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text 2017-04-28 01:22
WTF? New Shelves
Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin

I've decided to add some new shelf tags to my blog. 


Firstly, inspired by "Lincoln in the Bardo," (which I have not yet read) I'm going to add a shelf called "What the Heck," or, "WTF?" This shelf will be dedicated to books whose premise, or plot, or characters are weird enough for me to say, "What the heck did I just read?" And that's usually a good thing.


Top of the list: Mark Helprin's "Winter's Tale." Also on the list (or soon to be): Nabokov's "Pale Fire" - perhaps the ultimate WTF novel. Probably some stuff by my beloveds Chabon and McEwan. You get where I'm going here.


"Winter's Tale" also reminds me of another tag that's important to my literary life and needs to be added: "New York Stories." I've only visited the city once (what a trip), but it's held a huge place in my reader's imagination throughout my life. I need to remember to tag my New York Stories as I read them. 



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text 2017-02-20 15:58
Short Take: Winter's Tale
Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin

This book opens with a three-paragraph Prologue that is a prose poem musing on the mystical nature of the city. It is soaringly lyrical and a little bit metaphysical. 


It doesn't quite prepare you for the epic oddity that is this novel, but it sure is a beautiful beginning.



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text 2017-01-30 01:51
Notes on Adaptation: Handmaid's Tale Trailer
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

So the first trailer for the new "Handmaid's Tale" has been out for a couple of weeks. And it does look pretty darn good.




I don't need to repeat myself, but I'm a strong believer in ALWAYS READING THE BOOK FIRST. Why? Because films are always an interpretation of a primary text. As is your own reading. Reading is interpretation. Make your own interpretation, then see someone else's.


Here's where this comes into play in a major way, especially with something that is probably going to be uber-popular (speculative fiction usually is, and people know Margaret Atwood and "Handmaid's Tale" are much-beloved): People will watch the show first; that will be their primary text, and if they bother, they will compare their interpretation of the book to the film as if the film were primary. Or they won't bother to read the book (even worse) and think they KNOW the book, even though what they know is the filmmakers' interpretation. 


For readers like me who believe in the primacy of the text, this is annoying, to say the least. 



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review 2016-06-28 02:47
Notes on Adaptation: To Have and Have Not
To Have and Have Not (Scribner Classics) - Ernest Hemingway

This will be a combination "Notes on Adaptation" column and review of Hemingway's novel "To Have and Have Not." 


Generally, I prefer a book to its movie adaptation. The reading experience is richer, deeper, and more personal than the viewing. Many films have credible adaptations; a smaller percentage are outstanding. The film version of Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not" is that rarest of things - the adaptation that is much, much better than its book. 


The film is good. It's become part of film history and lore for being the place where Bogart met Bacall. She utters the famous line asking if "Steve" knows how to whistle. She smolders; he burns. It's all very delicious. The plot is "Casablanca" - lite. Just enough plausible intrigue to hold together an hour and a half of work by a good cast.


In addition to Bogart and Bacall, Walter Brennan plays a comic turn as a drunkard deckhand, and Hoagy Carmichael basically plays himself - a working musician. William Faulkner - yes THE William Faulkner - is one of the credited screenwriters. 


But aside from the opening sequence when the American fisherman, Johnson, has his last day of bad luck on the boat captained by Bogart's "Harry Morgan" character, the film resembles the book in almost no other way. And that's its saving grace. 


The book is set in the waters and taverns between Key West and Cuba in the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression. Its Harry Morgan is a fisherman turned rum-runner turned human smuggler on a bad luck streak. The film is set in the French Caribbean in 1940 and involves a reluctant Morgan smuggling Free French resistance fighters under the nose of the Vichy authorities (basically French Nazis). 


The book, I'm sure, attracts most of its readers on Hemingway's reputation. And maybe I give it an extra star or half-star for that, too. But it's utter garbage, Hemingway or not. It's a racist, misogynist text. Badly edited, for a Scribner's book, full of misspellings and bad capitalizations and other errors. Cheap comedy is played at the wrong time. The book undergoes jarring point-of-view shifts, and in the final third of the novel, a whole bunch of confusing characters who have pretty much nothing to do with anything are introduced and carry what little story there is to the end. 


What could have been a story of pathos of men living on the edge during the Depression is just an ugly mess. If you must read it, imagine all of Morgan's sections in Bogart's accent. It helps. A little. 


If you want to tell me what you think, just whistle. "You know how to whistle, don't you?" (That's not in the book at all.)



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text 2016-02-29 00:30
Notes on Adaptation: The Big Short
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine - Michael Lewis

I didn't love the film "The Big Short" as much as some people did, but I did like it. I could have done without the montages of stock footage and close-ups of "strippers." 


But we have to talk about Michael Lewis. He is so gifted at taking subjects that can be difficult to understand - finance, statistics - and making them accessible to a lay reader. Even if you don't care to see "The Big Short," read the book - it's entertaining, and you'll "get it."


Here's the thing that happens in the adaptation: Lewis's explanations are taken over by semi-famous people doing unusual stuff - Margot Robbie in a bathtub; Anthony Bourdain making fish stew, etc. It's clever. In its way. Good times. Good times. 


The other notable thing about this film as an adaptation is that the names of all of the persons in Lewis' book have been changed, except for Michael Burry (Christian Bale's character). 



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