Top Ten Tuesday: Types of Books to Hook Non-Readers

It’s That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

November 2: Books I Would Hand to Someone Who Claims to Not Like Reading

I think recommending books to anyone (especially non-readers) is personal. You want to recommend something that will appeal the the person who will be reading it, and that depends on their tastes, interests etc. So I decided to list some types of books that might appeal to people who don’t think they like to read.

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1.Middle Grade and Young Adult- These are usually fast moving, accessible and fun. You can find things to suit just about any range of tastes, and from a literary perspective it’s usually not too challenging (though you can absolutely find some challenging subjects there) Plus it’s often a little shorter than books for an adult audience. It can be intimidating to be giving a huge brick of a book when you’re just starting out!

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2. “Airport” fiction- Think authors like Dan Brown, Stephen King, James Patterson, Michael Crichton et al. In most cases these books are fast moving and easy to get into. There are also fewer heavy expectations with these. You don’t feel like it’s something “great” that you’re “supposed to” love and get a lot out of. Just a note: while these books don’t have a reputation as literary and high brow, there is some interesting stuff out there.

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3. Non-fiction about topics that interest them- I think of non-fiction as a sort of gateway drug for non-readers. It’s easiest to get people to read a book targeted at something they find interesting. Even if they don’t like to read, they’ll probably want to know more about that topic.

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4. Illustrated novels and graphic novels- Some people are a little intimidated by page after page of text. Other people are art lovers. Fortunately there are illustrated and graphic novels aimed at just about all tastes.

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5. Short books- Long books can also be intimidating. Something that gives readers a sense of completion fairly quickly can be a good idea.

6. Books by celebrities/recommended by celebrities- People like to feel like they have something in common with their favorite celebs. If a celebrity they like writes (or ghostwrites) a book, or talks it up on social media, it’s automatically of more interest to fans.

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7. Books that were the basis for popular TV series/films- No explanation needed really for this one. If they like the show/film, check out the book. Chances are it’ll have enough differences and more depth to keep them interested.

Something Halloweeny This Way Comes…

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I’ve always loved Halloween. As a kid, I was hardly alone in that love. With it’s custom blend of fantasy, make-believe, and candy, it’s a holiday that seems tailor made for the young.

But I took it more seriously than most kids. I started planning costumes months in advance (literally, months- I would come up with costume ideas all year round and then have to wait until Halloween to use them). Then, around mid-September I’d start thinking about the logistics of costumes. For example, the year I tried to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid I was presented with several problems. One was that I would have to walk around in a more modest version of Ariel’s shell bra. Even though the costume had significantly more coverage than the movie version did, my parents didn’t think it wise for me to walk around with no sleeves and a bare midriff on a chilly October evening. That was solved by a flesh colored shirt worn underneath. But then came the challenge of walking around in fins. My tail had an opening at the bottom for my legs, but it wasn’t wide enough for me to take more than mini-steps, so it had to be expanded slightly. Such alterations and decisions required a lot of time and thought.

Not me in my little mermaid costume. I looked much sillier. Less cartoon-y though.
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My Halloween seriousness wasn’t just limited to costumes. I used to plan my trick-or-treating route. I knew what houses had the best candy, and where to go for “filler” items. I knew there was a limited amount of time for trick-or-treating: eventually my mom would say it’s getting late and we should go home. So I wanted to hit the best houses in the shortest amount of time. In between, of course, I’d stop at all the other houses. I wasn’t one to turn up my nose at any candy!

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But like all children, I eventually grew up. I didn’t grow out of Halloween though. I’m not much of a party girl, and since my friends in college weren’t big party animals either, we’d rent a bunch of Halloweeny movies, stock up on candy and make it a movie night. It was more fun then it sounds. So I’ve sort of maintained the tradition into adulthood. It’s not as much fun as it was in college, since I don’t usually have a group of friends who can easily come over and join me (one of the advantages of dorm living is that everyone is a few doors away!) and I’m more health conscious so I don’t let myself have quite so much candy.

I do save seasonal films to see, books to read and TV shows to binge. Here’s some recommended Halloween media. Just note that while I like “spooky” and “creepy”: I’m not a fan of horror per se. I don’t like blood and guts. I also (for the most part) left off stuff that’s aimed primarily at kids. There’s some good stuff there, but it’s a whole nother list!

Books

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Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury– This is a very seasonally appropriate book. It feels like fall. Actually I think I’d call the story more “dark fantasy” than “horror.” But I suppose it depends on one’s scare threshold. I have some issues with the florid writing in this one. It’s appropriate in some places, but in others I think it slows things down. Still definitely worth reading though.

We Have Always Live In the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson– It’s hard to go too wrong with Shirley Jackson for Halloween! I think We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the most Halloweeny, but it’s a close race.

The Birds and Other Stories, Don’t Look Now: Selected Stories of Daphne DuMaurier, and Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- A lot (but not all) of DuMaurier’s work is Halloween appropriate. I think you can make the argument that Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel deserve a place on this list as well.

The Other by Thomas Tryon– I didn’t like this one at first but by midpoint it was hard to put down! Some of the twists I saw coming but others took me by surprise. Tryon’s novel Harvest Home is also Halloweeny, but I didn’t like it as much.

