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Wednesday, 29 August 2007 00:00

Recommended diversions

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He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Ah, the old TV cartoons from childhood...The Smurfs. The Super Friends. Scooby Dooby Doo. Remember when predictable heroes could save the day and still provide us with a few corny jokes?

I was recently scrounging around a discount DVD bin when I came across “The Best of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” — a two-disc set that includes the ten best episodes of the show as rated by fans plus documentary features and trivia about the He-Man series. This old school favorite still packs a punch.

Adam, prince of Eternia, has a secret identity. When trouble is near, he holds up his Sword of Power to the sky and bellows, “By the power of Grayskull, I have the power!” which instantly brings lightning down to transform him into the muscle-bound barbarian of super-human strength known as He-Man, the strongest man in the universe. His sidekick steed — the green, yellow-striped tiger aptly named Cringer — becomes the ferocious, intrepid Battle Cat. Together with weapon master Man-at-Arms, the telepathic Sorceress, and the floating elf wizard Orko, He-Man thwarts his arch-nemesis Skeletor and a band of evil henchmen in episodes where magic and machine mingle. Eternia’s elite have no trouble vaulting through space and time in fantastical plots that end with a feel-good lesson for the kiddies.

The He-Man action figures were originally to be toy versions of the “Conan the Barbarian” movie, but the product connection was dropped because of the sex and violence in the Conan films. He-Man still holds up more than two decades later. Take a tour of Castle Grayskull and see for yourself.

 

Graceland

I recently purchased a remastered version of Paul Simon’s Grammy Award-winning album, which includes a demo track of “Homeless” and a breath-taking version of “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” One of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest albums, Graceland is a timeless collection and one of those rare cases where every song shines. Its lyrics still resonate in today’s headlines — “It was a slow day and the sun was beating on the soldiers by the side of the road. There was a bright light, a shattering of shop windows as the bomb in the baby carriage was wired to the radio...” (“Boy in the Bubble”). The album includes collaborations with the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Los Lobos, and many South African musicians and groups — the last of which caused a political stir at the time since many countries including the U.S. were boycotting South Africa because of its apartheid policies. But the album, which was mostly recorded in South Africa, opened the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo to a global audience, and the world welcomed these beloved voices that would later become the signature singing group for political prisoner-turned-president Nelson Mandela.

 

A Thousand Splendid Suns

If you read Khaled Hosseini’s bestseller, The Kite Runner, be prepared for another powerful, tragic tale of life in Afghanistan — this time told through the eyes of two women, Miriam and Laila. Thrown together amid civil war and social upheaval that robs them of nearly everything they have, these two women endure despite bombs, beatings and broken hope. Once again, Hosseini gives his readers an intimate perspective of what life has been like in Afghanistan over the past two decades from the Cold War invasion of the Soviets to the Taliban rule to post-9/11 insecurity. The rich culture of this region — the language, the food, the love of books and art, and the daily rituals — is shown through endearing characters and finely crafted prose that pulls you in to a distant world. A Thousand Splendid Nights may be fiction, but its vivid storytelling and grounding in history are perhaps more realistic to the reader than any headline news we could gather from a country still struggling to rebuild itself.

— By Michael Beadle

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