29 October 2010

Original Shakespeare

Hamlet happens to be a favorite of mine too.

In college I was able to take two different Shakespeare courses. During the course it was a delight to borrow some BBC productions that followed the exact wording of Shakespeare's plays and follow along between both the performance and the book.

But this delightful find really would have pushed me over the edge: "Professor's research allows audience to hear Shakespeare's words in his own accent."

Thanks to the work of Paul Meier, audiences can get a sense of what it might have been like to eavesdrop on opening night of “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet” at the Globe Theater in London or to listen in on a shipboard conversation on the Mayflower as it approaches the shores of the New World.

“What did English sound like back then?” Meier said. “Was it posh or down to earth? Was it anything like today’s British or American English? Would we understand it?”

Considering the number of challenges that understanding Shakespeare in a modern tone can be difficult, I would likely struggle with this production too. But it doesn't mean I wouldn't try. I can't wait until this hits the public radio waves.

via kottke.org

28 October 2010

Hamlet revisted

Recently, I watched the film of the new Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet featuring David Tennant as the moody Danish prince and Patrick Stewart as his evil uncle Claudius.

Three hours on a Saturday night, I spent watching a new version of Hamlet. And it's not the first time I've committed hours to this play.

I've watched the Mel Gibson version...

the Ethan Hawke version,

parts of the old Laurence Olivier version and
 the Kenneth Branagh version.

I've seen a live stage version of it that the theatere department did when I was in college. Like most high school kids, I studied the play in senior year English, even memorizing several chunks of it for an assignment.

So why go back to it again?

Like any good story, each version brings something a little different.

The new RSC version (a film adaptation of their staged version) made me think about Gertrude, Hamlet's mom, because the scene when Hamlet confronts her was so well done. I'd never given much consideration before to her plight as a mother with a supposedly grief-mad son on the heels of a death and wedding.

The amazing thing as well about the new version was how it felt like a play instead of a movie. Branagh's version is a movie and is equally as wonderful but for different reasons. It has scenery (filmed inside the famous Blenheim Palace, how could it not?) and it has lush costumes and has that feel that all of Branagh's Shakespeare movies do.

In the RSC version, the space used is the same almost the whole time, just new scenery added and much of that adapted directly from the stage version. The camera gets right up on the actors, catching the internal-ness of this great play. The "to be or not to be" is worth the watch alone in the new one. The symbolism and imagery is woven well throughout but it's not heavy-handed.

In a way, I think it's just a way of re-reading this story. Like any good book, it's worth going back to... and like good drama, it's cathartic and emotional.

If you've ever got 3 hours to spare, I'll be happy to watch it again with you.

26 October 2010

Are You a Plotter?

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Pantsers, for those not familiar with the term, are people who fly by the seat of their pants, rolling with whatever happens with the punches or what the characters bring to them. It works for some, but not for me.

I'm more of a plotter. I love seeing and hearing about what others do to plot. I've tried pantsing, but it doesn't work for me.

And based on this gem from kottke.org, I'm in good company. J.K. Rowling is a plotter too. Check out an except from her outlining process, likely to be from Order of the Phoenix.

What's your plotting technique? What do you think of Rowling's?

25 October 2010

Book Banter -- The Thieves of Manhattan

Title: The Thieves of Manhattan
Author: Adam Langer
Length: 253 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Ian Minot works in a NYC coffee shop, dates a Ukranian (or maybe Romanian?) girl, hates the new memoir by gangsta-thug-rapper Blade Markham and collects rejections for his short stories. When Ian's frustrations with the publishing world boil over, he meets Jed Roth, a former editor who's got a plan for revenge against the literary world. Ian teams up with Jed to write a novel (or maybe a memoir?). Ian's story turns into a modern caper story weaving fact and fiction together with literary aplomb.

