The I Dare You Tag, a.k.a. “I Am Easily Guilted”

I was tagged to answer these questions by author of the wonderful blog The Orangutan Librarian. You should definitely go over there and check out her posts. Number one, she’s an orangutan, and number two, she has some great satirical pieces.

What book has been on your shelf the longest?

I was going to show a Bible picture book that I’ve had since I was 3, but it turns out it is not on my shelf any more as I have passed it on to a niece. So, here …

What is your current read, your last read, and the book you’ll read next?

What book did everyone like, but you hated?

OK, this is the question that calls for courage. 

There are several that everyone agrees are great, and they probably are, but I’m avoiding them.

The Hate U Give, The Help, and The Secret Life of Bees.

I even have two of these on my shelf, but I haven’t cracked them open. 

Reason? I’m super easily guilted.  I don’t want to read a book that is going to call me racist, because even though I know I’m not, I’m going to feel responsible for all the bad stuff that happens in the book.  I will go around hanging my head just that little bit lower.  Then I’ll be angry that I am being blamed for segregation or for a police shooting in a city I’ve never been to, and … well, you get the idea.

What book do you keep telling yourself you’ll read, but you probably won’t?

The Brothers Karamazov.  I’ve started it, and it was super good, and I know it has amazing writing and a ton of spiritual insight, but I’ve heard so much about it that I feel like I already know the ending.

What book are you saving for retirement?

At this rate, what I’m saving for retirement is probably my entire career as a novelist.

Last page: Read it first, or wait ‘til the end?

Wait, definitely. Unless you’ve read everything that came before, the last page won’t make much sense and, even if you can sort of figure out what is going on, it certainly won’t have the same impact.

That said, I have been known to skim ahead a page or two in a book, just to break the tension, when I sense that something really awful is about to happen.

Acknowledgement: waste of paper and ink, or interesting aside?

Ok. I have lots of thoughts on acknowledgements.

In general, I like them. They are sweet.  I love it when the author thanks their spouse for all the sacrifices they made.  Also, the acknowledgements can be a way to find out the name of the author’s agent, which is helpful if you write similar kinds of books and want to query the agent.

But I’m not fond of acknowledgements that fill 1 – 2 pages and, seemingly, list every single person who had anything to do with bringing the book to print.  First of all, I can’t pay attention to all those names and my eyes glaze over, and then I feel guilty because clearly all these people deserve to be thanked.

Secondly, these long acknowledgement sections can be discouraging to a fledgling author.  If a dozen people are listed, and every one of them is thanked for their “invaluable edits and corrections,” and is a person “without whose work this book would never have come to be,” we get the impression that it’s impossible to write a book (at least, a decent book) without a team of at least a dozen at your back.  Which means that our current WIP is probably trash, which makes us doubt ourself since we know it’s not.

Also, I once saw a long acknowledgment section by Nicholas Sparks that was nothing but a bunch of puns on the titles of his previous books, none of which I had read. I didn’t end up reading that one either.

Which book character would you switch places with?

Bertie Wooster.  Who wouldn’t want to have Jeeves on hand?

Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (place, time, person)?

Yes, all of them. 

(I once told a Medieval Lit professor that because of a certain past friendship I had “issues” around the entire corpus of Arthurian legends, and added, “I guess that makes me a real literature dork, right?”

And she said, “I don’t know, I think most people have issues like that with different works of literature.” I think she was right.)

Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.

A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling. I read the first book in this series (Dies the Fire) by checking it out of the library. But I couldn’t find the second one in the library, though they had later books in the series. (What are you thinking, librarians?)  So I was forced to go online and order copies of the missing books.

This shows the value of authors getting their books into libraries, by the way.

Have you ever given a book away for a special reason to a special person?

Only all the time.  It’s called “forcing books on people.” It’s my social handicap (one of many). Apparently I communicate by giving, lending, and recommending books.

Which book has been with you the most places?

