“EXILE: A MYTH UNEARTHED”— Rethinking a Biblical Myth?

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“Exile: a Myth Unearthed”

Rethinking a Biblical Myth?

Amos Lassen

Ilan Ziv’s new documentary, “Exile, A Myth Unearthed” looks at the exile of the Jewish people from the land of what is now modern Israel. According to history and Jewish theology, the Jews were exiled in the first century AD, following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This has been a major theme and depicted in artwork and lamented in poetry and prayer for nearly 2,000 years. But what if it never happened? This provocative film looks at the exile through the lenses of archaeology, history, myth and religion and asks what it means for our understanding of history and the contemporary struggle over land in the Middle East.

“Exile” looks at new evidence that suggests the majority of the Jewish people may not have been exiled following the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and asks us to rethink about an event that has played a critical role in the Christian and Jewish traditions.

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The myth of exile is an essential narrative in Middle Eastern and European history, and of critical importance to both Christian and Jewish theology. The possibility that some Jews simply remained where they lived raises some uncomfortable questions. Could some Palestinians actually be their descendants?

The issues raised in this film are of more than passing historical interest-they can help us re-shape the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a new way, and illustrate that history can shape our future.

“K2: SIREN OF THE HIMALAYAS”— Getting to the Top

K2

“K2: SIREN OF THE HIMALAYAS”

Getting to the Top

Amos Lassen

 “K2: Siren of the Himalayas” looks at the history and geography of the legendary Karakoram Range while at the same time considers the risks and rewards of modern-day exploration. The second highest peak on Earth, K2 is also one of the most dangerous and “for every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying.” Yet this is a movie of unbelievable beauty as well as adventure. It does not fully answer the question of what there are those who want to try to reach the world’s second highest peak but it certainly tries. The answer is one I do not think we will ever get.

Director Dave Ohlson looks at two world-class Alpinists who team up to try to reach K2, which we now know to be the most dangerous peak in the world. The expedition took place as a tribute to the 100th anniversary of an expedition led by the Duke of Abruzzi. The film follows a group of mountain climbers, namely, Fabrizio Zangrilli, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Jake Meyer and Chris Szymiec, as they try to ascend Mount K2 in the world in hopes of reaching the summit or at least beating the record of 7,654 meters set by The Duke of Abruzzi back in the early 20th Century. These men and women risk their lives for doing what they do and they love it. This is a film that is inspiring and thrilling to watch as these people ascend the mountain and brave the elements.. The footage that Ohlson captures is breathtaking and no Hollywood production would be able to attempt or even copy. It is thoroughly captivating to watch and I am sure it is that much better on a big screen.


DVD Extras include a short Film: “After K2” • extended Interviews • a deleted Scene: “Death on Broad Peak” • bonus clips

“Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits – and Won” by Marc Solomon— The Legalization of Same-sex Marriage

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Solomon, Marc. “Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits – and Won”, ForeEdge, 2014.

The Legalization of Same-sex Marriage

Amos Lassen

Most gay men my age are still stunned by what has happened in this country regarding gay rights. For me it is really shocking since I was raised in the South where being gay is certainly not easy. When we think that just ten years ago there was not a single state in the United States that allowed same sex couples to marry yet today there are seventeen that do, it is almost too hard to grasp. Nowadays polls show majority support for gay marriage and almost three-fourths of Americans believe that legalization is inevitable.

Marc Solomon was one of the early leaders in the movement for marriage equality and in “Winning Marriage”, his new book, he takes us to “the strategy-setting and decision-making table in the campaign to win and protect the freedom to marry”. Many times a book like this could be quite boring but this is far from it and every word and every sentence was perfectly chosen to give us what we need to know but also to provide us with a meaningful and well written reading experience. He shows us what went on behind-the-scenes— “the inner workings of the advocacy movement that has championed and protected advances won in legislative, court, and electoral battles over the decade since the landmark Massachusetts ruling guaranteeing marriage for same-sex couples for the first time”. I cannot say how much I appreciate this especially since I now am a citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Unfortunately I was not here when the whole business took place but after reading this, I feel that I understand exactly what went on.

