Sunday Post #43: Unfilmable Books

Sunday Post
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my AP Literature students are reading both Mrs. Dalloway and The Remains of the Day this year. Knowing there are film versions of both books (and that The Remains of the Day in particular was well regarded), I decided to watch them this weekend and see if I want to use any parts of either film in class.

The first thing I thought after I finished watching Mrs. Dalloway, which had a great cast—Vanessa Redgrave is Clarissa Dalloway and Rupert Graves is Septimus Warren Smith—is that some books are just unfilmable. The movie stuck to the plot well enough. In a book where not a lot happens, at least on the exterior, that’s not to hard to do. What is nearly impossible to do is to capture the interior monologues of both Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith. I thought for sure perhaps some brilliant cinematography would capture the breathtaking imagery in Mrs. Dalloway, but not really. I was particularly disappointed in the scene in which Clarissa buys the flowers. In the book, it’s a master class in imagery that leads directly to memory, but in the movie, it’s a brief scene that is stripped of almost all of the punch it packs in the book. I might show clips of the film precisely so students can discuss why it isn’t filmable or how they might have filmed it instead.

On the other hand, The Remains of the Day was brilliant in all respects save one: the ending. In the book, you see a slightly different ending when Stevens realizes how he has spent his life, and it crashes over him. His stiff upper lip barely quivers in the film. To me, that’s a pretty substantial change, and I don’t like it at all. As to the acting, though, brilliant, of course (what would you expect out of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson?). The scenery and sets are absolutely gorgeous. I thought more than once of Downton Abbey and the passage of all those old manor houses. I suppose many of them are now basically open for tours and are sorts of historical monuments to another time. This book, as it turned out, was quite filmable, or at least resulted in a really good film. You probably knew that, though, because I think I’m the last person to see that movie.

In other bookish news, I’m wondering what is wrong with me for not really liking Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun much. I’m going to finish it, I guess, because I’m pretty far in, and I do sort of want to see what happens to everyone. I’m really annoyed by how long the chapters are. I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere when I’m reading because the chapters are so long. So many people I know have loved this book. I am just sort of bored with quirkier-than-thou teenagers, erudite and intelligent beyond their years. John Green is responsible for this trend, and I think I’m going to complain about in the march #ShelfLove entry on tropes I’m sick of in literature next month. After John Green made it so lucrative, it seemed like every other YA author had to copy it. I know plenty of smart teenagers. I’m not saying kids like these kids don’t exist. I just… don’t think I’m the audience for these books anymore.

My book club is reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, and all I can say is holy heck! How did this guy get me interested in something I have zero interest in? That is one helluva trick. The writing is fantastic. I’m not too far in, just about 50 pages so far. I can really see the people he’s describing. They are real, flesh-and-blood people, and I already care a lot about them, and even though I know they won the Olympic Gold in 1936, it’s still unfolding like one of those mysteries, where you can’t see how it will turn out in the end. That is another neat trick. Plus, two interesting connections already: Brown mentions rowers practicing at Lake Quinsigamond, which is literally right where I live. My attention was caught immediately. But then, he delves in the background of one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, who grew up poor and down on his luck in Spokane, WA., which is where my grandfather was born. The family stories were so similar in some ways, I found myself immediately rooting for Joe Rantz. What a great book! And see, only about 50 pages in, whereas with I’ll Give You the Sun, I’m about halfway through and still not really sure how I feel.

I’m still working on Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette and dipping into other books here and there. I bought myself two books. I couldn’t resist. Neither of them has been on my TBR list very long, but I do really want to read both of them.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set in Papua New Guinea before (Euphoria), and after reading both A Room of One’s Own and Mrs. Dalloway, I fell in love with Virginia Woolf.

In other news, I was quite sad to hear of the passing of Harper Lee, though it is true she hasn’t been in good health, and she was advanced in years. I wrote about her influence on my decision to become an English teacher on my education blog. To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite books to teach. Sad, too, that Umberto Eco has died. I have a copy of The Name of the Rose, I haven’t read it yet. I have seen a film adaptation, though, and really enjoyed it.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share our own exciting news. My husband has written a book tie-in to the show Better Call Saul (a spinoff of Breaking Bad) called Don’t Go to Jail!: Saul Goodman’s Guide to Keeping the Cuffs Off. I’m really excited for him. This book is the realization of a lot of really hard work (I know—I was there!), and it’s something he’s dreamed about doing for some time. It’s available now for pre-order, and it will officially be released on April 5, so run out and get it! You will love it, especially if you like the show already.

