Archive for fiction

Filming Faulkner

Because I wrote my senior thesis and MA thesis on various Faulkner novels (and because I still love teaching pretty much anything by Faulkner when I get the chance), I’ve been curious for years to see the 1959 Martin Ritt adaptation of The Sound and the Fury.  Now, thanks to the power of YouTube–the film isn’t currently available on DVD or VHS–and the similar curiosity of Michael Berube, I’ve managed to  see it (or at least the first eight minutes).  Like Michael, I’d heard it was a poor adaptation.  I knew that Yul Brenner played Benjy and that the male Quentin Compson was rewritten as “Uncle Howard,” someone much older than Quentin, a southern gentleman addicted to his gin and tonics.

Until I read Michael’s post, I wasn’t prepared for the 1950s-style jazzy score or the transformation of the younger, female Quentin into the film’s heroine. Or her voice-over narration and bus rides back from Memphis.  I’m not necessarily opposed to film adaptations of novels, even those that radically reinterpret the “original” text, but this is more than a bad reading of the novel; it’s something far more surreal.  I’m tempted to go back and watch the whole thing later when I’m not pressed for time, just to marvel in the strangess of this attempt to convey something–the story? the spirit? a few characters?–from Faulkner’s novel.

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Transmedia Pynchon

This is the epitome of cool.  Thomas Pynchon, author of The Crying of Lot 49, has a new book out, Inherent Vice, and he’s promoting it via a video trailer (!) posted on YouTube.  The writers at Open Culture speculate that the voice narrating the trailer belongs to Pynchon himself, but I have no way of guessing (although Pynchon did “appear” in an episode of The Simpsons, playing himself).

It’s a pretty cool way of promoting Pynchon, someone who has been attentive, thoughout his career, to the vicissitudes of popular culture, as well as the excesses of the California celebrity scene and counterculture, which seem to provide at least some of the subject matter for the book.  And it made me want to read the book Right Now.

Update: When GalleyCat asked Penguin Press about the identity of the trailer’s narrator they “received a sly ‘no comment.'”

Update 2: Snarkmarket has another “book trailer,” this time for Seductive Espionage: The World of Yuki 7, a “swinging ’60s” spy thriller with some great visual style.  Via Filmoculous.

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Wednesday Links

For some reason, I’m getting tired of using bullet points for my links posts.  Here are the links in paragraph form instead.

In case anyone is curious, here is the Evan Rachel Wood interview from the episode of Second Cinema in which I was also a guest.  She’s discussing, among other things, her appearance in a local stage version of Romeo and Juliet directed by her brother.

Amanda at Household Opera discusses a fascinating new “adaptation” practice: Twitter-fiction.  Specifically, she’s taking a look at “Real-Time Dracula,” which is described as a “reimagining/modernization/condensation of the classic horror novel Dracula in the Web 2.0 medium” and features tweets by all of the key figures in the novel: Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, etc.  Amanda compares RTD to an earlier Twitter adaptation of Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, held last year on Halloween, which received quite a bit of attention in the blogosphere and beyond (for the original premise of Twitter WOTW, go here).

This is several weeks old, but I missed it because I was writing for a deadline: Ted Hope’s “52 Reasons Why American Indie Film Will Flourish.” Thanks to Alisa for the reminder about Hope’s post.

I’m intrigued to see that the White House will be hosting a series of TED Talks as part of Secrtary of State Hillary Clinton’s Global Partnership Initiative. TED, for those of you who are unfailiar, stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and features talks by some fantastic innovators in those areas.

Cathy Davidson has a link to Scott McLemee’s Inside Higher Ed story on the current “tension point” in scholarly publishing.  McLemee deliberately shies away from using the term, “tipping point,” with its implications of a “point of no return,” and notes that many university presses are still reluctant to follow the University of Michigan’s digital-only model, though some presses, including MIT and Harvard, did seem to be building some version of a digital imprint.

