Saturday, December 29, 2012

Page to Screen: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

This is what we have been waiting for!  Ever since it was announced that a prequel was being made for the hugely popular Lord of the Rings series, fans have been speculating and eagerly anticipating its arrival.  There were a lot of ups and downs that caused production to drag on and on, but Tolkein's original masterpiece has finally come to life.

 I love the original Lord of the Rings movies and was very excited for this film.  I saw it in IMAX 3D, but not in the new 48 FPS so my review won't comment on that aspect of it.  Here are some of my thoughts:

-Though this is a prequel to the original films, there is a sense of nostalgia and "coming home".  We are back in Middle Earth and simply seeing the Shire and Rivendell again will warm the hearts of any fan.  Peter Jackson did a great job of keeping the scenery and feeling of each place consistent with the previous films.

-It was also nice to see how they were able to tie this story into what was to come later in LOTR.  You don't have to have seen the original films in order to enjoy this one, but it is fun to make those connections.  Scenes like when Bilbo finds the ring, when Saruman appears in council, or when Sauron (called the Necromancer here) enters the story all bring chills to those who know the roles they will play later.

-We see the return of many beloved characters in this film and the actors who play them do an excellent job.  Andy Serkis is especially brilliant in his reprisal of Gollum.  Equally brilliant is Martin Freeman as Bilbo.  When I first heard that he had been cast as Bilbo, I knew that he would do an excellent job and I was right.  Best known in America for his roles in Love Actually and the immensely popular Sherlock series, Freeman brings a sense of compassion, bravery, and comedic timing to the character and you can't help but root for him every step of the way.  His scenes with Gollum are AMAZING and easily the best part of the movie.

-The biggest problem I had with this film is that it seemed to be too much.  Compared to LOTR, The Hobbit is a pretty basic story with none of the epic tones found in the longer work.  Yet Peter Jackson seems determined to bring the same epicness to this film as the others and it just doesn't quite work here.  There is no real foundation for a story that large in scope and the weaknesses show.  The Pale Orc backstory was pretty unnecessary, I thought, and simply slowed the pace of the film.

-Though Richard Armitage certainly gives a regal air to Dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, overall the Dwarf band is pretty weak as a group.  Unlike the Fellowship of the Ring, we don't feel that we really know each individual member by the end of the film.  There just isn't enough time spent developing the individual characters to make you care about each one.

If you loved the LOTR films, then this is a must watch no matter what anyone says.  If have never seen the originals, or if you did not care for them, this may or may not be the best choice for you.  It isn't a perfect film, but it was still wonderful to be back in Middle Earth and I am optimistic about where things will go in film number 2.  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will be released December 13, 2013.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

-from A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

Wishing you and yours a safe and joyous holiday season.  Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Page to Screen: Anna Karenina 2012

Director Joe Wright is no stranger to bringing literature to the silver screen, having directed the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and the 2007 adaptation of Atonement.  Now, he brings us a brand new adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's classic tale of passion, betrayal, and true love.  The film stars Keira Knightley as Anna, Jude Law as Karenin, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky, Domhnall Gleeson as Levin, and Matthew Macfadyen as Oblonsky.

I left the theater unsure as to how I really felt about the movie.  I liked some aspects while I found others to be somewhat odd.  Here are some of my overall thoughts from the film:

-When I first heard that Keira Knightley was going to be playing Anna, I felt that to be a case of miscasting.  After finishing the film, I still felt that to be a case of miscasting.  While she certainly wasn't horrible, she just didn't play the character as that sensuous, voluptuous, almost larger than life woman that I pictured while reading the book.  I guess she just left me a little cold.  On a side note, it was pretty great to see Lizzy and Darcy together again on screen.

-I felt that most of the other actors hit the mark (or close to it).  Jude Law was stellar as Karenin, a man who has subverted his passions to his role in Russian society.  Taylor-Johnson is adequate as Vronsky, though perhaps a little on the sulky side at times.  MacFadyen brings comic relief to his role as Oblonsky, and Gleeson pours forth the earthy heart and soul of Levin.

-Wright chose to film most of the movie inside an old Russian theater, the point of which is to show that society in Moscow is all theatrics, putting on the face that is necessary, while life in the country (shot in the exterior) is real.  It is a bold move, but one that does not always work.  In the opening scene we move through time at almost breakneck pace, sets whirling and changing constantly as characters are introduced.  It is all pretty dizzying and not easy to keep with if you don't already know who everyone is.  Also, there is no consistency as some Moscow scenes are not set theatrically.  Some of the scenes that did benefit from the stage setting were the ball where Vronsky and Anna dance together and the horse race scene, the tension of both gaining from the closed in surroundings.

-Those who have read the novel will note that this is a pretty bare bones adaptation story wise.  Tolstoy's commentary on Russian life and spirituality are nowhere to be found.  And while there is plenty of time to flesh out characters in a 900 page novel, that is not true of a 90 minute film.  Having said that, I didn't find it to be that bad, and people new to the film will be able to follow along pretty easily once they sort out who all of these characters are.

-The story does not shy away from some of the moral questions the book asks.  In our world, we assume that the love we feel in the moment is the love that is right.  The film shows that sometimes, what we want is not what is right and that there are consequences to the choices we make.  

-Lovers of British TV will see lots of familiar faces popping up here and there like Olivia Williams, Ruth Wilson, and Michelle Dockery.  I went to see it with a friend and we were constantly whispering "Oh look!  It's so and so from such and such!"

-The costumes and set pieces were GORGEOUS!!  They seemed to create the illusion of a 19th century child's playroom full of rich colors, well dressed dolls, and extravagantly detailed pop-up books.  There was definitely an artistic eye applied to this film.

I do recommend seeing this film if you haven't already.  While it is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, there are aspects that are worth taking in.  It is a visually bold film and will probably leave traces of itself in the films that come after it.  Have you seen the film?  If so, tell us what you thought of it. 


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Murder Must Advertise

“You’ll soon find that the biggest obstacle to good advertising is the client.”

