of Mattel. Or could it be that Santa Claus dissolved his manufacturing interests long ago and become a distribution center for the world's toymakers, which means no toys are actually made by Santa today, not even the quaint old-fashioned ones?
'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
to bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning, we come round right.
I’m not glad President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Far from it. But I am glad that, if he had to be assassinated, Providence scheduled the event for November 22, 1963, because that’s the day C. S. Lewis died. (Aldous Huxley too, but who cares about him?) I hadn’t read Lewis yet at the time (I was thirteen years old), but it comforts me somewhat to know I mourned deeply that day.
I remember it well. I was in an art class in school when the radio broadcast came over the intercom system with the news from Dallas. It was my brother Baal’s birthday, which was rather tough for him. Moloch and I gave him a great gift—a plastic car designed to fly to pieces spectacularly when you crashed it into a wall. But the news dampened even his eight-year-old spirits.
I credit Lewis with being God’s instrument to preserve my faith through all the challenges it met in college and since. He was the first writer to tell me that faith involved reason as well as feeling. It seemed too good to be true at first. I thought surely I’d learn somewhere that this was heresy. But it wasn’t. So I planted my banner on the orthodox side of the battle-lines for life.
Here’s a quote from Lewis’ letter to his friend Owen Barfield, April 4, 1949:
Talking of beasts and birds, have you ever noticed this contrast: that when you read a scientific account of any animal’s life you get an impression of laborious, incessant, almost rational economic activity (as if all animals were Germans) but when you study any animal you know – what at once strikes you is their cheerful fatuity, the pointlessness of nearly all they do. Say what you like, Barfield, the world is sillier and better fun than they make out.
Have a great Thanksgiving, friends.
The 101 most influential fictional characters--I think Santa Claus and King Arthur would be in my top 10 list of most influential on me. Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, Hercule Poirot--I'm not sure who else to name. What about you?
The Paris Review, which I'm told is the literary journal everyone respects but no one reads, has special holiday offers. They proudly note the words of William Kennedy, "Aspiring writers should read the entire canon of literature that precedes them, back to the Greeks, up to the current issue of The Paris Review."
They have also reprinted the first of three volumes of The Paris Review Interviews, which they say contains the "most essential interviews" from their collection. If you are unfamiliar with these interviews, you can get a taste for them here.
from the Academy of American Poets, At the Common Table: Poems for Thanksgiving.
Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,from "The Pumpkin" by John Greenleaf Whittier
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
Author Charles J. Shields, whose book on Harper Lee was well-received last summer, wants to hear from you on your experiences with Kurt Vonnegut. "Now I'm beginning work on the first authorized biography--the first biography at all, actually--of Kurt Vonnegut. I'd like to hear from any of your readers about their experiences with Vonnegut, either personally or with his novels."
Vonnegut is the author of A Man without a Country, Timequake, Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, and a few other books.
I asked Mr. Shields how he gained the opportunity to write Kurt Vonnegut's first authorized biography. He replied:
Many years ago when I was a little boy wearing thick glasses, baggy pants, and Hush Puppy shoes, I realized I wasn’t the brightest star in the heavens, but I could compensate for that by being persistent. That’s really the story behind MOCKINGBIRD, which Harper Lee didn’t want me to write and tried to dissuade her friends from helping me with. But four years of research and hundreds of interviews produced a portrait of her. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s done in watercolors, not oils, but it will be valuable to biographers of hers who will come later.
Mr. Vonnegut turned me down at first, but when I pointed out the number of ways our lives connect—-we’re both Midwesterners; both humanists; he’s a veteran, so was my father; both men worked in public relations for large corporations—-I convinced him that I’m the guy for the job. He still remained skeptical for awhile, I think, but I kept up a regular stream of chat via phone and mail and I seem to have won him to my side. He’s a generous man, anyway. This biography will be the obverse of the one about Lee, in a sense. Vonnegut is an extrovert with many friends and a large body of work. His papers going back to the 1950s are on file at Indiana University. I was Philip Marlowe on the case of “Harper Lee, Recluse.” This time I get to be Boswell!
Is it worse to be accused of believing something false or to be accused of believing something evil? Christianity isn't true? That's so last-century. G.E. Veith writes, "It is one thing to oppose religion, but now we have arrived at the marks of dangerous religious bigotry: spreading sensationalistic lies, instigating fear in the public, and promoting paranoid conspiracy theories."
This reminds me of a radio report I heard several weeks ago on a Christian outreach to a homosexual community. One young man said he felt uncomfortable with the group of Christians, because he sensed negativity from them. He had read the Bible, he said, and there's no negativity in it.
