Sunday, 27 March 2011


The BBC's year of books is making me think about books on TV and film.

It is great that literature is getting so much exposure, Faulks on Fiction and My Life in Books were most enjoyable and thought provoking (as well as tripling my 'to read' lists) but my internal jury is still out on adaptations of books for the screen.

I know that Mr. Bookworm doesn't particularly enjoy watching adaptations of books I've read with me. My squirming and indignant "it didn't happen like that" are admittedly off putting.

My uncertainty of adaptations goes right back to childhood and the BBC version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I was 11 when this aired and I still remember my upset at how wrong the characters looked, as I'm sure can my family!

Films from books are just as bad. Chocolat and Captain Corelli's Mandolin stick in my mind particularly. If I think of them as being loosely based on the original novels I can just about cope but I still wince. I know deep down that not everything in a book can go into the film but if the author wrote something it seems rude to cut it or change it.

Then there are adaptations of books I haven't read. I find these easier to watch but the whole time I am thinking 'what have they changed?' and 'how accurate is this?'. I'll often go on to read the book afterwards but find that it has been slightly ruined as all of the pictures created in my mind feature the TV actors. Harry Potter looks like Daniel Radcliffe even when I reread the books and Colin Firth is Mr Darcy...

This is why South Riding is sitting on the recorder but not watched. I love this book and even though all of the comments about it have been positive I am nervous as to what they have done to one of my favourite books. Then there is Women in Love - a book I've not read but would like to. Should I read it first or watch the adaptation?

So books getting lots of coverage is a good thing in general, but for me I'm not sure. All I do know is that if I ruin one more TV show or film by saying "it didn't happen like that in the book" I will be condemned to going to the cinema or watching films alone for ever more!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Theatrical Interlude 4 (and 5)

Frankenstein (National Theatre Live at Cinema City) 17th and 24th March.

This play is one of the biggest hits in London currently and in recognition of this the National Theatre filmed the stage production and made it available in cinemas world wide. Twice.

They did it twice because there are two versions of the play. In some shows Creature is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Victor Frankenstein by Johnny Lee Miller and in others the casting is reversed. I was lucky enough to get tickets to each version.

On March 17th the casting was as above and I thought the play amazing. Danny Boyle and Nick Dear (director and playwright) have retold the story from the Creature's point of view and the intensity of Cumberbatch's Creature was incredible, while Lee Miller's mad scientist was a good foil to his creation.

The production was so good that I was a little unsure about going to see the play again on the 24th. This performance wasn't actually broadcast live in the cinema but had been recorded in front of a proper, paying audience but this time with the 'reverse' cast.

I needn't have worried - it was better.

Creature's development seemed more rounded - he was very convincing as a creation, a being that might have a new body but has a fully functioning adult brain. He learned to control his body as quickly as he learned speech and human characteristics. I much preferred this version, he managed to be part human, part monster throughout but to rationalise why this was so, where as the previous week, in hindsight, Creature was far more apologetic. The climactic scene in this version was also more brutal and less coy.

Cumberbatch's Frankenstein was more effective too - for me he really inhabited the part of an obsessed scientist, there was no awkwardness about it he just *was* Frankenstein where as Lee Miller was just acting the part.

I think that part of the differences in Creature were explained in the small making of feature that aired before the play. Lee Miller had studied his son intensively for the role and his Creature grew like a child, gaining in confidence, whereas Cumberbatch had visited stroke patients and people recovering from brain injuries for his inspiration and thus, for me, his Creature only grew a certain amount physically and always remained unsteady and nervous in gait.

The rest of the cast were also very good and there are little touches of humour throughout which balance out the intensity wonderfully. I'm really not too sure about the Steampunk train though...

The staging, lighting and music made the experiences fully immersing and while at first it was a little disconcerting to only see what the director wanted you to see I quickly forgot this and became immersed in the story. I will certainly try to get to more of the National Theatre's Live performances.

I am looking forward to seeing the play at the theatre in a couple of weeks so as to experience the whole staging.

all photos and image taken from the National Theatre website

Monday, 21 March 2011

How much is that doggy...

One Dog and His Boy - Eva Ibbotson

I've been a fan of Eva Ibbotson for years, since I was a teenager in fact, and I was very sad to hear of her death last autumn. She is one author I always wanted to meet but never managed to. Journey to the River Sea is one of the books I would take to my proverbial desert island.

I was so excited to win an advance copy of this, Ibbotson's last novel, thanks to an offer run by the Reading Agency and Scholastic.

The book didn't disappoint at all.