Along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers is considered to be one of the best crime writers of the 1930s.  Her Lord Peter Wimsey novels remain very popular and Murder Must Advertise is considered one of the best.  Though written in a much different time, the world of advertising is so exactly described that it seems as if not much has changed at all.

The Plot:

When Victor Dean fell down the iron staircase at Pym's Publicity, Ltd. everyone assumed that it was a tragic accident.  But when Mr. Pym finds a half-written letter by Dean, he begins to suspect that a scandal might be brewing in the office.  He hires Lord Peter Wimsey (who is a detective for fun) to come in and discover what the nature of this scandal might be.

Posing as a new hire named Death Bredon, Wimsey begins to integrate himself into the office staff at Pym's and he soon begins to discover that not only was Dean murdered, but that he had also stumbled upon a crime ring bigger than anyone could have imagined.  Now, Wimsey must get to the bottom of the things before he himself becomes the target.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

Though this is a murder mystery and involves drug smuggling rings, the overall tone is actually very light and fun.  I found myself enjoying it quite a bit, not just for the plot, but also for the fun characters and atmosphere.

In this case, nobody is more fun than Lord Peter Wimsey himself.  Though very smart and terribly witty, there is also a kind of bumbling charm about him.  Sayers herself described him as a mix of Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster, which I find to be an apt description.  All in all, he is the very essence of a British gentleman detective.  He is stylish (well dressed and drives a great car), brilliant (invents a hugely successful advertising campaign), and athletic (turns three cartwheels down the hall at the age of 40)By the end of the story I found myself beginning to fall a bit head over heels for the chap.

The office setting also provides plenty of humor.  Anyone who has worked in an office will find connection with some or all of the goings-on at Pym's.  The politics, the gossip, the office presents, the office parties, the groveling to the client...all of it is very well represented.  Sayers worked in an ad agency for a time and brought all of her experience to this story.  You'll find yourself laughing at the different ads that everyone comes up with, some of which accidentally have hilarious double meanings.  I also found the use of the ads as communications for the drug gang to be very clever.

Having said all of this, it is not necessarily a story that everyone will love.  It is a slow paced story that is somewhat dated and very British.  Some of the slang and references can be hard to follow if you did not live in 1930s Britain.  Unlike other mystery novels, there is no real sense of urgency as we are just as likely to spend a chapter on an ad campaign as on digging up clues.  And there is an entire chapter devoted to a cricket game which I just could not wrap my poor American mind around.

Though slow at times, I still found this novel to be lots of fun and I do plan on adding a bit more Wimsey to my diet.  This is a must read for anyone who likes good old British mysteries...and those who like chapters on cricket.

The Plot:

The BBC did an adaptation of this story in 1973 and it is a good one.  It stars Ian Carmichael as Wimsey and he does a fantastic job, though he does not play up the athletic side as much.  The plot is streamlined without losing anything important, and it is a great option for those who might not want to tackle the book.  Just a great example of traditional British television.        

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Gift of Reading

As the Christmas shopping season begins to wind down, many of us have almost completed our purchasing and the gifts are beginning to stack up under the tree.  But there is still plenty of time to give to those in need, and as all of us know, books make the best presents.  Here are some ways that you can give the gift of reading to those in need this holiday season:

First Book: For 20 years, First Book has been giving books to existing programs that serve low-income families across the US and Canada.  More than 100 million new books have been distributed to children who may have never owned a book in their life.  You can help this organization by donating ($10 buys 4 new books) or volunteering with a local advisory board.  Check out First Book's website for more information. 

Local Toy Drives: When local organizations conduct toy drives (including Toys for Tots or the Salvation Army's Angel Tree) be sure to include a book.  I like to pick books that meant something to me as a child in hopes it will also mean something to them someday.

Give Through the Bookstore: I'm sure that most of us will be going to our local bookstore at least once this holiday season.  Many will have ways that you can help give books to people in your community.  My local store allowed you to purchase children's books which would then be given to children in our local hospital.  If they don't have a way to donate directly through the store, ask if they know of any book related charities in your area.

Donate to Your Local Library: Nobody gives book access to more people than local libraries.  Many libraries accept donations of gently used books that will either be placed on the shelves or used to raise funds through book sales.  Ask your librarian if there any particular books they could use. 

Give Straight to a Family: More than likely you or someone close to you knows of a family in need.  Sometimes the biggest impact is made when we give on a personal level.  You can help build up a local family's personal library and give them the joy of books.

 I know how much books mean to me, and I am so blessed to be able to own quite a few.  It's important for us to remember that not everyone is as lucky, and that we can give them a gift that will last a last forever...the gift of reading.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Thin Man

The people who lie the most are nearly always the clumsiest at it, and they're easier to fool with lies than most people, too. You'd think they'd be on the look-out for lies, but they seem to be the very ones that will believe almost anything at all.

When it comes to hard-boiled, no-nonsense detective stories there is perhaps no one who does it quite like Dashiell Hammett.  Drawing on his experience as a Pinkerton operative, Hammett would go on to create such enduring characters like Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon and the Continental Op from Red Harvest and the Dain Curse.  But perhaps his most memorable characters were the husband/wife duo of Nick and Nora Charles found in his final novel, The Thin Man.

The Plot:

 Nick Charles is the son of a Greek immigrant and a former private detective.  After marrying wealthy socialite Nora, he gives up his practice and lives the high life bouncing back in forth between gorgeous hotels and forbidden speakeasies.  In New York, he finds himself unwillingly drawn into a case involving a former acquaintance named Clyde Wynant.  Wynant has disappeared without a trace and there are many reasons that his grotesque family, various policemen, and crooked low-lifes are trying so hard to find him.  Nick and Nora must find a way to see past the lies, the fake motives, and the alcohol to find the truth.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

I decided to read this book after seeing the wonderful 1934 film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy and though the tone of the film is somewhat lighter, this was still an interesting read.

The best thing about this story (as in the film) is Nick and Nora themselves.  Their relationship is boozy, irreverent, and witty.  Their sharp repartee is very fun and refreshing.  They seem to embody the spirit of the Roaring 20s itself; flippant, smart, glittering, and alcoholic.  I also love how Nora throws herself into Nick's old world of seedy speakeasies, murderous villains, and dangerous women.  Though she comes from a life of privilege, she is game for anything.  In my mind, it is Nick and Nora who set this story apart from the other gritty detective stories of the time.

