Friday, February 26, 2016

The Eyes Have It

This week’s challenge was to read a book that was adapted into a movie and then watch the movie. I went about this challenge backwards since the movies showed up on the reserve shelf at the library before the books were available. This may have skewed the results, but in both cases the visual images from the movies stuck with me long after I had finished reading the printed page.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The HBO adaptation wins out partly due to the Maine scenery and the kitsch of the seventies (and later) set pieces, but mostly due to the strong performances by actors Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins as Olive and Henry.  Zoe Kazan is also mesmerizing as shop girl Denise Thibodeau who works in Henry’s pharmacy. Reading the book, it’s interesting to note which characters made it into the script and which were left as background players. Most regretfully is Angela who has a sizable backstory in the novel, but merely shows up as a lounge singer in the miniseries.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

In the movie version of this book, the um, movies, make it all worthwhile. High school students Greg and Earl spend their free time making parodies of classic movies. When Greg’s mom asks him to befriend a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer, Greg reluctantly agrees. Where other story lines would turn this scenario into a romantic comedy, Greg wryly notes, Greg and Rachel simply become friends. When Greg is asked to make a movie for Rachel, he balks, stalls, and even gnashes his teeth, but ends up making a beautiful piece he shows Rachel in her final moments. Apart from the movies within a movie, one of my favorite scenes is Greg’s discovery after Rachel’s death of her whimsical creations. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

"An argument that predates my time here"

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. When I taught English in Japan, I would often answer a knock on my door to a random coworker who wanted to take me (somewhere) to (do something). Neither of which I completely understood until we arrived at the intended destination. Despite the intrigue caused by my poor grasp of Japanese, due to the lack of activities in my rural town, I always said yes. 

Once, early on, my acquiescence led me to the car of a woman and her husband who took me to a small amusement park where they treated me to kakigori. Afterwards, we stopped at a grocery store where the woman (through a well-worn dictionary) managed to explain she wanted to cook lunch for me. Halfway through lunch, the couple got up and began emptying out the refrigerator. Then abruptly the husband gestured he needed to drive me home. I never saw them again.

Later my coworker explained that theirs was an arranged marriage and that soon after my visit the woman left to go back to her hometown. I tried not to take it personally. Even though I, too, was lonely that year, it was a self-inflicted situation, not one forced on me by parents or relatives.

Like my would-be friend in Japan, the protagonist of Written in the Stars finds herself at the mercy of her parents’ decisions. Listed as a book “that is set in the Middle East,” this YA novel by Aisha Saeed felt a little too easy for my book challenge as I quickly flipped through the pages to find out what happened in the soap opera worthy turn of events.

Naila is a high school senior in Florida. When her parents, who are from Pakistan, find out she has been secretly dating Saif, they whisk her away to the family’s compound in Pakistan for the summer. After a series of teas and lunches with various family friends, along with a return date to the U.S. that keeps getting postponed, Naila begins to grow suspicious. After she wonders why she is being asked questions about her cooking and sewing skills, her cousin finally breaks the news that her parents have been trying to find her a husband. 

When she tries to flee the country, she is thwarted by her uncle. When she tries to seek help from her boyfriend Saif, her father destroys her cell phone. In the end, she is drugged into submitting to the marriage ceremony. All is not happily ever after. Until it is. The plot twists in-between will keep you reading, though a thinly veiled rape scene means this book is probably not appropriate for younger YA readers. Or at least the one who lives in my house.

Reading this book did make me more curious to read more by Saeed. I’m adding Love, InshAllah to the list. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

"What if I'm a girl?"

There’s a scene in the television series Transparent when Davina looks through a set of old photographs. What was once a picture of Davina as a schoolboy has been photo shopped into a photo of her as a schoolgirl. The scene is touching as we realize she finally has a concrete image of what she has always pictured herself to be.

The title character in George by Alex Gino also thinks of himself as a girl. She secretly pores over teen girl magazines, dreams of wearing make-up, and longs to play Charlotte in their class production of Charlotte’s Web.  Although she doesn’t get the part, she and her best friend Kelly devise a scheme for George to play the role so she can finally show her mother and the world her true self.

This book hopefully will inspire empathy in its young readers towards people who long to fit into society yet remain true to themselves. Sadly this book may be overly optimistic in its cast of supportive characters. Everyone from George’s best friend Kelly to her older brother to the school principal embraces her unquestioningly. I suspect most transgender kids aren’t so lucky. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

“a perfect layup”

My earliest memory of being read to at school was in fourth grade when Ms. Walker read Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt.  Then in seventh grade, my reading teacher astounded everyone when she said she was going to read to us from this book. What?! We were too old to have someone read to us. However, as soon as she started reading (using different voices for each character), we were hooked.

Even today, I still love being read to…as long as it's a children’s book. I will gladly oblige my son when he asks me to play any of the following audio books in the car: The Stink books by Megan McDonald (read by Nancy Cartwright), the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne (read by the author), or the A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy (read by David Pittu).

This week’s challenge was to listen to an Audie Award winner. Keeping my seven-year-old in mind, I chose H.O.R.S.E. by Christopher Myers (read by Christopher Myers and Dion Graham). In the story, two boys play the basketball game of horse, which quickly expands from the court to the neighborhood to the galaxy. On our first listen, we didn’t have the printed book in front of us. My son was confused. For our next listen, we followed along in the book and the story clicked. Along with the narration, the rhythmic background music and sound effects made the story come alive. 

"Can you play it again?" my son asked. And I knew we had found a winner.