Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A One-Sitting Read

I am always looking for new books to read, and so, being that it's right after Christmas (though really, I don't need and excuse), I decided to head to "Barnes & Nobles". And, while I was perusing the shelves, I found this absolute gem of a novel: Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein.
Now, I have known of the existence of Code Name Verity for many months. I've seen in publicized on writing websites and reviewed on blogs. Though I never looked very closely, all of these sources seemed to have loved the book. I, however, started to read Anna Karenina- which, as Tolstoy lovers know, is a process. But a few days ago, I set out to the bookstore, armed with a gift card, and saw Code Name Verity on the shelf. I remembered the blogs and websites that had recommended it, and decided to give it a chance.

I began reading this afternoon, and finished in one sitting.

To begin, Code Name Verity is historical fiction. This is always a huge plus for me, as I so admire authors who put in such time and effort to meticulously reconstruct another time or setting. Also, Wein weaves the history and fiction together beautifully; she does not throw the history in the readers face, saying, "Look! I researched this! This is the exact type of shoe twenty year old working women would wear in the 1940s!" Instead, she weaves the two topics seamlessly together, recreating the World War II setting she has chosen.

But though Wein is writing about World War II, she does not focus on the evils of Germany at the time; instead, she chooses individual people to be her villains. Also, this is not a war book; it is not All Quiet on the Western Front. It is a book about people who are in a war. There is a war on. And there are spies, and airplanes, and secrets. But there are also best friends, and making the hard choices.

Code Name Verity is, in short, the best book I have read in quite a long time. It is heartfelt and emotional. It is well written, with wonderful narrative voice for each of its characters. It's plot is complex and intriguing, twisting and turning down beautifully foreshadowed alleys.

Wein has created a new world between two paper covers.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Speaking in Tongues

Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. 
Adveniat regnum tuum. 
Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. 
Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, 
et dimitte nobis debita 
nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. 
Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, 
sed libera nos a malo. 
Quia tuum est regnum, et potestas, 
et Gloria,
in saecula. 

Isn't the Lord's Prayer in Latin just lovely? And quite a bit of it is decipherable, too, if you just think hard enough!

"Pater" - father
"Nomen"- name
"Terra"- land, earth

And even "panem", though without any obvious derivitives, is a pop-culture reference: the name of the country in "The Hunger Games", meaning "bread". 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

To Aspire to Greatness

Some people- generally people who don't actually read- believe that for a book to be good, it must have likable characters. This, however, is only true for "good" books. It is true for those fluffy, summer (or winter, spring, or fall) books that are nice to read but would never have a term paper written about them. While I am certainly not trying to insult these books- I do enjoy them, really- today, I am going to talk about the not those books books.

The not those books books are classics. They have successfully mounted symbolism, vaulted over plot, and won the battle of the "signpost". They are books like Jane Eyre (spoiler: he kept a WIFE in the ATTIC), The Grapes of Wrath (what, are there three nice characters?), and The Great Gatsby. 

I do not really like any of the characters of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic. Nick is much too passive, Jordan only a little less so, Tom is violent and unfaithful, Daisy betrays both her husband and Gatsby, and lets Gatsby take the blame for Myrtle's death. Even Gatsby- while wonderfully romantic- is obsessive, wanting Daisy to tell Tom she NEVER loved him. He is, as Nick says, worth the whole lot of them. That lot, though, is not much to measure up to.

So why do I love The Great Gatsby so terribly much? Because F. Scott Fitzgerald was a wonderful writer. The novel is well written and tragic, entertaining and full of symbolism. He gives us a novel full of terrible people, and makes us root for them.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between a great author and a good one. They may not give unappealing characters every time; that would be much too predictable. But they can write those characters. They can make girls fall in love with Gatsby.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Somewhere There's a Party

Let us all celebrate! This is my 201st post! Here's a few lovelies to celebrate with:

Everyone loves puppies and books, correct?

A lovely song by Ingrid Michaelson here.

A few classic book recommendations...

1. "The Great Gatsby", by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. "Anna Karenina", by Leo Tolstoy
3. "Fahrenheit 451", by Ray Bradbury

And this list of the top one hundred teen novels.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Enough is as Good as a Feast

Mary Poppins is enjoying a resurgence in fame. There is a new biography of P. L. Travers, the author, that has just emerged: Mary Poppins, She Wrote, by by Valerie Lawson. In addition, Disney is premiering Saving Mr. Banks this Christmas- a description of the the original Disney's fight for the right to the book.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Few Good Things

1. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is a fantastic book-turned-movie narrated by Death itself at the dawn of WWII. There are so many perfect quotes from the novel, I simply couldn't pick just one to share.

"I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."

"If only she could be so oblivious again, to feel such love without knowing it, mistaking it for laughter."

And, finally:

"Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die.”
While I was not certain how it would translate into film, the director- Brian Percival- does a splendid job. There are a plethora of direct quotes, and it is a stunning piece of art and literature in film.

And a few songs:

2. "People Help the People", by Birdy.

3. "Glory and Gore", by Lorde.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

By Definition, Film Noir...

Director Fritz Lang lived in both the silent film era and the one of the "talkies". Three particular films illustrate this evolution incredibly: Metropolis, M, and Scarlet Street. Metropolis is a silent film, with big gestures and a constant musical score. M is the bridge between silent film and synchronized sound; there is dialogue, cars honking, and even whistling. Not every scene, however, contains sound. Here, Lang takes the best of the silence and sound.
Scarlet Street is an entirely different story. It is film noir at its finest, and the film from which the above stills were taken. It tells a fantastic story of middle-aged Christopher Cross, Kitty, the girl he becomes infatuated with, and Johnny, her unscrupulous fiance. Now, film noir generally contains: a mostly decent man is talked into immoral or illegal activities by a femme fatale, and his downward spiral. Scarlet Street follows this pattern wonderfully. It is also full of dialogue, showing that Lang is really a director who can work with everything he has.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Land of the Living

Recently, I've been looking at Cyber Monday sales, modern art, and WWI literature. Modcloth- that lovely store I'm want to talk about- is having a 20% off sale. My local art museum has a new mid-century to early 2000s modern furniture exhibit. And, lastly, the poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est" is running through my head, mainly the Latin. World War I changed literature dramatically, and this line certainly helped things along: the idea that "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" isn't true at all.