Archive for the 'What I’m Reading Department' Category

23
Aug
12

What I’m Reading: Fahrenheit 451

With the sad death of the great Ray Bradbury earlier this year, I decided to reread some of his works that I haven’t read in a while, beginning with the classic science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451. For those of you who haven’t read it… first, shame on you. Second, it’s about a future where people have grown intellectually soft, subsisting on brainless television programs and avoiding books and other intellectual pursuits until, finally, books are actually banned and firemen are repurposed to burn homes where books are being kept rather than extinguishing fires.

I’m certainly not arrogant enough to review this book, but I will discuss it. The book is often called as a commentary on censorship, although Bradbury himself denied that was his intention, saying instead he was trying to make a point about people allowing themselves to be absorbed by television. Reading the book now, for the first time in many years, I think it’s easy to see the intent here. The wife of Guy Montag, our protagonist, is where the most potent criticism comes. She spends all her time lost in a world where three of her walls are televisions and she laments the fact that the fourth isn’t yet. She thinks of TV characters as “family,” and she and her friends casually discuss people’s deaths, divorces, suicides, and think of their children as disposable creatures, no more important than the “family” that appears on the screens when they want them and go away when they’re done.

The thing that really gets to me, more than ever, is just how prescient this book is. The implication is that when people turn away from intellectual pursuits, they lose their perspective and compassion for other creatures. And I see that. When I look at students who steadfastly refuse to read a book, I’m not surprised to see those same students in trouble for disrespect, profanity, fighting, and generally displaying a lack of respect or concern for other people. (I don’t just mean kids who don’t like reading here, I mean the ones who fight it as though it will do them physical harm. Yes, they exist.)

Bradbury paints a picture of a world where books are abandoned and, when they’re finally banned, the Firemen are basically there to clean up the last few stragglers, a place where newspapers die out and nobody cares. And then there was one last thing I read today that chilled my blood, the most terrifying prophecy of all. From Faber, Montag’s friend who helps him find his way to a different path:

“And then the Government, seeing how advantageous it was to have people reading only about passionate lips and the fist in the stomach, circled the situation with your fire-eaters.”

“Passionate lips and the fist in the stomach.”

That’s right, people. Way back in 1951, Bradbury predicted 50 Shades of Grey.

Terrifying.

10
Feb
12

What I’m Reading in 2012

Annually, I keep a running tally of all the books, graphic novels, and short stories I read. This list includes re-reads, as well as audiobooks I listen to over the course of the year, but I don’t include individual short stories if I read all of them as part of a collection. In related news, I really overthink the hell out of this stuff. And should the book be something I review online, I’ll provide a link so you can see my thoughts.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, here’s what I’ve read thus far in 2012:

