January 31, 2013

Fincher and Mara and Craig, Oh My

The world needs to get cracking on that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sequel asap.

January 23, 2013

My New Favorite Detective

Chet is a disgraced police trainee dropout. After failing miserably his final exam, he became a PI and is now investigating crimes ("mostly missing persons") in California. He's got a great nose for criminals and an unfailing ability to size people up. He can follow a trail across the desert and back but sometimes has trouble communicating his findings. Illiterate? Autistic? No, dog.

Chet's favorite things in life include riding shotgun, catching perps, and hanging with his best buddy Bernie (who usually drives, though I'm certain Chet could step up if need be). And he's a great storyteller, from the first page of Dog on It to the last. This series by Spencer Quinn is flat-out charming, and that's something that's not too easy to do well. The writing is snappy, the plot is engaging, and the whole experience of reading makes you think, along with Chet, "Is this a great life or what?"

January 22, 2013

The Gallery of 20th-Century Martyrs at Westminster Abbey

Including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero, and, of course, Martin Luther King Jr. Their examples illuminate for us still the art of living.

January 19, 2013

Our Midatlantic Stony Creeky Leafy Piedmont World


The Sorest Loser That Ever Lived

That's what Earl Weaver, legendary manager of the Baltimore Orioles, wanted on his tombstone, and it will be repeated a hundred times in the obituaries that are already starting to appear.

Sports is narrative. It can be a long, sprawling novel, like the epic century-long Curse of the Babe. It can be a short story, like the Orioles Magic of 2012. Or it can be a tweet, like a really intense at-bat. One of the great characters of baseball was Earl Weaver, whose fiery showdowns with umpires constituted one of the great serial stories of my childhood. Baseball cap turned backward so he could really get up in the umps' faces, his short stature only made his fury that much more explosive. He was ejected from games more than any other manager in the American League, often kicking dirt onto home plate on his way out. But Weaver brought more than fire to the game. He brought joy, enthusiasm, smarts, and one of the winningest records in all of baseball history. All hail the Duke of Earl.

January 17, 2013

C. S. Lewis and the Virtue of a Loved Book

Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism has many, many fascinating ideas brewing about how to judge the worth of a book. He has this revolutionary thought: We can never really know what a book brings to another person. Even if it seems like a waste to us, if someone else claims to love it we have to contend with this fact: "The prima facie probability that anything which has ever been truly read and obstinately loved by any reader has some virtue in it is overwhelming."

January 10, 2013

C. S. Lewis and Reading

On looking down one's nose at certain kinds of literature:

"The Puritan conscience works on without the Puritan theology—like millstones grinding nothing; like digestive juices working on an empty stomach and producing ulcers. The unhappy youth applies to literature all the scruples, the rigorism, the self-examination, the distrust of pleasure, which his forebears applied to the spiritual life; and perhaps soon all the intolerance and self-righteousness."

January 2, 2013

Lincoln, Finally

As I sat in the theater tonight, I thought, "Why didn't anyone tell me how great this movie is??" Well, it's been on every top ten list, usually first or second, so, duh . . .  people told you. But I had convinced myself that it was a much-admired movie, not a much-loved one. How wrong I was.

Spielberg, as always, can tell a story like nobody's business. Set, music, blah blah blah. All good. The acting? Wondrous. There was plenty of room for histrionics (Mary Todd Lincoln) and mugging (the comic relief of the fixers, the chief of whom is played brilliantly by James Spader). But not a single performance goes off the rails into melodrama or exaggeration. And Daniel Day-Lewis does the seemingly impossible, marrying the quiet, even awkward dignity of our public idea of Lincoln with the charisma and cleverness that we know he must have had because you don't get to the presidency without them. He's a whole, seamless psychological being. He's quiet, then he starts telling a folksy story, then he's chatting away like a gossip, then he's intense and focused, and so on and so forth. Even when he slams his palm on the table and gets all bossy, it feels like one and the same person, and it's not exploited with halo lighting and prolonged into A Moment. There's something in Spielberg's direction that's not insistent, that doesn't try to shove [Lincoln's greatness, the fixers' charm, Mary Todd's complexity, take your pick] down your throat.

Even Tommy Lee Jones stays within the bounds of believability
 in his lovable curmudgeonliness and disdain for the opinion of others.

I'm certain that Daniel Day-Lewis will win the Oscar for Best Actor, but how about Best Supporting Actor for James Spader? I'd be on board with that, if only for the scene in which he belated realizes that they guy he's been chatting up at a public house is trying to kill him. I also like the scene in which Lincoln surprises the fixers at their makeshift headquarters and it takes about three minutes for both Lincoln and Spade's character to realize they're the smartest people in the room. This is another way that both the script and Daniel Day-Lewis nail it, by making evident how very, very smart Lincoln was. It's easy for the public personas of people like him (salt-of-the-earth Lincoln, Bubba Clinton) to obscure their razor-sharp minds.

Here's a puzzle: How can a vote, a historical congressional vote whose outcome we already know with complete certainty, be so very suspenseful?