Pryday #2

Hello and welcome to the second edition of Pryday! This week’s question is:

“What is your favorite TV adaptation of a novel?” 

I’ve been a PBS and Masterpiece Theater (now Classic) fan since my teen years and I think I’ve seen every adaptation they’ve presented in the past 20 years. I’ve also watched quite a few BBC dramas that I’ve checked out from the library. I thought this would be a hard question for me to answer because I’ve enjoyed so many of these presentations, but the first series that popped into my head and that just felt right on further reflection is the 2006 version of Bleak House starring Gillian Anderson. I have to shamefully admit that I have never read a complete Dickens novel (even when I was required to in college) and I surprised myself by liking this series as much as I did. It was the only adaptation in the past 10 years that I’ve forced someone else to watch (sorry Megan, but not really) Everything about it is supremely exquisite. The acting, the plot, the costumes, the scenery, the air of mystery and sadness that permeates the characters’ lives. There’s also good heartedness and humor. The gamut of human situations and emotions is fully explored. I think Gillian Anderson’s performance is outstanding and I always like to watch Anna Maxwell Martin. I definitely need to watch this again sometime very soon!

Other recent series that were in the running as my favorite: Downton Abbey, Cranford, and Tess of the D’urbervilles.

What is your favorite tv adaptation of a novel?

I’m moving on Tuesday after living in the same apartment for seven years. Packing is in progress, but I forgot how monumental a task moving really is! I hope to have Internet service in my new place by next weekend, but if you don’t hear from me for a while, you’ll know why.  Have a great weekend!

Affinity by Sarah Waters

Well, Sarah Waters has done it again. She’s completely hijacked my life with one of her engrossing, agonizing novels. I’ve previously read Fingersmith and The Little Stranger and loved them both so turned to Affinity with much anticipation. I bought a copy of it about a year ago and just couldn’t work up any interest in it at that time. When I picked it up last week during the midst of my reading slump I knew that it was the golden book that was going to break me out of the slump.

Margaret Prior is a mentally ill spinster who lives with her widowed mother in London during the 1870’s. In an effort to distract her from the depression that has overwhelmed her after the death of her father, a family friend suggests that she become a “lady visitor” at Millbank Prison. The role of the lady visitor is to inspire the prisoners to be better people by the example of their good breeding and good sense. Margaret immediately feels the hypocrisy of this effort yet continues to visit the prison when she becomes smitten with Selina Dawes, who is a spirit medium in prison for abusing a patron of her work. Selina is enchantingly beautiful with golden hair and the look of a renaissance painting. She seems to be a cut above the other prisoners and more refined and innocent than her fellow inmates. Margaret soon becomes obsessed with her, an obsession that leads to terrible decisions and feverish choices. Will Margaret risk her comfortable middle-class life to have the woman she loves?

Affinity oozes with dread. The novel is dark and dangerous and the sense of foreboding for the reader corresponds with the downward spiral of Margaret’s despair. I love when authors can match the reader’s feelings to the plot. I really liked Margaret. She is clearly intelligent and gifted, yet she is bored with her status in society. She so desperately does not want to be her mother’s companion for the remainder of her life. She is looking for passion, for beauty, for an experience that will lift her above the drudgery and routine of daily life. Selina provides this escape. Selina is mysterious, exotic and powerful and is maybe the more fascinating character because we never really know her. The novel is told through diary entries, Margaret’s interspersed with Selina’s daily jottings of her life before prison. Margaret is easy to sympathize with, Selina is not and she is also a bit frightening because of her ability to sway people’s impressions of her.

Despite its unhappy premise I adored this novel. I really do think Sarah Waters is a fabulous writer and she is, at the moment, my favorite.

Have you read Affinity or any other novels by Sarah Waters? What do you think of her books?

Pryday

Hello all! I’ve decided not to participate in the Library Loot event anymore because I check so many books out and only read about 5% of them and it seems silly to post pictures of books on my blog that I’m never even going to crack open. But, I still want to do some kind of weekly themed post so I’ve come up with ‘Pryday’! Every Friday I will ask a book-related question, something to get me thinking about the books I love, why I love them and how I’m developing as a reader. I’d love to hear all of your responses too, if you feel like sharing. My first Pryday question is:

“What is the first book that you really LOVED?” 