Solomon takes us “from the gritty battles in the state legislatures of Massachusetts and New York to the devastating loss at the ballot box in California in 2008 and subsequent ballot wins in 2012 to the joyous victories of securing President Obama’s support and prevailing in the Supreme Court”. He was there and at the center of the entire program. Here is the struggle with some very tough opponents—fundamentalist Christians, the Catholic Church, the religious right, ultraconservative politicians and operatives and yet the movement was triumphant. This is not just Marc Solomon’s story, although the tells it beautifully, it is America’s coming-of-age story. Solomon knows so much because he was there and his voice is the voice of authority, commitment and reason. It is also the voice of pride. Here we see America changing and changing rapidly.
Solomon gives us the accurate details that we need to know if we really want to understand what went down. He shows us that the best approach to have used was one that was both disciplined and intelligent. There have been other books written about how same-sex marriage came into being and I have read most of them so I feel qualified in saying that this is the best written and easiest to understand of them all. The details are here but they enhance rather than become troublesome and more important than anything else is that this book inspires us to keep working for justice and equality for all people. Solomon’s story is absorbing and amazing and when we look at the timeline in black and white on the page it is totally astounding and takes our breath away.

It is important to note that this is not just the story of the successes—it is the story of a battle that includes mistakes and failures. Even though we know how it all ends, we are still pulled into the story and I believe that because it is a personal story it is that much more interesting.

I am including here a look at the table of contents so that you can see that Solomon has done his work well and leaves nothing out.

  • Foreword by Governor Deval Patrick

  • Author’s Note

  • Prologue

  • MASSACHUSETTS

  • The Decision Heard ’round the World

  • Tying the Knot

  • Do-or-Die Elections

  • Organizing for the Fight

  • Defying Gravity

  • Sealing the Deal

  • NEW YORK
  • How Did This Happen?

  • Cuomo

  • The Republicans

  • Sealing the Deal (Redux)

  • WINNING AT THE BALLOT

  • Losing California

  • Preparing for the Ballot

  • The Final Stretch

  • A PRESIDENTIAL JOURNEY
  • Fierce Advocate?

  • Evolving

  • Cementing a Legacy

  • COURTING JUSTICE

  • Courting Justice

  • Epilogue

  • Acknowledgments

  • State Victories and Other Key Milestones, 2003–2013

  • Index

 

“MARC SOLOMON is the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry where he directs programs to win marriage nationwide. In 13 years of work on marriage equality, he has led the campaign to protect marriage in Massachusetts and played key roles in New York, Illinois, California, New Hampshire, Maine, and elsewhere. He has innovated programs to make advances with both the Democratic and Republican Parties, and has led efforts to enlist elected officials and business leaders to the cause. He is a regular media spokesperson—on television and radio and in print”.

“Penthouse Variations on Oral: Erotic Stories of Going Down” edited by Barbara Pizio— The Debut of a New Series from Cleis

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Pizio, Barbara (editor). “Penthouse Variations on Oral: Erotic Stories of Going Down”, Cleis Press, 2014.

The Debut of a New Series from Cleis

Amos Lassen

I really never thought about improving my oral sex techniques until I read this new book from Barbara Pizio and Cleis Press. Now I feel like a novice even though I have been enjoying oral sex for a very long time and this proves what I have always thought and that it that we are never too old to learn something new.

Let’s face it, “great oral sex can be mind-blowing (not my pun), life-changing and create memories that will last a lifetime”. Here is the debut book in a new series that is inspired by Penthouse Variations Magazine and in this volume the emphasis is on oral sex and the pleasures it brings. It is as if to say (and I totally agree) that a good blowjob is the height of eroticism… and that comes both from giving and receiving. When a person gives head, he or she takes in “the essence, taste, smell and sexy up-closeness of a lover” and just that act by itself is a powerful aphrodisiac that affects us in three ways– physically, mentally and emotionally. Having a partner in one’s mouth lets the giver feel the desire and passion as well as allows him/her to see it in the other’s eyes.

