A sneak preview of the exciting book-to-film adaptations coming to theaters this spring.
I read Paula Hawkins’s novel The Girl on the Train eagerly because it was touted as a book for fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which I loved. But I was disappointed in Train, which I found nowhere near as suspenseful or as psychologically adept as Gone Girl. Nonetheless, I did intend to see the film of Girl on the Train; however, life intervened and I still haven’t seen it.
This article by Lisa Rosman is about the film, which Rosman calls “a wonderfully faithful adaptation” of the book. Here’s Rosman’s description of what the book/film is “really about”:
What fascinates me most about this “Girl on the Train” … is that it has the audacity to embrace unlikeable female protagonists who don’t even like themselves. What’s more, the film asks us to do the same. Rachel is a self-pitying, explosive drunk; Anna, an unrepentant Stepford mom; Megan, an unreflective viper whose self-esteem relies on male surrender. Yet because we are shown the fissures in their self-reflections and the strength lurking beneath their surfaces, we root for them while accepting their limitations.
I did not have this reaction to the book, which I found shallow and therefore not very engaging. Rosman also raises an issue that has gotten a lot of play recently, namely the question of whether we need to like characters in order to assess a book as “good.” I don’t need to like characters, but I do need to understand them in order to consider a book good.
At any rate, I still want to see this movie, even though I think I’ve missed its run in theaters. Perhaps I’ll find the film more compelling than the book.
What about you?
Have you read the book and/or seen the film? What was your reaction?
I’ve frequently written that I don’t read books about zombies, werewolves, or vampires. Even though I understand that such creatures often represent certain cultural issues, I just don’t like to read about them. To each his own, I guess.
Nonetheless, Seattle Times writer Brendan Kiley does a good job here of explaining what zombies are all about:
Spoiler alert: This article isn’t really about zombies, and neither is “The Walking Dead,” one of the most popular cable-TV series in U.S. history.
They’re both about people, our anxieties about catastrophe and what kinds of communities we might form if central authority collapses. No government, no Wall Street, no power grid — just you, the strangers you stumble across and a kaleidoscope of dangers roaming the landscape. As the show’s human characters bounce around the southern U.S., they run into a spectrum of mini-societies (dictatorships, democracies, theocracies, loosely organized bands of feral killers) and try to figure out what kind of world they want to live in.
Catherine LaSota carries on an email interview with prolific author Joyce Carol Oates:
Oates’s latest book, Soul at the White Heat, is a collection of her essays on the writing life and her insightful reviews of the work of more than two dozen writers, including H.P. Lovecraft, Lorrie Moore, Paul Auster, and Zadie Smith. The title of the book is taken from its epigraph, an Emily Dickinson poem about the passions that burn brightly within us, and it serves as apt introduction to Oates’s close analysis of writing in the pages to follow. In her dissection of an author’s work, Oates searches for that which drives the artist to create. She is clearly engaged with the writing she consumes, making her essays hugely useful to writers and other students of literature.
© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown
Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald has high hopes for these upcoming movie adaptations of books, including the film version of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and “The Girl on the Train.”
To her second list I’d add the film adaptation of “L.A. Confidential.”
What about you?
On Thursday, January 14th, Alan Rickman passed away from cancer and leaves a horrible gaping hole in the entertainment world. As every Harry Potter fan (and casual observer) knows, Rickman was most well known for his role as Severus Snape, the villain-turned-redemptive-hero that plays a central role in the film adaptations.
From a new novel by Julian Barnes to the film of The Girl on the Train, from the most hotly tipped debuts to Henning Mankell’s farewell essays – everything you need to know about the literary year ahead
Just in time for Halloween (or shortly thereafter), here are several new ghost stories:
It has been supplanted in recent years by vampires, witches and other monsters, but now the good old-fashioned ghost story is back with a bang, with everyone from debut novelists to established literary stars such as David Mitchell and Gillian Flynn hoping to raise the hairs on readers’ necks this Halloween.
Read here about the following upcoming publications:
- The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
- Slade House by David Mitchell
- Little Sister Death by William Gay
- Rawblood by Catriona Ward
- The Watchers by Neil Spring
- The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
- The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse
“A good ghost story asks the reader to examine the horror within – but it’s in a safe and contained way,” says Catriona Ward. See what the other authors mentioned here have to say about why they have written a ghost story and why they think readers enjoy ghost stories.
Ed Vulliamy profiles Irish author Edna O’Brien. Now 84, O’Brien has not always been appreciated in her native land. Her “first and great novel,” The Country Girls was hailed in London, where it won the Kingsley Amis award, but banned in Ireland. This difference in the reception of her book, Villiamy writes, “etched the course of O’Brien’s life.”
Vulliamy explains how O’Brien’s relationship to Ireland while living and writing abroad played out. He places her squarely within the context of other Irish writers:
The extent of the Irish domination of literature in English during the 20th century – per capita – is staggering. From a country of its size, consider: Yeats, Joyce, Shaw, Stoker, Wilde, Beckett, Synge, O’Casey, Butler, Flann O’Brien, Heaney, Trevor – and it continues in Mahon, Banville, McGahern and Tóibín.
In a long article for the New York Times, Rachel Kushner visits Jonathan Franzen in Santa Cruz, CA. Having just finished reading Franzen’s latest novel, Purity, Kushner wanders through a conversation with Franzen about the background of the novel.
Read here how Kushner and Franzen meandered through topics that include Catholicism, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Flannery O’Connor, East Germany, Edward Snowden, capitalism, and the death of Franzen’s cousin—“how this cousin made sense of his difficult life.”
Eli Attie, son of photographer David Attie, describes how he found previously unknown photos his father had taken of Truman Capote in Brooklyn, NY.
Eli Attie wrote the afterword for _ Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir_ by Truman Capote, with the lost photographs of David Attie, to be published on November 3, 2015.
I haven’t read Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, but I loved the movie. (I saw it in 3-D, which I highly recommend.) I knew the general story of how the work had come into being: how Weir did massive amounts of research, published it serially online, then crowdsourced some of the science concepts to make the science part of science fiction incredibly accurate.
Here writer Sara Vilkomerson explains how the main character, botanist Mark Watney, came into existence:
He’s a lovable character who’s part Han Solo, part MacGyver…and one big part Andy Weir. “My theory is that every protagonist is someone the author wants to be or who the author wants to screw,” says Weir, 42. “Just so we’re clear, Mark Watney is who I want to be. He has all the qualities I like about myself magnified without any of the qualities I dislike.”
This article appeared in Entertainment Weekly in November 2014, just as production on the film version of The Martian was commencing.
Novelist E.L. Doctorow, who died recently, participated in this interview with George Plimpton that was published in the winter 1986 issue of The Paris Review.
Here’s a quotation from Doctorow that I particularly like:
One of the things I had to learn as a writer was to trust the act of writing. To put myself in the position of writing to find out what I was writing… . The inventions of the book come as discoveries. At a certain point, of course, you figure out what your premises are and what you’re doing. But certainly, with the beginnings of the work, you really don’t know what’s going to happen.
Read the interview to learn how the oral history movement influenced Doctorow’s presentation of the protagonist in World’s Fair, how staring at the wall of his study lead him to the topic of Ragtime, and how he feels about the sufferings of writers.
The interview was held in front of a live audience at the 92nd Street YMHA in New York City. This transcript ends with questions asked by members of the audience.
For more than 50 years now, Le Guin has used incisive critical writing and visionary, psychologically rich fiction to challenge orthodox beliefs—about gender, politics, religion, art—and generally emerged victorious. Far from mellowing her, age has only deepened her willingness to angle after the biggest fish in the pond.
Taylor Clark piece for Portland Monthly magazine features Portland, OR, writer Ursula K. Le Guin, whom Taylor characterizes as “indisputably a Portland writer, perhaps the Portland writer.” Born in Berkeley, where she attended high school with Philip K. Dick, she moved to Portland with her husband in 1958 when he took a position at Portland State University. She wrote a lot while her children were small but without much success. But in the mid 1960s she began a career of publications that “radically broadened our conception of what science fiction could do.”
