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.

Sunday Post #28: One Month of Reading

Sunday Post

It has been exactly four weeks since I have written a Sunday Post. I have had a pretty busy summer, but I didn’t realize I hadn’t updated in that long. I have made some excellent progress on reading goals, mainly because I’m teaching a new course this year, and I needed to read some of the books to prepare. I’m in the process of re-reading some others in order to have them fresher in my mind as I teach them.

Since I last wrote a Sunday Post, I have finished reading Gilead by Marilynne RobinsonThe Song of Solomon by Toni MorrisonThe Piano Lesson by August Wilson, and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have also been re-reading the Harry Potter series on my Kindle, which I find an easy way to get through those fat monsters at a faster clip. I am about a third of the way through my re-read of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I also read The Complete Maus, but I didn’t review it because I think I have already reviewed it before.

I have completed the level of the Historical Fiction Challenge to which I had committed. I should go up another level. I’m nearly there for the next level, and there is still plenty of time. I’m just never sure how much time I’ll be able to commit to a challenge. I hate to say I’ve abandoned a challenge this early, but I have pretty much given up on the Literary Movement Challenge. I didn’t have time to get to the literary movement for May, and I just never moved forward from there. It’s okay. I had plenty of reading I needed to do for school. I’m doing okay with the other challenges, and I’m ahead on my total reading goal of reading 52 books, which is a good position in which to be, given I will most likely get pretty busy as school starts and will need some cushion time.

I have not added a lot of books to my TBR pile, which is a good thing, as it’s already too big.

 

Right now, I’m re-reading both King Lear and A Thousand Acres for my new course. I am really enjoying reading these books concurrently, and I am especially enjoying listening to the Naxos Audio production of King Lear featuring Paul Schofield as Lear, Toby Stephens as Edmund, and Kenneth Branagh as the Fool (and a host of other superb actors). I highly recommend it.

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.

Review: The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

I have mentioned before that I’m working my way through the books I plan to teach for AP Literature, starting with the ones I haven’t read. Kazuo Ishiguro’s modern classic The Remains of the Day was the last of the books I hadn’t read (I will now need to do some re-reading, as I haven’t read some of the others in a long time, but I put them off since I did at least have some familiarity with them). I don’t know what took me so long to read this book, given I have enjoyed other works by Ishiguro and also that I just love books like this (not to mention television like Downton Abbey, and yes, I can see Ishiguro’s influence on that show in many ways after reading this book).

If you haven’t read the book, perhaps just a short introduction. The Remains of the Day is told in the first person viewpoint of Mr. Stevens, longtime butler of Darlington Hall. Stevens dedicated his life to serving Lord Darlington and is currently in the employ of the American, Mr. Farraday, who gives Stevens leave to visit Darlington Hall’s former housekeeper, Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn) to determine whether or not she might consider returning to Darlington Hall. Most the book takes place in the form of recollections as Stevens drives to Cornwall to visit Miss Kenton.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I think this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Stevens’s voice is so expertly captured by Ishiguro. He is all restraint, and yet Ishiguro manages to make his deeply rooted feelings all the more palpable for the control that Stevens exerts over them. My heart ached for him. Even as he denies it, his regret over the way he has spent his life and the mistakes he made with Miss Kenton are heartbreakingly clear, and when he does finally say near the end (sorry, spoiler alert here), “Indeed—why should I not admit it?—at that moment, my heart was breaking” (239), you know it’s really been smashed into a million pieces, and frankly, I wondered if he would be able to go on. In addition, it’s an interesting portrayal of the times in which it’s set, particularly poignant for its focus on characters who are on the wrong side of history, and, indeed, who find it difficult to adjust to modern times after World War II. It’s absolutely breathtaking and brilliant writing.

Even though the movie has been out for some time and stars many of my favorite actors, I have deliberately avoided it because I always had it in the back of my mind that I would read the novel. Now I really want to see the movie, which I know is brilliant as well. I just have no idea why I waited so long. It was a gorgeous book, and I can’t wait to see what my students think of it. I have an excellent list of books to share with them.

Rating: ★★★★★

This book is set on a trip to Cornwall, but given that most of the novel is a reflection on experiences at Darlington Hall near Oxford, I’m going to count it as my Oxfordshire book for the Reading England Challenge (I have previously read books set in London, Cambridgeshire, Warwickshire, and Yorkshire, so this is my fifth book. I’m also counting towards the Historical Fiction Challenge.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me GoMy book club students chose to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, and we were supposed to be about 50 pages in by our meeting on Friday. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to devote to reading the book last week, and beyond checking the book out of my library via Overdrive, I had made no progress. I finished the book in a whirlwind over this long weekend.

Never Let Me Go is the story of three students, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, who attend a mysterious boarding school in East Sussex called Hailsham. In this institution, students are taught to create art, and an enigmatic woman the children know only as Madame comes to collect choice objects for her gallery, a great honor all the students strive to achieve. Tommy, upset he is unable to create quality art and will likely never have anything chosen for the gallery, is prone to angry rages and becomes the target of bullies. Kathy reaches out to him, and they become friends. Over time, Ruth and Tommy enter into a relationship, and the students finally come to accept a horrible truth about their existence—a truth that they have been “told and not told,” and that none of them “really understand,” according to one of their guardians, Miss Lucy. For the rest of the novel, Kathy reflects on this awful truth, never quite allowing herself to dream of a different life, until she eventually prepares to serve the purpose for which she and all her friends were created.

One of the reasons I like dystopian novels is that I think they show us as we might become if we entertain some of our darker impulses. This novel certainly reminded me of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, but in many ways, I found it more poignant because it gave voice to a minority that Huxley’s novel lacked.

Spoiler follows, so skip if you do not wish to have the novel’s premise ruined before you read it. Highlight the text to see it.

Begin spoiler ->How would it feel to know you had been raised only as an organ farm, to have your organs harvested to cure others? To be completely stripped of your humanity because you were a clone, but to know that you were human in spite of it all? You were curious about your “possible,” the person from whom you’d been cloned. You could feel love, anger, happiness. You had a life of memories. But “normals” recoiled from you and pretended you didn’t exist because, as the children’s former headmistress says, “How can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer as curable, how can you ask such a world to put away that cure, to go back to the dark days?”

One of the questions I had as I read was why Kathy did not try to run away from her fate. Perhaps there was no point, but I wanted her to try. However, all of the clones seem to accept that there is no way out of becoming an organ donor and eventually “completing.” I wondered if this was a result of nature or nurture, but all the clones we meet in the novel seemed to feel it was an inevitable fate. Why, though? Clones clearly passed for “normals.” The fact that Ishiguro leaves this avenue unexplored makes this novel even sadder—the quiet acceptance, or “going gentle into that good night,” the lack of fight, all of this resignation adds this sort of layer of martyrdom for the characters. In a way, it is a more interesting choice than the typical one—most writers of dystopian fiction choose to have their characters fight the machine. <- End spoiler

I was engrossed in the novel; once I started it, I could barely put it down, which was something one of the girls in Book Club told me she felt as well. This novel goes beyond the ethical issues it raises to ask us to consider the humanity of every person we may previously have dismissed, as the characters in the novel say, as “trash.”

Rating: ★★★★★

Full disclosure: I checked this book out from my library system and read it via Overdrive.