This story is more than a mystery as it also becomes a comedy of manners with it's bizarre cast of characters.  Though there is a mystery going on, we don't seem to be as concerned about that as we are the people involved.  Their various motives and idiosyncrasies give the story a somewhat grotesque humor.  Having said that, it isn't as much fun to read a mystery novel that isn't too concerned about the mystery.  While the characters were interesting in their own way, I wouldn't say it is the best mystery I've ever read.

While it has its fun moments and is a good example of the hard-boiled detective novel, this is one of those rare occasions where I would say, "Read it if you have time, but you'll enjoy the movie more".

The Movie:

This story was the beginning of the incredibly popular "Thin Man" series of films starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick & Nora Charles.  Powell and Loy are fantastic together and they take the story to a new level of fun.  What is so nice about this film is that it is one of the early examples of a married couple who are flippant and sexy.  This film was so popular that it spawned 5 sequels (even though Hammett only wrote the one story) and was nominated for Best Picture at the 1934 Academy Awards.  Be sure to watch it.       

Friday, November 16, 2012

E-reading is Not Reading....

...or so says Andrew Piper over at Slate magazine.  He argues that reading isn't simply about seeing and computing the written word, but an experience that requires our other senses as well.  "Understanding reading at this most elementary level—at the level of person, habit, and gesture—will be essential as we continue to make choices about the kind of reading we care about and the kind of technologies that will best embody those values. To think about the future of reading means, then, to think about the long history of how touch has shaped reading and, by extension, our sense of ourselves while we read."

Ever since e-readers like the Kindle came out, they have had their fans and their haters.  Fans praise the openness that digital readers give to the literary world.  The ease of access, the portability of the library, the chance for unknown authors to publish themselves are all reasons given for using one.  Many believe that the book is about to go the way of the record and cd and become something you only by as novelty items from thrift stores.  And then there are those who believe that the true experience of reading can not be had by holding a machine.  Reading includes perusing the bookshelf, dog-eared pages and notes in the margin, the feeling of flipping through the pages, and the intoxicating smell of new (or old) books.  For many of them, a world without the physical book is not one worth living in.

I myself am not fully in one camp or the other.  I have friends who love to read and they love to read on their digital reader.  There are plenty of times that I wish I had one (haven't bought one as of yet for multiple reasons) like when I'm on a long plane ride and I want to read without having to lug around a physical book.  But I am also still in love with the physical book itself; the feeling of a book in my hands has become such an integral part of my life that I can't imagine living without it.

How about you?  Do you have a digital reader?  Do you like it?  Or are you a traditionalist like Mr. Piper?    

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Happy Birthday To:

Roald Dahl
September 13, 1916

"So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookcase on the wall."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Summer's End

This weekend marks the unofficial end of summer here in the US.  It also marks the end of this year's summer reading challenge.  I was able to explore the evolution of the detective novel by reading six classics of the genre.  From its beginnings with Poe's C. Auguste Dupin stories to the modern phenomenon of Scandinavian crime fiction, my summer has been spent watching the master detectives untangle some of the most perplexing crimes.  I enjoyed the majority of them and more reviews are on their way.  In the meantime, here is a glimpse at what is on my "to read" list for the rest of 2012:

-Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas:  This acclaimed biography tells the story of one of the heroes of the German resistance.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian who made the dangerous decision to voice his opposition to the Nazi regime.  As time goes on, Bonhoeffer's forms of resistance diversify and intensify and he would soon find himself involved in one of the most famous assassination attempts in history.  I have admired Bonhoeffer's writing and stories for years and am very excited to get into this one.

-The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers: This classic of Southern literature was published in 1940, but remains popular to this day.  It is on the TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 list and was a selection of Oprah's book club in 2004.  It tells the story of a deaf man named John Singer and the people he encounters in a 1930s Georgia mill town.

-Shirley by Charlotte Bronte:  This is Bronte's second published novel.  It is set in Yorkshire during the industrial depression resulting from the Napoleonic Wars as well as the War of 1812.  It was the title character that changed the use of Shirley as a distinctly male name to a distinctly female name.  It is another step in my quest to read every novel by the Brontes.

-Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton: This book is considered a classic of Christian apologetics.  Chesterton presents a unique view of the Christian faith and asserts it as the answer to all human needs.

-Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier: The author of Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel continues to explore strong women with this 1954 novel.  It is the fictionalized account of the life of her great-great-grandmother, Mary Anne Clarke, who was a mistress of the Duke of York in the early 1800s.  In a society dominated by men, Mary Anne uses her cunning with and resourceful mind to gain power in a city at war.

-The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope: This 1894 adventure novel is set in the fictional kingdom of Ruritania.  After the king is drugged and unable to attend his coronation, an English gentleman on holiday who bears a striking resemblance to the monarch is asked to stand in for the king to prevent political upheaval.

-The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel: This 2009 historical work tells the story of the rescue of European art and architectural treasures during World War II.  A few select men were sent by the Allies to follow the armed forces and work to limit the damage to Europe's most important architectural works during battle.  As time went on, their role changed to hunting down the masterpieces of European art that had been looted and hidden by the Nazis.

I'm looking forward to some great reads this fall.  I hope that each of you enjoyed your summer reads and are ready to jump in to a new set of classics for the remainder of 2012.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.

 Mention the words "detective fiction" and the vast majority of people will automatically translate that to "Agatha Christie".  The undisputed "queen of crime", Agatha Christie would write 66 detective novels in her career and create two of literature's most famous detectives.  One of these is the fussy Belgian named Hercule Poirot.  Though at first his eccentricity leads people to believe that he is not all there, Poirot always reveals his true intelligence in the end and pulls the murderer from out of the shadows.

The Plot:

The story is is set in the small village of King's Abbot and is narrated by the local physician, Dr. Sheppard.  A local woman named Mrs. Ferrars dies under seemingly normal circumstances.  But when local landowner Roger Ackroyd reveals that she killed her husband and then committed suicide, he is then murdered himself and Hercule Poirot is brought in to solve the crime.

