Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Books and Things

by Robison Wells

I started off writing one of those blogs that begins "This blog isn't going to be funny, and it might make a few people upset." And then I thought "No blog that ever starts that way EVER makes anyone upset." Why? Because no one ever says "This blog is going to make a few people upset. Achtung: The Holocaust never happened." No, those blogs usually say things that everyone agrees with, and the comments are usually filled with "You go, girl!"

Consequently, I'm not going to write one of those blogs. I'm sure you're relieved.

Instead, I'm going to tell you about all the awesome (and awesomeness-impaired) media which I have consumed in the last little while--books, movies, new Fall TV shows, old Fall TV shows, etc.

First, books:

I have a new favorite book. And I don't mean I have added a book to my list of favorites; I mean that a book has reached the very tippety top of my favorite list, finally edging out Huckleberry Finn. Move over Mr. Clemens! You're great, but what have you done for me lately?

This new favorite is Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. The book is related to the movie by the same name which came out in 2005 and hit almost every single critic's best movies list. (The book is not based on the movie, nor is the movie based on the book--they were both written by Boyce simultaneously.)

Millions tells the story of two young brothers, Damien and Anthony, whose mother recently passed away. Their father moves them to the suburbs. Damien, the younger of the two, is enthralled with Catholic saints and frequently recites their stories--and talks to them. Shortly after arriving at their new home, a bag of money--roughly 230,000 British pounds--mysteriously appears in the field behind their home. Damien believes it's a miracle.

I won't get too much into the story, other than to say that this is one of the most endearing, heartwarming books I've ever read. Damien sees everything through innocent and pure eyes. When his teacher sends a letter to Damien's dad, referring Damien to a "Special Assesment" with a psychologist, he can't help but be pleased with himself--he's always tried to be special.

In the movie, Millions is mostly about the money--Damien trying to be saintly and help the poor while Anthony tries to spend it--and it's a great movie. But the book takes that framework and adds so much more depth and character. Half the time you don't know whether you should be laughing or crying. (I actually first listened to the book on audio while I was taking a long road trip by myself. All alone in the middle of nowhere, I found myself sobbing.)

If you're expecting a Christmas present from me this year, then you can expect this book.

(Incidentally, some Mormon missionaries live on Damien's street, and they play a minor role in the story. The author gets some of the details of missionaries wrong--such as seeing them without their companions fairly regularly--and they're not necessarily portrayed as the most honest group of people in the world. But I forgive that. This book is amazing.)

Mistborn 2: The Well of Ascension

This book was written by Brandon Sanderson, who was a member of my very first writing group--it was there that I learned how to write.

The book is a sequel (obviously) to last year's Mistborn, a quirky blend of high fantasy and Ocean's Eleven--a group of specialists trying to pull of an insanely improbable heist with the aid of some very specialized magic.

The book is wildly good fun, with great characters and fantastic action scenes. All three of Brandon's Tor novels have been a little too philosophically modern for my tastes: I have a hard time buying much of the political theory the characters are tossing around--it seems quite anachronistic to the setting. However, that can be overlooked in favor of the story, which is excellent.

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I first heard about this book through an interview with the author on NPR. He was interesting enough that when I saw the book in an airport giftshop this weekend I picked it up.

It's non-fiction--I read way more non-fiction than fiction--and the basic concept is the author, Michael Pollan, is trying to trace the roots of his food. Food today is processed so much that it's often near impossible to find its origins. But what he can find is fascinating.

He begins with a McDonald's value meal, and shows how the entire thing is made out of corn. There's the obvious stuff: corn fed the cows that make the hamburger, but then there's the less obvious: the oil used in bun comes from corn. The soda is almost entirely corn, in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup. The fries are fried in corn (oil again). The ketchup is corn, the mustard is corn, the Big Mac's special sauce is corn. In fact, the cardboard packaging that encloses the Big Mac is partly made from corn. The bag, also, contains processed corn.

In fact, corn has a very unique signature in spectroanalysis (I'm not a scientist, so forgive me if I'm using the wrong word), and that signature is now showing up in human hair. We really are what we eat.

New Fall TV:

Journeyman: A guy keeps jumping back in time to help people survive calamities and moral dilemmas. In other words, it's Quantum Leap, except he can go home sometimes. It was okay, I guess, but nothing special.

Bionic Woman: This show was a big mountain of blah. It's like Alias II, except less believable and she's got robot legs.