In works like her 1969 breakthrough novel The Left Hand of Darkness and the “great, transfixing masterpiece, 1974’s The Dispossessed,” Le Guin “relentlessly turned sci-fi’s trappings into innovative new avenues to plumb deeper human conflicts.” But she has written in many other genres as well: poetry, children’s books, mainstream fiction, criticism, translations, and essays.
Read the article to find out why, today, Le Guin’s main concern is the treatment of literature as a commodity rather than as a form of art.
Unsparing, ambiguous, violent, and largely indifferent to the reader’s needs, Purdy’s fiction seems likely to remain an acquired taste. But it is a taste worth acquiring.
Writing in The New Yorker, Jon Michaud discusses the fiction of James Purdy (1914–2009). Here’s why Purdy’s fiction is an acquired taste:
In his novels and short fiction, possibility and potential are always compromised. There is neither transcendence nor transformation. His characters do not grow or develop; they dwindle and unravel. Purdy saw Hawthorne and Melville, “two other Calvinists,” as his literary antecedents, and it is not hard to interpret some of Purdy’s protagonists as latter-day incarnations of Billy Budd and Young Goodman Brown: guileless innocents abused by the world’s depraved sinners.
Nonetheless, publisher Liveright last year released a collection of Purdy’s short stories, and this year they are republishing three of his novels, including Eustace Chisholm [and the Works], which, according to Michaud, “is probably the peak of Purdy’s career, the book of his to read if you’re only going to read one.”
An interview with actor Jason Segel, who plays the late author David Foster Wallace in the movie “The End of the Tour.”
The film The End of the Tour is a dramatization of Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky’s five days spent with writer David Foster Wallace at the end of Wallace’s book tour promoting his novel Infinite Jest. Wallace, who struggled for many years with depression, took his own life at age 46.
When actor Jason Segel read the screenplay for the film, he thought he didn’t have a chance at getting the part. But director James Ponsoldt wanted an actor who could portray Wallace’s humor, and he found in Segel a “thoughtful actor who understood comedy.”
Segel then began his own tour of Wallace’s works. He watched the tapes of Lipsky’s interviews with Wallace and read Wallace’s essays. But for Wallace’s masterpiece, the tome Infinite Jest, Segel formed a book club:
“We did 100 pages a week,” Segel remembered, smiling. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.” The vast, experimental and thoroughly literary novel “is the most personal of [Wallace’s] works — he’s every one of the characters.” Segel described it as exploring themes of “pleasure, entertainment, achievement. It was David Foster Wallace trying to express a very fundamental crisis — we’ve been told that these things will satisfy us.”
“I hope the movie is an extension of the themes that he [Wallace] expressed,” Segel said. “It was approached with a lot of empathy and love.”
There’s good news for fans of Lisbeth Salander, the unstoppable hacker featured in the books known as Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. With the blessing of Larsson’s family, and despite criticism from his long-time partner Eva Gabrielsson, Swedish writer David Lagercrantz has finished the partial fourth novel in the series left on Larsson’s laptop at the time of his sudden death.
Scheduled to be released on August 27, the book’s title is The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Recently the book’s Swedish publisher, MacLehose Press, released what it called “key details” in the novel’s plot. It would be unfair of me to steal The Guardian’s thunder, so I’ll only quote here that the book features a “criminal conspiracy [that] will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team – and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.”
Click that link and read the (little) further description of the book whose storyline has been a carefully guarded secret.
An informative article on one of my favorite writers of thrillers, Harlan Coben. And a very successful writer he is:
He’s written 27 novels, seven of them New York Times No 1 bestsellers. He has 60m books in print in 41 languages, and his advances are well into seven figures. He’s won the big three in mystery awards – the Edgar, the Shamus and the Anthony. The blockbuster French film based on his novel, Tell No One, was nominated for nine Cesars.
