Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The "Just Watch The Movie" Edition

Here's another great whack at the remaining books on my "Have Read, Must Blog" list. These are linked by virtue of my having watched the movie version prior to reading the source material, usually with years separating the two. And, really, though it pains me to say so as a book lover, the movies did each book justice, and I don't recall that reading them added immensely to the experience. (You should take this with a grain of salt, however, keeping in mind that the things I don't recall are many and varied.)

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. Ember was founded as a refuge countless years ago, but it is beginning to crumble, and Lina and Doon hope that they can discover a way to make it feel safe again. I ostensibly bought this for Bookworm Child, but I must confess I had my own curiosity about it--enough that I still wanted to read it even after seeing the movie. However, the main thing I remember about the book is that there is something about their city that Lina and Doon spend almost the entire book trying to figure out . . . when it seems so glaringly obvious to the reader from the beginning. I suppose I'll never know whether this was because I already knew the secret from watching the movie (in fact, I think I knew it from watching the preview), or whether it would have seemed just as obvious to me if I had read the book first.

Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson. Yes, I know I have frequently claimed that romance makes me gag, but this story is different. It is so sad and sweet and mysterious, and no one's bodice gets ripped. It's the story of a 20th-century man who is so powerfully drawn to the photo of a young actress from the late 1800s that he actually wills himself back in time so that he can be with her. I was first introduced to the movie when I was in college, and it lodged itself in my psyche; the book did not affect me the same way.

Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard. What's that you say? You've never heard of a movie entitled Rum Punch? That's because Quentin Tarantino changed its name to Jackie Brown, the story of a down-at-the-heels flight attendant who sees an opportunity to come out on top and is smart enough to make it happen. The movie is stylish and clever and fun, and I think it improves on the book.

Single White Female by John Lutz. Allie advertises for a roommate and ends up with plain and harmless Hedra . . . until Hedra begins to form an unhealthy obsession. It's been twenty years since I saw this movie, and quite possibly more than two years since I read the book. I remember the movie as a creepy thriller and the book as a pulpy potboiler. I probably wouldn't mind watching the movie one more time; I don't think I'll read the book again.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory focuses on the lesser-known Mary Boleyn, sister to Anne and mistress to Henry VIII before her sister succeeded her. I don't know what Gregory does to historical fiction, but somehow she makes it into an accessible, fun, and guilty read. Reading history shouldn't make me feel guilty! It should make me feel worthy and accomplished and intelligent! Watching the movie version, however, is welcome to feel like an escape.

So, there you have it. An inveterate reader votes for the movie version in all five cases (though I recommend some of these movies more highly than the others). Or maybe these examples just help make the case for reading the book first?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"This Thing of Darkness" by Harry Thompson

This Thing of Darkness was given to me by my sweet mother-in-law over a year ago, but (probably more due to its sheer bulk than anything else) I kept pushing it aside in favor of other books. (Seriously. This one is SUPER long. It's almost thicker than it is wide. So maybe I'm exaggerating for effect . . . but just a bit.)

I'm glad I finally hefted it and dove in, though. It is what one surely could describe as a cracking good read. I took it slowly--savored it, if you will--and it was kind of a relief to relax my usual breakneck reading pace and focus on one book over the course of several weeks.

It's historical fiction (emphasis on the former), telling the story of Charles Darwin's voyages on the Beagle, though it focuses more on the lesser-known personage of the ship's captain, Robert FitzRoy. It is full of swash and buckle, adventure and misadventure, advancement of science and resistance to that advancement, noble sacrifice and its attempts to overcome ignoble greed in its various guises.

FitzRoy (at least as portrayed in this book) was quite an admirable man; as for Darwin, however, I just can't forget the ridiculous fact that one of the things his mule train carried into the Andes for him was a full bed, so that he wouldn't have to sleep on the ground. Come on, man! Grow some balls! Your monkey ancestors didn't need beds! (To be fair, though--beds in the wilderness aside--Darwin was not generally portrayed in a negative light.)

This was Thompson's only novel of note (his only other published works include a few biographies and one semi-autobiographical book) and there won't be another one, as he passed away at the young age of 45--the same year this book was published. But he should be proud of this swan song, because it's a really great book. And--judging by the author's note at the end--an amazing amount of research went into it, which was very evident to me as I read--the story has an indelible aura of authenticity.

This book would make a great TV miniseries. (BBC, are you listening?)