Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Confessions of a book junkie's recent retail sins...

It happened again.

I went to the bookshop near my office the other day. I went for a specific reason - to get the second in the Hunger Games trilogy, because they had them in their window a few weeks ago. However, the first thing I saw when I walked through the door was the sequence of large tables covered in books...SALE.


I mean, really... I am not proof against three tables full of discounted books. Three tables full, I might add, of hardcovers with dust jackets, priced at either $10 or $15... I appeal to my fellow book junkies, some of whom I know follow this blog, for support. What would you have done???

I succumbed. I am not regretful. Because - and as all good book junkies know, the ability to justify the purchase of a book with a creative premise is mandatory - Dearly Beloved and I went to see Salmon Fishing in the Yemen on the weekend. It was a miserable, rainy afternoon, neither of us felt like working, so we headed for chock-tops and a feel-good movie. Which it is - for any of you who haven't yet seen it, GO. Anyways, just as we were getting out of our seats, I caught the magic words 'adapted from the novel by...' - didn't catch the name... The first book I saw on the first table in the shop was a tiny, fat, blue dust jacketed hardcover of the novel from the film - which is by Paul Torday.

Now, I have some issues about films made from books, which I'm sure many of you share. There is nothing worse than going to see a film made from a book you've loved, and imagined and seen in your imagination for years - and to see a travesty of the story and characters on the big screen. (Small screen adaptations - unless made by the BBC - can be even worse...Little House on the Prairie comes to mind...) It's nearly always better to discover a book via a film than to do the reverse. I certainly found that with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Thoroughly enjoyed the films, and love the details and subtleties in the books which I discovered reading them much later.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is one of those delightfully quirky British films that can't really fail to charm. The trailers suggested something above the average chick flick, I liked the cast, and it delivered so much more. The book is a different beastie altogether. It is epistolary in structure, which is one of the more challenging ways to craft a narrative, especially in this case where there are so many voices. There are diary entries, email exchanges, transcripts of interviews and interrogations, just to name a few. Where the film has a straightforward linear narrative, the book runs overlapping narratives as it moves between voices. The interrogation transcripts suggest (I'm about halfway through reading) a future investigation, that isn't part of the film, that the author breaks up and situates, segment by segment, in the 'real' time of the narrative. It's fascinating, and adds a richly textured colour that isn't a part of the film.

It brought me back to The Hunger Games - that book may never leave me.... - and another blog post I found with an excellent discussion about both book and film which you can find here. If you read it, have a look also at the comments, because it generated a great discussion. The writer, another Karen, also saw the film - which I have yet to do. She made a particularly interesting comment about the 'voice' of the story. In the book, we experience the story through Katniss, the lead character. We get everything from her, warts and all. Think about it... When we speak to people, we edit. What goes on in our heads, in immediate response to what we hear, see and experience isn't edited. And sometimes, the first thing we think isn't nice... In the book, we get all of that from Katniss. We feel her anguish when Rue dies, followed by her fierce and angry sense of rebellion when she covers Rue's body with flowers - an act edited out in the final televised version - her confusion about Peeta and whether or not his professed love for her is real or manufactured for the game, and everything in between. In her discussion on the blog, Karen - and others in the conversation via the comments - make the point that with the single viewpoint of watcher, we don't have access to the intensity of that unedited experience which is possible in a book.

I didn't buy the second book in the series. By the time I got to the end of the tables, I had Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a Holocaust memoir, a story from a member of the French Resistance in WWII, a biography of Louisa May Alcott, a dissertation by an Israeli historian on the Arab/Israeli conflict from 1936 to now, a cool book on maths for Twenty - who was here for a holiday - and a book on Roman emperors for Dearly Beloved. I figured that was enough to go on with and continuing with The Hunger Games could probably wait!

I think I need another bookcase.

Oh, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel also started life as a novel...


  1. Good morning, my friend. You've covered a lot of ground here, but I'll try to be brief...

    I have to confess, when I want one specific book, I Amazon it. It's always in stock, always a good price, blah, blah, blah. No more all-day expeditions from shop to mall to megastore. Just order it. On the other hand, Bonnie and I divide up our "disposable" money on payday, and I have learned to work from a list, as I can be a terrible impulse buyer. When "books" rises to the top of that list, I often just walk into our local B&N and head straight for the sale tables. I've acquired some of my most wonderful surprises over the years by doing just that.

