September's Books to Film

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Written by 2003 Nobel Prize laureate J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace was awarded the Man Booker Prize (1999). In stunning prose, it tells the story of Professor David Lurie's extended stay at his daughter's smallholding and the incident of unimaginable terror and violence that forces father and daughter to confront their strained relationship —and the equally complicated racial complexities of the new South Africa.

Starring John Malkovich, the film is shot in the ruggedly beautiful landscape outside of Cape Town, South Africa. See the New York Times review. Limited release September 18, nationally October 2nd.

The Informant, starring Matt Damon, is adapted from Kurt Eichenwald's 2000 bestseller, the "true story" about Mark Whitacre, a rising star at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in the early 1990s, who blew the whistle on the company's price fixing tactics and became the highest-ranked executive to ever turn whistleblower in US history.

Coco avant Chanel (Coco before Chanel) is based on Edmonde Charles-Roux's biography of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, who begins her life as a headstrong orphan, and through an extraordinary journey, becomes the legendary couturier. In French - with Audrey Tautou playing the title role. Sumptuous cinematography and a sensational soundtrack.

Intersex Immortal Tilda Swinton

Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton is one of those people who make me want to see a movie just because she’s in it. The last film I saw her in was Orlando, a beautiful film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel about an English nobleman who stays eternally young, but does not stay eternally male. After about 200 years of life, Orlando becomes a woman and gains a new perspective on life. The film continues for another 200 years of life and ends showing Orlando as a mother in present-day England, a time and place added to the original story which Woolf did not live to see.

Tilda Swinton has a knack for being cast as characters who are androgynous, ageless, or both. In Constantine, a dark fantasy/action film based on the graphic novel series, she plays for both sides of the heaven/hell divide as the angel Gabriel, a genderless immortal. In the 2006 film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she rules with an icy fist as the ageless villain Jadis, the White Witch.

Swinton has also appeared in such popular films as Burn After Reading, Michael Clayton, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Youth Stuff: When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me

When You Reach Me is Rebecca Stead’s follow up to the acclaimed First Light, and it’s a good one, worthy of the Newbery Medal Award buzz that surrounds it. Miranda is a 6th grader living in New York City in 1979 with her mother. Her best friend Sal stops talking to her one day, and then she starts receiving mysterious notes predicting the future. So on top of day to day city living, being a latch key kid of a single mom (who is trying out for The $20,000 Pyramid), squabbling with other girls in her class, and having a slight crush on a boy, she has to figure out who is sending these notes and why. She finds it soothing to carry around a beat up copy of A Wrinkle in Time, and eventually has a rather interesting conversation on time travel with the new kid on the block. In the end Miranda figures it all out.

I liked the nostalgia in this book. I liked the setting, a few of the characters, the laughing man, the bit of time travel involved. I do wonder about the idea of having A Wrinkle in Time play such an important role in the book, but at the same time I love how young Miranda finds a book so fantastic she has to read it over and over and carry it around with her.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #177

10 years ago, rumors of human sacrifice, ghosts and magic were just that - until journalist Paul Seaton came face to face with unspeakable evil at the abandoned Fischer House and barely escaped with his life. Still haunted by his loss, he is asked to return to prevent the house from claiming more unsuspecting souls.

Riveting and seductive, The House of Lost Souls* is a brooding and sinister tale of supernatural horror that unfolds gradually, building up suspense, and drawing the readers in. Atmospheric and cinematic, rich with historic details, a complex plot, engaging narrative devices, nonstop chills and gore, this U.S. debut from British F.G. Cottam terrifies and entertains. Likely first of a projected series. Don't miss it.

For fans of horror master Stephen King's Duma Key*; and newcomer Christopher Ransom's spanking new The Birthing House* (another FFF); and of course, a perennial classic - The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #176

Utah Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Gerald Elias capitalizes on his musical background in his "witty and acerbic" debut Devil's Trill*. The title is borrowed from Giuseppe Tartini's famous Violin Sonata in G minor, known in musical circles as the Devil's Trill Sonata, for being extremely difficult and technically demanding.

The Grimsley Competition, held once every 13 years, open to child prodigies 13 and under, culminates at New York's Carnegie Hall with cash, concert appearances, and most coveted of all - for the winner the use of the world's only 3/4 sized Stradivarius, known simply as the Piccolino.

When this prized instrument is stolen, Daniel Jacobus, a former Grimsley contestant, now a blind, bitter recluse who cobbles together a livelihood by teaching, is accused of the theft. Suspicion mounts when the winner's teacher is murdered, who happens to be one of Daniel's old enemies.

