In Defense of Plain Old Books

 In Defense of YA, of Fantasy, of Classic Literature, and of Plain Old Books

91fqJvIH-8L._SL1500_I’ve always been an insatiable reader, and my family has generally been very supportive of that. My parents are readers, but I’ve always been the true book lover in the family, and generally if there was a book lying around the house, it was mine. While my mom’s taste runs to rustic memoirs and underdog success stories, my dad’s taste has always been very much more literary, reading classics and New Yorker recommendations with the occasional mystery novel thrown in. There are two things he absolutely can’t abide: fantasy and romance. And those two things are rendered even worse if they happen to be YA.

So while my dad was happy that I was reading, I quickly learned that he wasn’t about to hold his judgments back, especially as I got older and got more and more into fantasy and started discovering YA. The colorful, fantastical covers of my Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey novels started garnering unwanted attention. My dad would pick up the book I’d left on the kitchen table, grumble something incomprehensible, and demand, “Why are you reading this garbage?”

It got to the point where I wouldn’t leave my books around if I wasn’t reading them just because I didn’t want to deal with any snide comments. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad, but he was very clear about his opinions of my reading taste. If my reading selection didn’t have something to do with what he viewed as the real world, it was useless.

I was much too voracious of a reader to let that stop me from reading, but it did make me more embarrassed about my reading selections and gave me the sense that my reading choices were not something to be proud of. There was this sense (reinforced by summer reading lists and school assignments) that the only books worth reading were classics, award winners, those judged to be worthwhile by some anonymous panel. I read my fantasies in shame.

Fast forward to college. There, I was assigned the classics. My courses read Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, and Woolf, and among my English major friends, these were the authors we talked about. Students would name drop authors in class who I’d never heard of, authors I felt like I needed to have heard of to keep up with my peers. I started devoting more of my free time to reading the books I felt like I should be reading, even if they weren’t always the books I really wanted to read. YA and fantasy novels still felt like something I should be keeping a secret. It wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy most of the more “literary” works I was reading. I really did. But occasionally I was reading books just because one was supposed to, rather than because I was actually interested.Silas Marner

But then I encountered an outlook I’d never run into before. One of my friends observed me slogging through a minor Daniel Defoe work for my 18th Century Literature class and made a face. “Ugh,” he said. “I like to read, I really do, but couldn’t you pick something a little lighter?”

When I listed George Eliot and Dostoevsky among my favorite authors, another friend snorted. “Jeez, so literary! What about Harry Potter?”

I’d come full circle, it seemed, and found the people who looked at things rather differently than my dad. Rather than sniffing at my unrefined taste in books, my friends seemed put off by what they saw as my literary snobbery.

When I look at the situation now, it seems ridiculous. On one side, I had my dad telling me that one genre I liked to read was invalid, and on the other, my friends came down on me for reading what my dad had praised. Whichever way I turned, somebody thought they had the right to tell me what or what not to read.

And when I think about it, that’s what angers me most. Why should anybody have the right to dictate my reading choices? According to my dad, I’m not supposed to enjoy YA or fantasy novels, and according to my friends, the classics are boring. Well, joke’s on you guys: maybe you don’t think it’s possible, but I happen to enjoy YA, fantasy, AND classic novels. With a good smattering of mystery, sci-fi, contemporary fiction, and chick lit, too. And I won’t say no to the occasional non-fiction, either. I will genuinely read anything and everything, whether or not you tell me I should.

So this post isn’t a defense of YA or fantasy. It isn’t a defense of the classics, either. It is, overall, a defense of books themselves, of a reader’s right to choose his or her own reading material, and to enjoy reading what he or she wishes. Because there’s some grain of worth in even the most mindless of texts, simply in the act of reading itself.

Anybody else ever felt unnecessarily judged for their book choices? Let me know in the comments or by contacting me at natalie@curiosityquills.com!