So that is how my reading week is going. How about yours?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Review: Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

As I typed the title to this post, it occurred to me I never thought I would be reviewing another book by Harper Lee. And yet, here we have Go Set a Watchman. I have seen a lot of people I respect saying that they will not read this book because they are not sure what Harper Lee’s intentions are. She is 89 years old. She can’t hear well. And isn’t it suspicious, they say, that this novel came out after her great defender, Alice Finch Lee, whom Nelle (as she is known to friends) called “Atticus in a skirt,” died?

When I was at Kenyon College at the Writer’s Workshop for Teachers recently, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Nick White, who read one of his short stories and participated in a Q&A with Nancy Zafris (whom I also had the distinct pleasure to meet). We were at a wine and hors d’oeuvres gathering, and Nick was trying to figure out how to spell hors d’oeuvres in a text to his mother, and I was no help because I had already had a couple of glasses of wine. I remarked to Nancy that I had moved up to Worcester, Massachusetts from Georgia about three years ago. She looked at me gravely and asked, “How is it?” I shrugged and said something about rednecks being the same everywhere. She agreed to that. Nick and I started talking about this new Harper Lee book. He said he was probably going to be a “terrible person” and read it, and I confessed I would, too, because I “can’t NOT read a new book by Harper Lee.” And Reader, despite the misgivings you might have, I would encourage you to read it, too. Yes, even if it tears down your idol.

You have probably read the spoilers. I think CNN (it might have been CNN—I don’t keep track anymore because the news is like so much background noise most of the time) was blaring “Atticus is a RACIST” every ten minutes yesterday. And maybe you also heard about Jem because that happened in the first chapter. Maybe it isn’t even necessary to sum up what happens in the book, but it is, in every way, as much a coming-of-age story as To Kill a Mockingbird. Do you remember in To Kill a Mockingbird when Jem is trying to explain people to Scout? He is categorizing people into different groups, and Scout doesn’t get it.

“Naw, Jem. I think that there is just one kind of folks. Folks.”

Jem turned and punched his pillow. When he settled back his face was cloudy. He was going in to one of his declines, and I grew wary. His brows came together; his mouth became a thin line. He was silent for a while.

“That is what I thought, too,” he said at last, “when I was your age. If there is just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I am beginning to understand something. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley stayed shut up in the house all this time…it’s because he wants to stay inside.”

Readers tend to pay a lot more attention to Scout here because they want to think they agree with her, but it is Jem who has figured out something really profound. When Scout is upset in Go Set a Watchman, she says something almost exactly the same to her Uncle Jack: “I thought we were just people” (189). In the twenty years between the two books, Scout still believes. She is actually quite orthodox about it. So, when she comes back to Maycomb and she discovers that her illusions about her sleepy little town and the people in it are not reality, she feels as if she has been pulled out of the world. Nothing makes sense. She also seems to channel the reader when she rails at Atticus:

“I looked up to you, Atticus, like I never looked up to anybody in my life and never will again. If you had only given me some hint, if you had broken your word with me a couple of times, if you had been bad-tempered or impatient with me—if you had been a lesser man, maybe I could have taken what I saw you doing [attending a white supremacist meeting]. If once or twice you’d let me catch you doing something vile, then I would have understood yesterday.” (250)

A lot of us who read this book will feel the same way. We have held Atticus up as a paragon of virtue, a man ahead of his time. But what we failed to remember is that he is a man.

Scout’s Uncle Jack says, “now you, Miss, born with your own conscience, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle to your father’s… You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings” (265). In a sense, Scout needed to come home and break with her father (after a fashion)—yes, even Atticus Finch—in order to be her own person.

The novel makes a profound statement about the failings and frailty of human beings. It has its own literary merit. It will suffer in comparison to To Kill a Mockingbird. After all, that’s one of the perfect novels, and this novel is an earlier draft. I will add that in my opinion, it’s a pretty excellent draft. It is easy to see how Lee’s editors saw the sparks of Lee’s novel in this one and encouraged her to write about Scout as a child. There is one hilarious scene when Jem, Dill, and Scout enact a tent revival in the yard, and there are several great scenes from Scout’s adolescence. Scout has not changed. She is as feisty as she always was. I think this book is, on the whole, a great read.

