Monday, February 28, 2011

Homeland ~ Barbara Kingsolver

I don't know what it is with me lately, but I've been having a hard time loving a book.  Everything I read just makes me feel rather meh.  That's not completely accurate, since I really enjoyed (though didn't love) The Edible Woman last month, but I guess devoting nearly two months to two meh books can make it seem that way.  I think Anna Karenina put me into some kind of slump.  The strange thing is that I constantly want to read.  I spend a good amount of time every evening reading, as well as when I first wake up and during lunch breaks when it's possible.  It's just the reading that I want though.  The specific books I'm reading seem less important than the act of reading itself.

The latest in my sequence of two meh books is Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver.  This was not my first Kingsolver.  A few years ago, I read The Bean Trees, a novel about a woman raising a Native American child who was essentially dumped on her, and its sequel, Pigs in Heaven. I loved and reread both books, then went out and bought both Homeland and The Poisonwood Bible, neither of which I ever got around to reading until now.

Homeland is a collection of short stories, something I read relatively little of considering the fact that I am a professed short story writer.  While I love short stories in general, individually they can be very hit or miss with me, and these ones definitely missed.  There was nothing specific I disliked about Kingsolver's writing: she creates characters with believable voices in interesting situations in varied locales.  However, she doesn't seem to limit herself in her story-telling.  We get so much background information for each story that we end up seeing very little of the situation at hand.  Short stories, in my opinion, should not give up everything.  They should give just enough to let our imaginations do the rest, like in "Mrs. Jones" by Carol Emshwiller, which Ellen at Fat Book and Thin Women was good enough to introduce me to last week.  We get enough information for the story to make sense, but Emshwiller leaves gaps in this information that allows our imaginations go to work, which in the end makes the story that much more powerful.

On the bright side, considering these two different styles of short stories has given me a lot to think about in my own writing, so that's a good thing.  And Homeland was at least a quick read, so no complaints there.  I think I will read Poisonwood Bible at some point, despite my disappointment in Homeland.  Based on the style of her short stories, I think Kingsolver is probably better suited for novel-writing.  Sadly, though, Homeland will probably be returning to the book trader from whence it came.

Any suggestions for a way to pull me out of my reading slump would be greatly appreciated.  I'm getting desperate here, folks.  Next up is Silas Marner, so hopefully that will help.

Completing Homeland ticks off yet another book on the TBR Challenge, hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader!  To my other challenges, who have seen only neglect at my hands, I apologize but the TBR challenge has the appeal of not costing me a penny or an effort, as I already own all the books.  I'll get to you, I promise.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Black Swan

So the husband and I have been meaning to see Black Swan for a while now, but never seem to get around to it.  Tonight, it finally happened and I have this to say: Holy shit.

When it ended, we sat, in our seats, stunned, as applause erupted around us.  I didn't clap, nor did anyone in the theatre, but they did in the film and it felt as though it came from me.  When the credits began to roll, we finally pulled ourselves out of our seats and dream-walked out of the theatre, clutching our half-eaten bags of Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Watermelons, and tried to figure out what had just happened to us.  In the car, the best we could do was try to come up with words to describe it.  The best we could find was "haunting" (Mitchell's) and "visceral" (mine).  We agreed that the word "good" was both inadequate and inaccurate.

The movie only ended a few minutes ago and I'm still in shock.  I do know, however, that I have needed something like this.  After two months of merely drifting through books inspire lukewarm feelings (first Anna Karenina and now Homeland) and working three jobs that do nothing for me, I needed to be captured, consumed, completely immersed in something.  It's strange that for somebody who usually thrives on words, something visual should do this (though the music had at least as much impact as the images).  I need literature like this, literature that I can plunge into and that makes me wonder where the line between it and me can be found, if it can be found at all.  It felt like days, weeks, months that I was in that theatre, yet it was only a couple of hours.  That was enough.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Top Ten Film Adaptations

Two posts in two days?!  Holy poopers!  Yes indeedy, it's true.  I'm back for the second day in a row, this time for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is best book to movie adaptations.  And off we go!

1. The Hours: I loved the book and I loved the film.  It really captures the essence of the book, being true to it while making changes, additions, and cuts appropriate to the change in medium, which I think is important in film versions.

