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Mixing mediums to mixed success: books and the movies

Recently, I listened to a podcast that discussed great books which turned into decent movies. Nick Hornby, by all appearances, is the poster child for successful author with novels that easily translate to film. His books High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, and About a Boy have all been made into movies that received high praise. I rather enjoyed About a Boy, but I have to say that the book version of High Fidelity was much better than the film.

And why is that? What makes a good book into a good, or even great, film? About a Boy had fantastic casting, so that’s part of it. But it also had a clipped pace and solved the “inner monologue” problem that characters in books get to use with abandon by having Hugh Grant provide the narration, which was not overly used. High Fidelity, on the other hand, practically had John Cusack speaking to the camera in every frame, which became bothersome and resembled some kind of tricky filming gimmick that I didn’t quite believe. And I didn’t like the woman cast as Laura, so the love story was a wash for me.

In fact, casting does play a big part of the whole success/non-success of book turned movie. I couldn’t bear to watch any of the Harry Potter movies because the actors cast as Hermione, Harry, Ron, etc, didn’t match the character versions from the book and my imagination. Hugh Grant, however, was perfectly placed as the half man/half boy selfish singleton living the carefree life in London. Renee Zellweger was born to play Bridget, in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

On rare occasions, a movie can even outshine the book version. The English Patient comes to my mind as an absolutely boring slog-fest of a novel, but roared and came to stunning life as a film. James Bond movies are another example of so-so stories that take on a life of their own on the big screen. Again, casting is key.

And sometimes a movie and a book come together as one and do the hard job of complimenting each other nicely. “Gone Girl” the novel I loved, but I was very skeptical of the movie version at first. If you’ve read the book, you might also wonder how they pull off the “big reveal” without it being too obvious or too cheesy. I thought the book was a wonderful interpretation of the book. The casting director responsible for putting the actress who played Margot deserves a medal. Her chemistry and relationship with her fictional brother, Ben Affleck, was key to the story. And Rosamund Pike… I can’t say enough about how much I love Rosamund Pike. The movie had big shoes to fill, and some folks I know were confused by the ending. Why would a man STAY with a woman like that? Here is where the book is a better narrative. You get more insight into Amy’s troubled and broken relationship with her parents, and you also get a clearer image of Nick “the people pleaser” who cannot let go of his hero/needs to be loved image. But the film Gone Girl did amazing things with Amy’s diary sequences and flashbacks, which made the whole movie for me.

And then there is the question question of interpretation. Obviously, a movie is a director’s (and screenwriter’s) adaptation of the fictional work. It can’t, as a visual medium, follow a book to the letter. Some crucial parts and minor characters will be reimagined, or left out altogether. The podcast crew I listened to pointed to the inconsistencies in American Sniper the film versus “American Sniper” the memoir. Here, the story deviated wildly from book to movie. “Gone with the Wind” is another novel that led to a loose interpretation in the movie version. Most notably, Scarlett O’Hara is missing some kids from her first husband. How much or how little gets changed depends on the type of story the director wants to tell. Radically changing details by no means is indicative of faulty storytelling in the novel form that gets “cleaned up” in the film version. But I do think books tell better linear stories than film. Books fill in the gaps with reminiscing, backstory, and small scenes with characters that are not pertinent to the overall arc. Trying to capture all of this in a film, going from point A to point B and following the exact path of the book, makes for a boring, by the numbers, movie.

Some of my favorite book to film adaptations:

  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The English Patient
  • About a Boy
  • The Graduate
  • Forest Gump (a nothing book that turned into a wonderful film)
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary
  • Fried Green Tomatoes

Any others that I’m missing? What do you think?

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2014 Book Challenge Results- 50 Books Read!

I did it! I met my goal of 45 books read in 2014 and went ahead and read 5 more. Actually, I’m glad I over shot my goal because there were a few books I couldn’t (and refused) to finish.

At the bottom of the post is my reading list for the year, but I wanted to take a moment and point out some highlights from my year of books.

