Best Books & Fabulous Films

Reviews and More

Adventure Time – Not Just for Children

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Image credit: Fred Seibert @ flickr

It was long after midnight. I was sitting in a fancy bar, killing time while waiting for my train home. I’d been at Comic Con in Berlin that weekend and had a freebie with me, its package prominently featuring the image of a clumsily drawn cartoon character with a yellow dog. I considered keeping it in my bag, given that this was something you’d expect to see in the hands of a preschooler, certainly not in this setting dominated by high heels, suave suits, and classy cocktails. However, upon sitting down, I proudly put the cartoon on the counter. Instead of taking my order, the barkeeper set his gleaming eyes on the boy and his dog, smiled from ear to ear, and said only two words: Adventure Time.

What followed was a free whiskey for me and a passionate discussion about a cartoon show featuring a twelve-year old boy named Finn and his magical dog, Jake, who live in a candy kingdom. You might say this sounds like a story made for little kids. Actually, it sounds like a story made ‘by’ little kids. But the very adult barkeeper told me in absolute earnestness that Adventure Time’s (2010 – 2018) final season’s finale, which he’d just seen and which had its premiere in Germany on that very day, had moved him to tears. Now why is that?

Read more »

Arnold Krupat, Changed Forever: American Indian Boarding-School Literature

By Maria Moss

The book’s cover says it all: It shows Apache students on their arrival at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, an off-reservation school thousands of miles away from the students’ homes in the southwestern United States. The photograph at the bottom depicts the same students three years later in 1889. What a difference! Whereas in 1886, the children were wearing shawls, robes, and ponchos and had their hair done in different styles – some even wearing hats – in the photograph below, everyone is dressed alike in what seems to be grey, woolen, very tight clothing.

The “American Indian problem,” Arnold Krupat writes in his most recent book, Changed Forever: American Indian Boarding-School Literature, permitted “only two solutions, extermination or education. Extermination was costly, sometimes dangerous, and, too, it also seemed increasingly wrong.” The alternative was boarding or off-reservation schools. Although countless books and documentaries describe the boarding school system, relatively little is known about how the children themselves felt about their new environment, their daily chores and school routines. Krupat remedies this shortcoming by placing excerpts of those boarding school narratives in the appropriate cultural and historical context.

Read more »

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

By Sabrina Völz

As someone who regularly teaches creative non-fiction to university students, I’m always looking for new material. Earlier this year, I came across a highly acclaimed memoir that lasted thirty-one weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Educated: A Memoir is written by Tara Westover, the youngest daughter of Mormon fundamentalists and survivalists from a remote area of Idaho, near Buck’s Peak.

Westover’s father repeatedly preached that the end of the world was imminent and that the right to exist without interference from the government took precedence over all other personal needs. Self-sufficiency from his point of view meant life without any formal education and health care. As a child, Westover was taught to obey, not to question. And when tragedy struck – which was often brought upon by the patriarch’s poor judgment – father still knew best. Family life was marked by dangerous, hard physical labor, poverty as well as the constant stockpiling of supplies, be they canned food or survivalist gear. Paranoid that the government would somehow intervene, the family was prepared to defend their way of life by any means necessary.

Keenly aware of her surroundings, Westover noticed – already at the age of seven – that her family was different. Before entering college at the age of seventeen, the young woman had never set foot in a public school. Her education was largely limited to the Book of Mormon and Mormon doctrine. One day, when Westover mentioned that she wanted to go to school, her father quickly rebuked her: “In this family […] we obey the commandments of the Lord.” And that was that. So how was Tara Westover able to gain university admission and later earn her doctorate? Let’s just say her path was filled with numerous obstacles, the greatest of which was her own guilt and shame. Read more »

Two Sides to Every Story – The Affair (2014-19)

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Have you ever talked about a past event with someone who was involved in it and came to a point where you and that someone didn’t quite agree on how, where, or even if something had happened? This can be amusing or awful, but it surely makes us ponder about truth, perception, and the relationship between the two.

And so does Showtime’s TV drama series, The Affair.

The pilot episode starts in medias res with a police detective (Victor Williams) interrogating our male protagonist, the teacher and semi-successful novelist, Noah Solloway (Dominic West). The detective wants to know “how this whole mess got started.” This is when it dawns on us that what we’re seeing isn’t what’s happening right now. It’s merely Noah’s recollection of what has happened. Through Noah’s lens of memory, we learn that at the beginning of the story he’s happily married (with 4 kids) to Helen (Maura Tierney), his high school sweetheart. During their summer vacation in Montauk (Long Island, New York), their lives change radically when Noah meets Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson). It is from her perspective that the second half of the episode is told. Alison is a waitress and unhappily married to Cole (Joshua Jackson). They’ve never really seemed to get over the death of their toddler who’d died in an accident not long ago. As soon as she and Noah are on the screen together, we realize how this whole mess got started.

Read more »

BlacKkKlansman: A Much Too American Story

By Bobbie Kirkhart

It is an interesting situation: a black cop infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, the most storied white supremacist group in the United States. How could this new undercover officer resist the temptation? How could he get past the one main obstacle: his blackness?

It is an interesting plot: a white cop playing a black cop, two people posing as one voice and one personality, but one black and one white. How could a filmmaker resist the temptation? How could he get past the one main obstacle: that the Klan was a tired old group in the early 1970s and an anemic antagonist. The book, Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth, is interesting – but is the movie?

Read more »

“When you spot your flower, you can’t let anything get in your way”: Adaptation (2002)

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Adaptation is an oldie but goodie with an excellent cast of characters. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is supposed to write a movie adaptation of Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) non-fiction book, The Orchid Thief. The emphasis is on ‘supposed to’ because he doesn’t.

We accompany Charlie trying to overcome his severe writer’s block by pursuing his work without a plan. In the process, we witness his soul-crushing rampages of self-loathing, short moments of seeming progress, and tragically unfulfilled desires. All the while, Charlie’s much more lighthearted twin brother Donald (Nicolas Cage in a double role) naively pursues his own screenplay endeavors. Also, the audience dives into the book along with Charlie and get a glimpse into the life of orchid thief and breeder John Laroche (Chris Cooper). Initially, the film is nothing but bizarre; however, gradually it becomes inspiring and holds quite a few surprises for unsuspecting viewers.
Read more »