Friday, March 27, 2015

Books about to be movies, books I wish were movies (but aren't), and a few movies that just didn't get the book right

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who think the book is always better than the movie, and those who didn't read the book. I love movies. I love them almost as much as I love books, so it is always thrilling to find out that a favorite book will be coming to a theater near me. So often the adaptations are disappointing though. If only David Fincher could adapt ALL my favorite books to films. Imagine Lauren Beukes' genre bending sci-fi noir thrillers set against her haunting backdrops of Midwestern urban decay done by the director of good books to great movies such as Gone Girl, Fight Club, and The Social Network.

A few books I would love to see adapted to film:

The psychological thriller A Pleasure and a Calling

How perfect would Phil Hogan's prim and proper vigilante sociopath/real estate agent (with the keys to everybody's house) be if played by Jude Law? Or maybe Joseph Fiennes? Definitely Joseph Fiennes.

They would probably end up casting James Franco and spinning it as a screwball hi-jinx comedy though.

The Tusk That Did the Damage byTania James

This book is a strong contender for my "favorite book of 2015" and it's only March. Complicated, graphic and intense, James' second novel is the story of Gravedigger, a vengeful elephant, and Dr. Ravi Varma, a man dedicated to reuniting abandoned elephant calves with their mothers and rescuing orphaned elephants, told through the alternating narratives of a two-person American documentary film crew, a poacher's brother, and Gravedigger. Check out a review here. And go read the book! Here's hoping for a CGI elephant that will do this book justice someday.

A few more from my wish list in brief: Zone One by Colson Whitehead, Night Film by Marissha Pessl, How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran, and The Dog Stars by Peter Heller all need to be movies NOW please.

Now for the failures:
This is Where I Leave You, the movie version of Jonathan Tropper's hysterically funny and deeply touching portrayal of a family at odds sitting Shiva for their deceased father was a massive disappointment for me. The cast was so promising too! Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, and Adam Driver, in the right director's hands, should have been perfect as the siblings. But they just weren't. Most of the actual humor in the book was completely ignored, and the tenderness felt maudlin and insincere. Maybe if I hadn't read the book I could have enjoyed the film? I suppose that sometimes a book is just too good in your own head to see it cast in another person's vision.

And I defy anyone who read Max Brooks' World War Z to say they liked that ridiculous film. I imagined it as the slightly tongue in cheek History Channel style reenactment program with oral history that it was in the book. What a perfect response to the dearth of zombie zeitgeist and cable television history programming that would have been! Instead, Brad Pitt got in there and made it into piles of fast running CGI corpses and ludicrous action sequences. Where was the Otaku narrative? The Queen of England's touching story? Madness.

Anyway, get ready to feel superior to everyone else in the theater for having already read these books BEFORE you see the movie this year:

Are you as excited as I am that The Martian by Andy Weir is going to be a movie starring MATT DAMON and directed by RIDLEY SCOTT this year?


And Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is also going to be a movie? 

And Dark Places, my favorite of Gillian Flynn's novels, will be starring Charlize Theron?

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers as a movie?! I loved that book!
But with Tom Hanks? 

Sigh. I don't know about that. Tom Hanks apparently has some kind of deal going with Dave Eggers. It has been reported that he will also be producing a film version of The Circle. No word yet on Your Fathers, Where are They [...etc] but I have my fingers crossed for that one.

Also hitting the big screen this year:

Into the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick directed by Ron Howard will be in theaters this December.

Serena by Ron Rash will be released (apparently this weekend) starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, so that should be pretty good, right?

Classics Madame Bovary will star Mia Wasikowska this Summer, and Frankenstein will inexplicably feature Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe (of the regrettable Horns) as Igor, Viktor F's assistant. Really?
True Story Starring Jonah Hill and the guy who is in everything, James Franco will be out soonish. I just saw a trailer for this and it actually looks really good.

The insanely popular Me Before You by Jojo Moyes will be out this year and The Longest Ride, another Nicholas Sparks adaptation, is on its way this April.

Of course Tim Burton is directing the adaptation of Ransom Riggs' creepy YA novel, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children!

I am also pleased to report that allegedly Richard Linklater, of the (go ahead and hate me for saying) DISAPPOINTING Boyhood fame, among other, better films, will be handling one of my recent favorites, Maria Semple's Where'd You Go Bernadette. That one could go either way.