 

Kindle or Kindling: Kindle has augmented my reading for the better

2009-0604-19-SeattleCentralLibrary

Seattle Central Library by Bobak Ha’Eri Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Let me start this post by saying that, like Holly, who wrote the introduction to this series, I, too, have always considered myself to be a book purist. I own over a thousand physical titles (yes, I know I have a problem) and occasionally I’ll rearrange them when I get tired of the current organization. (It’s currently alphabetical by author’s last name by genre. I have weird hobbies.) I love the feeling of a book in my hands. I love flipping through the pages. I love when I can find a quote I loved just by a vague memory of how early it was in the book and the location of the text on the page. And as you might be able to tell, I’m something of a book hoarder – sometimes I’ll just HAVE to own a book, even if I know I won’t actually read it for a long time, if ever, or if I’ll only every read it once.

I remember when I first heard about e-readers. Ugh, no, I thought. Who wants to read on a screen? Over the next several years, my opinions never changed. Why would I need a screen to read on when I already had an obviously superior print collection at home and an endless supply of more from the fantastic Seattle Public Library?

But then, in July 2013, I left Seattle to spend five weeks in Paris, participating in a homestay program and attending a few classes. While I knew I’d make friends through the program, I was going alone, and, knowing that I’d have plenty of hours spent on the planes and metro rides around the city, I brought with me a hefty stack of books.

It wasn’t a mistake – if anything, travel time ended up being even more than what I’d estimated, and I ran through my entire stack as well as a couple French novels I bought while I was there. But knowing that I’d successfully read all those books didn’t make them any less heavy when I was dragging them through the airport.

I got all my books home – barely. But after that trip, I went over my other travel experiences in my mind, and realized that I am ALWAYS that person with the giant, overflowing carryon who boards the plane sweaty from lugging everything across the airport. And usually, it was because I had a bag full of books. Maybe it was time to rethink this model. Maybe it was time to get a Kindle.

Kindle_Paperwhite_WiFi

Kindle Paperwhite WiFi by Frmorrison. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Once the idea entered my head, it didn’t leave, and I slowly grew more receptive to the idea of embracing my mortal enemy. I did a lot of research, and finally settled on the Kindle Paperwhite.

There were a few things I loved about my kindle right away, solely based on the fact that I was still in college when I got it. First, although I had grown up reading before bed, I had a roommate in college who always went to bed before me. With my Paperwhite’s built-in frontlighting, I was able to read before I went to sleep again. Also, in case some people are wondering, I’ve never had an issue with my eyes and the Paperwhite’s lighting – the frontlight technology works perfectly. Second, as an English major, I read a lot of classics, and while I’d always buy the print versions for class, I took to downloading the (often free) e-books as well, so that I didn’t have to lug the print copies around campus and could get some reading done before bed.

But there was one other benefit I noticed only after I was a few months (and a few books) into ownership. The first few books I read on my Kindle weren’t small – I started with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and continued with Hilary Mantel’s enormous 15th century epic, Wolf Hall. I don’t know if anybody else has this problem, but sometimes if I’m reading a bigger book, especially if it’s a little dense, I just get stuck in the middle. Even if I’m enjoying it. It might be something about the visual of being only so far through a tome and the knowledge of how far I have to go before I reach the end. Whatever it is, I started to notice that reading on a Kindle got rid of that problem for me. Even the 500+ pages of Wolf Hall seemed to fly by.

Having noticed that, I was sold. I love my Kindle for its lightweight design, huge storage space, and unlimited access – and I also like how I read on my Kindle.

This isn’t to say that I’m totally converted. Nothing’s going to replace print books for me; I love them just a little bit too much. You can’t rifle through pages or mark a spot with your thumb on a Kindle. But I’m not against admitting that my Kindle has augmented my reading for the better. So, while I’m never going to switch entirely over, I will welcome my Kindle as a tool in my reading arsenal.

Agree? Disagree? Do you read everything on your e-reader or shun anything but paper and ink? On the fence or thinking about converting to the electronic word? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or by emailing me at natalie@curiosityquills.com!

Editor’s Notes: The Kindle or Kindling: An Introduction post from guest blogger Holly can be found here, and Social Media Manager Clare Dugmore’s Kindle or Kindling post can be found here.

 

Vampire Fiction

Even as a young teenager, I never understood the Twilight phenomenon. I slogged my way through the first one and gave up halfway through the second. I disliked Meyer’s writing style and didn’t find her stories compelling, even at the age of fourteen.