I wasn’t much of a reader as a child. I was a good reader and I liked to read, but for some reason I didn’t read for pleasure. I was always outside playing with my friends or making mischief with my brothers and sisters indoors, but reading wasn’t a big part of my childhood. I only started to read seriously when I was about 13 or 14. That’s when I became more introspective and struggled socially after I entered junior high school. I turned to books to escape myself. Around this time my grandma sent a box of books to me that had been my mom’s books when she was a teen. Inside the box was a big, fat, dusty copy of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I chose to read it during my summer break and was completely mesmerized. I remember being smitten with Scarlett, wishing I was as bold and fearless, as headstrong and demanding as she was. The passion and heat between Scarlett and Rhett was irresistible to a 13-year-old girl, prompting fantasies of having a dramatic romance of my own. And what other book so sways the reader so persuasively to the side of the South during the war? I held my Confederate sympathies for many years after reading GWTW and was convinced that General Sherman was a monster because of it. This is the only book I can remember immediately starting again right after I’d finished and I think I read it 3 or 4 times in a row during that summer and fall. I was so beguiled by this novel and I’ll never forget that feeling of falling in love with a book for the first time.

How about you? What was the first book you really LOVED?

Library Loot, August 10-16

It’s been one of those weeks. One of those weeks where you feel dissatisfied with everything in your life, including every single book you try to read. I abandoned many books this week, even those I had made a good start in or was really looking forward to. I tossed Franny and Zooey by the wayside after I got bored with Zooey’s horrible treatment of his mom, sent The Lantern on to the next reader when I realized I was not in the mood for flowery writing, and brutally rejected countless other unworthy novels. The only thing that has seemed to hold my interest this week is the biography of the Kennedy White House I am currently racing through.

So, my library loot only contains three books this week. These are the three that made it home and have stayed home with me and that I hope to start soon.

1. The Best American Short Stories of 2010 edited by Richard Russo. I always like reading at least a few selections from this collection every year. This edition contains stories from Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan, one of my personal favorites Lauren Groff and Orange Prize winner Tea Obreht.

2. Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter. I really don’t know much about this epic novel, but it was on the best seller list in 1962 and so qualifies to be read due to my current obsession with this era.

3. The Siege by Helen Dunmore. I’ve read so many positive reviews of this novel that is set during the siege of Leningrad and of Helen Dunmore’s other novels that I thought I’d try it. After reading Snowdrops, in which a major character briefly talks of her experiences during the siege I’ve had an interest in reading more about this horrible tragedy.

What have you taken out of the library this week? What do you do when you have a reading slump?

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan

I suppose it’s not very auspicious to start a post telling you that I had very high hopes for this book because it indicates that perhaps my hopes were dashed. I’m afraid to say that they were!

What doesn’t sound appealing about a story told by Marilyn Monroe’s dog, Maf? You may be intrigued; I was too. The story starts in England where Maf the dog is bought by Natalie Wood’s mother who takes him back to California, sells him to Frank Sinatra, who gives him to Marilyn when she is feeling down and depressed over her impending divorce from Arthur Miller. There are some very amusing early scenes featuring Ol’ Blue Eyes and his epic temper, Natalie Wood’s crazy dad and Marilyn’s appearance at a Sammy Davis, Jr show. Maf (short for Mafia Honey) narrates the story with a keen sense of human weakness and a high interest in philosophy. There are many scenes of Maf and his dog friends discussing Plato, Aristotle, and Freud. I have to say I didn’t enjoy these scenes. I much more enjoyed reading Maf’s descriptions of Marilyn’s interactions with her famous friends such as Carson McCullers, Sinatra and George Cukor. I admit I have a plebeian sensibility and usually enjoy celebrity chatter over philosophical ruminations, especially when they are abstract and head-spinning as they are in this novel.

I’m sure I’m probably missing the genius of this book and others will find it more satisfying than I did. I think if I knew more about different philosophers and big thinkers of this time period it would have been more fulfilling. There are a lot of clever “in” jokes that I only got about 10% of the time. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am not smart enough for this book!

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

Sophie FitzOsborne lives on the island of Montmaray with her sister Henry, cousin Veronica, Uncle John and their housekeeper Rebecca. Sophie has just turned 16 and suffers the usual self-doubt and anxiety about her looks and skills that many young girls have. She shares a loyal friendship with Veronica and suffers her sister’s eccentricities and aversion to reading with patience. Her uncle stays out of their way and they share a mutual dislike of Rebecca, who barely cooks and cleans, but who looks after them in her way.

So how is this different from other coming-of-age novels? Well, Montmaray is an island kingdom off the coasts of Spain and France. Uncle John is the king, Veronica is the princess royal and Sophie and Henry are princesses whose brother Toby, off at school in England, is heir to the throne. They live in a crumbling castle, have no money, and only rule over five villagers, who eventually end up leaving the island for Cornwall. Oh, and it is 1936, the Spanish Civil War is raging and they keep hearing news of Hitler’s activities in Germany. Last, but not least, King John is mentally ill and never leaves his bedroom.

