The Spectacular Now, Tim Tharp

Directed by James Ponsoldt.

This book has got a lot of hype thanks to the movie version, which came out on DVD last week. Before saying anything about the film, however, I’m going to first tackle the novel.

I enjoyed reading The Spectacular Now. Party boy Sutter Keely offers some of the most interesting and believable narration I’ve read from a first-person teen novel in a while. The book starts with Sutter’s girlfriend, Cassidy, breaking up with him, to which his response is a new goal to win her back. Somewhere along the way, however, he crosses paths with Aimee, a sweet but naive and (let’s admit it) somewhat dorky classmate. Pretty soon it’s as if they’re dating, and after a while it’s official. 

Before I go further into plot, I need to explain a thing or two about Sutter. He drinks – a lot. And then he goes driving. Often he drinks while driving. He’s also clearly hung up on Cassidy for a good half of the book, a crush that overlaps well into his relationship with Aimee. While it can’t be said that Sutter treats her badly, his opinion of Aimee is rarely romantic. He leads her on quite a bit, and for a time it seems as though he’s only dating her out of pity.

Yet here’s the thing: on top of all this, Sutter comes out likeable. I would never want my [nonexistent] daughter to hang out with him, but yeah, the boy’s got charisma. That said, a lot of people will disagree with me. My friend Annie wrote the following:

This is like the modern Catcher in the Rye, which, from me, is not a compliment. Sutter and Holden share the same unlikeableness, arrogance, and ultimate stagnancy that was pretty horrifying to read.

The arc of this book was frustrating. For a book of this caliber (not top) and because of the hype and the forthcoming movie adaptation, I was assuming…that there would be closure of some sort at the end. There wasn’t. I was frustrated. I only kept reading because I thought some comeuppance was coming to Sutter, but it didn’t (not really, not satisfactorily).

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008, 294 (hardcover)

Strangely, it seems the very things some people don’t like about The Spectacular Now are what I loved about it.  While it’s easy to think him an idiot for driving drunk most of the book, it’s also easy to feel worried for him. Sutter is neither hero nor villain, because he rides the line between them. The end of the book is frustrating, but I thought it ended the most likely way it could have. And realism is what the movie is currently being praised for. Everything from the script, to the actors’ performances, to the quality of their adolescent skin is beautifully and shockingly real. Slight changes were made to the end of the story, which might placate those who were angered by the book. Not only does the movie allude to a more satisfying end, it also shows the definite beginning of Sutter’s self-improvement.

While this novel lots of mature content, it’s a great exploration of an everyday, middle-class, non-future-dystopian-society teen, with problems that are relevant to every teen of that description. I recognized every character as someone I myself went to high school with, and I think there’s something special about that. Like The Catcher in the Rye, I believe The Spectacular Now has the sort of timeless quality of a novel that will still be pertinent fifty years from now.

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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a review. To be honest it’s been even longer that I’ve actually gotten through a good book!

A still from the 2005 Rob Marshall film.

I watched the movie adaption of “Memoirs of a Geisha” years ago. I remember thinking that it was a beautifully filmed movie and that I really enjoyed watching the special features to find out how the movie was made. I couldn’t remember much of the story line though, and so when I read the novel it was completely new to me.

The novel is set in Japan before and after WWII and tells the story of Chiyo Sakamoto, a young girl from a poor fishing village. She is sold by her father at the age of 9 to an okiya (geisha boarding house) where we learn about her journey to become a geisha and all that happens in between.

The art of being a geisha was completely unfamiliar to me. In fact, I didn’t really understand what a geisha actually was before reading the book. Becoming a geisha is an extremely difficult, emotional, and important process that requires years of training in order to succeed. Geishas lead unique lives in which they are judged based on what they look like, how they act, and most importantly, how they are able to interact with men. Through their interactions with men their path of life is determined a success or a failure, leading them towards the future.

Vintage, 1998, 428 pages (paperback)

It is clear that Golden did a lot of research in for this novel. Furthermore, he is an eloquent and captivating author. Through his research he was able to convey scenes with amazing clarity and emotion, making the book come to life in the process.

WWII history is one of the genres I enjoy reading about most but I always seem to read about WWII from a European perspective. Although “Memoirs of a Geisha” isn’t exclusively about WWII, it is interesting to read about the impact of WWII from a Japanese perspective. It was also interesting to read about Japanese culture, history, and daily life, something that I wasn’t familiar with before reading the book.

Now that I’ve finished the book I’m looking forward to watching the movie once more. The book was interesting, moving, and informative and I hope that this is portrayed well in the film. It’s one book that I would highly recommend. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read all year!

Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List

This meme is brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish!

This meme is brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish!

I’m never up to date about what books are coming out, the way I am with movies. There really ought to be book previews on television, don’t you think? Then again, I think most of today’s movies are ideas that came from books! In fact, that may be the pattern you notice in today’s list, Top Ten Books On My Fall 2013 TBR* List. I’m really not that specific though, so let’s call this my top ten “hope to get around to it” titles, in no particular order.

For Teens:

  1. Allegiant! The final book in Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy comes out October 22, the only book on this list that isn’t yet in stores.
  2. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp. I can’t determine if this teeny-bopper boy-book will be awful or cool, but obviously I like Shailene Woodley, so before I let myself watch the movie I should probably try the book.
  3. If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Some girl gets in an accident, and from her out-of-body consciousness has to decide if she should die or “stay”. What can I say? They’re making it a movie with the surprisingly complex tween actress Chloë Grace Moretz, and I wish to see it. Therefore, it’s TBR.
  4. Ender’s Game, the classic sci-fi for younger readers by Orson Scott Card. No, no, I haven’t read it yet, don’t bite my head off! Not surprisingly, it’s now a movie that I want to see. Sensing a pattern here? I think it’s the last one on this list.
  5. Paper Towns by John Green. The only John Green I haven’t yet read. I know it won’t be as good as TFiOS, but who cares! Not taking his insta-classic into account, this author still churns out consistently high-quality YA.

For Adults:

  1. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. “It was a pleasure to burn” and all that jazz. I have high hopes for one day making it past the first sentence.
  2. Juliet by Anne Fortier, because I bought it at a thrift store for a buck, and I think it sounds like the perfect little romance for reading by the fire on a rainy fall’s eve.
  3. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. I see this book everywhere, and it’s romance, and it’s the ocean, so what the heck am I waiting for? Maybe Winter.
  4. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I don’t remember what it’s about, but I trust this author and 100% know that I will like it.
  5. Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. Having lived in South Korea, I really want to read this journalist-written non-fiction, which I’m told is our most accurate current portrait of what life is like in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I’m scared about what I might learn, but that probably means I should.

What are you excited to read this fall? Have Your Say below!

*”TBR” can mean lots of things, including such useful phrases as “Truck Bus Race-car” or “Taco Bell Run”, or any one of these. However, for the purposes of this blog it means “To Be Read”. Consider yourself informed.

Top Ten Best/Worst Movie Adaptations

This weekly meme brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish!

This weekly meme brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish!

We already talk a lot about this topic! My main problem is that I haven’t read enough books. If I’ve only seen the movie adaptation, I can’t let myself put it on the list.

If only we could be more all-knowing. Sigh!

Kaite is a bit more all-knowing than me in this regard. Her voice will be represented here in green. Apologies to any colour-blind individuals who find themselves reading this. The truth is Kaite wrote most of it!

5 Worst:

The Golden Compass (2007) – How could they do this to these beloved books! The movie takes away everything great about them.

Atlas Shrugged (2011) – Because books at a level like this should not be given low budgets and pitiful effort. Did the producers read the book? Making sub-par product is kind of against the grain!

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) – A wonderful graphic novel made into a horrible film (which my husband loves).

Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009) – As a flimsy chick-lit this book was already toeing the line as an awful movie. It was handled horribly, ruining everything I liked about the book.

Gulliver’s Travels (2010) – Poor Johnathon Swift. You deserve better than Jack Black at his worst.

Bonus: A Little Princess (1995) – This is one of my best-ever movies, but it’s nothing like the book (several reasons why are listed here).

5 Best:

Life of Pi (2012) – Everyone thought it was impossible to bring this book to film and do it justice. Ang Lee accomplished an amazing feat.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – If only Alfonso Cuarón had directed all of the Harry Potter films.

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) – The movie is the perfect Hollywood translation of Dumas’ classic.

Jane Eyre (2011) – This movie oozed with the essence of Bronte’s classic for me.

The Bourne Identity (2002) – Love the trilogy. When I read Identity I couldn’t believe this was the source material for the movie. It is amazing how much they elevated the story, aided of course by the advances in technology.

Bonus: Mary Poppins (1964) – The movie totally kicks the book’s butt. When I read this book years ago I was stunned at how different the two were. The author, P. L. Travers is said to have not liked the film at all.

Ten movies that make us want to read the book:

  • Children of Men
  • Atonement
  • The Kite Runner
  • The Hours
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Kaite)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (Kaite)
  • Precious (Kaite)
  • Blindness (Deborah)
  • The Great Gatsby (Deborah)
  • The Man in the Iron Mask (Deborah)

Now tell us some of your best/worst/to-be-read!