Banter Points: I picked this book up in the library because I walked past it and it has cool cover art. However, it's quickly rocketed up the charts and into my Top Ten novels of the year list because it was just so smart and funny. Langer's riddled the book with literary allusions, creating his own version of literary classic slang (such as calling a fashionable men's jacket a "gatsby" because it's like what Jay Gatsby might have worn.) Also, for anyone who wonders what exactly is going on in the publishing world, it's fiction, yes, but it's a dead-on portrayal of the industry and the battle between best-sellers and good writing.

Bummer Points: The end of the novel seemed to get into a bit of telling, instead of showing. While Ian was such a sharp character in the beginning, as events begin to truly happen around him and because of him, he takes the voice of a detached narrator.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I wasn't expecting this title to be on my short list for Top Ten books of the year, but it's going to be there for sure. Anybody who likes smart, witty fiction and has ever entertained dreams of being a writer or loves literature, steal some time and read "Thieves of Manhattan."

22 October 2010

Update -- The Mysterious Benedict Society

Chalk one up in the win category -- the 10yo liked the book. He started it last night for his nighttime reading, liked it enough that he asked to read right before bed and was THRILLED that it was almost 400 pages.

Since he loves series too, it's great for him to know that two more books are available after this one as well. Joy!

I love matching books with readers.

21 October 2010

Book Banter -- The Closers

Title: The Closers (Harry Bosch series #11)
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Mystery
Length:  403 pages
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Harry Bosch returns to work for the Los Angeles Police Department, assigned to a special new unit dealing with unsolved murders. Applying new forensic technology like DNA to old cases, the squad is closing cases from the past decades. Reunited with his former partner Kizmin Rider, Bosch is assigned to a case from the late 1980s of a girl abducted from her home and and killed in the nearby countryside. As Bosch and Rider investigate, it becomes clear that certain facts were intentionally overlooked in the original investigation. To close the case, Bosch will have to go against some of the very LAPD brass who gave him back his badge.

Banter Points: This book went back to being in third person which makes huge sense since Bosch is back inside the police department. It was also nice to see him around more people since he's been such a lone wolf in the last two books. Most of all, I'm just impressed with how Connelly has continued to push the series and force Harry to change because of some circumstances and in others Harry remains obstinately the same guy.

Bummer Points: As far as the series as a whole, this just wasn't one of the amazing ones. It was still a fun read, but after The Narrows, it didn't meet quite the same level that one did.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I feel like a broken record, but, nevertheless, I'll say it again: Read this series.

19 October 2010

Book Banter -- The Mysterious Benedict Society

Title: The Mysterious Benedict
Author: Trenton Lee Steward
Genre: YA Fiction
Length: approximately 475 pages

Where Stacie's Copy Came From: Personal collection
Plot Basics: Four children are brought together to subvert an evil plan.

Banter Points: I tried. I could have written that the children were clever, witty, smarter than any peers, best in class, but really? What children essential to plot destruction aren't? Maybe it would have been better to stress that they were orphans, only that's the best way for children to get away with everything - minimal adult supervision.

And of course, they have been sought for years and years, to bring down the mastermind behind an evil plan. Only no one knows for sure what the plan is. Or how to stop it.

Okay, so I'm a little tough on this title. The characters are wonderful, especially the mysterious Mr. Benedict. It's great how they piece together the clues and have a love of truth that serves a purpose seldom found in children's titles.

I'm willing to pick-up the second in the series for two reasons: One, my 10 year old may like the series; two, the children all of parents in the second book and I'm curious about how that works out.

Bummer Points: In the end, the backbone was the same as many other children's titles and it didn't translate well to the adult reader. I'm okay with that as kids need their own titles too.

Stacie's Recommendation: The age rating is dead on for this title so read with that audience in mind.

18 October 2010

Spooky Tale Telling

This weekend, I got to visit Connor Prairie for their Headless Horseman program, complete with mildly haunted hayride in which the Horseman himself chases you.

But, the Horseman was not the best part. Not by a long shot.