Cooper takes all of these unusual plot elements and crafts them into a riveting, adventurous, horrifying tale. The story is told in a series of diary entries that Sophie pens at the urging of Veronica, who is passionate about keeping and preserving her kingdom’s history. The beginning of the novel concerns the typical thoughts of a teen girl as Sophie ponders her feelings for Rebecca’s son Simon and recites the domestic travails and tribulations of their family and friends in the village. The narrative subtly turns sinister, however, when two German men show up on the island for “research” purposes. The family then faces an immense struggle for survival that climaxes in a dramatically suspenseful ending.

I really admired and enjoyed this novel and am pleased that it is shelved in the young adult section. This is the kind of YA novel I wish more teens would read. It is a lovely blend of history, adventure, strong and interesting characters and humor. There is even a tinge of the supernatural included. This is the first in a trilogy, the second of which was published in the spring. I will definitely be continuing the series and look forward to reading about the further adventures of Sophie and her family.

Library Loot, August 3 – 9

This week’s loot reflects my current passion for everything early ’60’s. I started watching Mad Men last week and I am infected. I’d never had any interest in Mad Men before now, but found myself watching the first season one evening when there was not much else on TV. I’ve now made it to the end of season 2 and have re-discovered my interest in this fascinating time in America’s history. I say re-discovered because I did have a previous interest in this time period during my teen years. It started when I was spending the summer with my grandparents and found some vintage copies of Vogue in my grandma’s storage closet. They covered the years from about 1961-66 and I was enthralled. I hauled them all out of their dusty boxes and looked at them over and over and over again throughout the summer. I wish I would have had the foresight to ask my grandma if I could have them, but I didn’t and they are long gone. The images stayed with me, however, and now I am revisiting my interest in the early ’60’s.

Here’s this week’s loot (with help from my cat Mabel and her spooky eyes):

1. The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan. This is the story of the last two years of Marilyn Monroe’s life told by her dog, Maf. I started it last night and it is very quirky and …. different. It’s very hard to describe, but I’m enjoying it.

2. Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House by Sally Bedell Smith. You can’t read about the early ’60’s without reading about the Kennedys.

3. Mad Men: The Illustrated World by Dyna Moe. A tongue-in-cheek look at the habits, fashion and alcohol of Mad Men.

4. The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. Published in 1958, it showed up on the NYT Best Seller list in 1960.

5. Mad Men, Season 4. I probably won’t get to season 4 for a week or so, but I am greedy and didn’t want anyone to get it before me!

What are you passionate about this week?

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Snowdrops is the kind of vicious, cynical little book that I usually avoid because I find it hard to read a book in which none of the characters are sympathetic or valiant, though I know that this probably reflects true life more than I like to believe.

Moscow in the 2000’s – drunken, corrupt, violent and greedy. Nick Platt is a British attorney who’s lived in Moscow for 4 years and up to now has only dipped his toe into the sewer of Moscow’s decadence. Like many ex-pats he’s learned the rules of Moscow’s confusing society by observation and has managed to avoid trouble. Until he meets two young girls in the subway station. Masha and Katya tell him that they’re sisters who’ve moved to Moscow from the country. He’s immediately smitten with Masha. She’s the older of the two and more sophisticated and confident. They begin a mostly sexual relationship, yet Nick feels so strongly about Masha that he wonders if she’s “the one”. The girls introduce him to their Aunt Tatiana, an older widow who eventually asks him to help her switch apartments with a man in the suburbs. Tatiana’s apartment is in a desirable central location and he does briefly wonder why she’d ever want to give it up. However, he uses his skills and knowledge of the Moscow legal system to help her because he wants to please Masha.

Ever so subtly, so slyly, does Miller drop hints that Nick is being taken for a huge ride. I felt anxiety throughout the narrative, knowing that things were going to end badly, but not really knowing how. I imagine this is how Nick himself felt as he ignored all the signs of deceit and blindly followed Masha’s lead. But it is self-delusion because he knows what is going on, his conscience prods him every once in a while and he calmly ignores it.

Most interestingly, this novel is written in the second person, addressed from Nick to his fiancee, telling her about this event that’s taken place in his past. It’s almost written as an excuse for her to change her mind or maybe for him to passively get out of the marriage himself?

There is so much to ponder in Snowdrops. It’s a powerful book for having  a relatively action-less, slow moving plot. The descriptions of life in modern Russia are depressing, yet fascinating. I can’t imagine living in a society that is so slippery and lawless. And cold.

I can see why Snowdrops was chosen for the Booker long list, but I wonder if it might be seen as too “trifling” to win. Has anyone else read it ? What do you think?