William Makepeace Thackeray’s Disturbing Drawings (The Paris Review)

William Makepeace Thackeray was a weird, hilarious dude, and I’m happy we share a home planet. I’m also happy I came across this collection of his drawings, which merit both acclaim and a “WTF?” or two.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

NOT by W.M.T. This is a random scarecrow.

NOT by W.M.T. This is a random scarecrow.

Literary-Inspired Halloween Costumes (Book Riot)

What did people even do for Halloween costume inspiration in the pre-Internet era? If Google weren’t here to do my thinking for me, I would show up to every single costume party as Kate Middleton (a prim dress, fascinator, and heels are all it takes).

Anyway, if (like me) you’re all out of ideas, Book Riot is here to save your Halloween with five literary-inspired costumes. In a perfect world, Keira Knightley would lend me her Anna Karenina ballgown. Barring that, I’ll probably go as The Lorax. Or maybe The Sexy Lorax.

Let’s Talk About The Maze Runner. Also Gone Girl.

I’ve been on a cinema spree the last couple of weeks, if “spree” can mean two whole movies. I think the term applies here. Both films were based on books and (therefore) highly anticipated. And happily, my ROI was high: both were thoroughly entertaining movie-going experiences, and both provided plenty of conversation fodder for the journey home.

I’m far from being a qualified film reviewer, but I’m a seasoned opinion-haver. And while my own half-assed critiques are more than a little superfluous alongside all the others, both professional and amateur, I’m charging into this territory anyway.

First up: The Maze Runner. I read the book and mostly hated it. James Dashner took an intriguing plot concept (teenagers must solve a giant maze to survive) and ruined it in every possible way. The characters are poorly developed; the dialogue is phony; the pacing is sloppy; the writing is uninspired and repetitive. How’s that for a thesis statement?

Re: characterization, someone needs to inform Mr. Dashner that an accent does not count as character development. Since the boys who arrive in The Glade lack any memories of their former lives, there’s very little to differentiate them for the reader. There’s The Leader, The British Bloke, The Young’un, and The Guy Who’s a Total Jerk for No Reason. Oh, and our protagonist, Thomas, who is The Special One. He gets to do all the Stuff There is To Do in the book — but only after he pesters everyone for a hundred and fifty pages for some sort of explanation for his/their presence in The Glade, and the purpose of the maze. They are inexplicably hostile and resistant to his curious attitude. (Oh, wait, there is an explanation: the architecture of suspense. Yawn.)

The most notable feature of The Gladers’ dialogue is their self-invented slang vocabulary. I can sympathize with Dashner’s insistence that teenagers in a YA novel should curse if the dialogue is meant to achieve any measurable degree of authenticity… but this attempt to make the boys curse-without-actually-cursing was laughably transparent. Given that The Gladers all speak English, they would have little motivation to invent their own slang terms for universally familiar concepts.

Needless to say, I was disappointed by the book. The movie, however, looked awesome (judging mostly by the trailer), and this time I was pleasantly surprised. Every departure from the source material was an improvement, particularly in terms of pacing. Rather than introducing Teresa and then setting her character aside (literally, in a coma) for a third of the story as in the book, the movie introduces her when her character actually becomes relevant, reducing her coma to just a few hours. No time is wasted pretending Thomas doesn’t “belong” in the maze, and all of the action is consolidated into mere days.

The actors are wildly talented. The use of ill-conceived slang terms is limited. The “solution” to the maze actually makes sense, kind of. The action sequences kept me awake (on a weeknight, no less), and I managed to work up some emotional investment in the characters. All in all, the movie succeeds in every way the book doesn’t — an awkward thing to admit, at least for us voracious readers.

Now we’ll tackle Gone Girl. The movie is just about everything I could have hoped for: a well-cast thriller that hits, and nails, all the high points of this chilling he-said, she-said narrative. I listened to the audiobook back in the spring, and while the first half borders on tedious, the second half is worth the wait. I can’t be sure whether the tonal shift late in the story — when Amy’s sociopathic tendencies become actually comedic — emerges from the text alone, but it is the crowning glory of the audiobook and the film.

Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens succeed in standing out from the character crowd as Nick’s twin sister Margo and police detective Rhonda Boney, respectively. Ben Affleck’s acting is effortless — literally. He does not need to put any effort into the depiction of a thirtysomething man who, if he had even a smidgen more personality, would simply be labeled a douchebag.

Gone Girl, as a book and a film, manages to captivate both reader and viewer in this (maybe) murder mystery, despite the fact that none of the chief characters are remotely likable. If Amy is dead, we wouldn’t mourn her. If Nick did it, we wouldn’t be surprised. We just need to know. And if that notion is enough to propel us through a (too long) book and a (too long) film, Gillian Flynn must be doing something right.

An Illustrated Guide to Buying the Classics (Book Riot)

Here’s Book Riot with an illustrated guide to buying the classics. Apparently their columnist thinks that people plan ahead for this sort of thing, instead of browsing our local bookstore (which is sometimes on our living room couch, in the form of Amazon) and buying whichever copy of our desired text happens to be available (all while avoiding movie tie-in covers at all costs, of course).

If you are the collector type, though, this guide is very handy. You have your paperbacks, your hardbacks, your girly Penguin clothbounds featuring flower, bird, and chandelier motifs, and your $3 thrift editions. You even have your Warhol-inspired (or so it would seem) neon monstrosities that Penguin should regret immediately if they haven’t already started.

I myself have picked up several HarperPerennial Modern Classics of late (like Brave New World and The Golden Notebook) by pure and total coincidence. I didn’t even notice they were from the same collection until the (inexplicable) olive icon started to look a little too familiar. In any case, I’m a fan so far, given the beautiful covers and humane typesetting. They also tend to include bits of supplementary material following the text, which is how I learned that Aldous Huxley wrote a book about the (supposed) demonic possession of a French convent in the 1630s. It’s called The Devils of Loudun. 

Have fun wikidreaming over that one.

Literary News (Electric Literature)

News! Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature: http://goo.gl/S1bkER

Also, here’s an infographic on the benefits of reading: http://goo.gl/5Owwns

I have to wonder, though: if reading reduces stress 100% more than drinking a cup of tea, does drinking a cup of tea while reading take me back to 0? Because it is simply not possible that tea ruins everything. I wouldn’t want to live in that kind of world.



Quote of the Week

According to my experience, the conventional notion of a lover cannot always be true. The unqualified truth is that, when I loved Estella with the love of a man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I loved her none the less because I knew it, and it had no more influence in restraining me than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection.

-Charles Dickens, Great Expectations