    Books and movies... Novels aren't scripts. The Canadian production of the Sherlock Holmes stories (with Jeremy Brett) followed Doyle's stories word-for-word and scene-for-scene, and each ran just short of an hour. Each story averages 10-12 pages in hardcover. Translate that to a 350 page novel, and you get a 32 hour movie. The most faithful adaptations that I can personally remember are the Lord of the Rings movies by Peter Jackson, and they left out far more than they included. Book-to-movie just pretty much can't be done, at least not with precision.

    A far as The Hunger Games goes, that is off my radar. It is yet another example of the Lowest Common Denominator principle. While I was writing my five unpublished novels, I had acquired the notion that I was going to be the next Stephen King. What kept me going through a decade of rejection was the certain knowledge that Crap Sells, usually in the from of soundbite-worthy couplets, as in these examples: Professional Wrestling; American Idol; Geraldo Rivera; Big Brother; The View; Monster Trucks; you can probably rattle off a dozen more before you get your brain engaged. Now a new contender has emerged: Hunger Games. While I was collecting all those rejection slips, I comforted myself in the knowledge that if Crap was a liquid commodity, you couldn't pump it into a tank fast enough to get the bottom wet, because the world's population would be packed a million-deep around it pumping it out faster than it could go in. The Hunger Games? Newest poster child for the theory.

    Well, so much for being brief. I'd better quit now, or my comment will be longer than your post. Thanks for stopping by my house. I hope you enjoyed my visit as much as I did yours; just remember, if this was Crap, I wouldn't be here...

  2. Hi Jack, good to hear from you. Yes, I like your new site a lot. And thank you for your gracious compliment!

    You're right, novels aren't scripts. However, it is possible to remain faithful to a story and the sense of the original text, even when characters get combined from many to one and dialogues shift to different characters. 'The Lord of the Rings' is an excellent example, as are the Harry Potter movies. I stumbled across - there is mention of this in one of my earliest posts - the most delightful movie of Noel Streatfield's 'Ballet shoes' in our dvd rental store, and it was brilliantly done. When the first Narnia film was made, they made good decisions and it stayed with the spirit of 'The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe' - the second book in the series - but then, in the movie they called 'Prince Caspian, they played with the plot and created all sorts of, to me, unnecessary elements that were pure invention. In the third film - 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' - editorial choices were made for the very reason you put forward - the movie, if they'd included everything, would have been impossibly long. For all that, it was still an accurate interpretation of the original text. So, it can be done... Sorry - it's a bit of a soapbox of mine!

    On the book purchasing, I know, I know... Twenty informed me yesterday that sometimes, Amazon is the only place to get things but I've yet to buy a book from them. I love a bookshop. I like to pick the books up and hold them. I also like to be able to support the bookshops themselves. Borders has gone to the wall here, following the demise of Angus and Robertson - a very old business with many outlets. We have one big mainstream franchise left and then the independent stores. I would hate to contemplate a world with no more actual bookshops.

    And yes...the reality TV phenomenon. I see a lot of it, due to the tastes of people in my household. I am choosing to do other things more and more when the programs are on. I relish the early mornings when I'm the first one up and I drink my morning tea to the background of the wind in our splendid horse chestnut tree rather than morning TV.

    Which I have now done, the sky beyond the tree is pink with the pre-sunrise light and I need to get moving, as I suspect a punishingly busy day at work with the proofs of my magazine coming through for corrections...

    1. I, too, like being the first one up; the only time I can get anything done is before the noise starts...

      Just wanted to let you know, people have been expressing their disappointment about their inability to Follow on Weebly, so I have tracked down a 3rd party widget to allow it. I'm not interested in a "body count," but Following is a lovely statement to make to someone who puts in the effort to do this. Thanks for asking.

    2. Goodoh - I'll revisit and sign up on the new site.

  3. Hi, Kaz! I don't have that much self-control when faced with a bargain bin of hardcovers. So if I were in your shoes when you saw that, I would've cleaned that table easily!

    1. Hi Peter,

      I was editing the stack as I went... Plus, I had to get them home! It's an interesting bookshop - it services the law precinct near my office, but carries a really eclectic range of other genres. A most dangerous place to have only two doors down from where I work...