Nope. It was the guy telling stories in the old cabin. I could have listened to him all night. In fact, we listened to him two different times in the evening and didn't hear any of the same stories twice.

He had a great way of keeping you right there with him -- through both "true" stories and his retelling of old legends.

I've been thinking about his delivery of the stories, trying to put my finger on what made them so good. Maybe the setting had something to do with it... the firelight and the flickering cabin. The second time we listened to him, the cabin was so dark that he was just an outline really against the fire that was mostly down to embers then.

In one of the "true" stories (I say "true" because could all these somewhat spooky things really have happened to one man?), he said he was from Mississippi, near the border with Tennessee. Maybe the draw was the slight lilt to his voice, that timbre that said you should believe everything I tell you. And maybe, it was something in the actual telling, a way of weaving together plot and descriptions that kept us on the edges of the hard wood benches.

In the spirit of Halloween, what story that you heard told out loud scared you the most?

15 October 2010

My Boys Read

My boys read. And I adore that they do. Mercer Mayer, David Shannon and Dr. Suess are regularly read. So are Mo Willems and Mary Pope Osborne.

All fun and entertaining books. Give them a try if you have some that are adventuring into a love of reading.

But what about the ones that aren't as safe, yet still entertaining?

Junie B. Jones comes to mind. Read one of those and you will discover that the story is told from the point of view of Junie - who is less than grammatically correct. She is 6 after all.

Or what about Greg Heffley? He is quite rude and mean at times. Just like most middle schoolers.

Is it good if the authors accurately capture the best and worst of these characters?

Personally, I'd say yes. It makes it tougher for me as a parent to explain why Greg is mean to Rowley. Or why Junie's favorite phrases aren't always the best way to string words. Yet my kids love that the stories. Those flaws are real to them. It's how they sound, what their friends say and do.

If it means that my guys are reading, great. I'll do the leg work on the critical thinking skills instead of eliminating them from the options.

14 October 2010

B'con Blues

Over on the West Coast, in San Francisco, in a few hours when it actually becomes morning there, Bouchercon 2010's program schedule kicks into full swing. Mystery readers and writers rub elbows and tell funny stories and sign books and it's a blast.

And I'm not there.

I'm missing panels with people like Brad Parks, Simon Wood, Cara Black, Hank Philipi Ryan, Marcus Sakey, Kat Richardson and dozens of others. I'm not going to get to go to Lee Child's "Reacher Creature" party. (Last year, it was great fun to tell people that Lee Child bought me a drink... of course, he buys everybody at the party their drinks, but like any good story, part of the impact is in how you tell it...) This year, there is apparently also a dance which maybe I'm not so sad that I'm missing. (I have traumatizing visions of middle school and high school dances floating in my head; on the other hand, I've seen the quantities of alcohol that writers guzzle at these things and so maybe the dance would be not so bad... I hope there are pictures later....)

And I'll miss the free books. Truth to tell, I still have free books from last year that I haven't read, but doggone it I will read them someday!

Check out this photo from the BoucherBlog of the "loot" to be given out in book bags this year...

All those glorious books....Sniff...

It's not really the books that I'm missing from not going. It's talking to other writers about writing. It's talking to other people who love books as much as I do. It's about community, really.

So, I've got my eyes set on Bouchercon 2011 which is in St. Louis and much closer to home. In the meantime, I'm going to keep writing and keep reading.

Hopefully, we can talk about it all next fall.

11 October 2010

Book Banter -- Tap & Gown

Title: Tap & Gown
Author: Diane Peterfreund
Length: ~270 pages
Genre: Chick lit
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
Plot Basics: Rose and Grave secret society member Amy Haskel is close to the end of her senior year at Eli University. Now, all that's left is to write her thesis, enjoy the company of her new boyfriend and tap a class of new Rose and Grave members. But as the choice of taps in Amy's class (including her and the other Diggirls) has been an constant source of struggle, how to pick the next class proves even more difficult. Amy's got two potential taps that she's courting, but planning an initiation gets harder when rival societies are after the same recruits and one unpicked student decides to make Tap Night truly terrifying. And as always, the Rose and Grave patriarchs might want to interfere in matters....