As I brew some coffee to take to work this morning, let me pass on the news that roasting coffee beans at home is on the rise, according to this report from AP writer Brad Foss. He writes about coffee lovers who want the freshiest cup they can get, even if that means they have to buy the beans green and roast them over a gas grill at home.
It doesn't require a lot of time, money or equipment to roast coffee beans at home — less than 10 minutes in an air popcorn popper does the trick — but enthusiasts devote plenty of each to the craft.And I will tell you this is over the top for me, but in case you are interested in roasting your own beans, you can look for "countertop electric roasters" for $75-$500. Invite some friends over when you do it, and don't complain if they want their drinks weaker than yours.
Home roasters congregate at Web sites such as coffeegeek.com, where they exchange techniques; they get together in person to sample, or "cup," each other's beans; and many maintain log books, where they record details such as the amount of time and heat applied to each batch they roast.
"Some guys are over the top," said Dave Borton of Monroe, Wis., who has been roasting at home since January, belongs to an Internet-based bean buyers club and gives away about two pounds of freshly roasted beans every week to co-workers and members of his church. "My wife would tell you I am over the top."
I don't think I've mentioned it, but I'm hosting my brothers and their families for Thanksgiving (no doubt there will be much slapstick to report once the smoke has cleared).
Anyway, tonight I'm baking pumpkin pie, using the Sacred Walker Recipe. I shall share this recipe with you now, for the betterment of the commonwealth.
I learned it from my mom, who for all her faults was a pretty good cook. It's also really simple. If you can make a pie from canned filling, you can make this adjustment.
Here's the secret:
However many eggs your recipe calls for, increase the quantity to 7 (seven).
Otherwise do everything the same, except that the makings will have to go into two deep dish pie pans. Bake as instructed.
That's it. The result is two lovely, delicate, custardy pumpkin pies. Your family will love them, unless they're jaded or Swedish or something.
Expect this post to be a mess. Several things to write about, without any unifying theme of which I’m aware.
The project of cataloging our archives continues apace in the library. We’re into the B’s. (We catalog the old books by authors’ names.) But lots of books have been mislabeled, since previous librarians have lacked my magisterial knowledge of Norwegian.
One such book I looked at today was a compendium of Lutheran theology, translated from German, printed in Stavanger in 1856. That nearly took my breath away. Publishing in Norway doesn’t go back much farther than that. It was increased literacy, largely sparked by the pietist movement with which I still identify, that made such things possible in that poor country, at the time a province of Sweden.
Another was a book from the 1860s, a small collection of poems by Peder Dass, a pastor-poet who worked in the north of Norway in the 17th Century and became a genuinely mythical figure, endowed with magical powers in the eyes of the common folk. He wasn’t a magician, but he was a pretty good poet.
I also looked at a bundle of much more recent books sent by one of our pastors. One is the highly disjointed autobiography of a pastor who used to be prominent in youth ministry in a Lutheran church body that no longer exists. When I saw the name of the church he served for many years, I began to wonder if I knew this man. Then I saw a picture of him with his "collection of pictures of John the Baptist," and I knew it was the same guy.
Flash back to the summer of 1970. The Christian musical group for which I was lyricist was traveling around the east coast region. We were three guys and three girls. I’d made the major mistake, months before, of falling—well, I won’t say falling in love, because once I got some distance on the thing I realized my motivation had originated about a foot and a half south of my heart—developing a crush on one of the girls in the group. A few weeks before I’d made the further mistake of telling her how I felt (which she already knew all about, needless to say). I’d gotten the response I knew in my heart I’d get.
In retrospect it was a good thing she turned me down. She was a fairly neurotic girl, and between our mutual dysfunctions we’d have made a marriage that would have lasted, at best, about half an hour if she’d been insane enough to encourage me. But at the time my world was landfill. I became a walking shadow, a memento mori in flare jeans. Since I’m no hogshead of laughs at the best of times, I think I probably served as a negative witness for Christ that summer.
Finally we came to that pastor’s church. Well, most of us came. Our group leader, fed up to here with me, and with the couple in the group who had gotten together (and who spent quite a lot of time making out), announced that he had business to tend to at home and left us on our own that particular week.
So we showed up at the church of this prominent pastor, one who (we learned later) was in a position to do much good or much harm to our sponsoring organization’s reputation with his denomination. We were missing a leader. We had one couple with hands all over each other, and another couple who barely spoke to each other. And me with a rain cloud over my head, like Joe Bfxztplk (I’m not sure of the spelling) in the old Li’l Abner comic.
I was going to reminisce some more about that week, but you know… I’d just rather not.
Good news—the guy who looked at my rental room yesterday says he’ll move in. Probably this weekend. I’m saved, financially.
Cloud gone, for now.