The book is not as poetic as TKAM, but it has its moments. It relies way too much on dialogue, particularly at the end. There are some parts that are a bit muddled and confusing in their wording and perhaps in their point, but as a whole, it hangs together well. Other reviewers have said it’s more complex than TKAM, and I would agree. It explores the complexity of human beings, particularly people we love (and especially people we love who hold abhorrent views). I do NOT think, as Michiko Kakutani said in her NY Times review, that this novel upends everything we thought we knew about Atticus Finch. Instead, the novel gives him some interesting and unsettling failings that nonetheless can be reconciled with what he did in the courtroom when he defended Tom Robinson (the fact that he is acquitted in this book, and it wasn’t changed to reconcile with the events of TKAM was a mistake, I think—and it shows this book had very little outside editing).

In terms of the controversy surrounding its publication, there is this to consider: this book was discovered, and it would have been published after Lee died without her blessing. It just would have. There is no way a discovery like that is made and people don’t want to bring it to light, either for good reasons or bad ones. Did Lee want the book to be published now? I don’t know. But either way, it would have happened. One way to think about it is this: publishing the book while Lee is still alive means she will at least reap some of the benefit from the sales. If it had been published after her death, none of it would have gone to Harper Lee at all. This new books has not diminished Lee’s achievement with TKAM, and it has brought interesting nuance to beloved characters we thought we knew.

I haven’t looked forward to a book’s release so much since the last Harry Potter book, and I can’t remember the last time there was so much discussion about a book. Perhaps some of my friends will think I’m bad for reading it, but like I told Nick White, there is just no way I can skip a Harper Lee book. I just can’t. I am really glad I read it. It has some interesting things to say about the complexities of the South, and as Mary Badham (who played Scout in the movie) said during a Q&A livestream I watched, this novel is interesting particularly in light of what we have experienced as a nation in the last year.

Rating: ★★★★★

I struggled over how to rate this because it’s impossible not to compare it to TKAM, so I asked myself, if it weren’t Harper Lee, what would you have rated it? I probably would have given it a 5 then. I do grade pretty easily, but I also can’t remember the last time I gulped a book in one sitting. Surely, that says something.

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Sunday Post #26: When to Quit a Book

Sunday PostI am trying to decide whether or not it’s worth it to keep going with I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. I am about 100 pages in, and it’s still not grabbing me. I have read that it’s a slow starter, but there is slow and there is glacial. I guess the real kicker for me, too, is that it’s historical fiction, and I’m not really learning much. The people are not jumping off the page for me. I guess I have answered my question. Makes me sad because I invested a good amount of time in it and was so looking forward to it. I will be even sadder if I invest more time in it, and there never is a payoff. Anyone read this book and care to comment?

On the plus side, as I put this book aside for a while, I managed to finish several books. Reviews up:

I enjoyed all three and read each of them quickly (for me). Given the amount of time I’ve spent on I Always Loved You, I haven’t moved much. Oh, I hate to give up on a book. I don’t have any real sense of failure or anything; it’s just that I really wanted to like this one. I mean really! And Susan Vreeland, one of my favorite contemporary writers who writes about art, gave it a lovely blurb.

In other news, Go Set a Watchman is being released on Tuesday, and it’s been all over the news because you can read the first chapter, which drops a big bomb in a shocking, matter-of-fact way. However, a lot more hay has been made out of Michiko Kakutani’s revelation that Atticus is a racist. People who are surprised by this revelation are forgetting a few crucial points:

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by a young girl (and granted, a grown woman, to a certain extent) who idolizes her father. We so want to see the best in our loved ones.
  2. Atticus is a bit saintly in TKAM. Could it be that this is Lee’s attempt to show the inherent contradictions in people? Don’t we all have someone in our lives whom we love… but who holds opinions we hate? If you agree with everyone in your family on every aspect religion, politics, and civil rights, well, you’re pretty fortunate. It is possible for the Atticus in both books to be the same man. Actually, it’s fairly interesting. Do we wish Atticus were not racist? Naturally we do. In the same way we wish our own family members would just have a different view about ______. Right?
  3. It is possible for a person like Atticus to feel like he should defend Tom Robinson and still not want his grandchildren to go to school with the Tom Robinson’s grandchildren. People have an amazing ability to compartmentalize. Yes, they might say, I believe black and white people can marry if they want to, but they shouldn’t have children. Or yes, they might say, I believe gay people have the right to go about without being assaulted, but they shouldn’t marry. A lot of people have lines they draw. Atticus might feel that it isn’t fair for a black man to be wrongfully accused of rape and go to prison for it, but that doesn’t mean he is interested in equality.
  4. Atticus is older. Sometimes, as people age, they grow more frightened of the “other.” And think about what the Civil Rights Movement may have looked like to an aging man who was frightened of the changes it meant. He might have been more tolerant in a time when it didn’t look like things would change so drastically. I don’t know about you, but in this year when there has been so much racial tension in the US, I have noticed more overt bigotry than I have seen in a long time. People are upset, so it’s easy to cast someone as the “other” and lump people together and stereotype based on prejudice. People are feeling in many ways as though their beliefs and the way they live are under attack. I have seen it. In 2015. Sometimes I wonder how it will look in 50 or 60 years when we look back on this year. Go Set a Watchman alludes to a monumental Supreme Court case (presumably Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, KS.). We had a monumental decision this year, too. And a lot of people felt attacked by it.