BEST OF 2014:

  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon. I know, I know. I’ve talked about this book quite a bit. It made me fall back in love with books. After a long slump of reading ho-hum fiction, along comes this sweeping epic that truly moved me and sparked my imagination into high gear. What more could a reader want?
  • The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert. Give Elizabeth’s fiction a chance. This is one mother of a book. Gilbert’s astounding attention to detail and research is mind-blowing. She is an excellent storyteller. And while the book does have its slow (and even slower) moments, I really appreciated the main heroine and all that she stood for.
  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe. Why, you might ask, is THIS book on a list? Let me tell you that I was skeptical, too. I thought I was in for a juicy and gossipy light-hearted ride, but instead was treated a tender and insightful memoir that was actually quite inspiring. I have to hand it to Rob Lowe, he’s incredibly intelligent and hardworking. I’m almost ashamed that I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt before I read his book.

WORST (or most disappointing) OF 2014:

  • Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin. Could be one of the most pretentious, overblown, and dullest novels I have ever not finished. I usually finish all of my book club picks, but this one was next to impossible to see all the way through. I nearly fell asleep on the road while listening to it, and so the book became a dangerous driving hazard. I know there are folks out there who rave about this novel but not me.
  • The Light in the Ruins, Chris Bohjalian. So disappointing. He’s normally such a beautiful writer, but his latest book fell flat with a thud. Read his The Skeletons at the Feast in place of this novel.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple. God, such a turgid book. I don’t even know where to start with how much my expectations were destroyed after reading it. Marketed as somewhere between a humorous satire and (supposed) tender look at mental illness, the novel just comes off as mean-spirited and trite. A complete disappointment.

BIG SURPRISES:

  • The Fault in Our Stars, John Green. Well, the joke is on me. I went on to read this book fully expecting to hate it. I was curious as to why the novel was garnering so much attention that I had to read it, but as I’m not a huge fan of YA novels I put my snob face on. The snob face was promptly wiped away. This is a sneaky book. While it’s not the best piece of literature out there and features some fairly unbelievable characters, it’s a heartbreaking and ultimately well-written story about kids with cancer. And one I think most teens would benefit from reading.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt . A reread that I’m glad I reread. For a true crime novel, it reads more like a biting and zesty article in a gossip rag. Better the second time around.
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I think everyone should reread this novel every ten years. Its tone and imagery evolves as one matures. I love this book so much, and I can’t wait to read it again and again. It’s lost none of its charm since I first read it in high school.

AUTHOR OF THE YEAR:

  • Ms. Gillian Flynn gets my vote for one of the best mystery/thriller writers out there, especially in the female writer category. She is unapologetically gross- and not for the shock value, either. Flynn captures the dirtiness and scumminess of human society in the most realistic way. Her heroines are anything but heroic, but nor are they tragic figures. They are raw and flawed women with scratches and scars, yet are somehow at the same time likable and repulsive characters. I can’t wait to read more of her stuff.

LESSONS LEARNED:

  • I’m glad I gave myself permission this year to not finish books that didn’t speak to me. I saved a lot of precious time.
  • I need to be more discerning about choosing audio books. Some of the narrators are just awful and do not do the books any justice.
  • I will not do any reading challenges in 2015. While I do like to see how many books I can read in a year, and I love discovering new authors through a variety of challenges, I find that time-wise I become almost maniacal about getting through a large amount of books in short time periods. I don’t think I enjoy the books as much. Plus I want to finish some of my longer series, such as Outlander and Game of Thrones, and those hefty novels take up so much time.

Behold the 2014 book list! Here are my categories:

  • YES: This book changed my life in some way and hopefully it will change yours. Or I just really enjoyed it.
  • VACATION READ: We all need books that can sustain us for long periods when we are sitting on a beach or in front of a fire in a log cabin. These are not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, but will hold your attention for more than a few hours, while still allowing you to relax. (I may even put YES and VR together, mean yes it’s great AND good for vacation).
  • NO: I just didn’t like it or it wasn’t worth my time. Doesn’t mean someone else might not love it, but I would never hand this book to another and say “You gotta read this!”

(I apologize for the format below. I tried copying and pasting from Goodreads, which was a mistake).

Happy reading in the New Year, everybody!