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Reading Together, Reading Alone

Steven Berlin Johnson’s recent Wall Street Journal article on how the e-book will change reading practices had me racing to my blog before I’d even finished it.  Building from a moment of recognition (an “aha moment”) in an Austin coffeehouse, in which he “put down” the nonfiction book he was reading on his Kindle to purchase and start reading a novel.  Within minutes, Johnson had started reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, “shelving” the other book.

As my use of scare-quotes illustrates, the Kindle may very well change the metaphors we use to describe shifting our attention from one text to another.  If I switch books on a Kindle, am I really “putting something down?” More to the point, Johnson interprets this moment as a model for the new ways of reading that may be on the verge of taking place in the era of Google Books and the Amazon Kindle, and I think–at least on an impressionistic level–Johnson’s argument has a number of strengths (note: I still haven’t had an opportunity to test-drive a Kindle or iPhone).  He’s certainly right to observe that the ability to search our libraries will affect how we do research.  I’ve already found myself using a quick Google Book or Google Scholar search to track down certain concepts.  More often, I’ve used delicious or some other tool to manage ideas or articles that I want to revisit, but having access to books as well, via search tools or some other mechanism, would change even further how I write and research.

But the claim that sent me scurrying to read Johnson’s article, which I can’t recommend enough, is the idea that reading will be transformed from a fundamentally private activity to a more public one:

Think of it as a permanent, global book club. As you read, you will know that at any given moment, a conversation is available about the paragraph or even sentence you are reading. Nobody will read alone anymore. Reading books will go from being a fundamentally private activity — a direct exchange between author and reader — to a community event, with every isolated paragraph the launching pad for a conversation with strangers around the world.

Johnson compares the act of reading on a Kindle to the “public” practices of blogging, where bloggers read, annotate, and mull over the writing of others.  There’s something incredibly enticing here, at least for me.  While Johnson speculates that our attention to any single linear narrative might wane (a debatable claim), the engaged audience he imagines here would seem ideal for scholarly readers and writers.  And as the book itself is reimagined as an object to be cited and circulated online, it potentially creates room for new forms of scholarship and writing.

But I do find myself puzzling over his claim that reading currently is a “fundamentally private activity.”  In fact, reading as I have experienced it, has always been a complex interweaving of public and private tendencies, never fully reaching either extreme.  In my literature classes, my students and I read passages aloud in the classroom.  Once we’ve read a couple of stories or poems, the classroom reading practices inform how my students prepare. Discussions with scholars at academic conferences shape my own reading habits. Book clubs, virtual and physical, mix up the public/private distinction as well.  Yes, the novel has typically been associated with solitude, but even when we read alone, we do so through the lenses of others.  And, given that I could now “find” books from my laptop, the physical–presumably semi-public–activity of going to the library seemingly becomes less necessary.

Johnson also sees changes in how books are authored, organized, indexed, and sold.  I think he’s right that some books may be sold on a per chapter basis (maybe along the lines of an iTunes model) and that authors may write with search engines in mind (and Alex Halavais’s cautions about the emerging “search engine society” are crucial here), that citations will serve as a form of currency. These issues are certainly central to some of the conversations that have been taking place in the last couple of years at scholarly resources such as MediaCommons (where I’m an advisory board member), so Johnson’s comments are useful.

In general, Johnson’s article puts together some useful questions about the future of the book.  It’s not difficult for me to imagine that my second book will be significantly different stucturally than my first one, in part thanks to these new digital tools.

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03-03-09 Links

I haven’t posted in a few days, mostly because I’ve been doing quite a bit of non-blog writing, but here are a few links that have crossed my radar in the last few days:

