“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.

 

 

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Cozy Winter Reads

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 4: Cozy/Wintry Reads (Make this prompt suit your current season if needs be.)

There’s nothing I love more than curling up under a blanket with a good book and some hot cocoa while the snow is falling outside. Here are my favorite cozy winter reads:

51lz9ueudjl-_ac_us218_1. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie- Hercule Poirot is on a train that is trapped by an avalanche, just before a passenger is found murdered. Poirot is on the case and the thirteen other passengers in the car are his only suspects. The only problem is that they all have both an excellent motive and an airtight alibi. Just an FYI, the recent film changes some elements of the ending, so even if you’ve seen that, you may still be surprised.

51mxt4oifll-_ac_us218_2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden- Vasilisa grows up in a home in the Russian wilderness that’s snowed in each winter. She spends the season with her siblings listening to their nurse’s fairy tales. When her mother dies, her father brings a new wife home from Moscow. Vasilisa’s stepmother is religious and won’t allow the family to honor the household spirits as they always have. Though the family acquiesces to her wishes, Vasilisa suspects that this decision will have grave consequences in this re-imagined Russian fairy tale.

41d0oywr9zl-_ac_us218_3. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey- A childless couple in Alaska in 1920 indulge in a bit of silliness on the night of the first snowfall. They build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone but Jack and Mabel start to catch glimpses of a little girl, running through the trees. This child seems to survive alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Is she their snow child come to life or are her origins more mundane? Jack and Mabel come to love this girl, whom they call Faina as if she were their own. But will they be able to care for her as they would a normal child?

51qgclwqxal-_ac_us218_4. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin– This is kind of a love it or hate it book (though don’t judge it on it’s bizarre film adaptation!). In New York City at the turn of the 20th century, Peter Lake attempts to rob a mansion that he thinks is empty one cold, winter night. It’s not empty. Beverley Penn, the daughter of the house is there, dying of consumption. They fall into a love so powerful that Peter, an uneducated thief will embark on a quest to stop time, bring back the dead and cure disease. It’s full of symbolism and beautiful writing, but some readers will find it overlong and indulgent.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- I read this one snowy day, and I’ll always associate it with winter for that reason. Vida Winter (is the name a coincidence?!) is a reclusive author who has made up stories about her life, but hidden the truth of it. Now that she’s old and sick she hires biographer Margaret Lea to tell her true story. It’s a tale of gothic strangeness, and a ghost, a governess, twins, a topiary garden and a house fire.

 

218weryp6kl-_ac_us218_6. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– The title character of this slim novel is a farmer burdened by a barren farm an a hypochondriac wife, Zeenia. When Zeenia’s cousin, Mattie visits, Ethan falls in love with the warm girl who is everything that his wife is not. But his attempts to escape with Mattie may doom them all to a cold life on Ethan’s unproductive land.

 

518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_7. The Woman in the Window by AJ Flinn- Anna Fox is an agoraphobic who spends her days in her Harlem townhouse drinking wine, watching old movies and spying on her neighbors. When she witnesses a  murder in one of the their houses, the police don’t believe her (she’s a drunk with a history of psychological issues). We learn more about the chilly roots of those issues, and the mysterious events of that happened in her neighbors house, as we read.

517vbd5d37l-_ac_us218_8. Still Life by Louise Penny– There’s been a murder in the tiny town of Three Pines, a rural village just south of Montreal. When Inspector Gamache and his team arrive, everyone assumes that middle aged artist Jane Neal was killed in a tragic hunting accident. But Inspector Gamache soon discovers that Three Pines is hiding some dark secrets. While the village seems cozy and the food is described as yummy, the murders would probably keep me from wanting to move to Three Pines.

51zrrxlch9l-_ac_us218_9. The Loop by Nicholas Evans- In Hope, Montana, a Rocky Mountain ranching town, a pack of wolves has emerged and reawakened a tension that existed a century ago between humans and wolves. Helen Ross is an environmentalist who is sent to Hope to protect the wolves. Her mission brings her into conflict with Buck Calder, a brutal but charismatic rancher, as well as his son, Luke, with whom Helen begins an affair.