But I’ve never begrudged Meyer her success; really, I was glad to see some of my friends who rarely picked up a book into a series. And I truly believe that Stephenie Meyer has encouraged a generation of teenagers to read who maybe missed the majority of the Harry Potter train, so I’m grateful to her for that.

But I’m not grateful for what she did to vampires.

I’m not even really into vampire stuff. I never read Anne Rice, and I’ve only seen a few seasons of Buffy. I don’t watch True Blood. But even I noticed as Meyer’s books transformed the popular image of vampires from terrifying creatures of the night into sparkling, brooding love interests. Go to any Barnes and Noble; the teen new release section is packed with them. And I’ve avoided most of them.

Recently I started a new novel on my Kindle that I picked up for cheap on a promotion – The Color of Light by Helen Maryles Shankman. I didn’t know much about it; I bought it on a whim. I had no idea it was about vampires. When I realized that it was, within the first thirty pages, my heart fell. Not another one! But I was on a bus and I’d already started reading, so I decided to give the book a chance and continue. At first I was glad I did – while there were some jarring mistakes in the Kindle edition, the story was compelling, and I appreciated the art side of the story. But as I neared halfway through, our vampire character, Raphael Sinclair, began to take on some distinctively Edward-like characteristics. I started predicting the plot before it happened. And the book went downhill. Still enjoyable, just not what I wanted.

Why do vampire novels have to be romances? And why do romantic vampires turn into Edward Cullen? If you’re interested in vampires, but don’t really want the romance or the sparkles, here are a few of my favorite suggestions.

carpe-jugulum-2Carpe Jugulum, and many more, by Terry Pratchett

If you’ve read any Pratchett, you probably have a guess at how he looks at vampires. Carpe Jugulum is a hilarious romp of a pastiche that takes the reader through every possible vampire cliché and out the other side into absurdity, featuring some younger vampires who wear bright colors and stay up until noon in a parody of goth culture. While this novel is entirely devoted to vampires, many of Pratchett’s other Discworld novels feature fantastic vampire supporting characters. The most notable thing about Pratchett’s vampires is that he seems to view the whole blood thing as an addiction similar to alcoholism. The vampires of the Temperance League (the black ribboners) have sworn off human blood and instead transferred their addiction to something else, coffee being a popular option. Pratchett’s vampires are perfect for anybody looking for a totally different take on the creatures, as he refuses, like he does with everything else, to take them seriously.

bc213275b55d04b1c4f9550c64d76819Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley is probably best known for The Hero and the Crown as well as her fairy tale retellings – she’s done Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, and two versions of Beauty and the Beast, her self-professed favorite. But in Sunshine, she proves she takes on modern just as well as medieval, and her vampires are totally unlike most of those seen in YA novels. Sunshine is just working at a bakery when she decides to take a walk and is abducted by the vampires that are in control of much of her world. Her escape and return with vampire Constantine, a wonderfully human character, bring only more questions. McKinley is known for is her strong female characters, and Sunshine doesn’t disappoint – she’s just as kickass as Aerin from The Hero and the Crown, just minus the sword. To cap it all off, McKinley’s prose is some of the most gorgeous in the business – Sunshine is not to be missed.

9780143004790Peeps – Scott Westerfeld

When he wasn’t writing the Uglies series, turns out Scott Westerfeld was putting out some pretty messed up parasite writing. That’s right – in Peeps, vampires are real, and vampirism is actually a disease you get from a parasite. The book also includes blurbs about other parasites throughout, leaving you with plenty of information that you never really wanted to know. Following Cal, a carrier of the disease who infected three of his ex-girlfriends, Peeps shows us the modern vampire hunter in the gritty setting of NYC, combining the fantastic nature of the vampire story with Westerfeld’s gift for stunning realism. If you’re tired the image of the cape-swirling, bat-transforming vampire as well as the sparking love interest vampire and ready for something a little creepier, something that hits a little closer to home, you might really enjoy Peeps – and there are sequels, too!

