Entertainment That Enlightens 1


Today I thought I'd share some books, movies and podcasts with you. Like anyone else, I love being entertained. I go through phases where I only read textbooks, then sometimes I only want fiction. I've noticed that even when I'm only reading fiction I still seem to always get something more from the book, though. Right now I'm in a fiction phase, pointedly ignoring the dozens of textbooks I have piling up. Yet I still want to share the good ones with you because they are much deeper than just a light read. I also thought it was high time to share my favorite podcasts and some great movies with you. What all these things have in common, aside from being entertaining, is that they are all enlightening too. Bonus! :D

So let's start with podcasts. A couple years ago I finally realized that even though most people love music, I don't care for it much. I prefer listening to people talk about interesting or funny things. Most of the time when I'm working on the computer, I like it quiet. If I'm designing t-shirts, I listen to Ricky Gervais' podcasts which are really funny and quirky. But whenever I clean or cook I like to have people talk to me. So I am always looking for great podcasts. I love learning interesting things, so most of these are science oriented.

My Favorite Podcasts:

  • The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe: Intelligent, witty, always interesting. My favorite podcast. I look forward to the new episode every week. Great stuff!

  • The Skeptics' Guide 5x5: Only 5 minutes long, it briefly covers one topic. A good companion to the SGU.

  • The Naked Scientists: British, intelligent and always chock full of science and interesting stuff.

  • Ask the Naked Scientists: This is a podcast dedicated to answering any kind of science questions. They know just about everything. I always learn cool stuff here.

  • Freethought Radio: I have taken a break from this one, but I still get them. I find them a bit overbearing sometimes, but when it comes to religion, it's usually good to know what's going on in the world. They are always talking about their billboard campaign though, which personally I think isn't nearly as amazing as they do.

  • Quirks & Quarks: A Canadian podcast about science. I find they have good interviews on new science before most other podcasts, but that might just be the schedule or something.

  • Reasonable Doubts: I'm new to this podcast which a friend just told me about a month ago. He said, it's the SGU but about religion instead of science. These three guys know their stuff and I get a lot out of each episode. It's for people who don't just take things on faith.

  • Science Talk: Scientific American's podcast. Quite enjoyable and educational.

  • Ricky Gervais: His podcasts are pretty funny. He has an infectious laugh. I love his Guides To stuff. He and his friends Steve Merchant and the irrepressible Karl Pilkington are just perfect together. I literally laugh out loud sometimes.

  • Breaking Science: I am just downloading all of the episodes of this podcast right this very minute. I found it while getting links for the other podcasts. It's from the Naked Scientists, so I am sure I'll like it. :)

Enlightening Movies I've Seen Recently:

The Day of the Triffids: Ok, stick with me. Back in the early 80's the BBC did a mini-series based on the book of the same name. I read it when I was young but my nearly perfect husband Butch wanted to watch this for some reason, so I sighed dramatically, expecting to hate it. The special effects are pretty awful, but they are used sparingly. The Triffids are actually not half bad. But the acting is quite good. I recently got the book and will read it when Butch is done with it. Why I recommend it is because it's one of those movies that makes you think about how we do things and what would happen if almost everyone were struck blind.  I found the way people reacted was fascinating. Most people wanted to wait for help to come. They just knew it would be there soon. Anyway, it's a very good social commentary.

City of Ember: This was another strange choice by Butch. Again, when I saw the cover and read the description, I sighed dramatically and figured it was going to be pretty sucky. Well, wasn't I surprised! The acting is great, the story is different and interesting, and the deeper messages are excellent. While it's for young adults, I found it to be a hidden gem. It's based on a book by the same name, which I just started reading today.  The social commentary is subtle, but if you decide to watch it, just pay attention to how people react and what they say. That's the real meat of this movie. I won't say much else. I hope you'll like it if you give it a chance.

