Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Monday, February 27, 2012

The grandeur of fantastic flying books

A funny thing happened on television Sunday night. There were these couple of "swamp rats" from Louisiana on the high-def screen . . . and nobody was yelling "Choot 'em!"

They were dressed in tuxedos, not overalls.

No boats or guns were involved.

Books were.

And so was an Academy Award -- the swamp rats won one for one of the most endearing animated shorts you will ever watch, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It is a treasure. And even a Louisiana native like me has to admit that "treasure" and "Shreveport" are not terms that often fraternize.

That just changed, thanks to director and writer William Joyce, co-director Brandon Oldenburg and their Shreveport studio, in business less than two years.
As Joyce and Oldenburg, the film's directors, walked the red carpet and mingled with stars in Hollywood, Moonbot employees held their own Oscar watch party, red carpet included, at Marilynn's Place in Shreveport. Emotions were high at the restaurant where around 70 people anxiously watched and waited for the envelope to be opened. A loud thunder of cheers and shrill screams followed the announcement.

"Look, we're just these two swamp rats from Louisiana," Joyce said in his acceptance speech. " We love the movies more than anything. It's been a part of our lives since we were both kids."

"It's been a part of our DNA since we were children, and it's made us storytellers," Oldenburg added.

Lead animator Jamil Lahham was in disbelief after Moonbot's victory. He said the Oscar win is just the beginning for Louisiana's film industry.

"These guys in the city and government started something and I think now it's paying off," Lahham said.

"Mr. Morris Lessmore" is Moonbot's first released animation project. Founded in 2010, the studios has also developed and produced the iPad application, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore."

The 14-minute long film follows Mr. Morris Lessmore during the aftermath of a storm in New Orleans. Through the power of stories and books, he finds happiness. It beat four other short films in the category including Pixar's "La Luna."
IN OTHER WORDS, what the story is really about is the power of beauty . . . and of love. Isn't that what all the best stories are about?

To tell you the God's honest truth, I meant to write this post hours and hours ago. I would have, too, had I been able to figure out why watching this little gem of a film left me with tears streaming down my face.
Every time.

The best I can come up with is that it's . . . the power of beauty.
And love.

It's similar to how you might get choked up and teary eyed upon witnessing an act of extraordinary kindness or sacrificial love. It's akin to how you might be wholly undone by becoming the recipient of extraordinary -- and unmerited -- grace.

We live as a defeated people, though willfully unaware of that tragedy, amid the ruins of a devastated culture. I think the way you recognize a devastated culture and a defeated people is by how cynical and ugly it --
they -- have become. Switch on the flat screen and the cable box and tell me what you see.

Turn on the radio and tell me what you hear.

That's all right. I don't notice the ugliness that much anymore, either. It helps that I try not to watch that much television, but even so, you get inured to it or you slowly go mad. This leads to the obvious question of whether madness by today's standards oftentimes would be considered sanity by some more objective gauge, but that's the subject of another post entirely.

Still, when you live in the sewer, you get to where you don't notice the sewage anymore. Or the smell.

When you live in a cynical, debased and dying culture, you don't notice the necrosis. Death and decay is the new normal.

WHAT YOU do notice amid death is life. What you do see amid the darkness is the light. What leaves you gobsmacked amid ugly is beauty. What undoes you amid the indifference of cynicism is the appearance of love.

About a century and a half ago, an English poet (and Catholic priest) had something to say about this:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
THIS POEM, God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins, found its way into books -- books that fed countless souls, words of man destined to become yet another manifestation of the power and the glory of what the Almighty hath wrought.

As random kindness or unexpected grace have the power to undo us in the face of our casual cruelty, so does any light amid this present darkness -- or any beauty arising to rebuke the grotesque we take for granted.

That's why I think
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore hit me the way it did. Like the prophets of old, one cannot stand in the presence of God and not be shattered -- especially when caught so unawares -- and that presence illuminates the intersection of truth, beauty and love.

As far as I'm concerned, and by that standard, every frame of Morris Lessmore is charged with the grandeur of God.