 NO
VACATION READ
YES, VR
NO
YES
NO
YES
YES, VR
NO
YES, VR
YES
VACATION READ
NO
YES
YES
YES
YES, VR
YES
YES
YES
YES, VR
YES, VR
YES
NO
YES, VR
YES (hesitantly)
YES, VR
NO
VACATION READ
NO
NO!!
NO
YES (hesitantly)
YES
NO
YES
YES
YES
VACATION READ
YES
VACATION READ
YES
YES
YES
YES (Hesitantly), VR
YES
YES

 

Book Review: “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn

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This is a gross book. Not saying it is bad by any means, but it’s just plain icky and cringe-inducing, filled with disturbing, dirty, and awfully sick people. Oh, and Gillian Flynn should probably not sit on the tourist board for Missouri anytime soon, as this is the second novel I’ve read of hers featuring a Missouri locale and she doesn’t paint it in any flattering light. Also, fair warning: If you involuntarily shudder and throw up a little bit in your mouth any time someone mentions “teeth pulling”, do not read this book.

However, all of my above initial thoughts aside, I give admirable praise to Flynn for having the guts to create such unlikeable main characters and for refusing to wrap her stories up in a tidy bow. I do not say this sarcastically, either. She excels at writing flawed people, and it’s truly refreshing to read books by a female author writing about the anti-heroes. One of the reasons I enjoyed “Gone Girl” so much was not that it was the best book I’d ever read, but that Flynn was willing to flip aside the mystery genre “rule book” and go for broke. I hated Nick as much as I hated Amy and I wasn’t too fond of his sister or her parents, either. Same goes for “Sharp Objects”- Camille Preaker is only one step above the rest of her wretched family, but she’s just as disturbed as nearly everyone else in her broken and Stepford Wife-esque home-town. She’s dismally depressed, a heavy drinker, a poor judgement of character, and has a dark and jagged (wink wink) past. So what’s to love? She and almost she alone feels genuine sorrow for the murdered girls and is doing her darnedest to uncover the truth. I do end up garnering some sympathy for her, as I did with Nick in “Gone Girl”, albeit grudgingly.

But again, I must stress that “Sharp Objects” is by no means awful, even though it’s filled with awful folks doing terribly awful things. Flynn veers into traditional mystery genre formula territory near the end of the book, and it got painfully slow and repetitive somewhere near the 3/4 of the way gone mark. Although I (strangely) found it interesting to read about such flawed and damaged main characters, the author does fall into the trap of having Camille appear as too much of an outsider. She’s nearly always the smartest gal in the room and there is much commentary on how the other Wind Gap, MO town folk- most of whom having never left after high school- are immature, self-centered, uncultured, and stuck in the past. It gets to be insulting after a time. While Camille is no way near perfect (as the reader quickly discovers) she’s also not a fair judge to anyone else, and I quickly tired of having to listen (I read this via audio book) through endless interviews with her former school mates that ultimately resulted in peevish and childish trips down memory lane. Having never kept up, really, with anyone from high school, I couldn’t identify with this reminiscing and the absurd assumption that Camille could possibly be the only one who literally and figuratively “moved on” from high school drama.

As for the “whodunnit” aspect of the book, I guessed early on who the true culprit was. This isn’t necessarily a disappointing thing; as I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of awful side stories to go around and Flynn does make good use of diversionary tactics. The unfolding of the mystery is very slow going at first but after a while the speed picks up and I was hooked. I don’t think I have ever wanted to sit in traffic so much in my life, just to get one more smidge of story. And, one of the perks of listening in my car versus reading the actual book, was that I could not skip ahead or peek to the end! A huge (and sometimes incredibly frustrating) feat for me! I had to actually work out the crime myself and couldn’t take a tiny quick look at the end of the book to see if I was right!

The epilogue attempts to wrap up the story, but Flynn keeps things from steering into a fairy tale ending. I actually loved the ending a lot. Camille finally reaches a starting point where peace can potentially be achieved and there are just desserts for the killer. Nothing ever gets resolved, really. But I think Flynn is a smart writer- when does anything in real life ever get a “completed” stamp? The journey never truly ends for these characters, which ultimately makes her books so engrossing and thought-provoking, even when the stories and characters are not always shocking or pleasant.

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