2. Wuthering Heights (2009): Faithful and disturbing... click the link for my review!

3. Matilda - I probably wouldn't have thought of this on my own, but I saw it on Lucia's list over at The Blue Bookcase and knew I had to include it in mine.  The movie is fun and does the book justice.  And it doesn't even lose its charm when watching it over and over and over with my adorable nieces.  Plus, who doesn't love a book/movie about a child bibliophile?  Certainly not a former child bibliophile.

4. Girl Interrupted: I actually liked the film better than the book!  I know, blasphemy.  Maybe that's because I saw the film first or maybe because Susanna Kaysen's writing lacks a certain something.  I don't know, but I love the movie and am only so-so about the book.

5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Okay, so I don't think that any of the Harry Potter films are fantastic, but as a Harry Potter freak and a top ten blogger who's not going to make it to ten, I knew that I had to include a Harry Potter movie.  Most people don't find this as great as I do, and admittedly it leaves out a lot, but I love how it's simultaneously dark and hilarious.  It's a go-to movie for me.

6. Alice in Wonderland (1985 and 1999): Okay, so now I'm just reading other top ten lists to steal stuff for my own.  This one and the next were inspired by What Red Read; however, I'm not choosing the Disney version here (I do not like it).  These are both live-action versions; the 1985 version my family taped before I can remember, possibly before I was born (in 1987, if you're keeping track) and includes Through the Looking Glass as well.  I used to watch it over and over, though I haven't seen it in years.  The 1999 version I randomly picked up a few years ago and fell in love with.  It's very trippy, but so's the book!

7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: I loved the Gene Wilder version until this one came out.  Tim Burton's (obviously intended) awkwardness and brusqueness as Willy Wonka adds a certain something that Gene Wilder's initial pleasantry can't hope to master.

Okay, I'm out.  I don't watch that many movies and let's face it, most film adaptations suck.  What are your favorite book-to-film adaptations?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Anna Karenina ~ Leo Tolstoy

My dear friends, I've done it.  After more than six weeks, I have slain the monster.  Anna Karenina is no more...  I mean, Anna Karenina is no more (bwahaha, italics humor).  For those of you who missed my half-way through ramblings, here they are.  For the rest of you, read on...

I only don't know how I feel about this book.  There were so many elements that annoyed me - the excessive repetition, the wordiness, the way Tolstoy spells things out for his reader, the absolute lack of any sort of suspense, the use of direct discourse, the inability of the omniscient narrator to ever be anything but omniscient, the horrifically chauvinistic view of women, the long rambles about a huge variety of topics that I have no background or interest it, the fact that I couldn't follow the timeline, etc. - but I just don't know.  I can't bring myself to say I don't like it.  Is that because I subconsciously fear being snubbed in the blog world?  Maybe, but I doubt it, particularly after so many people agreed with me about Emma.  The thing is, Anna Karenina also has a lot of elements that I love - it's loooong (I love series), you really get to know the characters (though I didn't like a single one), the fact that I really got a sense of a lifestyle different from my own.  Suffice it to say, in a decidedly unTolstoyan manner, that I'm torn.

I'm not going to ramble on and on about this like I am wont to do.  I think that what I really need is to reread this at some point in the semi-distant future.  Perhaps reading it as part of a read-along would help so that I could compare notes with others... what do you all think?  If I hosted an Anna Karenina read-along next year, is that something you would be interested in?

I'd love to know your thoughts on the book!  Maybe other perspectives will help me figure out my own.

Oh, one more thing before I go: I am a woman and I have more on my mind than men and babies.  Tolstoy, I hope you're taking notes.

Anna Karenina counts towards the TBR challenge, my only challenge I've actually managed to make headway on this year.  Woot!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rebecca, the film

I was reading Rebecca over Christmas, and my uncle-in-law, seemingly very excited by this news, informed me that Alfred Hitchcock made a film version of the book and I absolutely must see it. I promptly filed this information into the films-I-should-watch-after-reading-the-book-though-I-probably-never-will-because-that-requires-effort-and-the-list-is-already-so-long-that-there's-no-chance-I-could-ever-finish-it-because-let's-face-it-I-like-reading-better folder in my brain.  That probably would have been it, except said uncle-in-law discovered my Facebook and it's much easier to remember to add things to your Netflix queue when you're already on the internet.  It's also easier to remember to watch something when it shows up in your mailbox all bright red and noticeable.