I’m always on the lookout for a fresh take on old themes – let me know if I’ve missed anything or if you have any recommendations for me by commenting below or emailing me at natalie@curiosityquills.com!

 

Folklore Friday: Michael Scott

Curiosity Quills recently had the honor of interviewing bestselling Irish author, and collector and editor of folklore Michael Scott.

irish-folk-and-fairy-tales-1

Irish Folk and Fairy Tales, volume 1: published 1983

How did you become interested in Irish Folklore?

I grew up in Ireland, a country where myth and legend were still very real and present. There are stories aplenty of farmers who refuse to dig up certain trees or cut down bushes because they are sacred to the faery folk. And these are not old stories either; when the famous De Lorean car factory opened in Northern Ireland, two fairy thorn bushes were cut down at the entrance to the factory, against the wishes and advice of the locals. They knew there would be trouble ahead!

Ireland’s folklore is very rich and, for the most part, unique to the island. Because Ireland was not invaded by the Romans or conquered by the Greeks, the stories remained pure and were passed down from generation to generation in an unbroken oral tradition. When the Christian monks first arrived they recorded (and both Christianized and sanitized) some of the stories, but a huge body of the material was never translated from the Irish language.

Growing up, I had always been interested in Irish folklore, especially once I discovered its links to Arthurian lore. So much of Arthur’s story can be found in Irish myth. So, I began to collect stories from across Ireland, especially in the West where Irish is still spoken as a native language. I was lucky to be working as an antiquarian and rare book dealer, which allowed me to travel across the country and collect the stories at source. When I came to write my first book, Irish Folk & Fairy Tales, it seemed obvious to put into print stories which either had never before been told in English or to retell the traditional stories in a modern idiom. Sometimes the purists would be offended because I had changed the story slightly, but my argument is that these stories are part of an oral tradition. The travelling storyteller, the shanachai, would have altered and changed the story slightly depending on the audience.

Looking at your past publications, you seem almost perfectly divided between books on folklore and fairy tales and novels, and many of your novels deal with that same folklore. Do you consider yourself to be a folklorist or an author first? Or are the two intertwined for you?

Alchemyst_Nicholas_Flamel

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, published 2007

I am a writer who has been very lucky to write about what interests me. I started with Irish folklore, and then branched out into Celtic, then Norse and German lore. Now, my interest encompasses world mythology. My last series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, allowed me to explore world folklore and the often startling similarities between stories which are separated by centuries and continents.

Also, every story has its basis in myth. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey perfectly illustrates that. All the modern superhero movies are based out of mythology – some, like Thor and the Asgardians, very explicitly – while, at the same time creating their own complex myth systems. Humans have always had the need for Gods and Heros and when we cannot find them, we make them up.

I noticed that some of your books on folklore are intended for adults and some aimed more at a YA or children’s audience. How do you accommodate comprehension differences for each, and choose which tales should be told to each audience?

My writing is now split more or less 50/50 between adults and young adults. Writing for a younger audience is really a matter of understanding your audience and, more importantly, understanding what they understand. Younger readers are incredibly sophisticated and have been exposed to a vast amount of media. However, they are still children.

If I say to you, as an adult, Bay of Pigs, you will instantly start thinking about Cuba, Castro and Kennedy. Children, depending on the age, will think: a bay with pigs swimming in it.

So, you have to know your audience. You have to know what they are reading, watching, wearing and listening to. They are incredibly attentive readers and will spot your errors (and then email, tweet and Facebook you!) Adults, in the main, are not so attentive to some of the smaller and subtle details in a novel.

Usually, the subject matter will dictate how I tell a story and for which audience. What I do find interesting are the huge numbers of adults who are now reading Young Adult material. I think adults come to YA because they have found that these are “pure” stories, not overly violent, not explicit and without a political message. They are just stories.

What do you think of mainstream media depictions of Irish folklore? Would you like to see more or fewer of them? I’m thinking recently of The Secret of Kells, but I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed.

