Friday 27 April 2012

On the Dreaded Reading Blues.

Reading Blues: We all get them from time to time. What helps you overcome those reading slumps when nothing seems to grab your attention?
 - Ginger at GReads

I love reading. I love it a lot, ridiculously a lot. Wherever I am, a book is never far away. Normally, my motto is so many books, so little time!The only thing that stops me immediately losing myself in another world within the covers of a book is the question of which do I read first? 

And yet, even I get the occasional reading slump, when no matter how many books are piled up in front of me, in all kinds of genres and categories, I don't really want to read any of them. In these days, I could wander into a library, or a bookshop with £20 in book tokens, and come out empty-handed. In these times I actually feel a little panicky wandering the aisles, knowing that the right book is in there somewhere - but where? Why don't I want to read any of these books? Is my brain broken?

I find that the best way to cope with these times is to reread an old favourite. I've plenty of those: Anne of Green Gables, Neverwhere, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings to name just a few.

The other thing is - gasp! - to allow myself not to read. Instead I spend my evenings catching up on DVDs of the many TV series I never saw when they were first aired (like Firefly and The Big Bang Theory) or films, or do some kind of craftwork - I have a cross-stitch on the go at the moment, a thing you can't do with your eyes on a book! The reading blues don't tend to last very long, and when they're over, the books will still be there, waiting patiently.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Book Appetit! - Lord of the Rings

It's quite well-known that I'm a big fan of food, so when I saw Sheila's challenge to plan a menu to go with a bookish discussion, I couldn't resist.

Sheila wrote:
Take one of the books you are reading today.  Now lets pretend that you are going to have a book discussion with friends regarding that book.  They are all coming over to your house and you are providing food and beverage to go with said book.  That’s right, your challenge is to share with me here:
1.  Title and author of the book
2.  The menu:  the food, the beverage (if you want you can go as far plan background music, decor, whatever.  :D )

Now, the book I'm currently reading is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Again. And the Lord of the Rings is all about hobbits - who, as you are probably aware, are huge fans of food. Add this to the fact that The Lord of the Rings is a huge, three-volume book, and one that I could always find a lot to say about it, and I realised that we could quite easily be there all day. When I was in sixth for, my friends and I used to spend plenty of our free periods reading the books, writing bad fanfiction and discussing the details of the book and  films - which were new at that time. (Perhaps I shouldn't be sharing with you just how much of a nerd I was!)

So why not go all out and have a full day of Lord of the Rings bookclub/Hobbit party?

This Lord of the Rings day would take place in the garden, on a sunny spring day.

We'd start off with a fried breakfast of "tomatoes, sausages, nice crispy bacon" - and enough mushrooms to satisfy a hobbit.

For lunch I'd set up a buffet table full of simple, delicious food. We'd have fresh-baked bread and creamy butter, cold meats and cheeses and salad, lots of fresh fruit: crunchy apples, juicy cherries, plums and berries, served with whipped cream. In memory of Gollum, we'll serve sushi, and for those with elven tastebuds I'll try to recreate lembas bread with one of the many recipes available online. Finally, there will be a big cake, but not a stodgy fruit cake, something tasty and flavoursome. I'm thinking of a spiced pound cake or suchlike. This table would be set up first thing, and available to nibble at throughout the day, for those feeling the need for second breakfast, elevensies, afternoon tea... etc. etc.

Dinner would be some sort of stew or casserole. By rights it ought to be rabbit stew, but I haven't the heart to cook bunnies (which I know is hypocritical of me because I like other meat) so maybe it would be chicken stew, with carrots and parsnips, and a few good taters.

To drink, we'll serve plenty of tea and home-made still lemonade, and in the evening we'll light lanterns all around the garden, bring out wine and beer, and if too much of these are imbibed, no doubt Frodo's "bendy-knee chicken-dance" from the film will ensue...

Saturday 21 April 2012

What Katie Did - Spring 2012 edition

What Katie Read:

Hexwood - Diana Wynne Jones

I wasn't quite sure what to make of Hexwood at first. Several different storylines - science fiction, arthurian fantasy and kids' adventure story - take place side by side and I wondered just how they could possibly come together. Then, just as I thought I understood, Wynne-Jones threw a curve ball that left me befuddled all over again. A clever, bizarre tale of a magical wood, knights and kings, and aliens rulers from a sophisticated futuristic culture. At the heart of it all is the Bannus, a machine that warps and manipulates time and reality until neither you, nor the characters within the pages, are quite sure what's real and what is imagined. But through it all is a strangely compelling charm, and Diana Wynne-Jones leads you through so adeptly that you never doubt that it will all make sense in the end. She does not disappoint.