This is a tricky one. In my youth I was a world traveler, and I am one of those people who always have to have a book with them, so I have dragged many different books to some very remote places. But it’s never always the same one. I remember reading an Indonesian version of The Two Towers while on a canoe, and reading How Green Was My Valley (in English) sitting on an ironwood porch in the jungle.  Little House probably wins, though, since I re-read that one on the ironwood porch as well. 

Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad two years later?

No. I liked To Kill A Mockingbird when we read it in high school, and loved it even more later.  I hated 1984 so much that I’ve never gone back to it.

Used or brand new?

Library.

Have you ever read a Dan Brown book?

I can’t remember.  I have read one by another person in a similar genre, and reviewed it here.

Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?

The Great Gatsby (Leo DiCaprio version). The film made the characters sympathetic and the story poignant, which the book didn’t do for me.

Have you ever read a book that’s made you hungry, cookbooks included?

I don’t need a book to make me hungry.

I am easily guilted (is a theme developing here?) by books that feature starvation.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Farmer Boy stars a 9-year-old boy who is always hungry and includes many detailed, sensuous descriptions of food.  Man, that boy could put away the pies! Of course, he was nine years old and was out ploughing all day.

Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?

Not sure this person exists.  Even people I respect greatly have different thresholds than I do.

Is there a book out of your comfort zone (e.g., outside your usual reading genre) that you ended up loving?

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver was out of my comfort zone and I avoided it for several years because I got the impression that it demonized missionaries as evil colonialists who don’t bother to learn anything about the cultures they enter.

Eventually, when I’d made some culture crossing mistakes of my own and been through some difficult personal stuff, and I had accepted myself as a flawed person and life had calmed down a bit, I felt ready to read it.

It is brilliant. 

I still think it demonizes missionaries to some extent, but it is such good literature that even the Baptist pastor villain is portrayed in a complex way. It does a great job of showing the huge learning curve faced by Westerners when entering a West African culture.  It deals with white guilt, parenting guilt, and more. At least three of the characters made me go, “This is me!

Also, the sections narrated by the pastor’s oldest daughter Rachel are hilarious because they’re filled with malapropisms.

Now it’s my turn to tag you.

Tag! You’re it. If you want to do this tag, go home and do it, and let me know. Or answer randomly selected questions from this tag in the comments.

Misanthropic Movie Review: Angels and Demons

Photo by Javon Swaby on Pexels.com

Reader response is a wonderful style of literary criticism which allows the reviewer to just note down their personal reactions, even if those reactions occurred while watching the show at midnight, when we get sleepy and our inner five-year-old emerges.

This post doesn’t explain the plot step by step, but it does contain all the spoilers and all the sarcasm.

So, my reactions to the movie version of Angels and Demons, in order …

1. Oooh, these Catholics are so mysterious and sinister!

2. Science-y stuff is happening inside the big collider.  The people are speaking French.  They think the collider might blow everything up, but they press on anyway because it’s Science.

3. Now they have made antimatter. 

4. The messenger from the Vatican speaks English with a cool, ominous accent.  He seems to be perfectly fluent, but he can’t remember the word formídable.  The closest he can get is for-mi-dá-blay.  The professor has to translate for him.

5. The professor is really smart. He knows more about Catholic history than the Catholics themselves.  Seems legit.

6. The Illuminati were a bunch of honest truth seekers who were absolutely, positively not into the occult.  They were just rationalists and scientists who were persecuted by the Catholic Church.  Now they want to use the antimatter to blow up a small country (Vatican City), but that is totally justified because the Catholics branded a cross on the chests of five Illuminati back in the 1500s.

7. The Illuminati have kidnapped the four preferiti, a.k.a. Cardinals who are being considered to become the next Pope.  The other Cardinals are in conclave.  The Great Elector, the leader of these, is obviously the bad guy.  He doesn’t want to evacuate St. Peter’s Square, even though it clearly might be a good idea.  He has “I WANT TO BE POPE” written on his forehead, and it’s possible he is behind this whole scheme.  He either works for the Illuminati, or is more likely using them. 

