Archives For books

I’m not much of a reader. I mean, I love to read, but I don’t do it nearly as much as I’d like to, or even as much as I should. This year, though, I’ve read a fair number of books, at least for me. Weirdly, though, my book-reading often intersects with my movie-watching, and sometimes my TV-watching. It’s usually the movies that inspire me to read.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s like this. There are just so many books out there, and so many are considered great, and so many are considered classics; it’s difficult to know which books to read at any moment in time. That’s why inspiration is important. A little nudging. Sometimes it’s the nudging from a friend, or a teacher, or an employee at a bookstore. Sometimes you’re looking to your idols, trying to soak in the same books that influenced them. For me, it’s usually something to do with movies. Click to read more.

One of my favourite scenes ever in a film is one that wasn’t in the book it was based on. In most cases I wouldn’t know what an adaptation left out or added, but in this case the book also happens to be one of my favourites. The scene appears near the middle of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Ron has abandoned his friends, who now sit depressed in the English wilderness. Harry, while contemplating his situation, hears a song coming from their tent. He walks in to find Hermione sitting there listening to Nick Cave’s “O Children” on the radio. He goes to her, takes her by the hand and begins to dance. The scene is only about two minutes long, but it’s a perfect encapsulation of that first half of the book. And it’s completely invented for the film.

The themes of friendship and feeling lost are right there in one beautiful scene. It’s beautifully filmed,  beautifully acted and the song choice is wonderful. What I love most about it is that the screenwriter and director found a way to do something new and truly cinematic. It’s a scene that wouldn’t work as well in a novel anyway. It’s all visual and aural. It appeals directly to visceral emotion. They took the very heart of the book and translated it into filmic terms and came away with the best scene in the entire franchise. Click to read more.

Dear Smug Jerks,

The Hunger Games is not Battle Royale.

Sure, both properties have an authoritarian government forcing teenagers to do battle-to-the-death. And sure, both have serious political undertones and social satire. Nobody can deny this, and I think it’s reasonable to assume Battle Royale, either in film or manga form, was a considerable influence on The Hunger Games.

Other influences on The Hunger Games? The Most Dangerous Game, The Running Man, Soylent Green, Death Race 2000, The Giver, and many other sci-fi films and books.

But The Hunger Games is not merely the sum of a bunch of influences. While I am not the biggest proponent of the novels—I find them entertaining, but also quite poorly written—I do think they cover really interesting thematic and allegorical ground in a unique and accessible way.

Continue Reading…

I’m a fan of a light read. Books that feel like work are often rewarding, but being a movie buff makes me slightly impatient. Sometimes all I need is to sit back and devour a really simple-to-read book. I would never claim that The Da Vinci Code is well-written, or even that it’s particularly good, but I still read it in the space of hours in a single night. One rare occasions I stumble upon that wonderful gift, a book that has the artistic heft of a difficult read and the light prose of a J.K. Rowling. Such is the case with Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, a revisionist Western of sorts that I managed to read in the space of a day. Click to read more.

Another Mark Kermode book! Only this time I actually read it. No audiobook crap on this one. Amazingly, I could pretty much hear Kermode’s voice in my head as I read it, so it wasn’t too unlike the pleasures of an audiobook. It’s Only a Movie is essentially a memoir. Kermode talks about growing up, falling in love with movies, becoming a journalist, doing journalist things, and watching Werner Herzog get shot. Click to read more.


Last year I read all three books in the popular Hunger Games series. I quite enjoyed the first book and basically couldn’t stand the sequels. The way I see it, The Hunger Games should have been one 600-page book instead of three books over 300 pages each. Oh well. Next month, Lionsgate is releasing a film based on The Hunger Games, which it hopes will become a huge franchise on par with the Twilight or Harry Potter films. I admire their ambitions, but I think they’re making some key mistakes. Not the least of which is assuming that The Hunger Games is some sort of huge publishing phenomenon. It isn’t quite that, and it shouldn’t be treated as such.

To understand what I mean by this we need to look at some figures. The Harry Potter series of books has sold over 450 million copies worldwide in various languages. Even in 2001, before the release of the first film, the four available books are believed to have sold at least 50 million copies worldwide, and likely many millions more than that.

By 2010, the Twilight series is believed to have sold roughly 116 million copies. This figure would have been smaller before the first film came out, but probably not much less.

Meanwhile, The Hunger Games and its sequels are said to currently have 23.5 million copies “in print”. That is to say, 23.5 million copies have been printed and most of those sent to stores, and a majority of those sold. Which is another way of saying the series has sold less than 20 million copies. Sure, it’s a huge success in the world of publishing, but it’s hardly the runaway cultural phenomenon many are claiming it as. In fact, the series has another problem, which is that it’s already complete. Harry Potter in particular was lucky to have books still left to be released. This meant that the excitement for the upcoming books and films built on each other into something huge and sustained for a little over a decade.

Lionsgate doesn’t seem to care about this. Both trailers released so far (a new one came out today) pretty much play just to the audience who have read the books, or who at the very least have had the books explained to them. In fact, if you don’t know anything about the series—which is likely considering their obscurity relative to those previously mentioned franchises—then it would be very easy to watch these trailers and marketing materials and come out the other end not understanding anything at all about the story.