Life: Unlike the last two, this show is absolutely fantastic. It’s similar to House in many ways: a quirky savant solves cases through unconventional means. Also, the lead actor is British doing an American accent. Also, the show-to-show formulas are generally pretty similar, and the show exists mostly for the character interaction. Also, it’s hilarious.

The main character, Cruise, was in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and has recently been let out. While in prison, he maintained his sanity through Zen techniques. Now, as a cop, he’ll resort to those techniques to help control his temper. One of my favorite scenes has Cruise being threatened by two burly guys, and Cruise breaks into a long litany of Zen teachings.

Burly Guy: Are you making fun of me?

Cruise: The universe makes fun of us all…

A few minutes later, as Cruise and his partner are walking away

Partner: Why does the universe make fun of us all?

Cruise: Maybe it’s insecure.

Chuck: I don’t get Chuck. A lot of people really dig it, but to me it seems to be too schizophrenic. Sometimes it’s all serious stuff, like Alias, and other times it’s bizarre fantasy jokes, like Scrubs. And they don’t blend well.

Anyway, I’m writing way too much here. Here are a few final thoughts: I haven’t seen a lot of movies lately, and certainly none that were worth mentioning. (Meaning; I can’t remember what they were, so they can’t have been that good, right?) There have been several returning shows that I’ve been eagerly watching, too. House is good, as usual. Heroes, which I love, is entertaining but so far it’s lacking the urgency (and therefore much of the quality storytelling) of last season. The Office is probably the best returning show that I’ve been watching—not because it’s really changed anything, but it’s stayed on top of its game.

That’s about it. I’m sure I’ll remember other things as soon as I’ve posted this. Maybe next week I’ll write something that will make all of you mad. Probably something about how Grey’s Anatomy is stupid.

P.S. I promise that I still sometimes do homework. But come on—I’m a marketing student. Isn’t watching TV research?


At 10/09/2007 4:42 PM, Anonymous Fellfrosch said...

You really need to watch Pushing Daisies--it's the best new show of the season.

At 10/09/2007 6:39 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

And I'm allergic to corn. See how life is? The universe really is laughing at us!

At 10/09/2007 10:20 PM, Blogger Josi said...

All I watch is reruns of ER and Law & Order. Now that Lost . . . well, lost me, I have non faith in TV--though pushing up Daisie's does seem very interesting--kind of an x-man feel to the love relationship. I heard Dirty, Sexy, Money was good.

Oh, and Rob, mom already told me you drew my name for the family gift thing--and I'm not big on formalities so you can give it to me anytime.

At 10/10/2007 3:28 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


I'll have to get the book, Millions. We watched the movie with our kids and laughed our butts off. The really sad thing is that last Monday I asked one of my children to recount the story of the loaves and the fishes for a FHE lesson and the kids couldn't stop laughing.

"So I said, 'Miracle.' He was a bit taken aback."

At 10/10/2007 9:43 AM, Anonymous William Morris said...

The second Mistborn book has some of the best actions scenes I've ever read in fantasy -- and a fantastic magic system. Good stuff. And it's better written (both in terms of characterization and plotting) than Sanderson's last two novels (which are still worth reading).

The only new fall TV the Morris household has adopted so far is Reaper. It's good. Funny and quirky. The set up: a total slacker discovers on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born and now that he is of age, the devil owns him and forces him to hunt down souls who have escaped from hell. The premise is a bit goofy, but the first two episodes have been quite fun.

At 10/10/2007 10:32 AM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

Fellfrosch beat me to the punch. I would recommend Pushing Dasies simply because there is nothing else like it on TV. Reminds me a bit of the movie Big Fish.

At 10/10/2007 10:49 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Josi, is this like the time when you told me Mom said she wanted me to play in the street?

At 10/10/2007 8:36 PM, Blogger Jon said...

You should give Chuck a chance. I picked it up because it was billed as an "action comedy", which is what Bum Notice was, and that was so enjoyable. Try to lower your expectations a little and you'll probably enjoy it. Plus, the geeky pop culture quotes are so wonderful. Last week, he mentions Oceanic flight 815, for example. Or the Batdance quotes.

Pushing Daisies is different, but an enjoyable strange. Also, the Pie Hole is a great name!
Life is also good - we're reminded of Raines, but with less hallucinations.

Bionic Woman: my wife hated it, I thought it was ok. I want to see at least one more ep before I give up on it.

P.S. How is ketchup corn? Isn't it tomatoes? Or are we back to corn syrup?

At 10/10/2007 11:51 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

Oh, carpoolers was interesting as well. Could get dumb, but I enjoyed the pilot.


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