Sara Zarr Presents a Christmas Playlist

sara zarr at casey

2014 marked the tenth anniversary of my friendship with YA novelist Sara Zarr.In the decade since we happened to sit down at the same table for a fiction workshop led by author Erin McGraw, Sara has written five of the best-reviewed new YA novels. (She became a National Book Award finalist for her first. Not too shabby.) She's also collaborated on, or contributed to, a variety of multi-author books (Jesus Girls, edited by poet and writer Hannah Faith Notess) and journals (including Image … [Read more...]

Looking Elsewhere: Blood Oranges, Image, Hurray for the Riff Raff, PJ Harvey, Lightsabers, P.D. James, and More.


The last couple of weeks have been full of terrible news and similarly terrible shows of hard-heartedness and prejudice, with the headlines dominated by violence, racism, injustice, riots, and worse. Thus, I've been especially drawn to rare flashes of goodness, humor, and grace.Some of those have come in the form of the Christmas party playlists that I've published here at the blog, thanks to Joe Henry, Ashley Cleveland, and several more that I'll post in the coming days.And here are a … [Read more...]

Ashley Cleveland Presents a Christmas Playlist

ashley and kenny at laity

Our Christmas Playlist Party continues!Did you miss our first guest? Producer and songwriter Joe Henry joined us earlier and offered a bunch of tracks for us to enjoy with him.Now, here's one of the most soulful musicians I've ever had the pleasure of seeing live: Grammy award-winning gospel singer Ashley Cleveland.I took this picture (left) of Ashley playing a show with her husband, the legendary bassist Kenny Greenberg, at Laity Lodge in front of an extraordinary triptych by artist … [Read more...]

Joe Henry Presents a Christmas Playlist

Joe Henry, photographed by Daniel Wheeler.

I've wanted to do this for a long time now. Oh, how I love it when a plan comes together.As I was growing up, my family watched holiday television specials that featured a variety of beloved artists performing favorite Christmas songs. I may not have the stuff to host a TV show, but I have website, and I've been blessed by some generous musicians who have agreed to participate in a Playlist party.So grab your headphones.This post is the first of several playlists I've requested from … [Read more...]

Cinematic States Contest Results: And the Winner Is…


Whose name did I draw from the hat?Last week, I invited readers of Looking Closer to tell us which movie best captures the character of their home territory. This was inspired by Cinematic States, Gareth Higgins' thought-provoking tour of the U.S.A., exploring each state's history and character by considering the films that, in his view as an inquisitive North Irishman, show us that state's heart.People wrote in and... well... I confess that I'm not actually using a hat. I'm wearing a … [Read more...]

Exodus: Gods and Kings — Justin Chang Posts an Early Review


Film critic Justin Chang, a consummate professional over at Variety, is among the first out of the gate with a detailed review of Ridley Scott's major Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings. I'm seeing the film in a few days, and this review has surprised me by making me much more eager to see the film.... … [Read more...]

Looking Closer’s Thanksgiving Movie: Terrence Malick’s The New World


As we observe Thanksgiving once again, my attention is on, yes, giving thanks. That means prayers of thanksgiving to the giver of all good things through times of harvest and hardship. That means giving attention to Anne, to my family, to friends and loved ones who enrich my life. And that means celebration.In my house, celebration is marked with candlelight, incense, a bounty of beverages (coffee, tea, pumpkin ales and winter ales, wine), a feast that's more about quality than quantity, … [Read more...]

Rough Neighborhood: A Note About Facebook, Comments, and Social Media Manner


It's been a rough week in America — and that means it's been a rough week on social media as well.Yesterday, I posted something on Facebook that I wanted to offer as food for thought: Mostly, the consolation of Scriptures — messages assuring us that our longing for justice will be completely fulfilled by a just and loving God.But, knowing that emotions on the subject of justice were running high, and finding angry exchanges on almost every page I visited, I decided to ask readers to refr … [Read more...]

Coming Not Soon Enough to a Troubled Neighborhood Near You


"This film does more to advance new conversations on the legacy of human rights and the ever-present threat of violence and trauma in black life- something that seems so regular within the racist hierarchies that allow it, but when broadcast across the world and into homes of fellow human beings, becomes grotesque. There is no way to watch this film and not think of Ferguson, of Trayvon walking home, of Renisha McBride, of the severity and sudden violence lurking around corners of black life. … [Read more...]

Which Movie Captures Your Part of the World? Tell Me, and You Might Win a Great Book.

Cinematic States

"This is really wonderful stuff. Thoughtful, unique, insightful, and funny. It's unlike anything I've ever read."That's what Scott Teems, director of Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey and That Evening Sun, and writer for the hit TV series Rectify, says about Cinematic States, the new book by my friend, the Northern Irish film enthusiast and author Gareth Higgins.Marc Cousins, the brilliant film scholar who created the best documentary series on cinematic history that I've ever se … [Read more...]