October, Lately – Readings & Watchings

“Life has been hard lately, but I keep on trucking . . .” This sort of thing seems to be an increasingly common refrain of mine, and I am getting tired of it. In this post, I shall focus on the good things. 😉

Readings

I am reading again! Mainly, these two (yes, they are both niche . . . ’tis glorious):

We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans & Comedy by Kliph Nesteroff

Started reading this with a local group; about 1/4 through and loving it so far. It’s written in the style of a Ken Burns documentary—there’s a frame narration, not too verbose, while the bulk of the book is made up of interviews, quotes, and newspaper/media excerpts. It covers not just comedy but media and show business going back to the 1800s, sometimes with disturbingly dark origins. In modern times, comedy has become a way for Native Americans to express themselves, deliver social commentary, and help reframe their respective tribes’ cultural images in the US and Canada, strongly countering the “cold, stoic” stereotype with wit, laughs, and warmth. I appreciate the frequently nuanced approach; for example, some time is spent on the complexity of Will Rogers’ achievements, identity, and prejudices, rather than simply depicting him as a hero. For those completely unfamiliar with most of these figures, the book is easily supplemented by YouTube searches (“New Moon Wolf Pack Audition,” a satire on Hollywood casting, was ahead of its time). So far, recommended . . . very much in the same space as Interior Chinatown but in nonfiction format.

Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation: Ancient Wisdom for Current Controversy by Gavin Ortlund

Ortlund’s YouTube channel has been a source of solace and education over the past year or so, which has compelled me to read his books. This one covers Augustine’s views on Creation from several of his writings and how we might reframe and examine various Creation debates today around his thought. I am not far into it, but I am already inspired to read Confessions and have put it on my TBR shortlist for the end of this year.

Watchings

To my great sadness, Rings of Power Season 1 came to an end after eight (all too short) episodes.

Looking back, there were so many things that added up to make it enjoyable, but I especially loved the dialogue. There’s tons of great quotes and sayings throughout the series—here’s a few of my favorites:

Hope is never mere… even when it is meager. When all other senses sleep, the eye of hope is first to awaken and last to shut.

Choose not the path of fear, but that of faith.

The way of the faithful is commit to pay the price, even when the cost is not known.

It darkens the heart to call dark deeds good. It gives a place for evil to thrive inside us. Every war is fought both without and within.

While awaiting new installments of Dune and Rings of Power . . . my family and I have gone back to watching movies. We recently saw two Liam Neeson films, The Commuter (2018) and Unknown (2011). I enjoyed The Commuter, it’s basically a retelling of Non-Stop (2014) but on a train instead of a plane. The “remake,” if you will, is a less believable story, but it fleshes out side characters more and is rather fun to watch. I didn’t particularly like Unknown, never could get into the Jason Bourne types of movies, but it has its high points, along with some interesting angles on undocumented persons and Cold War history. Altogether, if you’re looking for something engaging to watch, these “aging family man can still punch bad guys” Neeson films are pretty cool.

We also watched Dark Victory (1939), a film featuring Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and a young (!) Ronald Reagan in a small role as a man-about-town. I found it extremely tedious . . . it opens with high emotional stakes and nearly plateaus for the rest of the movie. Bette Davis is a very talented actress, but here the script doesn’t serve her well; she spends nearly two hours as a constantly distressed character who is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Such a film should increase your interest and empathy as it goes on, but I found the opposite to be happening. The film portrays some pretty sus medical professionalism (er, lack thereof). Young Bogart is just . . . there, an awkward male love interest with very little to do with the story. A long ways from Key Largo or The Caine Mutiny (my favorite Bogart film).

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Over the Garden Wall (2014)

I haven’t been watching much these days apart from Rings of Power, but this week I stumbled upon a delightful animated series called Over the Garden Wall. It’s a 10-part miniseries following two boys, Greg and Wirt, who are lost in the woods and the many quirky characters and adventures they encounter on their journey home. The story has a delightful New England-autumn aesthetic and a lot of nods to classic stories like old-school Disney, the Wizard of Oz, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I also spotted some Studio Ghibli influence. It’s spooky in a Legend-of-Sleepy-Hollow way and made me feel a bit nostalgic, even though I’d never heard of this before. The script is surprisingly good, with plenty of LOL moments and dry humor as well.

I think my favorite chapter was “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee,” which takes a few creepy turns without losing its charm!

Is it is a good show for kids? I would say OTGW is more appropriate for young teens and up. There are moments of moral ambiguity and unkind words exchanged (mostly from the grumpy bird character, Beatrice). The episodes are pretty low-key, but one episode in particular (“The Ringing of the Bell”) was quite scary even for this 20-something. The supernatural elements are mostly handled well, from one Christian’s perspective, but there are one or two points that some may find problematic. Overall… I do think it’s fine for older kids, and I appreciated the wholesome conclusions to the mysteries. As far as the sibling dynamics, Wirt (voiced by Elijah Wood) is a very good older brother who demonstrates nearly endless patience with the antics of little Greg. 😉

The first episode is free on YouTube for those curious, and I watched the rest of it on HBO Max.

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