I am not excusing Atticus. I am also not saying not to be disappointed in Atticus. I am, too! I would love for him to be the hero, the man ahead of his time. But it might be premature for us to be dismiss the book as untrue to his character. After all, how can we know it is? We only know what Scout told us before, and what we do learn from reviews of GSAW is that Scout herself is disillusioned by what she learns about her father. We all know people who have views we might consider contradictory, and people change over time. Time has passed from TKAM to GSAW. I am still going to read it.

I found some other related links you might find interesting:

Added to my TBR pile since last week:

       

 

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #15: Wuthering, Wuthering Heights

Sunday PostWhat has been happening this week? It’s been crazy busy. I haven’t had a ton of time to read, so I sat down and read most of today (with the exception of doing a little bit of work and washing the dishes). I have been spending most of the day wandering the moors, reading The Annotated Wuthering Heights. What a great addition to my library. I am truly enjoying it. Each time I read Wuthering Heights, I notice something I didn’t pick up on last time, and this time, it’s how horrible Nelly Dean is. I mean, I have often thought of her as mostly a reliable narrator, and because of her, I have really disliked Catherine. Heathcliff is just plain hard to like, no matter what. As soon as you start feeling sympathy for him, he goes off and kills lapwings for no reason or hangs a dog. Perhaps because I’m reading an annotated version, I am noticing so many more things than I ever have before. All the birds, for one thing; I’m sure I noticed that before, but even though the annotations don’t discuss the birds in a great amount of detail, I think my antennae are up, so to speak, and I’m noticing the symbolism more than I usually do. And there are birds just everywhere in this book. Another thing I am seeing are the close connections to the Romantic poets. The annotations help there, and I am really pleased I chose to read this one for the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. Hope I can finish it in time! Even if I don’t, I definitely want to finish reading this lovely annotated version. I realize a lot of people hate this book, but I think if you peel it apart and and see what makes it work, it is genius. I am especially enjoying the nuances I am noticing in Nelly’s character this time around.

I finished reading Pleasantville by Attica Locke and wrote a review for the TLC Book Tour this week as well. A good read. I am also still working away on Katherine Howe’s Conversion on audio. The reader for that one is really good. I recommended it to a bunch of my students this week when I saw it was one of their choices for a summer read.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was top ten favorite authors of all time. You know, I am actually liking the idea of saving these for my Sunday Post instead of doing them on Tuesday. I just have less time to write during the work week. To qualify as a favorite author, I decided that I needed to love multiple books by the same author. So I didn’t count authors who have only written one novel. I also didn’t count authors if I had read only one of their works (even if I loved it). So here is my list:

  1. William Shakespeare
  2. Jane Austen
  3. J. K. Rowling
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien
  5. Diana Gabaldon
  6. Ernest Hemingway
  7. Sharyn McCrumb
  8. Jasper Fforde
  9. Neil Gaiman
  10. Judy Blume

Who would be on your list?

Authors whose work I love, but whom I didn’t count because of my self-imposed rules are Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and Emily Brontë.

Some links I enjoyed this week:

Here’s a bonus for you:

For the record, I have always believed it really was Catherine’s ghost who disturbed Lockwood early in the novel.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #5: History Makers

Sunday PostSince last week, when I mentioned that we have all the snow, I can tell you we probably have five feet on the ground with more on the way tonight and tomorrow. My children have yet another snow day tomorrow. My own school just called me to let me know I also do not have school; however, I do believe I have a meeting via Google Hangout, and I need to make some soap for a wholesale account, so I imagine I will be busy. We have had record-breaking snowfall the last few weeks.  The Sunday Post is starting to sound monotonous with the weather report each time. When you’re more or less snowbound, however, there’s not much else going on.

