Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Living Life in the Slow Lane

"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." - Psalm 90:12

You'll notice some changes to this blog. I've been praying for months for God to give me a specific theme, a purpose for this goal that goes beyond film and books. I love both of those things, and I'll still share about them sometimes, but I also feel the Lord wants me to share my observations about life from my perspective. The perspective of a homeschooled young woman in her thirties who has deliberately chosen to live a slow life and not get caught in the race to achieve. I hope you'll stick with me during this transition over to something that will bring me fulfillment and I hope will encourage others to slow down, take a deep breath, and just look at the glories of God that surround us every single day. I'm going to start sharing my heart on this blog because that's what God is asking of me.

I like my life. It's good that I can actually say that with conviction and sincerity. It doesn't mean I never have periods of melancholy because I haven't reached certain heights of expectation that I've set for myself. But those are always the moments when God is able to reach me with some new truth about myself.

Do you ever fool yourself into thinking you want something, but you actually want something entirely different?

Take the concept of employment. Women have been "liberated," whatever that is even supposed to mean, and so we're able to hold down jobs and be "independent," again another word I'm not entirely sure has a viable meaning. I'm not discounting women who work. I work full time and enjoy it. I love my coworkers and I love knowing that I'm making a difference because my fingers process money and set up accounts for the Lord. That money goes to release children from poverty in Jesus' name because I work at Compassion International. That's an incredible mission and one I stand behind wholeheartedly.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Other Short Stories by James Thurber

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and other Short Stories
Review: 3 -

"A solid collection of short stories" by Carissa Horton, written on October 25, 2015

The last time I read a collection of short stories, it was for college and I graduated nearly 2 years ago. It might not seem like a long time, but it really is, especially when you're expecting The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to be a a novella and it turns out to be a short story, barely 7 pages long. I forget that short stories are often published in volumes because they're not what I usually read. Hmm, I guess that explains why the first two "chapters" had nothing whatsoever to do with Walter Mitty. Once comprehension dawned, I was able to appreciate James Thurber's dry and somewhat irascible humor. Although I still think the marketing for this particular collection was all wrong. How many people picked this up thinking it was a novella only to be disappointed? We'll never know.

I came away from this collection with two main thoughts: Thurber did not think kindly on women and he possessed an excellent sense of humor.

When I say that Thurber didn't like women, it's possible I'm wrong, but we suffer immensely at his hands regardless of his personal feelings for us as a sex. Nearly every wife in the entirety of this collection is viewed as a nag and a nitpicker whose sole joy in life is tearing down every one of her husband's joys. In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mitty's wife is the sort I've just mentioned. Poor, middle-aged man whose wife doesn't understand or appreciate his rich and varied imagination. Thank goodness they changed poor Mitty's story in the film starring Danny Kaye so the nitpicker in his life is actually his mother and he claims some of his own back at the end which includes marrying the girl of his dreams. Next up is the starring couple in A Couple of Hamburgers. While the husband here is no gem, the wife gets sadistic enjoyment out of mocking her husband: the way he speaks, his favorite type of restaurant, etc. You name it, she mocks it. If I thought the last mentioned story was depressing, it's nothing compared to The Kerb in the Sky, where a newly married man gets admitted to an insane asylum because his wife finishes every single one of his sentences before he gets there, and corrects all of his stories. He took to sharing absurd dreams so at least she couldn't interrupt.

The humorous stories, however, are absolute gems. The Macbeth Murder Mystery is hilarious because the two leads dissecting one of Shakespeare's finest plays, discover that Macbeth's father is actually the murderer in this story and that everything else is simply written to conceal the actual truth. For a Shakespeare fan like myself, it was both absurd and fun. A Ride with Olympy also had me giggling simply because I could easily picture an American man teaching a Russian man to drive a stick shift when each one of them can only communicate with the other in barely understood French. Had anyone died in the endeavor it would have been a tragedy, but no one did. The Luck of Jad Peters is about a man who spent the better portion of his life expounding on how he had a feeling about something, so didn't do it, and something terrible happened to someone else who took his place. Narrow escapes were his greatest glee, especially since they were mostly made up. And because I can and do enjoy some dark humor, I snorted out loud when he got hit by a massive flying rock that was dynamited out of the river bed. His good luck failed him. It is The Night the Bed Fell that had me rolling practically in stitches. It's almost impossible to describe, but it's one of those domino effects. One thing happens that triggers something else which triggers something else and so on and so forth. Genius.