  • I really like this little video clip, “Scary Movie,” from the people at the Service Employees International Union.  the video uses the aesthetic of 1970s grindhouse movie trailer to satirize the scare tactics being used by conservatives to try to derail the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would provide workers with more power to unionize.  Conservative groups have described passage of the bill as potentially causing “Armageddon,” so the mockery works well here.  The end of the video, where the same haunting voice-over describes the EFCA is less effective (a different voice might have better separated the video’s two modes of address).
  • Earl Wilkinson has a thoughtful, informative article about the “crisis” sweeping the newspaper industry and offers a few useful caveats, suggesting that some newspapers are better equipped to weather the current financial storm and offering suggestions for new business models.  I can’t pretend to be an expert on all of these issues, but it is a nice corrective to some of the more alarmist depictions of the current status of the newspaper industry. 
  • Salman Rushdie’s Guardian article on celluloid adaptations of novels (including his own) is worth a read, especially given Rushdie’s own fascination with the “social adaptations” that are necessary in a rapidly changing world.  Unlike a number of authors and readers who seem genuinely hostile to the process of adaptation and see it as a form of (bad) imitation, Rushdie sees it as a kind of creative act.  The article is also marked by Rushdie’s trademark wit and humor–a nice break for those of you grading, preparing for, or recovering from midterms.

Update: Forgot to mention it earlier, but it’s “Digital Documentary” week on In Media Res this week.  Also worth noting, Rich Edwards has a recent IMR post on a video clip discussing the now-famous Shepard Fairey poster and its viral distribution on the web.

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Monday Links

I’m hoping to get back into a more consistent blogging habit in the next couple of weeks.  I realized this weekend that I needed to slow down a bit and spent much of the day on Saturday assembling bookshelves to hold the books that had been piling on my floor and dining table for the last few months, but I’m working on my review of Astra Taylor’s excellent new film, Examined Life, and hopefully a couple of other posts as well.  I’ll also have an In Media Res post up on Tuesday (but for now check out last week’s sport-themed posts).  For now, though, here are some links:

  • Via Eli, a link to “One Flew Over the Dead Poet’s Nest,” which at first glance appears to be yet another fake trailer, mixing two romantic heroes rebelling against the institutions of the asylum and the school.  Creative enough, but the “Poet’s Nest” trailer is actually a trailer for a 53-minute movie combining the two older texts.  Eli also has information about a call for entries for the Los Angeles Filmforum’s 2009 Festival of (In)appropriation, which will feature works that assemble or incorporate older material in “collage, compilation, found footage, detournement, or recycled cinema.”
  • A couple of examples of self-releasing and movie tours just crossed my radar.  Jeffrey Goodman describes his decision to self-release his film, The Last Lullaby, and Kelley “The Angry Filmmaker” Baker announces his spring tour, which combines screenings and public lectures.
  • Interesting and provocative essay in the Virginia Quarterly Review by Morris Freedman titled, “Why I Don’t read Books Much Anymore.”

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More Thursday Links

A little burnout today, so I’ve been surfing instead:

  • Via Matt Yglesias, a great little satire video about gay marriage by Oded Gross. I haven’t said much about the gay marriage ruling in California, but like Matt, I think it’s great that California’s gays and lesbians are finally getting the justice they deserve. His secondary point about family instability exacerbating some of our contemporary social problems is also worth thinking about. I don’t see gay marriage playing the same role that it did in 2004–there simply aren’t many states where gay marriage amendments could be use to drive up the vote–but the video nicely sends up the panic over the gay marriage issue.
  • Speaking of political satire, I belatedly came across the really fantastic blog Political Irony, which is a great resource for tracking political humor on the web, on television, and in print.
  • Chicago Tribune columnist Steven Johnson writes about Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic Monthly article asking whether Google is “making us stupid.” I’ve only skimmed Carr’s article–which more or less illustrates his point–but essentially he’s asking how search engines may be shaping research and reading habits. Carr’s argument reminds me quite a bit of Mark Bauerlein’s claims about the decline of reading in The Dumbest Generation.  Interesting–if troubling–stuff.  I’ll try to write something more substantive about both later tonight.

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Blogging and Criticism: Some Reflections

Filmoculous posted a pointer to the Salon interview/conversation between their book critics, Louis Bayard and Laura Miller, about the death of criticism, providing me with just the excuse needed to write that long-promised blog post on this summer’s round of reflections on blogging and the decline of “public” criticism. The impetus for their discussion of the apparent crisis in criticism is the publication of Ronan McDonald’s The Death of the Critic. McDonald is, of course, more concerned about literary criticism and the decline of “public critics” and of a “reading public;” however, his arguments–more precisely Miller and Bayard’s comments about him–might provide a productive angle through which we can think about the blogger-critic discussion. I’ve been thinking about these issues quite a bit lately because of the emphasis they place on the role of criticism in a larger public culture. In short, what is criticism? And what role does criticism serve in a larger public sphere?