 

51laj9fuhcl-_ac_us218_10. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick– In 1907 Wisconsin, 58 year old Ralph is waiting for his mail order bride to appear. He put out a classified ad, and is expecting his new wife at the station, but with Catherine Land gets off the train she’s not at all what he expected. She has plans to slowly poison Ralph and leave Wisconsin as a wealthy widow. But on Ralph’s snow bound estate, he reveals to Catherine that he’s a man with secrets and plans of his own.

 

 

What I’ve Learned From Watching Hallmark Christmas Movies

It’s hard to say why we love these movies. They’re all slight variations on the same theme. Someone with difficulties in their personal or professional life learns about What’s Really Important thanks to some holiday magic (which may or may not be literal magic). They’re uniformly cheesy and often feature bad acting and/or cringe-worthy screenwriting. But starting on Black Friday and continuing through the month of December, I can’t get enough. I think the reason they appeal is because they’re so predictable. I can’t count on much in this world. Even fictional escapes come with their own stress (what if things don’t play out the way I want them to? I’m invested dammit!)  But with these movies, I know exactly how things will play out. I can sit back and enjoy. If I’m in a snarky mood I can mock them. If not I can just go along with it.

For the purpose of this list, I will be considering both Hallmark Christmas movies and Hallmark style Christmas movies (films not made by the Hallmark channel but still channeling the same mood. Often said films are made by Lifetime, Netflix, Ion, etc)

  • Europe is filled with tiny countries that no one’s heard of. English is the primary language in all of these countries, and most accents there sound British. Each of these countries has a handsome prince, looking for a quirky American to marry.
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    from buzzfeed

  • Small town coffee shops are frequently filled with confused city girls who can’t order their fancy latte and are trying to figure out how to drink plain old coffee with milk. The same thing happens at small town diners when the city dweller tries to order an egg white omelette and gluten free toast.
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    from whatsfilming.ca

  • Only real Christmas trees are acceptable. A fake Christmas tree marks the owner as a soulless monster. If you know someone with a fake tree, the best thing to do is run away fast.
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    from outsourcemarketing.com

  • Cell phones can also be indicative of the lack of a soul. But there is some gray area: sometimes people with cell phones aren’t truly soulless, but just misguided and confused about priorities. These people can sometimes be saved, usually by a quaint Christmas celebration.  The same cannot be said of fake tree buyers.
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    hallmarkmoviesandmysteries.com

  • Children love to set up romances between the adults in their lives. In fact, that’s pretty much the reason that children exist
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    from hallmarkmoviesandmysteries.com

  • All children are adorably precocious. There is no other kind of child.
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    from vulture.com

  • Mistaken identity is very common. Outright lies about identity are totally forgivable, no matter how far they go.
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    from tvinsider.com

  • If a guy truly loves you, he will propose marriage after knowing you for two weeks (maximum).
  • street-proposal-inset-custom

    from fangirlish.com

  • It always snows on Christmas eve. No matter where you are. Florida? Australia? Mexico? The Sahara? It doesn’t matter. On Christmas Eve it will snow. I promise.
  • christmas-card

    from southernliving.com

    Do you like these silly holiday movies? Any favorites?

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?

25 Bookish Facts About Me

I saw this on someone else’s blog and decided to copy it, because why not? Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery after all.

books-bookstore-book-reading-159711.jpeg1. I don’t like ebooks. I mean I’ll read them when they’re free, or really cheap, but they feel less like they’re mine. I’ll actually feel less like I’ve read a book if I read it in ebook form. If I love a book that I’ve read as an ebook I have to buy a physical copy.

2. I hate it when publishers change the size/shape/design of book series mid-series. I’ve actually re-purchased certain books so that they’re all consistent. Which probably doesn’t go a long way toward discouraging publishers who want to make money…

3. I can’t stand when publishers release box sets of series that haven’t been completed yet. I remember seeing a lot of box sets of Harry Potter 1-6 just before the 7th book came out. Why would anyone buy a six-book set of a series they know will be seven books? Then you’ll be stuck with a lovely box set, and an odd book out!

3. I hate movie tie-in editions. Even if I like the movie poster, it doesn’t belong on the book.

4. If I enjoy a film adaptation of a book before reading the book, I’ll still read the book, but I’ll worry about not coming to it “fresh”. I never worry about going into movies fresh though.

5. I’ve never really embraced audiobooks. I don’t dislike them, I just don’t usually opt for that format.

6. Reading in a car, train, bus or other moving vehicle doesn’t give me motion sickness. I tend to do a lot of reading while traveling.