This new book allows us to see the many ways that oral sex can be an act of love, “tenderness, devotion or just pure sex” and as a result we can sense the emotion and the sensuality that goes right along with it. This is a sexy read of twenty-two explicit stories that are there to be enjoyed and to perhaps teach us something new. Contributors include familiar names and new writers—Alison Tyler, Justin Lewis, William McLoughlin, Molly Webster, Brian Gardner, Maria King, Matthew Emerson, Evan Wilcox, Andy Kessler, Tammy Smalls, Gary Holmes, Sonia Choi, Dana Travis, Bethany Fisher, Elisa Nolan, Chloe Parker, Adam Vane, Nancy Richman, David Carlson, Fiona Hoffman, Peter Berman and Mike Schwimmer. There is also a wonderful introduction by Barbara Pizio, the editor.

There is something for everyone in this volume and it is very sexy and the contributions are well written. In fact some of the stories are so real that there were times when I felt that I was not totally alone while reading.

Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad

 

Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad

NEW YORK, NY – Oct. 23, 2014 – Facebook canceled ads purchased for the new book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” this week because the images “may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers.”

The book features art by Doug Blanchard showing Jesus as a gay man in a modern city, including the crucifixion and resurrection.

“We are fighting what appears to be censorship and discrimination based on sexual orientation at Facebook,” said author Kittredge Cherry.

Blanchard suspects that complaints from religious conservatives scared Facebook into canceling the ads. He bought the ads to promote the book’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/GayPassion

“The book is indeed controversial, but its intentions are not blasphemous, there is no sexual content, and the violence is unavoidable in any retelling of Christ’s Passion,” he said.

The artist, author and publisher contacted Lambda Legal over the matter.

The ads were supposed to run for a week starting on Oct. 17, but Facebook shut down the promotion on Monday, Oct. 20. A message from Facebook explained, “Your ad wasn’t approved because the image or video thumbnail may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers.”

Blanchard complained to Facebook, and they sent a surprising reply on Wed., Oct 22: “Your ad was rejected because the image violates the Ad Guidelines. Ads may not use images that are shocking. Prohibited images include: -Accidents -Car crashes -Dead or dismembered bodies -Ghosts, zombies, ghouls and vampires.”

One purpose of the book is to reawaken people to the reality that violence is unacceptable and shocking. But the artist and author believe that Facebook is being unfair in how it applies its policy.

“Facebook publishes crucifixes all the time, which would always violate the criteria that they lay out in their reply,” Blanchard said. “Why was our book singled out? I suspect strongly that it is because of the gay content.”

Cherry invited people to show support by “liking” the page that Facebook won’t let them advertise: https://www.facebook.com/GayPassion.

In the book’s 24 paintings, a contemporary Christ figure is jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes, and rises again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God. His diverse friends join him on a journey from suffering to freedom. Each image is accompanied by an essay on its artistic and historical context, Biblical basis and LGBT significance.

Douglas Blanchard is a gay artist who teaches art and art history at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian author and art historian who founded JesusInLove.org, an online resource for LGBT spirituality and the arts. She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches.

“The Passion of Christ” (ISBN 194067140X) was published this month by the Apocryphile Press, a publisher based in Berkeley.

