The book was better.

I’m sure you have seen this illustration before on movie-versus-book discussions. With the sudden influx of movies based on books, I feel that I have to stress again how much richer and more satisfying reading a book is over seeing the movie adaptation.

When you read, you are creating your own movie. Your brain is more engaged and invested in a book. It is a very active process, combining the words you are seeing, processing, and understanding to create a full-color, vivid, on-demand movie in your mind. You are director and producer. You are in charge of makeup and costumes. You choose the locations and scenes. All of this in a split second.

That’s why reading makes you smarter. Not only are you able to learn new words, but you are also engaging so much of your brain in sequential, systematic, and parallel ways – many times all at once!

There will never be a better movie-maker than your own imagination.

Some books to try instead of the movie:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
One of my top 10 books, the story presents a challenge to the screen because it is primarily internal monologue. While the film and television series are true to the dystopian nature of the story, it is impossible to capture the parallel thoughts and feelings of the protagonist and the other handmaids as told in the double narrative-style of the book.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Another one of my faves, this is the first book in a quartet. While the film adaptation, again, presents the general idea of the book, the fact that one character was given a much bigger part in the film (Streep’s characterization of the Chief Elder) in order cash in on her star power doesn’t sit well with me. The book is about exploring feelings, making decisions, and actions bringing consequences.

The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson
The film version was highly acclaimed, nominated for seven Academy Awards and winning four. What is missing here, however, is the raw and visceral pull of alcohol on the main character. It consumes him, drives his behavior, and pulls the reader in opposing directions of disgust and sympathy for him. Thought of as the seminal American novel on addiction, this desperation cannot be captured on film. That, coupled with homosexual overtones, makes this 1944 novel a must-read.

These are just three of my pics for you. Let me know of other books-into-films you have experienced, and what your impression on the comparison was.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Summary:

Cain’s first novel – the subject of an obscenity trial in Boston and the inspiration for Camus’s The Stranger – is the fever-pitched tale of a drifter who stumbles into a job, into an erotic obsession, and into a murder.

My take: 3 looks

In a novella that takes 116 pages to fully develop two characters, commit a murder, and leave behind a trail of devastation, James M. Cain’s first book crowns him king of noir.

Frank is a committed drifter, but the beautiful Cora makes him want to change his entire life just to have her. Trouble is, Cora is married to the good-hearted restaurant owner, Nick. Maybe it’s not so much trouble, after all, as Frank and Cora concoct what they are sure is the perfect murder.

With sharp, staccato dialogue and the kind of backdrop that harkens to the heyday of film noir in the 1940’s, it not hard to see this book play out as a black and white movie in your mind. With a classic twist at the end, the reader finds that the postman does, indeed, always ring twice.

Recommended.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Summary:
This black-and-white illustrated, ingenious fantasy centers around Milo, a bored ten-year-old who comes home to find a large package containing a toy tollbooth sitting in his room. Milo drives through the tollbooth’s gates and begins a memorable journey. He meets characters such as the watchdog named Tock, the foolish, yet lovable Humbug, the Mathemagician, the not-so-wicked “Which,” and King Azaz the Unabridged who gives Milo the mission of returning the two princesses Rhyme and Reason to the Kingdom of Wisdom.

My take: 5 stars and a

There is not enough to say about this book. It is a wonderfully enchanting play on words. It is full of life lessons and unforgettable characters. In short, this is a book that everyone who loves books should read, own, discuss, and read again.

Highly prized and recommended.

New Release from Harper Lee

The internet is abuzz with the news that Nelle Harper Lee is putting out a new book.

Entitled “Go Set a Watchman”, this book was written before the iconic “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and is the story of Scout Finch as an adult. Evidently, the publisher read Watchman and wanted a book that detailed Scout’s childhood instead. Lee obliged and the rest is Pulitzer history.

About the title: The title may be derived from Isaiah 21:6, which reads: “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” Interesting, no?

Why after all this time? Indeed, others are asking this question. In the online blog Jezebel, an article by Madeleine Davies points out:

“Harper Lee’s sister Alice Lee, who ferociously protected Harper Lee’s estate (and person) from unwanted outside attention as a lawyer and advocate for decades, passed away late last year, leaving the intensely private author (who herself is reportedly in ill health) vulnerable to people who may not have her best interests at heart,” she said.

But in an interview with the The Associated Press, HarperCollins publisher Jonathan Burnham said he was “completely confident” Lee was fully involved in the decision to release the book.

Well, sure. What else is he going to say? Duh.

The book is going to be unedited, too. This adds to the speculation that Lee was not altogether on board.

Either way, the book will be released July 14th, so get ready for the stampede.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

Summary:
Hugo Award–winning, post apocalyptic short story by Harlan Ellison.

My take: 3 looks

13 pages of WEIRD.