I finally finished listening to the audio book of Diana Gabaldon’s novel The Fiery Cross this week. I also finished reading The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. Look for the review for that book to be posted on 2/17. I started reading four books this week as well:

The Tell-Tale Heart, like The Serpent of Venice, is part of a TLC Book Tour. I’m reading As You Like It as my Renaissance selection for the Literary Movement Challenge. Finished Act I as of yesterday. I am listening to Neil Gaiman read the short story collection Trigger Warning. After finishing The Fiery Cross, I didn’t want to dive right into another really long Gabaldon audio book right away. I have had Marie Antoinette: The Journey in my Kindle library for a very long time, but I finally decided to read it after watching the Kirsten Dunst film Marie Antoinette, which reminded me how fascinated I am by the French Revolution and all the history leading up to it.

The movie itself, I have to say, was kind of weird. The costumes and sets were gorgeous. The music was strange. Some of the casting was bizarre. The jury’s still out on whether I liked it or not. I searched in vain for a documentary about the French Revolution on Netflix last night, so I decided to start reading the book. Also on my list at some point is Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. I’m always on the lookout for good historical fiction set during this time period as well, so let me know if you know of anything. I have previously read Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution (loved!), Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud, and Melanie Clegg’s The Secret Diary of a Princess. And of course, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. I can’t recall any others, so let me know what I’ve missed. I am not particularly more interested Ancien Régime versus post-Revolution or nobility versus Estates-General. I’m not picky.

I love reading historical fiction, which is one of the reasons I always try to participate in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, no matter how active I actually am in the challenge. If I had to peg my favorite periods, I would say 18th and 19th century America (particularly New England, but really, it’s all pretty interesting), the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, 18th century France and England, and 19th century England. I do not much like to read WWII historical fiction, which reminds me of a post of Stefanie’s that I read over at So Many Books: “Books I Won’t Read.” I am not going to go quite so far as to say I will not read books about World War II. I really hesitate, though. I find it mentally exhausting and very depressing to read about that war, for obvious reasons. Inevitably, the books are heart-wrenching. I hate to say it feels like manipulation on the part of authors to write about the events of that war, especially when they really happened, but it’s also quite difficult to criticize. After all, anything you say in critique of books about the Holocaust just makes you sound heartless. So, I’m really careful about what I choose to read from that era. If a book has a whiff of cashing in on that tragedy at all, I can’t read it.

So far, I’ve finished seven books this year. I can’t recall ever having read that many at this point in the year. Honestly, I think the goal I set of reading 52 books has been a good motivator for me. I know I’m making more of an effort to read. I think of myself as a slow reader, but it looks like I have managed to pick up speed over time without noticing much. I very rarely can sit and read an entire book all day, and I haven’t tried timing myself to see how fast I’m actually reading. It’s more just a sense I have that I’m able to read books faster than I have in the past.

The biggest news in the book world this week is the impending publication of Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, which will feature an adult Scout Finch. Some speculation in the media has made me wonder if Harper Lee was aware of what her lawyer was doing, but it’s hard to tell. This New York Times story does a fair job discussing the controversy. I am going to read the book. I have actually already selected it for my school summer reading choice. I called dibs the day the announcement was made. I am not going to miss another Harper Lee novel. Am I worried it might not be as good as To Kill a Mockingbird? Of course. It’s natural. But there is no way I’m going to miss it. And while I’m on the subject, I wish Goodreads would stop people from reviewing or rating unreleased books. Or, to be more specific, unreleased books that no one has read yet. I actually find ratings and reviews from folks who had uncorrected proofs or early access through other channels helpful. This book already has a 3.72 rating on Goodreads. Come on.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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A Young Girl Reading

Five Things I’ve Gained from Reading

A Young Girl Reading
A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Carol Jago, an English teacher I admire, published a paper several years ago about why we should teach literature. In reply, Traci Gardner suggested we share what we’ve gained from reading literature. I’m not sure if Traci’s familiar with memes, but I like the idea. That said, this blog post has been sitting waiting to be finished since April 2009. Time to post it.

