And the Oscar Goes To…

The books that were made into Oscar-nominated films of 2013.

If you’re following this year’s awards season, you may have noticed that many of the movies receiving the highest accolades were adapted from novels. Some of the big winners at last night’s Golden Globes made me want to compile a small list of the books that inspired the movies. While many viewers of the awards season make it their mission to watch all of the nominated films, wouldn’t it be an interesting idea to read the book behind each lit-inspired movie? If you care to tick off that list, it is…

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

8 Nominations

Someone over at Goodreads likened this book to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower for adults.” That’s probably on account of the novel’s tender qualities, quirky humor, and soul. Warm your heart with this debut novel from Matthew Quick.

 

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio J. Mendez

7 Nominations

The book and the movie provide a behind-closed-doors look into an almost unreal CIA mission to save six embassy workers from Iran in the 1970s… by impersonating a sci-fi film crew. Don’t get a manicure before watching or reading this entertaining political thriller.

 

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

11 Nominations

A boy, a boat, and a tiger — one might say those are the main components of Martel’s novel, and correspondingly director Ang Lee’s movie. But both deliver much more: spellbinding visuals, philosophical themes, and yes I just have to reiterate, an amazing tiger called Richard Parker.

 

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

3 Nominations

Adaptations of Tolkien’s works have dominated cinema for the last decade, so unless you call the lonely space beneath a rock your home,  you’ll probably know what you’re in for with Jackson’s latest movie. Yet, returning to Middle Earth to recount the fantasy of your childhood will yield memories that might not have made it to the film (despite it being the first three-hour installment of a trilogy).

 

Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

12 Nominations (for the film Lincoln)

Though of course Spielberg’s biopic is based on actual history, it had a helping hand from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography. But beware, it’d probably be faster to complete an AP course on U.S. History than to read this 944-page tome. For the ambitious among you, the biography reveals the brilliance behind one of America’s most cherished forefathers and comes highly recommended by the elite who have the will to sit down and read it.

 

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

8 Nominations

The musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s sprawling tragedy set during the upheaval of the French Revolution has been on stage for years and has now made its way to the silver screen. But if you want a reading of the work that does not involve singing every line, try picking up Hugo’s original. Of course, if you enjoy the catharsis of singing every line as you read them, by all means go ahead… so long as I’m not anywhere near you at the time.

 

What Oscar-nominated adaptations did you enjoy this past year? Which did you enjoy that did not make it into the Academy’s good graces? Share with us in a comment below!


Hmmm… Seems to be a Book! Ten Gift Suggestions for Christmas Reading

Among my friends, (who, lets face it, often regard sunlight as the enemy) there can never be a better Christmas present than a coveted book. Most of our friends, family members, and colleagues know we love to read. However, what to get your favorite bibliophile can be daunting:

“Hmmmm… well, Diana sorta likes cats. How about this special, 40 lb tome of Cats Through the Ages?” 

-or-

“Who doesn’t want to learn the ancient art of origami?” (*Me) …Variation: “Who doesn’t like spy novels?”  (*Also me).

So, instead of grabbing a random book, here are ten suggestions from my well-read friends that may help you select a welcomed gift that will actually be read:

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10.  Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel 

This Man-Booker prize winning sequel, as well as  Mantel’s first novel Wolf Hall (which also won the Man-Booker!) are both on my personal list.

From Publisher’s Weekly: Henry VIII’s challenge to the church’s power with his desire to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn set off a tidal wave of religious, political and societal turmoil that reverberated throughout 16th-century.

9.  Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats 

A required volume for lovers of poetry. Both newcomers and those already familiar with the work of Yeats will appreciate this collection which ” includes all of the poems authorized by Yeats for inclusion in his standard canon. Breathtaking in range, it encompasses the entire arc of his career, from luminous reworkings of ancient Irish myths and legends to passionate meditations on the demands and rewards of youth and old age, from exquisite, occasionally whimsical songs of love, nature, and art to somber and angry poems of life in a nation torn by war and uprising.”

8. The Language of Flowers by Vanesa Diffenbach

Consider picking this New York Times best-seller and recent book club favorite:

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

7.  January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Scofield

A good choice for a lover of non-fiction reads, one friend says the memoir is “heartbreaking and engrossing at the same time. I couldn’t put it down and read it mostly in one day.”

At six years old, January Schofield, “Janni,” to her family, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the worst mental illnesses known to man.  What’s more, schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe in children than in adults and in January’s case, doctors say, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.

7.  The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy 

Got a political junkie on your list? A friend tells me this is a Can’t-Put-It-Down choice.