And who's ready for the inevitable continuation of 4 OR 5 different teen dystopian novel adaptations in theaters this summer? DIVERGENT HUNGER MAZES PART X?!

See you at the movies!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Novel ideas involving books, from books, near books, and with books

Novel Living
Lisa Occhipinti

Quite a useful manual for the nascent book collector, Novel Living begins with a concise introduction to the ins and outs of casual book hoarding with handy tables containing definitions of terms, a book condition guide, and websites for further inquiry. Interspersed throughout this book you will find tidy advice for the care and feeding of books. While some of the book decorating and displaying ideas are a bit impractical (see the head-scratching "book sling" project), overall they will be visually inspiring and appealing to book lovers, and the chapter handling book repair is full of practical and easy to follow instructions for anyone with quality glue and an Exacto knife to take on tipping in, repairing hinges or replacing covers. And if a book just can't be saved, the chapter on conservation is followed by clever crafts to make from the books, and a few that are inspired by books. This book is well-arranged, useful, and to-the-point. Highly recommended for those looking for inspiration, just one more book, or something to liven up the coffee table.

Jessica Pigza

Jessica Pigza, NYPL librarian and venerate crafter, has created a "modern crafter's guide to using library resources to jumpstart creative projects." I love this idea and am consumed by sadness at her beating me to it. I am constantly being inspired to start projects while browsing the shelves, though perhaps less inspired to actually finish them...
Anyhow, Ms. Pigza has assembled incredibly inventive projects from her own work and that of other artists which draw inspiration from unusual resources that many folks would probably overlook. Take for instance the "Soil Profile Growth Chart" project which finds its roots in illustrations from a 19th-century geology textbook, and her darling embroidered "Cuts of Meat" table runner inspired by butcher diagrams in Mrs. Owens' New Cook Book and Complete Household Manual.

She even gives great tips on how to use the library, which is invaluable information for anyone, really.
And check her out at

Novel Interiors
Lisa Borgnes Giramonti

Interiors described in the pages of your favorite books as inspiration: cool idea, right? Imagine your home looking straight out of West Egg. Picture enjoying a little Brideshead Revisited in your very own Brideshead mansion. A Dickensian home? The chapter titled "Shall I put the kettle on?" goes ahead with that idea, apparently with zero irony. The designs are very loosely inspired by literature, appearing more to allude to the time and taste of the authors, rather than any specific setting.

Armed with only this book and probably a lot of new furniture, paint, hardware, blood, sweat, and tears, you'll be transported to the home of your favorite author's imagination, provided all of your favorite authors are late 19th- and early 20th-century English and American novelists. Or you can check the book out and flip through the pages on your futon, next to your milk crate bookshelves and dream.

The Novel: A Biography
Michael Schmidt

Pop some legs on it and picture this handsome 1172 page tome as your next coffee table. The Novel: A Biography traces the 700 year life so far of the novel in English (though the actual first novel is widely considered to be the 11th-century Japanese work, The Tale of the Genji, a bit more than 700 years ago). Michael Schmidt, a poet and professor of poetry at the University of Glasgow, has created a "bildungsroman" (defined as dealing with one person's formative years or spiritual education) of sorts of the English language novel, from its birth up to now, I suppose at whatever stage of life 700 years would be for a thing like a novel. Puberty? It seems to be in pretty good shape still so I would count on a few more years of robust health.

A 1200 page biography? If you were around for 700 years, give or take, your life might cover many pages as well. And as far as interior decorating with books goes, this one has a pretty snazzy cover.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Spring reading Forecast: 100 percent chance of awesome

How about that terrible title? The blizzard of fabulous new books springing up on library shelves this month will hopefully make up for my silly jokes*.

*Maybe I'm writing a dystopian novel in which people can only communicate in clickbait-style puns due to...some kind of  draconian law? zombie bacteria? (haven't fleshed that part out yet) consider this blog a viral marketing campaign. Keep an eye out for Ten Best Ways to Die on bookshelves someday!

