Monday, September 27, 2010

Quick Hits: New Music

Out October 12th, The Age of Adz is the long-awaited follow-up to Come on Feel the Illinoise. Word has it that Stevens traded folk influences and acoustic timbres for glitchy electronic rhythms. Typically, I am a fan of change because when an artist makes three albums in a row, they become Creed. I expect good things from the Age of Adz.

A band fronted by José González, a famed Swedish singer-songwriter of Argentine origins. In content and feel, Fields resembles the González’s collaboration with Zero 7. José’s trademark voice and nylon-stringed guitar mold particularly well with electronic tones.

This New York band bears raw tonal qualities and well-crafted melodies. Lisbon is one part hipster music and one part catchy hooks. Every time I spin the record, it sounds better than the last time I listened.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Review: Lake Overturn

Lake Overturn: A NovelLake Overturn: A Novel by Vestal McIntyre (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010. 443 pp)

Born and raised in Nampa, Idaho, Vestal McIntyre is an award winning novelist. He has twice won the Lambda Literary Award. In 2006, he received a Fellowship in Fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. McIntyre lives in both New York City and London.

Literary fiction takes many forms. Sometimes it takes the shape of social satire placed within a simple narrative, other times it takes the form of an author, self-aware of the words he or she places on the page, and even still, other times it takes the form of a complexly interwoven plot. Partly masterful and partly mundane, Vestal McIntyre's Lake Overturn follows the characters of a small town of Eula in rural Idaho. Even though the setting and characters in this book strikingly resemble Napoleon Dynamite, this book spends no time seeking to be a comedy. The foundational plot line upon which the narrative is built centers upon the frightening phenomenon occurring at Lake Nyos in Cameroon. At the lake, gas was released from the depths of the lake and suffocated every living animal around the lake. In the novel, two junior high boys attempt to study what would happen if the lake overturn phenomenon occurred in their small town.

Titled lake overturn, this phenomenon happens when deep lakes build up extremely concentrated levels of carbon dioxide. When the pressure becomes too much for the lake's surface to bear, carbon dioxide bubbles from the depths of the lake similarly to a shaken soda can. Correspondingly, McIntyre's novel builds through a complex narrative of multiple main characters before the pressure in each character’s life releases as the novel opens up toward its end. In different ways, each character builds through depth and quality until their inner demons expose themselves in fantastic fashion. One character struggles with his sexuality, one seeks to find redemption from her addictive tendencies, and another despairingly searches for biblical answers to her ever-present loneliness.

The masterful portions of the book follow from these complex characters. McIntyre flawlessly switches between characters as they enter the story. Multiple times, one character runs into another in a paragraph and the next paragraph picks up on the new character's narrative. In writing this way, the author creates a complex web of relationships that truly place the focus on a small town community.

However, McIntyre's focus on narrative diminishes his artistic observation. Throughout my reading of this book, I never paused on a paragraph reflecting on a powerful observation or a striking metaphor. In Lake Overturn, McIntyre writes a story with no flashy frills or philosophical underpinnings. Nevertheless, he writes a compelling story, one I would recommend for its unique characters.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude (P.S.)One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcίa Márquez, translated by Gregory Rabassa (New York: Harper Perennial, 1967. 417 pp)

Gabriel Garcίa Márquez is a Colombian novelist whose notable books include Love in the Time of Cholera, The Autumn of the Patriarch, and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, Márquez is considered one of the most significant authors of the Twentieth Century.

With a foundation in magical realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude follows the growth of the Buendίa family and the city of Macondo. Drawing from childhood stories, Márquez pens an extraordinary tale of love, death, and loneliness. The book begins with a foreboding sense of determinism when Márquez writes:

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendίa was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice" (p. 1).

In fact, an impending sense of helplessness meanders through the book as the family expands with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. With each generation, the names of Aureliano, José Arcadio, and Remedios are recycled. There is a sense in which each person is merely an extension of a larger character. "There was no mystery," claims Márquez,

"in the heart of a Buendίa that was impenetrable for her because a century of cards and experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle" (p. 396).