Great Books I've Read Recently:

The Heathen's Guide to World Religions: This is the last text I've read. It's a short book but quite comprehensive and interesting. You can get this from Amazon but if you get it directly from the author it's much more affordable, probably because the writer gets to keep more of the profit, which is a good thing. This book irreverently looks at all of the major world religions in just the right amount of detail and wit. The only thing that I can complain about is the book should have gone through another proofreader before printing. That kind of stuff is really irritating, but even so, it's totally worth reading if you want to know the history and some very  good information about each world religion. I learned a lot and laughed out loud several times while doing so.

His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass): Wow, wow and wow. We saw the movie awhile ago and it was very good. I decided I wanted to read the book and found out it was a trilogy. While the movie was interesting and well done, the books were excellent. I just finished the last one yesterday. I have to say I'm glad I watched the movie first, because it helped me flesh out the books. But now I want to see the movie again so that it will make it even better. The movie is pretty faithful to the first book. But the book is much richer and deeper, and goes further than where the movie leaves off. I went to Philip Pullman's website yesterday (the author) and he says it doesn't look like they'll make the other 2 movies which is a huge disappointment to me. While the first book touches on some interesting subjects, the 2 following books tackle everything from quantum physics and parallel worlds to the world of god, angels, the world of the dead, the church and so much more. I originally watched the movie because of the controversy. I heard that Philip Pullman wrote the books because he felt the Chronicles of Narnia were shallow attempts at indoctrinating children into christianity. (that's my wording, not his). And they are. I remember when I read them in my 20's I was totally disgusted when it suddenly became clear that Aslan was god or jesus or whatever. It seemed like a shallow and shameless attempt to sucker children into the church. Mr. Pullman is an atheist. Which makes reading the Dark Materials trilogy even more interesting. I won't tell you any specifics but trust me, these books are excellent and well worth the read. Fascinating, thought provoking, page turning excellence.

What I'm Reading Now:

The City of Ember:This is a young adult novel that I just started reading today. So far it's very good. It's an easy read, but interesting. It seems that the movie is quite faithful to the book, which I always appreciate. This is the first in a series of 4 books. I read the reviews in the front, and one in particular was helpful. The book (and the movie) basically give a very minimal explanation for why the City of Ember was created over 200 years ago. The movie never really explains, but the review of the book says that the reader finds out as the characters start to learn it themselves. So there is a mystery that will unfold, I gather. Part of the deeper message is that the people of Ember seem to have lost their curiosity, or maybe their circumstances forced them to give it up, I'm not sure yet. Anyway, I didn't want to put the book down, so that's a good sign.

Ok, so that's what I've been reading, watching and listening to. Do you have any suggestions you'd like to share? I look forward to your comments, as always!


  1. Ooo! What a perfect post for today! My daughter and I just started watching City of Ember last night and, because it was bedtime, had to stop halfway through. She SOOO didn't want to stop watching because we both were so into it. Very much fun! I also put the books in my Amazon shopping cart to purchase because of the movie. :-)

    As for the His Dark Materials trilogy, I'd read that years ago (and listened to the audio tape before the movie was released) and have to say that it's probably one of my favorite books. It's wonderfully written, exciting, has great, fleshed-out characters that you really care about (I got chocked up at numerous points!), and an underlying message that is more anti-authoritarian than anti-religious, though an argument could be made that those are one and the same. ;-)

    Another book I loved was Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, which has some religious overtones (I don't want to say too much because it's been a LONG time since I read it!). I remember the main character starting a religion where they greeted each other by saying, "Thou art God."

    I seem to remember his book "I Will Fear No Evil" as very good, too, with existential ideas, but it's been a long time since I read that one as well.

    And, of course, any book with zombies is life-changingly enlightening... obviously. ;-P

  2. I loved City of Ember too. It was a surprisingly good movie and I've got the book in my "to read" stack.

    I am a HUGE fan of the Dark Materials trilogy, and was thoroughly disappointed by the movie, which I also happened to work on. As we were progressing through all of the shots, what started out as a totally cool movie ended up getting cut, reshot and eventually watered down to what it is now.

