The veil of preconceptions has been removed from my eyes and I see the light:Frank Capra made some very funny movies.
Best known for heavy-on-the-syrup fare such as It’s a Wonderful Life or Meet John Doe, Capra also made some sharp, occasionally acerbic comedies --Platinum Blonde and It Happened One Night are right up there with the best of Ernst Lubitsch or Preston Sturges.
But the Capra movie that has really caught my imagination may be the most sentimental of all, You Can’t Take it With You.
The plot centers around the love affair between the wealthy Jimmy Stewart and the poor Jean Arthur, but the show is stolen by Arthur’s chaotic household: the perpetually pirouetting sister, the mother who happily writes plays that have no chance of being produced (the stack of completed pages held down by a kitten), the father setting off fireworks in the basement. And the soul of the movie, her Grandpa (Lionel Barrymore), providing the philosophy that guides them all. Grandpa is the antithesis of Mr. Potter (the character Barrymore played in It’s a Wonderful Life). The thing you can’t take with you is money, of course, so what’s the good of it: just do what makes you happy.
The movie ends with a rousing, anarchic rendition of ‘Polly Wolly Doodle’ played while the whole darn neighborhood watches the family dance wildly in a living room decorated only with a ‘Home Sweet Home’ sign. Corn? To quote another great, Howard Hawk’s Ball of Fire, “Right off the cob”.
The veil of preconceptions has been removed from my eyes and I see the light:Frank Capra made some very funny movies.
I've been accused of being obsessed with England. I don't think that's entirely true because If it were, I would probably eat beans on toast for breakfast, and that's a dietary choice I just can't fathom. I will, however, read pretty much any book that's set in Britain as long as it's not too gory. Historical, mystery, contemporary, whatever - I'll read it if the place is across the pond, and I just finished two that I absolutely loved. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier tells the story of two women living in the seaside town of Lyme Regis in the early 1800s. One is Mary Anning, a young, uneducated girl who is a whiz at finding fossils which are called "curies" or curiosities by the locals. The other is Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster from London who is living in somewhat reduced circumstances with two of her three sisters. She is also fascinated by curies and sets out to gather her own collection that focuses on fossil fish. Tossed into the mix are characters who are also based on real people (both Mary and Elizabeth actually lived in Lyme, and Mary did discover the skeletons of several species) including members of the religious and scientific communities who debated the meaning of fossils and how they related to God's creation and intent. Extinction was a radical concept then, and many people could not accept the fact that something that once lived could no longer exist. Chevalier's research is extensive and she uses that to good effect, recreating Lyme and the time period and making those involved in the discovery and collecting of fossils, including the icthyosaur and plesiosaur, come alive.
Anyone who has read a Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie knows that underneath the roses and quaint cottages, the English village is not always serene. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson examines the pettiness, racism and greed that exists in one village, and frames them in a romance between an elderly major and the local, lovely shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali. Mrs. Ali was born in England but her ancestry is Pakistani and so she is looked upon with some suspicion and is not fully accepted into Edgecomb St. Mary's society. I lovedMajor Pettigrew's Last Stand for lots of reasons, but I especially liked it because it follows the traditional romance form and, like the very best romance novels, also provides a thoughtful story of substance.
If you, too, have ever been called "obsessively Anglophilic", just go with it and enjoy these novels.
Joe Pickett, game warden in the Big Horn Mountain region of Wyoming, has now been featured in 10 novels beginning with Open Season.
Nowhere to Run is the newest Pickett mystery by C.J. Box.
Do the right thing
Is this the harbinger of things to come in the next Joe Pickett novel?
Welcome to Rachael, a new blogger for EOR. She says this about her reading interests: "I’m always reading something, usually a few too many things. My special love is science fiction written with a literary hand. I have worked for the Multnomah County Library for fifteen years, in a variety of roles. Once I was convinced that I had touched every book in Central Library, but now I see that is beyond my reach."