Starting with the surprisingly effective relationship of Harry S. Truman and Herbert Hoover, and following through “Obama and His Club,” TIME Magazine‘s Executive Editor Nancy Gibbs and Washington Bureau Chief Michael Duffy trace the surprising, complicated story of “the world’s most exclusive fraternity.” Sitting presidents and their predecessors have at times proved remarkably simpatico, at others impossible thorns in each other’s sides. The authors’ extensive research demonstrates that ex-Presidents have a penchant for morphing from consummate team players into irascible rogues, sometimes within weeks, as they strive both to remain relevant and to shape their own legacies.

6.  The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor

Under that frayed sports coat lies the heart of a beast! Your English professor or quiet librarian may well be hiding a little secret… tattoos that express their love of literature. This beautiful text is “a collection of more than 150 full-color photographs of human epidermis indelibly adorned with quotations and illustrations from Dickinson to Pynchon, from Shakespeare to Plath. With beloved lines of verse, literary portraits, and illustrations—and statements from the bearers on their tattoos’ history and the personal significance of the chosen literary work—The Word Made Flesh is part collection of photographs and part literary anthology written on skin.”

5.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Perfect for both the  book lover, bookstore lover, and mystery fan, Sloan’s novel is “a gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.”

4.  Fairy Tales from the Brother’s Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman

Most people know that the versions of the Grimm Brothers’ tales many of us grew up with were “sanitized” verisons of the original stories. In this new edition, author Philip Pullman “retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.”

3.  Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Laura Leto 

This is another entry from my personal Wish List. Do you know how some people snoop through bathroom medicine cabinets or desk drawers? Personally, I eye their bookshelves. Most book lovers do. We want to know what we have in common or who we need to stay away from, often making instant friendships or enemies based on libraries alone. In her study, Leto provides a “hilarious send-up of—and inspired homage to—the passionate and peculiar world of book culture.”

2. Cezanne: A Life by Alex Danchev

Okay, I confess. This is also on my list (get yer own blog!).  Cezanne’s life has long fascinated me, and after hearing an interview with Danchev, I am eager to learn more.  Here’s an overview:

With brisk intellect, rich documentation, and eighty-eight color and fifty-two black-and-white illustrations, Danchev tells the story of an artist who was originally considered a madman, a barbarian, and a sociopath. Beginning with the unsettled teenager in Aix, Danchev takes us through the trials of a painter who believed that art must be an expression of temperament but was tormented by self-doubt, who was rejected by the Salon for forty years, who sold nothing outside his immediate circle until his thirties, who had a family that he kept secret from his father until his forties, who had his first exhibition at the age of fifty-six—but who fiercely maintained his revolutionary beliefs.

1.  Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kerns Goodwin

Steven Spielberg’s wonderful new film Lincoln was largely based on the research of famed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Anyone interested in politics or history will certainly enjoy this compelling re-examination of the drama surrounding the eventual adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.


Louise Erdrich Wins 2012 National Book Award

It was a good morning for author Louise Erdrich, as she was announced the recipient of 2012’s National Book Award for her novel The Round House.  Like much of Erdrich’s other work (Love Medicine, The Red Convertible)The Round House concerns the life of a Native American family in crisis and a culture in jeopardy.

The Round House is the story of a crime. Geraldine Coutts, an Ojibwe woman living on a reservation, is attacked. Neither her husband, Bazil, nor her thirteen-year-old son, Joe, were present when she was assaulted. Geraldine will not tell them who did it or or why; nor will she tell the police. Although Joe desperately tries to get her to tell him, or anyone, what happened, Geraldine refuses. She will not even leave her bed. Essentially motherless, Joe is left to fend for himself, although he is far from ready for the weight of adult responsibilities.

Joe’s father, Bazil, is a tribal judge but justice moves too slowly for the teenager. He begins his own investigation which ultimately leads him to the “Round House,” a sacred place of worship where, eventually, secrets are revealed.

Runners Up:

Speculation about who would win this year was a bit more contentious than in years past, as there were many strong contenders, both critically and popularly. One of those considered a good bet was Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her.   Nine stories intertwine, but at the center is Yunior,

a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.

While Diaz is undoubtedly disappointed by his loss, he certainly has a lot to console him, as this year, the 44-year-old writer was given a MacArthur Fellowship. You can listen to an interview with Diaz about that prestigious appointment here.

A long shot, but a strong critical and popular favorite was not a novel but a memoir. The Boy Kings of Texas is about the experiences of Domingo Martinez as he grew up in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. The book is

Partly a reflection on the culture of machismo and partly an exploration of the author’s boyhood spent in his sister’s hand-me-down clothes, The Boy Kings of Texas delves into the enduring and complex bond between Martinez and his deeply flawed but fiercely protective older brother, Daniel, and features a cast of memorable characters. Charming, painful and enlightening, this book examines the traumas and pleasures of growing up in South Texas and the often terrible consequences when two very different cultures collide on the banks of a dying river.

