Monday, December 17, 2007

Today, Read

'Read This' by S. Marko This time of year can be a real pain in the ass - under the guise of being jolly and cheerful, we trample each other to death to reach the last Tickle Me Elmo doll, we run old ladies down in the Best Buy parking lot, we complain about the time it takes to get the complimentary gift wrap at our local independant bookshop. The world would be a much better place if we would all chill out for an hour or so a day and just sit quietly and read a book.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Airing of Grievances

1. If I hear one more person standing at the counter in the Warwick's book department cooing and giggling about how hilarious the book Cat Yoga is, I am going to barf. For those fortunate enough not to have ruined their eyesight on this book, it is a poorly constructed $14.95 Photoshop montage of cat photographs altered to appear as if the cats are performing complex yoga poses. I say "ruined your eyesight" because any sane person would blind themselves with a pencil after viewing this book.

2. If you just this morning heard about a book on Good Morning America or NPR or saw it in People magazine, the chances are enormous that it is pretty much brand new. This means that 999,999 times out of 1,000,000, it is a hardcover book. This means that every bookstore in the known universe will have this book in hardcover format only. Paperback is not an option here. If you ask a bookseller for this book - say, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - and they show you the hardcover copy in a giant stack in the front of the store, it is not secretly hidden in the back in a paperback format. It is not a conspiracy by us, the booksellers, against you, the consumer. You will have to wait. Thank you.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

No Country For Blade Runners

I hate those blogs that read like someone's sad little diary - "I ate two cheeseburgers for dinner yesterday, watched The Amazing Race and fell asleep with a glass of Merlot in my hand and my cat on my lap." That said, this past week I saw the films No Country For Old Men and the "new" cut of Ridley Scott's classic, Blade Runner.

I'll start with No Country, since I've already incited near riots on this site writing about Cormac McCarthy. I am now convinced that McCarthy is working on some sort of "fall of man" trilogy - it took seeing this book dramatized on the big screen by the likes of the Coen brothers to make me realize that. But is it possible that the film actually induced more of an emotional response from me than the printed novel? The novel was unusually reliant on first person narrative and very dialogue heavy for Cormac. I think that his particular style of dialogue writing actually negatively affects the reader when it tries to carry so much of the load - it loses some of the story's emotional heft. Lines drawn directly from the book played very differently on screen, out of the mouths of real people, than they did on the printed page. In the novel, Llewellyn Moss, wounded, on the run, but emboldened, defiantly tells the murderer Chigurh the following over the phone: I'm goin to bring you somethin all right, Moss said. I've decided to make you a special project of mine. You aint goin to have to look for me at all. On the page, without punctuation or quotation marks (as is McCarthy's minimalist style), this statement, to me, lacks the emotional wallop that it carries when delivered by actor Josh Brolin in the film version. I remembered the line, which is a tribute to McCarthy, but I skimmed right over it, never really thinking that Moss had a chance to get away with both money and life intact. Actually seeing the reinvigoration on Moss' face in the film, despite the odds against him, brings a small glimmer of hope to his situation. In the book, my only question was whether Chigurh would shoot him with a gun or use the cattle bolt to kill him with.

As for the rest, Javier Bardem dominates as the murderer, Chigurh. I won't say more than that - he clearly did some character study from the novel before filming - and you need to see him with your own eyes. Tommy Lee Jones also brings more personality to Sheriff Bell than I felt he had in the book - actually seeing his dismay at the state of the world around him instead of just reading his philosophical ponderings, carries much more weight. And, taken in conjunction with The Road, it appears that a thematic drama is playing out under McCarthy's pen - while No Country seems like a descent-of-man-type story, The Road is clearly after the fall itself. What comes next? Resurrection? Further fall even? And I'm not saying that I liked the film more than the book - don't be ridiculous - but I think the movie experience has enhanced the book version for me and has drawn the thematic core to the surface. We'll just have to wait along with Oprah for the next book.

And speaking of the descent of man: Blade Runner - I won't say much here as it is already one of my favorite films of all time. There's really not much new in this much-hyped "final" cut put together by director Ridley Scott - a bit of digital tweaking here and there to ease the continuity and make it look a little sleeker. It looks fantastic on the big screen, so if you are fortunate to live in one of the cities with a limited engagement, do not miss the opportunity. With that out of the way, I think Ridley Scott is a pompous punk. For 25 years, the debate has been whether the film's protagonist, Deckard, is a real human or a Replicant, one of the artificial intelligence creatures he is tasked to destroy. Part of the appeal of this film has always been that there are no clear answers - the audience is left to decide on their own whether Deckard is a replicant, and for 25 years, Scott has dodged the questions, leaving it in our hands. It has been playful and stimulating - even Harrison Ford, who plays Deckard, has stated an opinion, since he was never told one way or another either (he thinks Deckard is human). Now, for reasons unknown, Ridley Scott has publicly stated: "Yes, he's a replicant. He was always a replicant."