I am not a fan of the heat. I have a few tried and true cool-down tactics: frozen berries, lots of fans, the occasional coupe colonel. And for a chilling of the mind, books and movies that are ‘cold’. Even penguins huddled together in a blizzard (as in March of the Penguins) are an object of envy to me when the temperature is above 90.
Right now I am reading a very cold book: The Terror by Dan Simmons. It is a nautical adventure where the ships never move. They are trapped in the arctic, frozen in place in their search for the Northwest Passage. And there is something on the ice with them, a malevolent creature shaped like a polar bear but much larger and much more intelligent.
I’m a fan of Dan Simmons’ Hugo-winning Hyperion and of Patrick O’Brian’s tales of the Royal Navy, so The Terror appeals to me on many fronts. But on a hot day, its greatest appeal is the ice that is groaning around the ships. Brrrrr!
Post-apocalypse fiction is all the rage right now. Nothing like a good ol’ world-clearing disaster to cheer you up when you’ve lost all faith in humanity. It’s important, too, to study such books and movies on a purely practical level (when psychopathic biker gangs start roaming the atom-smashed landscape of our once-green Pacific Northwest, those of us who have, for example, watched Mad Max will definitely have an advantage). And maybe post-apocalyptic fiction is just a pure, primal representation of the classic heroic journey: rags to riches, chaos to community.
At any rate, postapocalyptica seems to be everywhere lately: Justin Cronin’s The Passage has been on this summer’s bestseller lists for weeks; Mocking jay, the third book in Suzanne Collins’s crazy popular teen death-match series is set to come out in August; and two years ago, The Road by Cormac McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. All of these books are set to get made into movies, or already have been.
My favorite post-apocalyptic epic, S.M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire trilogy (Dies the Fire, The Protector’s War, and A Meeting at Corvallis), hasn’t gotten as much attention as the above titles. Not even locally, which is a surprise since it is set in Portland, Corvallis, and the surrounding Willamette Valley. In Stirling’s imagined world, most technology suddenly ceases to function: engines and guns quit firing; computers, radios, and televisions go silent. Without any of our modern transportation network, food supplies to the cities are cut off and rioting and mayhem ensue. A sadistic ex-Medieval-studies professor takes the chance to grab power, organizing a sword-wielding army of toughs and making a stronghold in Portland’s Central Library. The books in the series follow several different bands of refugees as they
The different bands of survivors develop unique cultures in the decades after “the Change,” based on the personalities of their founders. One group follows Wiccan spiritual practices, another is highly militaristic. A group of young rangers, born into this future world, read salvaged copies of Tolkien books and find them more believable than the stories of the past told by their parents. These rangers make their base at the historic lodge in Silver Falls State Park, a place that they call “Mithrilwood.”
It’s really fun, page-turning stuff, and the local setting is both hilarious and also engaging and believable, written with an admirable attention
Ah, it appears that the sun has reached three hand spans past the horizon, and it’s time for me to go practice my broadsword fighting. After all, you never can be too prepared.
I'm often more pleased to find a good debut novel than I am to see another book by an author whose work I've read. It's just something about the thrill of discovery. The River Kings’ Road: A Novel of Ithelas by Liane Merciel is a low fantasy novel set in the crumbling borderlands between two not quite warring lands. This isn't a grand and epic quest with great heroes. This is a humble tale where most of the poor author-abused characters and hapless victims get to slog along in the muck and mire with the maggots, the missing teeth, the scars, the gallows trees. There's no clash of gleaming blades or well equipped armies, no tall and shiny city walls. There are murdered children, an alley brawl with cheap knives and cudgels and shabby walls of wood and stone with a spike filled muddy ditch in front of them for reinforcement.