    I'm reading World War Z, which is interesting, and I just finished Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce. She's a great writer.

    I have a love/hate relationship with FFRF and Freethought Radio. While I admire what they do with their foundation with regards to lawsuits fighting separation of church and state, they both seem a little too much into the atheism thing. If it weren't for the fact that they have been doing this for more than twenty years, I'd say they were new recruits because of their intensity against theism. I also hate Dan's music.

    I really like the Non-profits. It's a roundtable discussion that is usually pretty interesting and all of the guys are great at conveying their message in a succinct and evenhanded manner.

  3. Let me rephrase that "too much into the atheism thing," because I'm into the atheism thing myself. It's more like they define themselves by their atheism and for them it's all consuming. I'm actually having a tough time trying to figure out what it is about them that feels so off. Unlike other atheists I admire, like Dawkins, Hitchens, the Non-Profits, Daniel Florian and others, Annie-Laurie seems mean-spirited about her non-belief and Dan just follows along.

    Sorry for being so vague.

  4. I feel the same way, Steve (AND I agree about Dan's music. LOL!). It seems that they're more focused on atheism than they are on separation of church and state issues. Their lawsuits are spot on, but the discussions on Freethought Radio tend more toward the atheism/anti-theism side.

  5. I'll have to agree with you about The Golden Compass. Having read the books first, I knew what was going on, but I could tell that someone unfamiliar with the material would either be completely lost or would miss the main concepts of Lyra's world. It's actually a bit of a relief to me when you say that everything went from "cool movie" to getting reshot and cut-down into the shell that made the screen. I'm glad it wasn't written the abbreviated way from the get-go.

    That aside, I liked the casting... except for Ian McKellan as Iorek. I always heard (in my mind when reading the book) a much rougher, less refined voice for him. More growl, less Brit. ;-) I'd love to hear your stories about the set and the shooting!

  6. Oh, I don't have THAT sexy job. I was one of five animation supervisors responsible for teams of twenty working on all the shoulder daemons. Anyone with an animal partner was our work, and Pantalaimon was the hardest one (because he had so many different forms...). I also supervised the end sequence (where Lyra's Dad kills Roger, which eventually got cut. It might make it in the extended version DVD, if the studio thinks it can make some money with it). There was a day when we literally lost half of our shot count, and the shots were already finished.

  7. It doesn't matter who the guest is.
    "So," says Annie-Laurie. "How did YOU become an atheist?"


    I think that's another reason I'm not such a big fan... Most of the people I know liked the books, hated the movie. But because it was so anti-religion (I mean, come on, they're on a quest to kill god...) these two kept saying how awesome it was. Religious people say the same thing about Fireproof, and it too is a horrible film.

  8. Hey Dan,
    Let me know what you think of the Ember books. I only got the first one, which I'm almost through already. I will probably order the rest of the series later today.

    The Dark Materials trilogy was fantastic, probably the best series of books I've ever read, honestly. I agree, it's really about fighting against authority, especially when its corrupt. That includes the church, of course. I am thinking of ordering Lyra's Oxford by Pullman which takes place 2 years after the end of the trilogy.

    Oh, Robert Heinlein is a awesome too. I read Stranger in a Strange Land and just about everything he wrote (which is a lot) when I was in my teens and 20's. He dealt with some interesting concepts. I don't remember anyone starting a religion, but then again, I probably wouldn't have noticed it back then, because I was still a default xian.

    My husband will read anything to do with zombies. The Z Wars was his last one. And the guide to zombies or something like that was very good, he said. He talks jokiningly about when the zombies come, where we'll make our bunker and stuff. It's funny.

  9. Let me know what you think of the Ember books. They are definitely for younger readers than His Dark Materials.

    Well, I think I'm glad I saw the Golden Compass before I read the books, because that way I really enjoyed the movie. Since you know what they cut out and how they watered it down, yeah, I understand how you'd hate it. It was watered down. And it ended before the book. Which you're right, really sucks.

