The Juice Bar

My muses, thoughts, ideas, and whatever

Sunday, December 31, 2006

My Best of 2006 lists

Best of 2006

It’s the end of the year, time for all the best-of lists. I’m a junkie for reading those things and for making lists. I don’t know why.

Top 10 Films

I’m a film buff. I try to catch quite a few films each year in the theaters. I’m fortunate, living in St. Louis, that we have some good art-house theaters, so I can catch interesting independent films, and am not just limited to whatever Hollywood spews forth. And I don’t have to wait for all this stuff to be released on DVD.

Actually, it was a good year for films. There were quite a few good mainsteam Hollywood releases as well as the indies. I was fortunate to be able to skip crap like Basic Instinct 2 and the almost daily cheap horror films foisted on dumb teenagers. So I had to come up with a top 20 list, or else a top 10 list with a number of Honorable Mentions. Each of these films were well worth the eight or nine bucks spent for a ticket. However, this list will change over the month of January, when some really cool films like Children of Men and Pan’s Labyrinth, which have been discussed on the Internet by film critics on the coasts, finally make their way here to the middle of America. But those two films, as well as possibly Letters from Iwo Jima and Little Children, replace some of these films on the top 10 list. And then I will come up with an explanation of why I chose the films that I did. But, for now, here is what I came up with.

1. Sophie Scholl
2. United 93
3. L' Enfant
4. The Three Burials of Melquiedes Estrada
5. The Fountain
6. The Science of Sleep
7. Brick
8. Cars
9. Inside Man
10. The Prestige

Honorable Mention:
Casino Royale
The New World
Pursuit of Happyness
Stranger Than Fiction
Citizen Dog
Little Miss Sunshine
Thank You for Smoking
Don't Come Knocking
The Aura
The Departed

Top 10 books

This is a list of the ten favorite books I read this year. This is not a list of books released during 2006. I’m always behind on my reading, so the books I noticed this year and want to read, I’ll eventually get around to next year, or the year after. But my list of books I read this year, that were written sometime within the last century, goes as follows:

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter Miller
The Sparrow - Maria Doria Russell
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
Oxygen - Randall Ingermanson and John Olson
River Rising - Athol Dickson
Outriders - Kathryn Mackel
Body Piercing Saved My Life - Andrew Beaujoin
Double Vision - Randall Ingermanson
Speaker for the Dead - Orson Scott Card

Music: an obsessive series of lists in the spirit of High Fidelity (only I’m not depressed when I make these lists)

Top 10 Songs

Laughter Ever After - Andy Lewis with Betty Lavette
That's Where Jesus is - Lost Dogs
Crazy - Gnarls Barkley
Bellrays - Third Time's the Charm
Sparks - As I Sit Down to Play the Organ at the Notre Dame Cathedral
My Brightest Diamond - Golden Star
Decemberists - O Valencia
Robert Randolph - Deliver Me
Elf Power - An Old Familiar Scene
Neko Case - The Needle Has Landed

Top 10 Albums

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
Robert Randolph - Colorblind
Lost Dogs - The Lost Cabin and the Mystery Trees
My Brightest Diamond - Bring Me the Workhorse
Elvis Costello/Allen Toussaint - The River in Reverse
Elvis Costello - My Flame Turns Blue
Joanna Newsom - Ys
Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Sparks - Hello Young Lovers

Top 10 Concerts
1. Robert Randolph and the Family Band - The Pageant, St. Louis. Robert
tore the roof off that joint!
2. My Morning Jacket - The Pageant, St. Louis
3. Over the Rhine - Blueberry Hill, St. Louis - The jazziest I've ever
seen them
4. Mute Math - Cornerstone 2006
5. Lost Dogs - Cornerstone 2006
6. The Choir - Old Roxana Theater, Roxana, IL - A rare concert
7. Hem - Blueberry Hill, St. Louis
8. Devotchka/My Brightest Diamond, Blueberry Hill, St. Louis
9. Joanna Newsom, Blueberry Hill, St. Louis
10. Kevin Max/Violet Burning, Off Broadway, St. Louis

And one final list, just for fun, 10 favorite numbers:

6.02 x 10^23

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Book review: A Pagan's Nightmare by Ray Blackston

It's tricky writing satire for the Christian market, particularly a satire of the Christian subculture itself. But Ray Blackston does an admirable job here. It's more of an absurdist tale in the style of Dave Barry rather than the cutting satire of a Stephen Colbert or a Lewis Black.

This novel takes place after a kind of "reverse rapture". Except in this case, it's the non-believers who disappear. The only people remaining are Christians, and a handful of unfortunate pagans who got "left behind". The remaining Christians implement a hyper-legalistic society that rivals George Orwell's "1984". Gas is 12 cents a gallon for believers and $6.66 for the unbelievers. Lyrics to popular songs are changed to pithy Christian slogans, as the Beatles "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" is changed to "I Wanna Hold Your Tithe". And the entire world is enslaved to a cultish leader named Marvin the Apostle, who speaks in King James English and sends the police to round up and convert the remaining pagans. One of the unfortunate ones left behind is a contractor named Larry, who searches for his missing girlfriend while trying to dodge the nefarious so-called "Christians".

The story is told in a unique two-tiered storyline. The above story is folded within another narrative involving a real-life Larry trying to pitch the story as a novel to his agent, who tries to pitch it to publishers and Hollywood agents. Along the way, Larry meets people who want to read the story in progress, so Larry shows the completed chapters to them. One of them is his wife, a Christian who isn't particularly thrilled, and who leads protests on Larry's lawn. The dual plotline isn't actually as complicated as it might seem, and is pretty easy to follow. The humor in the book pokes fun at some of the foibles of a Christian subculture that separates and insulates itself from the world to make Christians feel comfortable, while alienating the kind of people to whom we should be showing the love of Christ. One could argue that the satire could be sharper, in showing how materialistic the modern Evangelical church is. But, that kind of book would probably hit too close to home for a Christian publisher to agree to publish. As it is, Ray Blackston has crafted a story that makes Christians think while it makes them laugh at some of the ridiculous things we do in the name of so-called "Christianity". Fans of the humor of Dave Barry or The Wittenburg Door magazine will enjoy this.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Book review: Outriders by Kathryn Mackel

This is the first book of an intriguing Christian fantasy series of novels by Kathryn Mackel. This is the first of her books I have read, and I am impressed with her imagination. She creates a world that is intriguing and shows definite parallels with a creation fallen from its original beauty due to the curse of sin. She also shows the hope of restoration of the creation by the valiant acts of Christians.

In Outriders, the world has been devastated by a war in which most technology has been destroyed. Bands of warriors called Traxx roam the countryside. To populate their army, they capture the few remaining humans, and through genetic engineering, they turn the humans into grotesque monsters. However, a remnant of humans escaped and has been kept safe in an underwater ark. Little by little, these people, called birthrighters, are released back onto the earth and commissioned to help establish an outpost of humane civilization in this barren world. These birthrighters must battle the warriors of Traxx while they rely in their faith in God. There are clear spiritual overtones in this battle of good and evil, and the use of genetic engineering is ripped from today’s headlines. The Birthrighter characters are developed well, and they are shown to have their own internal struggles in fighting against their own selfish desires, while they are fighting the Traxx. There is quite a bit of striking imagery, including an archway of thorns that protects the stronghold of the Traxx warriors. I am looking forward to reading the second book in this series, Trackers, which is also available on, as well as select bookstores.

This series is part of a promising wave of writers attempting to establish fantasy genre that serves the faith fiction market, which Bryan Davis, R.K. Mortenson, George Bryan Polivka, Donita Paul, G.P. Taylor, and Miles Owens, that build on the legacy of the famous Inklings: Lewis and Tolkien. I am not a huge reader in this genre, but after meeting a number of sci-fi and fantasy writers at the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference this past year, I have had my eyes opened to the fun and interesting narrative possibilities, and I want to read more! It’s good to indulge one’s imagination occasionally, as I've learned as a wanna-be writer myself.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Here's something to get you in the Christmas Spirit!

Here's a lovely Christmas song, "O Come All Ye Faithful", as performed by a famous wandering minstrel band called Twisted Sister. OK, so I'm totally a child of the 1980s, and I've banged my head a few too many times, but it's the season of giving and good cheer, so here you go. Just watch what you're putting in your eggnog. haha.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Now that's talent!

I've found a couple links of people with interesting talent.

First, may I present to you the Boston Typewriter Orchestra. They make music with, uh, typewriters! These are the old-fashioned manual kind, not those fancy-schmancy word processors. Just to operate one of those takes some strong fingers, and to make music is, really cool in a geeky sort of way. Check out the link:

Boston Typewriter Orchestra

Also, Michel Gondry is a pretty talented guy. He wrote and directed two of my favorite movies of the last couple of years, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. Now he demonstrates his skill at solving the Rubik's cube. With his feet! I'm speechless. I remember in fourth grade, when our teacher made us watch this video about a lady named Bonnie Consolo, who was born without any arms. The video showed how she lived by doing tasks with her feet that we would have to do with our arms, like writing, talking on the telephone, and picking out fruit at the grocery store. To a ten-year-old, I thought that was impressive. But the Rubik's cube, that's freaky.