Better yet, the grandeur of God is a bargain. In a country where we spend thousands a year for the privilege of being slimed, this little bit of "the Holy Ghost over the bent world" costs but $1.99 on iTunes.

And just $2.99 for HD.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Skippyjon schools tots in Mayhem 101

It's celebrity story time at the library.

The guest of honor is a popular literary cat with an oversized head.

The room is full of little kids.

What could go wrong?

The downtown branch of the Omaha Public Library was about to find out, says the Omaha World Herald's Josefina Loza:

Children love Skippyjon Jones because he's adventurous and has a knack for getting in and out of trouble. And at the library, Skippyjon lived up to his reputation, giving a few dozen children an unforgettable eyeful.

Parents, teachers and nannies guided children to a carpeted area on the fourth floor of the library. They anxiously awaited the grayish-brown kitten's arrival.

Minutes before story time, Skippyjon finally walked out of a back room to greet the kids.

Many of the little boys and girls inched closer to the costumed cat, who sat near a librarian who was reading one of his books. In between readings, Skippyjon gave hugs and handshakes.

As Omahan Joanna Ziemba, a downtown child care instructor, stepped closer to the cat, she noticed something was wrong. His oversized eyeball had started to dangle from its socket.

Another child care provider tried to warn Skippyjon about his droopy eye.

"Oh, no, Skippy," she said. "Your eye is about to fall out.

Here, let me put it back in."

READ the whole thing to find out what happened next.

I ain't telling you any more because, frankly, I don't want you spewing your damn coffee all over my perfectly clean blog.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Never judge a mag by its cover

When I saw the magazine in the racks while picking over the carcass of our local Borders last weekend, my first thought was whether I could pull off a credible northern Minnesota accent while laughing at "those people."

Actually, that's a lie. My first inclination upon spying
Garden & Gun amid our Borders death watch, was "Hey. y'all! Look at this!"

I suppressed it. That would have given me away as one of "those people."

Garden & Gun. Can't be good. Sounds like my redneck childhood in south Louisiana.

IT SOUNDS . . . it sounds . . . it sounds so damn "Hey, y'all! Look at this!"

I mean, it sounded about right in describing the South I knew in my youth, but still. . . . You know?

Of course, in the midst of working up a good snark, I made the horrible mistake of picking up the damned thing. Pssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhew. That was all the air going out of my smugness and superiority.

Sure, you have some of your self-congratulatory "moonlight and magnolias" clichés about the superiority of all things Southrun . . . like the Southern belle. (As a longtime resident of the Midwest and husband of an Omaha belle, I can tell you the Yankees can hold their own). But you also have elegant design, an impressive stable of writers like Clyde Edgerton, Roy Blount, Jr., and Julia Reed . . . and a publisher who used to run The New Yorker.

Don't tell Bubba that last thing.

AND IN THE the archives, in the June/July 2010 issue of Garden & Gun, you also have one of the truest things ever written about the region that birthed me and formed me. The thing -- if you're a Southerner inclined toward introspection --
that also haunts you and makes you think about things that still can get you in a lot of trouble in many quarters of America's peculiar quarter.

Alice Randall
wrote it. She herself got in a lot of
trouble in many quarters of America's peculiar quarter for taking on The Myth . . . and The Book that so perpetuates it, Gone With the Wind.

In an article by the name of A Letter from Harper Lee, she says this:

Back in the late nineties, I suggested Mockingbird for a mother-daughter book group that my daughter and I helped found. Together an integrated group of five mothers and five daughters discovered and rediscovered the truths of Lee’s pages: that Lee realized that black men could be desirable, that white women could be liars, and that girls were bold and curious. We noted how much more intelligent the domestic servant in Mockingbird was than Mammy in Gone with the Wind. We noted that the town drunk only pretended to be drunk so he could get away with loving a black woman. We learned that having a daddy who practices civil rights law can be terrifying.

When we had finished, my daughter wrote a series of poems in homage to Lee. One of the mothers baked a Lane cake. We started dreaming of a field trip. I will never know what Harper Lee would have done if we had shown up uninvited on her doorstep with a Lane cake and five eleven-year-old girls. I know that when I showed up in her life as an accused plagiarist, she stepped into the hullabaloo that engulfed me to stand by my side.