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* Book website: www.passionofchristbook.com
* Artist website: www.douglas-blanchard.fineartamerica.com
* Author website: www.jesusinlove.org
* Publisher website: www.apocryphile.org

Contacts:
Kittredge Cherry, kitt@JesusInLove.org
Doug Blanchard, counterlight@earthlink.net

“FIRST COMES LOVE”— Getting Pregnant

first comes love

“First Comes Love”

Getting Pregnant

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Nina Davenport was single and forty-one years old when she decided to have a baby on her own. She disregarded the odds that were against her including the high cost of living in New York City, She enlisted her friend Amy as a birth partner and asked her gay friend Eric to be a sperm donor. Of course she wrestled with the idea of what it means to create a new life and how it would affect her hopes for a future relationship.

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This is an autobiographical movie and it looks at the various issues Nina faces as her biological clock ticks down. She goes through the dating scene looking for a husband and father for the child that she wants to have and ultimately decides on in vitro and she does by convincing one of her friends to donate his sperm. We see that she is surrounded by friends and family as she moves toward her goal of motherhood. Just as they indeed give her real support, there are also those who feel skeptical about what she is doing. In fact, her father outright rejects the idea. Ultimately she has her child and she and her son seem to have that “I told you so” attitude.

There are some very interesting aspects of the film such as when Nine re-examines her childhood and her relationship with her parents but there is also a good deal of self-obsession here.

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What we really see is how the modern family is being re-imagined in the early twenty-first century. I felt, at times, as if I was watching a case study of the filmmaker. She is candid about the trials that women go through to get pregnant, give birth and then deal with raising the child and we do get a new appreciation for mothers.

“WHEN MY SORROW DIED: The Legend of Armen Ra & the Theremin”— His Journey

when my sorrow died

“When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra & the Theremin”

His Journey

Amos Lassen

Just who is Theremin master Armen Ra? He is eccentric and enigmatic and he takes us with him on his journey that mixes together concert performances, candid interviews and archival material as well as music that has the ability to make everything look beautiful. His creativity is life defining and soul saving and it is the core of this biographical look at the man. This is a candid look at some of the key moments in his Ra’s personal growth and we see just how much of an enigma he is as he talks with an off-camera interviewer. We learn of a life lived as an outsider, initially by society’s design then ultimately on his own terms.

Ra was born into a minority in Iran where the threat of persecution was always present. He suffered from violent bullying at his new American high school and while it was painful it helped define his self-worth. His acceptance among the LGBT community of New York City was reaffirming but substance abuse stifled his growth. It was not until he managed to reach a degree of sobriety that he became one of the greatest living proponents of the ethereal electronic instrument.

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Ra’s fine features and feminine curves made him a drag superstar and Robert Nazar Arjoyan’s camera captures all his charms, both physical and intellectual. Often appearing to be at one with the lushly glamorous set design against which he is framed (and which he personally compiled for the film), the enigmatic musician lays bare periods of drug and alcohol consumption. His fateful take on how the theremin came into his life and set about redefining his very existence is deeply affecting.

Interspersed with Ra’s recollections is intimately staged concert footage that captures the prowess and precision required to be a master of the seven octave theremin, the only instrument played by not touching it and the first electronic musical device invented.

“When My Sorrow Died” is a look at the emergence of a man in the guise of an artist, of a life made richer by reconciliation with one’s demons. Arjoyan’s detailed, heartfelt ode to a musical genius is also a look at a unique individual searching for and ultimately finding a path to acceptance and understanding. Armen Ra’s journey and talent deserves a film that transcends the concert film genre and Arjoyan delivers on that with graceful style. 

“FOUCAULT AGAINST HIMSELF”— The Genius

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“Foucault Against Himself”

The Genius

Amos Lassen

Michel Foucault was one of the great minds of the 20th century and he is also my personal hero. He wrote about whatever he wanted and he did so brilliantly. He covered madness, sexuality, pleasure, the classics, law and penal institutions—he was a renaissance man at a time when there was no renaissance. I had the pleasure of studying with him in Paris the year before his death to AIDS and for me it was akin to sitting at the feet of a great mind and an unpredictable mind at that. He said, “Don’t ask me who I am, and don’t tell me to remain the same.” The extent of his thought and his mind were astonishing and he has left his mark as Foucaldian philosophy is still being studied widely.