Coben lives with his family—a pediatrician wife and four children—in northern New Jersey, USA. He has set many of his popular books in places similar to his suburban home:
Coben says he intentionally draws upon life in his own town in northern New Jersey for his novels. “I like to set my novels in places that are seemingly placid, places that are the fruition of the American dream– house, 2.4 kids, two-car garage – and show how fragile that is.”
Relationships of all types figure strongly in his books: between friends, partners, spouses, parents and children.
For more information on Coben, see my post about his 2011 visit to the St. Louis County Library.
Well known author Pat Conroy (The Great Santini, Prince of Tides) gave up drinking and began dieting about three years ago, at his doctor’s urging. Now he’s starting a fitness gym near his home in South Carolina. The 69-year-old writer explains why:
I’m doing it because there are four or five books I’d like to write before I meet with Jesus of Nazareth, as my mother promised me … and I can’t write them unless I’m healthy.”
Writer Alan Cheuse declares that the “current situation for a writer appears quite distinct from any other moment since the birth of modern publishing in the early 19th century… . The link between writer and reader has morphed into a rapidly changing field of play.”
He says that marketing a book has now become as “complicated and problematic as the writing of the book itself.” He acknowledges that he has had to learn how to use social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, to spread the news of the publication of his latest novel, Prayers for the Living. He has also written for a blog he seldom used to visit in hopes of building name recognition for himself among readers.
Another difference between the current publishing process and the previous one that he lived with for decades involves getting his book reviewed:
As fewer and fewer reviews appear in newspapers and magazines, more and more come out online. But for the ordinary reader—let’s call her the civilian reader—most of the Internet reviews never cross her horizon.
Even many established writers feel bewildered in this brave new publishing world, Cheuse writes:
It takes as much work to promote a book as to write one, is what it feels like, as much work just to get a new book in this range of certainty as it does to have put in the years to compose it.
Terrence Petty reports on a presentation and interview by novelist Ruth Ozeki during a week she spent recently in Portland, Oregon, as artist-in-residence for Literary Arts. Ozeki’s spiritual companion is a Zen master named Dogen, who has been dead for nearly 800 years. Petty reports:
Dogen has a purpose: to get humans to slow down and think about their actions at every moment and not rush through the days. Be aware. Be alive.
Ozeki was raised in Connecticut by a Japanese mother and an American father. When she was three years old, her Japanese grandparents visited. She was surprised one day when she entered a room and found them sitting in Zen meditation. Interested to find out more about her Japanese heritage, she received a fellowship to study Japanese literature at Nara Women’s University in Japan after her 1980 graduation from Smith College. She later became more serious about meditation as her own parents aged and died.
Ozeki’s latest novel, A Tale for the Time Being, takes its title from an essay by Dogen. The magic in the book expresses her spiritual beliefs:
Words vanish, ghosts appear, characters change shape, and time does weird things. These metaphysical elements come right out of the box of Buddhist principles, intended to convey messages that all things are interconnected, nothing is permanent, and there is no abiding self… . She uses literary techniques that seek to collapse time and space in the readers’ imagination. The effect on readers can be similar to what practitioners of Zen feel as they sit in meditation.
Ozeki was ordained a Zen priest in 2010. She and her husband live on an island off of British Columbia, and last year she completed two months of head monk training at a Zen community in Vancouver, BC.
This page introduces the audio program of an interview with novelist Jill McCorkle. Her most recent novel, Life After Life (not to be confused with another recent novel of the same title by Kate Atkinson), deals with the often uncomfortable subject of talking about death.
Set in a North Carolina retirement home, Life After Life was inspired by her father’s death, and she spent more than 10 years working on it. The novel is narrated from multiple points of view and contrasts the way dying people view themselves with the observations of others.
Jill McCorkle lives with her husband in Hillsborouth, NC. She is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and has taught at UNC-Chapel Hill, Tufts, Brandeis, and Harvard. She currently teaches creative writing in the MFA program at North Carolina State University and at Bennington College Writing Seminars.
Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 is a hefty tome: just under 850 pages in hardcover. It has been sitting on my TBR shelf since shortly after it came out, but I haven’t read it yet.
Now comes word that streaming subscription service Hulu is looking to get into the original content game, like Netflix and Amazon, with a nine-episode mini-series based on the book. King’s novel features a modern-day high school English teacher who travels back in time to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Actors currently signed up for the project are Chris Cooper, Lucy Fry, George MacKay, Leon Rippy, Cherry Jones, James Franco, Sarah Gadon, and Daniel Webber.
The article doesn’t state when the production is expected to air.
Cara Buckley reports on how Julianne Moore prepared for her role in the film of Still Alice, a performance that won her an Oscar for best actress. Moore played Alice Howland, a Harvard cognifive psychologist with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. (Early-onset Alzheimer’s is defined as onset before age 65.)
“Sill Alice” tells the story from Alice’s point of view. “This is very unusual,” Ms. Moore told the Bagger earlier this season in a phone interview, “because it’s from the inside out.” So, to know what having Alzheimer’s felt like, Ms. Moore said she dove into the world of people living with the disease.
With the help of Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns of the Alzheimer’s Association, Moore connected through Skype with women who had received diagnoses of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Moore also talked with a leading researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital and visited long-term-care facilities and support groups. One woman particularly affected Moore; although the woman could not speak, “she was beaming and clearly trying to connect”:
“That’s why it’s interesting that it’s called ‘Still Alice’ — this idea that your essential self does not disappear.”
Norman Mailer‘s historical fact-based novel “The Armies of the Night” has been optioned for big screen adaptation by RadicalMedia.
Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger will direct a film based on Norman Mailer’s book The Armies of the Night, about the march from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, to the gates of the Pentagon in protest of the Vietnam War. Mailer’s book won both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
The film will be shot documentary style with actors performing scripted action interspersed with news footage from the event.
Producers also promise that the seminal rock and folk music from the era will play a significant role in the film.
“Today, as we find ourselves in a new time of protests on the streets, and tensions in the air, I couldn’t imagine a more relevant time to bring Mailer’s vision of civil disobedience to the big screen,” said Berlinger. “To achieve this in a style honoring the way Mailer put his story into words is an amazing opportunity for any filmmaker, and my own deep roots in the cinema-verite movement of the 1960’s makes this opportunity all the more exciting for me personally.”
As the concluding season of Mad Men approaches, the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, prepares a showing in New York City of 10 films that were required viewing for everyone who worked on the show. These films all made a deep impression on Weiner and influenced the creation of Mad Men.
Read Weiner’s own descriptions of why these movies, some of which are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, were seminal influences on Mad Men:
1. THE APARTMENT
Dir. Billy Wilder. 1960, 125 mins. 35mm print courtesy of the Packard Humanities Institute Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. With Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine.
2. NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1959, 136 mins. 35mm. With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint.
3. BLUE VELVET
Dir. David Lynch. 1987, 120 mins. 35mm. With Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper.
4. LES BONNES FEMMES
Dir. Claude Chabrol. 1960, 100 mins. 35mm. With Bernadette Lafont, Clotilde Joano, Stéphane Audran.
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1958, 128 mins. 35mm IB Technicolor print! With James Stewart, Kim Novak.
Dir. Fielder Cook. 1956, 83 mins. 35mm. With Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley.
7. DEAR HEART
Dir. Delbert Mann. 1964, 114 mins. 35mm print courtesy of the Packard Humanities Institute Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. With Glenn Ford, Geraldine Page, Angela Lansbury.
8. THE BACHELOR PARTY
Dir. Delbert Mann. 1957, 92 mins. Digital projection. With Don Murray, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden.
9. THE BEST OF EVERYTHING
Dir. Jean Negulesco. 1959, 121 mins. DCP. With Hope Lange, Stephen Boyd, Suzy Parker, Joan Crawford.
10. THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY
Dir. Arthur Hiller. 1964, 115 mins. 35mm. With James Garner, Julie Andrews, Melvyn Douglas.
At the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, Joanna Trollope, age 71, advised writers:
“But I think in order to write good fiction, I think you need to have got a lot of living under your belt,” she said. “And that includes the pain as well as the joy.
”It’s a rather unkind thing to have to say, and I don’t mean it unkindly, but I always say to people you will write much better fiction after the age of 35 than before. Merely because life will have knocked you about a bit by then.
”I don’t mean it unlikely, I only mean it in terms of don’t be in a hurry.”
In this article Hannah Furness points out that some well known novelists fit Trollope’s description:
- Alexander McCall Smith, who published his first book at age 50
- Richard Adams, who wrote Watership Down at age 53
However, Furness points out, many authors contradict Trollope’s description:
- Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who each wrote his first novel in his early 20s
- Charles Dickens, who wrote Pickwick Papers at 26
- William Shakespeare, who is believed to have written his first play at about age 25
- Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein at 20
Nonetheless, Trollope said that it is essential for writers to learn to understand other people’s motivations and to understand that “the suffering of other people is not negligible.”
“What I try to do is get inside head after head after head,” she said.
In an earlier post I reviewed the novel Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, one of the books on my Classics Club list. The book contained some passages that presented Frank Wheeler as a melodramatically theatrical man always concerned about how he appears to others:
He let the fingers of one hand splay out across the pocket of his shirt to show what a simple, physical thing the heart was (p. 4).
all afternoon in the city, stultified at what he liked to call “the dullest job you can possibly imagine,” he had drawn strength from a mental projection of scenes to unfold tonight (p. 16).
Since these are examples of the author telling readers about a character, I wondered if this characteristic would come across in the 2008 film version of the novel, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Frank and April Wheeler.
The film did not suggest this characteristic of Frank, but the visual nature of film did allow for some dramatic emphases of other themes in the novel. The book describes the Wheelers’ house on Revolutionary Road as on a hill. In the scene of the film in which the real estate agent, Mrs. Givings (played by Kathy Bates), first shows Frank and April the house, a low camera angle makes the house appear high on the hill. This visual effect presents the house as a castle high on a hill and suggests the Wheelers are a royal couple who will live there, an echo of the Wheelers’ feeling of their own superiority or specialness.
Even more dramatic is the visual effects early in the film to suggest the isolation and loneliness of the Wheelers’ current lives. Wide scenes show Frank dressed like all the other men waiting on the platform of the local station to take the train into the city for work. Then a shot of Frank inside the train isolates him among all the other similarly dressed men. The series culminates with another wide shot of a horde of suburban men in their suits and hats, all carrying their briefcases, pouring out of Grand Central Station and marching off to work. Even among such a crowd, Frank is isolated and alone.
Juxtaposed with that sequence is a scene of April, a suburban housewife in her apron, dragging her metal garbage can to the end of the driveway for pickup. She pauses to look around, and the camera reveals a road lined with identical driveways and garbage cans, but no other human being. Just as Frank is isolated among all his fellow workers who commute every day between their homes in the suburbs and their jobs in the city, April is also isolated in the suburbs. Several more scenes showing April peering outside from behind her living room picture window heighten her isolation into a feeling of entrapment.
Yates’s novel presents Mrs. Givings’s mentally ill son, John, as a kind of Greek chorus who comments on the action. Ironically, this disturbed character is the one who speaks the truth. Although the character’s role is clear in the novel, it stands out even more in the film thanks to the dramatic presence of veteran stage and film actor Michael Shannon.
In one of the bonus features on the film DVD, either director Mendes or screenplay writer Justin Haythe (I can’t remember which) calls Revolutionary Road “the grandfather of suburban novels.” The film version explores the layers of meaning that include not just the mundane realities of suburban existence but the tragic interlocking of a couple who use each other to explore their own individual pain and shortcomings. April says, “We thought we would be wonderful in the world.” But finally she has to admit, “We were never special.”