I’ve just learned about McDonald’s book, so I haven’t had time to read it, but Miller and Bayard report that McDonald’s primary object of blame is fellow academics who have substituted cultural studies and post-structuralism for the more proper evaluative role of criticism. Since I haven’t read McDonald’s book, I’m obviously not ready to address the specifics of his argument, but Miller and Bayard highlight some important points, first by highlighting McDonald’s primary argument about the role of academia in shaping public critical discourse and later by discussing the role of amateur critics, primarily us bloggers, of course, in undermining the print criticism that McDonald and others have come to mourn. As someone who is both a blogger and an academic informed by cultural studies, you’d be right to guess that I’m going to disagree with some of their conclusions even while I try to argue for the importance of the prominent public critic.

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Wednesday Night Links

Had a couple of hours to kill because I somehow managed to finish writing my SCMS presentation a day early.  I know I’ve mentioned that before.  I’m not bragging or anything, just mildly incredulous.  But that gives me just enough time to point to a few links I found while scouring the web this afternoon:

  • Hacking Netflix has an interesting article about a two-year agreement between Blockbuster and IFC where “Blockbuster will have an exclusive 60-day rental window for physical and digital rentals, with distribution rights for 3-years.”  The “exclusive deal” prevents a situation similar to what happened a couple of years ago when Blockbuster signed a distribution deal with the Weinstein Company.  I tend to agree with a lot of the comments that
    this isn’t a terribly good deal for the filmmakers.  I’d probably be a little more indignant about having to wait to watch IFC films, but I’m so far behind in my movie watching that I don’t have the energy.
  • Via the Cinetrix, a reminder that voting for the audience award for the Cinema Eye Honors documentary awards
    is now open.  If you go to the awards site, you can see short previews of all of the nominated films, which you should then go and add to your Netflix queue.
  • Agnes has an update on Michael Moore’s proposed “Documentary Night in America:”   According to indieWIRE’s Anthony Kaufman, documentary filmmakers seem to like the idea while industry insiders are skeptical about the plan’s feasibility. I still like Moore’s idea quite a bit.  I think there’s plenty of room to experiment with innovative screening practices that will provide indies and documentaries with more theatrical opportunities.  More on that later, if the mood strikes.
  • And for my readers who are superhero and Michael Chabon fans (I’m guessing there are dozens of you), a New Yorker article by Chabon on Superman (via Thompson on Hollywood).

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What is the What

One of the issues I sought to address in my “Documenting Injustice” seminar last semester was the use of oral histories in describing various “injustices.” In looking at texts such as Walker Evans and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, my class and I addressed questions about the role of the author in shaping representations of cultural Others (often returning to Bill Nichols’ formula, “I am speaking about them to you”). These questions persistently returned to me as I read Dave Eggers’s What is the What over the holidays while visiting my parents. What is the What is the “novelized autobiography” of Valentino Achak Deng, from the moment he becomes a refugee separated from his family in southern Sudan through several years of living in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya to his arrival in Atlanta, as part of the Lost Boys Foundation. The novel powerfully captures Deng’s experiences, whether the daily challenges of living in refugee camps, the emotional anguish of being separated from family, or the humorous escapades of growing up, while also raising questions about the possibilities and limits of oral histories as a mode of representing reality.