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Foucault was able to bridge the roles of the intellectual and the activist—he attained the highest honors of the French academy and used his position to attack the very power that gave him a platform. This documentary comes to us from director François Caillat and is divided into four chapters: Foucault’s critique of psychiatry, his work on the history of sexuality, the growth of his radicalism arising from his research into the French penal system, the nature of knowledge and underlying structures of human behavior, and his immersion in American counter-cultural movements; particularly the resistance to certain social structures that he found among sexual minority communities in San Francisco.

We hear from leading philosophers, sociologists and historians among them is Leo Bersani, who first invited Foucault to speak at UC Berkeley – as well as footage of Foucault himself and French and American archival material depicting events that profoundly influenced him.

Foucault profoundly opposed the notion of small fiefdoms of knowledge. His approach was eclectic (a philosopher writing extensively about history and surveying prisoners on their living conditions, to give two examples) and wide-ranging. Philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman calls him an intellectual “nomad… crossing the territorial boundaries of knowledge.”

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Certain themes or threads can be found in Foucault’s writings—the critique of institutional power and the celebration of resistance – but his work is also filled with fragmentary thoughts and contradictions. We must thank him for his idea that “Knowledge is Power”.

The film beautifully captures the energy and the intellect of Michel Foucault and it introduces us to the key ideas and elements of his philosophy. It also acknowledges and celebrations the many contradictions within his writings.

“WHEN COMEDY WENT TO SCHOOL”— The Catskills and Comedy

when comedy went to school

“When Comedy Went to School”

The Catskills and Comedy

Amos Lassen

Modern stand-up comedy began in the Catskill Mountains where many Jewish-American comedians got their starts. The 1950s were not an exciting decade but it did bring us some of the best stand-up comedy that America has ever had. It was the golden age of comedy and most of the comedians were Jewish—Jackie Mason, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Mort Sahl and Jerry Stiller all came into being comically at this time. Most of the comedians that we see here are Jewish. The great Catskill hotels back then included Grossingers, Kutschers, the Concord and Laurel in the Pines among others. They were all in upstate New York and close to each other. Woody Allen got his start here as did the others already mentioned. This is not just Jewish humor we see but American Jewish humor. We see interviews with some of the greats and we see part of their acts. Now with the advent of the internet, Jewish humor is everyone’s humor and that adds to the appeal of the film.

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 There is a great tradition in American comedy of Jewish performers, men and women who conquered the funny business with exceptional wit, timing, and stage presence, triumphing over prejudice and intense competition to become legendary names. For comedians such as Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, and Jackie Mason, it all began in the Catskill Mountains, a sprawling landscape of natural beauty that developed into a beloved tourist destination during the 20th century. The documentary “When Comedy Went to School” delves into the story of resort life, where Jewish families gathered to feast, mingle, and enjoy up and coming comedians hungry for the spotlight.

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 Directed by Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank, “When Comedy Went to School” is a love letter to an era of talent and recreation, where Catskill resorts were the primary destination for any New Yorker desperate to escape the blistering heat of the summer. The documentary looks at the growth of the area as a getaway for the Jewish population, a community pushed away by discrimination common in the 1930s and ‘40s. The Catskills offered a welcome remoteness from the cruelty of the world, and provided an atmosphere for the growth of a sense of unity and home. There was plenty of food and the amenities were great but it was the nightlife was people remember with love.

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Robert Klein is the host of this documentary that shows the tremendous talent that was and that came out of the Catskills. It was there that Jerry Lewis received his first laugh as a five-year-old boy. He went on to slapstick waiter bits as a teenager, cleaning up on tips as audiences loved his special brand of humor. Sid Caesar was nothing less than a king during this time period, graduating from Vaudeville to the Catskill stages, where his jokes and playfulness with the audience made him a crowd favorite. Buddy Hackett, Jerry Stiller, Rodney Dangerfield, and Jackie Mason were all there and each contributed to the discovery of what they could do and to whom and when.There are no great revelations in this film and there are really no surprises.This is a low-budget film and it seems a bit unfinished and unprofessional but these all make it endearing.