The suspects range from Ackroyd's personal secretary to the butler to the parlormaid.  Most of the suspicion lands on Ackroyd's stepson, Ralph, who stands to inherit from his stepfather's death and has disappeared from the neighborhood.  It is up to Poirot to sort through the various motives, alibis, and clues to discover who the real murderer is.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):
There is no way to really review this book without giving away the ending.  So if you have not read this particular Christie novel, stop reading now and go out and find yourself a copy. 

The strength of Christie's work is found in her solid storytelling.  The crime itself is not as gruesome as a Poe mystery, nor as intricate as a Sherlock Holmes story.  It is a rather plain, almost ordinary crime with little of the fantastic about it.  But Christie's writing still manages to keep us engrossed and guessing.  We, like Poirot, are picking up the clues and trying to piece them together to reveal the identity of the murderer.

And it is the murderer's identity that makes The Murder of Roger Ackroyd pack such a punch.  In fact, this particular ending turns conventional detective fiction on it's head.  We have spent the whole novel trying to analyze the characters and their secrets to suss out who committed the crime.  But sub-consciously we are ruling out two characters: the detective and the narrator.  And when we realize that our trusted narrator has left us in the dark on some important facts (and is indeed the murderer), there is this sense of shock and hurt at being so duped.  It is a twist that must be very difficult to pull off, but Christie does it with a flourish.  After many unimportant clues and red herrings, only Poirot is able to recognize the true murderer and bring resolution to King's Abbot.

This is the first Christie novel that I have actually read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There's is nothing like being left guessing to the very end, and it was definitely an ending that I did not see coming.  Do yourself a favor a pick up this classic Christie novel today.

The Movie:     

The main adaptation is the 2000 version starring David Suchet as Poirot.  I haven't seen this particular episode, but I have heard that there are some significant plot and character changes.        

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Dupin Tales

I seemed to be upon the verge of comprehension, without the power to comprehend as men, at time, find themselves upon the brink of remembrance, without being able, in the end, to remember.

Though some might dispute this point, most people believe the birth of detective fiction as we know it to have come about with the 1841 publication of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue".  His creation of C. Auguste Dupin, the intelligent amateur detective who solves crimes by deduction, was to become the model for almost every fictional detective to follow.  Dupin would appear in a total of 3 stories, and the literary world would never be the same.

The Plot:

The stories are told to us by an unnamed narrator who befriends and then lives with C. Auguste Dupin, a Parisienne from a wealthy family who is now living in relatively reduced circumstances.  Dupin is an analytical machine, focused purely on logic and its application in life.  He solves crimes merely for fun (and to prove his own intelligence) and rarely accepts compensation or fame for it.  Whether it involves the horrific murder of a mother and daughter, the mysterious death of a pretty young woman, or the blackmail of a person in the highest level of French society, Dupin sets about untangling the many theories to discover the truth.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

Though I do think it is important to read these tales as a history of detective fiction, I must admit that they have a fairly dated feel.  Our society is very familiar with this genre, not just in books but also in films and television.  So when we read these stories that are nowhere near as intricate and developed as the ones that would come later, then we can't help but stifle a yawn now then.  There are, however, some good points to the stories that make them worth your time.

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is our introduction to the work of Dupin.  Neither Dupin nor the unnamed narrator are fleshed out too much as characters.  It is mainly the crime and Dupin's method of solving it that we are most concerned about.  I have to say, the murders themselves are done in true Poe style.  I mean, one body thrown out the window and another stuffed up the chimney should please any CSI fan.  We are given all of the details of the crime and most of the clues.  We then get to sit back and watch as Dupin logically puts them together to discover who the true murderer is.  This is probably the 2nd best story of the three.

Ever heard of "The Mystery of Marie Roget"?  There's a reason for that.  It is based on a true story in Manhattan, and though it starts out interesting it does not continue that way.  The bulk of the story involves us reading accounts from various newspapers and then sitting through extremely long monologues of Dupin describing why those accounts are wrong.  We get it Dupin.  You're smart.  But do we seriously have to listen to you drone on and on and on?  Plus, the truth of the crime does not live up to expectation.  Skip this one.

The final Dupin story is, in my opinion, the best.  In "The Purloined Letter", the French queen is being blackmailed by a powerful diplomat over a compromising letter that has fallen into his possession.  The police tear the diplomat's apartments apart but find nothing.  It is Dupin that discovers the letter hidden in the most obvious, and yet the most overlooked of places.  Crimes are always more fun when there is an intelligent villain for the detective to match wits with.  And Dupin's method of resolving the matter is both interesting and fun.  This story lacks a murder, but nevertheless is the most developed and enjoyable of the three.

Though uneven in places, these stories form an important part in both Poe's body of work and the history of detective fiction.  They are important for understanding the development of the genre and for that reason I do recommend that you read at least one of them.

The Movie:

There are 2 film versions of the Dupin tales.  One is the 1932 version of Murders in the Rue Morgue starring Bela Lugosi.  This shares some names and plot devices with the original but little else.  There is also a 1942 version of The Mystery of Marie Roget starring Joseph Cotten.          

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Absence Explained

Let me begin by apologizing for my absence over the past few weeks.  Between work, summer activities, and some general laziness, I have not kept my blogging as up to date as I would like.  But while my web life has slowed down, my reading hasn't.  We are now hitting the end of July and I have finished 4 of the 7 books on this year's summer reading challenge.  With some diligence, I should be able to wrap things up by my self-imposed deadline of Labor Day.  In the meantime, keep an eye for reviews beginning to pop up within the next few days.  I hope all of you are enjoying your summer.  Be sure to stay cool and enjoy a good book!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

War Horse

"Does he not personify all that men try to be and never can be? I tell you, my friend, there’s divinity in a horse, and specially in a horse like this. God got it right the day he created them. And to find a horse like this in the middle of this filthy abomination of a war, is for me like finding a butterfly on a dung heap. We don’t belong in the same universe as a creature like this.” 

