Each Lent for the past few years, I’ve given up buying books, movies, music, and other media. This is more difficult for me than it might sound. Few things bring me as much joy as media of all sorts. As we break fast this Easter season, we return to those things that make us happy, hopefully with a new appreciation for them and deepened gratitude for all of our blessings.
So, in the spirit of Easter celebration, here is my list of the best media releases that came out during Lent that I can now enjoy. (However, with a not-only-Lenten desire to live more simply, I’ll try to borrow some of these instead of purchasing them all.)
From the inside flap: “Did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms? That brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea? That the color blue can help you double your creative output?” Lehrer takes a look at the science of human creativity in his new book. A fascinating subject, and I like it for the Easter season, as acting creatively – at work and at play – is one of the best ways to take part in the new life the resurrection promises.
My favorite family gathering of the year is the Passover Seder my parents host at my childhood home. The Seder retells the story of the Jews’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt, using the Haggadah (literally “telling”) text as a guide. There are hundreds of translations of the Haggadah, and my family has used the same version for decades, a set of which has been passed down from my Jewish grandmother to my dad. I would never suggest we replace our edition for the Seder meal, but I’m excited to check out this new translation, which includes commentary from some interesting Jewish writers and thinkers.
Nothing short of an American prophet, Wendell Berry’s essays and poetry about land and place, faith, politics, economics, and relationships always get me thinking. Here’s a snippet of “Some Further Words,” one of the newer poems from the collection, that sums him up pretty well:
Let me be plain with you, dear reader.
I am an old-fashioned man. I like
the world of nature despite its mortal
dangers. I like the domestic world
of humans, so long as it pays its debts
to the natural world, and keeps its bounds.
I like the promise of Heaven. My purpose
is a language that can pay just thanks
and honor for those gifts, a tongue
set free from fashionable lies.
Movies and Videos
4. The Muppets
I grew up on videotaped “Muppet Show” reruns that featured celebrities I had never heard of making references I didn’t get. Yet there are few, if any, cultural phenomena I love more. I saw this latest franchise reboot on its opening night in theaters, a bit nervous it would try to do something new and totally miss Henson’s vision (I’d avoid the movie Muppets From Space if I were you). But Jason Segel’s script is a fun, nostalgic love letter, and the DVD deserves a place in the collector’s library alongside The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper.
Speaking of love letters, Martin Scorcese’s kids’-movie-not-really-for-kids is an ode to cinema, storytelling, and childhood adventuring. After I saw Hugo in the theater, I wanted to talk about it with everyone, but nobody else had seen it. Do yourself an Easter favor and Redbox/Netflix/Amazon this if you like movies. Also, check out the novel the film was based on by Brian Selznick, a groundbreaking work that uses elegant line drawings not only to supplement text, but to advance the plot.
The only film of these three I haven’t seen, I’m excited to check out this spy movie based on John le Carre’s 1974 novel of the same name (the book title has commas in it, though). The “Rotten Tomatoes” summary has me hooked: “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a dense puzzle of anxiety, paranoia, and espionage that director Tomas Alfredson pieces together with utmost skill.” Sounds like the perfect Friday night after a long week.
7. Break It Yourself album by Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird is a conservatory-trained violinist who can also whistle like a bird and write lush, complex pop songs. I kind of cheated and streamed his newest album for free on NPR’s music site during Lent. It’s one of my favorites of his: accessible but not predictable, with so many layers that it rewards multiple listens. Great soundtrack for a cool spring evening drive with the windows down.
8. Wrecking Ball album by Bruce Springsteen
The biggest temptation I faced this Lent was to buy the new Bruce album the day it came out. Not only because he’s a demigod here in New Jersey, but also because the record is supposed to be his most ambitious piece of social commentary in quite a while. From the few tracks I’ve heard on the radio (like the rollicking and biting “We Take Care of Our Own”), it’s clear that the 62-year old still has the intensity and songwriting chops that have made him the best rock star in our nation’s history.
9. Port of Morrow album by The Shins
The Shins have written some of the catchiest pops songs of the past ten years, but they seem to go into hiding for substantial chunks of time. Port of Morrow is their first album since 2007, and from all reports the long layoff has not cost them a step. Check out “Simple Song” to see what I mean.
I have plenty on my plate for my 50-day celebration of the resurrection. What’s your plan? And if you have any media suggestions, please post them below. Easter blessings from all of here at CFJ!