The River Kings' Road of title is a relic of a long-ago empire of higher magic. That empire set up a system of stone roads that glow gently in the moonlight so that no traveler need ever fear the dark. Yet if anyone tries to chip off a sliver of the road, the light flickers and dies in his hand. The remaining magic is limited and comes with a price. There's a noble paladin of a god of light who commands some magic, yet must pay for his strength in unbreakable religious vows. If he breaks a vow he loses his power forever. There's another goddess that gives power in blood, pain and death. There are some barbarian tribesmen who have a little beast magic. Most people in this world go a lifetime without seeing magic. Given some of the darker magic in this world they should probably be glad of it. Even the kinder magics have a price. A desperate mother who leaves her baby on the steps of one of the temples of light gives up any hope of that god smiling on her again. A lifetime's worth of hope and luck must be forfeited to have your baby raised as a temple orphan, ensuring him enough to eat, an education, and a chance at being a priest someday. Only the most desperate pay that price.
There's a "knight" who appears to have gained his status not by birth or training, but because he's a strong fighter and a lord somewhere gave him a medallion. He's really just a mercenary who swore an oath to serve for a term of a few years. His lord is assassinated by treachery and dark magic, along with the lord's wife and all the inhabitants of the village where they were staying. The knight survives the initial attack and a mortally wounded serving maid hands him his lord's infant son. The knight manages to escape the village with the baby, fleeing the unnatural bloodmist and the screams of the doomed. He finds a woman of the village in the woods with her baby boy and takes the two survivors along with him as a wet nurse for the infant heir.
The author has set up an interesting world. It's the standard medieval Europe-like setting without the common cleaning up of life and surrounds to make it more palatable and familiar to the modern reader. It's a broad enough world that I can see the author using the setting for many more stories. I thought she also did very well with both her heroes and villains. I kept turning pages because I really wanted to see what happened next. Hopefully this author has another book in the works - I'd happily read another.
Summer! Finally! Do you have more time on your hands than you have books lined up to read? I envy you. And you should be sure to check out our webpage where we have assembled links to summer read picks by a variety of sources (including, among others, Oprah!)
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney would be a great choice for your summer reading. In language as stark and beautiful as the snowy Canadian forests that it describes, Penney tells a story of a murder in 1867 and the intrigue and adventure that ensues. I wanted to read it as fast as I could to find out what happens next (it's definitely a page-turner), but at the same time I wanted to read it slowly and deeply, to savor the characters and place. And did I mention that there's lots of snow? A literary slurpee for the hot days ahead.
Often as I am driving through the countryside passing small villages and towns I wonder, 'who lives here? What do they do for work? What do they do with their time?' You might think that my reaction sounds like the snobbishness of a city dweller, but I actually spent the first 20 years of my life in a very small place - one that didn't even merit the title of village, the sign at the edge reading "hamlet with a heart."
Many authors have made their dinner out of small, seemingly sleepy places where, under the surface, the inhabitants are living lives of turmoil, tragedy and passion. Alice Munro is a master of this genre. In Lives of Girls and Women she writes of people who seem to be living upright and staid lives, all the while hiding "deep caves paved over with kitchen linoleum." Other authors place their characters in barren and hard-scrabble places, an ideal stage for pathos and emotional intrigue. Kent Haruf's novels take place in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado and focus on the emotional lives of people struggling to find meaning in their lives. A recent Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout recounts the story of a woman living in small-town Maine through a series of short vignettes, each examining a period in her life.
Lately I'm very much intrigued by the people of Words, Wisconsin, as described by David Rhodes in his novel Driftless. Olivia is a strong adherent to the principles of her church and knows the bible backwards and forwards as a result of being wheel-chair bound. She tyrannizes her sister Violet who spends her days in good works and in taking care of her sister. Their pastor, Winnifred, has spent her life trying to overcome the loss of her mother by looking for grace within the church. Graham and Cora Shotwell are in the fight of their lives with a corrupt dairy co-op. And July Montgomery is the glue that holds the community together, though one would never think it from his taciturn and understated manner.
For me, the joy of reading fiction is to indulge my curiosity, or some might say, nosiness.These stories of intersecting lives give us the pleasure of snooping into people's affairs without offending anyone. And the next time I drive through a small town, I'll be looking with fresh eyes.