1. A Tale of Sand (2011), Jim Henson & Jerry Juhl, B+*
2. Who’s Who: The Resurrection of the Doctor, Martin Beland and the Staff of The Guardian (2011), B-
3. Age of Bronze Vol. 3: Betrayal (2008), Part One, Eric Shanower, A-*
4. Locke and Key Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom (2011), Joe Hill, A
5. Hogfather (1996), Terry Pratchett, B+
6. Scream Deconstructed (2011), Scott Kessinger, A-
7. In the Peanut Gallery With Mystery Science Theater 3000 (2011), Rob Weiner (Ed.), B
8. Eats, Shoots and Leaves (2003), Lynne Truss, A
9. My Seinfeld Year (2012), Fred Stoller, B
10. Employee of the Month and Other Big Deals (2011), Mary Jo Pehl, B-
11. A Princess of Mars (1917) Edgar Rice Burroughs, A
12. Countdown: A Newsflesh Novella (2011), Mira Grant, A-
13. Sloppy Seconds (2012), Tucker Max, B
14. Killing Mr. Griffin (1978), Lois Duncan, B
15. The Crucible (1952), Arthur Miller, A•
16. Hilarity Ensues (2012), Tucker Max, B+
17. All-Star Superman (2008), Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, A+*
18. Ruby of Ragnoor (2012), Brad Guitar, B+*
19. What If? Classic Vol. 3 (2005), Gary Friedrich, Don Glut, Marv Wolfman, Steven Grant, Peter Gillis & Tom DeFalco, B*
20. Atomic Robo Vol. 1: Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne (2008), Brian Clevinger, A-*
21. Atomic Robo Vol. 2: Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War (2009), Brian Clevinger, A-*
22. Atomic Robo Vol. 3: Atomic Robo and the Shadow From Beyond Time (2009′ Brian Clevinger, A*
23. The Gods of Mars (1918), Edgar Rice Burroughs, B+
24. Sum: 40 Tales From the Afterlives (2009), David Eagleman, A-
25. The Nightly News (2007), Jonathan Hickman, A*
26. John Carter: A Princess of Mars (2011), Roger Langridge & Felipe Andrade, B-*
27. Warlord of Mars (1919), Edgar Rice Burroughs, A-
28. The Princess Bride: 30th Anniversary Edition (2003), William Goldman, A
29. Raise Your Glass,: Stuck in the Twilight Saga (2012), Keith Helinski, B
30. Clue: The Musical (1993), Peter DePietro, B•
31. How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months (2011), John Locke, C
32. Forrest Gump (1986), Winston Groom, B
33. The Reporter (2012), Scott Sigler & Mur Lafferty, B+
34. Tales From Development Hell (2012), David Hughes, B+
35. Lamb (2002), Christopher Moore, A
36. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997), J.K. Rowling, A-
37. Buy the RV, We Start Tomorrow: The AV Club’s Guide to Breaking Bad (2010), Donna Murray & Neal Goldman, B
38. Coffee: It’s What’s For Dinner (2011), Dave Kellet, A*
39. Sacre Bleu (2012), Christopher Moore, B
40. Pax Romana (2007), Jonathan Hickman, B-*
41. Paradox (2012), Christos Gage, B- *
42. Avengers Forever (1999), Kurt Busiek, A*
43. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), J.K. Rowling, B+
44. Transhuman (2008), Jonathan Hickman, A-*
45. The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012), Stephen King, B+
46. Atomic Robo Vol. 4: Atomic Robo and Other Strangeness (2010), Scott Wegener, A*
47. Atomic Robo Vol. 5: Atomic Robo and the Flying Fists of Science (2011), Scott Wegener, A-*
48. Misery Loves Sherman (2012), Chris Eliopoulos, B*
49. The Atlantis Chronicles (1990), Peter David, A*
50. Aquaman: Time and Tide (1996), Peter David, B+*
51. Pantheon (1999), Bill Willingham, A-*
52. Atomic Robo Vol. 6: Atomic Robo and the Ghost of Station X (2012), Scott Wegener, A+*
53. Marvels: Eye of the Camera (2010), Kurt Busiek & Roger Stern, A-*
54. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), J.K. Rowling, A-
55. “They’re Made Out of Meat” (1991), Terry Bisson, B
56. Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? (2012), Brian Cronin, B+
57. The Comic Book History of Comics (2012), Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey, A-*
58. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2010), Seth Graham-Smith, B+
59. Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile (2002), Bill Willingham, A-*
60. JLA Vol. 1: New World Order (1997), Grant Morrision, A-*
61. Star Trek: The Next Generation-Ghosts (2010), Zander Cannon, B*
62. Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage (1993), David Michelinie, J.M. DeMatties, Tom DeFalco, B+*
63. The Hollywood Walk of Shame (1993), Bruce Nash & Allan Zullo, C+
64. The All-Pro (2011), Scott Sigler, B+^
65. Our Valued Customers (2012), Tim Chamberlain, B*
66. Batman: Earth One (2012), Geoff Johns, A*
67. The Infinity Gauntlet (1993), Jim Starlin, A+*
68. F in Exams (2011), Richard Benson, A-
69. F For Effort (2012), Richard Benson, B
70. Blackout (2012), Mira Grant, B+
71. The Monolith (2012), Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, A*
72. Locke and Key Vol. 5: Clockworks (2012), Joe Hill, A*
73. Classic G.I. Joe Vol. 1 (2009), Larry Hama, B-*
74. What If? Classic Vol. 4 (2007), Bill Mantlo, Don Glut, Peter Gillis, Steve Skeates, Tony Isabella, Mike W. Barr, Steven Grant, Mark Gruenwald & Ralph Macchio, B*
75. Firestarter (1981), Stephen King, B+
76. “Don’t Tell Jack” (2001), Neil Gaiman, A-
77. Rising Stars Compendium (2004), J. Michael Straczynski, A*
78. Fahrenheit 451 (1951), Ray Bradbury, A+
79. Morning Glories Vol. 1: For a Better Future (2011), Nick Spencer, A
80. Fool Moon (2001), Jim Butcher, B
81. The Maze Runner (2009), James Dashner, B+
82. The Scorch Trials (2010), James Dashner, B
83. The Death Cure (2011), James Dashner, B
84. Action Philosophers (2009), Fred Van Lente, B+*
85. Fraggle Rock Vol. 1 (2010), B*
86. License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold and Silver (2011), Rick Harrison, B-
87. The MVP (2012), Scott Sigler, A-
88. Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astronomy Zombies (2009), Michael Adams, B+
89. Upside Down: A Vampire Tale (2012) Jess Smart Smiley, B*
90. Trick ‘r Treat (2009), Marc Andreyko, B*
91. Madman 20th Anniversary Monster (2012), Mike Allred, B*
92. Texts From Dog (2012), October Jones, B
93. The Complete Omaha the Cat Dancer Vol. 1 (2005), Kate Worley & Reed Waller, B*
94. Superman: Earth One Vol. 2 (2012), J. Michael Straczynski & Shane Davis, A*
95. Tremors of the Buried Moon (2011), J.C. Rogers, B*
96. The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West Vol. 1 (2012), Tom Hutchinson, B+*
97. Charlie Brown’s Christmas Stocking (2012), Charles M. Schulz, A-*
98. Archie Classics Series Vol. 1: Christmas Classics (2011), B
99. Marvel Zombies (2006), Robert Kirkman, B+*
100. Marvel Zombies 2 (2008), Robert Kirkman, A*
101. Marvel Zombies 3 (2009), Fred Van Lente, B-*
102. Marvel Zombies 4 (2009), Fred Van Lente, C*
103. Marvel Zombies Return (2009), B+*
*-Denotes graphic novel or comic strip collection
•-Denotes stage play
^-Denotes audiobook
“”-Denotes short story

–Updated August 5, 2012

17
Dec
11

What I’m Reading: Blogs to Books

With the Internet now being responsible for roughly 97 percent of all entertainment content generated in the universe, it’s inevitable that many of the more popular websites would find their way into print. Present company excluded. :sigh: Anyway, today I’m going to take a look a a pair of Christmas collections of content that either appeared online or got its launch there.

Let’s start with Wreck the Halls. For a few years now, author Jen Yates has been keeping us entertained with her website Cake Wrecks, where she presents hilariously mangled pastries that barely deserve to be called cakes. As funny as the terrible cakes are, though, it’s Yates’s writing that really makes the site work. She’s a wonderfully funny commentator with a sharp sense of humor and great skill at assembling the pictures in a way that sets up the jokes even better.

Wreck the Halls is her second book, following last year’s Cake Wrecks. This time out, she’s focusing on holiday-related wrecks, and again, it’s a real joy to read the book. She splits the book up into several sections, including chapters related to Thanksgiving wrecks, Christmas wrecks, and even Hanukkah wrecks, with several other cakes along the way that wouldn’t technically fit into their assigned category (or even this book) were it not for the way she manages to pull out a joke that fully justifies their inclusion. Plus, if you’re a fan of the website, the majority of the cakes in this book never appeared online, making it even more vital that you read this book, and right now.

On the other side of the Internet spectrum, let’s take a look at The Onion. (And yes, I know the newspaper version of The Onion actually precedes the website by several years, but most people are familiar with it primarily as an Internet source and, more importantly, without that segue I’d have no way to put these two books into the same blog post together.) If you’re one of the few people who’ve never visited the website, The Onion is a satirical website that mocks the news — newspapers, news websites, and even news television now. I’ve never been a faithful reader of The Onion, to be honest, but reading this book reminds me of why it’s popular. It’s really very funny.

Until you get past the headline.

