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Look over the shoulders of computer users in any Internet café, and you’ll discover that the Web offers more entertainment than instant messages and games. The Internet has also become a screening room for online videos on any topic imaginable.

Over the last two years, online video sites like YouTube ( and Google Video ( have surged in popularity. After YouTube flickered into existence in August 2005, it soon became the destination of choice for anyone who wanted to upload their own or view other videos. Google Video followed soon after.

Despite its commercial appeal, many videos available online remain decidedly amateur. Some are grainy home videos reminiscent of the videos made popular on “America’s Funniest Videos”—clips of birds performing amazing tricks or children sending video cards to fathers fighting in Iraq.

Others are slick, professional jobs produced by aspiring filmmakers and fame seekers. Joe Bereta and Luke Barats, college students whose baratsandbereta videos gained a large following, landed a comedy development contract with NBC last fall. Brooke “Brookers” Brodack signed on with Carson Daly’s production company. Stories abound of aspiring stars discovered on YouTube after posting their homemade videos.

Some believe that the popularity of online videos will have a profound political effect on our culture, influencing elections and the popular opinion of public officials. Amateur filmmakers can put together mini-documentaries on candidates and political policy. Loose Change, a heavily viewed Google video, is a conspiracy theory documentary on the “truth” about September 11. It has been released in multiple editions and has even aired on several foreign television networks.

Unfortunately, while many of the movies posted on the various video sites are fun and interesting, an equal number of offerings are rife with vulgar content. Discerning parents should educate and monitor children who are frequenting websites offering videos.

Just The Facts

According to YouTube organizers

•    40,000 new videos are uploaded daily.

•    Their audience watches an estimated 35 million videos each day.

•    Google bought out YouTube for nearly $2 billion late last year.

•    YouTube has now struck deals with media companies for the rights to archive old TV shows and commercials for fees generated by online advertising.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

by Michael Pollan
reviewed by Jim Romahn

If you’re beginning to question North American diets because of obesity, heart disease and changes in farming practices, you should read Michael Pollan’s impassioned work. Factual and informative, he takes a point of view that will make most farmers, and diners, squirm. Pollan contends that corn is 40 percent of our diets, delivered as corn-fed meats, sweetener in soft drinks and ingredients in processed foods. He also tells how the organic movement has evolved into mega farms and retail chains. (Penguin)

Redemption Songs

by Jars of Clay
reviewed by Paul Delger

The popular Christian band Jars of Clay joins talents with various musical artists to give a modern sound to old hymns on Redemption Songs. The album displays a country flavor with such hymns as “God Be Merciful to Me,” and “I Need Thee Every Hour.” Listeners wanting a more typical Jars of Clay experience will enjoy songs like “God Will Lift Up Your Head” and “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder.” Redemption Songs will satisfy a wide range of audiences. (Essential)

Portable Shrine

by John R. Williamson
reviewed by Phil Christman Jr.

John R. Williamson has been recording for over a decade and writing songs for much longer. Despite his craftsmanship and warm voice, he has not yet caught on among fans of spiritually aware pop-folk music such as Over the Rhine or Sufjan Stevens. Portable Shrine is Williamson’s most polished album, alternating the kind of melancholy musical spiritual biography he does brilliantly with songs full of sly humor and genuine happiness. For fans of intelligent music by Christians, this is essential. (Tone Mesa)

The View from Castle Rock

by Alice Munro
reviewed by Otto Selles

Using family documents and archival research, Munro depicts the lives of the Laidlaws, her Scottish ancestors who immigrated to southwestern Ontario in the early 1800s. Blurring the lines between fiction and memoir, she also offers a series of stories closely linked to her own life as a young girl and woman. In considering her Presbyterian ancestors and her own encounters with various Christians, Munro seems fascinated by her religious heritage but not quite ready to step back in. Fans will appreciate the insights into the sources of her previous stories, while newcomers will be treated to her polished style and masterful storytelling. (Knopf)

Body Piercing Saved My Life

by Andrew Beaujon
reviewed by Robert N. Hosack

Beaujon, a Spin magazine journalist, provides a breezy travelogue through the evangelical subculture by exploring the history of Christian rock music. Although a religious outsider, he delivers appreciative reporting and insightful social commentary. From Larry Norman to Switchfoot, the four-decade-old phenomenon is limited by being a “parallel universe” to its secular counterpart. What does it mean to make music in the world but not be a part of it? The artists’ answers vary, and the tension remains. Readers once led to throw out their Led Zeppelin record collection only to buy a boxed set CD replacement years later will nod knowingly. (Da Capo).

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

by Philip Yancey
reviewed by Harriette Mostert

Philip Yancey approaches the mysteries of communicating with God in this thoroughly researched yet highly accessible book. Yancey transparently shares his own struggles with the purpose, practice, and dilemmas of prayer. He skillfully interweaves Scripture with insights from Christian thinkers of many traditions, cultures, and eras. Fresh anecdotes and relevant testimonies of ordinary people give the book a compelling quality. Not intended as a guidebook, it will nevertheless stimulate and challenge those who “keep company with God” without adding to their sense of inadequacy. (Zondervan)<>&QueryStringSite=Zondervan

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