Bout of Books 17, Day 1 Challenge

For #BoutOfBooks 17, the first challenge (hosted by Writing My Own Fairy Tale) is to post about my most and least favorite film adaptations of books. This is actually a little difficult for me, as I learned long ago that I very rarely enjoy both the book and the movie (or show), so I tend to pick one and then never bother with the other. There are exceptions, of course. (And they are often associated with a reading challenge, which also explains why I have yet to write my book review for Pope Joan.)

This may not be entirely fair, but for most favorite, I am going with a film that I enjoyed but a book that I could barely begin, let alone finish. Seabiscuit (2003). Seabiscuit Poster It’s been far too long ago for me to give you a movie review at this point, but I distinctly remember being pleasantly surprised that I liked a movie about horseracing so much. Back then I had pretty much zero interest in the topic. I was eager to read the book — and then so terribly disappointed. A few chapters in, I had to chuck it. It was good only as a cure for insomnia. (I should probably mention that the vast majority of Goodreads reviewers disagree with me on this point.) So props to the filmmakers for turning a really boring book into a highly entertaining and critically acclaimed film.

For least favorite film adaptation, there are many to choose from, but I’m going to go with my gut and say Rebecca (1940). Rebecca Poster Yep, the Hitchcock classic. I know, I know, there are so many more terrible movies from books. And I hated Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) so much that I have since refused to watch any Hitchcock adaptation of du Maurier’s work. But du Maurier’s Rebecca is a novel near and dear to my heart, one of the few books that I have re-read multiple times. Like many readers, I tend to make a movie in my head while I’m reading, and there were several scenes about which I felt very strongly. I had a remarkably vivid vision of how the ball, in particular, should look. And Hitchcock flat ruined it. Not just that scene, but that’s what makes my blood boil even now. It’s a good thing for him he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean, because I wanted very much to dig up his corpse and mutilate it.

Review: Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #40 for 2016
Old Firehouse Books Summer Reading Bingo Square: A book recommended by a celebrity

When this book was recommended to me, I had never even heard of Steven Pressfield. I’d heard of The Legend of Bagger Vance: A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life, but it had never sounded particularly interesting to me. (It still doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s not any good.) This was a small volume, though, and it was a free download, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose by reading his sh*t.

This is a short book and probably a really quick read if you aren’t already doing a million other things at the same time (my standard mode of operation), so I was surprised by the amount of concrete advice he was able to include. There is, of course, some motivational rah-rah here, but not so much as to be distracting. And if you have attended any seminars or workshops on narrative structure, then a lot of his advice in that regard is likely to be review for you. Still, there were several structural devices he described that were new to me, and I think he did a good job of describing ways to break away from the standard structures (while still respecting them) to create art that is not just recycling the same old sh*t.

I especially liked that Pressfield balanced the inspirational and the perspirational without resorting to exercises. I mean, I like a lot of things about The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity and The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, and I even find some of their exercises useful, but too many of them are impractical or downright silly. Pressfield seems to give his readers credit for being able to figure out for themselves how, specifically, to practice their arts.

I would recommend this mostly to beginning writers and writers who have had some success but are feeling stalled out. I’d say it also pairs nicely with Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

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Review: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #39 for 2016
Old Firehouse Books Summer Bingo Square: A book from the library
PopSugar Challenge: A self-improvement book

This is probably a strange book to read as my introduction to Elizabeth Gilbert. I always thought the book and film of Eat, Pray, Love both sounded pretentious and self-indulgent, and while I bought a copy of Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage on a strong recommendation, I never felt compelled to read it. After reading this book, however, I may just go back and read both of those. (Though I sincerely doubt I will ever watch that movie. It truly sounds horrible.)

It’s hard to explain how I feel about this book. A lot of it really resonated with me. Unfortunately, it did so much in the way that Felicia Day‘s memoir resonated with me, in that it achieved the exact opposite of what it ostensibly set out to do. It made me feel like worthless crap. Am I the exception that proves the rule? I don’t know. I just know that I’d find a passage very inspiring and at the same time know that it was meant for everybody in the world but me.

On the other hand, I have personally experienced some of this magic Gilbert writes about. A few years ago, I had this brilliant idea for a story about the race for POTUS being turned into a reality TV show. I devoted the next NaNoWriMo to the concept, and about halfway through the month I realized that I was precisely the wrong person to take on this project. I don’t watch reality TV (heck, I barely watch any TV at all), and thinking about politics makes me feel all squicky inside. Well, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who my disappointed muse’s next customer was. So in addition to being a failure at writing political satire, I am now personally responsible for the freak show that is the race for the American Presidency. Go, me.

I did very much appreciate how Gilbert kept the magic real. She didn’t cloak it in a bunch of pseudoscientific bullshit. (I’m looking at you, The Secret and You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.) And she didn’t try to over-explain it or force it into some sort of system or dogma. I don’t think of myself as a very “spiritual” person; quite the contrary, I consider myself a science-oriented skeptic. However, I feel like Gilbert and I have very similar outlooks on creative energy and its role in the universe.

I did very much take exception to some of what Gilbert wrote about higher education in the arts. I think I understand what she was getting at, and to some extent I agree with that, but it seemed to me that she expressed it very poorly. So that’s the main reason I consider this a 4-star book instead of a 5-star book. I still wouldn’t recommend this book to everybody who wants to improve their creative output, but if any of what I’ve said here strikes a chord with you, this book is worth checking out.

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Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #38 for 2016
Old Firehouse Books Summer Bingo Square: A book with more than 400 pages

If you were to ask John le Carré to reboot Groundhog Day, you might wind up with something like this. I really love what North did with this particular twist on time travel and reincarnation, and it was thought-provoking in a way where many alternate history books fall short. It made me grapple with the meaning of “the end of the world” and why I should or should not care about it. Does my whimsical tinkering with the timeline of 19th-century technology mean that I share Vincent’s evil arrogance? Is it actually evil? On a more mundane level, am I diabolically arrogant for driving an old car with poor gas mileage, taking daily showers, running the heat and AC whenever I damn well please, and occasionally jetting off to some other country? (Um, probably so.)

I also thought the characters and their relationships were developed beautifully over Harry’s lives and the various Forgettings, whether real or feigned. It’s not a straightforward book at all, and there is a fair amount of rambling and digression, but everything seemed to matter to the telling of the story.

Where I had problems with the story was with the mechanics of multiple reincarnation loops. I wish now I had brought this up in the book club discussion, because maybe I am just being dense. But I can’t figure out how to sync up Harry’s lives with those of the other kalachakra without fixing Harry’s origin as some sort of reference point for all of the others’ lives. I am also not sure what to think of the Cronos Club’s policy of their kind playing around however they like as long as they leave certain major events and persons alone (e.g., no killing off Hitler’s mom). What precisely makes something or someone a Big Cosmic Deal? And how do we know that the world as we know it is the “right” one? North touches on the theoretical multiverse but never really examines it.

I have to say, though, that I really enjoyed this book and thought it went surprisingly quickly for its length. It does start out a bit slowly, but that may be because I was still making a determined effort to keep track of exactly what happened in which life as it was presented, and it turns out that paying attention to the broad strokes is usually quite sufficient for understanding what’s going on in the story. I must also admit that I spent a lot of time daydreaming about what I would do with a dozen or more lifetimes, and I suspect I am not terribly unlike Harry here.

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