One of the stories from the work was featured in a must-listen segment of last week’s episode of This American Life. You can listen to the full episode here, or queue it up to Act III to hear Martinez read “Mimis in the Middle.” In another episode of the autobiography, the 13-year-old Domingo is a helpless passenger in his mother’s car as she and Domingo follow his father, who is driving a truck full of marijuana, all of them hoping they do not get caught.

Christmas is coming up, you know. How about adding one of these, or all three, to your wish list?


Bring Up the Booker

Yesterday the prestigious Man Booker prize was awarded, breaking two important records in the process. The lucky recipient Hilary Mantel became the first woman to win the award twice, and the first author to win it for a consecutive sequel.

British author Mantel won her first Booker prize in 2009 with the historical fiction novel Wolf Hall. The story follows “the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII of England.” From there, Mantel set to work on creating a trilogy from the acclaimed novel. Bring Up the Bodies, the winner of this year’s Man Booker prize, is the second installment in that trilogy. The novel picks up where its predecessor left off, detailing Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace and eventual execution.

Sir Peter Stothard, chairman of the judging committee, had high praise for both Mantel and Bring Up the Bodies:

She has recast the most essential period of our modern English history; we have the greatest modern English prose writer reviving possibly one of the best known pieces of English history… It is well-trodden territory with an inevitable outcome, and yet she is able to bring it to life as though for the first time.

Canadian author Margaret Atwood, five times shortlisted for the Booker prize herself, had equally raving comments for Mantel in her Guardian review of Bring Up the Bodies from May of this year:

Literary invention does not fail her: she’s as deft and verbally adroit as ever.

On top of those accolades, Mantel will take home a £50,000 prize, not to mention a massive boost in sales. So influential is the award on readers, that revenue for every Booker winner increases by at least £1m. When Yan Martel took home the Booker in 2002, his novel Life of Pi soared to over £10m in sales (that’s over $16m). Although, we wouldn’t say that Mantel’s sales of her latest book are exactly suffering…

According to the latest figures, Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies has sold 108,342 copies, which is more than the other 11 Man Booker longlisted novels combined.

Add to that the fact that Mantel’s first two installments of the trilogy have already been set to be adapted into a BBC TV series, and we’re sure the author is quite happy with her recent success.

In fact, her happy disbelief came across onstage as she accepted her award with a quip:

You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize and two come along at once.

I know how privileged and lucky I am to be standing here tonight. I regard this as an act of faith and a vote of confidence.

Congratulations to Hilary Mantel, not just for winning this award, prestigious in its own right, but for winning it twice and being the first woman to do so. Cheers!

No doubt our fascination with all things Tudor and deliciously bloodthirsty will continue when Mantel releases the finale to her trilogy, which she has already named The Mirror and the Light. Perhaps the third time will be a charm that brings this writer another feather in her already impressive cap.


Mo Yan Wins the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature

This morning, the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced.  The committee has granted the prestigious award to 57-year Chinese  author Mo Yan. In its press release, the Nobel Committee says that Mo Yan was selected for his writing that merges “hallucinatory realism (with) folk tales, history and the contemporary.

The choice, though widely lauded, has its critics as well. Although the subjects Yan typically writes about are “non-political,” the writer has been embraced by the Communist Party, something that gives dissident writers and others pause.

Despite political concerns, few would argue that Mo’s work is not brilliant. His subject matter typically examines rural Chinese life through magical realism. Mo’s penchant for narrators like talking animals and his inclusion of elements from Chinese fairy tales has drawn comparisons of his work to that of Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Perhaps Mr. Mo’s best-known work in the Western world is his novel Red SorghumPublished in 1986 and translated into English in 1992, Red Sorghum is a bandit-laced tale about the trials of life for rural Chinese. The novel was made into a movie in 1987.

Born in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong in 1955 to farming parents, Mo Yan is the pen name of Guan Moye.  Mo was a teenager during the Cultural Revolution. For several years, he took various agricultural jobs and then joined the People’s Liberation Army. His first short story, “Falling Rain on a Spring Night,” was published in 1981.  Many more short stories and novels have since been published. His latest, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Outwas written in 2006 and translated into English in 2008.


Hey Genius, MacArthur’s Calling

One call, out of the blue, $500,000, and no strings attached. Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately, this only happens to geniuses…

I’m talking about the MacArthur Foundation‘s ‘genius grant,’ which yesterday was awarded to 23 recipients. Among them were authors Junot Diaz, writer of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and the more recent This is How You Lose Her, and Ethiopian born Dinaw Mengetsu, whose two published novels are The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air.

