Thursday, February 28, 2013

Graphic Novels and Layout

I'm going to briefly mention this tomorrow, when I tell you what Shane Smith did right in his graphic novel The Lesser Evil, Pt. 1, but I would like to explain a few things about the importance of layout in graphic novels (and other visual media).


 This is a basic layout you'll find in most graphic novels. Even if each panel isn't solid (it could be broken into two, three, four across) it's a standard way to divide the page. This is used when events of equal importance are being conveyed. No one panel will draw more attention than the others due to placement or size. (There might be huge letters, bright colors, extreme close-ups, or a particular image that could draw the eye, but mostly, this is for similarly-important events that deserve generally equal attention.)








This is another fairly basic example, with one panel given more attention than the others. You could do this horizontally instead, with a cluster of small panels at the top, and a larger panel consuming the bottom half of the page. Personally, I prefer this vertical layout, because it makes the intended order of the smaller panels obvious. (If you had four panels in a square format at the top, you might wonder if you should go across first or down first. With these, you clearly read top-to-bottom.) There are also many interesting ways to use a tall vertical panel. One of my favorites that I've seen was peeking out from behind the silhouetted leg of our hero, at a harsh landscape with bad guys approaching. Very effective.



Staggered panels can emphasize feelings of uncertainty (particularly in the characters' future) or rapid-fire action. They're also useful for depicting a rapid back-and-forth dialogue between two characters, especially if they're in different places. When I think of this particular layout, I imagine two fighter pilots saying things like, "He's right behind me!" and "Where are you?!?" into their helmet headset things, while they're being fired at.










Ahh, the full page layout. This is for something incredibly important. It's so important, the whole page is needed to convey it. It's like holding up a stop sign for your reader and saying, "You may have just skimmed a few of those littler panels before, but you don't want to miss this one." Often, there's no dialogue on a page like this, or maybe one tiny utterance (like "Whoa" or the end of an interrupted sentence, preceded by an ellipsis). You're meant to take in all the details in a full-page illustration, instead of being distracted by words. These tend to come immediately after a character enters a new setting: a sweeping landscape, the interior of a spaceship, a room that is bigger than you might have expected.






Meta-panels! I don't think that's the "correct" term for this layout, but it's how I think of it. You have a full-page illustration in the background, with smaller panels on top of it. These are mightily useful when you're switching settings often. You can show the setting in the full-page illustration, and the action or dialogue can happen in the foreground, without wasting space. I think of a battle raging in the background, while you can see individual soldiers in the foreground panels, with dialogue and emotions and all that good stuff.







There are, obviously, thousands if not millions of other ways to lay out a page. These are just a few examples that I've seen time and time again. Look for these and others next time you pick up a graphic novel.



Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Favorite Illustrators

Because we're reviewing a graphic novel this week, we wanted to share our favorite illustrators with you:


Art for Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes
Mine is Dave McKean, which should surprise approximately nobody. He did a great deal of the illustrations for the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, among other projects with my favorite author (including the children's books The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, The Wolves in the Walls, and Crazy Hair, plus covers for Coraline and The Graveyard Book).




McKean also directed one of my favorite movies, Mirrormask (another project where he collaborated with Gaiman), and I think of it as a fantastic example of his style. He was also a concept artist for the TV mini-series version of Gaiman's Neverwhere, and two of the Harry Potter films (Prisoner and Goblet).

I think I admire McKean's work because it's something I can't do. Collage-type images are beyond the scope of my graphic skills, and his color schemes are usually the kind I would never come up with myself. There's also an antiqued-looking quality to his images that I prefer not to understand... just to enjoy.

Unlike Alex, I'm not super obsessed with illustrations (though, I DO enjoy them.)  I do have a favorite, however, but mainly because of one book.




Brian Selznick does some astounding things with illustrations.  I love the black and white pencil drawings in this book, and it's so detailed and amazing.  Not to mention, he essentially tells the entire story with illustrations, no easy task.  To be so talent as to be able to get your point across with nothing but pictures... well, that takes a certain amount of Awesome that Brian Selznick has.

He's also done a book with David Levithan, a book I feel that I need to get my hands on because, come on.  Selznick's genius with art and Levithan's genius with words will just make the book, well, genius.

Selznick was an illustrator way before he ever started writing books.  And, he really hasn't written that many.  Though I've only read Hugo, it's not a book that's big on the words.  But that's entirely part of its appeal.

Really, I just think that his abilities with a pencil are unparalleled.  They're detailed and real and capture specific moments.  Often times in Hugo, you feel as if you're right there, looking into the scene.  The illustration on the left has the same appeal.  It's from a book called "The Doll People" and the pictures makes you feel like it's YOUR fingers holding that small book open, that you're looking down at this small dolls head.  His illustrations feel like literal windows into this world he's creating.


