Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Recommendations


There are so many mediocre (or downright bad) books, movies, television, and music that it's sometimes hard to remember that there is so much great art being produced these days. So, a list of things I've enjoyed very much recently.

Books

Little Bee by Chris Cleave. This is the most powerful book that I've read in a long while. The plot is so intricate and wonderful that I hate to even describe it for fear of giving something away, so I'll describe it as being about a young Nigerian refugee who is living with a British journalist and the way their relationship is formed and how it blooms into a profound friendship. The novel is about much more than that, and opened my eyes to atrocities being committed around the world that I had absolutely no idea about. I loved Little Bee especially because it is that rare thing: a literary page-turner. The language is precise and beautiful and the pages fly by due to the feverish plot-driven pacing. I can't recommend this book highly enough, although I should tell you that it is not for the faint
-of-heart, despite its sunny cover.

Jonah's Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston. I really did not think that any of Hurston's books could be as beautiful as Their Eyes Were Watching God, but this one comes very, very close. The life story of a man who tries hard to be good then falls victim to his own desires and makes a horrible mistake that marks him forever, this novel is almost Biblical in tone and rhythm (as the title suggests). With a cast of characters I will never forget and sense of place so palpable that I could feel the blistering Alabama sun on the top of my head while reading, Jonah's Gourd Vine is a book that I encourage everyone to read with a pen in hand so you can mark all the amazing passages. The book is full of dialect, which I love, but some people find it hard to read. Get beyond that and you'll find one of the most beautiful novels ever written.


Movies

Winter's Bone. I went into Winter's Bone with some hesitation. I knew that it was set in a rural place and that it involved "tough customers" as we call them, people who are involved in the drug trade and live way up in the head of the holler where they can see the enemy and the law coming. So, when you put rural people and the drug trade together in Hollywood, you usually end up with nothing more than stereotypes. Luckily this is an independent film, directed, written, and produced by people who understand the place and the people. In this movie the rural people refuse to be the victims, especially the main character, played with amazing strength and defiance by a Kentucky actress named Jennifer Lawrence, whose performance is already getting Oscar buzz. Besides the great performances and writing, what I loved most about the movie were perfect little details that showed up in the set design and costumes. There is a beautiful musical centerpiece in the film and it is all so real that it made me feel like I was right at home amongst people I had known all of my life. If you see one movie this summer, make it Winter's Bone. Also not for the faint of heart, and not a date or popcorn movie in any way...I tend to like dark stuff.



Television

People sometimes ask me why I love True Blood so much. Well, this season has tested my patience to say the least, yet I still cannot look away. What I love so much about True Blood is that it's about ethics, about doing the right thing. The second season was a constant look at faith and the nature of God. The profound nature of the show is sometimes hidden beneath--and always buffered by--the campiness that it offers. Often I think the show goes farther than I need it to (that whole head-twisting scene? I could've done without that) and I am downright tired of seeing the female characters constantly put in jeopardy but I am sticking with it because in the end it's about Sookie trying her best to be a good person and to protect everyone she loves. It's vulgar and over-the-top and too bloody, sure, but it's also intelligent and addictive. I can't look away (but I still like Big Love better).


Music

Besides the True Blood theme song, which I've posted above, here are some other songs I'm loving this summer. My most recent heavy-rotation playlist:

Albums:
Caroline Herring-Silver Apples of the Moon. This five song EP is a treasure, with a new favorite of mine, "China".
Mumford and Sons-Sigh No More. Every song is great.
Chely Wright-Lifted Off the Ground. This one has to be listened to from beginning to end to fully appreciate.
Sia-We Are Born. Pure pop, but pop done really really well. A great summertime record. Thanks to my daughter for introducing me to this.

Songs
"I Forget It's There"-Lay Low
"Hop High My Lulu Gal"-Dirk Powell