The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski- This is a haunted house story meets psychological thriller that takes place over several layers and incorporates different forms of text within a text. I didn’t include music on this list, but the author’s sister is singer-songwriter, Poe, who put out an album called Haunted that contained several songs connected to/about the novel.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl- Like The House of Leaves, this book plays with form. It incorporates photographs, documents, and there’s an app you can download to access bonus content. But more importantly, it tells a creepily compelling story with elements of murder mystery and supernatural.

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie– If you love Agatha Christie, Poirot’s investigation of a deadly Halloween party is a seasonal must.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman- The first in a series, and I’d recommend starting here. It’s good if you want Halloween and witches without being too scary.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters– I’d recommend this to readers who appreciate atmosphere and ambiguity.

Ghost Story by Peter Straub– Just what it sounds like! It has one of my favorite ghost story beginnings: “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” “I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me—the most dreadful thing . . .”

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- This is a ghost story, but in an unexpected way.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill– Another creepy British ghost story (gotta love them!)

TV

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The Haunting of Hill House– This Netflix miniseries is inspired by Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, but it’s not really an adaptation.

The Haunting of Bly Manor- This miniseries was the work of the same team as the above, but deals with a different story and characters. This one is inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but again it’s not an adaptation per se. I didn’t care for the team’s third outing, Midnight Mass (perhaps because it’s doesn’t have a clear literary inspiration?)

Locke and Key– This series is based on a series of graphic novels which I haven’t read. Apparently they’re darker than the Netflix series. In TV form this plays sort of like Narnia meets The Haunting of Hill House. It’s fun, a little creepy, but nothing too intense. I didn’t like the second season as much as I liked the first, but it was still fun.

Being Human (UK) This show about a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf who live together, was a total guilty pleasure for me. I didn’t particularly care for the American version though.

A Discovery of Witches- This is another TV series is based on a book series (also fun) that blends supernatural creatures. The biggies in this one are vampires, witches and demons, but there’s also some other weirdness.

Salem– This is sort of semi-inspired by the idea of the Salem witch hunts, but that’s about all it has in common with reality. There are plenty of witches, demons, and supernatural creatures here.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina– When I was a kid I loved the old TV show. I like this one too, in a different way. Literary and musical theatre references abound, which makes it fun for me.

Stranger Things- If you’ve been living under a rock, and missed this supernatural, 80’s set series, Halloween is the perfect time to binge.

Film

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Hocus Pocus– A childhood seasonal favorite. It’s got a few moments that may creep the little ones a bit, but it’s mostly just funny and fun for the whole family.

The Addams Family and The Addams Family Values- Some more Halloween comedy classics!

Practical Magic– If you’re more into romcom and less into scary

The Changeling– A haunted house mystery that’s both sad and creepy.

The Other This is based on Tryon’s novel of the same name, listed above. It’s a pretty good adaptation, but the book is better.

Don’t Look Now– Based on Daphne DuMaurier’s novella of the same name (listed above).

The Others– A very gothic, Halloweeny haunted house story. It’s a favorite of mine in the genre.

Burnt Offerings– Another underrated haunted house

Sleepy Hollow– The classic legend gets the Tim Burton treatment. It’s just a fun movie.

The Woman in Black – Based on the book listed above. The 2012 film is good, but if you can find the lesser known 1989 film, I like that better. But I only saw that one once, a long time ago.

Poltergeist– I saw this movie for the first time when I was about 9 years old (don’t know how that happened) but needless to say it terrified me. I saw it again a few years ago. I found it less terrifying, but otherwise it holds up pretty well.

Workouts Yes this is sort of an unexpected category, but I saw a few fun Halloween workouts out there, so I figured “why not?”

Up To the Beat Fitness – 30 Minute Halloween Dance Party

Lucy Wyndham- Read- Halloween Workout

Were you’re favorites not listed? I could have listed more, but the post was already getting long! Maybe I’ll do an update next year. Let me know what you think!

Wishing everyone a happy and safe Halloween

Top Ten Tuesday: Books For Which I’ve Wanted Read Alikes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

June 8: Books I Loved that Made Me Want More Books Like Them (The wording is weird here, so if you have a better way to say this please let me know! What I’m thinking is… you read a book and immediately wanted more just like it, perhaps in the same genre, about the same topic or theme, by the same author, etc. For example, I once read a medical romance and then went to find more because it was so good. The same thing happened to me with pirate historical romances and romantic suspense.)

For this one, I decided to make things a bit interesting. If a book has TV/film adaptations it’s not allowed on this list, because it’s too popular (and popular books always have imitators!). So this is also turning into a bit of a list of books that I’m surprised don’t have adaptations! I’m also sharing some of the read alikes I’ve found for the books on this list.

1.The Secret History by Donna Tartt– Actually now that I think of it, I’m surprised that Hollywood hasn’t tried to adapt this one. Apparently the rights have been sold but nothing come of it. I’m sure it’s coming eventually, and I can only hope they do it justice. Anyway, after Some read alikes are The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman and Red Leaves by Paullina Simons.

