Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sometimes Less Is More

I finished the first book of my "Monthly Motif" reading challenge today (just in time). The motif for this month was "Book to Movie." Since the last installment of the Hobbit movie was still in theaters, and since everyone in my family has read The Hobbit except me, I decided to make it my book for the month. The reading challenge also encouraged going to see the movie as a bonus, which we did one evening. My husband, sort of out of the blue, said, "Let's go see The Hobbit tonight," so I abandoned all my plans for cooking supper, we ate scrambled egg sandwiches, and we made it to the theater just as the previews were starting.

I have to admit, I wasn't too impressed. My husband and daughter, being Tolkien purists, were outraged at the liberties Peter Jackson took with the book in making the series of three movies. They kept leaning over to me and saying (in the middle of the movie), "That doesn't happen in the book." Now that I've finished the book, I see what they mean. I'm not upset the same way they are upset, but I do think making three movies from this book was pretty ridiculous.

This character never existed in the book;
in fact, there are no women in The Hobbit!
This may sound like a dumb reason, but honestly, I couldn't remember some of the plot points from one movie to the next. When we saw the movie, I hadn't yet read the part about the Arkenstone, which is introduced in the second movie. So I spent part of the time in the third movie trying to remember what the big deal about that stone was. Is there something about reading the information that makes it stick in the mind (at least my mind) better than seeing it presented visually? Is it that so much else was going on in the movie that the Arkenstone becomes less important than it is in the book? For example, I could remember some of the details about the elf-woman and Legolas from the second movie - but they aren't even in the books! (That's one of the things that burned my husband the most.) In some ways, the narrative emphasis switched from Bilbo's "theft" of the Arkenstone as the key plot element, to the intrigue and doomed romance of the elf-woman (sorry, I remember her name, but I don't want to spell it wrong) and the dwarf Kili. (Another thing that my husband hated). As an author, I wouldn't be ok with it if someone made a change of such substance to my work.

Another thing that bugged me was the blatant commercialism of the movie. I like to think I'm a person who pretty willingly suspends disbelief to give a work a chance, but there were several times when I found myself scoffing during the movie and saying, "This is just ridiculous." Usually that was during some particularly "exciting" part, with impressive special effects and high-action stunt performances -- all the things that make a movie a holiday-season blockbuster.

To borrow a phrase from the book, I think the studio and Peter Jackson were struck with the "bewilderment of the treasure" and created the three installments of the movie to maximize their opportunities to cash in on Tolkien mania one last time. As a result, I think they, like Thorin, lost sight of the integrity of their commitment to the hobbit. Thorin managed to redeem himself before he died; I'm not so sure that's possible for the makers of this series of movies.

On to next month's challenge: An award-winning book.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

BINGO! Reading Review 2014

(I started this on Dec. 31, thus the "this year" refers to 2014.)

At the beginning of this year, I signed up for a reading challenge put out by Random House publishers, "Reading Bingo." (I guess I didn't actually "sign up" - I just printed out the sheet.) I'm proud to say I BINGO'ed two different directions, although I didn't make my original goal, which was to fill in the whole sheet.

Instead of listing the books for each BINGO, I'm going to go back to my standard categories for the year-end review.

Best Discovery - It's hard for me to choose a book for this category this year. I guess I would say my best discovery was The Public's Health by Sam Taggart, not because I particularly enjoyed reading it (it was OK), but because I learned so much from it that ought to be helpful in my writing (who knew syphilis was such a killer in the 19th century? And people died from mumps!) . The book was a history of the public health service in Arkansas from the Territorial days to now, which was truly interesting. The book, however, really needed a good, stiff edit.

Saddest Disappointment - Hands down, the book that disappointed me most this year was Morning Is a Long Time Coming by Bette Greene. This is the sequel to Summer of My German Soldier, which is so, so good. The sequel, however, was draggy and whiny (in my opinion) and the climax was a real let-down. Really disappointing.

Biggest Reading Accomplishment - This was the year I finally read We Speak No Treason by Rosemary Hawley Jarman. My sister has been recommending this book for years, but I've always been a little afraid to start it because it is a mighty hefty book (it was the "book with more than 500 pages" entry in my BINGO sheet). I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it, but it took me about five months to read this book. But I did finish it!

Once Is Enough (Books I Probably Won't Ever Read Again) - There were several books that fall into this category for me this year. I definitely don't want to read Ethan Frome (by Edith Wharton) again, or The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois. I also don't want to re-read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (I know, I know....people think that one is a classic, but I just didn't care for it). I read a book recommended by my new boss, How College Works by Daniel Chambliss and Christopher Takacs, that I doubt I ever read again. But the definite winner in this competition is, again, Morning Is a Long Time Coming. That was just painful reading.

Books I Thought Would Be Amazing But Were Just So-So - I had really looked forward to reading True Grit by Charles Portis, but the actual reading experience was not as enthralling as I had anticipated. Maybe the problem was that I had seen the (original) movie and already knew what was going to happen. I also had great expectations for The Book Thief, and instead found it to be rather self-consciously "precious," if that makes any sense.

Favorite Re-Read - Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene is the only book I read this year that I had read before, but it would have won this category anyway. It was really interesting to read this book as a grown woman, not having read it since I was a teenager. It meant something entirely different to me this time.

Favorite Historical Fiction - Oddly enough, I read two books about Richard III this year, with rather similar premises (that an unknown young woman had a love affair with Richard and bore him a child). The two were Roan Rose by Juliet Waldron and We Speak No Treason. Of the two, I much preferred We Speak No Treason; it was interesting to read this book, published in the 1970s, that anticipated the discoveries from just a year or so ago when Richard's skeleton was found.

Biggest Reading Failure - The biggest failure this year is that I didn't find anything that I really loved reading. There were some pleasant reading experiences; I enjoyed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan. I'm glad to have read On the Rez by Ian Frazier. But the only book that truly moved me this year was one I had already read years ago, and that's kind of sad.

Maybe 2015 will have better results - I definitely hope to read more books this year (only 14 in 2014 - pretty sad). The BINGO idea was kind of fun, so I hunted up another reading challenge to guide my reading in the coming year. I found one on Bookmark to Blog that I plan to participate in, called the Monthly Motif challenge. The motif for January is Book to Movie - any good suggestions? I was thinking Alan Turing: The Enigma since the movie version stars Benedict Cumberbatch, who my friend Carol says is the best. But I just saw it has 768 pages....not sure that would be the smartest way to start my new year of reading, ha ha.....