There are other stories included in this collection as well that only served to depress me because it's a bleak view of life: The Breaking up of the Winships, Something to Say, The Remarkable Case of Mr Bruhl, The Greatest Man in the World, The Evening's at Seven, and One is a Wanderer. While I realize no one's life is perfect, still, this was too much, probably because each one struck a little too close to home. Others, like The Lady on the 142, The Catbird Seat, The Secret Life of James Thurber, Doc Marlowe, Snapshot of a Dog, and The Dog that Bit People were average tales, nothing overly impressive, but still a fairly entertaining read.

Overall, the collection was quite good. Like I said, I don't read a lot of short stories anymore, probably because most authors, particularly inn the era of the 20s through the 50s, loved to indulge themselves in extremely depressing stories. I don't like to read those types of stories and so I avoid them when at all possible. Still, the collection was worth it simply for The Night the Bed Fell which I now claim as one of my favorite short stories of all time!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

How many times can you remake Little Miss Marker?!

Please make sure to check out the They Remade What?! Blogathon.

It's a bit of a shock when you agree to something and then find out after the fact that your library only has 1 in 4 films. Not such a good thing. So I tracked down films 1, 2, and 3 on Amazon for a decent prize, made even more decent with rewards bucks through my credit card. One might call me obsessive and say I could have backed out of this topic, but I really didn't want to, and honestly, I was quite curious about Tony Curtis' film and Shirley Temple's. I only saw Shirley's movie once a long time back, and didn't care for it, so my memories were really sketchy, and my experience with Tony Curtis had been limited to his role in Walter Matthau's Little Miss Marker. How crazy is that, that the dude would get a role in the same movie twice!?

Anyway, I tracked all 4 films down, and did get them all watched, much to my relief and no small amount of pride.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, let's start there.

Sorrowful Jones is a bookie, meaning he takes illegal bets on racehorses. On top of that, Sorrowful is a tightwad if ever there was one. Matthau's film even has the Tony Curtis character telling him that he knows Sorrowful still has the first dime he ever made, which might actually be true. One day, a desperate man walks into his establishment, wanting to place a bet with a marker, meaning a little slip of paper meaning he's good for the money. Sorowful doesn't take markers, but for whatever reason, in some he has a soft heart, in others he has an ulterior motive involving the winning horse, Sorrowful agrees to take the guy's marker. In this case, the marker is his little girl, whose name ranges all over the place. Sorrowful now has the little girl, daddy doesn't come back with the money, and Sorrowful is stuck with her. Softening of heart, protective fatherly instincts, and all of that, kick in, along with all sorts of emotional connection to the female lead, whose name also ranges all over the place.

The only really major variance in plot is the Tony Curtis film, 40 Pounds of Trouble, from 1962. This one is about a casino manager in Las Vegas named Steve McCluskey who's slightly on the lam from California so he can avoid paying alimony to his ex-wife. A guy in the casino loses a bundle, heads back to California to get it, never comes back, and good, old Steve realizes that the guy's daughter has been left behind.

Such are the plot main points.

Now, to examine the films under individual topics: Sorrowful Jones, The Kid/Doll/Marky/whatever, thoughts on the plot, and then my final thoughts.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Danny Kaye or Ben Stiller? - A Duel of Walter Mitty!

Danny Kaye or Ben Stiller - A Duel of Walter Mitty

Danny Kaye has been a favorite actor of mine since the first time I saw White Christmas when I was somewhere around 5-years-old. I love this man for his absolute skill at being slapstick silly and being so absurdly adorable while doing it.

So I leaped at the opportunity to write a comparison post for Danny's version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty from 1947 and the Ben Stiller version of 2013 for the "They Remade What?!" Blogathon.