This thoroughly engaging mystery, packed with violin and concert lore brings to mind the fabulous film The Red Violin . Fans of mystery with a musical theme should also consider The Rainaldi Quartet by Paul Adam; Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri; and Canone Inverso by Paolo Maurensig. And along the way, enjoy some cinematic armchair traveling...

* = Starred Review

60 Years of Honoring Great American Books

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For the first time in its history, the National Book Award for Fiction is open to public vote. To participate, cast your vote for your favorite National Book Award recipient from 1950 to 2008.

Why fiction? You might wonder. Well, for one thing, 74 of the 77 fiction winners are in-print and available, the highest percentage of any category. Here is a complete list of the winners.

Dreaming New Orleans

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This week being the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I thought it would be timely to express my love for the city of New Orleans. After vacationing in The Big Easy, I found that my stay ended all too quickly. But until the day when I can become a permanent resident, I keep myself placated by reading all about the city and its rich history. However, there is also an abundance of fictional tales that keep New Orleans as a setting. Sure, one can always read anything by Anne Rice, but how about Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer or John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces? If you’re in the mood for a film, A Streetcar Named Desire or even Easy Rider might be good bets, too.

For some mystery stories that take place not exclusively in New Orleans but in southern Louisiana, you could check out the powerhouse writer James Lee Burke’s thriller series of Dave Robicheaux novels as well as the wildly popular Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris for some vampiric intrigue.

Don't forget to stop by the Downtown Library this Friday at 7:00 PM for a showing of Trouble the Water - the Academy Award nominated documentary about Hurricane Katrina. Information can be found here.

I’ll see you on the porch with beignets and café au lait.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #175

In Zoë Klein's debut novel Drawing in the Dust*, 39 year-old American archeologist Page Brookstone is asked to risk her professional reputation and personal safety when a young Arab couple begs her to excavate beneath their home in Anatot, Israel, claiming that it is haunted by the spirits of two lovers.

When Page discovers the bones of the deeply troubled prophet Jeremiah entwined with that of a mysterious women name Anatiya, she must race against the clock to translate Antalya’s diary found nearby, before enraged religious and secular forces come into play.

Parallel the ancient love story is the contemporary one of Page and Mortichai - an engaged, half-Irish Orthodox Jew, that "raises a Jewish Da Vinci Code to an emotionally rich story of personal and historical discovery".

Zoe Klein, a rabbi, lives and works in Los Angeles. She has written for Harper's Bazaar and Glamour magazines, and appeared as a commentator on the History Channel program Digging for the Turth .

* = starred reviews

August Book to Film, Part 2 (A Fabulous Fiction First)

(Already in theaters - Sorry, I am allowed a vacation, right?) The Time Traveler's Wife is based on Audrey Niffenegger’s phenomenal debut novel. (My goodness, 223 holds!)

A literary sensation and perpetual bestseller since its publication in 2003, Time is a “soaring love story” of Clare (an artist) and Henry - a rather dashing librarian at the famous Newberry Library in Chicago, who is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder. Periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, disappearing spontaneously for experiences alternately harrowing and amusing.

Segments of the novel is set in South Haven, Michigan - Niffenegger’s (interview) birthplace and Chicago, where she now lives.

August also brings us her much anticipated new novel in 6 years - Her Fearful Symmetry - a most captivating story about two sets of twins, a rather determined ghost, and some very interesting happenings around London's Highgate Cemetery, where the novel is largely set. You could expect nothing less than the fabulous storytelling that made The Time Traveler's Wife a must-read. Another all-nighter, seriously. I am sure I won't have to remind you to GET ON THAT WAITING LIST NOW.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #173

Debut novelist Naseem Rakha is an award-winning journalist whose stories have been heard on NPR’s All Things Considered.

"The murder of a child dredges up the most painful emotions. There is no justice in it, no justification, and no way to find solace. Remorse and vengeance become inseparable from the souls of the people left behind. Yet, somehow there are inspirational stories of those who have come to forgiveness....I found this baffling situation as a reporter covering an execution for public radio and then later in interviews with the parents of murder victims". (From author's website).

The Crying Tree is that story, told through the lives of two main characters: Irene Stanley, the mother of slain 15-year-old Steven Joseph Stanley, and Tab Mason, the stoic and determined superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary who is preparing to execute the boy’s murderer.

Powerful and touching, it’s "a story of love and redemption, the unbreakable bonds of family, and the transformative power of forgiveness". For novels on grief and forgiveness, we also recommend Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger and Looking for Normal by teen novelist Betty Monthei.

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