I have so many books checked out right now I could turn them into a Sweet Sixteen bracket (with alternates to spare). So many that I'm jotting down bullet-proof excuses to use to get out of social obligations in favor of reading. For example: my nail polish is too chipped; I can't find my keys; I am having an existential crisis; I don't know where I am; It might snow/rain/ice/mist/locust.

I hear they're calling for snow again. Bring. It. On.

Finally, the book forecast. Nonfiction first:

So You've Been Publicly Shamed
by Jon Ronson

I'm so looking forward to getting my hands on this one. Perhaps it's the great title, or the awesome cover, but I'm all in.

Public shaming really never goes out of style, does it? Is it the public square beheading of the digital age? Anyone who has ever regretted a Facebook post or tweet might fear the onslaught of public scorn. It could happen to you!

Check out Esquire here for an excerpt, and keep an eye out for this book due out at the end of March.
H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald

As a child I briefly lived on the Air Force base in Colorado Springs. I remember little about that experience aside from snow, mountains, and the guy with a falcon at the Air Force hockey games. It perched perfectly still gripping the trainer's sturdy leather glove in its rather fearsome talons. So, naturally, wild packs of small children would come up to pet it, myself included. Somehow we were not ripped to pieces and ever since then raptors have fascinated me. H is for Hawk looks to be an outstanding piece of nature writing about one woman's quest to tame a hawk.

From the text: "To train a hawk you must watch it like a hawk, and so gain the ability to predict what it will do next. Eventually you don't see the hawk's body language at all. You seem to feel what it feels. The hawk's apprehension becomes your own. As the days passed and I put myself in the hawk's wild mind to tame her, my humanity was burning away."

Now on to the fiction:
Welcome to Braggsville
T. Geronimo Johnson

This dark and provocative satirical novel about UC Berkeley students heading to the south to stage a dramatic "performative intervention" in protest to a Civil War reenactment in one student's hometown. Reviewers of this disturbing and timely book compare T. Geronimo Johnson to Ralph Ellison, Don DeLillo, and H.L.Mencken and promise his second novel will challenge your assumptions about everything in it.

The Buried Giant
Kazuo Ishiguro

Booker Prize-winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro, has kept us waiting ten years for a new novel since Never Let Me Go. Elderly couple Beatrice and Axl live in an imagined Briton village somewhere in Arthurian England. There is an amnesia inducing mist, and a female dragon. That's about all I know. I hear this is getting mixed reviews so I'm avoiding them until I read the book. Sometimes I just want to experience a book for myself before hearing how everyone else felt about it. If you want my initial, haven't-even-opened-it-yet review: the book itself it aesthetically pleasing. The edges of the text block are black and the cover has a neat texture. Even if you don't read it, give it a quick feel.
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
Neil Gaiman

Don't you just love Neil Gaiman? Grimmer than Bros. Grimm, he does twisted grown-up fairy tales so well he may have invented them. Neverwhere is a fantastic read and I really enjoyed his gruesome little novel last year, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If you're a fan, you'll want to check out his collection of short fiction that just hit library shelves.

Fair warning from the author's introduction: "We each have our little triggers ... things that wait for us in the dark corridors of our lives." And "Many of these stories end badly for at least one of the people in them. Consider yourself warned."


The Sellout
Paul Beatty

One NPR reviewer has hailed this a "comedic masterpiece" and not "just one of the most hilarious American novels in years, it also might be the first truly great satirical novel of the century."

Paul Beatty tackles some big and difficult subjects with humor (that's satire for ya) in this novel about a race trial that sends a young man to the Supreme Court.
The Descent
Tim Johnston

This thriller of a mystery came out in January and I've already seen it check out quite a few times so get in line to reserve your copy. On a family vacation a brother and sister go out for a run together, but only one returns. The devastating search for missing 18-year-old Caitlin tests the limits of what holds a family together. (I'm hoping for something like a sneaky Scott Smith thriller with this one.)

A Bad Character
Deepti Kapoor

I snatched up this debut the minute it walked in the door. The first page totally grabbed me and wouldn't let go but I was already reading a book so now I keep cheating on that book, stealing little moments with this book whenever the other isn't looking. The first page, for you:

"My boyfriend died when I was twenty-one. His body was left lying broken on the highway out of Delhi while the sun rose in the desert to the east. I wasn't there, I never saw it. But plenty of others saw, in the trucks that passed by without stopping and from the roadside dhaba where he'd been drinking all night.

