Monday, March 30, 2009

Little Dorrit

Beginning last night and continuing through the end of April, I’ll be spending Sunday nights watching the Dickens miniseries Little Dorrit on PBS. It has all of the key Dickensian elements- a wide cast of characters from a variety of social classes, a mysterious family downfall, and a betrayal involving money (though no orphans in workhouses yet!). The film gives an interesting portrayal of what British debtor’s prison was like- inmates brought their entire families with them and were even able to receive guests in their homes within the prison. Like the Bleak House miniseries from a few years ago, Little Dorrit is a slow-paced and darkly shot movie. I had a bit of a hard time getting into the plot initially and I know that I’m still missing something, as I haven’t been able to understand a word that’s been said in several scenes between two Frenchmen! One of the male leads is played by Matthew Macfadyen a.k.a. Mr. Darcy from the most recent remake of Pride and Prejudice. Here he seems to have shed his Darcy-esque brooding and seems more like Jim from The Office dressed in period clothing. So far, Little Dorrit isn’t the best BBC miniseries I’ve seen, but it has me interested enough to keep watching…and possibly to start reading the book.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Nerd Herd

I was recently sent an advance readers copy of the YA book Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd. Not something I would have necessarily sought out on my own, but I decided to give it a quick read since it fell into my lap for free. It's a collection of short stories by various writers, all dealing with teenage characters who are involved with some type of "geektastic" activity like quiz bowls, sci-fi conventions, and fantasy games. They don't chart any new territory plot-wise, but most of the writers bring a sensitivity to their characters that make for surprisingly sweet stories. Most successful are those that don't fall into the stereotypical treatment of geeky kids versus cool kids. Aside from one or two stories that missed the mark, I found myself enjoying this collection more than I expected to.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Disappointed….but willing to subject myself to more?

It’s always interesting to think about why you read a certain book, right? The quick backstory on this one is that I was at a Barnes and Noble that had a few tables of $1 books set up. In the ensuing frenzy, I pushed through the gathering crowd, picked up anything that looked halfway decent, and ended up buying a copy of The Mask of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig. The fact that this was a sequel meant that I had to trudge to the library to borrow the first book in the series, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Billed as a chick-lit historical mystery, it involves the narrator, an academic, tracking down the true identity of The Pink Carnation, an English spy operating in France during the Napoleanic Wars. I had hopes that this might be similar (albeit flufflier) to another book I love involving a hunt by two academics to solve a historical mystery, Possession by A.S. Byatt. But while Byatt builds tension by having her characters work hard to track down the answers they seek, Willig simply drops the key to the mystery into her narrator’s lap and relegates her to reading a historical diary for the bulk of the novel- not good considering that the historical side of the story dissolves into a stereotypical romance novel. The only grain of the story that held my interest was the potential relationship between the modern-day narrator and a descendent of the The Pink Carnation. It seems like this relationship will continue into the next book in the series. Will this be enough to make me read that one too? I hate to admit it, but probably yes. Hmm…maybe I’ve uncovered the publisher’s strategy to continue this series.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Three Recent Favorites

Some of the best I’ve read over the past month or so include After Dark by Haruki Murakami. This was the first Murakami book I’ve read and I was expecting it to be full of wacky, bizarre, crazy things (which I suppose it was, considering that a good portion of the book is set in a sparse bedroom in a parallel world seen through a sleeping character’s TV set), but the characters and dialogue surrounding the more extreme elements of the story were very realistic, and relatable in a really subtle way. The picture Murakami paints of this one particular segment of Japan is really interesting too. Next there’s School for Love by Olivia Manning, set in Israel at the end of World War II. The main character, an English boy somewhere in his teens, loses his mother and goes to stay with an elderly distant relation while he waits out the war. He doesn’t necessarily face the best circumstances, but his worldview and his reactions to what happens to him utterly charmed me. And finally there’s Netherland by Joseph O’Neil, with it’s lovely, slow-paced writing that the promotional sticker on the front cover touts this as having echoes of The Great Gatsby. Even allowing for the power of suggestion putting Fitzgerald in my mind while I was reading it, I really found that to be true. While some things in the book draw direct comparison to Gatsby, it reminded me even more of Fitzgerald’s entire body of work with it’s themes of striving for the past, or even a past that never really existed.


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