In Shailene Woodley We Trust

Consider this post a follow-up for Kaite’s and my reviews of Divergent and The Fault in Our StarsBoth of these amazing (and completely different) stories is about to be retold in film, and each of them will star up-and-comer Shailene Woodley. Come again!? How did one actress score two such high-profile roles (three if you count Spiderman 2, in which she’s slated to play Mary-Jane)? Bribes? Wizardry? Sheer acting talent?

The last thing I saw her in was The Descendants. Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy that movie. But Woodley did capture my attention. Her range of emotion was impressive, and she brought normalcy and humanity to that role. That’s why I’m excited to watch her do her thang, first as Tris and then as Hazel!

Divergent is being filmed now and will be released around March 2014. The Fault in Our Stars is still in pre-production and is yet to be casted further. Let’s hope it doesn’t go the way of other John Green book-to-film adaptations (i.e. not).

Other Stuff re: Movies: 

2011 posterDivergent

  • Director Neil Burger is also responsible for films like Limitless and The Illusionist.
  • Kate Winslet is Jeanine Matthews. I couldn’t actually remember who that was. Frankly I don’t care, because it’s Kate Winslet, helllooo. But a quick search told me she’s the Erudite faction leader.
  • Zoë Kravitz is the straight-shooter Christina. Seems about right.

The Fault in Our Stars

  • (500) Days of Summer, 2009Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are the names behind Friends with Benefits and (500) Days of Summer. This bodes well.

Have Your Say in the comments! I’d love to know how you feel about these choices…or if you even care at all.

Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton

The original (boring) book cover. Alfred A. Knopf, 1990

First of all: of course it’s a book. You didn’t think Hollywood came up with such an awesome premise on its own, did you? Spielberg helped popularize it, but 23 years ago (IKNOWRIGHT?!) this book was a #1 New York Times bestseller. Late author Michael Crichton is also the brains behind such titles as The Andromeda Stain and television’s ER.

Second of all: the book is every bit as thrilling and terrifying as the movies. Some things annoyed my literary half, but my “entertain me!”-half was fully enthralled the entire time.

By now the basic premise is widely known. But in case you’ve been trapped under a rock (heh, heh), I’ll quickly explain it. Millions-of-years-extinct dinosaurs are cloned and placed in an amusement park/zoo-like atmosphere on a remote island in Costa Rica. Scientists and select visitors come check it out for the first time pre-launch, and all hell (i.e. the dinosaurs) break loose.

It’s a cautionary tale with a blatant message: don’t mess with nature or it will mess with you. In many ways, Jurassic Park is Pygmalion: just because you’ve created (or re-created) something doesn’t mean it will bend to your will. One of the main characters, chaos theorist Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum’s character) presents this message constantly. He’s written as this incredibly smart and outspoken dude, who obviously helped Crichton get his message out there in a very clear manner. Says Malcolm: “Scientists are actually preoccupied with accomplishment. So they are focused on whether they can do something. They never stop to ask if they should do something.”

And more on the abuse of power:

“Scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step…. And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly. You don’t even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it. And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases the power, like any commodity. The buyer doesn’t even conceive that any discipline might be necessary.”

That’s the crux of the message. It’s as relevant today as it was 20 years ago, as it was when Frankenstein was written, as it was before that. Meaty stuff! And speaking of meat, yes, the book also offers lots of straight-up Dino action. Like the movies, T-rex is scary, but not quite so much as Velociraptor. Most of the book takes place in one night, as different people are stalked by various Dinosauria. Crichton had a real talent for establishing a strong setting, and building tension within it. I couldn’t believe how on-edge I felt simply reading a book. Honestly, I’m surprised my hair didn’t fall out. I was stressed out yet fascinated, and I had to keep reading.

But I must make a confession. This is a “boy book”, and I don’t really like boy books. For me there was too much tech talk, diagrams, computer code and math. Now, I don’t mean to sound like the “math is hard!” Barbie, but I sort of am. Really, do we need half a page of HTML midway through a good discussion? Does anyone read that? Don’t we all just skim over that nonsense? Please, males, tell me if you actually enjoy this stuff! Okay, okay, disclaimer time: I have nothing but mad respect and admiration for how much time had to have gone into researching this book. Michael Crichton was boss.