In today's NY Times, author Sam Harris (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason; Letter to a Christian Nation):
By shying away from questioning people’s deeply felt beliefs, even the skeptics, Mr. Harris said, are providing safe harbor for ideas that are at best mistaken and at worst dangerous. “I don’t know how many more engineers and architects need to fly planes into our buildings before we realize that this is not merely a matter of lack of education or economic despair,” he said.True, it is "not merely a matter of lack of education," though I wonder about the secularists so uneducated on faith matters. Why are these anti-religion activists content to broad-brush the world's religions? Do they believe all atheists and secularists act the same, all in a clear-headed, beneficent manner? Have we forgotten the motives of the murderous leaders from the twentieth century? [via Books, Inq.]
Dr. Steven Weinberg, who famously wrote toward the end of his 1977 book on cosmology, “The First Three Minutes,” that “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless,” went a step further: “Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”
Brother Moloch arrived Sunday afternoon. All is well. He observed more than fifty baptisms and three exorcisms in Tanzania.
I had two calls from prospective renters over the weekend. One left his work number on my machine, then never returned my messages. The second left me a number that doesn’t work.
However: A young man came to see the room this evening. He is alleged to be a handyman. Might be good.
Once Moloch was gone on Sunday, I found myself at loose ends and remembered I’d been wanting to see “Stranger Than Fiction.” So I did that. Short review—I have lots of quibbles, but it was the most enjoyable film I’ve seen in some time. I do enjoy these existential fantasy movies, like “Groundhog Day,” “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind,” and “Bruce Almighty.”
Will Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, an IRS agent who is obsessed with numbers. He counts the strokes as he brushes his teeth, and can multiply large figures in his head. His life is barren emotionally. He lives in an apartment that looks like a motel suite, except that the suite would be homier.
One morning as he’s counting out his brushing, he begins to hear the voice of author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) narrating what he’s doing. The narration isn’t constant, but he finds it distracting when it’s there. He sees a couple counselors who tell him he’s going schizophrenic, but he rejects that explanation. Finally, on the theory that he’s involved in somebody’s story, he goes to see a literature professor, played by Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman sets about analyzing what kind of story Harold is part of, and has him journaling his experiences to see if it’s a comedy or a tragedy.
Meanwhile Harold is auditing a charming baker, Anna Pascal, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I was ambivalent about her character. First of all, she’s a tax protestor who refuses to pay the portion of her taxes earmarked for National Defense. Secondly she’s fairly heavily tattooed, which just creeps me out. On the other hand she has a very sweet smile, which was enough to get me over the rough spots.
As you’d expect, Anna starts out hating Harold, but gradually warms to him, and they end up sharing a bed.
Harold's story is intercut with scenes where we see author Eiffel, who is fascinating (but then all authors are, aren’t they?). She thinks like me and walks around half-dazed, drinking and smoking like… well, like somebody I knew well at one time. When Hoffman’s character (sorry, I’ve forgotten his name) finally figures out that Harold is in a Kay Eiffel novel (she always writes tragedies), Harold sets about finding her to beg for his life.
I can quibble with the movie all night. Are we supposed to believe that Kay Eiffel created Harold Crick, or did she just somehow commandeer his life narrative? Various authorial comments suggest that Harold’s watch has something to do with his ability to hear Kay’s voice, but how that might work isn’t explained (or else I missed it).
And why must it be taken for granted that people immediately go to bed with each other the moment they fall in love? I know lots of people do, especially nowadays, but there must be a few exceptions. And why does Harold have to approach her with the words, “I want you,” instead of “I love you”? Is that supposed to make him authentic?
But for all that, it was a very good movie. I thought its portrayal of writer’s block was pretty authentic (how many of us have been stopped in our tracks by a reluctance to hurt a character we liked?). And there’s a theme of selflessness and laying one’s life down that did my heart good.
There’s some bad language and a little nudity (though it’ll only be prurient if old guys in a health club shower room get your motor running), but it’s fairly unobjectionable by contemporary Hollywood standards.
I recommend "Stranger Than Fiction" highly, for smart grownups. Especially ones who like books.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp. which owns the Fox Network (TV interview) and ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins (tasteless book), has announced the company is dropping O.J.'s book and television appearances.
"I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project," said Rupert Murdoch. "We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."
David Bauder, AP, writes, "For the publishing industry, the cancellation of 'If I Did It' was an astonishing end to a story like no other. Numerous books have been withdrawn over the years because of possible plagiarism, most recently Kaavya Viswanathan's 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,' but a book's removal simply for objectionable content is virtually unheard of."
Plan to give any literary or philologically related gifts this year? Things like umbrellas with author charicatures. Let us know about it, and feel free to assume a name in order to avoid spoiling your gift.