    Butch (my husband) read World War Z and the previous books of that author. He really liked them. Like I told Dan above, he learned a lot. Now when we're out he says, "we could use that house or that building as our bunker when the zombies come". Cracks me up every time. :P

    I'll look into Tamora Pierce. I'm always game for new authors.

    I know what you mean about Freethought Radio. They are rather intense, but in a pitbull kind of way, where they latch on and won't let go... or something. It's hard to pin down why it's so irritating. And they sing their own praises A LOT. I can't stand that. And Dan's music is horrible! YUCK.

    The Non-profits? Never heard of them. I guess I'll have to Google them. Thanks for sharing! :D

  10. Yeah, she is rather bitterly mean spirited or something. Again, how they sing their own praises also drives me nuts. And how he still refers to himself as a reverend or pastor or whatever his title is.. that bothers me too, a LOT.
    It's pretty obvious that I'm really into the atheism thing too, but as a whole critical thinking thing, etc. I don't hate god. It almost seems like she does.

  11. Right, Dan. I'm glad they are there, because of the lawsuits, but the show is all about anti-religion. And as I said to Steve, Dan's music is awful. I usually skip it. But now that I'm thinking about it, I think I'll just delete the podcast. I really don't want to listen to it anymore.

  12. The casting was great. Lyra and Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel were all excellent. Now that you mention it, Iorek really should have had more of a gravelly voice, you're right. Definitely should have been rougher.

  13. Well that sounds wicked sexy to ME, Steve! They really shouldn't have cut the last bit. I hope they add it back in when they grow a spine. The religious people really did freak out about the movie, didn't they? Do you think that's why they watered it down so much and cut the ending out? Lame.
    I would love to see a director's cut. If you hear of one coming out, let us know!

  14. I see your point. Defending and praising something just because it falls into a concept you support is lame.

  15. Hooray for zombies! Kudos to your hubby! Everyone should be prepared for zombie armageddon. It's starting right now, but they're covering it up by claiming it's "Swine Flu" or something. LOL! ;-)

    I just finished reading "Day by Day Armageddon" which is in a journal format. I thought it was really, really good. A good friend of mine and I always give each other zombie-related gifts on our birthdays. Ha!

    Fun stuff. :-)

  16. No, they didn't cut it for the religious folks. The head honcho's at the studio didn't want to end the movie on such a downer. Roger Explodes. The End. They wanted it to end uplifting-like.


    They did temper the religion thing a bit for demographic purposes (they didn't want to alienate half their audience...) but that was mainly semantics.

  17. Ah, good to know. Thanks Steve! Let us know if they ever decide to make the other movies!

  18. Hey Neece,

    Glad you like Reasonable doubts. I wish it would update more often I am caught up on the back episodes.
    Have you listened to the Chariots of Iron podcast? There is a group over at Atheist Nexis and the three guys that do it are all members over there. Along similar lines in that it is, in their words, an "Atheiskeptihumanist" podcast. It's kinda funny.
    I think it's funny how everyone is coming down on Freethought Radio, I just started listening to that one a couple weeks ago and while I get what people here have been saying I think what I like least about it is just the radio show format. That means when I listen to a few in a row (which I do) there is a lot of filler and repeat promo stuff. Having said that, I still find the interviews pretty interesting.
    Also, I don't find them "too into the atheism thing" not in a aggressive abrasive way anyway. If anything I find them so saccharine I think I will go into a diabetic comma sometimes. I prefer my anti-theist more like Hitchens. Surly, and maybe a little drunk.

    P.S. Saw City of Ember, liked it but heard the book is better. Have the Pullman trilogy on deck but am currently reading Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby.

  19. Hi Charles!
    I have heard of Chariots of Iron. I listened to the first episode but I couldn't find any way to subscribe with iTunes so I just kind of forgot about them. So I should put more effort into getting their podcasts then?

    I see what you're saying about the saccharine thing. Yeah, very far away from the likes of Hitchens! LOL

    I have to say with City of Ember, the movie is actually much better than the book.

    I've heard Jacoby is a good read.