Harper Lee’s Passing

My first dog was named Scout. I didn’t pick that name. My parents named her. I was maybe a month old or so when they took home puppy Scout, (because what new parents don’t need an untrained puppy to make raising their first ever child that much more exciting,) so I didn’t really have any say in the matter. I first thought they decided to name her Scout because she always insisted on running ahead of everyone and “scouting” things out. Only later did my parents fully explain to me that they called her Scout so they could feel like Atticus Finch and/or Gregory Peck whenever they had to sternly yell “Scout!” at our misbehaving dog. Yeah, she proved just as adventurous and mischievious as her namesake.

To Kill a Mockingbird was one of my parent’s favorite books and movies of all time, so Harper Lee affected me through her work before I even read her stuff or knew who she was, as demonstrated by my beloved dog I had before I even knew the beloved book character. There’s not a whole lot of artists that can claim that level of influence on my life. Reading the book for the first time made me feel a deep connection with my family. Reading any book you know changed someone’s life or has an otherwise very personal connection for a person close to you is always such an enlightening experience. When I read that book in middle school, it was one of the few times I contemplated my parents as people while in the rather pouty haze of early puberty.

I must also say that I enjoyed the book immensely myself. I still haven’t come across very many writers who can put their adult prejudices aside and so perfectly capture the mind of a child. On top of that, of course, there was that beautiful message at once encompassing and transcending political and racial issues of that time and beyond. Don’t kill mockingbirds. Don’t harbor hate and loathing for people and things that only want to help people, be kind, or live their life.

When I heard Harper Lee died just a week ago, I wasn’t even sure how to take it. How do you handle the death of a hero that connects you so intimately with your family, your past? Sure, she was 89, and another lesson I’ve learned from my own family is that, at a certain point, there’s always a time where death is expected day to day, perhaps not even with that much fear or regret, but legends can’t die, can they? They can’t go through all the stuff “normal” people do, not when they’ve made such beautiful things for us, those mockingbirds.

At least, unlike a birdsong, Lee’s words are preserved and sure to continue singing that beautiful song on for many more years, maybe just to bored middle school English students, maybe to old fans, or, even better, to a new and curious little birds ready to drink in a beautiful new song to sing.

I just hope her work will continue to affect people like it did me, and my parents before me, and so many other people before. I don’t know if I have the right words to say how I really feel at a time like this, so allow me to use the words of someone who truly knew how to say things right:

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”

-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

585px-Harper_Lee_signature.svg

Harper Lee signs off

 

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Shadowhunters: TV vs. Books

Going through the often painful process of having a beloved book adapted into a movie, especially a bad one, is old hat for me, and probably any reader. The subtleties lost by cramming a book into a movie, the terrible miscasting of characters, removing key moments, they’re old problems and complaints. However, there is, as far as I can tell, a relatively new risky business for book lovers to deal with; having your beloved books turned into a TV series. Besides masterpiece miniseries or whatever adapting classic bits of literature and Agatha Christie novels, I don’t really think this was a thing before TV experienced its recent renaissance.

Game of Thrones, I’ll throw it out there fast to get it over with, is a great example of when a book series makes an excellent TV series. George R. R. Martin is probably one of the few people that can write so dense a book series that even the TV folks have to trim a bit of the details back so they can fit everything in.

That’s an exceptional HBO show though. There are other series out there getting the deluxe TV series treatment, and there will probably be more coming soon too. I’m going through an emotional roller coaster  watching a series I fell in love with back in high school get what I, and probably the rest of the fans too, hope is a good TV adaptation after a very pitiful attempt at a movie version was put forth. I’m talking about the new TV series Shadowhunters  and its source material, Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. It’s  not even done with its first season yet, but I’m carefully watching each episode and hoping the series won’t break my heart. So far, so good. That’s about the best review I can give a TV show that’s just started to cover one of my favorite book series. Contrary to the the success Game of Thrones has faced, TV adaptations of books can go just as wrong as movies. There are more and more TV book adaptations popping up on non-premium, cable TV just waiting to prove me right. I’m hoping Shadowhunters won’t be one of those for a while yet.

When adaptations have to stretch on long enough, the story gets stretched and warped too, and usually not for the better. The Walking Dead is a perfect example of a series that stretched and then scrunched up story lines, both from the comic books and of their own creation, making for the worst kind of whiplash between boring stretches of gore and brief climaxes of shock or, in the later seasons, dull amusement.

I can easily see a future of Shadowhunters where all the plot lines they liked and focused on are stretched thin and dry and then they just try to keep filling it with vaguely interesting stuff. One piece of the story already has me worried. As much as I love the romance between Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane, a really nice love story because it involves Alec coming to terms with his own sexuality and finding love with a fabulous warlock his parents would never approve of, I’m worried the show’s people are making it go by too fast because they know the fans love it and want to give their audience as much of what’ll keep them watching as possible. Luckily, it’s not nearly as dull as watching the ridiculously bloated “Hershel’s farm” portion of The Walking Dead. I enjoy the story line, and the actors are a million times better than whatever those things in the movie were, (that goes for the whole cast really, not just Magnus and Alec,) but I’m just worried the writers will run that story line through as far as it can go while everything else is still behind and then we’ll get the thrilling tale of Alec and Magnus’s third date at Red Lobster or something.

