50 Books in a Year: Can I Do It?

I’ve seen a challenge floating around for a couple of years now: Read 50 Books in a Year. Normally I balk at social media challenges, but I decided to take this one on.

Why? Well, I love reading. Last year, I tracked many of the books I read. I don’t think it was all of the books I read, but I came up with 15. It seems that the average American, not just the ones who “love to read,” read about 5-12 books per year.

If I “love to read” so much, why I am I barely reading more than average? Continue reading “50 Books in a Year: Can I Do It?”

Master Splinter’s Unexplored Backstory

Hollywood has an obsession with happy endings.  And here, I’ve posted about how the film industry often glosses over horrid consequences of the characters’ actions to achieve a happy ending.

This glossing over horrid consequences isn’t limited to endings.  And it isn’t limited to Hollywood.  As it turns out, the comic book industry employs it too.

My daughter loves the newly rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.  As a matter of nostalgia, I’ve picked up the original comic book run, now collected in graphic novel format.  Some elements are changed, because the comic book was intended for a much more mature audience than my 5-year old daughter.

Among the changes is that Splinter is Hamato Yoshi.  Yoshi is covered in the ooze and mutates into a rat.

In the comic book, the backstory is more complicated.  Yoshi was a member of an infamous band of ninja thieves and assassins know as The Foot.  Yoshi had a pet rat named Splinter, and the little rat would mimic his master’s movements and through that learned the secrets of ninjitsu.  Splinter tells us that Yoshi was known as The Foot’s finest warrior.

The comic never again mentions any of that, bringing to focus the next part.  Yoshi main rival was fellow Foot Clan member Oroku Nagi.  Nagi and Yoshi competed in everything, but their most bitter rivalry was over Tang Shin.  Shin only loved Yoshi, but Nagi kept trying to win her hand.  Eventually, Nagi threatened Shin with death if she didn’t love him, and Yoshi killed Nagi for it.

Rather than face an honorable death by his own hand for killing a fellow member of the Clan, Yoshi and Shin fled to America.  Nagi was survived by his younger brother, Oroku Saki.  Saki vowed vengeance and trained hard.  Eventually, he was selected to head the New York branch of The Foot, and there he sought out his brother’s killer.

Saki murdered Shin, and staged the scene to surprise Yoshi when he returned home.  Without a word, he cut Yoshi down.  During the fight, Splinter’s cage was broken and the rat ran free.

You know the rest… he found the turtles, got covered in ooze, they grew up… blah, blah, blah.

I want to seize on three facts:

  1. The Foot Clan is an evil band of assassins.
  2. Hamato Yoshi was a member of The Foot.
  3. Yoshi was the finest warrior of the Clan.

Do we understand what is left unexplored in every iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Either the sensei of the TMNT or the master of the TMNT’s sensei is a cold-blooded killer.

And that puts the first issue of TMNT in perspective.  After telling the tale of the turtles’ mutation, Splinter reveals that his only purpose in training them was vengeance.  He tasks the turtles with finding and killing Oroku Saki, who now calls himself the Shredder.

So, unlike most iterations, the comic book has the turtles on the offensive.  They seek out Shredder and kill him at the end of the issue, under Splinter’s orders.  Most iterations have the turtles stumble on to The Foot’s activities in New York City and gradually learn that the mysterious head of it, Shredder, is the old enemy of Splinter: Oroku Saki.

While most iterations have Splinter/Yoshi a member of The Foot and The Foot a gang of assassins and thieves, they gloss over the fact that as “the finest” warrior of The Foot Splinter/Yoshi would most certainly be involved in such activities.

That should keep TMNT fans awake at night…

How Do I Know Exactly What’s Going to Happen Next? This Movie Opened Yesterday!

There is a horrible truth to be discovered by people who study the underlying structure of their favorite books and movies.  This secret explains why my daughter’s two favorite movies are The Lion King and The Care Bears: Nutcracker.

Let’s break them both down.

In The Lion King, a young prince named Simba tries to lose has lost all memory of himself after a tragedy.  But then, with help from his friends he remembers himself.  Simba then returns to the kingdom he left long ago and faces down the false king.  Scar has run the formerly glorious kingdom of Pride Rock into the ground by forming an unholy alliance with the hyenas.  But Simba overcomes his uncle and is crowned king, restoring the kingdom to its previous prosperity.

In The Care Bears: Nutcracker, a young prince named Simba the Nutcracker tries to lose has lost all memory of himself after a tragedy due to an evil spell.  But then, with help from his friends he remembers himself breaks the spell.  Simba The Nutcracker then returns to the kingdom he left long ago and faces down the false king.  Scar The evil vizier has run the formerly glorious kingdom of Pride Rock Toyland into the ground by forming an unholy alliance with the hyenas rats.  But Simba the Nutcracker overcomes his uncle the evil vizier and is crowned king, restoring the kingdom to its previous prosperity.