2. The Quincunx by Charles Palliser– This is another book I’m surprised no one’s tried to adapt yet. I think a miniseries format might work best. Though I’m sure it would be a difficult task. It’s actually part book, part puzzle, which is why it’s so hard to find read alikes for. Some read alikes (in different ways) include The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time by Michael Cox and Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (which was ineligible for it’s own spot on this list due to two adaptations)

3, The Eight by Katherine Neville– Actually someone in Hollywood really need to check out this list because I have wonderful source material for them! This book does have a sequel but I haven’t read it yet. I want to reread the first one before I read it. Actually some of the other books on this list, including The Gargoyle and The Shadow of the Wind make decent read alikes. Also, Amy Benson’s Plague Tales trilogy.

4. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson- The Eight (see above) is actually not a bad read alike for this one. Another one is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (which had the film rights sold in 2005 apparently but no word on whether it’s ever actually happening!). The similarities are more in terms of tone than plot.

5. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon- My quest for read alikes for this one led me the rest of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. It also led me to Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale (which couldn’t make this list due to the adaptation) which sent me on yet another quest for more read alikes.

6. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue– Read alikes include Donohue’s The Boy Who Drew Monsters, and The Changeling by Victor LaValle. Even though the target audiences are very different I might also say that Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and even JM Barrie’s Peter Pan are similar.

7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– There are rumors of a film adaptation of this one. I’m sure there will be one at some point, but for now it works for this list. Read alikes include The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern and Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter.

8. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier– Sent me on a quest to read everything else Marillier has written or will write. That includes the rest of the Sevenwaters series. Other non-Marillier read alikes include Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy and Robin McKinley’s folktale series.

9. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray– Again the rest of the trilogy is an obvious read alike. Others include Carol Goodman’s Blythewood trilogy and Bray’s The Diviners series.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Should Get TV/Film Adaptations

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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August 18: Books that Should be Adapted into Netflix Shows/Movies (submitted by Nushu @ Not A Prima Donna Girl)

Just a note that I don’t limit this to Netflix. Anyone who wants can make these movies/shows.

  1. 91ewbiftngl._ac_uy218_The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I think that if it’s done right, a film adaptation of this novel would be an exercise in creating dramatic tension. The viewer would stay with the limited point of view of Richard, the protagonist, so that we can only know what he knows and see what we sees. It would be frustrating, yes, but deliciously so, just like in the book.
  2. 41xfknijvel-_ac_us218_Villette by Charlotte Bronte– While I love Jane Eyre, it’s been adapted enough. Let’s give some of Charlotte Bronte’s other work a shot! This also has mystery and romance, and I think some of the Gothic/supernatural(?) scenes have the potential to look great on screen.
  3. 51lcp5zpnnl._ac_uy218_A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray– The Victorian Gothic setting combined with secret societies, magic, coming of age drama and romance makes me wonder why this hasn’t been adapted before! Ideally I think I’d want a series with one book per season.
  4. 91jgf9xfe0l._ac_uy218_The Luxe by Anna Godbersen– Set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, this would look just lovely onscreen. The plot involves friendship, backstabbing, forbidden romance and betrayal. It would be a wonderful guilty pleasure to watch with a talented cast. Again I think this lends itself to series format with one book per season.
  5. a1d-o9itg-l._ac_uy218_Night Film by Marisha Pessl– Yes, this would turn into a bit of challenge because elements in the book are ambiguous. Film is a more concrete medium and there would certainly be the temptation to give the viewer answers. But other films have handled ambiguity well, so it can be done. I also think the films within the book could be turned into some great films within a film. How a director chooses to interpret those (via casting, visuals, etc) could really say a lot about the events in the story.
  6. 911-t2bi6l._ac_uy218_The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– I think setting (post war Spain) can lend itself  to some great visuals. The plot, complete with mystery and forbidden love, would easily hold viewers attention. Other books in the Cemetery of the Forgotten series could be done as follow ups (I’m thinking 2-3 episodes per books, so the whole show could be 4 seasons of mini-series, if that makes sense)
  7. 91vfadbawnl._ac_uy218_The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye– I think that this would appeal the the same audiences that are fans of The Alienist and Gangs of New York. We get the corrupt, constantly changing melting pot of 19th century, a compelling hero in Timothy Wilde, and two sequels that serve to make later seasons on a TV series.  Given the (rightful) scrutiny that many police forces are coming under, a look at the roots of the NYPD (good, bad and ugly) could be timely. The story deals with a murder mystery, social issues, family drama, and historical elements.
  8. 81ku7zgvnzl._ac_uy218_Kindred by Octavia Butler– This has a lot to recommend it. It’s an exciting time travel story about a woman trying to ensure that her family is able to exist. That time travel story brings her (and her white husband) to a southern plantation, where they must pretend to be a master and his slave in order to survive. There are a lot of moral dilemmas here too, that can provoke thought and conversation in audiences.
  9. 81q2madzv9l._ac_uy218_ml3_Doomesday Book by Connie Willis– This is actually the only Oxford Time Travel book I’ve read (To Say Nothing of the Dog is sitting on my shelf waiting for me to start it!) but I think that the series could do well on TV. Since there is a common universe (as opposed to characters) they could have a different creative team each season and really mix it up a little bit.
  10. 71rl3ufz0wl._ac_uy218_Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee– This is probably going to be an unpopular opinion but I think that this could be a great and perhaps necessary look at how racism shows up in people who we don’t usually think of as “racist.” To most people (including his daughter) Atticus Fitch is the epitome of a good man. So when she finds out about her father’s racist sympathies Scout is crushed, and tries to reconcile this knowledge with the man she loves. She also looks at her own behavior and the assumptions that she’s always made. I think a lot of people are starting to realize how deeply entrenched racism is in society. This book looks at how it hides even in “good” people, and what happens when heroes are toppled. That’s something that people need to see, even if, (especially if) it’s uncomfortable.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best MetaFiction

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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July 28: Freebie (This week you get to come up with your own TTT topic!)