That’s the problem with The Onion, and that’s why I never seem to keep reading it on those occasions when I stumble onto the website for one reason or another. The faux news articles, which this book mostly collects, usually have a very clever and inventive headline that pokes fun at something in popular culture, or takes something serious and juxtaposes it with something terribly mundane. (One of the best, for example: JESUS ‘REALLY DREADING’ THIS NEXT BIRTHDAY.) The thing is, once you read into the article, it’s clear that the writer didn’t really have much to go on past the headline. The jokes aren’t good enough for extended commentary, and the articles are almost universally weak. The short blurbs are the best things in the book, probably precisely because they’re short. Once you get past a first paragraph, the articles ramble on with variations on the same joke over and over again.

If you’re looking for a Yuletide chuckle, jump at Wreck the Halls. Pass on Christmas Exposed.

28
Sep
11

Story Structure Day 2: Nosferatu-A Symphony of Horror (1922)

Director: F.W. Murnau
Writer:
Henrik Galeen
Cast:
Max Schreck, Gustav Van Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach, Georg H. Schnell

Plot: A wizened old man seeks a new home and becomes obsessed with the wife of his real estate agent. As it turns out, the mysterious Count Orlok has a much darker agenda than finding a castle to call his own. This unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is rightly considered a classic.

Thoughts: You don’t often see a movie that resulted in the bankruptcy of a studio considered one of the greats (except, of course, Cutthroat Island), but here ya go. The estate of Bram Stoker refused to allow permission for F.W. Murnau to adapt Dracula in a movie, but showing the kind of spunk and sass that have made the Germans so beloved throughout history, Murnau just changed the names, abandoned some subplots, and made it anyway. Stoker’s estate sued, Prana Film went out of business, and an attempt was made to destroy all copies of the movie. Fortunately for us, that attempt failed, and the movie is now in public domain.

This film, a silent movie of course, is incredibly successful at creeping you the hell out, and a lot of the credit for that has to go to Max Schreck as Count Orlok. Although he doesn’t really fit into what we not think of as a classical interpretation of Dracula (although the “classic” Dracula is really Bela Lugosi’s interpretation), he’s become an archetypical monster in his own right. Orlok’s body is incredibly slender, almost unnaturally so – his limbs, his torso, his head all look like they’ve been stretched out. The  extremities, on the other hand, are all pointed and sharp – his fingers, his nose, his chin, his ears. Add that to his sunken eyes and you can see monsters from throughout the 20th century. The long body stirs up images of H.R. Giger’s Alien, the pseudo-zombies from the 2007 I Am Legend, any manner of creeps and crawlies, all the way up to the new Slender Man urban legend. In the introduction to this little project, I talked about the unknown being one of the pervading human fears. I didn’t mention one that may be even a little stronger – the manipulation of what is known. Orlok’s body is supposed to be human, but the little tweaks and alterations that define the character make him something even worse than what we don’t know: it makes him into what we should know, but don’t.

Think of it this way. We turn on the news, we hear terrible stories about things done to children by some nutjob or psychopath. I don’t feel the need to elaborate here, you guys know as well as I do what some human-shaped monsters are capable of. We hear these stories, and we think it’s terrible. But how much worse is it if the monster isn’t some random stranger, but someone the victim knows, someone they thought was a friend, maybe even a member of their own family?

It’s an extreme example, but the same principle that makes Orlok so creepy. Fortunately, trapped as he is on the movie screen, it’s a hell of a lot safer than the psycho on the news.

Anyway, on to a bit lighter fare. I haven’t included many silent films in this project (just one more after this one), but this movie really illustrates the need for a good print of these films. Nosferatu, of course, is in public domain now, which allows anybody to do whatever they want with it. In some ways, that’s a good thing – look at the 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire, about the making of Nosferatu, in which Willem DaFoe plays Max Schreck as a real vampire. It’s a great piece of work that couldn’t have been made were it not for public domain laws. (Which is funny, when you think about how Nosferatu was made in the first place, but there ya go.) The problem is, this allows people to put out really bad versions of the film. This was one case where I didn’t think I would need to turn to NetFlix for my hit, as I already happened to have a DVD set of many, many vampire films, Nosferatu included. As I started the movie, I realized that this version had actually changed all the title cards, replacing the names of Orlok and company with the original names from the Dracula novel. I realize, logically, that this shouldn’t have impacted my enjoyment of the movie, but I had a gut-level reaction that rejected the entire thing as wrong and bad and evil!