In WWI, the British Empire mobilized 8.9 million men to send over to France.  Over 900,000 would never return.  What a lot of people do not know, is that Britain also mobilized a million horses for the front, and only 62,000 would live to see the end of the war.  Many died from exhaustion and overwork, but some fell on the battlefield, taken down by machine guns and barbed wire.  In his 1982 novel, Michael Morpurgo shows us the horrors of the first world war through the eyes of one of these magnificent creatures who gave their all in a fight that was not theirs.

The Plot:

This story is told through the eyes of Joey, a young thoroughbred in Devon, England.  He is separated from his mother at a young age and sold to an alcoholic farmer.  The farmer's young son, Albert, takes a shine to the colt and soon they are the best of friends.  Albert rides Joey daily and trains him up not just as a good mount, but also for farm work as his father wishes.  At the outbreak of World War I, the British cavalry is in need horses and Albert's father decides to sell Joey to help pay off some debts.  Though Albert is unable to stop the sale, he promises Joey that they will be together again one day.

Joey is then taken over to France as the mount for Capt. Nicholls, a kind young cavalryman who has promised to care for him.  When Capt. Nicholls is killed in battle, Joey is soon caught up in the war, seeing it from all sides as he continuously changes hands.  As Joey faces horror after horror both on and off the battlefield, he wonders if he will ever be safe again.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Like most people, I became aware of this story after having seen the fantastic play version.  It is a short novel that is meant for children, so it is not overly complicated.  It is however, a touching story and an eye opener into the true cost of war.

What is great about this novel is that everything is seen through Joey's eyes.  In many ways, I feel that our society has become desensitized to the human toll of war.  We've read the novels, seen the movies, and watched the news reports and in some ways none of it seems to truly move us anymore.  Most of us are still suckers for animals though, and seeing the horror that these animals went through certainly touches our hearts.  Those of us who can sit dry-eyed through one war movie may find ourselves crying over the death of Topthorn.  The use of horses as the main characters ironically brings the human element back to the story and opens up our feelings for all of those who suffer during war.

The other great thing about seeing the war through Joey's eyes is that there are no good sides and bad sides.  Joey changes hands constantly during the war and he experiences kindness and hatred on both sides.  Morpugo never uses a person's uniform to define their character.  Instead, we judge them only by their treatment of the horses and in this we see that it is not one's nationality or political stance that makes one good or bad, but rather it is how well we live with those around us.  One of my favorite parts of the stories was when Joey was living with the young French girl Emilie and her grandfather.  Her sweetness and kindness in the face of all of her struggles was inspiring in and of itself.

If you are looking for a novel to help introduce your children to the realities of war, this is a good one.  It is a touching look at human interaction and a fitting tribute to the animals whose lives were lost in serving mankind.  

The Movie:

There are two ways to see Joey and Albert's story brought to life.  The first is the award winning stage adaptation.  I was lucky enough to see this in London and it is a great production.  The hand puppets used to create the horses were phenomenal and by the end of the show you have forgotten that they are not real.  The story is wonderfully acted and the music is hauntingly beautiful.  The play is now being performed in many cities around the world, so be sure to see it if you get the chance.

The second is the 2011 film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, and Benedict Cumberbatch.  Though to me it wasn't as good as the stage play, it is still a decent adaptation, beautifully shot in Dartmoor, Devon.  Definitely worth seeing.      

Friday, June 15, 2012

Notes from the Literary World

I hope that all of you are having a fantastic week and are enjoying your current read.  Here is a round-up of some of the things from the literary world that have caught my eye over the past few days:

- Got some extra pocket money?  Here's a website that specializes in collectible books as well as 1st and signed editions.  A second printing of Cry, the Beloved Country, a first edition of Marilynne Robinson's award winning novel Housekeeping, a signed copy of Fahrenheit 451...any of these can be yours.  Just be prepared to spend a nice amount.

- The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the rise of fan fiction in the mainstream.  Though there is a long history of fan fiction, it is only now becoming accepted as a real publishing option both by the reading public as well as the authors whose works form the basis of the stories.  It will be interesting to see where this genre goes in the next few years. 

-2012 has been an incredible year for the city of London.  Between Dickens' 200th birthday, Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, and the summer Olympics, London is one happening place.  Whether you are planning a trip there or simply have a hankering to add some of it to your literary diet, Cynthia Crossen has some recommendations for novels set in that great city.

-Ever wondered exactly what kind of place your favorite author grew up in?  Here is a slideshow of the childhood homes of 20 famous authors.

-Summer is here which means it's time for family vacations.  Which means it's time for horrendously long car rides where the most frequent words spoken are, "Are we there yet?".  Adam Boertz at NPR has compiled a list of audiobooks that will help the time spent in the car fly by.

-The teaser trailer is out for the film version of Les Miserables which is coming out this December.  Looks like it could be good.

-If your dad likes to read, and if you are just now remembering that Father's Day is this Sunday, then head over to the Daily Beast for a list of the 13 best books for dad for 2012.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


There is a saying that to understand is to forgive, but that is an error, so Papa used to say. You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding.

In 2004, author Marilynne Robinson published the story of an elderly pastor in small town Iowa who is using the precious time left to him to record his memories and thoughts of his life.  Gilead would go on to become a a Pulitzer Prize winner and touch the hearts of the thousands of people who read it.  Four years later, Robinson took us back to Gilead, allowing us to see the story from a new point of view and to gain a new understanding of what it means to be home.

The Plot:

Home is companion novel to Gilead, and the events of both novels happen concurrently.  After a failed relationship, Glory Boughton has returned home to Gilead to care for her elderly father.  Not long after her arrival, they receive news that her brother Jack will be returning home for the first time in 20 years.  Her father is overjoyed, yet Glory feels apprehension since Jack has been the wayward son all of his life.  

Through the ensuing weeks, Jack and Glory both try to reconcile themselves to once again being in the home of their childhood.  Glory feels a bitterness at finding herself back at her starting point with seemingly nothing to show for it.  And Jack, who has never felt comfortable in his father's house, struggles with the consequences of his life's actions and the self-loathing he feels in his heart.  As their father's life draws to a close, the Boughtons desperately strive to make some kind of connection with each other, and to accept the love and grace that is only found at home.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Of the hundreds of books that I have read throughout my life, Robinson's Gilead stands out as one of the most beautiful and the most poignant.  I was very excited to learn about this companion novel and was very interested to see how the story would look from a new perspective.