From page one I identified with the book - a boy is desperate for a dog but for various reasons isn't allowed one. It is family legend that when I was asked if I wanted a brother or sister I replied that I wanted a puppy...*

Hal's parents decide that to cure him of his obsession by renting him a dog for the weekend. Sadly they forget to say that it is just for a short time and he thinks Fleck is for life. Hal is distraught when Fleck is returned to the kennels, as is the dog.

An amazing plan is hatched and the rest of the story is a madcap adventure across England.

In many ways the book is a little far fetched, especially in this day and age when every one seems to have a mobile phone but it doesn't matter. The writing is beautiful, the characters endearing and the illustrations delightful.

This is a book for Ibbotson's fans, animal lovers and fans of gentle adventure stories like the Famous Five. It has something for everyone in it.

Personally I do prefer Ibbotson's historical romances if I am honest but this is a wonderful book that I will certainly be giving as a gift to everyone appropriate. I am sad that there will (in all likelihood) be no more books form Eva Ibbotson but this is certainly a high to go out on!

*I'd better just add that in the 30 years since this incident my sister has grown on me and I wouldn't swap her for a puppy any longer!

Many thanks to Scholastic for the advance copy. The book will be published in May.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Theatrical Interlude 3

Avenue Q (Theatre Royal, Norwich) March 2011

Reading has taken a back seat this week as I've been out quite a lot, including 2 theatre trips.

Mr Bookworm and I went to see Avenue Q on Tuesday night. We both knew we wanted to see it - a good friend had recommended it a long time ago but we never did manage to get to London before it finished - but neither of us really knew what it was about.

It turns out that it is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. There isn't an awful lot of plot a guy leaves uni with an English degree, can't find a job, ends up living on Avenue Q with a bunch of very different people and has an increasingly crazy time.

The interest comes in that half the cast are puppets. Not bad actors but Muppet style, hand held puppets. The puppeteers aren't hidden though, and they aren't ventriloquists, they are fully part of the show. It sounds mad, is very hard to describe but is fantastic. It is all a bit rude though what with songs entitled The Internet is for Porn and the simulated puppet sex...

A great night out and I've been humming songs form the show ever since. Perhaps going to the theatre knowing nothing about the show bar some of the songs is the way to go - it has certainly worked for me so far this year.

The other piece of the theatre I saw won't be written up until next week as it was the National Theatre Live's Frankenstein. This has a dual cast so any thoughts will wait until I've seen it performed both ways.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Last World Book Night post

Well I've had over a week now to think about all the books I've read during my (insane?) challenge.

I'm not sure what conclusions that I have come to, and my thoughts on the whole WBN project are muddled - I think Sam, and the people who have commented on his blog post sum it up best so head over there for thoughts on that.

My thoughts on my challenge are clearer. I can't say I've loved every moment of the time I've spent reading, I've been repeatedly challenged, disappointed and amazed. My horizons are far wider now than they were back in December, and to my amazement (and family disgust) I've discovered that there is some poetry out there that I like.

I always thought I was a broadminded reader but in forcing myself to read so many varied books I've discovered that while I am broadminded about subject matter when it comes to genre I am a bit of a snob. I do read widely but in a limited manner!

The 25 books chosen were all varied, I think on reflection I am a little disappointed that more fantasy and science fiction didn't make the list but there were a nice mixture of fiction/non fiction and popular/literary titles.

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun
  2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  3. A Life Like Other People's
  4. All Quiet on the Western Front
  5. Stuart: A Life Backwards
  6. Dissolution
  7. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
  8. Agent Zigzag
  9. Toast
  10. Rachel's Holiday
  11. The World's Wife
  12. Case Histories
  13. Life of Pi
  14. Cloud Atlas
  15. A Fine Balance
  16. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
  17. Northern Lights
  18. One Day
  19. Seamus Heaney's Selected Poems
  20. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  21. Love in the Time of Cholera
  22. The Blind Assassin
  23. Fingersmith
  24. The Killing Floor
  25. Beloved
I've surprised myself with this list - I certainly never expected the top 2 and I thought I would like some of the bottom placed books a lot more.

It has already been announced that there will be a World Book Night in 2012 and if there is a list of books again I will plan on reading them all - in the mean time all of the books I've been neglecting for the past 3 months are calling, plus the write up of my holiday reading.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

World Book Night Challenge 25/25

Agent Zigzag - Ben Macintyre

I decided to read this book last in the challenge for 3 reasons:

1)Mr Bookworm also wanted to read it so saving it for holiday made sense.
2)Mr Macintyre was the guest at the library's World Book Night celebrations and as I couldn't be there on the night I thought I would make sure I was there in spirit
3)I loved Operation Mincemeat and hoped that this would be as good.

All three reasons were perfectly sound and this made a nice way to end my challenge reading. It was an interesting tale well told. Lots of detail but never so much that the story is lost. I think it helped that there was a lot of local setting in the book.

