Books I must seek out: The Haunted Bookshop

haunted bookshop

“Like everything else, (Truth) was rationed by the governments. I taught myself to disbelieve half of what I read in the papers. I saw the world clawing itself to shreds in blind rage. I saw hardly any one brave enough to face the brutalizing absurdity as it really was, and describe it. I saw the glutton, the idler, and the fool applauding, while brave and simple men walked in the horrors of hell. The stay-at-home poets turned it to pretty lyrics of glory and sacrifice. Perhaps half a dozen of them have told the truth. Have you read Sassoon? Or Latzko’s Men in War, which was so damned true that the government suppressed it? Humph! Putting Truth on rations!”

“You see those children going down the street to school? Peace lies in their hands. When they are taught in school that war is the most loathsome scourge humanity is subject to, that it smirches and fouls every lovely occupation of the mortal spirit, then there may be some hope for the future. But I’d like to bet they are having it drilled into them that war is a glorious and noble sacrifice.”

Those are two excerpts from a book called The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, which was not written last year but in 1919, just after the Great War to End All Wars. We’ve seen how that turned out.

Read more about Morley and an extended excerpt at this link:

Roger Mifflin reflects on the Great War

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So this is how liberty dies: With thunderous applause

so this is how liberty dies crop

Senator Padme Amidala’s line during Emperor Palpatine’s speech, above, is the most chillingly effective moment in all of the Star Wars prequel movies. It’s also as true an observation as in any 21st century work of art.

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 around the same concept: Tyranny often happens by popular demand. Bradbury’s society that banned and burned books evolved because books made people uncomfortable enough to want them gone. The government didn’t impose book burning; the public demanded it.

It’s fascinating to watch, whenever Something Happens, as discussion emerges around what laws could be instituted to prevent a similar Something from Happening again. These proposed new laws are always even more restrictive than the laws that failed to prevent the Something that Happened. The underlying proposition is that the solution to evil acts is further shrinking freedom for those who are not inclined to commit evil acts.

Talking heads with nothing to say repeat the mantras that have accomplished nothing to date, in an endless insane kabuki dance. The laws are enacted to thunderous applause, which ends the next time Something Happens, and then the dance begins again.

One day, people stop talking about liberty altogether. Freedom is just too uncomfortable, too dangerous to be allowed.

And soon, Something Happens anyway.

A call from the muse

call from the muse

On a morning when each breath draws bright icicles into the soul came a knock on the heart’s door.

“Hey! It’s me! Your inner Bradbury,” came a child’s voice like a warm breeze. “Take me for a spin with a pair of new sneakers unleashed on the meadow next door, like a rocket on the launch pad gathering fuel for one grand push against the Earth, like an old lady with a gleam in her eye who tells of mysteries no little girl or boy can fathom.

“Run across fields full of stars and buzzing sounds that come from nowhere and everywhere. Take me anywhere, but take me – send me on an adventure, share a nugget of joy in the living, in the finding, in the exploring, for it’s a good world to live, find and explore.

“Settle on a distant planet only to find the challenges of men and women don’t change so much just because the scenery is different, but yes they do because the scenery is different, and yet humans are still humans.

“Do anything with me, your inner Bradbury, but don’t neglect me, for there’s the path to old age.”

“I guess I am getting old,” I replied. “But not so old that I would purposefully neglect you, old friend.”

And I reached up for a book.

W.B. at the Movies: The Star Wars flicks

Last_Jedi

I had a joyful experience watching the latest movie in the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi – more fun than I’d had since the second installment of the first trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back.

Looking back, I think I can categorize the films in four levels. Mind you, I really have enjoyed all of these movies, even the much-maligned prequel films from 1999 to 2005, so I like even the least satisfying ones, but I like some more than others and would probably say I “love” only two, including the latest one.

Top tier – The Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi (“Oh, that was awesome!!”)

Second tier – Star Wars*, The Force Awakens, Rogue One (“That was great!”)

Third tier – Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith (“That was terrific but not quite perfect.”)

Fourth tier – Attack of the Clones, The Phantom Menace (“The story is interesting but the movie was kind of disappointing.”)

My general observations: The real home runs were hit in the middle chapters of the first and third trilogies, and I don’t think the first two third episodes quite connected as well as they should have (although Revenge of the Sith is clearly the best film of the prequels.)

The pressure is on for the next film, which needs to wrap up many arcs while setting the table for the next round.

* You can call it A New Hope if you want, but it will forever be Star Wars to me and, I dare say, most everyone who became a fan in 1977.

W.B. at the movies: The Cloverfield Paradox

cloverfield-paradox

I love the idea of The Cloverfield Paradox. J.J. Abrams produced the film in secret, and Netflix released it unexpectedly – right after the Super Bowl after promoting it only in two short trailers during and after the game.

I love it because they pulled off a surprise in this techy world where everyone can know everything about upcoming pop culture projects. I love it because it disrupts the movie industry – not disruption for the sake of disruption, but because it’s something new that might be an improvement on the old ways – releasing a major film without much hype and direct to our living room.

It doesn’t matter if the film is any good – if it isn’t, one day a great film will be released in this way.

And now that I’ve watched it, The Cloverfield Paradox is better than some of the reviews led me to expect. It’s perhaps not the most compelling of the three Cloverfield movies but it’s easily the one with the most answers. We finally see the threads that tie together the giant monster dismantling New York and the bizarre stuff the denizens of the 10 Cloverfield Lane bunker see when they climb back to the surface.

The reviews I’ve seen say we aren’t motivated to care about the characters – but I cared – and complain about what the reviewers perceive as plot holes – but are they plot holes? The plot isn’t tied up in a tidy bundle, and some things don’t seem to make sense, but how is that different from the first two Cloverfield movies? Hmm?

The Netflix model is fun – so many projects waiting to be discovered, often unexpected, often quite good, with an undeniable edge. This may be the future, migrating from the walls of movie theaters to our family rooms, although few shared experiences are as delightful as watching a brilliant movie with a large and appreciative audience.

Whenever I hear the classic line, “Round up the usual suspects,” my heart returns to the moment when I first heard it, in the early 1970s at a Friday night screening filled with college kids who had never seen the film. The triumphant roar from that packed crowd was exhilarating.