7. I always have a book in my purse. If the book I’m reading doesn’t fit, I have a back up “Bag Book”. I dread the thought of being stranded somewhere bookless.

8. I dog-ear pages. I know, I know, it’s one of the worst bibliophile sins…

9. I love used books. I feel like I’m getting someone else’s history with the book.

10. When I was about nine years old I got the chicken pox on the same day that Ann M. Martin (of The Baby-Sitter’s Club) was doing a signing at a nearby bookstore. I didn’t show my mom the first pock marks until after the signing so that I wouldn’t have to miss it.

11. I had about a million fairy tale anthologies as a kid. I liked to compare and contrast the different tellings (as in, “the Grimm version is  much scarier than the French version…) I was about four or five when I was into this. I was a weird kid.

12. A book has to be pretty bad for me not to finish it. Usually, my craving for closure is such that I’ll endure a boring read in order to have it.

13. I’m a conflicted re-reader. There are so many books that I want to revisit, but I’m afraid that they won’t hold up. And there are so many books out there that I haven’t read yet. Can I justify spending more time on the ones that I have read?

14. There is no genre that I absolutely won’t read. There are some genres that I tend to dislike, but I’m always willing to make an exception for a great book.

15. Books actually, physically feel different to me once I’ve read them. It’s hard to explain how. They feel weightier.

16. I currently own 19 books that I haven’t read yet. That’s actually not too bad for me!

17. I almost never read a book immediately after it’s released. There are a few exceptions to that though.

18. I tend to read most in the evenings before I go to bed. Of course, this is dangerous, because a really good book will keep me awake with Just One More Chapter Syndrome.

19. I come from a long line of compulsive readers. My grandparents were all avid readers, my mom was a literature major in college and is interested in most things, and I struggle to remember moments of my childhood when my dad didn’t have a book in his hand.

20. Literary Characters Who I Wanted To Be As A Kid: Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Pippi from Pippi Longstocking, Jo from Little Women, Anne from Anne of Green Gables, and pretty much every princess in a fairy tale.

21. I don’t oppose writing/underlining in books, but unless I’ve never been one to do that unless I was reading something for school.

22. I didn’t read Harry Potter until college. For years I stayed away based on the “if it’s popular I probably won’t like it,” mentality.

23. I don’t feel guilty about reading “guilty pleasures” but if I’m reading in public I prefer to read something serious or literary. That way complete strangers might think I’m smart.

24. Authors I’ve Met: Amy Hest, Toni De Palma, Libba Bray, Mary Jane Clark, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Edmund White, Peter Straub, Jennifer Weiner, Kate Forsyth, Nova Ren Suma, Gail Carson Levine, Paul Watkins, Bradford Morrow, Peter Sourian. Most of these were 1-2 sentence meetings but a few were people with whom I had actual discussions and/or took classes.

25. I’ve wanted to write books for pretty much my entire life.

 

Books that Deserve A Film Adaptation

It seems like every 10-20 years we have film adaptations of the same literary works: Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Little Women… I love those books, and I love some of the film adaptations. But there are so many great books out there that don’t have film versions. Or that have films that are now very dated? How about adapting some of those before remaking Pride and Prejudice yet again? This is my wishlist.

 

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Judy Parfitt as Lucy Snow in the 1970 BBC miniseries adaptation of Villette

Villette by Charlotte Bronte- in its own way Charlotte Bronte’s Villette has as many fun gothic trappings as Jane Eyre, but it also has a lot of ambiguity on moral and psychological levels, and even with plot points. It was made into a BBC miniseries in the 1970s but other adaptations have been confined to radio.

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Janet McTeer as Prue Sarn and John Bowe as Kester Woodseaves in the 1989 BBC miniseries Precious Bane

Precious Bane by Mary Webb- In some ways, this has a lot in common with Jane Eyre in the romantic triumph for the “plain” heroine. It also shares a certain emphasis on nature with the works of Thomas Hardy. But this story of a girl with a harelip, whose unconventional personality puts her at odds with both her family and local superstition has its own identity. It was adapted as a BBC miniseries in 1957, and a French teleplay in 1968. The last English language adaptation was again by the BBC in 1989, starring Janet McTeer and Clive Owen, and that is pretty impossible to find (I’ve tried!)