Just as each character blends with previous characters that have come and gone in the narrative, each lives and dies in resolute isolation. Whether through external circumstances or internal influences, each family member succumbs to a life of seclusion. For example, Márquez describes a character's despair, saying:

"Instead of going to the chestnut tree, Colonel Aureliano Buendίa also went to the street door and mingled with the bystanders who were watching the parade. He saw a woman dressed in gold sitting on the head of an elephant. He saw a sad dromedary. He saw a bear dressed like a Dutch girl keeping time to the music with a soup spoon and a pan. He saw the clowns doing cartwheels at the end of the parade and once more he saw the face of his miserable solitude when everything had passed by and there was nothing but the bright expanse of the street and the air full of flying ants with a few onlookers peering into the precipice of uncertainty. Then he went to the chestnut tree, thinking about the circus, and while he urinated he tried to keep on thinking about the circus, but he could no longer find the memory. He pulled his head in between his shoulders like a baby chick and remained motionless with his forehead against the trunk of the chestnut tree" (267).

Originally written in Spanish, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a difficult read. The sentences are long and the narrative does not follow a singular arc. However, the book brings harsh questions into focus. Are we free to choose the direction of our lives or have they been set in motion long before we were conscious of our choices? No matter how many friends and loved ones orbit our lives, are we actually alone? I encourage you to pick up Marquez's masterpiece and struggle your way to your own answers.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Book Review: Tortured Wonders

Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not AngelsTortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels by Rodney Clapp (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004. 278 pp)

Rodney Clapp is the executive editor of Brazos Press. Previously, he was employed as an editor at Christianity Today and InterVarsity Press. Clapp has written countless articles on the church and culture as well as seven books.

I hate Spirit 105.3. If you like that radio station and I hurt your feelings, I apologize. In all honesty, I really do not want you to have hurt feelings, but I find Spirit 105.3 less wholesome and family friendly (as they advertise) and more vomit-inducing otherworldly fakery. Of course I am painting this station in broad strokes and I have no special insight regarding the spiritual lives of its disc jockeys, but every bit of spiritual advice I hear on air sounds like it came from the front porch of a wooden house in a Thomas Kinkade painting.

Enter Rodney Clapp and his book Tortured Wonders. In a way, Clapp’s premise in this book is a rebuttal against a “Spirit 105.3” spirituality. While our local Christian radio station seeks to disconnect the soul from the body promoting a Christian spirituality fit for people playing harps in heaven, Clapp reminds us that God created the human body and said that it was good.

Clapp splits Tortured Wonders in half. The first section, titled “Classical Christian Spirituality,” details Orthodox Christianity and the themes that pushed it towards an angelic spirituality. Part two, “Christianity in the Light (and Darkness) of the 21st Century,” depicts the ways in which an Orthodox spirituality could translate to our modern culture.

Clapp writes:

“As human beings, as tortured wonders, we are each of us ‘in between.’ We think, we speak, we dream, we pray, so we set ourselves apart from animals and the rest of creation. And yet we are also animals – like them, we are embodied; like them, we are born, we eat and live for a spell, and we die. We humans, then, are luminal creatures, teetering on the threshold between the divine and the bestial” (177).

It follows from this quote that Christian spirituality demands a more holistic approach. Too often, Christians define Orthodoxy as a religion of the mind. Through apologetics and prayer, classical and modern Christians actively participate in mental workouts. Clapp counters in arguing that Orthodox Christianity contains a spirituality of body and mind.

Our bodies are constant reminders that we own a one-way ticket to death. While some cover up sneezes with a handkerchief and others defy aging through Botox, human beings are incapable of outrunning death. Simply put, every day we wake up, we are one day closer to death. Understanding this concept, Clapp contends that a spirituality of the body ought to be a Christian practice.

Personally, Tortured Wonders has influenced me to pay close attention to the treatment of my body. I admit that I have fallen prey to an exclusive spirituality of the mind. This book has encouraged me to begin running, not for the sake of obtaining a good appearance, but for the purpose of submitting my body to something that I’d rather not do. Similarly, I am more aware of the food nourishing me. Eating is a spiritual act. It is done in community and the source of nourishment ought to be considered. If I eat processed foods, then I am consuming a food that is not only unhealthy, but also loaded with sugars and salts added for the purpose of tricking my anatomy to enjoy it the most. Thus, eating natural foods bring the benefits of health and moderation.

Tortured Wonders succeeds in expanding the breadth of what we consider spirituality. Although it is not a page turner, the themes present in the book provide a unique perspective. I recommend Tortured Wonders to anyone who is interested in a holistic approach to spirituality.