For far too long Ireland was thought of as the land of leprechauns and little people, which is a shame, because it is much, much more than that, with one of the richest folklore and legend systems in the world, and an unbroken storytelling tradition stretching back thousands of years. It is a folklore that has fascinated generations of writers. Ireland has four Nobel Prize winners for literature, (Heaney, Beckett, Shaw and Yeats) all of who touched upon the country’s mythic stories. In any roll call of the world’s most important writers, in just about any genre, you will find plenty of Irish representatives. One of the greatest horror creations of all time, Dracula, was created by an Irishman, Bram Stoker.

But the media perception is that Irish folktales are all about leprechauns. And, don’t get me wrong, while there is a vast body of wonderful lore about the Little People. However, if you knew the truth about Leprechauns and the rest of their clans, the Fir Dearg, Fir Dorcha and Cluricauns, you might not be so quick to have them on a breakfast cereal box. Disney has a lot to answer for with the 1959 movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People. It absolutely enshrined a particular image of Irish folklore – although having said that, some of the imagery is fabulous. Disney’s intentions were good. They wanted to make a movie about Irish folklore and even worked with the Irish Folklore Department for some time before deciding to film Herminie Templeton Kavanagh’s Darby O’Gill and the Good People. We know that Herminie was born in England in 1861 and we know she spent at least one year in Ireland, possibly in 1906 before she married a judge from Chicago. Her knowledge of Irish folklore was extremely limited and there is no evidence that she either spoke or read Irish. She said she got a lot of the stories from her driver and indeed, some of them have a twee touristy fee to them. Unfortunately, however, these are the images which stick.

Mystic_Knights_logo

1990’s children’s fantasy TV series The Mystic Knights of Tir na nOg

There was a program in the late 1990’s called The Mystic Knights of Tir na nOg which was terrible and although it was shot in Ireland, and supposed to be “based” around Irish myth, it showed its Power Rangers roots (and costumes!)

Some fantasy movies have borrowed from Celtic myth: Excalibur, of course, which was shot in Wicklow, south of Dublin. The Lord of the Rings has deep Celtic roots, but then again, JRR Tolkien was also borrowing from Celtic myth for his original creation. Conan (the Schwarzenegger version) has some trappings from Irish myth, and again, his creator, R E Howard, loved Irish myth. Two of his greatest heros, Conan and Bran Mac Morn, are obvious Celts.

What this does mean is that no-one has done it. Yet. But it will happen. Sooner or later Hollywood will discover Celtic myth.

Do you have a favorite fairy/folk tale, Irish or otherwise?

It has to be The Children of Lir, the story of the four children changed into swans by their evil step mother. They spend 900 years as swans before returning to their human form. This incredibly ancient legend is one of the Three Sorrows of Irish Storytelling. My first book for children was based around this legend and it has always remained a particular favorite of mine because it is ultimately the story of trust, family and redemption. You can find examples of the story from all across the world.

Do you have a favorite folk/fairy-related novel or movie?

Far too many to mention. I love big mythic fantasy, especially writers like Charles de Lint and China Mieville, Andre Norton and David Gemmell, Susan Cooper and James Cabell.

But for anyone interested in myth, and its continuing power, then the works of Joseph Campbell are essential reading. Start with The Hero with a Thousand Faces and go on from there.

Tea, coffee, or scotch? 

Tea. I drink endless cups. Strong black tea in the morning, then an Earl Grey in the afternoon and finally, green tea for the rest of the evening.

800px-Hans_Zimmer_2010

German film composer Hans Zimmer

We know from previous interviews that you have a large collection of instrumental music to write to. If you could choose anyone, dead or alive, to compose a writing soundtrack for you, who would it be?

Ah, an easy question. A couple of years ago, I was introduced to a composer I had been following for a decades. His name was Hans Zimmer. I even got to sit in his composing chair in his stunning studio. (Plus, I have the photos to prove it!) At that stage, The Flamel series was already in development as a movie, and we discussed the possibility that he would do the score. His music is essentially another “character” in whatever film he works on and I wrote some of the big set pieces in the Flamel series to his music. However, I know Hans is booked for what seems like the next decade and I’m guessing he’s not going to be available.