I made this list recently and decided to use it here. For the purpose of this list, I’m calling metafiction a “self conscious” novel. These books discuss, and think about themselves as works of fiction, within the context of the novel. So we have lots of books within books, narrative footnotes that continue to story while commenting on it, and other forms withing the novel (diaries, letters, poetry, essays, plays etc).

51va-sxea5l._ac_uy218_1.The Princess Bride by William Goldman – The author frames the story as an abridged  retelling of an older book with the boring parts taken out. He frequently alludes to these parts throughout the text.  In the film adaptation this was handled by having frame story in which a grandfather reads his grandson the novel. We see this in the book as well, but it’s less prevalent.

“He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”

 

71jfo2zkzvl._ac_uy218_2.If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino– This one opens with “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.” Throughout the text the fictional reader and real reader’s relationship is discussed and addressed, blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. There are also several books within  the book that we read (at least in part).

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice — they won’t hear you otherwise — “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything: just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

810pcxbl3l._ac_uy218_3. House of Leaves by Mark Danielwski– This books is has text arranged in strange ways that mirrors the events of the story. It contains lots of footnotes (which also have footnotes themselves) that reference works that don’t really exist. There are several narrators some of whom directly address the reader. It claims to be an unpublished manuscript of a lost documentary film, annotated by a tattoo artists. There’s also an appendix of letters from the tattoo artist’s (insane) mother.

“This much I’m certain of: it doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish [the book] and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It won’t matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how. You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place”

 

81oy308r7ql._ac_uy218_4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles– This novel looks at the 19th century novel as seen through a late 20th century perspective. We read the story that takes place in 1867, and the narration that calls one’s attention to the fact that the 1867 plot line is in fact, fictional. This was handled in the film adaptation by having a second timeline in which we see the 1867 story line being made into a film.

“You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for loved ones; for vanity, for pride, for curiosity, for amusement: as skilled furniture makers enjoy making furniture, as drunkards like drinking, as judges like judging, as Sicilians like emptying a shotgun into an enemy’s back. I could fill a book with reasons, and they would all be true, though not true of all. Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world. It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.”

 

71scqfzfhel._ac_uy218_5.  Atonement by Ian McEwan– Minor spoiler alert: The book turns out to have been “written” by one of the characters in the novel. The reasons that the character has for doing this involve much bigger spoilers. Interestingly the film adaptation didn’t try to do anything fancy with a secondary timeline. The “reveal” is simply there at the end.

“How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.”

 

51xunct3xjl._ac_uy218_6. The Keep by Jennifer Egan– In the first chapter, this shifts from a story about two estranged cousins a Gothic castle to being about a man named Ray who is writing the story as a part of a prison’s creative writing program. The two stories unfold, switching back and forth, as the storylines reflect  back on one another.

Being somewhere but not completely: that was home for Danny, and it sure as hell was easier to land than a decent apartment. All he needed was a cell phone, or I-access, or both at once, or even just a plan to leave wherever he was and go someplace else really really soon. Being in one place and thinking about another place could make him feel at home.”

81qh7u4anel._ac_uy218_7. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne– I remember reading this in college with a big, “WTF!?” expression on my face the whole time! It claims to be the memoirs of a country gentleman, but it’s really one digression after another, and sometimes the digressions have digressions of their own! We also get some sermons, essays, drawings and more mixed in there. I tend to think of metafiction as being postmodern, so it’s amazing that this book was written in the 18th century!

“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading;—take them out of this book for instance,—you might as well take the book along with them;”

 

813yvojs9pl._ac_uy218_8.The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood– This book includes a story within a novel within a novel. Iris is publishing a book written by her sister, Laura. Her book is about Alex Thomas, an author pulp sci-fi, who has a complicated relationship with two sisters (who may be counterparts for Iris and Laura). It also contains one of Alex’s stories, The Blind Assassin. Got that?

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

a150ni9rjrl._ac_uy218_9.Possession by AS Byatt- This novel follows two academics as they follow a paper trail, researching the love affair between two fictional 19th century poets. It incorporates fictional diary entries, letters, and poems. These devices are ultimately used to question the authority of textual narratives.

“Think of this – that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.”

 

71vksxqmbul._ac_uy218_10. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz– Susan is editing the new manuscript by best selling mystery author Alan Conway, known for writing in the tradition of authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. We read the manuscript along with her. But there seems to be a chapter missing. Specifically, the last one where we learn whodunnit! Susan figures that it’s a mistake and she’ll talk to Alan on Monday and get the missing pages. But then she learns that Alan has just died and the missing pages are nowhere to be found. As she starts looking for the rest of the book, Susan discovers that the missing portion of the manuscript may reveal more than just the murderer in the novel: it may also contain information about who was responsible for Alan’s own death. In this case not only the manuscript, but the title itself if a clue as to whodunnit.