Then they wrote about him in the paper. Twelve lines buried in the middle pages, one line standing out, the last one, in which a cop he'd never met said to the reporter, He was known to us, he was a bad character."

Find Me
Laura Van Den Berg

This post-apocalyptic chiller is next on my to-read list (looming large at this point). It  just wouldn't be one of my forecast lists without at least one book about the collapse of society, right?

Cough syrup addicted Joy finds herself immune to a pandemic sweeping America--people are suddenly afflicted with memory loss, the mysterious disease eventually leading to death. Joy becomes a test subject at a Kansas hospital and then goes on the run to Florida, encountering a bizarre, changed country on her way.

File this one under Black MoonCalifornia, and Station Eleven, but hopefully better than California.

The Lesser Dead
Christopher Buehlman

Vampires! In a gritty late-70s New York City! I know, right?! This book comes highly recommended by a trusted source and the jacket copy reads like "Lost Boys" meets "The Warriors". I couldn't be happier about that marriage of pop culture favorites. I have this one checked out in print AND audio so I'm completely covered.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Fresh Book Club suggestions for when it's your turn to pick (from a new book clubber)

I find myself tongue-tied and self-conscious when it comes to discussing books out loud; for some reason writing about them is fine but the prospect of hearing my voice talk about them is intimidating. I read a lot and I read quickly, so I tend to not get much deeper into any sort of literary analysis than "Like" or "Dislike" or "yes I read that and vaguely recall liking it but couldn't recall the plot if my life depended on it". This is perhaps why I have avoided book clubs -- until now. I now belong to a secret literary coterie of five women who love reading, and like to talk to people about the things they are reading, and to share recommendations, and so on, therefore it seemed logical to organize this somehow--for efficiency's sake?--into a monthly gathering of souls who have read the same book and vow to talk about the experience (with drinks, snacks). My hope for book club? To try to slow myself down and to savor what I read, and to really take in what others have to say about the books we read. And to have fun, of course.

Ali Smith's How to be Both

Critically-acclaimed, Booker-finalist, bicameral* How to be Both is Ali Smith's 6th novel and comes with a peculiar feature: two different versions of the book were published. Half of the books begin the story from the perspective of Francescho, a 15th century Italian painter, the other half from the POV of Georgia, a 21st century teenage girl in London. While the two versions are identical in words and page count, the only difference being that part I and part II are reversed, how their stories will intertwine is affected by the switch, giving the reader quite a different experience depending on the version they happen to end up with. (I had to compare it to those "Choose your own adventure" books so popular when I was a kid.) One couldn't do better for a discussion book really. The obvious question "which version did you get?" makes for a good ice breaker. I knew nothing about the book when I first read it based on fellow book clubber/blogger, Ellen's recommendation. I just picked it up and enjoyed the heck out of it, only to find out later that there was much more to discover, especially the real artist and artwork behind the story. It turns out that Ellen recommended it after reading the first half, which for her was George's story, but I got the version beginning with Francescho and fell in love. So there we were, both raving about two totally different books at the same time.

*having two branches or chambers!

Michel Faber's The Book of Strange New Things

People often come in to the library to ask for book club recommendations, hence this post. Picking a book club selection can be as anxiety inducing as talking about the book afterward. What if they all hate it, and me? Should it be something I have  read, or want to read? Can it be science fiction? There's really only one way to find out the answers to those questions. When I read The Book of Strange New Things I immediately wanted to talk to people about it. I felt like I missed something big in it, like I just couldn't put my finger on something the author wanted to say. I sped through it to get to find out the ending, but often the end isn't the point and you have to back up a little. So I took a chance and suggested it for book club.

This book is and isn't science fiction. It is in the sense that it's in space, there's some light space travel briefly mentioned, and there are space beings involved. ("Aliens" seems inappropriate since the humans in this case would be the aliens I suppose.) It is not really sci-fi in the sense that it doesn't involve the kind of world building and fantastic technology that the more zealous fans of the genre enjoy. Robert Heinlein he ain't. I would recommend it to people who read Kurt Vonnegut, China MiĆ©ville, and Margaret Atwood, but also say they "don't like science fiction".