The novel opens with Valentino, living in Atlanta, opening his door to a woman he believes to be a neighbor asking to use his cell phone, but she is, instead, planning to rob the apartment. After the woman and her partner overpower Valentino, they leave him bound and gagged with a 10-year old guardian, whom Valentino chooses to call “TV Boy.” TV Boy becomes one of many “witnesses,” as Valentino relates sections of his story. Eggers’s decision to frame the story in this way works quite well, in large part because it captures the sense of bewilderment and confusion presented by Deng’s new life in America, but also because we are constantly reminded that what we are reading is, in fact, a story, a novelist’s interpretation of someone else’s real experiences. It also underscores the way in which many of these witnesses will not or do not listen, essentially ignoring the storyteller, choosing, in the case of “TV Boy,” to watch television instead in order to drown out Deng’s story. In places, the novel does read like human rights literature, providing details about the years of civil war in the Sudan for readers who may be unfamiliar with even the basic details of that conflict, but in most cases these details seem to grow out of Deng’s experiences, allowing his individual challenges–and those of his friends and family–to stand in for a larger whole.

The book also introduces questions about the role of documentary or oral histories in enacting or promoting social change. Deng wanted his story told in part to raise awareness of the humanitarian situation in the Sudan, and proceeds from the book go to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, which benefits Sudanese in America and Sudan (Deng’s website features footage of him returning to Marial Bail in the summer of 2007). Also worth checking out: Voice of Witness, an oral history series founded by Eggers that “seeks to illustrate human rights crises through the voices of the victims,” and this video interview with Deng on YouTube. I’d love to write more about What is the What, but I already feel like I’m several days or weeks behind for the upcoming spring semester (classes start on January 9th, and because I went home for the holidays and then to MLA, I don’t feel like I’ve had any time off). Still, I think Deng’s story will stick with me for some time to come.

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Short Attention Span Saturday

Completely distracted today, so why fight it? Here are a few more links that I’ve been checking out this afternoon. First, via Feministing, the news that Kiri Davis’sA Girl Like Me” is up for a $10,000 prize from CosmoGirl (all three finalists are worth checking out, so go there, watch the films and vote).

Second, on her website, Miranda July playfully promotes her new collection of stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You. For more on July’s creatively low-tech approach, see Bob Stein’s post at the if:book blog. July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know remains one of my favorite films from the last two or three years, so I’m looking forward to checking out this collection, maybe after classes are over.

Finally, an interesting Deadline Hollywood Daily post on Grindhouse’s disappointing box office. It’s expected to do only $13 million or so, far less than the predicted $20-25 million. Bad news for the Weinsteins, but I wonder if this is one film that will benefit from word-of-mouth and/or eventual DVD sales. I’m not sure I have an answer for that question, but given that Tarantino’s biggest successes (Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) are 13-15 years old, is Tarantino’s audience increasingly becoming the kind of audience that will encounter films at home? Rodriguez is obviously a more complicated case here, but QT’s star power as a director was probably a bigger selling point for Grindhouse. Worth noting: the three-hour screening time probably doesn’t help box office very much.

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Vampires in Mississippi

Via GreenCine Daily, news of an unproduced screenplay by William Faulkner about vampires, leading people to call the film, “William Faulkner’s Nosferatu.” Faulkner’s daughter discovered the screenplay among the novelist’s papers a few years ago, and producer Lee Caplin wants to make the movie, transferring the film’s setting from Eastern Europe to the deep South. Sounds like the film is a long way from being made, but I’d be incredibly curious to see the film get made, if only because I wrote a master’s thesis on Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

In other Faulkner news (in the same article), Oprah Winfrey wants to film Faulkner’s Light in August, which I think is a really bad idea. Not so much because it’s Oprah but because I think a lot would get lost in adapting such a sprawling novel to the big screen. Okay, maybe I’m a little worried about Oprah.

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Booked Solid

Peter tagged me with a book meme, and after a long week of cranking out the finishing touches of a (slightly) overdue article for a book collection, I’m looking for a good excuse to procrastinate on grading and other important tasks (at least until the mighty Boilermakers steamroll Notre Dame this afternoon). By the way, I caught Quinceanera last night at the local art house. Solid, enjoyable film. Not sure I’ll have much else to say about it, but given the dearth of movie choices around here, I was pretty much starved to get myself into a theater. Now about that meme….