Have you ever felt like a little vacation from reality? Primeval is a British science fiction show that didn't get the attention it deserved compared to Dr.Who and Torchwood. I will say Primeval doesn't require any deep intellectual commitment on the viewer's part. Actually, it would be best if you can forget to think at all while watching this. It's all light and fluffy fun, something you can enjoy and relax with. Okay, light fluffy fun that involves the occasional person being eaten by dinosaurs. But sometimes part of the fun is guessing who is going to scream horribly and die tastefully off screen.
I didn't see Primeval while it was on the air, but I'd heard good reviews so when I saw the library had the whole series I decided to put the first volume on hold. I had the second on hold before I finished the first DVD. There's a decent story arc, the characters are enjoyable, and the writing and acting is solid. It was funny in parts, tugged on my heartstrings in places and even surprised me a time or two. The special effects are a bit spotty, so if you can't stand CGI dinosaurs and the occasional funky cartoonish background, this isn't for you. But if you can forgive or even enjoy the dinosaurs, giant insects and future predators, it's good fun.
The story? Holes in time have appeared, allowing dinosaurs, mammoths and monsters to roam through modern day England. The holes lead to the distant past and not distant enough future. Various villains are seeking to use the holes to further their agendas. Our heroes run around trying to close the anomalies and get the monsters back on the far side, all while trying to figure out what's causing them to appear in the first place. The extras mostly run and scream. Sometimes the extras even run fast enough. Our heroes are fairly archetypal: there's the professor/team leader with some truly grim relationship issues; the action hero/gun boy (someone has to shoot the monsters); the feisty, clever girl (if there's only one female lead in a genre show she must be gutsy, smart and cute); and the socially inept, klutzy, technical genius (because someone has to be comic relief). Despite the archetypes I really liked a couple of these characters. They felt right for the show and the character interactions were enjoyable.
Now that I've watched the whole thing in rapid succession I was happy to read that they started filming series 4 and 5 in March 2010 and will be airing the 13 new episodes in 2011. I'm also glad I watched it on DVD. I won't have to wait as long to see what happens next. Like U.S. science fiction shows, it had the 'is it canceled/is it not?' drama we all know and loathe. Fortunately, the viewers of this show aren't getting left up the timeline without a plot.
I love books. So much so that, when I’m not actually reading a book, I enjoy browsing through books about books. Reading blogs about books (nudge, nudge) is fun, too, but sometimes it’s nice to have something physical to pick up and browse through here and there.
To that end, Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust titles should be required browsing for any book lover. They each contain hundreds of idiosyncratically titled little chapters with recommended reads: “Guilt-Inducing Books,” “The Alpha, Beta, Gammas of Greece,” “Marriage Blues,” “Les Crimes Noir,” and lots, lots more, even some that might be the kind of books you normally read. The tone is light, the enthusiasm is infectious, and you’ll want note paper handy to jot down all the books you need to read next.
Another favorite book of mine for book browsing is The Ultimate Teen Book Guide by Daniel Hahn and Leonie Flynn. I would re-title this “The Ultimate Teen-and-Up Book Guide,” as there is plenty of good stuff in it for adults as well as teens. It has over 700 book reviews in alphabetical order from all sorts of reviewers (librarians, authors, teenagers), and the beauty is that each review has lists of other titles you might like which are also reviewed in the book. So you look up one author or title, which takes you to another one (or two or three), and then to another one … again, note - paper is a must.
Our guest blogger is Rita. Rita works at the library administration building where she oversees the 18 neighborhood libraries and services to language minorities. Besides reading healthy amounts of both fiction and nonfiction, she consumes a lot of gardening books.
A few years ago I read my first book by Luis Urrea, The Devil’s Highway, a remarkable nonfiction recounting of a group of migrants who were lost in the desert region where I grew up. Urrea was in the running for the Pulitzer for this book for good reason, and so I jumped at the opportunity to hear him speak at the recent Public Libraries Association conference. What delighted and surprised me was his wicked sense of humor and his own remarkable story that moved the audience to tears and gales of laughter in equal measure.
