Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reviews: Maze Runner, Bill Gaither in a Box.

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, gave me the impression that I was in the middle of a web, with all these other books and authors, all well known and famous for contributions to literature, surrounding Dashner's work. And this from an author who graduated from Duluth High school here in Georgia and is currently writing this second series. He also has written The Thirteenth Reality, which I will be sure and investigate. The book itself deals with a boy, Thomas, who regains consciousness and finds himself in a box with these other boys, who live, eat, and sleep, all to solve the mystery of the gigantic maze around them. Watching Thomas grow in the story reminded me of Bilbo, in The Hobbit, as he finds the talents and maturity he needs to become an essential part of the tale.

Dashner has a great, staccato writing style that fits in with the teenagers that fill the story. The timing is acceptable, for the most part, except at the very end, where the last chapters are rushed, almost as if there was a page limit for the book. I've always felt that there comes a moment in a book where you have to look around and sigh at a place where the protagonist is content with his world, and so are you. It's a place you don't want to leave, but yet, if you didn't, there wouldn't be a story. It's much like life. If you are in a content place all your life, you don't really have one. And any biography you might write wouldn't sell a copy. I sort of wish that Dashner had prolonged this part of the tale just a bit, so that we might languish in his world.

I kept thinking about Gary Paulsen's The Transall Saga at this point, watching Thomas evolve into a skilled hunter and survivor. And Paulsen does let the reader stay in a place for a little while before moving on. Also, and this is said in other reviews, the fight of a sustained group of boys trying to establish a culture, a system of governance, is much like Golding's Lord of the Flies. Except for these prisioners, the island has a purpose, as Thomas finds out. One of the characters, Chuck, reminds me of Piggy, as well.

But the main novel I thought about as I read it was Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. If you enjoy reading Card, then this is a great read. I'm only giving it 4 stars (of 5) because the ending was rushed, and I didn't agree with some of the plot line. But as it is a series, the next book should resolve some of my issues with it.

Gaither Vocal Band Concert, Augusta, GA.

I put in Augusta, because it's a very large part of the journey. I don't think I ever said how much I hate driving. It's almost an unbearable task, one that is necessary because you can't get anywhere without doing it. And Augusta is 2 hours from Conyers, down a long, straight, boring road, with nothing but trees to look at and Police cars to watch out for. And that was what save me from going to sleep (I can easily go to sleep just driving to the grocery store, especially not without music or talk radio or an audiobook or something. I have to keep that corner of my brain occupied, or, if it becomes bored, it'll find the nearest place to activate itself, namely, in my dreams, which it tries to accomplish by putting me asleep.). Because we hadn't looked at the tickets until after we had left, and it was an hour and a half to the start of the concert. So I concentrated on going as fast as I could while watching for signs of Crown Vics with lights on top. :) And to tell you the truth, going 90 down the interstate feels pretty good. Gets the adrenaline pumping.

The James Brown Arena (formerly the Augusta-Richmond County Civic center) was built in 1974, in a time when domed stadiums and arenas were built to withstand massive hurricanes and were made as boxed-like as possible. Therefore, the arena was one big box with seats almost vertically to the ceiling. Did I mention how much I hate stairs? It reminds me of the Superdome in New Orleans, but shrunk in the wash. At least the Georgia Dome is comfortable.

I've been to many Gaither Concerts in my days with my mom. My job is to drive to/from the place, and be the photographer. I take pictures of my Mom and _____. Then we get the pictures developed and then signed the next time we go to a concert. The music is good, for the most parts, and it's easy to know when to take potty breaks. Some groups are better than others.

The one thing that struck me as interesting this trip were the people around us. Augustians sitting near us had never been to a Gaither Homecoming concert before. They were mainly older folks, with the unmistakable look of being country people for most of their lives, and their parents' lives as well. And that's okay, for the friendliness and devotion to God is very prevalent in the audience. (As a side note, the people at the Arena need to hire better ushers. It certainly helps if they are literate, and not half blind.)

It got me to wondering. Where are the young fans of Southern Gospel music? When the youth of today pass on their musical heritage, will it only be the music of Madonna, U2, and MC Hammer that they remember? Will folk music die out all together, with no one humming "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" some thirty years from now, when Mary Travers is but an entry on Wikipedia? The honest answer is, I'm not sure.

I do know, however, that groups like Ernie Haase & Signature Sound and the Gaither Vocal band are doing their best to promote traditional Southern Gospel music to today's generation. And it's working. Among the people performing on the stage that night was a boy singer named Logan Smith. His Myspace page says he's from Covington, and enjoys Southern Gospel music to the extent that he can sing most any song in the canon. He has traveled with the Gaither group on the Alaskan Cruise, and sings at many churches here in Georgia. His favorite songs are those sung by the late Vestal and Howard Goodman. He sounds just like them, even better than my impressions of them. I was impressed. It also showed that Southern Gospel music has the ability to attract those of the younger generations, and thereby seccuring the genre to a healthy following in years to come. Now if only Folk music could find such saviors.

One of the Gaither Vocal Band's greatest songs is "I Then Shall Live," which was written by Gloria Gaither to the tune of "Finlandia," (done by Jean Sibelius, a Finnish Nationalist). As great as "Amazing Grace" is, it never ceases to amaze me how much Christians define themselves as "wretched." Pride becomes a deadly sin. There's no need for us to whip ourselves with cat-o-nine tails as punishment for sins that we have already been forgiven for. In Gloria Gaither's lyrics, she paints a Christian as one who, having been forgiven, can now live a proud life of one who knows the virtuous ways of living and celebrates that by spreading that joy to other people. It's a remarkable song, and one that the GVB and EH&SS do as an anthem to the positive force that Christians can do for this world, if they are not bogged down in political power grabs, hypocrisy, and bringing about condemnation to the people of this world whom they are supposed to love and support.

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