So what else struck me about Jurassic Park? Mention of the Sony Walkman and awe about touch screens was quite funny. Vast differences between the book and movie were also evident. The first was the kids: Tim is the elder Dino-loving, computer-able brother, while Lex is the baseball-obsessed annoyance of  a kid-sister. (Like, seriously, Alexis. There’s a FREAKING RAPTOR in the same room as you, and you won’t STOP TALKING!) I was also surprised about who dies and who doesn’t. All the “bad people” get theirs, but so do a few of the pivotal goodies. I won’t reveal who, but I’ll say I was shocked. Basically it means I have no idea what happens in book two, even though I’ve watched The Lost World. I suppose that just means I’ll have to read that as well. RAWR!

A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett

I’ve already talked about one FHB novel, so to keep this one from getting boring, I’m going to make the synopsis part bite-sized…Ready? The Little Princess is the riches-to-rags story of Sara Crewe, a spoiled girl who becomes orphaned shortly after arriving to an all-girls boarding school. After the death of her beloved father, she is thrust into poverty, essentially becoming a slave/whipping-girl in order to pay off his looming financial debt. The whole thing is very unfair and sad, but Sara remains strong, primarily by imagining herself a princess and acting accordingly.

If you are like I was and have only seen the movie, prepare yourself, because I’m about to burst your bubble. The 1995 Alfonso Cuarón film (easily one of the best children’s movies out there!) is vastly different from its original story. (A short self-defense: I know there are several movie adaptations. They are probably also good. But this one is the best, no question. Why? Because it’s the one I grew up on, meaning it’s the only one worth mentioning.) Following are several differences from book to movie (please mind the spoilers if you intend to read the book!).

Liesel Matthews (her family owns  the Hyatt hotel chain!) played a splendid Sara in Alfonso Cuarón’s 1995 adaptation.

Thing That’s Different #1: There’s no locket. Remember when Sara’s friends have to break into Miss Minchin’s office to find it, and then get it back to its rightful owner? That doesn’t happen in the book. In fact, there’s not much mention of Sara’s mother at all.

Thing That’s Different #2: There’s no war! The book predates WWI, and Sara’s father doesn’t spend any time in the trenches. Instead he goes back to India to invest in some diamond mines.

Thing That’s Different #3: Sara doesn’t tell bedtime stories to hoards of classmates. The only people who visit her room are Ermengarde and Lottie, and they don’t really cross hairs in the book. Also, there is no scene where they all read aloud to Miss Minchin’s harp-playing. In fact, there’s no harp.

Thing That’s Different #4: Becky. In the books, Becky is a Cockney scullery maid of fourteen years old, twice as old as Sara. To cast a younger black girl as Becky in the movie was an interesting choice which, in my opinion, added a layer to the movie. Essentially marginalizing her further, the racial aspect demands that more attention be paid to the injustice dealt to poor children in that era (late 1880’s).

Thing That’s Different #5: Amelia. Miss Minchin’s silly sister never runs away with the milkman. Actually, she’s sort of a B-word, too. Bummer.

Thing That’s Different #6: Less emphasis on India. It’s mentioned and briefly described, but there are no flashbacks to Sara’s life there, and certainly no side-story about a princess locked up in a tower by a multi-headed green monster.

Thing That’s Different #7 [Spoiler alert!]: Sara’s father doesn’t go missing, and he doesn’t mysteriously reappear in the house next door, with an addled memory. There is no running-out-in-the-rain scene at the end, when he suddenly remembers his only daughter. He was simply dead all along. Somewhat typical of the tell-it-like-it-is writing style of the day, even in kid-lit, FHB offered no pat answers or twist endings. The book presents a straight, uncomplicated story line with a bittersweet ending that might be a little depressing by today’s standards. The movie definitely improved on this aspect with one of the most touching cinematic moments EVER, still never ceasing to make me burst into a stream of tears, even though I’ve seen it upwards of twenty times (watch it here!). Still, the original ending is rather cheerful despite Sara’s having to stay an orphan.

For some interesting additional facts about this classic tale, see its Wikipedia page.

A (Long) Word on Movie Adaptations

There are hardly any original ideas in film these days. If it wasn’t based on a book, the last big movie you probably saw was likely adapted from a comic book or a television show…or a ride at Disneyland. Why is there always that push to make the movie whenever a book does well? I suppose it’s nice to see a favourite character fleshed out on-screen. At the same time, there are a lot of movie adaptations that didn’t need to be made in the first place; and many more that didn’t succeed. Here’s my list of favourite and not-so-favourite book to movie adaptations* (in no particular order).

