This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Long time, no see!

How lovely to find that people are still visiting GBBS! I'm afraid I have long since moved on to other blogs, and I hope that I've finally created a blog home for myself at So, please take a look at my new place. I'd love to have some language-loving visitors! And please check out my about section to see how the new blog differs - ever so slightly - from the old.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - film commentary

I don't think I've yet read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, but I have read the first page and just love the first line, something like: "There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." Hee! (Sorry for the possible paraphrase, but I don't feel like hacking through my cluttered shelves with machete-like abandon.)

I saw the movie, fairly unexpectedly, on its first day in theaters. After my jaw dropped at the price of the ticket, I decided I could still afford lunch and went for Chinese. I came back, put on those silly 3-D glasses - why, by the way, are NOT worth the extra 5 or so dollars for the ticket, but I had to get them anyway because the man behind the counter told me everything would be 'fuzzy' if I didn't (and, of course, ticket prices are not optional) - and watched and enjoyed the movie. My nose pinched, but no big deal. I would have much preferred for it to be a normal movie, and if they (hopefully) make another Narnia film, I'd like them to lay off the 3-D, for the sake of my wallet and aversion to this bit of superfluousness.

The film itself had lovely, lovely production qualities; lovely, lovely returning actors and actresses; and strong new characters.Judging from scuttlebutt on the web Will Poulter's Euctace Scrubb seems to be a favorite among those who have seen the film. He does go through his character's various changes effectively and convincingly. I enjoyed Caspian's (Ben Barnes) use of an English accent, I imagine the actor's own accent. If you remember, in the last film it was an imaginary, exotic accent. I think this worked better. I particularly liked
the Lucy storyline - she's concerned about her beauty, or she seems to think lack thereof. She does some fighting in this film, and seems to have grown so much since the first Narnia film. There's a lovely minor story arc with a very young girl who Lucy acts as a sort of caretaker to; this character helps bring about a nice denouement to the Lucy-and-her-looks storyline.

I was reading about Narnia on the internet and I've come to suspect that some theaters are showing Dawn Treader without the 3-D requirement. Probably, it's a good idea to check ahead of time. Perhaps, your nose need not be pinched, and your wallet, neither.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What you find when you're not looking...

I'm reading Meghan McCain's Dirty, Sexy, Politics, where McCain writes about the three buses her father used on the "Straight Talk Express." Apparently, the first bus was gorgeous and that's where John and Cindy and the main players rode; the second was pretty good too for other staffers and journalists; the third was crappy (complete with smelly toilet) and reserved for low-level campaign blogger Meghan and staff and...journalists who were on the outs with the campaign. Interesting.

First of all, imagine riding in a toilet on wheels for a year and a half. Wouldn't you think some reporters might be tempted to make nice in their articles just to get an upgrade? Here's hoping ethics won out, though something makes me picture FOX "News" people riding happily on bus 1.

Secondly, I imagine Ana Marie Cox, a blogger and writer who talks about politics on Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC - a stellar show, by the way - was stuck on bus 3: Meghan recalls waiting to get on a bus (remember, it's crappy) and turning to Cox to ask a question. Ergo, Cox's bus was the stinker, too. Isn't that logical reasoning? If you've heard Cox on Maddow, you won't find the scenario surprising; you might happily sense the refreshing breeze of journalistic ethics sweep over you. Hopefully, Cox felt it, too. A year and a half is just too long to hold your breath and listen to Republican politics all day, too.'s the exciting part, and it has nothing at all to do with smelly transportation. Well, actually it kind of does, but it's DONKEY smell! That's kind of like horse smell, isn't it? Mmmm, so good! Anyway, in a Wonkette review of Meghan McCain's book (of all things), there's a link to this wonderful video. Prepare to feel good about book lovers!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thirdly, and lastly, (and, again, why not estimate about 1 year ago)...

 Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls, Book One: Moving Day

My goodness, I gobbled up the first hundred pages or so of this book! Ah, the joys of juvenile literature. First, The Penderwicks, now Allie Finkle.

I won't compare the two beyond saying they're both fun. But whereas The Penderwicks is timeless and reminiscent of books past, Allie Finkle is - it seems to old fuddy-duddy me who was never totally plugged in, even as a child - hip. Just look at her on the cover. I'd have looked like a little yuppie next to her.