“I had chosen to play the detective—and if there is one thing that unites all the detectives I’ve ever read about, it’s their inherent loneliness. The suspects know each other. They may well be family or friends. But the detective is always the outsider. He asks the necessary questions but he doesn’t actually form a relationship with anyone. He doesn’t trust them, and they in turn are afraid of him. It’s a relationship based entirely on deception and it’s one that, ultimately, goes nowhere. Once the killer has been identified, the detective leaves and is never seen again. In fact, everyone is glad to see the back of him.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Freebie

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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This week’s topic was:

October 29: Halloween Freebie

So I decided to do short stories that are perfect for the season

41yn-xblul-_ac_us218_1. Don’t Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier- This story features a lot of creepiness in under 50 pages. There’s a slow building sense of dread as a married couple, who have recently lost their daughter go on vacation in Venice and try to start anew. We have the sense early on that their misfortune isn’t over yet and we turn out to be very right. Then Venetian setting is gloomy and Gothic and the bereaved parents make sympathetic protagonists. There are several threats ranging from a serial killer to some weird psychic sisters, but the most dangerous threat may be what the protagonists can’t (or won’t) allow themselves to see.

1973 Film Adaptation 

61l1afcvhtl-_ac_us218_2. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter- Angela Carter is known for her feminist take on classic fairy tales. In this story she takes on one of the creepiest fairy tales out there: Bluebeard is sort of deliciously Gothic to begin with: a girl marries a man who gives her the keys to all the rooms in his grand house, and tells her not to open one door. Of course she opens it, and she finds something very disturbing in there. This story has a creepy setting (a vast, decadent mansion/castle), a nasty villain, and lots of blood.

810xurhlstl._ac_uy218_ml3_3. The Grown-Up by Gillian Flynn– This is the rare short story that was published as a stand alone. And it does stand on its own. We have a character who poses as a psychic is out to make a quick buck off a family who thinks they’re being haunted. She discovers that they are (in a sense) right, and that she may never be free of them. In some ways this is an homage to the Victorian ghost story, but Flynn gives it a contemporary twist.

 

5100vzgkz-l-_ac_us218_4. The Landlady by Roald Dahl- You can see some of the creepy villains from Dahl’s children’s stories in the title character of this short story. She’s less over the top than some of the stuff that Dahl writes for younger readers but she still makes your skin crawl in a really primal way. I read somewhere that this was Dahl’s attempt to write a ghost story but it didn’t quite come out that way. IMO that’s fine, because it’s plenty creepy as it is!

Tales of the Unexpected episode based on The Landlady from 1979

31562177._uy630_sr1200630_5. The Bus by Shirley Jackson- I almost went with “The Lottery” which is Jackson’s best known short story but I find this one more “halloweenish” (and yes, I made that word up). It’s about an older woman who gets off the bus at the wrong stop and ends up somewhere somewhat familiar but very twisted. Another story that I almost chose was “The Summer People” but that also didn’t seem quite right for Halloween. But many of Jackson’s stories are thematically suitable.

91vzvuoe0gl._ac_uy218_ml3_6. The Truth is A Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman– This story was originally published as part of a collection and later performed before a sold out crowd at the Sydney Opera House in 2010 where Gaiman read the tale live as illustrator, Eddie Campbell’s, artwork was presented on large screens and accompanied by live music composed for the story and performed by the FourPlay String Quartet. But even if you just read the story as a story, its unsettling in its portrayal of greed and revenge. Fortunately the story is available with Campbell’s beautiful artwork.

81pnhm5odl._ac_uy218_ml3_7. The Horla by Guy de Maupassant– I read this in a college French class (it’s available in English though!) and I was really unsettled by it. It’s written as journal entries of a character who sees a boat and waves at it. The boat in question has recently arrived from Brazil and the man realizes that his wave may have inadvertently been taken as an invitation by something on that boat. As the narrator becomes obsessed with this thing that may have invaded his home, his body and his life, we begin to doubt his sanity. The fact that Maupassant was committed to a mental hospital about a week after finishing it, makes it even creepier.

1947 radio production read by Peter Lorre

 

61iuhxe9kds._ac_uy218_ml3_8. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates- This story is really creepy in a way you don’t expect. Oates said it was inspired in part by serial killer Charles Schmid, who preyed on teen girls. But the focus isn’t really on the presumptive bad guy, Arthur Friend. Rather it’s on Connie, a rebellious, self absorbed teen who knows Arthur from a local restaurant. He seems nice enough when he shows up unexpectedly at her house one day, with his friend Ellie.  In only a few pages Oates takes us from Connie’s initial flattery at Friend’s attention, to her growing unease and outright fear as she comes to believe that she has no choice but to do what Friend tells her. As a reader, we can see how Friend preys on Connie’s naivete and vanity. It’s a reminder that the most frightening monsters often comes disguised as friends (pun intended) and the most harrowing journeys often take place in a single location in only a few minutes time.

1985 Film Smooth Talk based on the story

2014 short film Dawn based on the story

Wishing a HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all!