Instructions: Copy the questions and instructions below, and paste them into a blog entry, a note on Facebook, or a discussion forum—anywhere that you can reach the people you want to. You can use the comments area on this blog entry if you’d like as well. Delete my answers to the questions, and add your own. Feel free to any extra instructions or invite specific people to answer the questions when you post them.

Questions: Think about the literature you’ve read—short stories, novels, plays, memoirs, and poetry. Any literature counts, from picture books to epic poems, and from romance novels to sci-fi fan-fiction. Answer each question, and explain your response in a few sentences. Just copy the questions, remove my answers, add your own, and then invite others to respond.

  1. What piece of literature has stayed with you, even though you haven’t read it recently?
    One piece of literature I find myself thinking about a lot is [amazon_link id=”0380730405″ target=”_blank” ]Rebecca[/amazon_link]. We just watched the movie the other night, for one thing, but for another, I have been searching and searching for a book with that same sort of feel. I love that book, and I’ve been looking for one like without much success.
  2. What character or story has influenced something you’ve done?
    You’re going to laugh, but I married my husband because of [amazon_link id=”0440212561″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link]. For a lot of reasons. He knows and thinks it’s funny.
  3. What character or piece of literature seemed to relate to a recent news story or personal experience?
    I don’t know that the story is all that recent, but when the Rod Blagojevich story blew up, I immediately thought of [amazon_link id=”0743477103″ target=”_blank” ]Macbeth[/amazon_link]. Then the comparisons started coming. Now I feel like I see Macbeth everywhere, which is really frightening. So many people seem willing to lose themselves entirely to their ambition. Politicians especially. And the way they play with human lives is disgusting. We might as well all be the Macduffs. In which case, the politicians better watch it if we decide we’ve had enough one day.
  4. What character has make you wonder why he or she did/said something?
    This is a tough one because there are a lot of characters who make me wonder this sort of thing. I hardly know which one to choose! But I always wondered if Boo Radley really did stab his father with the scissors, and if he really did, why? Actually I wonder a lot about Boo Radley (rather like Scout!).
  5. Name something from a work of literature (such as a character, setting, or quotation) that you find beautiful or vivid.
    [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link] has so many beautiful and vivid passages. Here are some of my favorite ones.

“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

 

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

 

And here is another of my favorites, from [amazon_link id=”0684801469″ target=”_blank” ]A Farewell To Arms[/amazon_link]:

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

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Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

Top Ten Best/Worst Book to Movie Adaptations

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about book to movie adaptations. Oh, this is a hard one. I will start with the best ones. Links go to the movies’ IMDb profiles.

  1. Brokeback Mountain the movie is even better than Annie Proulx’s short story. Proulx doesn’t develop the characters as much, and Innis and Jack’s wives are just window dressing. The movie gives the story much more depth and heart. I hardly ever say this kind of thing. The book is usually better. Which brings me to #2.
  2. The Princess Bride is another case where I think the movie is better. The book gets a little lost, but the movie stays focused. Plus the acting is just great. Easily one of the most quotable movies of all time.
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great film. Not as good as the book, but really great. Everyone talks about how wonderful Gregory Peck was as Atticus Finch, and he was, but they always forget that Mary Badham was phenomenal as Scout. She was nominated for an Academy Award. She didn’t win. Probably because of her age. She was only ten years old.
  4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was famously reviled by Ken Kesey, who didn’t like it that you couldn’t tell the story through the eyes of the schizophrenic Chief Bromden, but the film turned in some stellar performances by some actors often known more for comedy. Great film.
  5. The Color Purple jiggled some things around, but they got the most important stuff right. I love this film all over again every time I see it.
  6. Sense and Sensibility is gorgeously shot and the acting is awesome. I like everyone in it.
  7. Pride and Prejudice, both the version with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and the one with Keira Knightley.
  8. The adaptation of Louis Sachar’s novel Holes was awesome. Pretty much just like the book.
  9. I don’t know if it’s cheating to include plays, but I’m gonna. Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is pretty much the gold standard of Shakespeare in film.
  10. Clueless is a pretty awesome update of Emma. I love that movie.

