Friday, 27 February 2015

Movies from books: Still Alice and others...

DB and I had brunch at a cafe in Alexandria this morning with the papers. This is a not unusual weekend activity for us - I MUST have coffee before it's too late in the morning, but to stop myself OD-ing on coffee, I don't keep it at home - ergo, we must go out to cafes...definitely a first world issue! Anyway, something of interest for me in today's Sydney Morning Herald is the list of top ten bestseller books:
  1. Ruby Circle, Richelle Mead
  2. American Sniper, Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim Defelice*
  3. Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James*
  4. Obsession in Death, J.D.Rob
  5. Wild, Cheryl Strayed*
  6. Family Food, Pete Evans
  7. Still Alice, Lisa Genova*
  8. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  9. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn*
  10. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flannigan
Do you see what jumped out at me when I read the list? Half the titles are books that have made it to film. Half. For all five, it's been a whole new lot of sales - a depressing thought for me, personally, when I consider Fifty Shades of Grey. You can read my feelings about that particular book in this post. At this point in time, the only two of the five I've read are Still Alice (post here) and Gone Girl - didn't get around to posting about the latter. It did my head in, and I'll have to read it again before I try and write about it.
Julianne Moore as Alice in Still Alice
I did get to the movie of Still Alice last week. It was one of the better adaptations I've seen in a while. The storyline was simplified, and locations changed, but the essence of the book was very much there, which pleased me. Also, Julianne Moore was, I thought, absolutely amazing in the role of Alice, and very much deserved the Oscar and all the other awards she's won.

Insasmuch as the secondary market of books that follows on from a film, particularly a successful film, is a good thing, I can't be sorry to see this aspect of the bestseller list. I DO, however, have real difficulty looking at Fifty Shades of Grey in the company of The Narrow Road to the Deep North - winner of this year's Man Booker Prize. I know a bestseller list is about the sales statistics, and not the quality of the books on the list (I also have issues with Pete Evans' book, because I feel strongly that the whole Paleo philosphy is deeply flawed) know... I have yet to read The Narrow Road to the Deep North, although, The Teacher recently touched base with me via Facebook, asking if I'd read it, saying it's marvelous. So, it's on my list. Whether or not a movie is made from an adaptation of the book will be anyone's guess, but I guess that being a Booker prizewinner guarantees it a place within the canon of modern classics, so it should have a reasonable shot at long term sales that a badly written fly-by-night popular success like Fifty Shades of Grey just won't achieve.

I had huge reservations about Fifty Shades of Grey when the trilogy was published, and they are just being reinforced by everything I've heard about the movie, and of course, parts two and three are yet to come. In a weirdly creepy juxtaposition of popular culture, the movie was released on the Valentine's Day weekend, I guess, as a prospective date movie - a thought that REALLY worries me. As was to be expected, there have been protests all over the Western world in the wake of the movie, and much spirited debate. I've seen reviews that slam the movie, as book reviews slammed the books, for tacitly promoting domestic violence, at a time when, in Australia, even our national average of deaths in domestic violence situations is currently DOUBLE what it was at the same time last year. Then, I've read reviews from people who did and didn't read the books, dismissing all of that and saying that it's all a 'fantasy' and people 'know' it's not serious, etc... Is that how we've reached the stage we have where there is such a struggle to deal with the issue of domestic violence? That the stories we read and see are just 'stories' and not 'real' so that those stuck in real situations have that much more difficulty being taken seriously.

