Archive for February, 2011

February 27, 2011

Bookbyte: The Imperfectionists

Rachman's DebutRachman’s debut novel is a compelling read, although it’s less a novel than a loosely connected series of short stories. There is no over-arching plot. Each story centers around a different person working for (or reading) a dying English-language newspaper in Rome.

In fact, the best way to describe the novel is like a newspaper itself. Forget generic human interest stories, which provide a glossy, manipulative look into the private lives of normal people. Reader’s Digest this ain’t. Rachman’s tales get to the true heart of the human condition: stark, fragile, and desperate for love and for connection. But they all remain relatively isolated from one another.

Ornella de Montericchi, a reader of the newspaper, “never learned the techniques of newspaper reading, so took it in order like a book. She read every article and refused to move on until she was done.” This book can be read like a newspaper too. Skip around if you want, skip entire stories if the person doesn’t interest you (lonely business reporter Hardy Benjamin is a particular snoozer), re-read the tales of the people who do (such as the tragic story of family man Arthur Gopal or pathetic Cairo stringer Winston Cheung trying to break into the big world journalism).

Many of the stories are bleak. Some are downright cruel. Rachman shows that life is fleeting, just like the newspaper industry itself. Maybe we can leave an imprint on the world, even if it is just an ink stain on someone’s fingertips. Even that will eventually wash away.

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February 14, 2011

Oscar-nominated Books

Even though many people argue that the movie is never as good as the book it is based on, many of the best movies are, in fact, based on books. Almost one-third of the films nominated for Academy Awards this year have literary source materials.

True GritThe Coen Brothers’ True Grit, the second-most nominated film after The King’s Speech, is based on a 1968 novel by Charles Portis. The Coen Brothers’ film hews more closely to the book than the 1969 adaptation starring John Wayne. Wayne did win an Academy Award for his role as Rooster Cogburn, though. Jeff Bridges is nominated this year for the same role.

Winter’s Bone is the film I’ll be rooting for in this year’s race. It is nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes), and Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence, who gives a powerhouse performance as a 16-year-old girl whose family’s future rests entirely on her shoulders. The movie was bleak, but riveting. When I saw it, I didn’t even know it was based on a book. Daniel Woodrell published Winter’s Bone in 2006. The film is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Even one of the nominated animated feature films this year is based on a series of books. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell started in 2003. There are currently eight books in the series. And one of the biggest pictures of the year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, received only one nomination, for visual effects. Harry Potter is, of course, based on the phenomenal best-selling series by JK Rowling. If you didn’t know that, you’re in the wrong place (and have some catching up to do!)

Other movies were adapted from books, but the movies have different titles. Best Picture-nominee 127 Hours–aka that movie were James Franco cuts his arm off–is based on the real-life memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. Franco is nominated for Best Actor and the adapted screenplay by director Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy is also nominated.

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