My choices for worst adaptations:

  1. As much as I love the Harry Potter movies, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban hits all the wrong notes from the opening when Harry is practicing spells outside of school in a Muggle house, which everyone knows underage wizards can’t do, to the made up toad chorus and talking shrunken head, to the confusing deletion of the Marauders’ subplot that renders the movie incomprehensible unless you have read the book. And everyone looks scruffy the whole movie long. They don’t have to be as well scrubbed as when Chris Columbus directs, and I don’t mind them looking like normal teenagers, but having parts of your shirt untucked, your tie askew, and your hair mussed in every single scene? Nah. I’m blaming the director for this one because I like the others just fine (except for Michael Gambon’s performance, especially in Goblet of Fire—Dumbledore wouldn’t manhandle Harry like that). It’s a shame because it is easily one of the top books in the series.
  2. Just about every version of Wuthering Heights except this one, though to be fair, I haven’t seen the newest one with Kaya Scodelario. Why on earth people can’t get that book straightened out in film form, I do not get. Some versions cut the Hareton and Cathy part altogether. Others delete Lockwood.
  3. The Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore. What were they thinking? We were discussing the scene when Reverend Dimmesdale reveals the scarlet letter carved into his own chest and dies in one of my classes one day, and I re-read it to the class. One of my students said, “Wow, this would make a great movie.” Yeah, you’d think, but no.
  4. This version of Macbeth is pretty heinous, but I do use two scenes from it when I teach the play. They do some neat camera tilt tricks and use mirrors in a clever way in the scene when Banquo’s ghost shows up, and the opening with the three witches dressed like schoolgirls busting up a graveyard is good.
  5. The Rankin/Bass versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King and Ralph Bakshi’s version of The Lord of the Rings. Ugh. I much prefer Peter Jackson’s adaptions despite the changes made. He takes the subject matter seriously.
  6. The Black Cauldron was ruined by Disney. I don’t blame you if you didn’t read Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles if you thought they were like that movie. I remember dragging my mom to see it and being so disappointed.
  7. And by that same token, The Seeker adapted from Susan Cooper’s novel The Dark is Rising is heinous. I keep using that word. But it’s so true in this case. Take this one together with The Black Cauldron and there’s a fair chance kids won’t give these wonderful books steeped in Welsh myth and legend a shot at all.
  8. Their Eyes Were Watching God was pretty bad. Oh, you mean you never even knew it it existed? There is a good reason for that. I love that book. I can’t believe the film is so bad.
  9. Beowulf. Oh. My. Gosh. What the heck was that?
  10. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil should have been good. Kevin Spacey is in it. Clint Eastwood directed it. The Lady Chablis played herself. Instead it’s terrible. Don’t watch it.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Favorite Quotes from Books

Top Ten TuesdayBusy week! I didn’t get to the Top Ten Tuesday on Tuesday at all. As soon as I finish this post, I’m off to pack up more books in preparation for next month’s move.

This week’s topic was irresistible, and I decided to participate even though I’d be late: Top Ten Favorite Book Quotes.

  1. And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…and one fine morning—

    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.—[amazon asin=0743273567&text=The Great Gatsby], F. Scott Fitzgerald

  2. If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.—[amazon asin=0684801469&text=A Farewell to Arms], Ernest Hemingway

  3. “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”—[amazon asin=0545139708&text=Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows], J. K. Rowling

  4. “Always,” said Snape.—[amazon asin=0545139708&text=Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows], J. K. Rowling

  5. Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.—[amazon asin=0061120065&text=Their Eyes Were Watching God], Zora Neale Hurston

  6. “Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night,/Give me my Romeo; and,/When he shall die,/Take him and cut him out in little stars,/And he will make the face of heaven so fine/That all the world will be in love with night/And pay no worship to the garish sun.”—[amazon asin=0743477111&text=Romeo and Juliet], William Shakespeare

  7. “I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.

    I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.”—[amazon asin=0486295559&text=Persuasion], Jane Austen

  8. “Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”—[amazon asin=0061743526&text=To Kill a Mockingbird], Harper Lee

  9. “It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”—[amazon asin=1612930840&text=Northanger Abbey], Jane Austen

  10. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.—[amazon asin=1619493845&text=Walden], Henry David Thoreau

You know, I could really go on and on with this list. In fact, from my favorite book:

“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff!”[amazon asin=0143105434&text=Wuthering Heights], Emily Brontë

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Scout and Atticus

Best Dads in Literature

In honor of Father’s Day, I thought I’d pull together my own list of the top five dads in literature.

Happy Fathers’ Day to all those dads, but especially to my husband, Steve Huff; my dad, Tom Swier; and my grandfather, Udell Cunningham.