This year, commentary after the Oscars said that they'd been a really 'political' event, with winners in man categories using their moment at the microphone to promote the issues showcased in their movies. Julianne Moore spoke out about Alzheimers in her winner's speech. Eddie Redmayne, winner of the best male actor in a lead role for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, highlighted the issues for those suffering from ALS. (You can read a post I wrote on my other blog about seeing that movie - also based on a book HERE) Of course, we applaud these actors and movies for bringing issues like this to public attention via such an accessible medium - movies can have a far bigger audience than books, as we well know. However, to dismiss the potential impact when it comes to something like domestic violence is folly, pure and simple - and all I can say at this stage is thank goodness there was no way that Fifty Shades of Grey was going to be anywhere near the Oscars, and offer an opportunity for that kind of accolade by default, of domestic violence.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Children's books are universal

I stumbled across a lovely article on my Facebook feed this morning - you can read it HERE. It discusses many aspects of children's literature, including the timeless nature of the classics in the genre. Also, the fact that many authors who write for both children and adults often find that it is their children's books that remain in print, rather than those written for adults. The theory behind this seems to be that they are re-read far more than the majority of adult literature - by children of all ages and adults alike.
As it happens, my current reading is one of John Christopher's trilogies - The Prince in Waiting, Across the Burning Lands and The Sword of the Spirits. In common with the better known Tripods trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire), it is set in a time in the future, this time after much of the world has been laid waste by earthquakes and volcanoes, when deformities of both humans and animals are common, and communities are small and insular, ruled over by feudal princes. Why do I like these books? Well, they are very well written. They're great stories. They explore themes of good and evil, redemption, human striving and endeavour - familiar themes that anyone can relate to, and they have characters with traits that are recognisable. They also - and this is one of my own theories as to why so many adult readers come back to kid's literature - they're safe. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. Issues get resolved. Good eventually wins out and the losses along the way can be seen to have contributed to that. By and large, they're shorter reads than a lot of adult literature, so they're perfect for that rainy afternoon when we want something to do that's not too demanding. In other words, they're perfect comfort reading - which is why I keep coming back to my collection of children's literature over and over again.

Another point that is made in the article is that it's extremely rare for a children's book to win any of the big awards. There are, of course, separate awards for the genre. However, the big ones, like the Man Booker, which is, in theory, open to all comers, doesn't consider children's literature. If you look at the traits that are required to win one of the big prizes - that the book has 'classic' potential, is superlatively well-written, can be re-read, etc, we could be entirely justified in questioning this. I suspect that what children's authors are up against, on the whole, is that both the literary world and the general population tend to regard children's literature as a somehow lesser literary form.

I don't agree with this at all. Certainly, there are some badly written children's books, just as there are badly written adult literature (Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone?!). Equally, there are so many that are on a par with the classics of adult literature. Ergo, if the basic criteria were applied equally to both genres, there's no logical reason why children's literature shouldn't appear on major award shortlists.

An additional thing the article looks at is that so many dual authors end up being better known for their children's literature, rather than their adult work. Off the top of my head, a couple come to mind; Rumer Godden, Noel Streatfield - I do have many of Godden's adult novels, and nearly all of her children's books, but try as I might, I've never been able to find any of Streatfield's adult works. The article also mentions A.A.Milne, who was a West End playwright and the features editor of Punch, but is best known for his creations Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin.

The article also looks at the phenomenon of re-reading. I've discussed this in the past in many posts because I've found that there seem to be two quite distinct camps of readers - those who only read a book once, and those who return to the same books over and over. I'm one of the latter, and I re-read for the pleasure of it. In the article, the writer makes the statement about children being natural re-readers, due to them finding new things in the same book as they grow up and acquire more life experience. Personally, I don't think that's confined just to children. There can be so many layers in a book that a life time of reading it can continue to throw up new aspects regardless of age and the lived experience. The funny thing is, people don't seem to have an issue when we watch the same movie over and over, but often point the finger when it's the same book being read many times - I hear this from DB ALL the time, by the way, which is why I bring it up! He's a movie nut and has watched some of his favourites up to 50 times...but still thinks it's weird that I re-read some of my books every six months or so.

I know I have avid readers of children's literature among my readers - or YA fiction as it is mostly known as now - so I'd love to hear what your favourites are as well as any thoughts you might have from reading the article. It really set my brain ticking this morning, and I hope it does for you too!