Non-Blog | Channing Whitaker

What I've been Reading: Aug 2019

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Someone recently compared my writing to that of David Mitchell. It's always flattering to be classified with a mainstream and successful author. However, I was only familiar with Mitchell to the extent of the movie adaptation of his novel, Cloud Atlas. Thus I decided to start there to acquaint myself better. It was a good choice.

Cloud Atlas interweaves six storylines, each from a different period spanning a few hundred years in the past to a few hundred years into the future. Each storyline bares intriguing characters and mounting conflict, but the intensity is only heightened by the books jumping from story to story. Just when you're getting to a climax, you jump away, only to get your appetite up for the next storyline, only to be pulled away again. Literary edging at it's finest.

On its face, the book's plot and characters are fantastic. No two storylines or characters are too similar, and they're all compelling. But what is perhaps the most exciting about the book is its consistent themes and overarching message. Criticism of slavery, or in more general terms human exploitation, run throughout the book. Michell also endeavors to remind us of our interconnectedness with others. This is never more prominent than in the connections tieing one storyline to the next, even across the expanse of time.

I loved this book, and if you love seeing people who abuse their power toppled by the oppressed, then you might like it as much as I did.
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What I've been Watching: Aug 2019

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I saw the movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas back when it was in theaters. I found parts interesting but wasn't totally impressed. After reading the book recently, I decided to give the movie another look. It was worth it.

I'm not sure if I simply missed a few important details which undermined my first viewing. I consider myself an attentive viewer, but I actually watched Cloud Atlas the first time at the wonderful Bear Tooth Theaterpub in Anchorage, Alaska. At the Bear Tooth, you get to enjoy gourmet pizza, local brews, and other fare while watching your movie. I loved the food there, but I have some qualms with movie theaters that serve restraunt-like food. I find the food service is often a distraction. It's not bad for a high octane action movie, but for any sort of thinking piece, I find it a huge pitfall. Thus, perhaps my lackluster feelings for Cloud Atlas the first time were rooted in the venue.

Alternatively, it is also possible that the layers of Cloud Atlas, of which there are many, only become apparent upon repeat viewings. It's a complicated movie which jumps from storyline to storyline every few minutes.

Whichever the case, on my recent second viewing, I found the movie far better, more engaging, and profound. I recently read the novel, which I praised in my book review for its overall themes criticizing human exploitation, and praising human connections. The first time I watched the film, I definitely missed these elements. The film inevitably had to compact the stories of the book, but it retains the consequences and more importantly, the point of the story. Plus what the film loses in quantity, it makes up for in the power of cinema. Unlike the book, the film can overlap stories. Rather than just jump between them, we can hear a character speaking from one timeline, while we start to see the action of another, further cementing the connection across time.

The movie also cuts between the storyline more frequently and freely, thus bringing parallel crescendos to a climax simultaniously. The Wachowski siblings, directors on this film, are masters of their medium and they use what is unique to the cinema to accentuate rather than simply to bring a book to the screen. If one wants to make a case for movie adaptations or to see a good example of how to do it, look no further than Cloud Atlas.

If you've never seen it, I recommend giving a watch. If you have, I recommend giving it a watch again.
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What I've Been Listening to: Aug 2019

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I'd heard Lizzo interviewed on NPR a few months ago. Issues of gender, body image, and self confidence where all topics of her discussion. She is a larger woman who both figuratively and literally bares all on her recent album. All of this was interesting, but my attention wasn't thoroughly captured until I attended a wedding recently. Her music showed up on the rental car radio, in the club during a pre-wedding party, and even on the dance floor at the reception. She's a unique person with equally unique music, and I'm impressed.

The music starts with toe-tapping beats but where it stands apart is in Lizzo's willingness to push the limits of convention, which she does in three ways. First, in subject matter, the meaning in her lyrics are bold, critical of social norms, and unapologetic.

Second, she pushed the boundaries of what lyrics will fit in the song. Most of the time, singers strive to stay on beat with their music, but sometimes singers have too much to say to be limited this way. My all-time favorite band, Steely Dan operated this way. If there were too many words for a particular line of music, but they were profound, well they went ahead and jammed them in. Lizzo operates this way, and I love it. It grabs the listeners attention. When you hear her trample over her own beat, you have to ask what happened and pay closer attention to what she has to say.

Finally, Lizzo pushes the limits of her own voice. Now I'm sure she has a lovely singing voice when that is her aim, but on what I've heard of her music she often goes higher and lower than her range, cracking and losing pitch along the way. She holds notes she can't sustain and just keeps going. It gives power to her music, as if to say, yes this could be all fine and polished without so much as a blemish in the vocal execution, but it's too powerful and too relevant to worry about all that.

Lizzo won't be contained or held back by convention.
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