Friday, October 9, 2009

Checked Out: August/September

Items I borrowed from the library this month
By Brian Polk

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University
Kevin Roose
(Book)
Kevin Roose is a brave man. First of all, he committed four months of his Quaker liberal life to attend Liberty University—a school founded and administered by the Reverend Jerry Falwell. Second, he approached the semester with minimal trepidation and an incredibly open mind. Thirdly, he fit in seamlessly with the sober, virgin, born-again, mostly right wing student body. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface: He also sang in the choir at Falwell’s twenty-thousand-member Thomas Road Baptist Church, went on coffee dates with Christian girls, relentlessly prayed, and even interviewed the man himself, Jerry Falwell. Through it all, he comes to realize that born-again Christians (for the most part) aren’t the frothing-at-the-mouth, gay-bashing intolerants they’re portrayed to be. In fact, they were just confused kids at the end of adolescence trying to figure it all out. The Unlikely Disciple offers a sufficient introduction to the beliefs and habits of right-wing Christian soldiers in training. It’s always nice to get a dose of perspective—even if it’s a perspective with which you could never, ever sympathize.

What Would Jesus Buy?
Rob VanAlkemade (Director)
(DVD)
When I first saw a trailer for this movie a few years ago, I thought anti-consumerism was finally breaking into the mainstream. Of course as history has proven, the film didn’t make much of a dent—especially since our economy is still based on filling our unaffordable houses with unnecessities (just made that word up). What Would Jesus Buy? follows Reverend Billy and his activist troupe, The Church of Stop Shopping, as they travel around the country and enlighten American consumers about the “shopacalypse.” With the parodied ostentation of a Christian choir, the stop shoppers sing anti-shopping hymns to bewildered crowds of frantic bargain hunters. While its humor is biting, the guerrilla tactics probably end up alienating more people than they convert. However, the message is an important one—especially since anti-consumerists (myself included) sometimes need people like Reverend Billy to light a fire under their asses by reminding them to buy coffee from the corner shop instead of from Starbucks. Preaching to the choir has never been so much fun.

Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday
Kurt Vonnegut
(Audio-book)
For some reason, Breakfast of Champions never really had much of an impact on me—and Vonnegut is among my favorite writers of all time. Listen: Slaughterhouse Five, Timequake, The Sirens of Titan, and Mother Night are some of my favorite books. I’ve read them again and again. But Breakfast of Champions just never piqued my interest long enough for me to finish it. Even the author gave it a “C” when he graded it—along with his other books—in Palm Sunday. But since I listen to books on tape as a matter of course, I figured I’d give it another whirl. And this time around, I finally understood the underlying themes he attempted to convey: the randomness of racism, sexism, and homophobia, the relationship between a writer and his characters, and of course, free will—which is a favorite subject of the author. Still, even though I was able to identify its coherence this time around, I’ll probably file Breakfast of Champions away with other Vonnegut one-timers, like Deadeye Dick, Galapagos, and Hocus Pocus.

The God Delusion
Richard Dawkins
(Audio book)
If you’ve been looking for a coherent rebuttal to every argument made on the behalf of God’s existence, scientist Richard Dawkins wrote a book for you. As you might have guessed, The God Delusion teems with scientific jargon aimed at disproving and ridiculing believers in faith. Reading (or listening to, in my case) the whole thing is a daunting task. However, Dawkins and his wife (who both narrate the audio version) intersperse the dry text with beautifully articulated theses against the delusional belief in God. If you’re still fighting the culture war (read: atheism vs. belief), arming yourself with Dawkins’ arguments is like bringing an atom bomb to a paintball match.

Travels With Charlie
John Steinbeck
(Book)
Travels With Charlie delivers one of my favorite literary quotes of all time (and one that I felt compelled to put on my Facebook page under “Favorite Quotations”): “I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.” For some reason I went on a John Steinbeck kick a few months back. And I’m glad I did. In Travels With Charlie, the great American author traveled the country with his dog Charlie to reacquaint himself with the pulse of America. It’s insightful, humorous, and a good read before bedtime.

Live At Shea Stadium
The Clash
(CD)
The Clash is like a home you can always go back to. No matter how many times you foray into strange genres or listen to indie bands for months on end (for me it was Modest Mouse), these innovative punkers always seem to welcome you with open arms. “I see you’ve been listening to nothing but Iron and Wine and The Flaming Lips,” your Clash records tell you with an air of pity. “Why don’t you give us a spin and rejoice in your roots where you know you belong?” “Ahh, that’s better,” you think to yourself after taking your records’ advice. “I feel like my old self again. Thanks.” Needless to say, I love this CD.

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