8. The Illuminati assassin is torturing the preferiti one by one and leaving them around Vatican City for the Professor to find.

9. VATICAN CITY SCAVENGER HUNT!!!

10.  Wow, I am just learning so much from this movie.  I had NO IDEA that the church adopted the symbols and holidays of previous pagan religions, or that Dec. 25 was originally … oh, wait.  Yes I did.  I wrote an article about it here.

11.  Also, English was the language of rebels and mavericks, like Shakespeare and Chaucer.  (Chaucer????)

12.  Honestly.  There are no admirable characters in this movie.  Not the Great Elector, not the Komandant of the Swiss guard, not the Illuminati assassin because torture, not the Professor because he always looks like everyone is getting on his last nerve with all this religion stuff … The only admirable character is a young priest who was the Pope’s protégé and who confusingly still loves the church as a place of simple people full of compassion even though he admits the church has “always sought to impede progress.”  I’ll bet he apostatizes before the end.  Either that or he becomes the next Pope.

13.  The Pope was murdered, by the way.  Turns out he didn’t really have a stroke.  I think we are supposed to feel sorry for him (or for the protégé), but the scene when they open his coffin displays a black, swollen tongue protruding from his mouth and spreading a stain over the rest of his face.  Clearly super symbolic.

14.  Speaking of symbolism, in one scene the Professor gets trapped in the Vatican Archives.  To preserve the ancient books there, oxygen is kept to a low level and the walls are lined with lead.  When the power goes off, the electronic doors lock.  The professor has to break out of this hall of old books where he cannot breathe or communicate with the outside world, or he will literally die from being stifled. The only way he can break out is to push a heavy bookcase full of priceless artifacts into the re-enforced glass, destroying these precious objects. 

Hmm, what ever could all of this symbolize?  Let me think …

15. OK, they have saved the one remaining preferitus.  And they have found the antimatter.  But – oh no! – they can’t replace the battery that will prevent an explosion, without possibly causing an explosion.

16.  The protégé is taking the antimatter up in a helicopter so the explosion doesn’t kill anyone!  He’s going to be martyred and made a saint!

17. Oh wait, he parachuted out!

18. But the explosion high over St. Peter’s Square is blowing his parachute all around! He’s going to die after all.

19. He survived!  Now the cardinals are finding an obscure bylaw that allows them to make him Pope. 

20.  But the Professor has just found a hidden video that shows the protégé was the one who hired the assassin!  He just made it look like an Illuminati plot!  It was him all along!

I did not see that coming.

21.  But the reasons he did it were the same old tired reasons we have been told all along.  He killed the Pope because the Pope was OK with the scientists making antimatter and the protégé thought it was blasphemous.

22. In other words, he did all this in order to impede progress because he thought it might diminish the power of the church. 

23.  The lady scientist feels guilty about having made antimatter because it was stolen by the assassin and almost used to kill thousands of people.  She wonders if they should go on making antimatter. 

The professor encourages her to make some more.  That’s good advice.  After all, what are the odds of something like this happening again?

24.  The Great Elector is now allowing the remaining preferitus to become Pope and is acting all nice & humble towards the Professor.  “Religion is flawed, but that’s because people are flawed.”

OK, I was wrong about the Great Elector.  Still, this feels like Dan Brown is trying to have it both ways.  He’s just spent an entire movie showing us that religious zeal is really really bad and destructive, but now he wants to say that it’s also not, with no reasons given.

Verdict: I ended up really enjoying this movie because it was so twisty.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it was a hatchet job.  Even the twists serve its purpose, because the person behind the evil plot turned out to be the character who seemed the most saintly and was certainly the most zealous.  He ends up setting himself on fire, murmuring, “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit” and then screaming and writhing like a demon as he burns.  If that’s not blasphemous I don’t know what is.