I’ve been following the work of a young composer called Bear McCreary since his music first appeared in the TV series, Battlestar Galactica. I’m a big fan of his music and his recent scores for Da Vinci’s Demons is nothing short of stunning. He has just scored Outlander with a great Scottish/Celtic sound and I would love him to score the new Flamel movie. It would be fascinating to see what he would do with the different myths, legends, ethnicities and eras in the story. The finale of The Enchantress was written to his Caprica.

You’ve worked with an array of publishers over the years for your many works. Do you have any knowledge or advice about working with publishers that you can share? Any efforts that really impressed you in particular?

Do your research and choose your publisher. If you are pitching a manuscript or an idea, make sure it is appropriate to that publishing house. The stories of authors pitching a gothic romance to a publisher who specializes in westerns or science fiction to a non-fiction publisher are tongue-in-cheek, but they are also based on a kernel of truth.

Before choosing a publisher, read some of the work the publisher has put out and, if you get a chance, try and talk to the authors. This is especially true if it is a small publisher.

Be professional. Remember, publishers really do want to you walk in the door with the next Stephen King. It is their job to make your good book great. If there are editorial suggestions (and there will be), try to look at them as coolly as possible. I’ve known too many authors who did not work well with editors … and now they do not work.

The Affair, written as Anna Dillon

The Affair, written as Anna Dillon

You’ve published extensively under the pseudonym Anna Dillon. Do you write differently depending on which name will be on the book cover? Do you start books knowing they’ll be either a Dillon or a Scott work? Also, it looks like most Dillon books are out of print in the US – any plans to bring some of them back?

Yes, the Anna Dillon persona is very different and she writes very different books to me. “Anna” was originally created because I wanted to write a big historical novel set in Dublin in the years leading up to the 1916 Easter Rising. Inasmuch as this story focused on the women, my publishers felt that this was Historical Romance and Historical Romances were best written by women. So I started writing as Anna Dillon and soon “Anna” was outselling my other work and was a much more successful author. To be honest, the pseudonym was never that much of a secret.   (It cannot be that much of a secret if “Anna’s” webpages are linked to mine, can it?)

The style of the Anna Dillon novels is different to the Michael Scott work. “Her” books are slower, more character-driven pieces. With the exception of the historical Season’s novels, everything else is contemporary. Many of the Michael Scott books have huge casts of characters; all of the Anna Dillon titles have small casts. The MS books are big, sprawling, and full of fantasy and monsters, the AD books are about real people in real situations.

Yes, Anna continues to write. I am hoping for the new book to appear at the end of 2015 or early 2016

I am often asked what you need to become a writer and is it possible for anyone to be a writer. I really do believe that anyone can write – because writing, just like anything else, is practice, practice, practice. I think this is a great age to be a writer, because there are now so many ways to get your work before the readers.

To become a writer, you need to be a reader. I know this may sound stupid or obvious, but you need to read in as broad a range of genres as possible. One of the first questions I will ask a new writer is what they last read. If they say, “Oh, I’ve no time to read…” Then I know that they will never become a writer.

Writers read.

And writers write. You do it every day. Even if you throw it away the following day, you have to write every day. Writing is all about practice, putting words on paper or screen.

Learn how to type. Do a keyboard skills course, so you can touch type. It is an essential skill and will save your hands endless agony in years to come.

And finally, get a comfortable chair: writing is all about sitting in the chair, putting fingers to keys, or taking pen in hand … and writing.

Mike_promo_picAbout Michael Scott:

Irish-born Michael Scott began writing over thirty years ago, and is one of Ireland’s most successful and prolific authors, with over one hundred titles to his credit, spanning a
variety of genres, including Fantasy, Science Fiction and Folklore.

He writes for both adults and young adults and is published in thirty-seven countries, in over twenty languages.

Praised for his “unparalleled contribution to children’s literature,” by the Guide to Children’s Books, Michael Scott was the Writer in Residence during Dublin’s tenure as European City of Culture in 1991, and was featured in the 2006 edition of Who’s Who in Ireland as one of the 1000 most “significant Irish.”

Find Michael Scott Online:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube | Pinterest | Goodreads | Fan Portal

How I Live Now

how_i_live_nowWarning – How I Live Now spoilers ahead!