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_The Secret History by Donna Tartt– Set on a college campus in Vermont, a film version of Tartt’s novel could make use of some great scenery. The story itself is a sort of inversion of the whodunnit genre. We know from the beginning whodunnit.  The novel explores the “how”, the “why”, and the “what happens next”.  The book was published in 1992. Film rights were bought for it, but after much development, nothing materialized. The status of the film rights isn’t clear right now.

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From the 1921 silent Dutch film adaptation of The Black Tulip

The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas– Yes, we all know The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Count of Monte Cristo and even Queen Margot have notable (and less notable!) film adaptations. But this smaller novel doesn’t have nearly as much adaptation history. There was a silent film made in 1921, a 1937 British adaptation, a 1956 BBC miniseries, and a 1970 British miniseries. But since then the only time this tale of love, jealousy, and obsession has seen screens since then was a 50-minute animated Australian film that heavily adapted the story to make it appropriate for kids, in 1988. So the last time it was seen on screen was 30 years ago in a very bowdlerized form. It’s been closer to 50 years since the last time this story was really told onscreen.

512l4h41zkl-_ac_us218_No Name by Wilkie CollinsThe Woman in White has seen many screen versions. The Moonstone has had its share as well. But this novel rejected as immoral by critics of its time has seen a stage adaptation and a radio adaptation but has never been done on film. However, I think that this tale of two orphaned sisters who are disinherited after the discovery that their parents were never legally married, has some dynamic characters and could potentially make a really fun film.

61oj54linhl-_ac_us218_51l6zlabawl-_ac_us218_The Blue Castle or A Tangled Web by LM Montgomery– LM Montgomery’s few works written primarily for an adult audience are both worth reading and are both deserving of film treatment.

What other books do you think we need to see onscreen?

I’ve Been…

  • pexels-photo-260485.jpegBeginning a week off from work. Yes!
  • Getting a cold just in time for vacation and the holidays (not so much fun!) and spending the past 3 days indoors resting.
  • Watching Christmas movies from the great (The Shop Around the Corner, Christmas in Connecticut) to the not so great but fun anyway (A Christmas Prince, Window Wonderland) and breaking it up with Christmas episodes of TV shows.
  • Reading pretty much nonstop since I got off work on Friday. Finished The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, which was a beautiful (and sometimes very ugly) retelling of the Singing Springing Lark (The Grimm’s Brother’s version of the Beauty and the Beast story) set in WWII, and Seldom Come By, which earned great reviews but turned out to be just OK in my opinion. I felt like certain things were brushed over very quickly, which made it feel unrealistic. I wasn’t able to really believe in the characters, so I didn’t care about them all that much. I just started Precious Bane.
  • Entering my short story Impossible in FairyTalez’s Best Villains competition. It’s only eligible to win if it gets at least 5 likes, so go for it!
  • Wishing a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and the best of the season to all. 2018 is just around the corner, and hopefully, it’ll be a great one!

I’ve Been…

  • pexels-photo-248469.jpegSpending Thanksgiving with my family. Catching up with people, celebrating the new jobs, engagements, etc. I have a suspicion that holidays are a lot like social media: people present the best of themselves. They leave out all the rest.
  • Watching about a million reruns of Friends on Black Friday. I’m not much of a shopper, and shopping in crowds is definitely not my thing. I’d much rather spend the day digesting my food and chillin’ with Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey. I’m breaking up the Friends watching by joining my mom in an occasional old movie like Don’t Bother to Knock and The Lady Eve.
  • Reading A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick. I definitely recommend Chadwick to any historical fiction lover, though I’m not sure this is the one I’d recommend first.  It’s not very fast moving. I’m on page 189 (of 491 pages) and I feel like the plot has just been set in motion.
  • Sleeping. A lot! I didn’t realize how tired I was or how hard I was working until I had a chance to stop. I’m glad I did because I was more run down than I realized. I’m definitely going to try for more balance going forward!
  • Demanding that the FCC maintain Net Neutrality!

Hoping that everyone has had a great holiday weekend!