If Gilead is the story of the son who stayed and kept the faith, then this is the Prodigal's story.  Though he grew up with loving parents and 7 siblings, Jack Boughton never feels like he is at home.  From his childhood on, he upsets the peace and order of the Boughton home causing his parents no end of pain and sorrow.  Jack is by no means proud of his past, and his return to the family home only increases his sorrow and self-deprecation.  It is clear that he is searching for a way to connect with his family, but he is held back by himself.  Like the rich young ruler of the New Testament, he refuses to relinquish the life he has to gain the life he desires.  His family continuously extends love, grace, and friendship to him but his attachment to his lifestyle will not allow him to accept it.  He is a prodigal who refuses to leave the mud he so desperately wants to forget.

More than just a portrait of a prodigal son, this novel is also a depiction of home itself.  It is perhaps the one place in life that we dream of escaping while we are there and then dream of returning to when we are not.  Robinson portrays home as that place that is at once deeply familiar and unchanging, and yet in many ways it is unfathomable.  Here, home becomes aligned with the Christian faith, which is also unchanging yet unfathomable.  It is a place where love and grace are always extended to the most undeserving.  One need only accept it to receive it.  In many ways, I feel that Rev. Ames' wife Lila is a portrait of this.  Though we know very little of her back story, it is made clear that her own life was in many ways similar to Jack's.  The difference being that she accepted the grace offered to her and allowed herself to truly be at home.  It is she who best understand where Jack is coming from and encourages him to make the same choice she did.

While I appreciated many of the themes found in Home, I did not love it quite as much as I did Gilead.  The mood in this one is much more sober and in some ways gloomy.  While Gilead looks back on a life well-lived, Home looks back only at what might have been.  And though Robinson's writing is as strong and powerful as before, it is missing the lyrical quality of Gilead that caused me to read passages over and over again.  I also feel that I couldn't connect to this novel as much as to Gilead because in my own life I identify more with Rev. Ames' story than I do with Jack Boughton's, or even Glory's.  My nature leads me to be the "son who stays" and thus that is where I find my connection.

Though both Home and Gilead operate as stand-alone novels, they really do complete each other and so I would recommend reading each.  As with Gilead, this is not a novel for those who need lots of page-turning action.  The whole story operates mostly within the confines of the Boughton home and there are very few actual events.  If, however, you enjoy a quiet, thought-provoking, and well written novel, this is a good one.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

In Memorium

Ray Bradbury
August 22, 1920 - June 5, 2012

Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I'm one of them.  - from Dandelion Wine

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Masterpiece Theatre: Sherlock Series 2

It's been almost two years since the Masterpiece Mystery crowd was swept off our feet by a modern adaptation of the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories.  I fell head over heels for these stories and have been eagerly awaiting the 2nd series since the credits began to roll on the last episode of Series 1.  And I have to say that creators Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat completely outdid themselves in this new series.  If anything it is even more brilliant, funny, and refreshing than the first. 

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman reprise their roles as Holmes and Watson respectively, and they are INCREDIBLE!  Freeman especially seems to bring Watson into his own and their friendship continues to evolve in a very realistic way.  We also see the return of Andrew Scott who takes Jim Moriarty from kooky villain in Series 1 to evil genius in Series 2.  This series takes three of the most famous Sherlock stories and brings them into the 21st century.  Sherlock meets his match in the form of Irene Adler in A Scandal in Belgravia.  Sherlock and Watson travel to Dartmoor to investigate strange happenings at  a military base in The Hounds of Baskerville.  And the fight between Sherlock and Moriarty comes to a head as Moriarty sets out to show Sherlock as a fake in The Reichenbach Fall

I enjoyed all three episodes immensely.  It was incredible to see how they were able to take these well known stories and update them for today's audience, and yet stay true to the spirit of the originals.  The final episode was especially brilliant and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time.  Gatiss and Moffat have done a superb job of not only moving the story line forward, but also moving the characters forward.  Each one, no matter how minor, has been given an added depth from the previous series.  And the relationships between each one becomes more and more complex.  And even with the heavy drama of the cases, their is still plenty of humor to liven things up.  Here are some of the best quotes from Series 2:

-Mycroft Holmes: Just once can you two behave like grown-ups?   
 Watson: We solve crimes, I blog about it and he forgets his pants. I wouldn't hold out too much hope.

-Mycroft Holmes: We are in Buckingham Palace, the very heart of the British nation.  Sherlock Holmes, put your trousers on!

- Watson to Sherlock:  I always hear "punch me in the face" when you're speaking, but it's usually subtext.

-Sherlock: Think!  It's the new sexy!

-Watson: Did we just break in to a military base to investigate a rabbit?

This is definitely one of the freshest, smartest series on Masterpiece (or any other program/network) right now.  If you haven't seen any of this series yet, listen to Moriarty and "Get Sherlock"!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Life in France

The sweetness and generosity and politeness and gentleness and humanity of the French had shown me how lovely life can be if one takes time to be friendly.

Perhaps no one has done as much for cooking, and French cooking in particular, in America as Julia Child.  This is obvious, not only in the fact that her iconic cook book (Mastering the Art of French Cooking) remains very popular fifty years later, but also that her very kitchen has found a home in America's treasure house, the Smithsonian.  But there is more to Julia's story than her television shows, her recipes, and her instantly recognizable voice.  Eight months before her death at the age of ninety-one, Julia sat down with her grand-nephew Alex Prud'homme and compiled the story of her years spent in France which ultimately became the most transformative years of her life.  It is an intimate look into her introduction to French cuisine, her relationships with family and friends, and the creative process that led to her fame in the US.