See?  Doesn't it feel like you're looking right into that room?!

Mostly I just admire him for doing something that I could never possibly do.  I have little to no talent when it comes to drawing and I love how easily he draws you into the pictures.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Lesser Evil Interview

Today, we're doing something new and fun at Review Me Twice!  We were able to get an interview with the writer of The Lesser Evil, Shane Smith.  Now, don't judge, this is the first time either Alex or I have given any sort of interview.  Hopefully, we've answered some of the major questions here, but if you have more, feel free to email the author at shane@shanewsmith.com.




1. What gave you the idea for this novel?

I first started writing this story in 1999, almost immediately after watching The Phantom Menace for the first time. I felt there was something missing from that movie, and from a lot of contemporary science fiction offered to my generation... something really important that had been lost somewhere along the way.

In the years that followed, I tapped into the sensibilities of a lot of classic science-fiction to produce The Lesser Evil. It's part (original) Star Wars, part Dune, part Foundation. By referencing cliches in each chapter name, I'm trying to draw attention to this old-school philosophy, harken back to a day when characters and ideas trumped the visual spectacle of the genre.





2. Why did you decide to draw in black and white?

It was mostly a pragmatic decision. I'd done some dabbling in colour comics before, but they were prohibitively expensive to print, and consequently riskier for publishers. I figured my chances would be better if I could put together a decent-looking black-and-white work. And quite early on, I decided not to go with greyscale, because I really liked the stark black-and-white aesthetic in books like Sin City.




3. Do you have an interest in politics?

A mild interest. I keep abreast of the major events and policies (mostly in Australia, where I live, but I keep half an eye on the US as well, especially around election time). But my interest is mostly that of a voter, rather than a professional one.

I love reading and writing dramatised political machinations in fiction, though. Dune is one of my favourite books (but I'm sure you figured that out already - its fingerprints are all over The Lesser Evil).





4. Why did you choose a graphic novel format as opposed to a traditional format?

Actually, The Lesser Evil spent almost a decade as a novel before I made the switch to graphic fiction. I'd tried, without success, to get the novel published many times; each rejection inspired another complete rewrite. In the end, I decided to think outside the box, do something drastic. I'd done some dabbling in comics while at university, so I thought "why not?"

Somehow – don’t ask me how – the new format allowed me to see issues in my book that I just hadn’t been able to see in my endless prose revisions. Subplots and characters were cut with gleeful abandon, and the subtext of the story burst into the foreground. It became a profoundly better story almost immediately, and was snapped up by a publisher almost instantly when completed.


I really enjoy working in comics, but I love writing prose too. Hopefully, my writing career will have plenty of both.





5. Have you ever written a traditional novel? If yes, what are the differences while writing?

I've written several. None of them are of publishable quality, but the bare bones are there, ready to be worked on. Two of them (The Lesser Evil, and its sequel Peaceful Tomorrows) ended up being converted into graphic novels. The ultimate fate of a third novel, Triumviratus, of which I am currently finishing a first draft, is currently unknown.

Prose writing is a very different process from graphic noveling. The bulk of the work when making a graphic novel is producing the art - it's simply the nature of the beast. It's a different kind of thinking, and in a lot of ways, is a lot more mechanical. For me, it's a kind of relaxing slow burn for the brain, where prose writing is a really intensive, all-consuming process. So, there's that difference.


Also, you can say anything in prose. You can get into your characters' heads and describe how they're feeling, and outline their suspicions and plans. In visual fiction (graphic novels, movies, etc), you don't have that luxury. You have to be able to show everything. It's a different kind of thinking, and it's often hard to find the right way to express what you want to express. The Lesser Evil graphic novel uses diaries and letters to get this stuff across, and I'll readily admit that it's little more than a storytelling device, not entirely unlike a voiceover in movies.





6. Who is your favorite Character in "The Lesser Evil"? Why?

Ross Tillman is the character most like me, the one I empathise with most strongly. His genetic fate seems to be following his father into a well-paid but ultimately meaningless office job, and his struggle against that incredible inertia is one that directly parallels my own life. His story has always resonated with me on a deeply personal level, and was a profoundly cathartic one to write; he'll always be special to me because of that.

But for absolute favourite, I'm going to say Stanley Myres. He's the one that changes the most over the course of the story. His pursuit of redemption for the life he has led, and the mess he has caused, is one that I find really interesting, and it's the character arc I was most proud of writing.





7. What's your next project that we have to look forward to?

There's a few, actually.

Peaceful Tomorrows, the sequel to The Lesser Evil, is being released in its entirety in April of this year, published by ZetaBella. I'm very excited about this one. My pre-publication proofreaders have indicated that they enjoyed Peaceful Tomorrows more than The Lesser Evil; hopefully, that becomes the prevailing opinion out in the real world, too.


