Book Me

I’m a reader by nature. I grew up, however, with television. I recall somewhat precisely when reading really grabbed me. Starting in fifth grade I began to stash cheap books in an old duffle bag in the room I shared with my brother. We lived in humble circumstances and bookshelves were a luxury, but I kept my precious books together so that I could always find the one I wanted. Eventually I upgraded to a suitcase made out of what appeared to be cardboard. This fascination with books would stay with me my entire life. So would the television side of my education. When I wasn’t watching cheesy B movies or World Federation Wrestling, I was watching documentaries. A few weeks ago, I posted about a documentary site on the web, and I have discovered another site as well, Documentaryz.

One of the benefits of the web is the access to free information. I regret not having the time to watch all the quality material that can be found with a bit of poking around. Documentaryz has several categories of shows available including, as befits this blog, religion titles. The documentary has clearly become an art form as well as a source of information. The problem with the web, however, is so little material is peer reviewed. I can imagine a better world where political speeches and sermons would have to stand before a board of peers to justify their often phantasmagorical claims. A world where someone can make no claims to special knowledge because an old man laid hands on his head or because he has too much money and wishes to run other people’s lives.

So it is that I come back to my books. On the bus, or in the airport, or train station, I often feel hopelessly outmoded as I sit among people with beeping, chirping, or rhythm-and-blues spewing devices. I sit holding a book. It’s bulky, and sometimes requires both hands to keep open. It doesn’t make any noise. I am the librarian of public transit. Sometimes well-wishers suggest that I might cull the herd a bit, get rid of some of the books I’ve spent a lifetime gathering. I think back to a little kid in a stuffy room with a duffle full of paperbacks and I realize that books are a lifestyle choice. They are a part of me. As much as I enjoy watching documentaries, I begin and end my day with books. It may be a parody or some bizarre irony, but the only room in our apartment without books is the bathroom. They are not the waste products, but the stuff of life itself.

Walking Monsters

It was a moment of weakness, or at least tawdry cheapness, that made me watch The Monster Walks. Just the day before the Cable Vision guy had stopped by, detailing how much money we could save by switching. We haven’t had television service since 2004, and even then it was only with a cheap aerial. Back in the days of Borders, I sometimes caved in and purchased the “Classic Features” movie boxes with 50 B, C, or D movies for what seemed a steal at less then 25 dollars. Maybe five or six of the movies from each set were actually worth the time spent watching them, but many of them proved an education. So it was with The Monster Walks.

Now, I readily confess to having a weakness for B movies. Made by people who were really trying, but who seemed to lack talent, I often identify with their efforts. So when I popped The Monster Walks into my DVD player, I had no idea what I might learn. The first revelation occurred in the opening credits where a character named “Exodus” was introduced. Since this was 1932, the character had to be African American. And comic relief. To spare you the pain of watching the movie, the plot is rather simple: rich man dies, helpless daughter inherits all to the chagrin of surviving brother and domestics, who plot to kill her by pretending to be a murderous ape. There also happens to be a murderous ape locked in the cellar. You get the picture. Aptly named Exodus is purely there as a foil for the educated, privileged white family. He was played by the talented but underappreciated Willie Best. As might (nay, should) be predicted, the scheme of killing the girl backfires and the ape kills the killer. Okay, so I can confess an hour wasted and get on with my reading. But the final scene arrested me.

Exodus wonders to the lawyer (who is there to read the will) why the rich man even had an ape. The lawyer, metaphorically transformed into a judgmental William Jennings Bryan, states that it was because he believed in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Exodus responds by noting some family resemblance to the ape. The blatant racism was hard to take, but in Black History Month the painfully obvious collective sins of our society should be laid bare. In 1932 Fundamentalism, often implicitly allied with racist causes, castigated Darwin’s theory for bringing all of humanity down to the same level. As long as a white god is creating the universe, the Anglo-Saxon can claim superiority. Never mind that Genesis was written by a Jewish writer living in Asia. Self-righteousness comes in many forms, but it always involves bringing others down to a rung below where the blessed stand. Has not the great Rick Santorum told us that even the Crusades were merely misunderstood?