The DVD extras include 5 Shorts (“Newsreel” • “She’s More to be Pitied” • “Friar’s Club Roundtable” • “Mrs. Schwartz Comes Back” • “The Future of the Catskills”).

“Missing Person” by Patrick Modiano— Searching for Identity

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Modiano, Patrick. “Missing Person” (“Verba Mundi”), translated by Daniel Weissbort, David RGodine , 2004.

Searching for Identity

Amos Lassen

Patrick Modiano brings us a man in pursuit of the identity he lost in the murky days of the Paris Occupation that is here referred to as, the black hole of French memory. For ten years Guy Roland has lived without a past. His current life and name were given to him by his recently retired boss, Hutte, who welcomed him, a onetime client, into his detective agency. Guy uses Hutte’s files as well as his directories, yearbooks, and papers of all kinds going back half a century but he has few leads. Could he really be the young man remembered by some as a South American attaché? Maybe he was someone else—maybe he is disappeared scion of a prominent local family. He interviews strangers and is half-clues tantalize him until, finally, he finds something that leads him through the maze of his own repressed experience.

At first I thought I was reading a detective thriller but I realized that this book has another level. It is also a meditation on the nature of self and as that it is haunting. It is not just the story that pulls the reader in; it is also the lush prose of Modiano that has been beautifully translated by Daniel Weissbort, draws his readers into the intoxication of a rare literary experience.

Some thirty years ago, this book won the Prix Goncourt (before it was translated into English). It was then described as an “elliptical, engrossing rumination on the essence of identity and the search for self. It is set in postwar Paris and follows an amnesiac now known as Guy Roland. When his boss retired, Roland set out to find his past. He conducted this most personal of investigations and began to suspect that he might have used multiple identities and these caused him to live a mysteriously compartmentalized existence. He might even have been fleeing the German occupation when his memory was wiped away. Is it through Roland’s explorations that we understand the author’s observation that we all live in a world where “the sand keeps the traces of our footsteps only a few moments.” The human is driven to preserve those footsteps for as long as he breathes.

Modiano’s uses the subjects of mystery and horror, indicating them without outwardly talking about them and as he does he opens the doors to the past. What makes the book so wonderful is that it is so vague. Europe becomes a maze and Roland walks around inside of it. There are no points of references and no orientation but there is a sense of confidence.

 The first few lines had me hooked and I found it hard to understand that this book was originally published in 1978 (in French) yet it is still very relevant today. The idea is simple—a detective, suffering from amnesia, sets out to recover his identity, following a variety of strange leads. “I am nothing. Nothing but a pale shape, silhouetted that evening against the café terrace, waiting for the rain to stop; the shower had started when Hutte left me.” In just three words, the first sentence has us asking questions.

Patrick Modiano is the first important French novelist to investigate the memory of Vichy and the recovery of life in a post War France. The concept is totally implausible— Modiano is less interested in the mechanism of Guy’s search for self than in what that search will reveal. The detective will follow a number of clues, each time finding somebody who will give him a tiny part of his story, but not the whole of it. Almost all his informants seem glad to talk with him; they invite him to their homes and give him boxes of souvenirs to go away with. This, even as Guy himself is having to pose as someone else to gain their confidence, trying on one possible role after another, as he gradually works out who he must be. And, as he does so, he begins to have flashes of memory of his own.

 Modiano has said publicly that many of his novels use memory to explore the experience of his father, who was Jewish but survived the occupation. That does not appear to be the specific theme here, although references to “those years of night” crop up increasingly among the protagonist’s informants. Whatever interpretation one chooses to give to the book shows that the reader has been impressed with what he read and to me that is one of the qualities of literature—it makes us think.