I turn into a purist at incredibly strange times.

So I did turn to NetFlix, where I found Nosferatu: The Original Version, which did in fact have all the classic names right where they belonged. This was much more acceptable… but in a few minutes, I found a flaw with this version as well. The music. Dear lord, the music. Old silent films we watch today don’t have any soundtrack except the one tagged on by whoever releases the DVD, and whoever put out the “original Version” of Nosferatu included one god awful super-synthesized soundtrack that went from happy, chirpy music at the beginning to a better (but weak) score towards the end. You’ve got to have the right music for these silent movies to make them come across properly. NetFlix also has a listing for Nosferatu: The Gothic Industrial Mix which, frankly, is a prospect I find horrifying.

While I can appreciate the artistry of these old silent films, I do have to admit, it’s hard to connect with them. I’m used to a completely different kind of filmmaking, and although there’s a definite style to telling a story I this way, it’s not my style. Only one more film from the silent era, and then we’ll move on to the talkies. Come back tomorrow for 1925’s Phantom of the Opera.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.

26
Aug
11

Reading about Stories…

I’ve been on one of my rare nonfiction kicks lately in my personal reading. But as is often the case when I read nonfiction, I’m reading nonfiction about fiction. That’s how I roll. And very often, you can get an idea of what my current writing project is based on what I’m reading while I’m working on it. These are some books that have contributed — influentially if not directly — to my big Halloween Project:

Make of that what you will.
21
Jun
11

I don’t mean to brag, but…

As of today, I have sold more than twice as many eBooks of Other People’s Heroes on Amazon.com in June than I did in May, and I’ve still got over a week to go.

I matched the May sales exactly one week ago.

Each month it’s been available has done better than the previous month, and in the three months and a couple of weeks since the book has been available, I’ve sold more copies than I did in the seven years it was with its previous publisher.

Someone tell me again that e-publishing is a bad idea?

Now while I don’t claim to be an expert on electronic publishing, I have been making an effort to explain to people what I’ve learned. My third column on the subject went up over at CX Pulp.com earlier today. Check it out!

Accessing the Infinite Library #3: Entering the eBookstore

And in the meantime, here (once more) are the links to all the places you can get Other People’s Heroes in its various forms:

30
May
11

What I’m Reading: The Hunger Games

With summer upon us, I hope to get more time to read than I do in the school year (despite the pretty substantial to-do list that I’ve compiled for myself), and today I knocked out my first book of the season. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games, mostly going back and forth over how great it was, but very little information about the actual plot. Finally, on the recommendation of Erin and a couple of other friends, I took the plunge into the first volume of the trilogy.

Set in a war-torn future where control of the North American continent has fallen to a single, oppressive “Panem” government, this novel tells of a young woman forced to compete in the deadliest competition in her world. As punishment for a long-ago uprising against the Capitol, each year the 12 districts of Panem select two “tributes” — a teenage boy and a teenage girl — to send into the Hunger Games, a brutal tournament of hunting and death, from which only one person a year can return alive. Katniss Everdeen, our heroine, is the tribute from District 12, the poorest and most put-upon of the nation’s twelve districts. Although an accomplished hunter, Katniss will have to face people who have spent their lives preparing for the Games, for whom bringing home the glory of victory is their own purpose in life, as well as a set of clever and cunning Gamemakers intent on changing the games whenever necessary to keep it interesting.

The whole idea of being forced into a competition to the death isn’t new at all. We can go back at least to the gladiator days of ancient Rome for that one (probably longer) and we see popular examples as recently as 1999’s Battle Royale. What really sets this book apart, I think, is Collins’ remarkable skill at not only constructing an interesting world, but then using that world as an active participant in the story, not just a backdrop. The way Katniss enters the games, for example, defies any sort of stereotype or cliche you would expect in a story of this nature.

