Andrea Blythe (blythe025) wrote,
Andrea Blythe
blythe025

Books Read & Movies Watched in Dec

Books Read:
1. Fast, Cheap, & Written That Way: Top Screenwriters on Writing for Low-Budget Movies, by John Gaspard
2. Siddhartha (audio book), by Hermann Hesse
3. Sharp Teeth, a novel in poems by Toby Barlow
4. Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist, by Brooke Kroeger
5. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
6. Screencraft: Screenwriting, edited by Declan McGrath
7. At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror, by H.P. Lovecraft
8. The Mermaid's Madness, by Jim C. Hines
9. Sons and Lovers (audio book), D.H. Lawrence


REVIEWS:
1. Fast, Cheap, & Written That Way: Top Screenwriters on Writing for Low-Budget Movies, by John Gaspard
This collection of interviews presents a behind the scenes look at writing for low budget movies. Each screenwriter (some of whom also directed the movie they discuss) has their own approach to writing scripts and how they managed to keep budget in mind as they wrote. The editor and interviewer John Gaspard tries to cover a wide breadth of movies, from adaptations of short stories to horror movies, experimental film making, love stories, and more. He also compiles what he calls a "highly subjective" list of lessons-learned from the interviews at the end of the book.

I love the idea of low budget film making and have a desire to throw my hat into the ring someday. I don't know if I ever will, but in the meantime, reading about other people's experiences is a fun way for me to live vicariously and maybe amass some useful tips, techniques, and knowledge along the way.


2. Siddhartha (audio book), by Hermann Hesse
Siddartha is an allegorical tale about a young brahmin's son, who chooses to forgo his father's teachings, choosing instead the life as an aesthetic and goes to live in the wilds in the hopes of achieving enlightenment. His journey takes him through many forms of living, from the wilds back to the garden of an enlightened monk to town life and earthly pleasures, as he continues to seek the enlightenment he desires.

This book is not a biography of The Buddha (one his names was Siddhartha), though it is meant to parallel his life and his spiritual journey and awakening to nirvana. As an allegorical tale, it's rather good, with poetic descriptions of the people and world in which it inhabits. As with such a story, which is obviously intended to instruct, that teaching presence is felt -- repetition of ideas is often used, as well as question/answer style discussions between characters meant to hash out the philosophy. It's difficult to relate an inward journey, a journey of the mind and the soul to readers without these devices, and I think Hesse does a good job with these tools to related the journey.

Another issue (which I don't want to get into in detail or get into an argument about) that colored my experience of the book, is the issues of cultural appropriation (the act of a white person claiming and writing from the point of view of another culture) and orientalizm (presenting the Asia and Asians as inherently mystical and therefore stereotyping the people). I would love to know of any articles on this subject, if anyone knows of any.

However, that being said, I have heard that many Buddhists from both China and India have found this book enjoyable and instructive and it seems that Hesse tried to be respectful in his writing.

If I read this book when I was twenty years old, I would probably have loved it whole heartedly. Now, at thirty, I have some reservations, but I can see why many people have valued this spiritual story and have found truth and wisdom within its pages.


3. Sharp Teeth, a novel in poems by Toby Barlow
A good-hearted dogcatcher falls for a beautiful woman, who is more than what she seems. The leader of a werewolf pack schemes and makes plans. Small time drug dens are being preyed upon by what appears to be wild animals. A vicious, bloody betrayal occurs, setting off a tumbling, Ruberg machine of events.

This noir inspired werewolf story is captivating from the beginning and builds to a crescendo by the end. I've read several "novels in poems" and have general found books, in which prose is strung out in lines to pass it off as poetry. Sharp Teeth is refreshing in that it tells a story with a complex assortment of characters and weaves together the intricate threads of varying storylines, while still managing to actually be poetry. The writing is concise and sharp, every word made valuable, and the lines breaks create an actual rhythm to the reading. It has a beat to it, and whether the lines are short and clipped or long and easy, the choice of line breaks is purposeful and necessary. It actually adds to the reading.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is the following:
“And were you cornered by her,
eye to eye,
you would see that
there are still some watchful creatures
whose essence lies unbound by words.
There is still a wilderness.”

So, yeah, this book is all kinds of awesome.


4. Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist, by Brooke Kroeger
Nellie Bly was all kinds of awesome and apparently was the basis for the character Lois Lane (according to Sarah Rees Brennan in her blog, which is quite entertaining and inspired me to read more about Nellie). Bly virtually invented and became known for "stunt reporting" in which she would go undercover in dangerous situations and then tell all. For example, she tricked hospital staff into thinking she was insane and then wrote and expose on conditions inside. She accepted the challenge of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days and beat the record of the fictional character, making her world wide journey in a mere 72 days. She went to Mexico to report and was nearly arrested by the dictatorship. She journeyed to Austria and became one of the first female war correspondents during the beginning of WWI.