The Etymologicon - Mark Forsyth

My inner (ok, yes, and outer) word nerd could not resist this book. Described as a "circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English language," The Etymologicon takes the reader on a journey through the strange connections between words, how they have travelled and evolved through time and space, and how the unlikeliest of words are linked. Next time you read of a Doctor Who girl being described as "feisty," remember that the the word is directly derived from a flatulent lapdog!

What Katie Watched

I've recently discovered the 2000s science fiction show Firefly, which was sadly cancelled after a single season. (They returned with the film Serenity in lieu of a second season.) Firefly is best described as a "pirate space western," if you can imagine such a thing, and has a wonderful cast, compelling plot and is packed with witty dialogue and humour. My best friend and I would celebrate "Firefly Fridays" when we would quite easily sit through three or four episodes on our day off.

Also, after hearing a lot about The Big Bang Theory from every direction, I borrowed the first two seasons from my friend John. At first I wasn't too sure - the characters seemed too much based on stereotypes of nerds and geek culture. Come on! I thought, People don't really act like that! ... Until I realised that, I often thought a lot like Sheldon - though I wouldn't say it out loud, and my area of nerdism is language and story, rather than science. He also reminds me an awful lot of a certain family member if he were to be turned into a sitcom character. I just wish the show would show more female and non-science geeks. We do exist! However, I have just bought the boxset of seasons 1-4, so I may find that more characters turn up later on.

What Katie Listened To

I recently dug out my Lord of the Rings film soundtracks to put onto my computer. These were the first film soundtracks I ever bought, and it was after this that I really started to notice music on TV and in the cinema, rather than just taking it for granted. Lord of the Rings has a really gorgeous score, from the chirpy, cosy "Concerning Hobbits" theme, to the rural, regal Rohan and majestic Gondor music. I love it!

This is my absolute favourite piece of music from the whole trilogy (in the film it takes place when the beacons are being lit.) I don't think I'm capable of listening to this without waving my arms around like a crazed conductor and "da da da"-ing along at the top of my voice.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops, Jen Campbell

I've been working in a bookshop for four years now, and in that time I've had some pretty peculiar interactions with the general public. Like the lady who wanted to know exactly why a certain book "may be unsuitable for younger readers," and was furious that I couldn't give her details. Sorry, Madam, I wanted to say. I'm on a mission to read ALL THE BOOKS, but haven't got to that one yet. Or the people who wander in looking for jam-pot covers between the romance and the science fiction shelves. There are some days you find yourself wondering if, actually it's you going mad rather than everyone else around you. So it was reassuring when I found blogs chronicling other booksellers' similar experiences. I stumbled upon Jen Campbell's blog  maybe a year ago, and chuckled and sighed over the strange, infuriating and hilarious stories she had to tell. Recently this has been published in book form and I chuckled and sighed once more. Weird Things is a slim, brilliantly illustrated volume, but packed full of the quirks of book-buyers... and those who just want a cuppa while they wait for a bus.
If my daughter wants to buy books from the teenage section do you need to see some form of ID? It was her thirteenth birthday this weekend. I can show you pictures of the cake. You can count the candles.
Do you have a copy of Atonement? But not the film cover please. Keira Knightley's neck makes me want to punch things. 
 and then there's the classic which probably every bookseller has heard some variation of:
I read a book in the sixties. I don't remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?
The slightly disturbing thing about Weird Things is that, except for a few pages at the back, the whole book is made up of Jen's own experiences in just two shops! I'll be leaving this in the staffroom at work for my colleagues to read - or possibly buying a second copy for the staff library - to reassure them that we are not alone. Recommended for booksellers, book-lovers and anyone who has had to work with the general public.

Monday 2 April 2012

Anne of Green Gables Questionnaire

Yet Another Period Drama Blog

It's my opinion that the internet is lacking in all things Anne of Green Gables, and especially excluding the popular Kevin Sullivan adaptations of the 1980s. So imagine my delight when, on browsing the internet I came across not just one excellent blog post, but an entire series from "Miss Dashwood" at Yet Another Period Drama Blog. This wonderful blogger hosted Anne of Green Gables Week, which, sadly, I missed seeing go out live by just a few days. (On the plus side, it meant that there were a lot of posts to catch up on, from both "Miss Dashwood" and her friends who got on board.)

One of the posts asked questions about bloggers' experiences and thoughts about Anne, and I always like an excuse to talk about her, even if I don't actually need one. So here are my answers to Miss Dashwood's questions:

1. How many of the Anne books have you read, and how many of the films have you seen?

I've read all the books (excluding The Blythes Are Quoted) more often than I can count. Of the Sullivan films, I've seen Anne of Green Gables many times and The Sequel once. I've also watched the 1970s BBC adaptation of Anne of Avonlea a few times and the 1930s film starring the actress who changed her name to Anne Shirley.
2. If someone yanked your hair and called you carrots, what would you do to him?