Some years ago, I was introduced to Meg Rosoff through her novel Just in Case, which I liked so much that I’m afraid to revisit it for fear of ruining my memory of it. Soon after, I read her novel How I Live Now (2004), the story of a young American girl sent to live with her cousins in England on the brink of World War III.

When I saw the How I Live Now (2013) movie on Netflix Instant Play, I immediately added it to my list and watched it within the next few days. While I enjoyed the movie overall, there were some inevitable differences that come with adaptations.

The movie differs from the book in a number of ways, some big, some smaller. The first thing I noticed was the number of Daisy’s cousins. In the novel, Daisy has four: Osbert, the oldest, who looks after the siblings when Aunt Penn isn’t around; Edmond and Isaac, twins; and Piper, the youngest and the only girl. In the film, presumably for simplicity, Osbert has been eliminated; now, Daisy has only three cousins, and Edmond has been made the oldest. While I’m always one for remaining true to the book, this choice did make sense to me. Osbert’s role is without a doubt the smallest of the siblings in the novel, and Daisy’s relationship with him is much less fleshed out. Combining his role with Edmond’s worked just fine.

In general, most of the smaller, plot-smoothing changes like this one worked well, and one thing the movie did absolutely perfectly was capture the atmosphere of the cousins’ country home. In the movie, as in the book, Aunt Penn disappears almost immediately after Daisy’s arrival, and the children are left to fend for themselves. While this could be a disastrous situation for some children, Daisy and her cousins instead enjoy a charmed life, living freely in happily in their bountiful, gorgeous countryside home. Though Aunt Penn is gone, and though the children know there’s a war on in London and elsewhere, their paradise home makes it seem as if nothing could touch them. The movie conveys this feeling exactly with shot after shot of idyllic summer life and summer love – despite any hints of trouble brewing on the continent, it’s hard to imagine it actually affecting the family.

And speaking of summer love – anybody watching might be a little confused by Daisy and Edmond’s developing relationship. Netflix is full of baffled reviewers – “Isn’t he her cousin?!? Gross!!” The film makes no attempt to explain or address the relationship, treating it as simply natural, an approach that worked in the book only with Daisy’s own 1st person observations to back it up. With no real commentary in the film, though, the relationship appears slightly weird and off-putting. What could pass unnoticed in the 1800s (The Importance of Being Earnest, anyone?) needs some explaining in the 2000s and lends some unsettling uncertainty to the film.How-I-Live-Now

This same lack of explanation comes into play in the film’s ending. Much of what the story of How I Live Now does well is capture the terrifying uncertainty of war. It does so partly through an unnamed, unknowable enemy, who poses a terrible, uncertain threat, and partly through its protagonists’ ages: as children, Daisy and her cousins never quite seem to understand the threat they’re facing. The movie does extremely well at portraying this ambiance. But while Rosoff takes plenty of time at the end of the novel to tie up loose ends and explain some of the previously hazy aspects of the war, the film seems to sort of just end, leaving some of the most important questions unanswered and delivering an unsatisfying final punch. Additionally, I won’t say who, but the film includes a death that doesn’t exist in the book, seemingly for no reason. While I don’t think this death totally ruined the movie, it did make the ending that much bleaker.

Plot changes aside, while the movie ruined a few of the details, the director did an overall fantastic job of capturing the feel of the book, of making viewers feel both the idyllic peace of the English countryside prior to the war and subsequently the terrifying unknown of it all. Details are important, of course, but I’d much rather a movie feel right than ensure total factual accuracy.

The biggest thing, for me, and the most unforgivable, was Daisy’s character in the beginning of the movie. Daisy is portrayed as a spoiled, angsty punk teenager who spends her life plugged into her iPod and wants nothing to do with her cousins. Daisy shows a few of these traits in the book – she’s antisocial and shy, and occasionally whines for her cell phone to work – but the director makes her positively unlikeable. Not to mention, the book’s 1st person narration lets the reader see inside Daisy’s head, giving a psychological perspective that the movie completely glosses over and explaining away any faults book Daisy might have. If film Daisy hadn’t shaped up quite so quickly, her annoying bad attitude may well have ruined the movie.