I will always be in her debt. Not because she wrote to the court and then exchanged six letters with me over a decade. Before she knew of my existence, I knew of hers. Her words made me braver than I might have been from near to my very beginning.

I was born in 1959. Mockingbird was published in 1960. I read it for the first time not long after reading Gone with the Wind. I have long divided the world into Scouts and Scarletts—and I have always wanted to be Scout.

And for every year of my life but the first, Mockingbird’s very existence, reader by reader, thirty million strong, has made the world a better place for me and for mine, just as before I was born and for every single year of my life Gone with the Wind has made the world more difficult for people like me.
I WAS BORN in 1961 into a world of people with less polish than Scarlett but with souls just as arrogant. Souls just ugly enough to see every blessed thing through the dirty lens of the South's original sin.

I, too, always have wanted to be Scout, because Atticus might be a bridge too far. God give me the strength to overcome my Southern upbringing of a certain age.

Monday, May 16, 2011

You know you're in the Midwest when. . . .

At first glance, you'd think this weekend picture indicates that national book retailers have found it necessary to make certain, uh . . . adjustments to profitably operate in the great American Midwest.

Is what I am saying.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Editing out the cold, hard facts of history

I find it highly amusing that at a branch of Auburn University, we have an English professor so offended by the N-word that he has search-and-replaced it from the entirety of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

This when the parent institution, apparently, has plenty of room for an African-American quarterback whose own father sought to auction off to white athletic boosters.

Twain's 19th-century, culturally accurate (unfortunately) use of a racial slur is so bad that literature --
and history -- must be sanitized. All because, in the words of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, "You can't stand the truth!"

On the other hand, a black minister pimping out his own flesh and blood to the money men of some Southern college-football power . . .
that's a truth we can stand just fine. Don't forget, it's Auburn vs. Oregon for the BCS national championship, 7:30 p.m. Central on ESPN.

But that's not important now. What's important is to sanitize literature -- and history, too -- because it sometimes shows us ugly things.

Historical ugly things, of course, are the worst ugly things because we're less likely to be entangled in them at the moment, thus making self-righteousness much easier --
and less conspicuous.

THEREFORE, we find ourselves at the point described in today's New York Times:

A new edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is missing something.

Throughout the book — 219 times in all — the word “nigger” is replaced by “slave,” a substitution that was made by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, which plans to release the edition in February.

Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University at Montgomery, approached the publisher with the idea in July. Mr. Gribben said Tuesday that he had been teaching Mark Twain for decades and always hesitated before reading aloud the common racial epithet, which is used liberally in the book, a reflection of social attitudes in the mid-19th century.

“I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ” he said. “And I don’t think I’m alone.”

Mr. Gribben, who combined “Huckleberry Finn” with “Tom Sawyer” in a single volume and also supplied an introduction, said he worried that “Huckleberry Finn” had fallen off reading lists, and wanted to offer an edition that is not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers.

“I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,” Mr. Gribben said. “The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.” (The book also substitutes “Indian” for “injun.”)

Since the publisher discussed plans for the book this week with Publishers Weekly, it has been “assaulted” with negative e-mails and phone calls, said Suzanne La Rosa, the co-founder and publisher of NewSouth Books.

“We didn’t undertake this lightly,” Ms. La Rosa said. “If our publication fosters good discussion about how language affects learning and certainly the nature of censorship, then difficult as it is likely to be, it’s a good thing.”

I AM SO HAPPY that no one took it lightly when setting out to bring us one step closer to the information-management practices of an Orwellian dystopia. Maybe a long face is a moral disinfectant, after all.

Or maybe we're all just as squeamish as we are stupid and morally bankrupt. Or, perhaps, so open-minded that all our brains have fallen out.

I eagerly await Winston Smith's Wikipedia edits. "Nigger," you see, always has been "nigga," and it's just a term of endearment between African-Americans in the 'hood. White people aren't allowed to say it because it's, like, a fraternity rule or something.

And it's only a rumor (started by socialists or something, surely) that a society that can't look ugly in the face only grows all the more grotesque in due time.