C'mon, where's the fun in that? I saw an earlier interview with Scott where he says, with a sly grin, that the unicorn imagery "means that he's a replicant". That grin still implied that there is some playful doubt about this, leaving things open to interpretation. But to later state, definitively, that the Deckard is a robot just plain sucks. It ruins the whole wonderful mystique surrounding this film - what does this statement say for the future generations that have yet to see the film? Not to mention that in the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the inspiration for Blade Runner), Deckard's humanity is questioned and actually tested...and he passes. I LOVE Blade Runner, but for ruining everything, Ridley Scott has to be launched from the Catapult. But the film stays here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hobbits Hate Philip Pullman Too

Tolkien Rules!I will be the first to admit that The Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books. Well, let’s be honest, it’s probably the favorite, okay? Probably. I’m not a geek, a dweeb, or a spaz. I tend not to read any other fantasy and very little science fiction, but I’ve just always enjoyed the comfort of escaping into Tolkien’s world. (The red tome sits bedside 365.) His process has always fascinated me – people and places and languages and histories just poured out of him as if he were a vessel for Middle Earth. (Check out The History of the Lord of the Rings, edited by Christopher Tolkien if you think you’re hardcore enough.) Hey, I don’t need to defend this, what am I doing?! I sound like a spaz! Here’s the smart part: I like the fact (FACT I say!) that The Lord of the Rings has essentially influenced every fantasy writer in the world since its inception, whether they want to admit it or not. Philip Pullman would rather not.

With the recent hype surrounding the upcoming film adaptation of Pullman’s The Golden Compass, his personal feelings regarding C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien have resurfaced. The best place to view these feelings, is in this article by Laura Miller in the December 26, 2005 edition of the New Yorker. Yes, it’s a bit dated, but is the most comprehensive article on Pullman I have seen and the reason for this post. The following is pulled from that article and is what got my blood up: “(Pullman’s) books have been likened to those of J. R. R. Tolkien, another (Oxford) alumnus, but he scoffs at the notion of any resemblance. ‘The Lord of the Rings is fundamentally an infantile work,’ he said. ‘Tolkien is not interested in the way grownup, adult human beings interact with each other. He’s interested in maps and plans and languages and codes.’”

*Small digression: Deep breath. To me, this comment comes across as a bit infantile in its own right, actually. And rather uneducated and misinformed. Rings is a fantasy novel about the fundamental struggle between good and evil, about triumphing over darkness, about harmony with the elements, and for the film version, a homoerotic pillow fight with hobbits, not just a novel about "adult human beings". Its bigger than that - bigger than you! Get off the philosophical soapbox, sir. Good day!

In said New Yorker, Pullman claims to not have been influenced by Tolkien and Lewis while in his formative years, but moreso by John Milton’s Paradise Lost and the poetry of William Blake. Please. Sure, you say that now, when the New Yorker comes calling, but when you were 13 and all zitty and lame? C'mon. Truthfully, I think he would be remiss, to say the least, that his work was not influenced, at least residually, by that of Tolkien and Lewis. Every single fantasy novel written since, say, 1950, is derivative of one or the other. Even if someone like Pullman insists that he was not influenced by either, the fact that he has a job writing books like the ones he has written, tells me that the market he writes for is there solely because of Tolkien and, to a lesser degree, Lewis.

I was going to try to defend the Lewis side of this, but I came across a thread in a Narnia fan forum (that I found in my Google research, thank you) that made me shrink back into the shadows: “Yes, I do pray for salvation for Philip Pullman, and for many others like him.” Uh oh. My cue to leave. My only real defense for Lewis is that his fiction is severely dated – it was a much more prominently Christian, and lets face it, a much more oblivious world when he was writing, without the proliferation of neighborhood atheists and agnostics of today. (I know that Tolkien himself was the primary influence on Lewis’s conversion from atheism to Christianity, but don’t hold that against him.) In an interview with Powell's Books several years ago, Pullman admits: "I read them (Narnia) when I'd already grown up, and I thought they were loathsome, full of bullying and sneering, propaganda, basically, on behalf of a religion whose main creed seemed to be to despise and hate people unlike yourself." How very observant and intelligent of you as an adult to read deep religious themes into a children's book! And when I read Narnia when I was 8, 9,10 or whatever, I had no inkling that there was an underlying thread of Christianity there. I didn’t care – they were just fun, interesting fantasy books to my young eyes. That’s what I think Pullman has lost sight of – a strange thing for a children’s book author to lose sight of – kids don’t get your underlying themes, man. If it’s a cool story, they’re hooked. No 10-year old cares that you claim to have been influenced by Milton and Blake while in your teens. Bullshit. You read the Lord of the Rings and you know it.