Once inside the arena, Katniss is constantly aware that everything she does is being filmed and broadcast to the rest of Panem. That becomes important when you consider that wealthy sponsors on the outside are allowed to buy and send the participants gifts like food, medicine, and supplies, and if they don’t like what they’re seeing, the gifts don’t come. Because of this Katniss is never entirely sure about the motivations of her allies inside the games, and neither are the readers. We know when Katniss is being honest and when she’s just playing it up for the cameras, but what about Peeta? What about Rue? The constant uncertainty makes the plot infinitely more compelling than a standard story of this type, where you’d just have those kids out to kill each other against those hoping to defy the system that forced them into the Game. (There is still a degree of that, it’s unavoidable, but it’s not nearly as prevalent as in Battle Royale, to stick with that example.)

In truth, I find I’m actually very sorry that I didn’t try this series until the third and final book has already been published. In other series I’ve followed — Harry Potter being the best example — half the fun of being a fan comes after you read each new installment, talking with other fans and speculating about what’s coming up next for our heroes. Sadly, I’ve already missed all that and must simply attempt to remain spoiler-free until I read the other two books in the series. But rest assured, I’m going to do that soon, because the story is incredibly well-told, I really have no idea where Collins can take this story in the second two books, and I’m very excited to find out.

11
Apr
11

What I’m Watching/Reading: Limitless

Generally speaking, if I get really excited for a movie that was based on a book, I want to read the book first. I realize this puts me at odds with many people, but I’m the sort who always prefers to err on the side of the original author. In this case, the author is Alan Glynn, who wrote the 2002 novel The Dark Fields, upon which Leslie Dixon based her screenplay for Limitless. The Dark Fields was then re-published under the Limitless name, but having both read the book and watched the film, I can tell you, they’re two very different creatures. The good news is that I liked them both.

I didn’t know there was a novel when I went to see the movie, but I liked the movie enough to seek out the book. Even though I saw the movie first, I’ll talk about the book first.

The Dark Fields/Limitless is the story of Eddie Spinola, a copywriter who stumbles into a new drug that opens up the full potential of his mind. With near-perfect recall and much higher cognitive functions than ever before, he begins to chart a new course for his life, including an invasion of the world of high finance and running afoul of a Russian loan shark. But when the drug creates a dependency, he finds himself in danger not only for his fortune, but his life.

This is a terribly dark book, one with an incredible premise and a nice block of characters. Reading along as Eddie’s mental faculties are raised and lowered and raised again makes the experience of reading the novel somewhat like what I imagine it’d be like to read Flowers For Algernon on a roller-coaster. Glynn masterfully paints the picture of a man who is completely losing control of his life. We can feel it as one thing or another slips away from him, things that even his mythical doses of MDT-48 can’t save him from, and by the end of the book there’s really only one place it can go.

Which makes a very interesting contrast to the movie. Because although the set-up is identical, the ending is completely different.

Limitless (the film) is the story of Eddie Morra, a struggling novelist who stumbles into a new drug that opens up the full potential of his mind. With near-perfect recall and much higher cognitive functions than ever before, he begins to chart a new course for his life, including an invasion of the world of high finance and running afoul of a Russian loan shark. But when the drug creates a dependency, he finds himself in danger not only for his fortune, but his life.

Familiar, no? But screenwriter Leslie Dixon throws in some differences in the first half of the film — a girlfriend who doesn’t exist in the novel being the main one. (She also abandons some other characters, such as the daughter of Eddie’s boss who exists in a bizarre subplot that, in the book, really goes nowhere.) After that first half, though, she takes Eddie Morra’s life in a totally different direction than Eddie Spinola. This Eddie still finds himself losing control over his actions, but he also manages to hold on to a few grains of hope that Eddie Spinola loses somewhere along the line.

Frankly, if you look at Limitless the movie as an adaptation of The Dark Fields, it doesn’t really work. It drifts not only from the plot, but also from the spirit of the story in a totally irreconcilable way, where the screenwriter drew not on anything the original author gave her, but created things from whole cloth to tell a different story.

To my amazement, though, I liked them both.

Usually, I get very upset when an adaptation strays this far from the source material. In this case, though, while The Dark Fields made a very strong novel, I don’t think the climax would have been thrilling or exciting enough to make for a satisfying motion picture. Dixon created from whole cloth, to be certain, but she created something that made for a much more entertaining cinematic experience than I think the original story would have been.