Favourites:

1) White Oleander

Book and movie both had great covers

Written in 1999 by Janet Finch, and adapted for film by Peter Kosminsky in 2002, this title easily fits into my Top 10 list for books and movies (and possibly also the list for most depressing). Admittedly, I watched the movie first, which led me to the book. Maybe that was the wrong way to do it, and maybe that means this is biased somehow, but I still think the movie was a great interpretation. Alison Lohman captured both the fighting spirit and vulnerability of foster child Astrid, and Michelle Pfeiffer reminded us that she’s actually got acting chops. Not only was Ingrid’s poisonous hold over daughter Astrid’s life was so well-portrayed, but so was her shred of humanity. It’s not often we get to see multi-dimensional psychopaths, let alone female ones, but when we do it’s exciting. (Angelina Jolie’s character in Girl, Interrupted springs to mind as another memorable lit-to-film character.)

2) Little Women

Louisa May Alcott’s classic story of four sisters has been adapted for film so many times it’s hard to count. And oddly enough, I don’t actually know if I’ve seen any others besides the 1994 Winona Ryder version (directed by Gillian Armstrong)! So, okay, this one is definitely biased. But what can I say? Ryder made the perfect Jo, Claire Danes was the perfect Beth, and, to me, Christian Bale will always only be Laurie. The movie was different in that it cut out a lot of that sad part of the book where Jo was all mopey and depressed. But no matter – this is still the perfect film to enjoy on a snow day, curled up in a fuzzy blankie with a cup of hot chocolate and, of course, your sister.


3) The Secret Life of Bees

Dakota Fanning grew up in this 2008 movie. Sue Monk Kidd’s Lily Owens is on the cusp of adulthood, and is searching desperately for a mother figure. The first time I watched this movie I just remember thinking, “wow, this girl can act.” I am still convinced no one else in the world could play this role. Queen Latifah was also a stand-out as August Boatwright, and, heck, all the other ladies did justice to their characters, too. (May was just as heartbreaking on-screen as in the book.) Less religious superstition was found in the movie, but I found that part of the novel a little tedious anyways. On the whole, a great book made it as a great movie.

Continue reading

This Is Not a Review.

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Meh.

I’m instating a new type of post: The Not Book Review! I recently started We Need to Talk about Kevin, the critically acclaimed novel-now-turned-movie by Lionel Shriver. Two weeks later and only 79 pages in, I’ve since quit. Therefore, I’m not really equipped to review it honestly or in its full form, which is why I’m calling this a not-review.

Kevin is the story of a high school shooter as told by his mother, Eva, through letters written to her since estranged husband. I was so excited to read it, seeing as it’s a different subject matter than I’m usually drawn to, and it was getting such high praise. It’s also more ‘literary’ fiction (as opposed to popular fiction), which means I didn’t have to feel ashamed whenever I read it in public. But finish I did not. Yesterday I emancipated myself from that responsibility, realizing the only reason I even got as far as I did (in such a depressingly long time) was out of respect for the author. It pains me to think someone spent a chunk of their life writing a novel this unappealing. Continue reading

Robin Hood, Henry Gilbert

Sad, but true, novels sometimes hide in libraries, camouflaged in rows of books and overlooked for a flashier cover. Such was the case of Robin Hood until I came upon it by accident while searching for some Joyce in my own library. I eagerly read it, and regret not having picked it up sooner.  For those who think they’ll enjoy dashing legends of the past written in the early nineteen-hundreds, read on!

Gasp! It’s Robin Hood!

A quick history trip online will show you that the story of Robin Hood is anything but certain. Beginning around the thirteenth century, the legend varies from an outlaw around Nottinghamshire to an aristocrat who spurns his privileges to give to the poor. From ballads to novels, domesticated sources can be found throughout British history, including Henry Gilbert’s well-researched, unabridged rendition from 1912. In a short forward, Gilbert, whose other novels also fall in an English folklore genre, explains his fascination with Robin Hood, and his intent to bring out the best of the legends he grew up on.

Gilbert’s Robin, we soon find out, is a freeman of some wealth whose land is surrounded by cruel lords and greedy monks. Eventually forced out of his lands, he and the surrounding villeins (serfs) escape to the vast Sherwood Forest, preferring life under Robin Hood to their brutal former existences. As outlaws, Robin and his merry men quickly gain a favorable reputation among commoners by, believe it or not, stealing from the rich to give to the poor! As the tale unfolds Robin’s foes are brought down one by one until his final epic battles with the evil Guy of Gisborne and Sir Isenbart de Belame. Along this journey are many entertaining stories of Robin’s escapades; from meeting Little John and protecting his beloved Marian, to his encounters with Alan-a-Dale, Friar Tuck, the Little People and King Richard. Continue reading