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant”: Joan Didion and I

I hate following trends. Often an author will become trendy suddenly. Occasionally it happens with a debut novel, or with a film/television adaptation of that author’s work.  Sometimes it’s because the author did/said something particularly notable. But Joan Didion is different. She’s been a literary presence in the US since the 1960s. She’s got novels, essays, memoirs, and screenplays to her credit. But in recent years it seems like everyone and their illiterate cousin is naming her as a favorite.  This happened to coincide with my discovery of her work, so I have to confess that I am a Didion Fangirl.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” -The White Album

I discovered Joan Didion about a year and a half ago. I’d heard the name before, and was vaguely aware of her, but I hadn’t actually read any of her work. But when someone close to me passed away, someone recommended I read The Year of Magical Thinking. I was skeptical. A lot of memoirs about grief, and books about death tend to end in platitudes and cliches. But when I read the book I felt like Didion was articulating a lot of what I felt. She wasn’t sugar coating anything. I didn’t feel like she was trying to “sell” her family’s deaths, or milk her grief for artistic material. It seemed like she had to write about the death of John, her husband of nearly 40 years, in order to understand it. Though The Year of Magical Thinking covers mostly her reaction toward her husband John’s death, her daughter, Quintana, was in a coma when he died. Quintana eventually died a little less than two years after her father. Didion writes about that in her follow up Blue Nights.  Though that book also deals a lot with aging, I again felt as though certain passages seemed to define my feelings perfectly.

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I began to seek out Didion’s other work. I read the essay collections Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and The White Album, both of which feature Didion’s explorations of America in the 1960’s.  I also read South and West: From A Notebook, which is essentially Didion’s notes on a trip through the American south in the 1970’s as well as her feelings about her home state of California.  It amazed me how she was able to recognize and articulate vast cultural divides in America back then, when many people only became aware of it fairly recently. I haven’t read many of her novels yet, but I have read Play It As It Lays, which is, perhaps her most famous. It was written in 1970 and adapted as a film about two years later.  It alternates between the internal monologue of the main character, short first person reminiscences from other characters, and a third person narrator.  The main character, Maria Wyeth, is a B list Hollywood actress, recovering from a nervous breakdown. We learn about Maria’s life, how she got to be the person she is, and what Hollywood looked like in the 1960’s (it was as bleak and grim as it was glamorous).

And Joan Didion knows about glamour. She moved to NYC at the age of 20 to take a job with Vogue. She married John Gregory Dunne, a writer for Time magazine, and they moved to California. They picked up work from book publishers and magazines and traveled together on assignments. John’s brother was Hollywood producer, writer, and investigative journalist Dominick Dunne. His children include actress Dominique Dunne, and actor/director/producer Griffin Dunne.

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With Griffin and Dominick Dunne at the Broadway opening of the stage adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking.

It was her nephew, Griffin, who produced and directed The Center Will Not Hold, a Netflix documentary about Joan Didion. It’s sometimes jarring to be reminded that Didion’s life is very glamours, given that she seems to have very little pretense. Her prose is not flowery at all. It’s clear, observant, and nuanced. But the people who talk about her life in this documentary include friends like Harrison FordTom Brokaw, and David Hare. One of her dear friends, Vanessa Redgrave, starred in Didion’s stage adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking in 2007. Two years later, in 2009,  Redgrave’s daughter, actress Natasha Richardson died in a skiing accident. In  one heartbreaking scene Didion and Redgrave look through a photo album of Redgrave’s daughter Natasha Richardson’s wedding to Liam Neeson (Joan Didion was a guest). Redgrave comments that she understands The Year of Magical Thinking differently now, having lost her own child.  There’s an unspoken mutual understanding in this scene. These are two women who have lost an adult child. There is no need to articulate their shared grief.

I suppose that’s one of the things I find interesting about Joan Didion. She didn’t grow up among the rich and famous. Her father was in the army, and her family traveled a lot due to his work. But she started rubbing elbows with them early in her twenties. This never seemed to faze her. She doesn’t seem to worship celebrity and glamour, not does she hold it in contempt. It’s simply part of her experience of the world. She connects to other creative people on the basis of shared emotional experience. She connects to the general public in a similar way. People have so many different perceptions of her, and no single one can sum it all up. The internet erupted in 2015 because the literary giant had commercialized herself by appearing in a Celine ad campaign. But I like that she doesn’t hold herself above appearing in the   campaign, but she doesn’t seem to think it very impressive either. When asked why it caused so much commotion, she simply said “I don’t have a clue”.

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