Not that the heroine of this series by Meg Cabot would have cared. The girl's got sense, after all; she keeps a notebook of rules to help her live life more smoothly and, while "Never eat anything red" doesn't seem too do-able or constructive, that particular rule and many others illustrate her personality. The attitude conveyed by the voice of Allie, who tells the story in first-person, and the rules she chooses to make - at once logical and humorous - paint a picture of a very charismatic nine year old.

Barbies and Bratz, trips to Dairy Queen - Cabot certainly hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a kid. I've got to think there are a lot of little girls wishing this author was an older sister or aunt. She's seems the kind to let you stay up past 11:00 and try on her make-up. That's much like the humorous Uncle Jay character in this novel; he plays a charming role toward the book's end and, indeed, throughout. It is his influence that sends Allie into "war" mode as her parents decide to move and she decides they shouldn't, in ever-so-gentle a way.

The writing in the book will allow even oldies like me to laugh out loud remembering childhood. Cabot's got it spot-on. Annoying best friends? Check. Games of pretend in castles made out of bushes and brick walls? Check. Little brothers who play astronaut using air vents between rooms? Check.

How Cabot remembers all these things I'll never really know. I've read that she uses old diaries from her childhood. Makes me wish I'd been more of a diarist in my youth. Ah well.

You know, I've so enjoyed reading these children's books I think I might just have to keep on reading. It's like drinking a little bit of the fountain of youth. I hear one of the next books in the Allie Finkle series is called Best Friends and Drama Queens. Now how can an old fuddy-duddy afford to miss that chance at re-living her younger days?

Next up (and from about 1 year ago)...

On film adaptations of classic novels, Andrew Davies and the Davies' (nearly mathematical) 'formula'

Upon an urge to pop something in the DVD player, I watched snippets of the 1990's Davies' adaptation of Middlemarch last night. Who knew that simple act could jeopardize my enjoyment of future viewings of Davies' adaptations?

Every film seems to include some staple scenes. There are Celia and Dorothea in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. There are Marianne and Elinor in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. There are Isabella and Catherine in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. There are Elizabeth and Jane in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. And at least three out of the four pairings are brushing their hair at the same time. Well, isn't that what girls do?

Then there's the scene when the good-looking gentleman is transfixed by the young, unsuspecting heroine's singing voice. I'm thinking Rosamond and Dr. Lydgate, Col. Brandon and Marianne, Elizabeth and Darcy.

There's also the 'manliness' scene wherein Darcy emerges soaking wet from a lake, Edward chops wood in the rain and Col. Brandon plays with a falcon. Okay, the last one doesn't involve water but it counts. What is facing the elements compared to facing down a bird of prey?

So the next time I watch a Davies' adaptation, I'm making a checklist. Whether I want to or not, I have a feeling I'll be testing my theory.

First, though, let me ask, have you noticed any other components to the Davies' formula?

I'm digging up old favorite posts from my old blog. First up (and from, about 1 year ago)...

  This is Water by David Foster Wallace

Graduation season is approaching and I guess that's why there was a new little hardcover book on the shelf in the store one day recently. It's a commencement address by David Foster Wallace that can be read in one sitting and, interestingly, is presented by printing just one idea, often just a sentence, on each page.

This presentation is probably meant to make something that most people wouldn't want to read seem readable. Who can't read a line per page? It might also be that the editors saw that there were some big ideas in this small book. Page by page they can be more easily digested. In any case, it cost somewhere around 14 dollars. Hefty, it seemed to me. The cynic in me suspects that maybe more pages mean higher pricing and this was a factor in the presentation, as well. Who knows.

It's a gem, though. Called This is Water, it's billed on the back as thoughts on compassion. It is. But it's not touchy, feely compassion. Using, sparsely, phrases like 'no-shit' to speak to his college audience, Foster keeps it real. He links thinking with compassion and shows how these two are related - how using your brain intelligently can help you put yourself in others' shoes.

But putting it in that nutshell seems so, as Foster might say, "lame and banal." He wisely describes what he means instead of preaching ideas at the students. In a wonderful depiction of the boredom and frustration of everyday life that most college students have yet to experience at their age, he relates the hypothetical but oh-so-identifiable experience of being tired after a rotten day at work, hungry, and needing to go to the grocery store before you can go through the equally rotten experience of cooking for yourself and satisfying that hunger. However, Foster says, the line in the supermarket is long, the behemoth cars on the road are cutting you off and you're miserable because all you want is to go home and eat. For most people at this point, Foster says, it's all about themselves.