As a lover of good food and French culture, this is a book that I have been wanting to sink my teeth into for a long time.  But though the information on the food and the culture was interesting, the best part of the book is actually found in two different areas.  The first is Julia herself.  A self-described late bloomer, Julia does not really find her niche in life until she marries Paul Child after serving with him in the Office of Strategic Services during WWII.  She then accompanies him on his US Embassy assignment to France where her purpose in life suddenly becomes very clear to her.  I loved how she threw herself into French cuisine with such passion and determination.  She wasn't content to play at cooking, but rather she wanted to really master it.  Through the ups and downs, she never let her mistakes get to her, but rather she uses them to better herself.  I also loved her passion for sharing everything that she was learning with others and her intense desire to bring the beauties of French culture to her home country.  She really is an inspiration, and a reminder that it does not matter when your life purpose comes along.  The only thing that matters is that you seize it when it does.

The other aspect of the book that I loved was Julia's relationship with her husband, Paul.  Though he remained in the background during her celebrity years, Paul was an integral part of Julia's life.  As unlikely as it seems, this match of the tall, inexperienced girl from conservative California with the worldly, artistic man from liberal New England was truly made in heaven.  They complement each other so well and act as each others' support in the ups and downs of their careers.  While it was Julia's initiative that started her on the path to success, it was Paul's love and support that ensured it.  In many ways, he is as interesting as Julia herself.  He was an extremely intelligent man with a passion for art, France, good food, and wine.  In many ways he was Julia's inspiration, and I think that it is fairly safe to say that without Paul, we would have never had Julia.

This was a delightful read and I can't recommend it enough.  Whether you are looking for a book on France, a book on good food, or even a book with a great love story, you could do worse than to try this one.  I am certain that this is something that I will go back to again and again when I find myself in need of inspiration.

The Movie:

You can see a partial adaptation of this book in the 2009 film Julie & Julia.  Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci turn in great performances as Julia and Paul.  Though I didn't particularly care for the parallel plot set in modern times, I did enjoy the scenes from this book.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Summer Reading: 2012 Edition

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that it has become a tradition for me to give myself a summer reading "challenge" each year.  Over the past few years, I have dedicated the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day to reading The Lord of the Rings, Southern literature, German literature, and worldwide literature.  This year, I've decided to embrace my love of mystery by reading classics of "detective fiction".  I'm not allowing myself to do any re-reading, so you won't find any Wilkie Collins, Sherlock Holmes, or Father Brown stories here.  Instead, I'll be focusing on unread classics that take us from the birth of detective fiction in the Victorian era, through its golden age of the 1920s and 1930s, on up to some of the more modern additions.  Here is what I have in store:

-The Dupin Tales by Edgar Allan Poe: most literary historians believe C. Auguste Dupin to be literature's first real detective.  Though you could argue that other writers like Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins had used this plot device before, it was Poe who really gripped the reading world's imagination with his brilliant amateur detective.  Dupin appeared in 3 of Poe's stories, all of which I will be reading and reviewing: The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Roget, and The Purloined Letter.

-The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie: if anyone deserves the name "Queen of Crime" it is Agatha Christie.  Perhaps no mystery writer is as famous nor as well loved as this lady from Devon.  She is the best-selling novelist of all time with roughly 4 billion copies sold.  One of her most famous creations was the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and it is one of his cases that I have chosen to read.  It is also Christie's most controversial work as well as one considered by many to be her masterpiece.

-Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers: Lord Peter Wimsey was another product of the golden age of detective fiction.  He is the quintessential gentleman detective who solves crimes for his own amusement.  This particular crime is set in the world of advertising.

-The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett: Set in Prohibition-era New York, this is the story of former private detective Nick Charles and his clever (and wealthy) wife, Nora.  After marrying, Nick decide to give up detecting and live the high life, but he is now being drawn (along with Nora) back into the world of crime and murder.  This book launched the famous 1930s film series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

-Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout: Another popular detective series in 1930s America was the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout.  Born in Montenegro, Wolfe now lives in New York on West 35th St.  His eccentricities and hobbies range from reading, to food, to orchids. In this story, Wolfe sets out to prove that a goring of rural man is not an accident, but murder.

-The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler: The first in Chandler's acclaimed "Philip Marlowe" series, this book was listed in TIME Magazine's 2005 list "100 Best Novels".  It is also the movie upon which the famous 1946 version starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was based.

-Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell: In case you haven't noticed, Scandinavian crime novels are all the rage.  One of the most popular is the Wallender series by Swedish novelist Henning Mankell.  Unlike many of history's famous detectives, Mankell is not exactly a hero.  He struggles with alcohol and is often at loose ends socially.  But that does not hinder him from solving some of the horrible crimes that happen in this cold country.

 I have to admit that I am really looking forward to these books.  If you have read any of them, please feel free to share your thoughts.  And also feel free to join if you like.  We're going under cover this summer and investigating some great literature in the process.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Look Homeward, Angel

The mountains were his masters. They rimmed in life. They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death. They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change.

There are those who rank Thomas Wolfe up there with Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner as one of the great American writers of the 1930s.  He is also credited with influencing such writers as Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, and Pat Conroy.  So if his works are so great and influential, why have most people never heard of him?  I decided to tackle his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, and find out.

The Plot:

 Based upon Wolfe's own childhood in Asheville, NC, Look Homeward, Angel tells the story of young Eugene Gant and his colorful, dysfunctional family.  From his lazy alcoholic father to his grasping, self reliant mother, to his wild and varied older siblings, Eugene finds himself surrounded by people whom he just can't really seem to respond to.  This painting of his hometown is stark, unsentimental, and at times almost vengeful.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

This one got away from me.  Seriously.  It was the first time in a long time that I actually dropped a book out of sheer boredom.  I made it halfway through before I finally gave up on it.  

The thing that really got me was the writing style.  First off, there is very little actual plot to this story.  It is mainly a recounting of Wolfe's childhood years, told in a stream of consciousness way.  That is all well and good until you add in the fact that Wolfe also has a high romantic tone in his writing.  Now I can take stream of consciousness, and I can take romantic writing, but I can't take them both together.  Wolfe waxing poetic in a random flow of words in scenes that did nothing to move the story forward was just more than I could take.