In most other respects, though, the show is pretty fairly paced, allowing for some nice exploration of different moments and characters, but never going too slow and not just fast-forwarding through the “boring bits” to get to the exciting moments and exploit those. At what is still the very beginning of the story, they are doing a very good job of introducing elements and key players from different parts of this fantasy world piece by piece, an episode at a time, while still keeping the general arc and flow of the story that I fell in love with.

I will admit turning any novel from a contained, lengthy story into the episodic  format TV shows are made in is a difficult process, and I’ve learned that some playing around with plot and characters is expected. Shadowhunters does play around a bit with how many background characters get fleshed out, like Meliorn, Isabelle’s fairy boy toy, but I’ve found any changes so far are either an improvement allowing for more authentic character development, or at least acceptable.

For now, this show has entertained me and not broken my very nervous heart. If I seem a bit severe in parts of this review, it is only because the City of Bones movie disappointed me so deeply I still have trust issues with this series. Those books helped me through puberty and deserve only the best.

If you’re curious about whether you should watch the series, I’d say give it a try, even if you haven’t read the books, because it manages to be entertaining and flesh out the world pretty nicely without knowledge of the book needed to prop things up. If you’ve seen an episode or two of the show and think you might like the books, then definitely read the books, because the books are, of course, always better. I need to get that phrase tattooed on my face or somewhere else easy to see, so I can point to it very intensely whenever people ask me that dumb “Which was better?” question. I still adore the Mortal Instrument books and am nervous about any other media touching them, but so far the TV series has been a welcome companion.

Pride and Prejudice vs. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Alright, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the movie came out last week, but if there’s a better movie to see with your loved one on Valentine’s Day, I don’t know what it is. Maybe Deadpool, but then, I am single and may not really know what I’m talking about when it comes to romance. Jane Austen sure did, though, and she was listed as the co-author for the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so seeing the movie will probably be a romantic experience. I don’t know. I haven’t seen the movie yet. I, being the purist I am, will try and read, or at least glance through, the book before I’ve seen the film.

I last read Pride and Prejudice a while ago, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies an even longer while ago. Yes, that means I read the zombie version first. I know what I like and I set my priorities accordingly. Anyhow, I was all excited to jog my memory for the movie and decided to also help people figure out if they should try a book out first, and whether that book should be the ironically-read original Pride and Prejudice or the movie’s source material, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

There is much to say for reading the Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s a classic romance, one that still has fan girls lusting after the main man centuries later. I do not think there will be any team Jacobs or team Edwards two hundred years from now, just saying. Austen creates compelling characters that stay compelling, and social commentary that stays relevant. Elizabeth and Darcy bickering together and the dramas of the Bennett family still play well with modern audiences because while Austen was technically talking about the prides and prejudices of her own time, (whoa, hold on, I just got the title, wow,) she captured something about human nature that could hold true through the ages. Mainly, it’s all about how people are self-involved idiots that would rather hold petty grudges than put down their prides and prejudices against other people than live a happy life, which is why we need friends and family to hit us upside the head sometimes. Just imagine that said much more eloquently with more corsets and petticoats, and you’ll get the basic gist of the novel itself. It’d sure be a fun contrast to read this classic before seeing its strange adaptation.

Okay, so Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has all of what I just talked about with the original, plus zombies. There’s a reason Jane Austen really is listed as the co-author of this book. The other author, Seth Grahame-Smith attempts in many ways to splice apart Jane Austen’s words and just add a dash of his own modern style. The first line of each book is probably one of the best examples of this.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

-Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Grahame-Smith spices the text up like so:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

-Seth Grahame Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Both of these are, indeed, universal truths worth remembering, but one is playfully recreating the other, and so it goes for the rest of the novel. I know Hollywood ruins the spirit of every book it touches. Grahame-Smiths first book adapted into a movie is a good reminder of that, but in the book the zombies are not simple gimmicks. They are an addition to the story meant to add an interesting alternative history, one with a Victorian era zombie apocalypse, and also to playfully enhance what the original novel has to say about romance in Victorian society. Lady Catherine’s condemnation of Elizabeth’s betrothal to Darcy goes from simple snobbery to a challenge to a duel with Catherine and her ninja henchmen, (yes, it’s actually Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Ninjas.) Charlotte, Elizabeth’s friend’s metaphorical death of freedom at her marriage for money to Mr. Collins is turned into a literal death in the book when it is revealed she’s been bitten and is slowly dying and turning into a zombie. As she is poisoned by society’s insistence that a wealthy marriage is her only goal in life, so her blood is poisoned by the virus of the damned and undead. It’s all a bit dark, of course. That’s how most things turn out when you add zombies. So, if you like things a bit dark and funny, but still plenty earnest and faithful where it counts, try reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Really, you can’t go wrong with either book, especially if your interested in reading them before the movie this Sunday. Happy Valentine’s Day everybody! May your true loves not be devoured by the undead this weekend, or any other weekend after that, really.

