In 2004, about a year into Operation Iraqi Freedom, as the insurgency was gathering steam, journalist Deborah Scranton was offered a chance to embed herself with a military company that included members of the New Hampshire National Guard. She declined but made an intriguing counterproposal. She offered to give the soldiers light, mobile video cameras so they could record their experiences.
Following in the tradition of Spellbound (about kids participating in a national spelling bee) and Word Wars (about Scrabble players), the charming small-scale documentary Wordplay captures the fervor with which many Americans approach the New York Times daily crossword puzzle.
“Each time that we have some pain to go through, we can say to ourselves quite truly that it is the universe, the order and beauty of the world, and the obedience of creation to God that are entering our body. After that, how can we fail to bless with tenderest gratitude the Love that sends us this gift?” —Simone Weil
The pathology report an icon; the tissue staining the slide, God’s kaleidoscope. And those cells, obeying their DNA, cosmic dust as they whirl and split. Why not praise cancer, relentless, blind, that seeks and finds the lymph and blood? Because I am unthankful, rude. Because if I linger over this gift, I will change, I will vanish from the earth. In Russia, an icon of Mary has wept for twenty years. Mary, do you see my nuclei mutating, like words in “whisper down the lane”? This same God took your son away. Help me disobey.
Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion is such a deconstructionist’s dream that you almost expect the late Jacques Derrida to make a cameo appearance. Talk about reality’s insubstantiality: here we have the cinematic version of a beloved radio program, now over three decades old, whose sly conceits play on a homespun America that barely existed.
No one understood my nightly need to be reassured I’d wake up again the next day. Eyes closed, I saw no sheep but the tufts of pampas grass looming silver like a solitary path. The scroll hung above me, a verse in five and seven, its flowing hand thin and illegible—I still knew it was about our life not lasting very long. How is it that adults were okay with such a prospect? In July, bamboo blades rustled against paper cranes and prayer strips; I wondered how I’d made the cut, when I wasn’t a boy my father wanted, wasn’t a koi princess my mother said would magically turn her tail into a pair of legs. I looked for the fabled rabbits on the moon, a family of them taking turns to pound rice into pearly cakes along their dark, elliptical orbit.
A copy of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book published in America, will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s and is expected to bring between $15 and $30 million, making it the most expensive book ever sold. One of two copies owned by Old South Church in Boston, it is one of only 11 remaining copies published. The proceeds will be used to help replenish Old South’s endowment once $7 million of it is used for deferred maintenance. The church historian resigned over the congregation’s decision to sell one of its treasures, but the rest of the congregation overwhelmingly supported the decision (New York Times, November 15).