Into the Beautiful North is his latest novel, and it features the humor I so enjoyed during his lecture. Inspired by the movie The Magnificent Seven a group of teenage Mexican girls head north to get their men folk back to fight the narco-traffickers who have taken over their sleepy village. My favorite character by far is the the heroine Nayeli, who is on her quest for justice and her long-absent father. This novel weaves in the stuff of today’s headlines (undocumented Mexicans crossing the Arizona desert) into an entertaining, fast read. Learn more about Urrea's thoughts about the book in this author interview. I’d also recommend the movies that inspired this fictional odyssey north: the Western drama The Magnificent Sevenand the Japanese epic film that started it all - Seven Samurai.
I must confess that I loathe manga. I think the characters' huge eyes are disturbing, and I find most of the plots mystifying at best and insipid at worst. Even though I've had a number of people explain the appeal, I still don't find them appealing. I'm sure the problem is with me since millions of other people seem to enjoy manga. I do, however, occasionally enjoy a good graphic novel and I've read three this past week that hit the spot. You can find all of them in library's teen collection.
I was recently in Amsterdam, and when I got back, I read A Family Secret, a graphic novel that is set in that city during World War II. The story is about two girls - one Dutch and the other a Jewish German who left Germany with her family to escape the Nazis. The Dutch family members represent a variety of Dutch people's positions during the war: one brother joins the Resistance; another joins the army and fights in Russia with the Germans; the father is a policeman who finds no other choice than to keep doing his job even when the Nazis require him to do things his family would rather he didn't; and the girl and mother are sickened by what's happening in their city. The story was compelling and the twist at the end was satisfying. I'm looking forward to reading the companion book, The Search.
Oregon is the home of the most recent gold medalist in fencing, and so I decided to read a bit more about the sport when I saw Foiled by Jane Yolen on the shelf. Aliera is a loner at school who is awesome at fencing.
She basically goes from high school to fencing lessons to home, and then does it all over the next day. She doesn't need anyone, and the other students certainly don't seem to need her. But then the new school year starts and a gorgeous new boy ends up being her lab partner. What to do? Her fencing instructor has always said she needs to protect her heart, but that's now proving to be difficult. I thought this was going to be a straightforward romance, but it turned out to be something a little different.
Another sort of different story is Prime Baby by Gene Luen Yang. Many of us who have siblings have wondered at one time or another if our brothers and sisters might have come from outer space. When Thaddeus's young sister begins making noises, all of which come out in prime numbers (eg. "ga ga ga" and "ga ga ga ga ga"), he thinks his sister might be an alien. Everybody thinks he's crazy, but then something happens that surprises everyone BUT Thaddeus. I liked the sassy, sarky kid - he's got brains, imagination and, in the end, heart.
Sometimes I get a bit impatient and want the children to grow up a little faster so I can share films with them that don't involve sarcastic cats or operatic turtles or crime-fighting dogs.
I confess I did recently make the possible mistake of letting Child the Younger watch many episodes of I Love Lucy on library DVD with me when we were both lying ill and lethargic on the sofa. He has since stopped requesting viewings of Maisy in favor of "that funny heart show" and, really, it makes sense. If you are almost three and think your choices are between a primitively-drawn mouse and her friends who mutter mysteriously to one another in what sounds suspiciously like Serbo-Croatian OR Lucy hilariously trying to pretend twenty-five pounds of cheese is a baby (after sensibly flying to Europe WITHOUT child in tow) in order to fly said cheese home on an airplane without paying luggage fees, which would you choose?
But that is not really the sharing I meant to talk about sharing. What I would like to share is that great and bottomless treasure trove we have in the Criterion Collection. If you have limited viewing time (which, if you're like me, is already at war with your laundry-dishes-bill-paying-clean-out-this-random-cupboard-while-the-kids-sleep-time) and want to make the most of it, you really need to worship at the altar of Criterion with me. Unless, of course, you have your own reliable Mrs. Trumbull who will babysit your Little Ricky so you can fly off to Europe and see films in arty theaters. I'm guessing you don't, so here are three to get you started:
Eyes Without A Face may be the most lyrically filmed work of horror you will see in black and white. A surgeon father in Paris is cutting the faces off kidnapped women in an attempt to cure his own beloved daughter's disfigurement. It's suspenseful--mesmerizingly creepy--and possibly even more horrifying now that full facial grafts are a medical reality.
