Friday, April 1, 2011

2011 Book Report: First Quarter

New year, new book count. Will I be able to hit that magic 100-book count this year (last year I read 104 books), or will I be swallowed up by research for the book I'm writing? Will I read more books on my new e-reader, or will paper still rule? Let's check my first-quarter progress.

Key: C: Children's; F: Fantasy; H: Historical; Hr: Horror; M: Mystery; MG: Middle Grade (ages 8-12); NF: Nonfiction; P: Poetry; SF: Science Fiction; SS: Short Stories; V: Verse novel; YA: Young Adult (age 13+); *not in the last ten years at least; ^for work; #e-book.

01/02/11: E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (YA,1)
01/07/11: Margo Lanahan, Tender Morsels (YA, F, 1)
01/08/11: Matthew Josephson, The Robber Barons^ (NF, 1)
01/12/11: Robert W. Cherny, American Politics in the Gilded Age^ (NF, 1)
01/13/11: Terry Pratchett, Nation (YA, H/SF, 1)
01/16/11: Melina Marchetta, Jellicoe Road (YA, 1)
01/19/11: Sean Dennis Cashman, America in the Gilded Age^ (NF, 1)
01/22/11: David Weber, The Short Victorious War# (SF, 5?)
01/24/11: Alan Trachtenburg, The Incorporation of America^ (NF, 1)
01/29/11: Adam Rapp, Punkzilla (YA, 1)
01/29/11: Mark Wahlgren Summers, The Gilded Age, or, The Hazard of New Functions^ (NF, 1)
02/01/11: Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith (NF, YA, 1)
02/06/11: James T. Wall, Wall Street and the Fruited Plain^ (NF, 1)
02/09/11: Charles. W. Calhoun, From Bloody Shirt to Full Dinner Pail^ (NF, 1)
02/11/11: Rick Yancey, The Monstrumologist (YA, Hr, 1)
02/13/11: Calhoun, editor, The Gilded Age^ (NF, 1)
02/15/11: Libba Bray, Going Bovine# (YA, 1)
02/20/11: Jack Beatty, Age of Betrayal^ (NF, 1)
02/22/11: John Barnes, Tales of the Madmen Underground (YA, 1)
02/23/11: Elmus Wicker, Banking Panics of the Gilded Age^ (NF, 1)
02/28/11: T. J. Stiles, editor, Robber Barons and Radicals^ (NF, 1)
03/02/11: Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age^# (classic, 1)
03/11/11: William C. Davis, The American Frontier^ (NF, 1)
03/15/11: Jane Austen, Emma# (classic, 6-7?)
03/28/11: Stephen Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World^ (NF, 1)
03/29/11: Andrew Carnegie, The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie^# (NF, 1)
03/30/11: M. John Lubetkin, Jay Cooke's Gamble^ (NF, 1)
03/31/11: Roy Morris, Jr., Fraud of the Century^ (NF, 1)

That's a whopping total of 28 books read this quarter ... and if I was adding up half a book here and there, it would be more. I thought that might be cheating, though, so I only counted the 17 books I read cover to cover for my current project.

So what was my favorite book of the quarter? I bet you were thinking I'd choose something exciting like Banking Panics of the Gilded Age, but the one I really enjoyed was the first of the year: E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. It some ways it was a typical funny school story of relationships and hijinks, but it also had interesting things to say about friends and gender roles. It was both a lot of fun and thought-provoking, something I always enjoy in my reading.

I'm going to be provoking lots more thoughts next quarter; I still have a stack of 9 books for work to browse through, with more to keep coming. Will I have much time for anything else? Check back in three months and see.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Janespotting: Emma (1972 miniseries)

As one of Austen's most popular novels, Emma has been adapted for film and television multiple times, including twice in 1996 alone. I doubt I'll be able to view all of these adaptations, considering the earliest was in 1948, but I'm going to do my best. I'm particularly wanting to get the 1960 BBC miniseries with David McCallum, currently playing "Ducky" on NCIS, as Frank Churchill, but since I can't find it on DVD/tape anywhere, I'm starting with a later BBC version.

The 1972 BBC miniseries of Emma—amazingly, available at my library—is six 42-minute episodes. At nearly 4½ hours, that's long enough to be extremely faithful ... or extremely boring. You never know what to expect with some of these older adaptations, which can be overly formal, strangely decorated, or otherwise not suitable for modern tastes. This one was a pleasant surprise. The sets and costumes were appropriate, the direction was paced well and didn't call attention to itself, and the acting was, for the most part, restrained.

I did have some quibbles with the acting/casting choices, however. While the actress playing the title role was the right age for the part, she played Emma with a certain smugness I found off-putting. Her verbal sparring matches with Mr. Knightley were playful, but there was an unpleasant edge to them, like Emma cared more about winning the argument than listening to her friend. 

There were also some particularly weird changes concerning Jane Fairfax. First, on the occasion in the book that Emma and Harriet visit Miss Bates and end up hearing a letter from Jane Fairfax, instead she actually is in residence. Instead of the Dixons being the daughter and son-in-law of the Campbells, the family who took Jane in, they are a couple Jane meets on holiday who have offered her a position as governess. And when Miss Bates reveals that the Dixons have made such an offer, Jane Fairfax becomes upset that Miss Bates has revealed anything—to the point where she objects furiously, something out of character for someone who is supposed to be so reserved.

Why vary from the story, if not for time considerations? After watching for a while, it seemed as if the writer wanted the viewers to understand what was going on before Emma does. So we see Jane Fairfax clearly upset and hiding something, where in the book it's unclear why she is waiting to get a governess position. We get a new scene showing Harriet the day after the dance with Mr. Knightley, swooning over the chance to go to Donwell; in the book we are surprised along with Emma to learn that Harriet considers this dance a big service, not Frank Churchill saving her from gypsies.

Strangest of all, the writer removed both Mr. Elton and Jane Fairfax from the outing on Box Hill. Presumably getting rid of Elton was to emphasize that Mrs. Elton was taking liberties with leadership of Mr. Knightley's party, but that was already shown in the strawberry picking party. But by removing Jane as a witness to Frank and Emma's flirtation, there's no reason for her to suddenly accept a governess position and reject Emma's advances of friendship. After making Jane's discomfort so obvious before, that seems a strange choice.

Lastly, the ending had the characters seeming oddly direct for circumspect Austen characters. Emma never directly apologized to Miss Bates for insulting her in the book, but that awkward scene is in the film. In the book Mr. Wodehouse never says no to Emma's match with Mr. Knightley, although "he tried earnestly to dissuade her from it," but in the film he forbids it, briefly, before the report of hen thieves changes his mind.

While overall this was a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel, the changes they did make seemed to underestimate the viewers' intelligence, and also undermine Emma's character. When you read the book, Emma seems charming in her conviction, and we are just as surprised as she is when her matchmaking comes back to haunt her. In the film version, Emma seems a little snotty, even more so as we see how wrong she is while she continues in her mistakes. So while this was a very watchable version of Emma, it wasn't entirely satisfactory. Next time we'll see what differences condensing the story into a feature-length film can make.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Photo of the Week--3/28/11

I love to get up high to take a picture of a city. Luckily, there are many such Alcazars (high towers) you can climb in Spanish cities. This one was in Jerez, a lovely city even before you go on the sherry tour. We had another beautiful Mediterranean sky, and I'd really love to be somewhere with palm trees right about now!