This is almost a revelation to me, friends. Both the book and the film have the same basic concept, the same idea, the same elevator pitch… but the execution in the two different media almost had to be different, because I don’t think either would have worked in the other media. I’m going to have to actually step back and look at other books and movies that I didn’t think made the transition well, maybe give them another chance. Because while I still think the original author’s intentions should be paramount… well… if he’s okay with the change, I should be too.

EDIT: Of course, as soon as I finish writing this, I think of two other films with different endings that I think worked. First was The Mist. Yes, I know Stephen King purists (my girlfriend included) may be pissed at me for saying this, but I thought the ending of the film was a brilliant twist that really cut you to the core… and from what I understand, King himself agrees with me. The other is Watchmen. Curiously enough, many people criticized that film for being too faithful to the source material, to the point of dragging, but the one big change in the story, the one that comes to the end, is actually the rare case where I think the movie ending makes more sense than the original graphic novel. (It has to do with assigning blame, which is all I can say without delving into spoiler territory.) Of course, this is a case where the original writer, Alan Moore, famously did not approve of the changes, so this may be inapplicable to this discussion.

25
Mar
11

Conversations: About Edgar Allan Poe

I love teaching Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Fall of the House of Usher” to my 11th graders. I love Poe’s language, I love his magnificent skill at crafting the perfect mood for his story, I love the way Poe could create characters and stories that stick with you not just hours after your finish the story, but months and years later. But mostly, I love teaching this story because invariably (as happened today), my class winds up having some variation of the following conversation:

Me: What the narrator is implying here is that… well… the Usher Family Tree didn’t have a lot of branches on it.
Student 1: You mean they’re inbred?
Me: Yep.
Student 2: I bet that’s why he’s so sick all the time!
Me: Very good. If a person has a recessive gene, then has a child with somebody else who has the same gene, there’s a much greater chance that the gene will become dominant. That can cause all kinds of different, unwanted conditions and abnormalities. From a genetic viewpoint, that’s the problem with inbreeding.
Student 2: Are there other problems?
Me: Of course. There’s the cultural reason it’s a bad idea.
Student 1: What’s the cultural reason?
Me: It gives me the flaming heebie-jeebies.

18
Feb
11

What I’m Reading: The Book of Vice

A few months back, my buddy Daniel suggested I listen to the NPR radio show Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me. My immediate reaction was, “NPR? I’d rather chew on a bucket of rusty-”

“No, this is different,” he said. “It doesn’t suck.”

So I downloaded a few of the episodes via podcast, found them entertaining, and I’ve been listening ever since.

As is often the case when I find something new to enjoy, I wind up seeking out the other works of those involved, a task which led me to The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them), a 2007 tome by Wait Wait‘s host, Peter Sagal. Sagal, who is unfailingly charming and entertaining on the radio, brings all of that wit to this book, which I read straight through in just a couple of days. (For me, these days, that’s quite a feat.)

The book is simply an examination of all those things that everybody knows about, a lot of people do, and nobody wants to admit to. Lying, gambling, excessive consumption, and several chapters devoted to different aspects of our baser instincts make for a very fast read. Sagal manages to combine a journalistic approach with a comedian’s, interviewing people involved in each of the different “Vices” that get a chapter of their own in order to better understand the mindset that leads a person to these past times and the reasons that everybody is, at least a little, curious about them.

But Sagal doesn’t just give us a dry, scholarly look at these things. He’s a very funny writer as well, with puns, analogies and turns of phrase that make you laugh at stories that could be close to tragic inn other circumstances. There’s something about his writing style that reminds me of Dave Barry, only with less bits about exploding toilets and more bits about people who have been around sex so much that they’ve gotten bored with it.

The book is funny, fun to read, and perhaps most importantly, it does give you an opportunity for self-examination. Even if the vice you’re reading about is something you’ve never done, it will make you laugh at the presentation and, ultimately, decide that it’s probably a good thing you’ve stayed away from it. If you’re a fan of Sagal’s radio show and you’re not afraid to poke around the underbelly of existence, the book is well worth reading.




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