Overall, the How I Live Now film has some questionable changes and the director made a few iffy choices, most of which I do not agree with. But none of these changes was big enough to ruin the film, particularly with the fantastic job the director did on capturing the feel of the novel. If you watch How I Live Now without having read the book, you might feel like you missed something. But as a companion to the book, How I Live Now does a great job of bringing the characters and especially the setting to life, and both fans and non-fans of the book alike will have no trouble enjoying the emotional ride.

 

Neil Gaiman and American Gods

Neil GaimanI don’t know why it took me so long to really truly get in to Neil Gaiman. It definitely wasn’t a love-at-first-read situation; I didn’t pick up one of his novels and subsequently read all the rest I could get my hands on. Rather, my relationship with Gaiman has turned out to be much slower, but still enduring.

I first encountered Gaiman by way of Terry Pratchett, one of my all time favorites, in their excellent work Good Omens. I was probably (definitely) too young at the time to get all the jokes, but what I understood I loved, and from that point forward, “Gaiman” was a good name in my book. But, overshadowed by my already established love for Pratchett, I didn’t really go looking for anything else. A few years later I stumbled on Stardust, which I liked a lot, and a few years after that I read The Graveyard Book when I received it as a gift. Coraline was next after a year or so, and I very much liked it, but for some reason, nothing pushed me to find more. I picked up Neverwhere on a whim when I glimpsed a copy at a used bookstore, but school obligations prevented me from looking at anything else after finishing and loving it. Somehow, despite enjoying all the Gaiman I’d encountered, I kept putting off actually looking for more.

Recently, though, an ad from Amazon alerted me to the fact that American Gods was on sale that day at the discounted price of $3.99. “Hey, I think I like Neil Gaiman,” I thought, and clicked buy.

That night, I opened the book on my Kindle, and started reading. And reading. After all that Gaiman, something finally clicked for me with American Gods and Shadow. I finished the book in a marathon read on a plane ride and, for the rest of the flight, just sat there thinking.

What was it about American Gods that made such a different impression on me from any of Gaiman’s other work? The other books I’d read required so much more world-building; presumably that would take more creativity, too.

But when you get down to it, what Gaiman does in American Gods is on a completely different scale than his other works. Rather than developing his own little fantasy niche, in AAmerican Godsmerican Gods, Gaiman takes pretty much every mythology from around the world as his base and works off of it, creating his own world through the intertwining of all of these other ones. While most people see mythologies and folklore as belonging to their specific places of origin, Gaiman shows his readers his vision of one giant, world-crossing webbed mythology, and through that, he projects the modern mythology of his own creation.

What’s most impressive is Gaiman’s masterful handling of this huge endeavor. Despite all of the threads he’s juggling, nothing feels forced, and no plot point is out of place. Big, quiet Shadow is the perfect conduit for such a packed tale, and through his eyes, Gaiman takes his readers not only on a tour of the world’s folklore but also on a journey across most of the continental United States.

We meet big names, like Odin and Anansi, but we also meet the smaller ones, rusalkas, dryads and leprechauns. Gaiman has a knack for humanizing the superhuman, but his human characters shine on the page as well. Let’s not forget that alongside the epic, save-the-world, mythologies converging plotline that covers most of the book, Gaiman also manages to squeeze in a small-town murder mystery in Lakeside.

Basically, what I’m trying to say here is wow. American Gods impressed me with its scope, story, and characters. It was violent without being crass, historical while still being original, and epic without going overboard. And I think it might have finally converted me to Neil Gaiman – though with all the stuff I accidentally read before, I might have been converted earlier without even knowing it. This time, though, I’ve requested Anansi Boys and the first Sandman book from the library.

So who knows why it took me so long, but I’m finally going to go out and say it – I’m a Neil Gaiman fan. I’m sure there are tons more of you out there. Did anybody else run into the same sort of Gaiman wall that I did? Did I come at himfrom the wrong direction or something? Start with the wrong book? Are there favorites I’ve completely missed? Comment below or email me at natalie@curiosityquills.com to let me know about your own Gaiman experiences!