Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Wonder Years by Richard Holmes

The subtitle of this book is the abstract as well: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. The book consists of twelve chapters, and delineates the exploits of 8 different people or group of people–Humphry Davy and William and Carol Herschel each rate two chapters. the book begins with Joseph Banks and his journey with Captain Cook to the South Pacific. It tells stories of how he interacted with natives there, and the telling things abou this character as it related to scientific discovery. Banks presided over the scientific society in England for the entire duration of the period between the late 1700’s and the early 1800’s, so this intorduction sets the stage upon which other scientists and writers performed.

The discovery of the mysteries of the stars and moon, the invention of things that helped to save lives by pre-eminent scientists, and the increasing knowldge of chemistry and human physiology are all intermixed with the well known philosophers and writers of the time. Keats was learning about science while he was becoming the Romantic Generation’s poet (and then promptly dying at much too young an age). Wordsworth and Cooleridge were similarly invovled with the prominent scientists of their time, and the relationships they developed, and how that led to further discovery and change is well described in this wonderful book of a golden time.

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Filed under Book Review, Non-Fiction

Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

Last week I finally understood why I am not a short story reader. I had finished Alice Munro’s collection of short stories “Too Much Happiness”, which I thought was okay. Then I read what some other people thought of the book–and realized that I had completely missed the complex character development, that I just do not pay enough attention to every word to be able to truly appreciate something that doesn’t go on for 200 pages. I am all about the big picture and I miss the nuances
Then I read this book, a collection of 11 short stories, ten of which I loved. So, now I have to go back to the drawing board to figure this out. Maybe it is a particular kind of short story that I don’t get. In any case, this is a spectacular book, filled with stories about flawed people who Meloy manages to make us care about. Do I wish that each of them went on for an entire book–of the ten I loved, I wish there was more for eight of them. For two stories–one about ‘the other woman’ and one about a man on the verge of leaving his wife for a younger woman, the point of view that I wanted was there, all told, and I didn’t want any more. That is so rarely the case (I remember vividly reading Vikram Seth’s first book “A Suitable Boy”, which carries on for almost 1500 pages, and being terribly dissapointed that it ended. I wanted more!). The stories drew me in, many of the characters were not people I wanted to meet, most were not likable (maybe none of us is likable when someone is in our head, seeing our every thought), but I wanted to know what happened to them, how the story ended. There is alot to think about in this short volume, and it is wonderful.

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Filed under Book Review, Fiction

For My Father (2008)


I showed this film to my confirmation class last night. We are on the topic of god, but this movie probably fits more squarely in the neighborhood of parent-child relationships and obligations. Tarek is Palestinian. He was a largely apolitical Arab who played soccer in Nazareth but lived in the West Bank. So in order to practice and play, he and his father needed to cross the armed border on a regular basis. As suicide bombings increased, this became increasingly difficult to do, and so paradoxically, in the Arab community, terrorists had a bigger and better hold on Palestinians than ever beofre. It was their way or the highway. And Tarek’s father became a persona non grata for not bowing to that way of thinking. The movie opens with Tarek en route to Tel Aviv to become a suicide bomber and redeem his father.

But there is a catch–his detonator misfires and he needs to replace it. On Friday afternoon. Katz, the owner of a small repair shop, does not have the exact replacement, and since it is almost Shabbat, it will be Sunday before he can get it. So Tarek is forced to spend time within the community and gets to know them–which makes it increasingly difficult for him to contemplate killing them. But the thing that he really misses that the Katz’ teach him is that parents do not recover from the death of their children. This act, which he does in the name of his father, will end his father’s life as he knows it. Tarek is caught in the middle of two worlds and doesn’t have time to find a good way out.

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District 9 (2009)

One is immediately immersed in the film’s world. Beginning in medias res with stark images of a massive spacecraft hovering over Johannesburg, the audience quickly discovers it’s been there for over thirty years by the time our story picks up. For months after the craft appeared the Earth waited for a response. When none came, the decision was made to send special teams to board the vessel and finally get some answers. What they got, instead, were more questions.
The aliens inside were malnourished, unhealthy and their intelligence appeared to be below that of most humans. Labeled “prawns” due to their appearance, the aliens were removed from the ship and placed into a temporary encampment known as District 9, which has rapidly deteriorated into an outright slum. Enter Wikus van der Merwe, a seemingly naive yet (mostly) likeable fellow employed with Multinational United (M.N.U.), the pseudo-U.N. organization tasked with handling the prawns. He’s just received a promotion and is ordered to relocate the prawns to a newer camp set up in an area more isolated from humanity.
While the scope of “District 9” seems initially epic, the film  follows a very focused tale centered on Wikus and an alien known as Christopher. As the story unfolds, the development of these characters is outstanding – particularly for an action-oriented film. A lesser film would’ve transformed Wikus into a more compassionate person as the events transpired, perhaps even culiminating into some sort of freedom fighter for the prawns. With this film, however, we’re finally presented with a very real, very flawed character.
Wikus is a largely  self-serving individual, whereas Christopher is a more  humane character.
The documentary format in which the film is shot is a phenomenal aspect and one which is original and innovative, and combines nicely with the action movie style.                                                                                The polarizing opinions and wildly diverse interpretations of this film are precisely what makes it brilliant. It’s been labeled as both a compelling allegory of apartheid and of the Iraqi war, it’s been accused of somehow being a ‘racist’ film, while somesee it as violently offensive rubbish. The film does not provide answers and solutions, but rather allows the viewer to see that there are no viable solutions.

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Filed under Drama, Movie Review