Well, I'd have to crack my slate over his head. I'd have no choice. However, my hair is not very carrotty, so I would be a bit baffled by it, and I wouldn't really be cross.

3. What would you do if Josie Pye dared you to walk the ridgepole of a roof?

I'd keep both feet on firm ground and let her dare away! (Probably mutter some sort of excuse and scurry away as fast as I can.)

4. If you had the opportunity to play any AGG (I'm abbreviating from now on because I am a lazy typist) character in an AGG play, which role would you choose?

Anne, no question about it. Though it would probably be around Anne's House of Dreams as I'm a bit older now. And, hey, that book hasn't been adapted yet, so I can hope.

5. If you were marooned on a desert island, which AGG character would you want to have as a companion? (Anne, Gilbert and Diana are not options.  Let's keep this thing interesting.  Not that they're not interesting.... oh, yay, now the disclaimer to this question is longer than the question itself.  Lovely lovely lovely.)

Walter Blythe. If he were stranded on a desert island with me, he couldn't go and fight in the war. And with him around, I wouldn't have to worry about having no books, because he could entertain me with his poetry and stories.

6. If there was going to be a new adaptation of the Anne books and you could have any part in making the movie, what would you choose to do? (screenwriting, acting, casting, costume-making are a few possibilities)

I'd write a screenplay for Rilla of Ingleside. I've actually started doing that (written a first draft of about three scenes.) Because it introduces the Blythe children as young adults, rather than continuing Anne's story, it would work as a stand-alone; you don't need to know too much about what came before, and there's no point in starting from the beginning, because I think the original Kevin Sullivan adaptation would be almost impossible to improve on.

7. What are, in your opinion, the funniest AGG book/movie scenes? (choose one from the books and one from the movies)

I can't just choose one! A funniest incident is Anne falling through the Copps' duck-house roof and having to stay there under an umbrella until Sarah comes home. (Avonlea) Or Rilla's rigid bringing-up of baby Jims by the book. (Rilla) And of course Gilbert Blythe at Redmond, cheerfully walking around town all day in a pinafore and bonnet as an initiation into a fraternity. (Island.) Oh, and there's the part when Ken comes to court Rilla and is regaled with every embarrassing memory Susan can think of. That's without mentioning any of the more famous incidents involving hair dye, slates, raspberry cordial or Tennyson poetry (Elaine and Lancelot, not The Lady of Shalott, by the way!)

Most of the best bits of the adaptations come straight from the text, but there is a wonderful addition to the script of the first Sullivan film: "I suppose it was rather a romantic way to perish... for a mouse."

8. What are, in your opinion, the saddest AGG book/movie scenes? (choose one of each again) 

When I first read Rilla as an adult, I sat up reading all night, crying my eyes out pretty much non-stop, actually making myself ill. I'd studied World War 1 in school, and I couldn't bear that it must affect my beloved Anne. But the bit that never fails to get me is Walter's last letter from the front.

I think the saddest thing exclusive to the adaptations was when I realised that all my favourite scenes from Anne of Avonlea and much of Anne of the Island were not going to make it onto the screen. In all seriousness, though, Matthew's death, though the obvious answer, always makes me tear up. 

9. Which AGG character would you most like to spend an afternoon with? (again, Anne and Gilbert and Diana are not options for this one--think secondary characters)

Susan Baker. She takes everything so seriously, but she makes me laugh no end.

10.  What is your definition of a kindred spirit?
    Someone who you can be yourself around, without having to pretend to be anything or anyone you're not. A person who accepts you as you are, warts and all.

    Links to my reviews of the Anne books and films:

    Movie Monday: The Hunger Games

    Contains spoilers

    As I'm sure I don't need to tell you, The Hunger Games has been one of the year's most eagerly-anticipated films, and is surely the biggest book-to-film adaptation since the final installment of the Harry Potter series. (Breaking Dawn, part 1, by contrast barely registered on my radar.) I'm probably the last blogger to write about the film. The blogosphere has been buzzing since the first casting, with countdowns galore and every bit of news examined under microscopes. We've all been holding our breath for this film - but with such hype, could it possibly live up to expectations?

    I'm going to come out and possibly make myself very unpopular, but for me, no it didn't. It was a good film. Some parts were very good indeed. But the book had taken such a hold of my imagination that the film just could not match up.

    The casting was flawless - well, nearly flawless (Donald Sutherland as President Snow was good, but not how I imagined him.) I had no complaint with any of the actors. Even, perhaps especially, the youngest members of the main cast, were many times better in their small roles than the stars of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Leading the cast was Jennifer Lawrence, who was Katniss Everdeen. Considering how much of the book is made up of her internal monologue, Lawrence was able to convey much of this without saying a word. Her eyes! I could not fault her for a moment, expressing just the right amounts of toughness, tenderness and attitude.