Being objective, however, is going to be a struggle since I've not even seen the remake yet, and love the original. Ben Stiller and I are not buddies. I've seen, oh, maybe 4 of his movies throughout my life and been unimpressed by all of them, mainly because he's in them. But I don't want to be unfair to him and so I am giving him a sporting chance to impress me with his remake of a well-loved classic film. So I'm going to write about the original film first, which I just watched, and then give the remake a shot in the 2nd half of this post (watching it for the very first time!).

Instead, let's begin with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the 1947 version. Danny Kaye's Mitty works for Pierce Publishing in New York City as a proof reader and spends the better part of his days imaging himself in various scenarios. He's the captain of a ship carrying Indian spices who's in danger of going down in a whopper of a storm. He's a riverboat gambler in the Deep South, or a World War II flying ace for England, or a western gunslinger set out to save his lady love, or even a world-renowned surgeon. You name it, he's imagined it, and always with the same beautiful blonde by his side.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review: The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron (2014)

The Butterfly and the Violin
A Hidden Masterpiece Novel
Kristy Cambron
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

A Mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz--and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.

Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl--a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.

In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover--the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul--who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting's subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: the grim camps of Auschwitz and the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
This book reminds me a little bit of The Fellowship of the Ring, when Galadriel gives Frodo the Phial of Galadriel and tells him, "May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out."

The Butterfly and the Violin is a dark, traumatic novel, but with a thread of hope carefully woven through each line of the chapters set in Auschwitz. Even in absolute and utter darkness, when 1.5 million people are dying around you, God still hears your cry and He is still faithful. The author captured the reality of a bleak era that brought me to hysterical tears, but still managed to present the idea that God is there, in the turmoil, and the grime, and the death. He hears the cries of His people and He grieves, not only for the lives lost, but for those who are doing the killing, something I hadn't quite realized until I felt that swell of anger against the Nazis, unbridled hate, and then came to realize that while I want to blindly reach back in history and kill all of the Nazis, God was grieving for them. That's quite a realization, both about God and about myself.

The Characters
So what we have here is two sets of characters, those in the 1940s and those in the current day.

Sera James and William Hanover are trying to unravel the whereabouts of this piece of Holocaust art, a painting of a young woman with her hair shorn, numbers tattooed on her arm, and a violin in her hand. They take this journey together. I like both of them. Sera has been hurt before, left at the altar, and so she has trust issues, both with me and with God. Those issues, of course, are resolved by the end, which is important. William, we don't really get to know him all that well, except that he's a businessman who felt the real calling on his life was to be a minister. His story in this leads him back to that path and calling from God, and I liked that storyline.

But the truly impactful character, the most prominent, is Adele Von Bron, the young woman whose portrait Sera and William are researching. It is she, a renowned young violinst from a prominent Austrian family, who tried to help Jews escape from Vienna, and ended up being sent to Auschwitz Birkenau for reeducation purposes. It is she who was forced to play for the Birkenau orchestra of prisoners, play her violin as families were split and countless innocents were sent to the gas chambers. This book is her story, and I felt every iota of weakness and terror and doubt that Adele felt during her time in Birkenau.

So, while I appreciate the modern characters, I loved Adele, and even Vladimir Nicolai, the young cellist who she loves and whose passion to save Jews also found him captured by the Nazis.

The Writing
Kristy Cambron is new on the writing scene, with this being her debut novel. If The Butterfly and the Violin is a testament to her storytelling abilities, than Christian literature is in for a revolution. Her style is fresh and original, she tells just enough of the atrocities in Auschwitz without crossing a line into the grotesque, and her heart for the era of World War II really shines, just as her expertise does in being an art historian. This is not a historical romance, but a historical novel, and I really appreciate the difference. Any romance within the book does not take precedence over the story.

If I were to nitpick about one tiny thing, it's that I really don't know if the modern storyline was necessary. Then again, I'm not for novels that have dual eras most of the time, so I'm just not used to it.

Final Thoughts

Never assume this book is an easy read, because it's not. I nearly stopped reading several times because my heart was just so overwhelmed by what I was learning, things I never wanted to know about the concentration camps. But you can't just ignore or imagine away atrocities like this. Just like we can't imagine away the grim truth that thousands of our infants are slaughtered every day in the womb. If there's one thing I realized, it's that America has become, in some ways, what we once hated and despised.

Every Christian should read this book.