Keep in mind, her life spanned from 1864-1922, so not exactly a world that was used to or stoked on such feminine versions of strength.

Kroeger tracked down letters, strained her eyes looking at news paper microfiche, and trolled through dusty back rooms at libraries to compiled this in-depth look at Bly, while also offering a look at the newspaper industry in general. Bly was far from perfect, but she believed strongly in her own strength of will, claimed a place for herself in man's world, and never gave up standing for what she thought right.


5. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
Discussed elsewhere.


6. Screencraft: Screenwriting, edited by Declan McGrath
I especially enjoyed this collection of interviews (as they call it, though it's not in interview format, rather more like a first person narrative) not only because the editor presented writers of different styles (from indy films to blockbusters to animation), but also because he made an effort to present screenwriters from across the world with a variety of different cultural backgrounds. It made it subtly clear that ones culture point of view plays a vital and important role in storytelling and that it should not be effaced by mainstream, Hollywood film making.

The very well put together book also provides still images from the feature films discussed, as well as scans of the actual screenplays, notes from the outlining process, and other images to give a complete idea of the screenwriting process and to better illustrate the techniques the writers described.


7. At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror, by H.P. Lovecraft
I was not thrilled with "At the Mountains of Madness." The story of an Antarctic expedition that discovers a madness-inducing mountain with horrifying creatures was overwrought. I mean, how many pages do you really need to describe the strange (and again with the madness-inducing) architecture. The story could have done with some serious cutting of redundant paragraphs. But it wasn't entirely without merit and had some moments, where the action moved at enough of a pace to keep me reading.

The second story, "The Shunned House," was better, in part because it was shorter and therefore more concise. Still a lot of overworked descriptions and very little dialog, but the ending image was awesome and one that has sparked my imagination.

"The Dreams in the Witch House" was good, about a man obsessed with a story of an old witch, who claimed to know secret geometries that allowed her to bend dimensional space. Lovecraft clearly loved the theme of insanity-inducing angles and architecture (along with bizarre old ladies, which also appeared in "At the Mountains of Madness," and again with the labored, overworked descriptions.

As for the finale story, "The Statement of Randolph Carter," I won't bother to give a description, and will just say, lame.

I don't find myself eager to read any more of Lovecraft's work (also considering what I've learned about his pervasive racism). Though I will probably also read, "The Call of Cthulhu," because I love the Cthulhu pop-culture cult following that has popped up all over the the internet.


8. The Mermaid's Madness, by Jim C. Hines
Cinderella (aka Danielle), Sleeping Beauty (aka Talia), and Snow White again find themselves in dire circumstances. During an annual ceremony to greet the undine (merefolk), one of the mermaid's attacks in a fit of madness brought on after the human she loved abandoned her. The queen is left injured and it's up to the trio to find a way to save her.

One of the things I love about this series is the subtle complexity to each of the characters. To try to describe the characters -- Talia is kick ass and sports a perpetual sour demeanor, but she's a softy for the people who get close to her; Snow is constantly cheery and promiscuous, hiding a deeper sorrow; Danielle is naive, but emotionally strong -- is to make it come out blunt and glaring, but the emotional truth of each character is brought to the surface subtly as the main action of the story progresses.

It's a mystery wrapped up in a great big, fat, fun adventure. I'm definitely dying to read more. I love these chicks


9. Sons and Lovers (audio book), D.H. Lawrence
Essentially this stretches a working family's life into epic proportions, giving minutia and emotions scope. The main focus is on the son Paul Morrel, who is caught between his mother and his lover, Miriam, and the emotional tug and pull that that causes.

Meh.

The writing is great and I really enjoyed learning about the family and their internal conflicts in the beginning, but as the story stretched on and on and on, I grew tired of it. It was too long, too meandering, and I only finished it because it was on audio book and I needed something to listen to on the way to work.

*

Movies Watched:

1. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
A rather funny movie about a breakup and a guy who in the process of trying to get over it ends up on the same island in Hawaii with the girl who dumped him. Jason Segel is hilarious and the rock opera is all kinds of awesome.


2. He's Just Not That Into You (2009)
Considering this is based on a self help book, it's impressive that it has a coherent storyline at all. Dozens of actors appear in the movie, which meanders through the ups, downs, and mistakes of relationships. I enjoyed it for the most part.
Tags: books, movies, reviews
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