Quote of the Day: Feeding the Poor

From James Carroll’s thoughtful profile of Pope Francis in the end-of-year New Yorker, discussing his coming of age politically in Argentina during the “Dirty War” of the 1970s and ’80s:

The anti-Soviet paranoia of the era made it easy to see [liberation theology] as influenced more by Karl Marx than by Jesus Christ. Archbishop Hélder Câmara, of Brazil, famously captured the tension, saying, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

Readers’ Corner: Every Book, Ever

You always hear people complaining about there being just not enough time to read all the books out there. Just too much on the shelves to get to in this lifetime. Not the worst thing to have to complain about, of course, but still, frustrating—even if you’re not Burgess Meredith after the apocalypse.

So here’s the question: Has that always been the case? Was there a time at which one could have actually read every single book that had been written? (For the sake of this exercise, we’re limiting it to English-language titles.) Fortunately, there’s always a numbers guy out there working just about any conceivable problem, so now we may have an answer:

According to the site what if?:

If we estimate that during their active periods, writers are producing somewhere between 0.1 and 1 word per minute, then one dedicated reader might be able to keep up with a population of about 500 or 1,000 active writers … the date at which there were too many English books to read in a lifetime—happened sometime before the population of active English writers reached a few hundred. At that point, catching up became impossible.

The magazine Seed estimates that the total number of authors reached this point around the year 1500 and has continued rising rapidly ever since. The number of active English writers crossed this threshold shortly thereafter, around the time of Shakespeare, and the total number of books in English probably passed the lifetime reading limit sometime in the late 1500s.

So there you have it. It’s been a few centuries since reading everything out there was even possible. So if you can’t finish the complete works of Joyce Carol Oates in this lifetime (and, honestly, who could—as she publishes at the rate most people read), well, just hope for reincarnation.

New in Theaters: ‘Lone Survivor’

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Lone_Survivor_PosterWith a resume that includes everything from Battleship to Friday Night Lights, Peter Berg isn’t the first guy you would think of to have made one of the modern era’s great combat films. But nevertheless, there he is with a directing and writing credit on Lone Survivor, a tough and emotionally draining film about a doomed Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan in 2005.

Lone Survivor opens in limited release this week, rolling out more broadly in January. My review is at Film Journal International:

If not for the real-life footage that bookends Peter Berg’s adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s nonfiction bestseller, Lone Survivor would come close to tipping right into another hero-worshipping chronicle of the special-operations soldiers so beloved by today’s Xbox-playing couch warriors. But the story hasn’t even begun and already Berg has you immersed in images of SEAL trainees getting systematically broken down to the point of tears. Before the choppers rev up and the men fly off into the Afghanistan mountains to go Taliban-hunting, you’ve already witnessed the limits they have been pushed to…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Post-Holiday Reading: December 27, 2013

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‘If you really hate music, you’ll love the show.’

New in Theaters: ‘August: Osage County’

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Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Julia Roberts in ‘August: Osage County’

august-osage-county-poster1Tracey Letts’ play August: Osage County was a sprawling, Eugene O’Neill-esque slab of all-American dysfunctionality that played like gangbusters on the stage. It’s just about the last thing that you would want to see Harvey Weinstein and a pack of Oscar-festooned actors get their hands on; but somehow the truncated film adaptation plays pretty smartly. It opens up the material without lessening too much of the story’s darker impact. Also, Julia Roberts shows up in a Meryl Streep movie and actually leaves a stronger impression.

August: Osage County opened on Christmas Day, go find it! My review is at Film Racket:

This wasn’t supposed to happen. August: Osage County features Meryl Streep lording it over a fractious family as a red-eyed, pill-popping, malicious, cancer-stricken, Eric Clapton-loving matriarch with a black wig that looks a small dog flopped onto her head. But somehow Julia Roberts ends up being the one who sticks with you. She doesn’t do it by trying to reinvent herself. This character is in the same ballpark with the other flinty types Roberts has specialized in over the years. But what makes her stand out from the lesser films that Roberts has wasted most of her time on is her desire to push the limits of unlikeability. During an explosive family dinner scene that violently jerks into a half-thought-out intervention, Barbara Weston (Roberts) turns on her suddenly terrified mother Violet (Streep) like an unleashed animal, bellowing at her and everyone else within a half-mile radius, “I’m in charge now.” It’s more an admission of doom than triumphant declaration…

Roberts and Streep in 'August: Osage County'

Here’s the trailer, which makes the film look like some sassy Southern heartwarmer that Roberts would have starred in back in 1996:

Department of Holiday Cheer: Edition 2013

It’s been an eventful year, not necessarily in a bad way. But nevertheless the start of 2014 is welcome. Any day now.

In the meantime, a bit of holiday doggerel from Calvin Trillin:

I’d like to spend next Christmas in Qatar,
Or someplace else that Santa won’t find handy.
Qatar will do, although, Lord knows, it’s sandy.

Also, one shouldn’t get through the holiday season entirely without anything from David Sedaris‘s memories of working as a store elf:

The woman grabbed my arm and said: You there, elf. Tell Riley here that if he doesn’t start behaving immediately, then Santa’s going to change his mind and bring him coal for Christmas.

I said that Santa changed his policy and no longer traffics in coal. Instead, if you’re bad, he comes to your house and steals things. I told Riley that if he didn’t behave himself, Santa was going to take away his TV and all his electrical appliances and leave him in the dark.

The woman got a worried look on her face and said: All right. That’s enough. I said, he’s going to take your car and your furniture, and all of your towels and blankets and leave you with nothing. The mother said, No, that’s enough – really.

Go on, take a Snow Day; you all deserve it:

New in Theaters: ‘The Invisible Woman’

Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones gaze across the abyss of longing in 'The Invisible Woman'
Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones gaze across the abyss of longing in ‘The Invisible Woman’

invisiblewoman1When Charles Dickens was alive and writing, there was hardly a more famous person in the Western world. Ralph Fiennes’ second film as a director stars himself as the frequently mobbed and phenomenally insecure author who spent his private time chasing the affections of a much, much younger woman.

The Invisible Woman opens on Christmas Day and should be playing at an arthouse near you. My review is at Film Racket:

The tragedy of director/star Ralph Fiennes’ uneven literary period drama The Invisible Woman isn’t so much that his Charles Dickens is an arrogant swot who can’t stop himself from swooning over a young woman who is not his wife. What gets your attention instead is the sparking charge that comes in the few close dialogue scenes between Fiennes’ Dickens and the young woman’s mother, Frances Ternan (Kristin Scott Thomas). She’s an itinerant actress, he’s a gadfly author who also loves putting on plays of his own work and, where possible, acting in them; all to hoover up as much acclaim as possible. The two share an easy understanding of artifice, the need to play a role. This knowledge creates a titillating electricity between the two. For a minute, you wish they could just run off and have an extravagently bad affair like the two actors did with The English Patient

Here’s the trailer: