I’m reading books I got for Christmas. Yes, it is March — but we still have snow. I’ve been saving some of these books. Some books need the right frame of mind. I got two books from 1Mom for Christmas. I just finished the first of these, The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink. It is pretty interesting. It contains a lot of German Guilt over the Third Reich. I’ve encountered this before in some friends of German ancestry. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I’m still not sure what to do with it.
At one point during the war crimes trial described in The Reader one of the defendants asks the judge an honest question: “What would you have done?” I’m sure we’d all like to think we’d be part of the heroic underground or that we’d have stood up and said No in the face of monstrous injustice, but would we? Do we? Are there not monstrous injustices in our own society that we ignore? How will we be judged by history?
On the book vs the movie question, I saw the movie before I read the book. The book is slightly different than the movie, and, I think, gives better insight into the moral questions and moral ambiguity that the narrator faces. The movie is very well done, though, and Kate Winslet is brilliant in it. I recommend both equally.
I mentioned in this space that I’d acquired a library copy of Casino Royale so that I could read James Bond books in order as part of my reading old(er) books project. The James Bond books have all just been deleted from my list. Why? Let’s just say that the movies soften Bond. The one book that I’ve read is pretty raw, and I’m not really interested in that kind of reading material. I posted a link to my previous Bond post to facebook and one friend commented that the movie character and the book character were completely different. He’s right. I prefer the Hollywoodized Bond.
I’ve found this with other book/movie pairings. The movie leads me to the book looking for the fuller experience that the books usually provide, then the book turns out to be full of scenes I’d rather not read. The fuller experience has too much information. The movie softened the book, made it more palatable for viewers, broadened the audience. The movie basically has less sex and/or violence than the book. A short list of books I remember that fall into this category includes Beaches, Everything is Illuminated, and now Casino Royale.
Of course movies change books, that cannot be helped. But I’m still surprised when I find that the movie softened the book substantially. The accepted view in society is that movies are full of sex and violence. But the written word can carry a lot of both those elements as well. Should books have rating systems? Just a random thought on a Saturday morning.
When I was thinking about deliberately reading old(er) books this year, I thought about the James Bond series. I like a good spy story. I investigated the publication dates of the books written by Ian Fleming. Fleming died before I was born, making everything he ever wrote eligible as an Old Book by my definition. This is Very Exciting News. I went hunting for Casino Royale, determined to read the Bond books in publication order. I have now secured a library copy and am half-way through it already. So far I’ve met the Bond car, watched Bond drink his own particular version of the dry martini, met the Bond girl, and things have exploded all over our heroes. Excellent. I shall report as things develop, but I’m sure you already know what happens.
1Mom and I went to see “Life of Pi.” We’ve both read the book and liked it, but were slightly skeptical of the movie. We both thought it would be a hard book to capture. Ang Lee did a good job. We both enjoyed the movie. It was 3-D, which, in our opinion, wasn’t necessary. The photography was striking, and the visual effects beautiful, but the depths of the ocean shots didn’t strictly need 3-D. The tiger jumping out of the screen might have been effective, but that didn’t happen.
As you might expect from a shipwreck book there was a lot of water. Lots and lots and lots of water. As you might not expect, the movie adaptation was very true to the book. A colleague of 1Mom told her that this was the case, and that she’d really enjoyed the movie. This recommendation was a key reason 1Mom and I took ourselves to the theatre. If you’ve read the book, there are no surprises in the movie. If you’ve not read the book, the movie is a good introduction. Movies and books are different experiences, and I’d recommend both the book and the movie.
RABro got me The Casual Vacancy for Christmas. This is very exciting. I’m looking forward to it, despite the indifferent to negative reviews I’ve seen. I don’t necessarily trust reviewers any more, particularly when they get their copy of a much anticipated book and have a deadline in less than a day. Sometimes one must savour a book, not barrel through it looking for something to say in a review.
I re-read the Potter series during Advent as an escape from reality. Potter is a very handy escape series. It can take a week to read, and one can profitably read and re-read the books. That is to say, I can read and re-read the books. I’m not sure about everyone else. I think I’ve heard of other people re-reading Potter, so I think it is more than just me. I think Rowling will turn out to be a good writer, because she writes even when she doesn’t need to — she has enough money just from Potter and movies — but because she likes to tell stories. I think this is important.
I’m still enjoying The Elegance of the Hedgehog so it will be at least a day before I turn to Ms Rowling’s latest work. I’ll tell you if the reviewers had anything useful to say when I’m done.
I got two books from 1Mom for Christmas that she categorized as books on the aftereffects of war. One is The Ash Garden by Dennis Bock, set in Ontario and Japan. The other is The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. From my perusal of summaries and my memory of the movie of The Reader, both are about the effects of war on teens or children who grow up in the shadow of conflict. This is interesting for many reasons and has been a side interest of mine, but not one I’ve followed up on in my reading of books on the wars. I’ve more focussed on grown-ups in the wars, people who were in the conflict or who refused to join the army or things like that. I think that interest comes from my ADad and AGrandfather who served in very different ways in the second and first war respectively. ADad was in the air force. His father, my AGrandfather was a conscientious objector who served as a stretcher-bearer on the front. I’ve only recently started to see bits and pieces about this kind of service in the first war, and it was nuts. My grandfather never ever talked about it. Ever.
Fiction is an interesting way into the way the world looks for people on the inside of an historical event. Well researched, well imagined historical fiction provides a window into another time and place. I’m looking forward to my books on the aftereffects of war.
Sometimes a movie points me to a book. On the weekend I watched “The Hours” which I quite enjoyed. I know the movie is based on a book (The Hours by Michael Cunningham) which is based on a book (Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf). So many layers. Anyhow, I’ve read neither The Hours, nor Mrs. Dalloway, but now I’m much more likely to read both. I watched “Possession” before even realizing there was a book called Possession by A.S. Byatt, and now I think that is the Best Book Ever. The BBC serial adaptation of Pride and Prejudice helped me re-read the book by Jane Austen which I’d initially thought tedious. That book gets better every time I read it.
Which movies enhance your enjoyment of books or introduced you to books?
I finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy last week. I am still pondering. One friend liked “the strong female lead.” I’m not as convinced that Katniss is a strong female lead. She is certainly a female and a lead character. But other characters are constantly playing her. I am not sure she is a great character even though she overcomes the adults using her as a pawn. Peseta has more moral fibre and courage in many ways. He knows what he wants and Katniss doesn’t. Is this the kind of female lead we want in young adult novels?
I haven’t yet seen the movie, but soon. I am also in the middle of some interesting discussions about HG with teens and young adults. There will be more to say on this.
Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy isn’t really a seasonal book, though it does start with a New Year’s Eve party. In the book, Scarlet Feather is the name of a catering company run by Tom Feather and Cathy Scarlet. The book talks about the ups and downs of running a catering company in Dublin and all the intricacies of relating to people — clients, family members, and spouses. I think this book is one of Binchy’s best, though she does write quite a lot of really good books. Scarlet Feather is one of a number of novels she has written about present-day Dublin. These novels are not all about the same people, but the characters in this novel show up in other novels as background figures. Similarly the background figures in this novel are slightly familiar if you’ve read others in the set.
Binchy’s earlier works tend to be rather depressing. Circle of Friends is an example of this earlier work. The movie is quite a good adaption of the novel, but of course the lengthy novel contains much more detail. The movie has Minnie Driver in it, so that is reason enough to see it. Of all the early works of Binchy, I thought Circle of Friends actually had a somewhat redemptive ending. Many others (Firefly Summer, Light a Penny Candle, Copper Beech to name a few) were very dark with little light in them. The more recent works, the ones with the community of characters, feel much lighter, more hopeful, less bleak. I’m sure Binchy might be able to tell us why this might be the case. I do not propose a reason, I just observe. This is not to say that (for example) Tara Road or Heart and Soul are all goodness and light — there are conflicts aplenty in the books. But somehow the endings are hopeful despite the pain the characters experience. The community of characters begin with Evening Class (1996) and continue to the present. I’ve not read the one that’s just come out, so I can’t say whether the community continues.
I’d recommend Binchy as an interesting read. Her books are not quite at the brain candy level, but they are not hard work either. I find them enjoyable reads with interesting characters and situations. There are usually some theological issues raised in the books, and a priest or nun show up as characters more often than not. Whitethorn Woods is all about miracles.
I’ve come to the end of the list of 25 books I’ve read more than three times. I’m quite sure I’ll have no problem thinking of something else to write about. We are getting close to the end of the year, so Year-End Lists will probably be my next big theme. Be Warned.
Ah Bridget, what would New Year’s Resolutions be without you and your fine example? How could we think of ringing in another year without revisiting the Turkey Curry Buffet? Bridget Jones’s Diary, either the movie version or the book (in my opinion they are equally good) is quintessential holiday fare, especially for the single female.
BJD is a great read and re-read partially because of Helen Fielding’s adept use of language. I’m always in slight awe of the consistent tone of the diary — Fielding does not break cover. I’ve read all of Fielding’s books — there are only four — and I think BJD is the best of them. Part of this is the consistent tone and the interesting family plots, but there are also interesting literary references throughout the book. The most obvious references are to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. The casting of the movie with Colin Firth as Mark Darcy is beyond brilliant. (Also note that the writer for the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice is also on the writing team for the movie version of BJD.) There is another literary reference that I wonder about. I wonder where Fielding got the name Bridget Jones to begin with. Henry Fielding (1707-1758) wrote a novel called Tom Jones, which has a key character called Bridget. H. Fielding – X Jones. Hmm. No one has commented on this in print as far as I can see. Most people just ooh and ah at the layers of meta-fiction between Bridget and P&P both print and movie versions.
Apparently Helen Fielding spawned the “Chick Lit” genre single-handedly with the publication of BJD. I’d have to do a bit more research to find out whether that assessment is actually true. It is interesting that no-one has a genre category for books like About A Boy when it is (in my mind anyway) very much like BJD but with a male lead instead of a female lead. I’ve been trying to think of a gender-neutral genre label that has the same sort of snap that “Chick Lit” has, but have been thus far unsuccessful. Still thinking. Any suggestions?