Greeks Bearing Gifts

interview-with-madeline-millerI read the Odyssey in high school and bits and pieces of the Iliad in high school and college. I read some Greek drama over the course of my education and I’m familiar with the usual mythology. But in general it was never my thing. I’m totally a mythology and folklore junkie but for some reason the Greco-Roman variety never really spoke to me.

When I fist heard of Madeline Miller’s work I wasn’t particularly interested in it. Sure I remember the figures of Achilles and Circe from the Iliad and the Odyssey respectively, but I had no desire to revisit them. However when I saw both novels praised extensively by reviewers who also professed to have little interest in the Greek Classics I became slightly curious, but I still had the sense that it would end up being the kind of thing that I’d  end up being disappointed in due to overhype.

Well, I admit it. I was wrong. I actually read Circe first. It comes second chronologically but since both books are essentially stand alone, it doesn’t really matter which you read first. I found that Miller had told a very human story featuring witches, gods and monsters. Song of Achilles focus more on “human” characters (with a few exceptions) but turns the Trojan war into the setting for a beautiful love story between the titular hero and his longtime (male) companion Patroclus.

After reading these books I did what I always do after reading something great: I googled the author.  I discovered several essays that she wrote, including one about adapting existing works. Though in the essay Miller writes about adapting the Greek Classics, I think that what she says encompasses everything from classic literature to mythology and folklore. She writes about feeling like writing adaptations is cheating somehow:

When I was a teenager, the thought of a classical story being rewritten sent me into a rage. I cherished the ancient Greeks’ myths deeply, and adaptations seemed like nothing but assault: an unnecessary adulteration of something that was already perfect. Why rewrite Homer, I thought, when you can re-read the original? Adaptations were an admission of artistic laziness. Couldn’t these authors find something original to write about?

 

She started to write Song of Achilles while she was directing a production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida in college. The play is Shakespeare’s take on the Trojan war,  so Miller figured it was permissible for Shakespeare to adapt,  because it was a play: it was being retold for a different artistic medium. But seeing it acted made her think about the voice of a character she hadn’t heard from and she started to write. She was embarrassed by what she was doing: her (now ex) boyfriend contemptuously called it “Homeric fan fiction.”
This struck me because I had a similar feeling when I was writing Beautiful. I felt like because I was retelling the Beauty and the Beast story, I wasn’t original. I was tackling a story that had been retold so many times. But like Miller, I felt like I had something to say about it.
As she wrote, Miller discovered other authors that had written innovative work adapting Homer:
Not one of these authors seeks to supplant Homer, but to engage and illuminate him. They do what adaptation does at its very best: stand brilliantly on its own, while inspiring a fresh look at the original. And there is absolutely nothing lazy about any of it – all those works show how the authors steeped themselves in the source material, and how thoughtfully they approached it. Besides, if I had been thinking straight from the beginning, I would have realised that some of my favourite ancient authors are themselves adapters – Virgil’s Aeneid is based on the Iliad and Odyssey, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses draws on everyone from Homer to Virgil himself.
I think that while Greek Classics are never going to be my favorite genre, this author sees  and understands what’s beautiful about literary adaptation. To me that’s something exciting. I’m eager for her future work.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

The above quote is from Albert Einstein. He was a fairly intelligent fellow himself.

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Last week, @theorangutanlibrarian shared this article (Five reasons to stop reading your children fairytales now) along with some humorous responses as to why it was absurd. But even though the advice in the article is troubling, people listen. Keira Knightly and Kristen Bell are among the people who have listened to this advice. While I think that looking at artistic/literary material through a critical lens is always worthwhile, I think that this trend  is troubling because the lens through which it looks at the material is flawed.

Yes, there are troubling, sexist tropes in Disney films and in the fairy tales on which they’re based. But banning them is not the answer. For one thing, forbidding children to read/watch something is just guaranteeing that it will be more interesting to them. Have people really not figured that out by now? Children will seek it out, especially if it’s something as universal and commonly referenced as fairy tales. But if they seek it out themselves, parents will have lost the opportunity to make those troubling elements explicit and discuss them with kids. Instead of having that critical lens, the children will only have the lens that’s given to them in the story/adaptation.

But beyond that, some of out problems with these stories come more from perception. I discussed that a bit in this post.  You could look at Cinderella as a  girl who waits around for a prince to save her. Or you could look at her a survivor of an abusive environment, who never loses her characteristic good nature. Instead of perpetuating the cycle of abuse, she’s kind to even the lowliest mice. Why not highlight that when a child wants to read/watch Cinderella? Maybe speculate as to why her stepmothers and stepsisters would be so cruel to her (are they in pain? was someone cruel to them?). Present it as a story about the ways that people respond to cruelty.  Point out that while Cinderella was tormented by her step family she had the loyalty of all those to whom she’d been kind.  Point out that her stepmother wanted one of her daughters to marry the prince, and that she could have had that if she accepted Cinderella as her daughter. Show them that it’s better to be kind even when it doesn’t seem like a reward is imminent.