    I loved Cinna: the sole calm, sane, genuine person to see
    through the hysteria of the Hunger Games.
    My favourite parts of the film were the scenes shot in the Capitol. It was fascinating to see it visualised, with the weird costumes, and the mixture of science-fiction city and Hollywood. The film highlighted the jarring contrast with the cruel reality of what lay in wait for the tributes with the way it was being presented to the audience, which made me think of the endless adverts for the London 2012 Olympics we had to sit through beforehand. This is sick, I thought. The fact that we, too, were sitting here watching, for entertainment, a film about people watching kids killing each other for their entertaiment, brought me one stage closer to the reality of Panem. It was fascinating, and very well done, but uncomfortable viewing. I think it it hadn't been uncomfortable it would have failed.

    I won't spoil the effect for you.
    I loved the Girl On Fire dresses. The first was awesome, though rather what I had expected. The second, on Caesar Flickerman's show, I was not expecting. I had seen clips and photos of Katniss in her red dress, but had managed to be unspoiled for her big twirl, with her skirt looking like flames. That was stunning, breathtaking.

    My favourite scenes were the assessment, in which Katniss, disgusted that the gamemakers weren't even watching her, fires an arrow straight at their table. I loved Effie Trinket's horrified reaction afterwards, and worry about her "bad manners."

    I had been sure, reading the book, that I would lose interest during the games themselves. Great, long scenes of Katniss, alone, with little interaction with any others, surviving in the woods, shouldn't interest me, but I kept my attention. During the film, on the other hand, I did find my mind wandering. Maybe it was because I knew exactly what was going to happen, or perhaps action scenes just don't interest me much. Without Katniss' narration, I felt disconnected from what was going on. We were watching as spectators, rather than as tributes. One way we did benefit from the lack of first-person-narration was that we were shown behind the scenes of the Hunger Games, watching the Gamemakers at work, the President discussing with Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane the politics of the Games, and the commentary by TV host Caesar Flickerman - useful for exposition.

    Rue. Sweet, wonderful little Rue. 
    I had wondered how on earth they would keep this true to the book and yet keep it as a 12A certificate (PG-13 in the USA.*) The violence was shown very fast, with jittery camerawork, so that although you get a rush of images, they are too much of a blur to take in anything graphic. Still, with the relentless killing, the cast numbers ever decreasing, I felt heartsick. When I had sat through the tracker-jackers - without throwing up or running from the cinema (I am terrified of wasps) - Rue's death, Cato's murder of the boy who let him down as well as the occasion offscreen scream or thump of the cannons, and realised there were still 5 tributes left, I thought enough. 

    So much is made of the "romance" between Katniss and Peeta, but in the movie, it seemed tacked on unnecessarily. Of course it was necessary to the plot, but because they spend so little time apart, I wasn't convinced in the slightest. It all seemed to come from nowhere, with the pair showing no sign that they even liked each other very much. They'd say the right words but I didn't see them as anything other than strangers who had recently become acquaintances. Katniss spent so much time alone in the arena that when she was reunited with Peeta, it seemed like they were meeting for the first time all over again. They hadn't a steady interaction to build up to attraction, even faked. Their task for Catching Fire? "Convince me."

    Seneca Crane's beard. Come on!
    As I felt when I first read the book, the ending was bittersweet. Katniss and Peeta's victory was a hollow one. They had survived, but nothing had changed and the world was as heavy and oppressive as ever. If this were a stand-alone movie, I would find it a very depressing ending indeed. Weirdly, the fact that the last scenes foreshadowed even worse to come were what saved it from being irredeemably gloomy. Things must get worse before they get better, after all.  I was very impressed by the added scene that showed the eventual fate of Seneca Crane (and his incredible beard!) It seemed so fitting considering how this futuristic, science-fictional world evokes the ancient civilisations. Clever.

    Overall, The Hunger Games was a very faithful adaptation of the novels, but perhaps it was too faithful. I think that a film needs to complement its original material rather than copying it, in order to give it more depth and dimensions. Still, it was a well-made and thought-provoking movie. To actually see the youth of the tributes and hear the jubilant cheers of the Capitol citizens helped to bring the story to life. It was a dark, rather sombre film, even more so than I had expected from reading the books, but I think it had to be. This is not a story to be treated lightly, and the Hunger Games movie was intelligent and respectful of its source material, as well as a decent film in its own right.

    *Apparently 7 seconds were cut from the UK edition. Those 7 seconds were apparently suitable for a 13-year-old to watch unaccompanied, but not a 12-year-old.
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