Ohayo is the very funny tale of two young Japanese brothers who take vows of silence to protest their parents' refusal to purchase a television set. Set in a late 1950's Tokyo suburb, this is an exploration of changing cultural traditions with a side of fart jokes.
The Passion of Joan of Arc was originally a silent French film released in 1928. It has been set to an amazing orchestral work, Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light, with a performance of the choral ensemble Anonymous 4. Believed lost to a fire, the film was miraculously found in perfect condition in 1981--in a Norwegian mental institution. This is art, and a higher power wants you to see it.
And if any of you do know where Mrs. Trumbull is hiding, I'd really like her number.
A friend introduced me to Penguin's Great Journeys series of short travelogues.
I began with Jaguars & Electric Eels by Alexander Von Humboldt. Containing excerpts from the last three volumes of the thirty volume set of Von Humboldt's account of his journey around the New World in 1799, this book is full of sights, sounds and adventures of this thinker and traveler.
Another fun series of travel tales is Crown Journeys by Crown Publishing. This series of literary travel books tries to match interesting writers with interesting places. The writers are all known for their work in other genres: Christopher Buckley on Washington, Tim Cahill on Yellowstone and Chuck Palahniuk on Portland, among others. The only rule of the format is that the writers take their journeys on foot, hence the books tend to be personal and often quirky.
In preparation for a visit to the East Coast, I read Frank Conroy's Time and Tide: a Walk Through Nantucket and Land's End and Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown by Michael Cunningham. Both are in the Crown Journeys series.
Traveller's History is another good series, particularly for the armchair traveler looking for a nutshell history. The library owns many titles in the series - from Canada to Athens to Turkey to New Zealand and the South Sea Islands. Take a look at the variety.
If you are traveling in the United States, look for the Art of the State series. These nifty little books have state symbols, cultural arts, roadside attractions and lists of tourist destinations to enhance enjoyment of the state.
I really love that silver shimmer of black and white films: the contrasts, the shadows, the textures - light reflected in every actor's eyes - even the animal actors. And I've seen a fair number of old black and white films. But nothing prepared me for Josef von Sternberg's The Scarlet Empress, not even his best known picture, The Blue Angel. Beyond the beyond doesn't begin to describe it. In fact I'm not that sure where to begin. Von Sternberg himself calls it “a censor-baiting cocktail of sensual excess and riotous design” which is close to the mark.The Scarlet Empress definitely flouted the motion picture censorship guidelines.
Basically the story advances, careening between horror and the grotesque, quickly followed by large helpings of bathos. And everywhere the ghastly monstrous gargoyles inhabit the entire Kremlin, clutching massive candles in their stone fists. It takes eight ladies-in-waiting to open the gargantuan double doors of the private apartments. Marlene Dietrich is cast as the naif Austrian princess who marries the mad Russian Czar played brilliantly by Sam Jaffe. As the disillusioned Czarina Catherine, she turns temptress, and becomes deeply involved in court intrigue. Finally, she transforms herself into The Great, an exterminating angel who leads battalions of her husband's trusted guards against him.
Von Sternberg is the ultimate auteur/painter/puppeteer/lighting genius. Each frame stands alone as an individual painting reminiscent of Watteau, Fragonard or Brueghel. Von Sternberg's memoir Fun in a Chinese Laundry shares his side of the story, including details about his artistic theory. Believe me he's got his share of opinions. Did I forget to mention that Marlene D.'s daughter plays the young Austrian princess?
Over the past few years urban fantasy has become a hot sub-genre. I've recently read a few novels by lesser known authors that were good fun. So on some fine summer day when you feel like lounging around with a trashy novel and not accomplishing much of anything, try one of these books … Lots of action, magic, a little romance on the side. What more could you ask for?