But wait, he writes,

"It's not impossible that some of these people in SUVs have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a large, heavy SUV so they can feel safe; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to rush to the hospital, and he's in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am - it is actually I who am in his way." (Foster's italics.) This is Water, page 85


But reading it in context is even more impressive. So I recommend This is Water as an economy of words with an abundance of meaning. This is lean meat; no fat here. Everything is there for a reason. I suspect the 'no-shit' reference made the message more credible and palatable for young people to hear. Rather than being solely amusing or drily informative, the anecdotes at the beginning serve their dual purposes of drawing in the attention of the speech's audience/readers and illustrating a point.

Foster suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2008. Another writer who suffered depression, Tennessee Williams, once wrote in his play Summer and Smoke, "Life is such a mysteriously complex thing that no one should really presume to judge and condemn the behavior of anyone else." Sounds like Foster and Williams shared more than an illness; they seem to have had something similar to say.

And, perhaps, we all should listen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

There's a real 'wow' factor in reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It was recommended to me three years ago and I never read it. Then, a few months ago, I felt like treating myself in the store - I think I had a coupon - so I indulged in a purchase of something different and new, Outlander. It's such a nice feeling to get something you're not sure of at a good price, experiencing adventurousness without a risk of buyer's regret. And, then, it turns out to be fun. I'm sure you know the feeling.

So, I let the book sit on a shelf for a couple of months. After I finished the Sookie Stackhouse marathon I recently undertook, I felt the fat, blue Outlander book calling me. I don't know why, and I had serious doubts about whether I'd would or wouldn't be able to finish a mammoth-sized book like it. The first few pages were pleasant, uneventful and encouraging. Yes, I realize that the adjective 'uneventful' does not seem to jibe with 'encouraging,' but it was, so there.

And, 'uneventful' seems to be, oddly, one of the things I liked a lot about some parts of this book. Make no mistake, there are tons of adventures and romance in its various incarnations (setting, love affairs, characters who will from now on inhabit fiction because they're so real and lovable in one way or another). There are hugely intriguing bits of history (though I don't know about the accuracy and am not terribly concerned about it as this is, after all, fiction) and really, really intriguing turns regarding characters and there's definitely that thing that makes a reader stop and stare somewhere away from the page imagining the 'what if's' that come to mind. In other words, there's a lot in it that illustrates why storytelling is so important to the human species.

But, I have to say that I enjoyed the pages describing main character Claire's forays into medicinal botany and the minutiae of daily living in the 18th century. It was cool to dip in and read a few pages about life in this fictitious world kind of like I was a voyeur who thought, 'Okay, now I'll look through the neighbors' window a little, entertain myself, check in, see what's going on.' Only, of course, reading a book isn't immoral or illegal, so the pleasure came without guilt. Sweet.

Tons of violence characterize the book. I got steamed and angst-ridden when Jamie, the hero, behaved in a very un-21st century manner toward his wife. Frustrating it was that he could be kind of right and his behavior kind of understandable whilst doing these horrible things. I vented on some online book forums. But, of course, the fact that I got so involved and was able to see different sides in something so abhorrent in anyone's eyes in the modern day was an argument itself that here was a book well-written with well-rounded real-person characters. They do seem like real people. I guess in approximately 850 pages you can dot that as a writer. Well, I mean skill is important, but the length allows a way to carve out characters that shorter stories won't allow. And, then, when you know you have a few more books of similar length to continue the story? You can slowly unfurl these characters' lives for the reader and expose them for scrutiny with almost (okay, I'm exaggerating) the pace and complexity of a real life.

I plunged right into the next in the Outlander series, Dragonfly in Amber, which I found presented unexpected news and events from the Outlander world, funny since I had read spoilers and thought I knew what was coming. So, now I can read on in the series and concurrently read spoilers on the web (though, admittedly, never with a great deal of care so as not to really endanger my reading of the books) and not (hopefully, but where the hope has a good track record) spoil the actual books before I've gotten to them. This is great since, as you know, reading series books years after they were begun runs the risk of learning outcomes you'd rather not yet know or else endeavoring to engage in unnatural levels of discipline and restraint (read: keeping away from the internet to research the author, books, reviews and community opinions on the series). It's hard enough to keep from eating that extra cookie in the evening; no one needs to limit his or her indulgence on a great, newly-found lit-feast. Don't you think?

Surprisingly, there are those who seem very much taken with (almost) anger for the series and its writer's decisions for this and that in the books. To each her own, I suppose. So far, though, I quite like them.

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