Banter Points: This series has been entirely delightful. Peterfreund's writing voice is the perfect combination of college humor, quiet insight and zingers that make the books hard to put down. It was nice to see Amy grow over the series. Even though the total time span is only a year, she goes through a lot and isn't the same as when she started. And Word Nerd is glad about Poe. (That's all I can say without too many spoilers.)

Bummer Points: It's sort of too bad that Peterfreund's characters only get to be in the secret society for a year. I would have loved more. On the other hand, I doubt Secret Society Girl the Next Generation would work well, so I shall be content.

Word Nerd Recommendation: A highly fun read if you're looking for something that's entertaining.

07 October 2010

Book Banter -- The Son of Laughter

Title: The Son of Laughter
Author: Frederick Buechner
Length: 274 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Personal collection
Plot Basics: Biblical patriarch Jacob narrates the story of his own life, from his search for approval from his father Isaac (also called Laughter... hence, Son of Laughter), his jealousy and rivalry with his brother Esau and the familiar biblical images of the stone stair, his wrestling with an angel, giving his son Joseph the mutli-colored coat and the promise of deliverance for the nation that he would father when he earned the name of Israel. It is an earthy and salty telling of the story as Jacob has women competing for him, his parenting of his 12 sons and his quest for wealth as he strives to understand (or run from) the power of God.

Banter Points: Buechner makes Genesis chs. 25-40 come alive. A Presbyterian minister, it's clear that Buechner studied the story of Jacob in great detail but then applied his considerable talent as a writer to bring the sometimes-stuffy sounding Old Testament narrative to modern readers in compelling ways. What he brings to the story are Jacob's emotions. They are there in the Biblical account if you read closely, but Buechner makes Jacob's struggle for identity one that many readers will relate to in our postmodern world.

I picked up this book now because at the church I attend, the preaching has been about the life of Jacob this fall. This novel is only adding to the richness of those sermons. (Curious about sermons? Find them here for 9/5, 9/12, 9/19 and 10/3)

Bummer Points: A few years ago, I read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent which focuses on Genesis 34 and the story of Dinah. Diamant extrapolates from the Biblical story what might have been Dinah's side, where Buechner sticks much, much closer to the actual text for the inspiration of his narrative. It's just interesting how two different books can be drawn from the same story.

Word Nerd Recommendation: A phenomenal piece of fiction that brings what could be a dusty, old story to vibrant, relevant colors.

05 October 2010

Must Reads

Every reader I know has a decent sized list of "must read" authors. While mine have changed a bit over the year, there's a fair number that always remain on the list.

Madeleine L'Engle and the Wrinkle in Time Series
Jim Butcher and the Dresden files
J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter Series
Audrey Niffenegger and The Time Traveler's Wife
Eoin Colfer and the Artemis Fowl Series
Diana Gabaladon and the Outlander Series

If you ask me what I'd recommend, I'm like to pull on from that list.

Who is on your must read list?

04 October 2010

Bethany's September 2010 Bibliometer

It's two back-to-back stats postings, but the Word Nerds are also geeks...

For me, September was a pretty good reading month. In the spirit of full disclosure, two of my "reads" were audiobooks.
8 books
2221 pages
74 pages avg/day

YTD Totals
59 books
~20900 pages

Difference from 2009 YTD
-10 books

01 October 2010

Stacie's September Bibliometer

I have to admit, September was a good month.

Six books, 3,133 pages or 522 pages per book.

That puts me at 41 books for the year, still trending at 53 for the year.

Fun Facts:

2007: September meant 22 books for the month (which isn't the all time high)
2003: First month back at work after maternity leave -- 0 books read
2010: Included the re-read of Harry Potter Books 5 & 6, at 6 times and 4 times respectively.