Spider's Bite: an Elemental Assassin book by Jennifer Estep
Sure, our "heroine" murders people for money and likes her work. That does sort of make her inherently evil. But she's such a nice, likable girl, even though she has a few "issues" with being orphaned at an early age by a murderous fire mage. In one short story she does a pro-bono hit on a dirty cop who abused an innocent kid because that was the only justice that child would get. So, she's really not all bad… It is a pity about the whole 'having the hots for an ethical cop when you're a multiple felony offender' problem. And then there's the fire mage who is even more sociopathic than she is and who is trying to kill both her and her love interest. You could almost feel for a serial killer.
Devon Monk is an Oregon author. Her Magic series starting with Magic to the Bone
is set here (and now-ish) in Portland. It's Portland with magic. The magic is fairly weak and comes with a price. If you're an honest person you pay the price yourself, with a migraine or a day or two of a low fever. In exchange you get something small like enhanced hearing for an hour to spy on someone across a restaurant or a burst of extra strength in a dangerous situation. Higher magics cost a higher price and the price has to be spread out to keep from crippling or killing. If you're rich and ethical you can hire people to suffer for you. If you have no ethics, well, dump the price out on someone who might not be missed and try your luck at getting away with murder for power.
Don't Kill the Messenger by Eileen Rendahl
Melina Markowitz is a Messenger, a go-between for supernaturals of various sorts. She is able to interact with them because of a near death episode as a child. Mere humans don't generally believe in magic in this world unless it's made very obvious to them. Melina's gifts are pretty minor and the price she pays for failure is an unpleasant, magically-inflicted misery. So when she gets tangled up with a misdirected package and Chinese vampires she's stuck in the middle and in over her head. Fortunately she has friends and the guts to see things through. At least she doesn't have as many issues with her hot cop as the main character in Spider's Bite does. Melina's got a nice lack of criminal tendencies.
Welcome to our new contributor Ross, who grew up in the woods outside Oregon City, where he had ample time to read and re-read every book he could find, making him an omnivorous reader. Science fiction, fantasy, classic literature, poetry, street lit, biographies, comics - you name it, he’ll read it. He loves finding connections between wildly different works. His favorite poem is “Used Book Store”, in the collection My Noiseless Entourage by Charles Simic.
Last November, thanks to Multnomah County Library’s Read the Classics program, I made an important discovery: The Iliad is the best story ever written. I quit after 15 pages when I tried to read it in middle school, but - whether it was the translation that I read this time (by Robert Fagles), or the enlightening introduction (by Bernard Knox), or the 20-so years of life experience since my first reading - this time something clicked. The beauty of the images and metaphors, the simplicity and yet incredible depth of the story, the oh-so-human and identifiable characters. The utter symmetry of it. I don’t think any book before has moved me so much or stuck in my mind, like a bronze spear point, with so much force.
Since developing this Iliad-philia, I have been noticing related works everywhere I turn:
British poet Christopher Logue eschews simple translation of Homer, and instead has been retelling the books of the Iliad in his own radically modern verse. The Husbands is his adaptation of books 3 and 4, and the cover alone makes me want to read it.
Ransom is a new literary novel by David Malouf in which he retells the events of book 24 of the Iliad, where King Priam goes to Achilles and tries to ransom the body of his son, Hector.
Margaret George’s Helen of Troy is a novelization of the war from the perspective of the woman who caused those thousand ships to be launched.
The War that Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander presents a new reading and analysis of the Iliad, and argues that the primary purpose of the poem is to convey the utter devastation of war.
Achilles by Elizabeth Cook is a short novel, almost a prose poem, about the entire life (and death) of that legendary hero, and the reverberations of his story.
And in Ilium by Dan Simmons, inspired by Shakespeare’sThe Tempest as well as The Iliad, these classic works of literature are building blocks for a complex science fiction epic: the gods live on Mars, a race of sentient robots has specialists in literature, and the battle of Troy is being fought once again.
I am sure that this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the vanguard of the legion. What are your favorite Iliad-inspired works?