Scout and Atticus

Atticus Finch. Probably first on any list of great literary dads, Atticus Finch of [amazon_link id=”0061205699″ target=”_blank” ]To Kill a Mockingbird[/amazon_link] showed his children through example why doing the right thing is always best, even if it isn’t easy, and that there are all kinds of bravery. Atticus is believed to be based on Harper Lee’s own father Amasa Lee. Harper Lee gave Gregory Peck (pictured above with Mary Badham as Scout), who played Atticus in the film of [amazon_link id=”0783225857″ target=”_blank” ]To Kill a Mockingbird[/amazon_link], her father’s pocket watch.

Arthur Weasley
Arthur Weasley by Makani

Arthur Weasley. The beloved patriarch of the Weasley family in the [amazon_link id=”0545162076″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link] series, Arthur Weasley is a role model to his children and a father figure to their friend, Harry. He is brave, loyal, hardworking, and fair-minded. Some readers may not know that J. K. Rowling considered writing Arthur Weasley’s death into [amazon_link id=”0439358078″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix[/amazon_link], but he was given a reprieve when Rowling realized losing his father would alter Ron’s personality in ways that wouldn’t work for the character.

Señor Sempere. Father of Daniel Sempere in [amazon_link id=”0143034901″ target=”_blank” ]The Shadow of the Wind[/amazon_link], Señor Sempere was a bookseller who took his son to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books to adopt a book. The elder Sempere is the only parent young Daniel has after his mother’s death, and he sacrifices to buy him Victor Hugo’s pen.

Pride and Prejudice

Mr. Bennet. Hear me out on this one. [amazon_link id=”1936594293″ target=”_blank” ]Pride And Prejudice‘s[/amazon_link] Mr. Bennet has his faults. He lets Lydia and Kitty run wild. He holes himself up in his study on a regular basis. On the other hand, he loves Elizabeth and encourages her to marry for love. On Mr. Collins’s proposal, after Mrs. Bennet tries to enlist Mr. Bennet’s help in making Elizabeth see reason, he says, “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

Ramona and Her Father

Robert Quimby. Ramona’s dad is awesome. In [amazon_link id=”0380709163″ target=”_blank” ]Ramona and Her Father[/amazon_link], Ramona’s dad loses his job and her mother goes to work. One of the most heartwarming episodes in children’s literature is the chapter in which the Quimby family can finally splurge and go out for hamburgers, and a nice elderly man at another table pays for their meal. Having been the recipient of this exact kindness myself, I can tell you how much it means.

Who do you think the best dads in literature are?

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Booking Through Thursday: Life-Changing

36.52: The Blue Room

This week’s Booking Through Thursday prompt is “Which book changed your life?” I’m not sure I can pick just one book, but I’ll talk about a few books I’ve read that I considered monumental or life-changing in some way.

Gone With the Wind was the first “adult” book I’d read. I remember my mom had it out in the living room, and I was turning it over and looking at it. She asked me if I wanted to read it. It was really thick. The mass market paperback copy my mom had was about 1,000 pages long. It never occurred to me I might be ready to read an adult book, or that my mom thought I could. I am not sure why because my mother never tried to prevent me from reading anything. She always encouraged me to read. Because it opened the door of adult fiction to me, Gone With the Wind will remain important to me.

To Kill a Mockingbird opened some doors for me, too. It was the first book I read for school that I can remember enjoying—and I didn’t read it until 11th grade, so that’s a sad statement in itself. I loved the characters. I love the voice. I loved everything about it.

The Lord of the Rings opened the doors of fantasy fiction to me. Prior to reading this epic, I hadn’t really read much fantasy, but I truly enjoyed this book. Another benefit to my reading this book has been a connection with my father. It’s a favorite of his as well, and it gave us many great discussions.

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has been influential to my own writing. I learned a lot about the craft of writing from Diana Gabaldon, both through examining her choices as a writer and in reading about them in The Outlandish Companion.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has brought me a great deal of joy. I began reading it at a time when I wasn’t very happy, and it was something I shared with my oldest daughter. I will always treasure our first read of it together. But beyond that, it’s given me a hobby and interest that I’ve enjoyed. I owe J.K. Rowling many, many countless hours of happiness. It has been nice to escape into her world from time to time. I’ve been mocked both directly and indirectly for being an adult fan of this series, and the only thing I have to say to those people is that I’m sad they have nothing better to do than to scrutinize anyone’s reading choices, especially when they’re relatively harmless—I mean, it’s not like I read instruction manuals for how to build bombs or get away with nefarious crimes.

photo credit: by Janine

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