The same can be done for other fairy tales. Yes, you could see The Little Mermaid as a woman who changes who she is to impress a guy. But you could look at her as someone who was so fascinated by another culture that she she made sacrifices to live among them. Snow White could be seen as a foolish girl who takes gifts from strangers. But you could also see her as someone who escaped a threatening situation. She was a princess who had probably never worked a day in her life, and in order to survive, she rolls up her sleeves and takes a job cooking and cleaning for seven men. Is it troubling that men kiss sleeping/comatose women in these stories? Point that out to kids! They can understand from an early age that touch is only OK with consent.

But there are so many fairy tales out there in which a female character takes an active, even heroic role. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle saves her father by going to live with the Beast. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the princess goes on a quest to rescue her prince. In The Snow Queen the girl travels to the frozen north to save her male friend. In The Six Swans the princess endures years of silence and hardship to free her brothers from a curse. In Hansel and Gretel, Gretel outsmarts the witch and saves her brother. Disney hasn’t adapted all of these as films, but there are other adaptations out there. Why stop with Disney? Why not expose children to all that fairy tales have to offer?

Frozen may be loosely based on The Snow Queen but it changed a lot. If you have a kid who enjoyed Frozen maybe read the original story with them. Check out some of the more faithful film adaptations. There’s the 1950’s Russian cartoon that was dubbed in English by Sandra Dee and Tommy Kirk.  Or check out the 2002 miniseries with Bridget Fonda in the tile role.

If they like Frozen, introduce them to another wintery fairy tale with a kick-ass heroine. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon we see the princess go on a long quest to save the prince.  While there’s no Disney film, there is a live action film adaptation called The Polar Bear King. Compare it to the story. Compare the heroine of this story to Gerda in The Snow Queen. Ask your kids who they think is braver?

There are several film adaptations of Hansel and Gretel. The 1987 Cannon Movie Tales film with Cloris Leachmann is fairly child friendly.  There’s also a 2003 film featuring Lynn Redgrave. Or why not introduce your kids to opera while you’re at it? This film uses stop-action animation with Kineman dolls (a precursor to claymation) and lavish sets as a backdrop for Englebert Humperdinck’s opera.

Actually some of the fairy tales with female agency are ripe for adaptation. This was the only film version of The Six Swans that I could find!

And why limit your kids to the traditional Western canon? There’s a whole world of cultures that have their own fairy tales. Some of those are thematically similar to the ones that we’re familiar with. Do some research and draw parallels with kids. Appreciate the diverse world in which we live!

My point is that instead of conflating Disney’s fairy tale films with fairy tales in general, separate the adaptation from its source. Kids can appreciate from a very young age that there is more than one way to tell a story. Introduce them to stories that Disney hasn’t yet adapted to show that there are many values that are espoused in fairy tales, not  just the ones that get mainstream adaptations. Let them watch Disney films. Point out the good in them and make the bad explicit too. Instead of banning things that are difficult, raise your kids to be critical thinkers. Don’t just “throw out” stories that have endured for generations.

 

 

 

Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon: Blade Runner

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A while ago, I saw this post on Moon in Gemini announcing The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon. Basically the idea was to watch a film that you’ve never seen before, but one that is typically considered great, and review it. I took a look at AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies list. Given my fondness for old Hollywood movies I’ve probably seen more of them than most of my generation. But I did take note of some of the other lists on the site. I looked through them and finally selected Blade Runner (1982) from the 100 Years 100 Thrills list to review.  I chose it because I once had a friend who was obsessed by this movie and talked about it constantly, and because it’s taken on a sort of cult status, as well as the fact that it’s not usually the kind of movie I’d gravitate toward.

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Theatrical release poster designed by John Alvin

So what did I think of it. I’m going to give it a resounding “I don’t know.” I may not have been in the right mood to enjoy it when I watched it, but it was an interesting movie.

It’s set in Los Angeles in the year 2019. But that’s 2019 as imagined by Phillip K Dick in his 1968 novel, Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep? a novel of which this film is a loose adaptation; as well as imagined by director Ridley Scott in 1982. It has no resemblance to what Los Angeles will probably look like a few months from now.  In the dystopian future that this film imagines, synthetic humans known as “replicants” have been engineered by the Tyrrell Corporation to work on “off world colonies” (other planets). When a group of replicants tries to escape back to earth, a jaded cop who once specialized in “retiring” (killing) these synthetic beings (a job called a “Blade Runner”) named Rick Deckard agrees to hunt them down. At the same time, an advanced, experimental model named Rachel is making him question his own humanity as well as that of the replicants.

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A police “spinner” flies by a giant skyscraper with an electronic billboard.

If all that sounds complicated, it’s because it is. We have to get used to a whole new vocabulary and it takes some time to remind ourselves what “replicants” are and what a “Blade Runner” does and what “retiring” someone actually means. Important things are happening while the viewer is still trying to understand the structure of the fictional world, which means that it’s easy to get lost in the first thirty minutes or so. But once we establish where we are and what’s going on, we can go along for the ride.

Thematically this movie is about what it means to be human. There is very little that’s natural about the imagined world of 2019.  Police are everywhere, corporate power looms large.  Artificial animals have replaced real ones which are extinct. This is a reason why off world migration has become so popular. In order to determine who is a replicant, an empathy test is used. Interestingly it’s the replicants who appear to show empathy and concern for one another while the humans are cold and impersonal. Implanted memories mean that it’s hard for even the characters to know if they are human or not. Of course this ambiguity extends toward the morality of how replicants are treated. Is their “retirement” like shutting down a computer or like killing a person?