In case you are unaware, The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a girl living in a post-apocalyptic future world in which an oppressive capitol city forces children from the outlying regions to participate in a drawn out fight to the death. Katniss, of course, ends up taking part in the games, and must work to survive while at the same time stoking the flames of revolution. It’s not that difficult a premise to sell, yet the trailers do their best to try and obscure exactly what is happening. The first trailer admittedly does a better job of explaining things, but if you aren’t paying close enough attention you might miss it.

On top of this, the style of the world is really weird, and quite off-putting. This is part of the concept, of course, but when the concept isn’t clear in the trailer then all you’ve got is a movie that looks closer to The Golden Compass than Harry Potter. It’s a dangerous line to straddle, and with Lionsgate pretending like everyone on the planet already knows and has read the books, this could spell trouble for them. The worst thing will be if the movie turns out to be mediocre or bad. Twilight could withstand this issue, as could the earlier Harry Potter films, but they had enormous built-in audiences. The Hunger Games doesn’t.

In my opinion, Lionsgate needs step up their game and sell this movie to those who aren’t already familiar with the series. There’s an easily marketable movie in there somewhere, but it isn’t helped by sticking to those who are already fans.

Or maybe I’m off base. What do you all think about the current marketing strategy for The Hunger Games? Do you think it’s worked? Have you already read the books? Are you excited to see the movie?

I love me some Mark Kermode. LOVE HIM! For those of you who may not be familiar with The Good Doctor, Mark Kermode PhD is a film critic for BBC radio. His show is available on iTunes as a podcast called Kermode and Mayo Film Review. Go listen to it. It’s great.

Anyway, Mark Kermode is one of the most entertaining and erudite critics around. He also knows how to string a damn good sentence together. He’s passionate and loud and funny and loves to rant. Basically the perfect guy to write a book about the state of film in the modern era. But here’s the rub: I didn’t actually “read” his latest book, The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex. Instead, since he’s a great guy to listen to on the radio, I opted for the audiobook version. Kermode reads his book and brings so much passion in his voice that I can’t recommend “reading” it any other way. Click to read more.

Two books down. My choice for the second book of my 50 Book Pledge was Cormac McCarthy’s seminal Blood Meridian. Given how much I loved the Coen brothers’ adaptation of No Country for Old Men, and how great McCarthy’s novel The Road was, my excitement was pretty high. Sadly, I can’t say I enjoyed Blood Meridian very much. Click to read more.

One book down! Yay!

Look, I’m a bit of an idiot. I got a late start on this #50BookPledge business, but then on top of that I decided my first book would be an 850 page fantasy opus. I’m just lucky the prose wasn’t as heavy as War and Peace or else my pledge would have been over before it even started.

Anyway, on to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It’s a book by one Susanna Clarke, released some years ago to a fair bit of acclaim and a nice spot on a number of bestsellers lists. It’s an interesting book in that it’s not exactly easy to fit it into a box. On the one hand it’s a fantasy book. No doubt about it. It’s got magicians who can do real magic, fairies, naval armadas made out of rain, all that jazz. But it’s also something of an alternate history tale, except the “alternate” in this case is that it’s an 19th Century England in which magic once existed and is now being restored. And then on top of this, the book is written in a style highly reminiscent of the works of Jane Austen, mixed with a little Charles Dickens.

If all this sounds like it might be up your alley, then you should probably just stop reading now and go pick up a copy of the book. Click to read more.

My (50) Book Pledge

January 9, 2012 — 12 Comments

This week I learned about something called The 50 Book Pledge. The idea comes from the site, The Savvy Reader, and I think it’s a great one. What does the pledge entail? Well, it’s as simple as it sounds.

I hereby pledge to read 50 books during the calendar year 2012.

Okay, fine, I’ll be honest with you. I am very bad with these sorts of pledges. Very bad. I usually bail out super fast. A pledge that relates specifically to books is even harder for me. I enjoy reading, but I’m not the fastest reader, and my reading habits are terrible. Sometimes I can read a book in two days. Sometimes it takes me five months.

So here’s how this will work. My pledge is going to be a bit more maleable. I’m going to hedge myself. My aim is to get to 50 books. Heck, maybe I’ll try for more than 50. But I don’t think the idea behind the pledge is to stress people out about reaching any particular number. It’s a way to get people like myself to read more. That’s all. So here’s the altered version of my pledge.

I hereby pledge to attempt to read 50 books during the calendar year 2012.

It’s a slight change, but it makes a huge difference. No longer is my pledge about the number, it’s about the attempt. It’s about the idea of the pledge in the first place. I’m going to try to read as much as possible. I’m going to mix it up with fiction and non-fiction. I’m going to aim for the stars (50) and hopefully I’ll reach them, but if I only get to the moon at least I’ll have gotten somewhere.

So here goes My (50) Book Pledge. The first book on the docket? Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

I’ll be using this post as the index for reviews of each book I finish, as well as any potentially related posts I write. Let’s hope it’s nice and long by the end of the year.

Click to see Index