1. One book that changed your life?
It’s not really a stand-alone book, but I always find myself returning to Walter Benjamin’s essays collected in the book Illuminations (and to a lesser extent, the essays in Reflections). Pretty much everything I’ve written owes something to Benjamin’s “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

2. One book that you have read more than once?
I’ve read dozens of books more than once. It comes with the territory of teaching literature courses. One of the books I’ve most enjoyed re-reading (and teaching) is Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
Peter’s choice of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is tempting, since I haven’t read it and know that it’s a demanding text. But to throw out a similarly dense and big novel that I’ve never read, I’ll suggest Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (so what does it mean that I’m confessing to a list of books I haven’t read?).

4. One book that made you cry?
Katherine Patterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, when I was about eleven years old, is the last one I remember. Glad to see that it’s still in print.

5. One book that made you laugh?
Kurt Vonnegut’s novels helped get me through the most stressful moments of my graduate school years. Breakfast of Champions is one of my favorites. The satire of the Hoosier car dealer was especially meaningful for someone living in West Lafayette, Indiana.

6. One book you wish had been written?
This is a difficult question simply because there are a number of books I wish I’d written. I’ve always admired Ralph Ellison’s Invisble Man, so I’ll go with that.

7. One book you wish had never been written?
This is a difficult question simply because it verges on censorship. Maybe the collected works of Anne Coulter?

8. One book you are reading currently?
Michael Berube’s latest, What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? I’ve been finding it incredibly valuable in helping me to think about my new teaching position here at Fayetteville State and my teaching career in general. And I’m not just saying that because he’s on my blogroll (hoping to write a longer review here a little later).

9. One book you have been meaning to read?
I’ve been dying to read Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. I’m a huge admirer of White Teeth and also liked Autograph Man quite a bit. Maybe I’ll find some time over Thanksgiving break. This reminds me, I really miss riding the subway in DC. I had so much more time for pleasure reading when I was commuting by train rather than having to drive everywhere. End rant.

10. Pass it on
Versions of this meme have been floating around for a while, so I’ll just issue an open invitation to partciipate. Don’t feel obligated to hyperlink your titles. I’m not even sure why I did.

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Reading for Pleasure Wednesday, Thursday Edition

I’m a day late to the “Reading for Pleasure Wednesday” meme suggested by Dr. Crazy and also seen at George’s place, but because I’ve only briefly mentioned two of my summer reading books, I thought I’d mention them again. My picks risk bending Dr. Crazy’s rules to some extent because I originally picked up both of them for their unique approach to documentary, a subject that’s important for my research interests, but both books also have proven meaningful to me in ways that ultimately have little to do with my scholarship. Plus, it’s a really cool idea and many of the books suggested by other bloggers will now find their way to my reading for pleasure list.

The first is Joe Sacco’s 1995 graphic novel “documentary,” Palestine , which seeks to represent the Israel-Palestine conflict from the perspective of the Palestinians, a perspective we rarely see in the US media. I read Palestine about a month ago, well before Israel and Hezbollah began fighting again, but Sacco’s intelligent, insightful attempt to represent a myriad of Palestinian experiences is truly illuminating (as is Edward Said’s thoughtful foreword).

Also worth checking out: Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s,, a compliation of diary entries Sartor wrote as a teenager while growing up in Louisiana I first learned about through Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. My initial attraction to the book grew out of my interest in memoir, autobiography, and popular culture, but the book grew into a more pleasurable reading experience, one that benefits from Sartor’s careful crafting of these journals into a larger narrative (and one that seemed to comment on my own experiences of growing up in another part of the south about a decade later). Both books are relatively quick reads, especially Sartor’s, which I read in a couple of afternoons.

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Sunday Morning Reading

I’ll write about Silverdocs Saturday tomorrow morning (I only managed to attend two films, B.I.K.E. and Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple), but wanted to mention Shooting War, Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman’s online graphic novel about a reporter covering the war in Iraq in the year 2011, after it has been raging for eight years. I’ve only looked at the first few panels, but it looks like compelling reading. More on the docs tomorrow, and I’ve managed to obtain tickets for three films tomorrow, including Walking to Werner and Road to Guantanamo, so I’ll have plenty to write about the next few days. Not that I have anything else to do (I only move in eleven days). Thanks to Steve’s POV for the tip.

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