Dinaw Mengetsu

Both authors have had the chance to share their jubilation upon receiving the news, and what it means to them. Mengetsu was as far afield as Nairobi when he received his call:

It was obviously amazingly overwhelming and at the same time felt remarkably appropriate to be there and to be in a community that I felt I was desperately trying to reach out to… Part of what the MacArthur fellowship does is remind me that the work I’ve done is relevant – not necessarily what I write about, but the people who populate my work. That those people have a significance and meaning that sometimes might be overshadowed or lost in the larger narrative of the world, and it’s important to keep writing out of those experiences.

Interestingly, both writers are immigrants to the US, Mengetsu as a toddler and Diaz as a teen. That seems to have influenced their writing and style, and in turn caught the Foundation’s eye, which said of Diaz that he creates “nuanced and engaging characters struggling to succeed and often invisible in plain sight to the American mainstream.” Diaz reflected on the honor of the award in an interview with AP:

It left me thinking about my childhood … It would never have dawned on me to think such a thing was possible for me … struggling with poverty, struggling with English. … I came from a community that was about as hard-working as you can get and yet no one saw or recognized in any way our contributions or our genius. … I have to wonder, but for circumstances, how many other kids that I came up with are more worthy of this fellowship than me?

Junot Diaz

The Columbian author also said the grant would be “transformational” for him and his work. “It allows you to focus on your art with very little other concerns. It’s kind of like a big blast of privilege.”

For those who’ve never heard of the grant or its criteria, the Foundation’s website offers some information for aspiring geniuses:

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world… [It] awards five-year, unrestricted fellowships to individuals across all ages and fields who show exceptional merit and promise of continued creative work.

A full list of the recipients and their bios can be found at the MacArthur Foundation’s page for the fellows of 2012. Among them is the creator of “The Wire,” two filmmakers, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, and  a certain mandolin player who incredibly thought this life-changing call was a robocall. You can read more on that, here.

eNotes Study Guides for Junot Diaz:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Drown

“Fiesta, 1980″

“The Sun, The Moon, The Stars”


A Nobel Gamble

Place your bets!

Deliberations for who will win the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature will shortly be under way. With an impressive lineup of entries to choose from, there can be no surefire bet for who will take this coveted award. That’s because currently the odds are only at 5/1 for the win.

Yes, not satisfied with the profits from gambling on sports, bookies have found a way to hedge bets on prestigious literary awards. Ladbrokes, a British betting enterprise dating back to 1886, offers odds for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature, among others.

Fancy a gamble? Here are the frontrunners as they stand now:

Haruki Murakami 5/1

Bob Dylan 10/1

Mo Yan 12/1

Cees Nooteboom 12/1

Ismail Kadare 14/1

Adonis 14/1

Ko Un 14/1

Murakami has a clear lead with far safer odds than his fellow nominees. His most recent work, IQ84, was translated from Japanese in 2011, and has received high acclaim from both critics and readers.

Bob Dylan is slightly more out of place this high in the list. Though his chances may appear strong, they’re deceived by his popularity. Those placing bets are more likely to choose a name that’s familiar to them. Gamblers loyal to him placed £100-plus bets that shot him up the list, from 100/1 to 10/1, bounding past far better respected writers Tom Stoppard and Cormac McCarthy (both 16/1). Ladbrokes’ spokesman Alex Donohue puts Dylan’s chances rather bluntly,

We’re happy to ‘fill the satchel’ in bookmaking terms as we expect the Dylan backers to part with their cash again this year.

And if that doesn’t seal his fate for you, perhaps Swedish nobel panel member Horace Engdahl’s “professed hostility for ‘parochial’ American writing” will–alongside MA Orthofer‘s sound advice:

If you know anyone who has actually generously donated money to Ladbrokes by ‘betting’ on him please try to get them professional help, either from a psychiatrist or an accountant.

Yes, I think that says it all; no Nobel for Dylan this year folks.

If you can’t put a face to the names in the 3rd and 4th spots, it might be because they’re newcomers to the Nobel scene. Mo Yan is a subversive author, once described by a TIME article as “one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers.” Nooteboom, a Dutch writer, enters the longlist for the first time in his extensive career, having published his first novel in 1955 at the age of 22. 46 of this year’s 210 nominees are first-time candidates for the prize.

Notable writers from further down the list include Philip Roth (16/1), Joyce Carol Oates (33/1), Ian McEwan (50/1), Margaret Atwood (50/1), Salman Rushdie (66/1), Ursula LeGuin (66/1), and–winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an EndingJulian Barnes (66/1).

So how accurate are the odds? Last year the winner of the prize, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, was given 9/2 odds, behind the favorite to win, Adonis, a Syrian poet who still ranks high on the list this year at 14/1. Therefore, Murakami isn’t a completely safe bet, but his chances are looking rather strong.

Deliberations will begin in about a week’s time. The announcement date for the winner has not yet been released.


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