Friday, February 24, 2012

Books on the Big Screen

March, only a short leap away, is going to be a prime month for movies based on books. And it isn't just the big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' smash hit Hunger Games (premiering on the 23rd) that we can anticipate. There's a little something for everybody.

 For all of you children-at-heart out there, The Lorax will be released on March 2nd - Dr. Seuss' birthday!

 On that same day, Bel Ami, based on the nineteenth century novel by Guy De Maupassant, will star Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, Uma Thurman, and Kristin Scott Thomas. 

Drawn from Nick Flynn's gritty urban memoir and featuring Robert De Niro and Paul Dano, Being Flynn also opens on the 2nd. 

On the 9th, John Carter will charge onto the screen. It is a gladiator-style space adventure adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic pulp fiction series, which was originally published in 1917 and later became the inspiration behind several graphic novels. 

If political intrigue is more to your liking, Game Change is based on John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's book about John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. With Julianne Moore portaying Sarah Palin, Ed Haris as John McCain, and Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, McCain’s campaign strategist, it is sure to attract audiences to it's March 10th premiere. 

Remember, if you can't wait for the movie, whichever one tickles your fancy, you can always read the book first!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Miasmas, Shadows, and Exhausted Giants

In the books that I read, I am sensitive to the effects that descriptions of setting have upon me. If I realize that I don't really care for a book, a lackluster setting description is usually involved. Not to say that I'll put a book down if they skimp (or expound relentlessly) on location details, but it is normally one of the first signals that I notice when encountering a below-par novel. Conversely, one of the things that will make me notice that I'm enjoying reading an author is their engaging setting description, one that supersedes its purpose of providing context and becomes almost a character itself.

One such setting maestro is the Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón. In his novel The Angel's Game he describes his main character David Martín's reaction to standing in a turret of a house he is interested in buying as it looks over the city of Barcelona: "I would have my sinister tower rising over the oldest, darkest streets of the city, surrounded by the miasmas and shadows of that necropolis which poets and murderers had once called the 'Rose of Fire.'" At another point Martín offers this: "I left the house after dawn. Dark clouds crept over the rooftops, stealing the color from the streets. As I crossed Ciudadela Park I saw the first drops hitting the trees and exploding on the path like bullets, raising eddies of dust." By themselves, they may seem mundane, but when encountered throughout an entire novel these sort of descriptions coalesce into a vision of a dark and torn city that threatens to destroy the main character, even as Martín uses its stories to fuel his crime novels.

Reading Ruiz Zafón's treatment of Barcelona in this manner brought to mind a passage by Guy de Maupassant in his work Bel-Ami: "Du Roy saw before him a reddish light in the sky like the glow of an immense forge, and heard a vast, confused, continuous rumor, made up of countless different sounds, the breath of Paris panting this summer like an exhausted giant."

Another author who used extraordinary attention to setting was Daphne Du Maurier. The first sentence of her novel Rebecca hints that setting will be a critical component of the book: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again." Later, when her character is describing coming to the Manderly estate for the first time, she states that "on either side of us was a wall of colour, blood-red, reaching far above our heads. We were amongst the rhododendrons. There was something bewildering, even shocking, about the suddenness of their discovery. The woods had not prepared me for them. They startled me with their crimson faces, massed one upon the other in incredible profusion, showing no leaf, no twig, nothing but the slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic, unlike any rhododendron plant I seen before ..... These were monsters, rearing to the sky, massed like a battalion, too beautiful I thought, too powerful, they were not plants at all." One can almost feel the trepidation of Du Maurier's narrator dripping from the page. These types of descriptions are a major reason why many consider Rebecca to be one of the last great Gothic novels.

How about you? Do you have any descriptive masterpieces that have had a profound effect on you?

(Barcelona photo credit to ancama_99 (toni))

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Download a Song in Two Minutes OR Surf's Up

One recent morning, not long after I woke up, I found myself moving twice as fast as usual. The reason? I had a song playing in my head--or rather, an instrumental: a classic piece of surf music that, like me, you've probably heard many times but never knew the name of. It's a two minute and thirty-five-second adrenaline rush fueled by just bass, guitar, and an unforgettable drumbeat. (You might remember it from the movie Dirty Dancing: the teenage heroine practices her dance moves to it.)

As I was bopping around to the music in my head, it occurred to me that as good as it sounded in my head, it would sound even better through my computer speakers. Which was when I remembered that we can now download three free songs a week from the library, via Freegal, and keep them forever.

Although I was on a roll, I stopped moving long enough to type the words Dirty Dancing and CD into the library catalog so I could determine the title of the piece, which I learned is Wipe Out (or alternately, Wipeout) by the Surfaris. Since I was due to blog here soon, and thinking of you, dear reader, I decided to time the search and download process, having only tried Freegal once previously, here at the library. All I had to do was:
  • Go to the library's homepage and click on eDPPL, your link to digital books, movies and music at the library
  • Click music
  • Click Freegal
  • Type in my library card number
  • Type Surfaris in the search field
  • Click downlnoad now after my search retrieved the song
  • And select Open with Tunes. (iTunes was already loaded on my computer. Your setup may differ.)
Viola! Wipe Out was playing through my speakers! (And automatically saved to my iTunes library). Although that may look like a lot of steps, it took less than two minutes! There's no long setup process. That's one of the great things about Freegal: you're literally up to speed instantly (even without an energizing song like Wipe Out playing in you head).