The basics: Peter is a Christian missionary sent into space by a shadowy corporation to proselytize an alien civilization that is curiously receptive to his message. He lives in a human settlement with a complacent and tight-lipped group of engineers and workers and ventures off the compound by day to minister to the locals. Meanwhile, his wife is back home dealing with the catastrophic decline of human society on earth. Peter becomes dangerously absorbed in his work, physically and mentally, widening the already enormous distance between him and his wife. There is mystery surrounding the beings who have requested his presence, the purpose and presence of the USIC corporation, and what is happening back on earth.

Duplex by Kathryn Davis

This would be a good pick if you want to be difficult, or you want to make sure your group vetoes all your future picks. Just kidding!  It's terrific, but it is surreal and quite odd, with a non-linear narrative operating in multiple dimensions. Many questions, much to discuss, and one could almost guarantee somebody would hate it, somebody would love it, and everybody would have something to say about it it--whether they "got it" or not.  It's also short, which your book club will probably appreciate.

A fun challenge for your book group: everyone attempt to describe the plot from memory. Good luck!

Threats by Amelia Gray

I could say almost the exact same thing about Threats. It's also weird and non-linear, weaving in and out of reality so that the reader has to scan back a few sentences like "wait, what?" before moving on. This is a dark and creepy mystery with an abstract love story at its heart. David, a man who was recently a dentist and seems to be losing his grip on reality, may have just killed his wife, or somebody else did, maybe? But is she really even dead? And what are these strange, threatening messages he keeps finding hidden all over the house, behind the wallpaper and in bags of sugar--messages like "I will lock you in a room much like your own until it begins to fill with water"? Your group might really enjoy trying to parse out this bizarre story.

And look: Amelia Gray shouts passages from her book while riding on the back of a moped, because.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cold enough for you? You've got plenty milk and bread, make sure you have enough books to read!

I was briefly without electricity this week so naturally I began contemplating the end of everything, up to and including me. Fortunately it was sunny enough to read so I made it through but I came up with a list of dire winter reads for those stuck indoors with a snow day who might like to compound a wintry situation.

In the Kingdom of Ice: the grand and terrible polar voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

This was my hottest (hah!) no-fail nonfiction to recommend last year. So far everyone has raved about it. Forget "cabin fever"!  Try getting "Arctic fever" and join a team of late 19th-century Arctic explorers marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia without taking off your slipper socks.  If "grand and terrible polar voyage" doesn't grab you, well, then you might not be that into it.
The Indifferent Stars Above: the harrowing saga of a Donner Party bride by Daniel James Brown

Did you raid your neighborhood market last weekend in preparation for the snow? Hoarding bread, milk and eggs? Lock your doors and look out for hungry neighbors--you're probably tender and delicious by now! Sorry, cabin fever breeds corny cannibalism jokes. Most people are familiar with the near mythical saga of the Donner Party and their ill-fated journey over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. But how much do you really know?
Pilgrim's Wilderness: a true story of faith and madness on the Alaska frontier by Tom Kizzia

This is one of those crazy stories that stick with you. A charming, musical family with 15 children, modern homesteaders in a way, settle in tiny McCarthy, Alaska. Papa Pilgrim, as the the family's patriarch is known, begins a battle with the National Park Service, revealing his dark past and the troubled and terrifying home life of his family.
Into Thin Air: a personal account of the Mt. Everest disaster by Jon Krakauer

Adventure journalist Jon Krakauer's personal account of the ill-fated Everest climb that left eight people dead. This is one of my go-to nonfiction recommendations when asked for "something really good?", right next to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Alive: the story of the Andes survivors by Piers Paul Read

A straightforward, unsentimental account of what happened when an amateur rugby team and family and friends crash landed in the Andes mountains. Some were killed in the crash, others survived in the harsh cold and snow for 70 days, resorting to cannibalism to stay alive.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Ever ponder what your street would look like if everybody stopped shoveling their walks or raking the leaves, every pothole was left to reach its full potential, the weeds went unplucked, houses unpainted, roofs untended, and so on? This thoughtful puzzler explores the inexorable breaking down of the man-made world if man were to suddenly cease.

I wonder what Richmond will look like once we thaw out.