So here we go: Rebecca, according to Alfred Hitchcock.  It was very true to the book, and certain scenes elicited the same response from my husband (who's never read the book) as they did from me when I read the book (usually Oh no... accompanied by a strong sense of discomfort).  If the movie can induce the same emotional response as the book it definitely shows that the screenwriter and/or director has/have accomplished something, so kudos on that.

In general, to be perfectly honest, I'm not a huge fan of movies from this era.  Laurence Olivier, and many other actors from that time, tend to speak in a way that reminds me a lot of Keanu Reeves (whose acting I abhor) by which I mean that they sound forced.  Crazily enough, I prefer for actors to speak like people, not actors.  I liked Joan Fontaine's delivery better, though I did mourn the loss of her internal dialogue which is what made me like the book so much.

The casting of Mrs. Danvers was rather disappointing.  Any woman could be zipped into a long black dress, have her hair pulled back into a severe bun, and told to look unfriendly and speak in a monotone.  Mrs. Danvers requires a bit more than that.  Perhaps this is just my interpretation, but I read her as distinctly larger than the second Mrs. DeWinter, not petite, and rather masculine.  In shots that focused on her face it was okay, but when I saw her whole tiny body, particularly in the same shot as Mrs.DW2, the effect was lost.

**SPOILER ALERT**

I was definitely disappointed with the ending.  I really loved how the novel ended, with Mrs.DW2's sleepy confusion over whether the sun is rising or if those lights in the distance are something else and how it's never specifically stated that Manderley is burning.  This is the point where Hitchcock took the most license and it didn't work for me.  The sinister image of Mrs. Danvers framed by flames as she (apparently) burns with Manderley was overdone and didn't fit with everything else.  I really love the novel's domestic awkwardness enhanced by dark undertones, but this image flipped that relationship around.  The darkness enveloped everything and left me with a very different sense of the story.

Overall, I give it a good solid meh.  I probably won't be watching it again, but it was still a nice way to pass an evening.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wuthering Bite Me

So I was at the bookstore today attempting to buy a book with an employee discount that I don't technically have*, and I saw one of those literary spinoff books that always make me simultaneously curious but leery, like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Mrs. DuMaurier.  This one was called Wuthering Bites (clever, no?) and professed to reveal the truth of Heathcliff's mysterious background.  It would seem that Heathcliff's mother was a vampire hunter and his father was (wait for it) a vampire.  I promptly vomited in my mouth and went home to tell my husband about the abomination**.  Though he's never read Emily Bronte's demon-free original, he did watch (and enjoy) the movie with me, and thus I assumed that he would commiserate with me.  His response to the revelations of the truth of Heathcliff's past?  "I'm not surprised."  I can't decide whether to be sad or amused.  Or to forgive the author.

*I work for Barnes and Noble College, so it's not so farfetched to assume that a regular Barnes and Noble store would accept me as an employee seeing as how I'm employed by the same company.  Whatever, we make more.
**To the author of Wuthering Bites, should she read this: I'm sure your book is just lovely, but the undead-ization of everything ever just does not appeal to me.  Please forgive my slanderous comments as the wild postulations of the uninitiated.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Literary Travel

Literary Blog Hop

So I'm obviously late on this as last week's Literary Blog Hop, hosted by The Blue Bookcase, ended two days ago but I've been busy with friends and work and football and the only reason I'm even able to write this now is because one of the children I babysit went down for a nap and the other is still at preschool, meaning a whole hour of nothing to do but read and write and isn't that amazing? So clearly you have forgiven me for my tardiness and we can get on to this last week's question:

What setting (time or place) from a book or story would you most like to visit? Eudora Welty said that, "Being shown how to locate, to place, any account is what does most toward making us believe it...," so in what location would you most like to hang out?

I even have the clothes for it!
Except my robes are for Hufflepuff,
so make the appropriate adjustments
to my characters references because
I'm sleepy and therefore
do not want to.
This is easy for me. So easy, in fact, that I came up with two answers: one fantasy and one real. The fantasy destination is obviously Hogwarts. A friend of mine and I spent the summer before high school waiting for owls to deliver our invitations. Let me rephrase: she spent the summer waiting for her owl and recounting highly complex Harry Potter-related dreams to me and I humored her. Of course, a little part of me wanted and still wants to spends sunny English spring afternoons lolling by the lake, drinking pumpkin juice and levitating Ron somebody slightly more interesting than Ron, and then running off to the library with Hermione because, well, I love books, and eating trifle for dinner because there's no one to stop me, and having fun in the common room while I practice transfiguration on Colin Creevy. And then doing some other magical stuff before pulling the curtains on my four-poster bed closed and drifting into magical dreams (that are conveniently uninhabited by the Dark Lord)... Ah, to be British (and/or magical).

