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 History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Summary:

Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Believing she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man called Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the lost love who, sixty years ago in Poland, inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn’t know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives…

My take: 3 looks

Okay, this is weird.

My sorority sister Laura just texted me about a week ago and recommended a movie: The Words. It has Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, and Dennis Quaid, among others. I watched it last night. The night before finishing this book by the pool.

The storylines turned out to be the same. The same.

How weird and serendipitous is that? Almost scary, in a cosmic way.

If I tell you any more, I will give away spoilers. However, I will say that there is a young girl trying to find the story of a woman and the author who loved her. Was she the reason for this book, which goes on to win accolades? Is there a father/son relationship that can be healed? Will her mother find happiness with anyone after the death of her father?

I admit that I didn’t give this book its fair recompense. Subjugated as a “pool book”, I put it aside only when I was by the pool. With that, it has taken me far longer to read it than others. Because of that, I had to occasionally go back and familiarize myself with situations and characters. However, I never lost sight of the overall story. With that said, I was not as deeply entrenched in the text as I could have been.

I recommend this one, along with the recommendation that you then watch “The Words”, and let me know how intrigued you are at the similarities in the premises.

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.

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Summary:

Taking place during the American Civil War, the story is about a young private of the Union Army, Henry Fleming, who flees from the field of battle. Overcome with shame, he longs for a wound, a “red badge of courage,” to counteract his cowardice. When his regiment once again faces the enemy, Henry acts as standard-bearer. Although Crane was born after the war, and had not at the time experienced battle first-hand, the novel is known for its realism. He began writing what would become his second novel in 1893, using various contemporary and written accounts (such as those published previously by Century Magazine) as inspiration. It is believed that he based the fictional battle on that of Chancellorsville; he may also have interviewed veterans of the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the Orange Blossoms. Initially shortened and serialized in newspapers in December 1894, the novel was published in full in October 1895. A longer version of the work, based on Crane’s original manuscript, was published in 1982.

My take: 4 looks

I enjoyed this book, which I should have probably read in my high school years. Crane’s writing has a definite cadence, and at times I found myself in the midst of a true page-turner, as I wanted to know how a particular scene would be played.

The story is more a character study, rather than the description of a particular battle of the Civil War. In that, there is no pro- or anti-war sentiment, but merely the focus of a young man struggling to leave his mother to go to war, and then details of how the war changes him. Because of the frenzy of the writing, it is hard to tell how much time passes from the beginning of the novel to the end, but much growing occurs in the lives of several soldiers. While this story focuses on the Union, I can imagine that the feelings were very similar for the rebels.

Crane uses the language beautifully in describing war. His use of colors, giving human characteristics to inanimate objects, and creating wonderful visuals of the smoke and fog of gunfire on the layout of the land … it’s quite mesmerizing.

Highly recommended.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Summary:

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

My take: 5 looks
Delightful! Simply delightful!

A woman in post-WWII New York, with a penchant for non-fiction, becomes pen pals with a stoically formal British antiquarian bookseller in London.

Helene Hanff is a spitfire, to say the least. Her correspondence is shockingly glib, informal, and playful with Frank Doel of Marks & Co Booksellers in London.

She has very specific taste, and he is able to find and send what she requests. The entire bookshop comes to care for Helene and look forward to her correspondence. However, when she discovers that England is still under heavy post-war rationing, she ups the ante and begins to send boxes and boxes of items available only on the black market in London.

The first letter in the book is dated October 5, 1949, and continues through the years to the final letter, dated October of 1969. The correspondents are most often Helene and Frank, but others in the shop, as well as Frank’s wife, also pen a few missives. The love affair that these two share is a deep and committed one, and keeps the flame of their relationship alive for 20 years. And no, not a love affair with one another, but with books. The love of books is a compelling force!

A few of my favorite passages:

“…anything he liked I’ll like except if it’s fiction. I never can get interested in things that didn’t happen to people who never lived.” hh

“I personally can’t think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book.” hh

“Have you got De Tocqueville’s Journey to America? Somebody borrowed mine and never gave it back. Why is it that people who wouldn’t dream of stealing anything else think it’s perfectly all right to steal books?” hh

“I go through life watching the English language being raped before my face.” hh

“I am going to bed. I will have hideous nightmares involving huge monsters in academic robes carrying long bloody butcher knives labelled Excerpt, Selection, Passage and Abridged.” hh

Highly, highly recommended.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Summary:
A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.

My take: 4 looks

Wowza!! Paula Hawkins is not new to writing thanks to a career in journalism, but this is her first novel. And it is a beaut. Honest and gritty in its portrayal of a Rachel, lonely, alcoholic divorced and unemployed, it brought to mind the classic “The Lost Weekend” by Charles R. Jackson. Some parts will make you cringe, she is so pitiful in her state.

Riding back and forth on the train each day not only supports the ruse for her roommate of a steady job, but it also adds a little light to her days and nights. Taking the same trains, she passes by the home she shared with her ex-husband, now occupied by his new family.

Down the way a bit is another couple that Paula keeps her eye on, making up names for them, as well as their story. When the view is not all as it should be one day, her already untidy world gets even messier.

Heralded as the new “Gone Girl” by many, this is a fast and satisfying read. Coming on the scene with a vengeance, it has created immediate buzz in literary circles. DreamWorks has already optioned the rights to a movie. It is a page-turner and highly recommended.