Even after reading the whole book I don't know which side Eddie Chapman was on - and to be honest I'm not sure that he knew either.

The story was, for me , not quite as fascinating as that told in Operation Mincemeat but I loved it none the less.
It was a gripping spy tale about a fascinating man and I will rush to read anything else that Macintyre writes - in fact I wonder if my dad still has a copy of In A Foreign Field that I can borrow...

A great book to end the challenge

World Book Night Challenge 24/25

Fingersmith - Sarah Waters

This was a book I'd left until towards the end because I was really looking forward to reading it, but as so has often happened with my WBN reading that wasn't quite how it happened!

I was so disappointed in this book, the characters failed to hold my attention, the plot was (IMNSHO) silly and I discovered the downside of my Kindle - skipping the dull bits is really hard.

I don't know what it was about this that made it so not my cup of tea, a historical novel really should have captured me but the whole thing left me cold. Now I am back at home and can look through my past reading diaries I see that I had a similar reaction to the last Sarah Waters book I read (Nightwatch) so perhaps it is just her style of writing I don't like. It is strange as she came with good recommendations, including my grandmother...

Friday, 11 March 2011

World Book Night Challenge 23/25

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

I think that this was the book that I was least looking forward too, I've avoided it since publication for some reason and then after hearing several radio programmes about it really dreaded reading it.

Well how wrong could I have been?

It was fantastic. Again set in a time and place that I knew nothing about, Nigeria in the last 1960s at the time of the Biafran War, but from page one I was hooked. I read this in eBook form on the plane and the 4 hour journey just vanished, I was so engrossed that getting off the plane and starting the holiday was a wrench!

It isn't an easy book, the characters are not always nice but they are real. Every single one leaps out of the page and exists as you read and Adichie is so good at description that I could smell Nigeria as I was reading.

This book isn't for the fainthearted, it spares the reader nothing but at the same time is utterly wonderful. This book was a great treat and one that I could have overlooked for many years without World Book Night and a personal challenge.

World Book Night Challenge update

I suppose that it is all a bit passe now - after all WBN was nearly a week ago - however I do still have 3 book reviews to go and a quick update on my progress.

I finished the 25th book at 11.20pm on Saturday 5th March.

Since the 25 titles were announced I have read 22 of the novels. 1 I gave up with over half way through (Beloved), one I am still slowly reading (A Fine Balance) and one I didn't reread (Blind Assassin).

I will post my thoughts and reviews of the last three books - Agent Zigzag, Half of a Yellow Sun and Fingersmith - in the next few days, along with a final post on my thoughts of the whole project and a list of the books in the order that I most liked them.

Then I will go back to reading whatever and whenever I feel like it.

Mr Bookworm and I have had a lovely week away - we've done nothing but eat, sleep and read - 15 books in 7 days isn't too excessive is it?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Finally here!

Happy World Book Night!

I hope that everyone swapping books and attending events has a great time.

Don't forget that however good it is to get a free book you local bookshops and libraries need your support.

A book is for life - not just World Book Night.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

World Book Night Challenge 22/25

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

This is a real tome,a doorstop, at over 600 pages and not a book I want to spoil by reading too fast just in order to complete my self imposed challenge.

I've got about 100 pages in so far and I am really enjoying the book. I can't yet see where it is going, it is set in a country that I know little about (India) in time that I know little about (the 1970s). All I know is that so far the book is compelling and I really want to savour the book.

I don't count this as a failure to the challenge as I will be returning to it very soon, I just don't want to ruin my pleasure by racing through it.

Now for my big World Book Night confession - I won't actually be in the country on World Book Night!
I am off on my holidays again and have this book and 2 1/2 others left to read. I think I will get there by midnight on March 5th but the last few reviews will have to wait until I get back.
As a sign of solidarity with my colleagues and the big event planned for Saturday I do plan on reading Agent Zigzag on Saturday.

Happy reading

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

World Book Night Challenge 21/25

Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

This was a book I had to read for two reasons, as well as being a World Book Night title it was also the book chosen for my International Fiction Group. That instantly made the title problematic to me.

I have a bad bad habit of finding *any* book that I have to read for a book group impossible. I don't mind setting myself reading challenges but the instant I am told to read a book I get a block. I think it must date back to school and teenage rebellion!

I worked through it on this one and I am pleased that I persevered. I didn't think it was a great book, and again I found it to be populated by unlikeable characters but the writing itself, the language used, was beautiful.

I'm looking forward to this month's book group now, we focus on literature in translation and plan the discussions around this rather than just whether or not we liked the book. I'm not sure that I'll have much to add to the discussion as most of my instincts to books are like/dislike but I look forward to being challenged into thinking about the book.