***SPOILERS***

Here are the characters:

  • AM, the supercomputer which brought about the near-extinction of humanity.
  • Gorrister, once an idealist and pacifist, before AM made him apathetic and listless.
  • Benny, once a brilliant, handsome scientist, and has been mutilated and transformed so that he resembles a grotesque simian, as well as having lost his sanity completely and regressed to a childlike temperament.
  • Nimdok (not his real name), an older man who persuades the rest of the group to go on a hopeless journey in search of canned food. In the audiobook read by Ellison, he is given a German accent.
  • Ellen, the only woman. She claims to once have been chaste (“twice removed”), but AM altered her mind so that she became desperate for sexual intercourse. Described by Ted as having ebony skin, she is the only member of the group whose ethnicity or racial identity is explicitly mentioned.
  • Ted, the narrator and youngest of the group. He claims to be totally unaltered, mentally or physically, by AM, and thinks the other four hate and envy him.
  • Basically, there is a world war. The US, China and Russia build supercomputers to run the war for efficiently for them. One of the computers becomes sentient, absorbs the other two and annihilates all people on earth, save these five. Because the computer is so angry, it tortures the humans day and night, after being able to extend their lives into an almost immortal state. The story takes place 109 years after their capture.

    There are references here to God and Jesus and that got me thinking that this may be an allegory for Christianity. Each character represents a deadly sin:
    Lust – Ellen has become a whore
    Gluttony – Benny reverts to cannibalism
    Greed – Nimdok – leads them on an extended search for canned goods
    Sloth – Gorrister – lazy and uncaring
    Wrath – AM embodies anger
    Envy – Benny’s large penis is a point of contention
    Pride – Ted is quite sure that he is the only one completely unaffected

    With that foundation, AM is God. He creates, destroys, and knows all things. He can get into their minds and manipulate their feelings. In the end, Ted could represent Jesus and his ultimate sacrifice to give the others freedom.

    I have no idea if this is what Ellison intended, or if I am full of hooey. After all, sometimes a soft jelly thing with rubbery appendages is just that: a soft jelly think with rubbery appendages.

    Recommended for the weirdness factor alone.

    On this Day in History: Lolita is published

    On this day in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita is published in the U.S.

    The novel, about a man’s obsession with a 12-year-old girl, had been rejected by four publishers before G.P. Putnam’s Sons accepted it. The novel became a bestseller that allowed Nabokov to retire from his career as college professor.

    Nabokov wrote the book in English and later translated it into is native language, Russian.

    A quick summary: Humbert Humbert (yes, that’s the name) is a professor in his late 30s who becomes enamored enough by a 15 year old girl that he marries her mother to be close to her. They have sex, he becomes possessive, they drive across the country, she flees him, marries another man and later begs Humbert for money, which he gives to her.

    There is, of course, much more, but you get the gist from this.

    The book has perennially appeared on Top 100 lists of all sorts, included “Most Banned Books”. Movies, plays, operas and even a one-man show have been made from the book, although few of them resemble the text.

    In an interview with Life magazine in 1963, Nabokov was asked which of his writings had most pleased him. He answered:

    I would say that of all my books Lolita has left me with the most pleasurable afterglow—perhaps because it is the purest of all, the most abstract and carefully contrived. I am probably responsible for the odd fact that people don’t seem to name their daughters Lolita any more. I have heard of young female poodles being given that name since 1956, but of no human beings. 

    The first line of the book: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”

    While not a “feel good” novel, it is worth a read.

    Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain

    Summary:
    Mildred Pierce had gorgeous legs, a way with a skillet, and a bone-deep core of toughness. She used those attributes to survive a divorce and poverty and to claw her way out of the lower middle class. But Mildred also had two weaknesses: a yen for shiftless men, and an unreasoning devotion to a monstrous daughter. Out of these elements, James M. Cain created a novel of acute social observation and devastating emotional violence, with a heroine whose ambitions and sufferings are never less than recognizable.

    My take: 3 looks
    First of all, if you have seen the movie, you have NOT experienced the book. Among other things, the book is a straight character study, and the movie is more action packed. Characters are removed and downplayed, and Veda is not quite the viper that she is in the book. But, most importantly, Monte does not die in the novel, and Veda never goes to jail. That portion of the story was invented by the filmmakers because the censorship code of the time required that evildoers be punished for their misdeeds. HBO recently redid the story, starring Kate Winslet, and it is said to be much truer to the novel.

    With that being said, this was a doozy of a book. Mildred is a complex character. She doesn’t take much off of her husband Bert, divorcing him quite early in the story, but will go back time and again to lesser men who care for nothing but a piece of her tail and some of her money. Yet she opens herself repeatedly to her eldest daughter Veda after numerous heinous verbal attacks. It is quite clear that Veda despises her mother through and through, evident to Mildred, but that makes Mildred only try harder to meet her expectations.

    Veda is a viper of a daughter. She reminded me very much of Sarah Jane, a character in Imitation of Life. The difference is that Sarah Jane had some redemption at the end, although it was too late. Veda is a viper all the way through. She has firm respect for the one person who insults her to the core by letting her know that she has no talent at the piano. Everyone is furious with this man, but Veda inwardly admires him.

    A very interesting character study, to be sure. But I have to wonder: what kind of characters are these? What is Cain trying to get across? That Mildred could survive, thrive and reinvent herself during and after the depression and Prohibition, only to crumble at the hands of her daughter? That mothers are gluttons for punishment? Did Ray stand for wholesomeness, which was crushed; while Veda stood for evil, which prospered?

    And the men in their lives. Bert, who Mildred tossed away in favor of Wally, and later Monty, was the one stalwart  presence in her life, and she continued to go to him when she really needed advice. She had no respect for him, and yet he was the only one she respected.

    I will ruminate on this one for months, I am sure. It was a very interesting book, and one that I recommend. If you read it, give me a call. We’ll discuss it!