I'm currently working on another story told in the same universe as The Lesser Evil and Peaceful Tomorrows, entitled The Game. I expect it will be completed sometime in early 2014 and will (hopefully) be published in that year.


I have also recently collaborated with a friend on a comic miniseries entitled James Flamestar, exploring the inestimable power of music to change the world. It was a lot of fun to produce, and we are currently seeking publication for it.


Finally, I've nearly completed a first draft of a fantasy novel entitled Triumviratus. Even now, the urge to convert it to a monthly comic format is nearly overwhelming, so that's an option I'll be exploring. If I go down that path, I'd really like to collaborate with an artist on this one... but we'll see what happens.



8. Ok, we HAVE to ask this question.  What's your favorite book?


Oh no; my favourite book. You might as well ask me to choose between my children! There are some books that will never, ever be removed from my collection, and I just cannot place one above another:
* Sherlock Holmes (all books) - Arthur Conan Doyle
* Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
* Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
* The Foundation (books 1-3) - Isaac Asimov
* Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
* The complete Shakespeare
* Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain

And just so you don't think I'm a complete literary snob:
* Y: The Last Man - Brian K Vaughan
* Game of Thrones (first book was my fave) - GRR Martin

Thanks so much to Shane Smith for answering all of our questions!  And, we'll see everyone on Friday for our review of The Lesser Evil Pt. 1!


[To avoid confusion, I've put Shane's answers in green. If anyone has a difficult time reading them, please give us feedback!]

Monday, February 25, 2013

Shane Smith

This week (this whole month really), we're focusing on NaNo writers.  These are writers that have published and all have asked us to review their books on our site.  Which, being the super awesome people we are, we readily agreed to it!

This week, Shane W. Smith is our author of choice (and by choice we mean that we were bribed with free books.  I mean, no!  Really, totally our choice.)  He wrote a graphic novel, The Lesser Evil, that we will be reviewing part one of at the end of the week.

Smith has a creative writing degree from University of Canberra.  Born in 1985, he has been writing for most of his life.  Along with a litaney of books published (Parlour Tricks (2012), Pestilence (2012) (with Gavin Thomson), Killeroo: Gangwar (with Darren Close and Dan Gibbs)), he is currently working on and even longer list, most notably, a fantasy graphic novel called Triumviratus.

Married with two kids and a dog, he keeps up a good website along with lots of other social media.  And, as always at Review Me Twice, we always recommend you go to website to get the low-down on authors.

Shane Smith's Website
His Facebook
His Twitter
His blog.

And, if you really want to, you can even contact him.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

By Its Cover: The Time Keeper




It would almost be hard to screw this one up. It's a book about time; use something that represents time. Clocks? Good, let's go home.

More specifically, there is a pocket watch of some significance in the book, so it makes sense to choose pocket watches over digital watches or regular clocks or Big Ben or hourglasses...

Wait, did I say hourglasses? The hourglass in the book is way more significant than the pocket watch. Maybe the cover artist felt that would be too spoiler-alert-y. I think it would have been more effective.

I like the color scheme, but I don't have much to say about it. I just think it's nice. It's not your typical time travel color scheme, but then again, this book isn't so much about time travel as it is about time itself. Slight difference.

All in all, I like the cover. It caught my interest, it's appropriate, and it's aesthetically pleasing.

I agree with Alex about the pocket watches; they're significant to the book.  It was pretty easy to guess that the book has something to do with time (not only are there clocks on the cover, it's call The Time Keeper.)

I think the pocket watches are a nice effect because they're something old, something hardly used, something that's still around but if you have one, it's something that's from a different time really, which I think is great for representing our main character.  He's essentially from a different time.

It's a pretty basic cover, nothing to write home about, but not bad either.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review Me Twice - The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom



I really like Mitch Albom.  I think he's written some amazing books that are moving and thought provoking and just all around awesome.  However, The Time Keeper really fell short of all those expectations.

At the end of the day... I just didn't really care about anyone.  Dor (who inevitably becomes Father Time) is our main character and is basically punished by God for discovering time.  AKA, being inquisitive.  He was punished for being smart, essentially, which I'm not really sure how I feel about that.

6,000 years later, he's allowed to come out of the cave he was trapped in and experience time... but he has to teach two people to basically appreciate it.  One wants to end her time (Sarah), another to have an endless amount of it (Victor).

But honestly, these just end up being two more characters I don't really get to know and I don't really care about.  Sarah is a typical teen, and while suicide is nothing to be trifled with, I feel like I'm missing a lot of her story.  Victor is just a jerk that you never really learn to like.