Which Classic Should You Read?

I have a habit of picking random classic works to read when I can’t decide what book to pick up next. It’s one of the few ways I can force history and culture upon myself when there are so many books about steampunk vampire assassins and other contemporary reads that would otherwise keep me occupied. I’m pretty bad at picking these classic books out for myself. Honestly, it’s sometimes just the first title that pops into my head. I’ve read enough, though, that I feel I could guide people to a nice old book that might actually meet their taste more than something randomly pulled off a shelf.

I’ve selected a few classic books I’ve read before and used them to create this magical book recommendation quiz! Answer these questions, keep track of those answers, (this isn’t a fancy Buzzfeed quiz, you have to tally them up yourselves, people,) and find out which of these books I think you should try based on your answers.

Why do you want to read a classic?

a. For the thrills and chills!

b. For interesting historical perspective.

c. To have a read you can really think over.

d. Because they just don’t right love stories like they used to.

When reading non-classic books, what genre do you enjoy?

a. Horror, supernatural usually.

b. Sci-Fi and Fantasy

c. A good crime thriller

d. Romance

What makes you hate a book the most?

a. Not enough terror.

b. When there’s nothing really imaginative in the whole story.

c. An obvious plot that doesn’t keep you guessing.

d. Characters with no chemistry.

Pick the TV show you enjoy the most.

a. Hannibal

b. Doctor Who

c. CSI

d. Downton Abbey

What do you most like to see in a protagonist?

a. Some who doesn’t lose their head when facing grave peril

b.Someone willing to go anywhere and do anything

c. Someone with a brilliant mind.

d. Some adorably feisty and not afraid to follow their heart.

What do you like most in a villain?

a. The darkest, sheer embodiment of evil

b. Some strange monster unlike anything the hero’s ever seen

c. Someone, perhaps the only one, as smart as the brilliant protaganist

d. A person representing the vices and vindictiveness of “polite” society

What should a setting do for the story?

a. Enhance the eerieness

b. Inspire awe and amazement

c. Provide clues when carefully observed

d. Provide a chance for social commentary

How would you like other people to perceive when they see you reading such a classy old book?

a. Classy and dark

b. Classy and whimsical

c. Classy and smart

d.  Classy and romantic

Do you want any animals in the book?

a.Yes. Creepy ones, like bats and wolves.

b. Yes. Really crazy, exotic creatures.

c.They’re not necessary, unless one is accused of murder.

d. Maybe some horses or farm animals for scenery. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter.

How do you want this classic book to end?

a. An epic, horrific battle

b.With a crazy, mind blowing ending that puts a whole new twist on how the book opened.

c. With a satisfyingly brilliant answer that cleverly explains everything.

d. A wedding! No, multiple weddings!

Results:

Mostly A’s: Congratulations, you got Dracula, by Bram Stoker. This classic still managed to terrify me, despite it being written over a hundred years ago. It’s an eerie gothic adventure told through diary entries, letters, and medical logs. If you’ve already read this, or want something else in a similar vein, try reading any of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories or the many wonderful works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Mostly B’s: You got H.G. Well’s Time Machine, one of the first ever popular books to explore time travel. In it, a Victorian gentleman travels far into the future and finds out what species evolved from the now ancient human race. Yeah, Doctor Who probably owes this story a royalty check or two. It’s got great moments of excitement and suspense, and, like all great science fiction, an underlying commentary on fears of the time that provide interesting insight into the story’s place in history. Any H.G. Wells other works are also great representatives of the birth of science fiction, as are the works of Jules Verne, if you are feeling Frenchy.

Mostly C’s: Get out there and grab a copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Few old mystery books will satisfy like these guys. Each story presents a mystery you can’t help but race against Sherlock Holmes to solve. Just because he usually beats you to the punch, doesn’t make these stories any less enjoyable. For other mystery classics, try the true granddaddy of the modern mystery genre, Edgar Allan Poe, whose Detective Dupin was actually the first of the now familiar genius crime solving figures in a story that laid out all the clues for the reader to mull over, or just follow along.

Mostly D’s: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is the book for you. Austen is one of the masters of telling a meaningful romance, with fleshed out characters and exploration of themes and issues beyond who looks hottest, the rich brunet or the rich blond? Over a hundred years later, people still find reasons to connect to and love these stories, so she definitely got something right. Other works to check out, if you already have this one under your belt or just want another title, would have to include any of Austen’s other works or perhaps the works of the Bronte sisters, another bunch of extremely talented romance writers. Really, though, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is coming to theaters soon so you should probably brush up on this one first.

I hope these books are all to your liking, in one way or another. They are just a few of some of the older classic I’ve read, and I’ve read only a very small portion of all the great classic books in this world, so don’t be afraid to explore some more titles on your own on goodreads.com or your favorite bookstore.