All of this is happening against a very noir-ish backdrop. In fact, the movie itself is essentially about a detective solving a crime. Rick is give ample, cynical voice overs. Rachel is a chain smoking femme fatale.

It’s a very stylish movie and it combines a lot of elements and genres that I enjoy. That said, I didn’t enjoy watching this movie, and I can’t say exactly why. It’s well done with impressive visuals, a compelling scripts and a interesting setting. But ultimately I kept watching because I felt like it was what I was supposed to do, rather than what I wanted to do. As I said, I may just have been in the wrong mood for it.

Top Ten Tuesday: Page To Screen Adaptations

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

July 10: Best Books I’ve Read In 2018 (So Far) (This prompt was originally going to be a TTT throwback, but I know how much people love the bi-annual top ten books of the year and I forgot to add it to the list! Feel free to do a throwback instead if you want!)

Since I did a mid-year book post not too long ago, I figured I’d do a throwback this week.  I went with the Top Ten Book To Movie Adaptations.  But since I’m including TV/miniseries I’m just going with “page to screen”.

1. Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1995) I know that the 2005 film has its fans, and it has its good points. But for me, Colin Firth is Darcy. Jennifer Ehle is Elizabeth. That’s just all there is to it. Perfect casting. Beautiful adaptation.

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2. Jane Eyre (BBC 2006) There are several great adaptations of Jane Eyre, but I’ve always been partial to this one because it’s got a spirit of fun to it. Yes, Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens are probably better looking than the Jane and Mr. Rochester described in the book might be,  but they seem to love their characters. I read a review once saying this didn’t add any new colors to the story but it brought all of the existing colors to their full glory (or something along those lines). To me that says it pretty well.

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3. Little Women (1994) I think I saw this film for the first time not too long after I first read the novel. Maybe that’s why these actors seem fused to their characters. Or maybe it’s just really well cast! The film adds some outright feminism and political commentary that doesn’t feel extraneous at all. It also manages the tough plot points well. For example, whenever I watch it, I want to see Jo end up with Professor Bhaer rather than Laurie. And it doesn’t even bother me much when Amy is played by a different actress halfway through.

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4. Anne of Green Gables (1985 miniseries) I’ve seen a few screen Annes (including the most recent “Anne With An ‘E'”) but to me, none of them have approached Megan Follows, who just is Anne to me.  This is another example of something I saw for the first time around the same time that I read the book, which may explain why it’s so definitive for me. I also just really like Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert.

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5. Gone With the Wind (1939) It’s almost impossible to picture Scarlett O’Hara as anyone other than Vivian Leigh. Likewise, it’s hard to picture Rhett Butler not looking like Clark Gable. And yes, occasionally I picture the antebellum American South in something like old Hollywood technicolor, though I’m aware that plantation life was hardly as pretty as the film makes it look. Perhaps its a testament to a good film that I can forget about the ugly reality for a few hours as I watch it, and believe in the fantasy.

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6. Rebecca (1940) This is an example of a film that changes some important plot points from its source material but still works as an adaptation because it maintains the mood and atmosphere of the book. Hitchcock made a wise move refusing to cast Vivian Leigh as the unnamed narrator. The same qualities that made her perfect for Scarlett O’Hara would have made her all wrong for this role. Also, whoever cast Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers really knew what they were doing!

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7. The Age of Innocence (1993) I felt like the narration of this film did it a great service, which is rare, because in many films I find the device overbearing. We see the characters go about their lives, but in the book the weight of social norms and expectations as they did this was tremendous. In the film, we might not even be aware of this if not for the narration that lets us know about it at important points. It could have been done in a clunky way, but it wasn’t. For the most part, it works.

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8. The Princess Bride (1987) This is an example of an adaptation that could have gone all wrong. William Goldman’s novel indulged in tropes that it simultaneously satirized. That’s the kind of thing that is really hard to translate to screen.  It’s done just right. Instead of presenting it as an abridgment of the novel by S. Morgenstern with “commentary” from Goldman, we’re given a frame story of a grandfather reading the book to his sick grandson. It might not have translated at all, but it does.

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9. Matilda (1996) This film relocates the action of Roald Dahl’s tale from the UK to the US. Usually, that’s not a move that I’m a fan of with adaptations. But in this case, it doesn’t hurt the material. Casting wise, Mara Wilson was a lovely Matilda. The character needs to come off as smart and sweet without crossing too far into the precocious and annoying territory. Wilson finds just the right balance. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman are just the right amount of loathsome as the Wormwoods.

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10. Bleak House (BBC 2005) I never thought a story about a legal battle over an estate would capture my interest, but Charles Dickens pulled it off in this book. I didn’t think a book with so many plotlines and characters could be done well as a TV miniseries, but this miniseries proved that wrong too. Most of the plotlines do make it into the series, and the ones that were omitted were the right ones. Plus it’s hard to go wrong with a cast that includes Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Carey Mulligan, Alun Armstrong, Anna Maxwell Martin and Denis Lawson.

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What do you think? Did I miss any?