Inevitably, the point is to tell you to appreciate the time that you have, but honestly, I just don't think it was executed that well and certainly not up to his usual standards.

Despite all that, Albom is still a good writer.  It's enjoyable to read his writing, if the book itself wasn't up to par.  And the book wasn't TERRIBLE, just nothing to really rave over.

My Bottom Line 3 out of 5

In a word: Predictable.

In three words: Predictable, but good.

It is immediately apparent from the beginning of the book (or perhaps from just reading the summary on the back of the book) what the lesson of this story is. Everyone needs to better appreciate the time they have. Good lesson.

I feel like the characters could have been deeper, but this is a short book. I had the large-print version from the library (it had a shorter hold list!) and it was still a fairly thin book. If it were longer, perhaps Albom could have fleshed out all three main characters a little more, and made me care.

It's good writing, though; what's there is very good, even if it's obvious where it's going. I've never read any of Albom's books before, but I can see why he's popular, if all his writing is like this.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Twitter


Remember how you can follow us on Twitter @ReviewMeTwice? I want to let you know about some other awesome people and groups on Twitter that you might enjoy following.

@Pentametron
Pentametron is a program designed to retweet other people's tweets and turn them into poetry... literally. It finds tweets that are really close to being in iambic pentameter that would make good couplets, and fits them together, posting 15-20 tweets per day (or more during big events like the Superbowl and the Grammys). I first read about it here.

Example:
"It doesn't even matter, anyway."
"Tomorrow is a legging sweatshirt day"
(These were retweeted from two separate users, at almost the same time, to make a rhyming couplet.)

@UNYPL
This is the Underground New York Public Library. Their website is here. They take photos of people reading on the subway system of New York City. It's more fascinating than it sounds. It makes me wish I had a metro ride to get to work every day; I could get more reading done!

Example:
"Tropic of Cancer," by Henry Miller 
(This is a typical tweet by UNYPL, including the title and author of the book being read, then a link to the photo of someone reading it.)

@OEDonline
The OED is the Oxford English Dictionary. Every day, they post interesting facts about English vocabulary, including history, etymology, and a word of the day.

Example:
Our earliest recorded example of 'karaoke' is from 1979. Borrowed from Japanese, its literal meaning is 'empty orchestra'.

Then we have authors... Some of the best tweeting authors include:
@neilhimself (Neil Gaiman)
@MargaretAtwood
@AnneRiceAuthor
@megcabot
@RL_Stine
@RebeccaSkloot
@ScottWesterfeld
@libbabray

What bookish Twitter users do you follow? Give us your suggestions in the comments (or tweet them to us @reviewmetwice!)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Favorite Time Travel

Because this week's review book, The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom, deals so heavily with the concept of time, we are talking about our favorite time travel books today.



Mine is Douglas Adams' The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the second book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.

The first part of the book deals with Zaphod's experience with the Total Perspective Vortex, which has little - if anything - to do with time travel, so I will skip it. After that ordeal, everyone goes to the restaurant at the end of the universe.

The titular restaurant is Milliways, which exists at the end of the universe regarding both space and time, and is therefore only accessible through time travel. (Unless you're Marvin, the paranoid android, who gets there by his powers of extreme patience.) It's very expensive, but you can afford to eat there by depositing a penny in a bank account during your present time, and the interest will compound enough to pay your bill by the time you arrive for your reservation.

After the scenes at Milliways and several other things happen, Arthur and Ford find themselves back on Earth, but in prehistoric times. They got there on a Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet B ship, which contains a bunch of hairdressers and telephone sanitizers that turned out to be the real ancestors of modern man (not the Neanderthals that they find there).

One of my favorite scenes in the entire series takes place in this setting, with Arthur trying to coax The Question out of a bag of Scrabble tiles. (This question being the one that goes with Deep Thought's Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, which was the disappointing: 42.)



Arthur manages to spell out "what do you get if you multiply six by nine" before he runs out of tiles. (You may notice that 6 x 9 is actually 54, but in base 13, 6 x 9 is actually 42. Adams swore he didn't mean to do this, and the math was meant to be incorrect.) A Neanderthal spells out "forty two" but this goes unnoticed, and is meant to be an indication that the Neanderthals were part of the Earth computation (built by Deep Thought to find the Question) but the Golgafrinchans were not.

This whole situation brings us one of my favorite quotations ever:
"Six by nine. Forty two."
"That's it. That's all there is."
"I always thought something was fundamentally wrong with the universe."
 
My most favorite time travel book is something very different from Alex's (which... I've noticed that our favorites are usually pretty different. Which is kind of the point of this blog.) I really love The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
 

Henry can time travel, has been able to since he was six years old, but he has no control over when it happens or where he goes.  The only thing he knows is that he's going to travel somewhere in his own timeline.  Frequently, he runs into himself.  He also can't take anything with him.  So he has to steal money and food and even clothes.

During his time travel, he meets Clare.  He's an adult when he begins to visit Clare (who is just a young girl herself), but the first time they meet in the present, Henry doesn't even know who Clare is, despite the fact that she has known him most of her life.

The story, however, is not so much about the time travel.  It's more about the fact that Clare frequently doesn't know where her husband is and she can't participate on his adventures.  She has to deal with the fact that it's something only he can experiance.  Also, there are a lot of times that time traveling takes him away from her when she needs him. 

One of the scenes I love best is when they get married.  Henry, stressed out and therefore increasing the chances he'll jump, ends up traveling just an hour or so before their wedding.  However, a future version of himself travels to the past.  It's a future Henry that marries Clare (which she knows the second he gets to the altar, though no one else does), and later they have a small, private ceremony when he returns.

The book is incredibly well written, sweet and even a little heartbreaking.  It's a book you should really pick up and read.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Passage of Time

Passage of time is a big deal in most books.  For Albom, in The Time Keeper, it's essential.  Albom shows the passage of time in a very condensed form, because his main character is forced to watch for hundreds of thousands of years the passage of time, but then slows it down when the character has to live in time.  His character also creates time, which really makes you think.  We automatically register the passing of time; there are clocks everywhere.  We're obsessed with it, but there was a point in history when this wasn't so.

There are some books that you read the entire book, but only one day has passed.  A great example of this is James Joyce's Ulysses.  It's a book that ranges anywhere from 600-1000 pages (depending on the edition) but only one day, June 16th, passes in the book.  Dicken's A Christmas Carol is probably one of the most famous books that takes place in a single day. 

J.K. Rowling's new book, A Casual Vacancy (which we'll be covering in April), takes place within the span of a week.  Rowling indicates the time passing by heading up her chapters with the day of the week it is.  But then, interestingly enough, she stops and we have to deduce the day of the week ourselves.  It feels like months have passed, but in reality, it's a very little amount of time.

There are books where the time lines DON'T match up.  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is famous for this kind of miss-match.  Though no actual dates are referenced in Tolstoy's book, lots of major events are.  He often tell us that "three months have passed" or something of the like.  Frequently, events don't match up with the passage of time he's provided.  One assumes it was done on purpose, but no one really knows for sure, or why.

In some ways, A Christmas Carol is also like this.  Each ghost come at the stroke of one. Presumably, on subsequent nights.

"Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one."
"Couldn't I take `em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?" hinted Scrooge. "Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!" -A Christmas Carol

Marley tells Scrooge that the ghosts are going to come but, supposedly, over three nights.  And what's more, Scrooge ends up going forward and back in time in his life.  Something that should have, at minimum, taken three nights, only took one night to do.  So the time that passes doesn't match up with the day Scrooge wakes up.

Time travel can also be an interesting way to handle time.  In The Time Traveler's Wife, Henry travels sporadically with no control over it, and often runs into people he hasn't met yet.  Or is asked to recall events that haven't actually happened to him yet.

Authors handle time in all sorts of ways, but inevitably, time actually becomes an extremely important factor in a lot of books, even if you the viewer doesn't necessarily notice the passage of it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mitch Albom


This week, we're reading The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom.  If you haven't heard of The Time Keeper, chances are you've heard/read one if his other books.  The Five People You Meet In Heaven and Tuesdays With Morrie are probably his two most well-known.


But there are some surprising things you may not have known about Mr. Albom.  For instance, his background isn't in inspirational and moving writing (shocking, I know.)  He has a background in sports writing and, in fact, did that for many years.  He wrote for magazines such as Sports Illustrated and covered the Olympics more than once.

Albom also has a very diverse background.  He has written plays and is heavily involved in music, being able to play the piano and still to this day is in a band that plays for charities.  While he was going to school, he worked in the music industry to support his bills.  He is a very accomplished songwriter.

He also worked hard for the position he's in.  He worked as a babysitter and wrote for supermarket circulars to pay his way through college.  He also wrote part-time with Sports magazine, all while still working with the music industry.

Tuesdays With Morrie was his first book, written in 1997.  It's based upon Albom's visits to his old professor, who was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease   Albom wanted to help his professor pay for his vast medical bills, so he wrote a book about their visits and submitted it to a publisher.  Six months after publication, it became number one on the NYT Best Seller list, and remained on that list for 205 weeks.

Albom supports several charaties in Detroit and you can find more information about him on his website.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

By Its Cover: Pride & Prejudice


This is the cover of the version of Pride and Prejudice that I read. It pretty much sums up the book, as far as I'm concerned. There's a lady, presented as she would have been in the early 1800s, probably meant to be Elizabeth. Ta-da! That's the story.

Okay, maybe not. But if you try to include any more of the story on the cover, you're going to run out of room. Sure, Mr. Darcy is arguably the next-most-important character and you could put him on the cover with her (as the films seem to do) but that gives away important details (that everyone knows anyway because this is a classic).

There isn't intrigue or anything to pique one's interest on this cover... But there doesn't have to be. This is England's favorite book; it doesn't need any help being sold.
 
I agree with Alex.  My cover wan't much different (it had a BUNCH of early 1800s ladies sitting on a couch), but my cover was the anthology, so it makes sense that there's more than one girl; there's more than one book in my book.
 
If you put too many people on the Pride & Prejudice covers, you will give away a lot and, let's be honest, everyone pretty much knows what happens.  The book is 200 years old.  We don't need to be enticed by the cover because, chances are, we're not picking this book up because the cover looked interesting. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

ReviewMeTwice- Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

This week, we read Pride and Prejudice, in honor of Valentine's day (I know; you're just so shocked.  It was such a surprise.)



This book... I have read this book more times than I could possibly count.  Probably about once a year: I hear the name mentioned, and I remember how much I love it, and so I make a concerted effort to pick it up and read it, despite its length.

The thing I probably love most about this book is the language.  Austen just writes... well, absolutely beautifully.  Lizzy, especially, has some quotes that just blow you out of the water.

*****The following passage may contain some spoilers.  And I have just recently found out, that there are still people out there who don't know what happens.*****

“From the very beginning— from the first moment, I may almost say— of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” 

There is also a part of the book where Darcy's Aunt, Catherine De Bourgh, comes to essentially bully Elizabeth into not marrying her nephew.  She demands to know if Elizabeth is planning to marry Darcy and tells her to never do so.  Elizabeth, because she's awesome, answers with, "You can now have nothing farther to say [...] You have insulted me, in every possible method.  I must beg return to the house."

****Ok, Spoilers Over.*****

I love the characters; everyone is so fleshed out and I can see them clearly in my mind.  Collins, who is annoying and beady.  Charlotte who, while unattractive, is caring and loving and Lizzie adores her.  Lizzie and Jane's sisters, who are annoying and insipid.  Or worse, feel the need to show everyone that there's a lesson in everything.

I love that after all these years, the story is still around.  I mean, it's hopelessly romantic and entirely unrealistic, but it gives you hope and makes your heart warm.  I know how many flaws there are (for instance, Lizzie doesn't begin to love Darcy until she sees his big house.  It gives off the message that you can change a man.) but at the end of the day, I just don't really care.  I love that Lizzie and Darcy can't stand each other at first.  I love that they're so rude to each other.  I love that no one is really as they seem, except maybe Jane, because she really is that sweet.

I feel like I can't even properly review this book because the writing makes me fall in love with the book all over again, every time that I read it.  I will admit that you have to ENJOY this kind of period writing.  Her writing is flowery and heavy if you're not used to it.  And it is, for all intents and purposes, chick lit.  Wonderfully written and amazingly inspired, but chick lit at the end of the day.

Hopefully, Alex will give you a little less biased review, but mine will contain nothing but love.

My Bottom Line: 5 out of 5

I know Cassy super-loves this book, but I just... don't. (Which is sort of the point of the blog... sometimes this happens.) It took me forever to get through the book, not because the language is difficult or the writing is bad, but it just isn't my sort of story, so I didn't really care what happened next.

That said, it is enjoyable. I really like Elizabeth (because she often seems to be the only one with any sense). I like that she falls for a guy she originally detests (although, knowing the whole time that they'll wind up together because it's as common knowledge as Romeo and Juliet made it too... inevitable).

I love the writing. The wit in every line from certain characters is just fantastic. I can see why this is England's favorite book.

So, long story short, it isn't my cup of tea, but I don't like tea to begin with... so it's probably very good tea, but since I'm not a tea-drinker... well, you get it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Romance

Romance: 
A novel or other prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry, romantic exploits, etc., usually in a historical or imaginary setting.

The colorful world, life, or conditions depicted in such tales.

A baseless, made-up story, usually full of exaggeration or fanciful invention.

Romantic:
Fanciful, impractical, unrealistic.

Imbued with or dominated by idealism, a desire for adventure, chivalry, etc.

Characterized by a preoccupation with love or by the idealizing of love or one's beloved.




What do you think of when you hear "romance" or "romantic"?


A traditionally beautiful couple in traditionally beautiful clothes in a traditionally beautiful setting (a balcony, a clean and tourist-free beach, beneath the Eiffel Tower). There are probably candles and flowers and champagne or wine, all of which is being ignored by the couple in favor of exchanging deep, sensuous looks and kisses and overwrought lines about each other's beauty.

Which is totally unrealistic, unless you're one of the dozen young, beautiful billionaires in the world, am I right?

Not if you're this guy, it's not. This is Don Quixote. (And his faithful servant, Sancho Panza... and a windmill.)

The definitions at the top of this post define Don Quixote to a T. He's delusional about everything because he is so blinded by his idealistic view of the object of his affections, Dulcinea (who is not actually Dulcinea, but just a farm girl who is completely unaware of the entire situation).

Don Quixote is the perfect example of textbook-definition romance. A crazy guy fighting chivalrously for the idea of his perfect woman, which he projects onto an unsuspecting young lady.

I promise I'm not trying to sound cynical, though! Let's take a different approach...


A roman is a novel. (A Roman is a person from Rome.) The words "romance" and "romantic" come from this word, meaning that they were intended to describe fictional, fantastical, unrealistic situations and experiences. "Romance," by definition, is not supposed to be something we run across in the real world. Of course, being human, we want what we can't have, so it's also something we expend a lot of effort trying to attain.

(The word "roman" also refers to a type of print - opposed to italic - and it's the root for "romance" referring to the type of language, like French or Spanish, as well. Etymology!)

Don Quixote is considered the first novel (and by many, the best work of literature ever written), so it makes sense that we derive our meaning of "romance" from Don Quixote's behaviors. His is the quintessential novel; "roman" means novel; romance is what happened in that novel. Logic!

One more lesson, and I promise to let you go eat chocolate and exchange sloppy kisses with your significant others:



Denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. For example, chocolate is a food product made from roasted, husked, and ground cacao seeds, usually sweetened by something like vanilla.

Connotation is the emotional meaning of a word. For example, chocolate symbolizes comfort to some people. To others, it symbolizes weight gain. And sometimes the context changes its connotation. If it's on the grocery store shelf, it could mean temptation, but if it's wrapped and given as a gift, it might mean happiness or love.

So the point I'm getting at is that no matter what "romance" literally means, its connotation to you is what is important for you, so...

Enjoy your Valentine's Day.



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Favorite Literary Couple

To celebrate one of the most beloved romance stories ever written (and England's favorite book of all time), Pride & Prejudice, (and a little holiday coming up on Thursday), we want to tell you about our favorite literary couples.



Mine is Ron and Hermione from the Harry Potter series. And I'm the first to admit that I probably would not squee over them half as much if they hadn't been translated into film. Actually seeing them made them that much more lovable.
I think what makes me love them so much is the build-up. For years we wondered. We get to see their relationship develop, from awkwardly competitive (Hermione's talents lie in academic pursuits, whereas Ron's are more rooted in abstract concepts like courage and loyalty) to witty banter to finally admitting that yes, they really are meant to be together.
Some people thought Hermione would wind up with Harry, which I thought was preposterous. I appreciated the scene where Hermione and Harry dance in the tent in the last film so much because they are just perfect friends.
And of course, who didn't cheer when they saw Ron and Hermione kiss, finally? Well, I did. And most of the people in the theater with me did. And I still do, but more quietly.


One of my favorite things about them, though, is the fact that their Patronuses match. Hermione's Patronus is an otter, which belongs to the same family as weasels (like Weasley). Too much of a stretch? Ron's is a Jack Russell terrier, a breed of dog known for chasing otters. We learn about their Patronuses during the DADA lessons Harry teaches to Dumbledore's Army in Order of the Phoenix, long before we get stronger hints to their relationship.

So, usually I would pick Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett as my favorite couple.  But since we're hearing about them in HOARDS this week, I'll refrain.  And there is a sadistic part of me that wants to say, "OMG!  Edward and Bella, of course!", but I won't do that either.  Mainly because we know it isn't true.


Will and Lyra, from Pullman's His Dark Materials series, are just about the cutest couple in the history of mankind.  And the best part?  It's not the romance that I inevitably love about them: it's their adventures and their friendship and watching them both grow. 

Will doesn't actually show up until The Subtle Knife.  That's when he passes from his world into an intermediary world, where he meets Lyra.  They save people and explore this strange world and figure out so much about each other.  They meet all sorts of people along the way and, inevitably, fight to save every world.

While they do link up romantically in the final book (which, there is a lot of controversy surrounding it), it's what happens at the end of The Amber Spyglass that tugs at your heart the most.  I won't tell you what happens, because that would just spoil everything, but it's tragic and heartwarming and moving and basically embodies their entire friendship.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pride & Prejudice Film Adaptations

1940

This is the first version of Pride & Prejudice that was ever done, and to be honest, it shows its age.  They really rush the story line, throwing things together that don't make a lot of sense.  They seem to want to get all the exposition of the book out in just a few scenes.  
 
They also don't have a lot of the period stuff down, but I think that's just another sign of the times.  Movies were still realitively new, so they didn't so much pay attention to things like appropriate clothes for the time period. As a result, it ends up being more Scarlett O'Hara than Jane Austen.

And the acting was... ehhhh.  Everyone in the movie ended up being nice and wholesome, when in the book, people really weren't.  Mrs. De Bough doesn't like Elizabeth in the book, but in the movie, it's a big conspiracy that she's trying to help Darcy.

1980

If you have ever seen a version of Pride & Prejudice that wasn't the Kiera Knightly version, than it was probably this one (though, I've heard the Colin Firth redux is pretty popular, so maybe not.)  There are some really great things about the BBC version.  For instance, BBC puts just about everything from the book into the movie.  Also, I really feel that the girls were appropriately cast in this series, which didn't happen in its predecessor.  The clothing was amazing and I really liked looking at all the pretty houses and seeing scenes I may not have seen in other versions.

However, it's attribute can also be its downfall.  Everything is included in this version, and it's all in order, but sometimes, things just needed to be condensed.  There are things about the novel that, as a viewer, are irrelevant and we don't really need to sit through them.  Over all, a decent version that you should sit down and watch at some point.

1995
 


The Colin Firth version with the infamous wet shirt scene (which... I'm still not really sure why it's in there.  I'm prrreeeetttttyyy certain this wasn't in the book.)  Honestly, Firth makes a great Darcy, and Elizabeth is well-cast too.  While I think some of the other characters are not what I would have expecting, I don't think there are any bad choices.

The BBC also seems to learn this time around.  Yes, there is a LOT of material in this one.  However, they're not as strict to the book as last time.  They learned what should be cut out and where you can combine and add things.  While this is long (you're looking at about five hours of show), it's a lot better than the first one that BBC did.  Definitely worth watching when you have some time.


2003

This is the only version of the book that, as your dedicated blogger, I didn't watch.  It wasn't available on Netflix, so I didn't see it, but it's a modern day version of Pride & Prejudice.  Elizabeth is a writer in college and fights with a business man, Mr. Darcy.  From what I've gleaned, it's like Pride & Prejudice in the way that Clueless is like Emma.  Keeps the basic plot points, but updates it drastically for modern day.

2005

To date, this is probably the most well known and, in my opinion, best adaptation of the bunch.  It doesn't try and modernize it, but neither does it include every detail that there ever was in the book.  It skillfully condenses the things you need to know, but also keeps the things that you absolutely love about the book.  Your favorite scenes and most inspiring speeches are included in it.  Not to mention, all the acting is well done.

Probably my only complaint is that, sometimes, you can tell they're disregarding the time period for the romance.  They were huge on propriety in 1818 England and didn't let men and woman walk around together, alone.  There was certainly no cuddling or touching or romantic anything until you were married (and sometimes not even then.)  This movie, while good, does take a few liberties.

2008

This adaptation is a little different than all the rest, mainly because it's not a true adaptation.  Amanda Price ends up in the world of Austen, living out her favorite book Pride & Prejudice.  Elizabeth ends up in present day, though the movie follows Amanda.  Inevitably, Amanda messes up the entire story line and can't seem to get back to her world (despite her many pleas with Elizabeth whom, we assume, is on the other side of the door.)


 
While a fun movie, to be sure, especially as we see Amanda stumble through this unfamiliar world, it has some major flaws.  Because of her forwardness, just about every man falls in love with her in a second, except for of course, Darcy.  We also miss some of the most beloved characters, like Elizabeth's Aunt and Uncle.  We seem miss some of the best moments of the book (if you read the book, I think you'll understand what scenes I'm talking about.)  Amanda seems to fill the role of Elizabeth, unknowingly.  So does she end up with Mr. Darcy?  Well, you'll just have to watch it yourself.
Don't let my complaints sway you to think I didn't like it, though.  It fulfilled all my girlie romance desires and had a satisfying ending.  One that you expected, but didn't at the same time.  Other than the copious amounts of crying (there were tons) and the movie going on probably longer than necessary (about two and half hours), I really enjoyed it.


The things I liked best about watching all of these movies was seeing different takes on my favorite parts of the book.  For the most part, a lot of the scenes were similar, but the acting was different.  I loved watcing Darcy and Elizabeth fight and interact.  I loved seeing who they would get for Mr. Collins, because I think he is just the most ridiculous character.  I think that the 2005 version probably had my favorite Mr. Collins, but I was never dissatisfied with any of the other choices.

I also learned things that I never caught onto in the book.  For instance, it took me until watching these movies that Mary isn't GOOD at the piano and singing.  Part of the joke is that she's so terrible at singing, which I never really grasped in the written word.