The real place that I would love to visit is India. I've got some weird, inexplicable fascination with India which you can see in the fact that it is the setting of most of the non-English language settings of the books I read, like Midnight's Children and Sea of Poppies. I don't know if it's the food or the yoga or the landscape or the brightly colored clothing but, more than any other country, reading about India makes me want to go. Likewise, reading about people (mostly the British) being mean to India makes me really freaking angry (like in The Moonstone by WIlkie Collins - they spend so much time debating the ownership of the freaking diamond and not one person gives a hoot that it belongs to Indians!).  Not surprisingly, visiting India is high on my list of life goals. Other books that I love that are set at least partially in India include The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I'd love any reccomendations of other excellent novels taking place in India - the more, the better!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Anna Karenina I-IV ~ Leo Tolstoy

So for the past few weeks, I've been tackling Anna Karenina, one of Leo Tolstoy's lengthy Russian classics.  And oh boy is it lengthy.  After all these weeks, I've just hit the halfway point, but I think I'm finally hitting my stride: I finished 100+ pages in the last 48 hours which for a book like Harry Potter isn't saying much, but for a novel filled with a seemingly unvaried variety of Russian names is quite a feat indeed.

I'm reading that translation, by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, that came out about ten years ago (which is nearly how long I've had this sitting on the shelf*) and which apparently is what made AK famous, thanks to Oprah**.  I have no opinion if this is a good translation or not, as I have never read another translation of AK, but I do have this advice for the translators: When providing a handy guide to confusing Russian character names at the beginning of your translation of an 817-page Russian novel, and a female character is single on page 1 but not on page 817, please only give her unmarried name.  Otherwise, you will severely limit your readers' desire to read all 817 pages.  Enough said.

As of now, my opinion is that the book is okay.  Sometimes it grabs me and I read for hours and sometimes I can't get through more than three pages without taking a Words With Friends break (my username is jlmarck if you want to play with me).  Part of what usually makes it hard to read more than a few pages at a time is that the chapters are ridiculously short, providing excessive reading breaks.  Chapter breaks between perspectives are fine, but multiple chapter breaks during one character's perspective that only lasts fifteen pages anyway and don't seem to have any purpose is just unnecessary and leads me to wonder how many pages shorter the novel would be without those few blank lines and lines with big chapter numbers on them and then I'm not even thinking about the book anymore and that's a problem.

One moment in the novel that I really loved was when one character realizes that he and his beloved had the same dream the night before.  You might think that this is ridiculous, but for years now I've hoped that my husband (then-fiance, then-boyfriend) would start sharing our dreams, so when Count Vronsky (yes, each mention of the many counts in this books does make me think of vampires) and Anna share the dream about the creepy French-speaking muzhik (which I think means peasant except sometimes Tolstoy says peasant and sometimes says muzhik so I'm not sure because sometimes he uses proper names and sometimes familiar names and maybe it's the same kind of thing?), it tugged on my heartstrings even if it did make Anna think that she was about to die.  Unfortunately, the only relatable dream-related thing I have to say here is that about four days into reading AK, I woke my husband and myself up crying because I had dreamed that he cheated on me (thanks to the excessive adultery in the novel).

To wrap this up before I tell you about my other upsetting dream from two nights ago, I'll just end on this note: part IV has the least satisfying ending of anything ever.  Perhaps I could have written a better midway review if I wasn't too busy shouting "WTF Tolstoy, what about Seryozha (thank you, poorly-planned character reference page)?!?!"

*Thank you TBR Challenge.
**It is my rather unoriginal humble opinion that Oprah should support modern, previously "undiscovered" writers because a) We already know we're "supposed" to read things like Anna Karenina and Great Expectations and b) If she likes books so much, she should try to help make it a non-dying art, and shouldn't let people like Jonathan Franzen (who I always confuse with Jonathan Safran Foer) stop her.  Just sayin'.