What's your go-to song when you need to get energized?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Art of the Fictional Crush

It's Valentine's Day! Time to celebrate love in its many wonderful forms... but especially that crushy, blushy, gooey, roses-and-hearts kind of love. But let's face it, real-life love can be complicated. The good news is that whatever your relationship status is, fictional characters are always there, mostly unchanging and often extremely appealing. Who cares if they're not real? They're still completely crush-worthy. In honor of Valentine's Day, here's a few of my favorites.

Who: Steve Rogers AKA Captain America
Why: He's quite literally the perfect human man—by design. He starts out as the underdog, a brave weakling who really, really wants to help stand up to the Nazis, but just physically can't. An army medical experiment goes perfectly, and he's transformed into a perfect physical specimen. So now he literally has it all. And after a lifetime of being rejected by the ladies in favor of his handsome best friend (who, of course, he'd do anything for because that's the kind of stand-up guy Captain America is), you'd think this would make him jump at the chance to have any and every woman he could get his brand-new rippling biceps around, right? Nope! He's loyal and gentlemanly to the core. Of course. Who could resist a guy like this?

Who: Elizabeth Bennett
: I’m going to defy convention and name not Mr. Darcy, but Miss Bennett as the most lovable character in Jane Austen's
Pride and Prejudice. She's clever, well-read, honest, and practical. She has a grace and ease with people and situations that anybody could envy. She's really the whole package. This is a woman who makes a proud, arrogant man want to change his ways to win her love. She is unfazed by snobby ladies, creepy cousins, and she even tolerates her inane and gossipy mother with the best of restraint. She’s absolutely timeless and lovable.

: Faramir of Gondor
: In Middle-Earth, the world of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, where evil is constantly looming and kingdoms are falling, Faramir is one of the only men who does not crave power above all other things. More than anything, he wants peace and prosperity for his homeland. Tolkien himself really says it best:

He read the hearts of men as shrewdly as his father, but what he read moved him sooner to pity than to scorn. He was gentle in bearing, and a lover of lore and of music, and therefore by many in those days his courage was judged less than his brother's. But it was not so, except that he did not seek glory in danger without a purpose.” (Return of the King, Appendix A)

I could (and admittedly have, for my undergrad) written pages upon pages about Faramir's pacifist and scholarly nature, but it suffices to say that he's just plain wonderful. This (unfortunately) fictional man is definitely boyfriend/husband material.

Who: Amélie Poulain
Why: The star of the French film Amélie (French: Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain), She's another quiet loner with a heart of gold. She makes it her mission in life to make the world a better place by making people just a little happier. But she isn't sickly-saccharine-- she's still got playful mischief up her sleeve. She's adorable, creative, and downright quixotic.

Who: The Doctor
Why: It seems like in the British TV series Doctor Who, women can't help but fall for The Doctor. Why would people keep falling in love with a 900 year old alien who seems to attract death and chaos? To be honest, before watching it, I thought it sounded like a cheap plot device. And then I got it. The Doctor is just this amazing, old soul who deplores violence and is always, always willing and wanting to help anyone and everyone he can, even the most despicable of creatures. And through all the death and chaos that surrounds him, he keeps his cool and is delightfully witty. He is the apotheosis of Keep Calm and Carry On. And it doesn't hurt that lately he keeps regenerating into completely gorgeous British men.

This is, of course, just a tiny sampling of the completely lovable fictional characters there are out there. What are some of your favorites? Who, if they magically came to life, would you be totally unable to resist?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Too Many Books

How many books is too many? I had the same conversation with two distinctly different patrons yesterday. One was with a senior gentleman who said, "I couldn't wait to retire so I could read a lot more of these books". A few hours later a woman in her 20's said, "When I was in college I couldn't wait to get out so I could read what I want to read. I thought I'd be able to read so much more". Both patrons wished they could read more. I too wish I had time to read more. Since my holds shelf looks like that picture, I really need to read more (or I need to want to read less).

I recall reading about someone who was attempting to read 111 books in 2011. At the time it was mid-December and she was just a few books away. There is also a group on LibraryThing.com who were striving to to read 100 books in 2011. At first I thought there was no way I could read 100 books a year. But it got me thinking. I currently read about a book a week. That is 52 a year. If I just listened to more audiobooks on my commute I could easily add another two books a month. Hmmm. If Lee Child wrote 100 Jack Reacher books a year, I'd find a way to get through them. Maybe I need to throw in a few more teen books and/or quick thrillers. I like both genres, but I also like some slower denser literary fiction. Maybe 100 books (or even 112) is doable? 

If nothing else this thought process has led me to look more closely at how much I read, what I read and why. I am logging the books I read and doing it more consistently than I have before. Six weeks into the year I have read 9 books, which if continued would amount to 75 books a year.

Would you like to read more, and if so, how much more? Is it silly to try to reach an arbitrary number of books read just to say I did it?