Well that was interesting.

The next time you’re at the movies, if you swear you’ve seen a brand-new movie before, the stunning truth is that you probably have.  Various surveys of thousands of novels, short stories, and movies have turned up only 36 possible plots, depending on who you ask.  Some estimate 32, others go as high as 40.  But 34 to 36 plots are the most common results.

Does that hamper creativity?  Nope.  It frees creativity.  Plot isn’t the level that interacts with the audience; characters interact with the audience.  The Nutcracker and Simba are totally different characters — and not just in species.  While the Nutcracker is motivated by wanting to remember himself and is a natural leader, Simba is motivated by forgetting himself, running from his tragic past, and is a poor leader.  The Nutcracker is the perfect choice to restore Toyland to its former glory; Simba is the underdog who has to rise to the occasion when cleaning up Scar’s mess.

The kids and Care Bears are eager to help the Nutcracker.  Only Nala encourages Simba to recapture himself; Timon and Pumbaa want nothing to do with the problems at Pride Rock.  The kids and Care Bears actively encourage Nutcracker to battle the vizier to restore the kingdom, while Timon and Pumbaa teach Simba to forget his problems and wile away the hours relaxing.

On the plot level, the two stories are absolutely identical.  But, when we layer in the characters, tone, and spectacle the stories part ways and wind up light years apart.

So, aspiring authors, if you watch a movie and think “Gee, I could have done that movie so much better,” go ahead and do it.  It’s been done 1000 times before, and will be done 1000 more times before Christ returns.

New Year’s Resolution

I normally don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. Like the rest of humanity, I make a resolution on January 1st. I follow it to a maximum of January 4th, and then I never do anything else with it. I got tired of it, so one year I made the New Year’s Resolution not to make anymore New Year’s Resolutions. And that one I’ve actually kept.

Until this year.

I went to the hospital today with severe back trouble. I was diagnosed with a pre-kidney stone situation. Before kidney stones form, some crystals develop in the kidneys. These crystals are quite painful, though nothing compared to an actual stone. I have the crystals, and I need to drink more water to prevent the stones from forming. So my first New Year’s Resolution–a virtual no-brainer–is to drink more water.

My second New Year’s Resolution is to read the Bible everyday. I confess that, at least in the regard of daily Scripture reading, I’m a poor apologist. And a hypocrite, since I always recommend to seekers or Christians on the brink of failure to read more Scripture, and to mediate on it and pray every day. I don’t come anywhere close to reading the Bible everyday. I barely read it all.

This New Year, though–God willing–that will all change for the better. I’ve downloaded a plan for reading the Bible in a year from the official website of the ESV (which regular readers of the blog well know that is my personal favorite translation).

I wanted a plan that would include the Psalms and Proverbs in a daily reading, as well as simultaneous reading of the Old and New Testaments. I’ve heard it recommended that one should read the OT and the NT parallel to each other so that you can more easily catch the significance of Christ’s story in relation to the history of Israel. I’ve also heard it recommended that a person rotate reading Psalms and Proverbs monthly, since there is much wisdom in both books to soak up.

So, I settled on this plan. There’s a daily reading from the OT, the NT, a Psalm, and a few Proverbs. This way, I can spot the parallels from OT to NT, and I can bask in the character of God described in the Psalms while learning the simple wisdom of God in Proverbs. Now I just need to stick to it!

I further figured that I’d spot an occasional oddity with Scripture and that would generate a blog post at JCM. And I was right–day one found this interesting tidbit.

A third resolution, related to the second one, is to do more Bible study alongside my wife. It’s one thing to read the Bible and meditate on its message in isolation, but the Bible is pretty clear that isn’t how we should really do things:

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet 1:19-21)

So, Scripture reading is important, but private interpretation isn’t kosher. Hence, we have the church. But before the church is the family.

I love talking to my wife about matters of faith. She’s an Arminian and I’m a Calvinist, but the contrasting readings of verses are profitable for both of us. If we both agreed on every single Scripture reading, the give-and-take dynamic would be lost and neither of would learn anything. We’d just be confirming what we already know. That’s no fun.

So the first book we’re going to go through is The Love Dare. That should be very interesting. I understand that book resurrected dying marriages. Ours is far from dying; it is strong and vibrant. I love her more than words can express. But growing closer to her can’t be a bad thing; and therefore I embrace the challenge of The Love Dare wholeheartedly and I pray that it strengthens our marriage.