Archive for June, 2010

Getting Kids to Read

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Everyone knows that the book is always better. It always supremely annoys our non-reading friends to be informed how much greater the book was.  However, there are a few movies I’ve found that upturn the usual rule and outclass their literary counterparts. It’s a short list because these movies are a rare breed, and if you can think of any more please leave a comment below.

Stardust, Neil Gaiman:

Stardust is the story of Tristan Dunstan who promises to catch a falling star in return for his love’s hand in marriage. However the star has landed over the wall, which houses the magical realm Stormhold. To complicate things further within the land of Stormhold stars aren’t celestial bits of rock but take human form.  Tristan has to persuade his star, Yvaine to accompany him back to the wall, while dealing with witches, pirates, and princes who are after the star as well.

I actually watched the movie first and fell in love with it, so I was expected the book to really knock my socks off. The book was an average piece of fantasy. It was interesting and funny, but not something I would return to over and over again like I’ve done with the movie. I actually quite enjoyed the ending of the book even though it was substantially different from the movie’s dramatic climax. Overall however I thought the movie was more exciting, more romantic, and simply more fun.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas:

Another book where I loved the movie first and expected to be bowled over by the book. The story follows Edmond Dantes who is wrongfully imprisoned in the alkatraz-like Chateau D’If. Eventually Edmond escapes, but not after learning about a fabulous treasure horde from one of his fellow inmates, and returns to civilization like a vengeful ghost intent on systematically destroying everyone who had a hand in putting him away for all those years.

I read Dumas’s unabridged addition and maybe that was my problem. It was simply too long. The movie had rapid action within a well-constructed plot. Basically it took all of the best elements of Dumas’s classic and wove them seamlessly together. I also felt unsatisfied by the book’s ending, especially after I toiled through all of those pages. Maybe I’ve been infected by Hollywood, but I prefered the guy-wins-his-true-love-back ending instead of guy-drops-his-true-love-and-leaves-with-the-Greek-slave-he-freed.

Twilight, Stephanie Meyers:

 I only had to endure it for two hours instead of the time it took me to finish the book.

Honorable mention: Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien

I do not think these movies are better than Tolkien’s epic saga. However, I thought they deserved an honorable mention because I don’t think it’s possible for a movie franchise to better capture a book’s spirit than Peter Jackson did with Lord of the Rings.  I was (and still am) incensed at the movies’ recharacterization of Faramir, but everything else was a minor complaint.  A movie simply can’t capture all of the detailed mythology that went into LOTR, but Jackson still did a terrific job.

Drop the book you are reading right now and pick up The Poisonwood Bible. It’s that good. Kingsolver’s fictional tale about a family of missionaries who travel to the Congo in 1959 is mermerizing. Poisonwood is broken up into a series of mini-chapters, each of which employs a  first-person narrative from one of the Price daughters. Each daughter is wildly different, yet compelling, as is their mother Orleanna.  While the characters and the story are interesting, it’s the prose that makes this a book to come back to again and again.  Kingsolver weaves a spell in words. Reading this was like feeling the heart of Africa beat in my chest.  Frankly I could spent a happy afternoon reading Kingsolver’s grocery list (especially after reading her informative memoir Animal, Vegetable, Mineral).  Poisonwood Bible is a heart-rending, heart-pounding delight.

I found this epistolary novel (written in a series of letters) absolutely charming. Ella Minnow Pea tells the story of the fictional island of Nollop whose denizens esteem language so highly that when letters start falling off a statue in the town square all of the citizens are prohibited from using their fallen fellows.  Mark Dunn has written a narrative love letter to the English language and the ways even the tiniest letters of the alphabet shape the way we express ourselves. I marveled at how Dunn could continue writing despite his alphabetic setbacks. The book would be worth reading just for that,  but Ella Minnow Pea also boasts a delightful protagonist and an exciting narrative. Word lovers everywhere will rejoice over this book.

I’m a sucker for cleverness, so perhaps it’s not surprising that this debut novel by Jedediah Berry made me swoon.  The Manual of Detection is filled with moments, both little and big, that display the author’s creativity and thoughtfulness. Let me be clear: this is not your average mystery novel.  Detection is a kind of cross-breed between mystery and surrealistic fantasy where the whodunit is less important than the way the story unfolds.  This change of pace can be nice if you’re looking for a different spin on your average noir, or off-putting if you prefer a more straightforward formula. I couldn’t put the book down and am looking forward to what this new author comes up with next.

Chances are you’ve heard something about this book (it was published in 1972).  Yes, it is about rabbits. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a wonderful and genuinely remarkable story.  There’s something about this rabbit world, filled with snippets of the unique rabbit language and mythology, that’s completely absorbing.  The characters are more developed and complex than most tales featuring human protagonists, and the narrative is a finely balanced mix of brisk action, competing emotions, and mythology. Pick up this book and keep an open mind. You won’t be disappointed.

This book in three words: Interesting, Insightful, and Terrifying (if you’re a single woman that is). Gottlieb makes a lot of great points, but if you’re a single woman of any age- watch out! This book will make you want to land the next man that’s half-way decent to you, which I suppose is the point. Her narrative is slightly heartbreaking but insightful at the same time and definitely worth reading. If you’re single and wondering why, on the fence about that guy or girl who doesn’t have all the attritutes on your list, or if you just want a glimpse into the complex female psyche then pick up this book.
Deborah Blum’s account of the rash of poisonings in the beginning of the twentieth century is morbidly fascinating. Blum is scientific without being dull or uncomprehensible, and watching these early scientists tirelessly crusade against ignorance, negligence, and of course those scheming assasins is surprisingly interesting. Filled with anecdotes about murderous grandmothers and unkillable men, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a delightfully dangerous concoction.
My first thought on reading this book: for someone trying to go in a totally new direction he sure didn’t get very far. Maybe Goodkind, author of the eleven book fantasy series Sword of Truth, wasn’t quite ready to leave the universe he’d spent so many years creating, because anyone who has read the series will immediately realize that The Law of Nines is just a sequel set in modern day Earth. As a stand alone book TLON is a fast-paced, but cliched thriller that doesn’t offer much in the way of character development. Long-time fans will be disappointed, but if you like pure adrenaline this may be a book for you.