I can see how this could be an influential novel if read at the right time and under the right conditions.  Maybe someday I'll be able to pick it back up and finish this clunker...just not anytime soon.             

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Masterpiece Theatre: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

There is nothing to tantalize a reader like an unfinished novel.  We are left only with what might have been, imagining our own endings and wondering how a beloved author might have tied up all of the loose ends.  Charles Dickens died in the middle of writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, leaving us without a resolution to the supposed murder of a young man.  Though we'll never really know how Dickens himself intended for the story to end, BBC and Masterpiece Classic have teamed up to bring us an adaptation of this story and their idea of how it might have all turned out.

John Jasper (Matthew Rhys) is a choirmaster in a country cathedral whose monotonous life is broken up only by his routine trips to an opium den.  He is also consumed with passion for one of his music students, Rosa Bud (Tamzin Merchant).  Unfortunately, she has long been engaged to marry Jasper's foppish nephew, Edwin Drood (Freddie Fox).  Fueled by jealousy and opium, Jasper's hatred for Edwin grows until in it culminates in one stormy, feverish scene.  The morning after, Jasper can't tell if his evil deed was real, or the workings of a drug induced dream.  His nephew is missing, that is sure, but there is no body.  Was he killed? Did he leave town? Was there an accident?  Is Rosa Bud free to be pursued?  The answers will surprise everyone, including Jasper himself.

The main thing that this adaptation has going for it is that not only is it an unfinished work, it is probably Dickens' least read as well.  This gives screenwriters and producers much more freedom to and license to play around with the story and not have an army of rabid fans call for their heads.  Though it didn't feel a lot like a Dickens story to me, it was certainly a fairly riveting one.  Matthew Rhys gave an intense and emotional performance as Jasper and was really the main force behind the series.  His desire for Rosa and his jealousy of Edwin are almost palpable.  The other actors all hold their own as well and rounded out the characters perfectly.  All of the other production qualities hold up to BBC standards as well an make for an enjoyable evening.

Though this is not as in-depth as other Dickens' stories, it is still one that will leave you guessing to the very end.  I enjoyed it, and would watch it again.     

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Chosen

"I've begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. I feel myself alive in it. It talks. And I can hear it."

This is a story of relationships.  The relationship between a father and his son.  The relationship between two good friends.  The relationship between a person and his faith.  The relationship between an immigrant and his new country.  In his most well-known and highly praised novel, Jewish-American author Chaim Potok explores all of these relationships, and in the process teaches us how personal pain and struggle makes us more compassionate.

The Plot:

Reuven Malter is a young orthodox Jew growing up in Brooklyn in 1944.  He is very bright and his professor father hopes for him to also have an academic career.  One day, his school softball team faces a rival school of Hasidic Jews.  The game is intense and Reuven is hit in the eye with a ball hit by Danny Saunders.  Though Reuven is initially reluctant to forgive Danny, his father encourages him and the boys soon become friends.  Though raised in a strict Hasidic upbringing, Danny is extremely intelligent (to the point of genius) and he often sneaks away to the library to read secular works like Freud.  Reuven and his father help foster Danny's enthusiasm and make recommendations as to which books to read. 

One day, Reuven is invited to Danny's house for Shabat and to meet Danny's family.  Though only a few blocks from Reuven's home, Danny might as well live in another world.  At once intrigued and mystified by the Hasidic way of life, Reuven is especially in awe of Danny's father, Rabbi Saunders.  It is obvious that Reb Saunders is an extremely intelligent man, but that intelligence is kept strictly within the bounds of his faith.  More than anything, Reuven can't understand why Reb Saunders never speaks to his son except to discuss the Talmud.  Though Danny's friendship with non-Hasidic Reuven is tolerated by Reb Saunders, outside influences soon come in and threaten to tear these two friends apart forever.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers!):

I was drawn to this book because I had seen the 1981 film adaptation and was very moved by it.  I found the book to be just as interesting (if more in-depth) and even with my Protestant background, I found that I could relate to certain aspects of the story.

Certainly one of the more intriguing aspects was Reb Saunders' decision for Danny to be "raised in silence".  Danny was very intelligent even from a young child, but he also had no compassion for others who could not mentally keep up with him.  Reb Saunders perceived this and fell before God wondering what he could do with a son who had a great mind, but no soul.  He chooses to put Danny through the painful process of growing up cut off from almost all communication with his father.  This not only makes Danny more introspective, but also teaches him to show compassion for others in pain.  Danny is able to explain to Reuven (who finds the whole process disgusting) that he is actually able to use silence as a form of communication.  It is revealed in the end that Reb Saunders is satisfied to let Danny leave the Hasidic community and go to Columbia University because it is clear that Danny now has a heart for others and will be able to share the roots of his faith with the world outside.  The struggles of young people trying to fulfill their parents' wishes and yet to become their own person is wonderfully portrayed here and I found it to be deeply touching.

Though the overall themes of the book are universal, the nuts and bolts were certainly different from anything I have experienced.  Though I had a basic understanding of the Judaic religion, and even the differences between certain branches, I was not prepared for the depth and complexity presented here.  Much time is taken in discussions of the Talmud, comparisons of commentaries, the history of the Haisdim, and the Judaic rituals.  At times it was almost dizzying.  Then there was the history of Zionism after the second World War which I had never really learned about. It was certainly an intense introduction to turmoil and struggle within the Jewish community after their almost total annihilation during World War II.

I really enjoyed this book overall and there are too many interesting points and themes to discuss here.  I will say that this a pretty slow plot with little direct action.  If you're someone who needs the plot to move at a fairly good clip, then this book probably is not for you.  But if you enjoy books that spend time musing on friendship, culture, and theology then I really recommend that you give The Chosen a try.  I am sure that more of Mr. Potok's works will be finding their way onto my reading list.

The Movie:

The 1981 adaptation of this story is very good and streamlines the plot very well.  Like the book, it is somewhat slow but I still enjoyed it.  I especially found the climatic scene between Reb Saunders  and Danny to be very moving and shed more than one tear watching it.  It stars Robby Benson as Danny, Rod Stieger as Reb Saunders, and Barry Miller as Reuven.