Our group had a brief Q&A with him sandwiched between the other activities at Greenbelt (an annual festival “where arts, faith, and justice collide”), and I also attended his movie review session–Gareth is a great communicator who interacts well with his audience, and wow, does he ever know his movies!
All of that made me eager to review his new book, Cinematic States: Stories We Tell, The American Dream Life, and How to Understand Everything.
The subtitle is especially ambitious, and the premise of the book is intriguing — a look at America through the lens of different movies set in each of the fifty states plus Washington DC.
I might have expected that Gareth would choose To Kill a Mockingbird and Forrest Gump for Alabama and Rocky for Pennsylvania, but many of the other movies he discusses are unfamiliar to me. Now I’d like to see Ace in the Hole (1951), Nashville (1975), and several others he includes. Being introduced to these new-to-me movies is part of what makes this a great book, but most of all I appreciate Gareth’s observations and cultural commentary. Originally from Northern Ireland and now living in the US, Gareth has a unique perspective–keenly observant, sometimes irreverent, always thought-provoking.
I found the book uneven though, with Pennsylvania and Rocky much more well-developed over half a dozen pages than, say, Connecticut or Washington State which are discussed in barely a page and a half each. On Washington State and McCabe and Mrs Miller, Gareth says, “America’s contemporary economy would be unthinkable without Washington—if it fell into the sea and took Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks with it, would there even be a contemporary American economy?” That’s a tantalizing comment, and I wish the thought were developed further.
If you love movies–and who doesn’t?–you’ll love this book. See for yourself by reading a sample chapter here, or even better, listen to the recording of Gareth reading a portion of his book at Greenbelt in his wonderful Irish accent.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Speakeasy blogging book review network in exchange for an honest review.
Other posts related to my Mennonite Church Canada Learning Tour: