Summer reading standards: reflections

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The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym of J.K. Rowling)

Cormoran Strike is a struggling private detective who is hired to solve the death of supermodel Lula Landry – a death that has officially been ruled a suicide, but her grieving brother is convinced she was murdered. It was a bit slow to get into, but once Strike realizes that Landry may have not committed suicide after all, you can’t put it down.

Rating: 4 stars

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The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

In February 2014, I saw The Vagina Monologues performed for the first time at my school. As I was reading these hilarious, empowering, devastating monologues three years later, I was transported back to sitting next to my then-roommate in a packed Jesse Hall watching women dressed in red moan in pseudo-arousal a la When Harry Met Sally and scream about their pissed-off vaginas. The standout line: “I want to taste the fish. That’s why I ordered it.”

Rating: 4 stars

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The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Published just two months before her untimely death, Carrie Fisher recounts her experiences making the first Star Wars film and entering the realm of fame, but what dominates the book is her affair with co-star Harrison Ford. This was the first book I’ve read by Fisher, who writes with whip-smart wit that often had me scoffing and laughing out loud.

Rating: 3 stars

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Room by Emma Donoghue

I saw the movie at a little indie theater in CoMo last January and cried snot the entire time. Now I finally read the book and cried just as much (if not more). I devoured Room in less than three days, something I haven’t done to a book in years, and I believe everyone should give this a read at least once.

Rating: 5 stars

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Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi

I had more than a few nightmares reading this (including one particularly strange dream that my boyfriend invited his “good friend Charlie” over to dinner) but it was one of the most riveting books I’ve read in a long, long time. I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t believe it was nonfiction. The story of how Charles Manson built his “Family” and maintained such a strong, Christ-like influence over each of its members is astonishing, bizarre and terrifying.

Rating: 5 stars

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Strangeland by Tracey Emin

Emin is one of the most well-known artists from the Young British Artists of the ’90s, and my personal favorite ever since I learned about her and saw her piece “My Bed” last summer. Like much of her workStrangeland offered brief glimpses into moments of her life. It was written simply and sparsely, no-nonsense and never deviated with unnecessary details of each scene. It offered an interesting look into her life and psyche, but did lag as much as it engrossed.

Rating: 3 stars

Summer reading standards

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Like most kids, I always looked forward to summer – going to the pool, sleeping in late and, above all, being able to read without the hindrance of homework.

I would spend the days of summer vacation sitting inside and devouring book after book. My mother would sometimes ground me from reading and urge me to “get off that couch and go play outside; you need the exercise and fresh air.” In the summer between third and fourth grade, I read 13,053 pages and placed first in my elementary school’s summer reading challenge.

As I’ve grown older and schoolwork has become more and more demanding during the year, my time spent reading for pleasure has dwindled to a sad trickle. But I’m working to, hopefully, change that this summer.

Granted, since I just graduated from college not even a month ago, I have time to catch up on my always-growing bookshelf for the foreseeable future (especially since I’m unemployed. Please, somebody, hire me). But to get back into the swing of things, I’m pushing myself to read as many books as I can before August. The list to conquer (so far):

  • The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bossy Pants by Tina Fey
  • Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
  • Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

Good Book, Bad Movie: Top 5 Worst Book-to-Movie Adaptations

This past weekend I went to the movie theater. No, I did not see “The Lego Movie,” which has taken the world by storm these last couple of days. (97% on Rotten Tomatoes? Can it really be that good? I think I’ll wait until it’s on Redbox). Instead, I  saw “Vampire Academy.”

“But Claudia, why would you do that?” you might be wondering. “‘Vampire Academy?’ It looks awful! Horrendous! ‘Twilight’ minus the sparkling!” And yeah, it pretty much was. I wrote a review of it for my movie column, which you can read here.

As explained in my column, I decided to see “Vampire Academy” simply because I owed it to my 14 year-old self. I went through a phase where I obsessed over teen paranormal romance novels, as every young girl does. And one of my very favorite book series was Richelle Mead’s vampire romance. I loved everything about it- Rose’s snark, Lissa and Christian’s unconventional relationship, and don’t even get me started on Dimitri; I was in love with that hunky Russian guardian. “Vampire Academy” was a quality series. And as with many book-to-movie adaptations, the film fell flat on its face.

So in honor of Hollywood’s latest fail to adapt a popular book series, I’ve decided to take a walk down memory lane and remember all the books that I love and the movies that completely crushed them into the ground.

1. “Eragon” (20th Century Fox, 2006)

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Every time I think of “Eragon,” I feel so sorry for little sixth-grade Claudia. In the course of the school year I devoured Christopher Paolini’s first two novels (the only ones that were published at the time), “Eragon” and “Eldest,” and I thought they were absolutely brilliant. Fantasy, romance, adventure, mystery, battles, dragons, magic- what more could you ask for from a story? When the movie finally came to theaters, I was shaking with excitement. I went to the theater with my dad, all giddy and bouncing in anticipation…and then my hopes and dreams were destroyed.

It was god-awful. The acting was horrendous, the story was watered down almost beyond recognition, and Hollywood almost killed off Saphira and barely mentioned Angela. No. No no no. A part of my childhood died that day. And to make things worse, I didn’t have the emotional strength to express my dissatisfaction over the film, thus my parents assumed that I liked it and ended up giving it to me on DVD as a present. So now I own it. And every time I see it sitting among my other DVDs as I’m searching for a movie to watch, I vomit in my mouth a little.

2. “Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” (Universal Studios, 2009)

Universal Pictures
Universal Studios

I found Darren Shan’s “Cirque Du Freak” series almost accidentally. I remember I was at Borders, glancing over the shelves, when the first book, “A Living Nightmare,” caught my eye. I opened it, sat down, and read the preface. That’s all it took- I was hooked. After that day, I read the 12-book series in record time. It captivated me- “Cirque Du Freak” was unique, unpredictable, void of all clichés. I loved it so much that I even wrote fan fiction and made slideshows of fan art in my spare time. (Sixth-grade Claudia had a lot of spare time, okay?)

When I learned it was going to be made into a movie, I was thrilled. But, as with “Eragon,” I was only to be disappointed. Let’s be real- this movie was doomed for failure the moment that John C. Reilly was cast to play the sexy, mysterious, bad ass vampire Larten Crepsley (my favorite character of the series). To be honest, I can’t remember much of the movie, which is probably for the best. I remember a train wreck of the plot being completely changed and awful acting, but no specifics. I have successfully pushed the traumatic experience out of my mind, and I am perfectly okay with that.

I don't even know what's going on here. Why, Hollywood? WHY?
I don’t even know what’s going on here. Why, Hollywood? WHY?

3. “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” (20th Century Fox, 2010)

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Oh Logan Lerman, where did you go wrong? You can do so much better! Where is the charmingly awkward Charlie from “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” that we all fell in love with?

To be fair, Logan Lerman is probably the best thing about this adaptation of Rick Riordan’s popular children’s series. The acting was blah, there were changes to the plot that I had strong feelings against, etc. It just didn’t do it for me, okay? I also had a hard time adjusting to Annabeth’s hair being brown.

"ANNABETH IS A BLONDE! A BLONDE!" -me, internally.
“ANNABETH IS A BLONDE! A BLONDE!” -me, internally.

But seriously, how hard is it to dye your hair? And why is she finally blonde in the sequel, “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters?” I must not have been the only one who freaked out over this seemingly-infinitesimal detail. (It’s a big deal, guys).

4. “The Golden Compass” (New Line Cinema, 2007)

New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

With a cast including Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Ian McKellan, and Sam Elliott, “The Golden Compass” should have been a hell of a lot better than it was. Yes, the animation is pretty impressive. Yes, Philip Pullman’s fantasy story of a parallel universe is nothing short of stellar. But “The Golden Compass” ended up as one big train wreck.

What went wrong? Well, it could be the fact that the big-name actors get remarkably little screen time compared to the “star,” Dakota Blue Richards, who portrays (or, tries to portray) Lyra. It was pitiful to watch the poor girl. The Catholics got upset because it was “anti-Catholic.” If they were going to get upset, it should have been because it was an utter piece of crap. And it ended on what is quite possibly the most boring cliffhanger (Lyra looking out to the horizon, urging her enemies to “just try to stop us”) for a sequel that will never be made.

5. “The City of Ember” (20th Century Fox, 2008)

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

“The City of Ember” wasn’t awful. It was just simply extremely forgettable.

Nothing was “wrong” with it, per say. I am a huge Saoirse Ronan fan (“Hanna,” “The Lovely Bones,” “Atonement,”) and Billy Murray, who plays the mayor of Ember, can do no wrong. The reason I have included “The City Of Ember” on this list is simple: it did not even come close to doing the novel justice.

Jeanne DuPrau’s story is phenomenal. I read “The City of Ember” multiple times throughout elementary school, and I will always associate the story with my childhood. The film adaptation just fell flat. It was fine, but nothing that impressive. Eh.

P.S., what’s up with the giant moths and moles, Hollywood? DO NOT ADD THINGS TO SOMETHING THAT IS ALREADY PERFECT!

My return to reading

Despite my complaints about the past five weeks of Winter Break being a complete and utter snooze-fest of boredom (I return to CoMo in six days, huzzah!), there have been some perks. I got to spend quality time with my mother/BFF, I have finally finished (almost) Breaking Bad, I got to see all of my old friends from high school and, finally, I have finally had the time to read for pleasure.

Growing up I have always been an avid book worm. In early elementary school I devoured books such as The Magic Treehouse series and R. L. Stein’s Goosebumps before graduating to Harry Potter and the Warriors series by Erin Hunter (I mean, what fifth-grade girl wouldn’t love a seemingly never ending book series where all the main characters are cats?) I always had a book tucked under my arm. During my soccer games I would sit on the sidelines and read until my coach put me in. The summer before third and fourth grade I won my school’s “1,000 page reading challenge,” the second time with over 13,000 pages read in three short months. I would spend so much time sitting on the couch reading that my mom would sometimes take my books away from me and force me to go play outside like a normal child. In middle school I discovered Stephen King, who to this day is still my favorite author. I read Pet Sematary, then Salem’s Lot, then The Shining and Christine, and I was captivated.

Over the years, my love for reading hasn’t dwindled but the amount of books I’ve read has been on a steady decline. It just comes down to time. In high school I always had something assigned for Advanced English and then IB English classes. Shakespeare, Plath, McCarthy, Twain, Krakauer, Bradbury, Atwood. Some I loved, some I despised. But between assignments it was difficult to find the time and energy to read purely for pleasure. I’d maybe get a book in during breaks, but it was only over the summer where I would return to reading because I wanted to, not because my grade depended on it.

In college I have even less time for pleasure reading. I have classes and homework and articles to write for the newspaper, but the main reason comes down to the fact that all of your friends live right down the hall from you. All of first semester my mentality was, “why would I want to sit in my room alone and read when I could be hanging out with the Hatch 5 family until four in the morning?”

The great thing about winter break is it has reminded me that sitting in bed alone with a book is actually a great way to spend your evening. These past few weeks I finally finished the spectacular Under the Dome by Stephen King (which I began in July and only read about 100 to 150 pages of during the four months of first semester). I also began and finished Lucky, a memoir by Alice Sebold.

To motivate myself to keep my New Years resolution to read a little every day, I have constructed a list of books I want to read over the course of the upcoming year. It’s a bit ambitious, but I like a challenge.

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

On top of these newbies, I also want to reread all of the Harry Potter books before 2014 comes to a close. I haven’t read any of them since 2007, when The Deathly Hallows came out, and I want to see what reading them as an adult is like.

And so begins 2014: The Year of the Great Book Odyssey. Wish me luck.