Friday, 29 April 2011

Video: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - full trailer - Telegraph

Video: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - full trailer - Telegraph

I know I'm not alone in being excited about this. Yes, I'm a little older than JK's typical reader. Yes, I also like books by Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy. But the Harry Potter series has been a complete joy.

The books that is. The films have been a little bit inconsistent - more inconsistent than the books (I only admit to feeling one of them is genuinely weaker than the rest, and it is the one with the most stuff packed in it...no5). However, Half Blood Prince, was a wonderful adaptation of the book - spoiled only slightly by the strange reworking of the finer details of the very final scenes when D topples from the tower. HP7 part I was a cut above, almost my favourite so far. No, possibly it was my favourite so far. And going by the snippets of the finale, the series is going to finish in some style.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Throne of Fire - Rick Riordan vs Alex Rider's Scorpio Rising

Number one son (actually, the only son) snapped a certain preview copy out of my hands this week. He's had a reading burst thanks first to the latest Alex Rider - Antony Horowitz's Scorpio Rising - and now Rick Riordan's second Kane Chronicle, The Throne of Fire.

Not that either of us can tell you what that book is like, of course. It's under embargo until the end of next week and flaming sphinxes couldn't drag the details from me.

I mention it because partly because we've been in a grump with Son No 1 lately about his reading. He seems to flit from book to book without really finishing many of them. I moaned at him the other day about not reading Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But then I had a go at it myself and fell asleep around page 87 and I started to wonder if perhaps he had a reasonable point.

Books really do have to grab kids these days... even more so than adults. We grown ups can tell ourselves that we are going to read X, Y or Z because it's good for us. Kids won't necessarily take that attitude. In fact it's pretty rare. Instead books have to compete head on with all the stuff kids do: ipods, TV, DVD, games, music, sport, schoolwork, the other gender, clothes, brushing their teeth, remembering where they live...

But Rick Riordan and Anthony Horowitz seem to have figured out the secret. Son reckoned the latest Alex Rider was stonkingly good. As to Kane, well obviously he's not saying yet. But he's hardly lifted his head from the page...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Amazon's Kindle store in Germany dominated by English language books

Globalisation has been with us for quite some time. A few hundred years. Similarly, English won the war to become the lingua franca some time ago. It's undoubtedly the default setting for global business and while there are exceptions - and the rise of China might well alter things eventually - its status as number one looks safe.

Even so, this report in the Bookseller's Futurebook blog really surprised me. When it comes to books, Europe has a rich culture, and people read books in the vernacular. Whether a novel is a romance, a thriller or considered literary, it is closely related to the spoken word. Just as I think and dream in English I find it hard to imagine ever reading a novel in another language.

But then I am particularly inept when it comes to languages. I have a few words of German and French but not enough to hold a conversation in either language. In this respect I think I am probably like most Brits and perhaps most Americans too. English is it: why bother with anything else?

In Europe, because of the dominance of English, people don't think the same way about their own language. The French love French. The Germans love German. But they speak English too, in large numbers. We were recently in Spain and were impressed by just how many locals were able to speak a little English - enough to do business in anyway.

According to Futurebook however, this trend toward English may well end up with books written in German being squeezed out as reading in English becomes the norm.

What an extraordinary idea. An entire language, one as old and as venerable as German, seeing its literary traditions dying out due to the economic power of Amazon and its pesky Kindle machine?

But why not? Technology is bringing the world together, fast. If everyone is on Facebook, why should we be speaking different languages? Wouldn't that get in the way of poking and messaging each other? In Ridley Scott's futuristic Blade Runner (pictured above), Harrison Ford's character speaks a hybrid language of English, Japanese and Chinese.

Of course, English is in pole position at the moment. But with the rise of China and its billions of people, who could say that the future language of the world might not be an English-Mandarin mix? Language is so fluid, and the world so increasingly small, it would be remarkable if this didn't happen.

Monday, 18 April 2011

BBC attacked by authors for 'sneering tone' in book show - Telegraph

This is great. I watched both the Culture Shows under attack here. The first of them, hosted by Sue Perkins, was a ludicrous but rather fun look at how a literary snob (Perkins) might be introduced to novels with pace and plot. I actually thought she came across as quite open minded and fun, though the books she chose to look at were incredibly limited and boringly obvious.

As for the other programme, the one in which the BBC named twelve authors to watch, I totall agree with the suggestion here: what a bore. Literary fiction gone mad.

Of course, what authors like Iain Banks know only too well is that programmes like this tend to be put together by cliques of people with limited, rather similar backgrounds: Oxbridge, Eng Lit degrees, middle classed, white. It's no wonder therefore that they tend to dwell on books that might have been written by the Bloomsbury set decades ago.

Author Promoting Book Gives It Her All Whether It's Just 3 People Or A Crowd Of 9 People | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

The funniest Onions are the ones with that seem the most truthful. This one seems pretty close to reality. Author Promoting Book Gives It Her All Whether It's Just 3 People Or A Crowd Of 9 People | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A new book list: a Facebook crowdsourcing challenge

Remember that BBC book list? The one we are all supposed to have read, on average, just six titles from? (I scored 58, smart aren't I?) In case you haven't seen it, I've reproduced it below.
The list itself isn't ridiculous, but it is a bit dull: a mix of classics you'd find on every A level/university reading list, Booker prize winners and the kind of best sellers you couldn't avoid even if you tried.
Each time it circulates I've seen comments from people saying they thought the list was daft, or unbalanced - where are the interesting books, the genre fiction, the romance. There was nothing quirky. Or daring.
So here's my proposal: let's put together a new list.
I've posted this on Facebook. What I want everyone to do is message me a list of five, ten, no more than fifteen novels - title and author please. Forward the challenge on to your friends and have them message me too. I'll collate the lists into one great humungous list. Hopefully we'll get an interesting, honest top 100 and I'll rank them to reflect popularity. If you aren't on Facebook, please give me your own list by listing them in the comments box below.
What I ask is that you give me the books you think are MUST READS. Not the books you think you SHOULD read, but the ones you have read which are unmissable. Unforgettable. And please be honest. List the books you love rather than the books you think you should love.
I've already had some extraordinary answers and the lists I've been sent don't reflect the BBC list at all.
This is an experiment in crowdsourcing and the more people you can encourage to take part the more interesting and varied the list will be.
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
 2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
 3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
 4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowlin
 5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce 
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazu Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare 
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Chimptastic - The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale

Amazingly, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale is the second novel I’ve read in as many years which is narrated by a chimp. Me Cheeta, the Hollywood kiss and tell-style biography of Tarzan’s best buddy, sneaked onto the Booker longlist in 2009 although it was a better idea than it was a novel. Talk about waiting for buses.
So did someone take the old adage about monkeys, typewriters and the complete works of Shakespeare a little too literally? But why chimps? It occurs to me that both these novels - Me Cheeta author James Lever is A Bolton-born Englishman while Bruno's Hale is an American products of one its many creative writing academies - were conceived during the George W. Bush idiocracy when it might have seemed to some that a monkey was in charge.

More likely, this mini-obsession with animals sharing 98 per cent of our DNA probably reflects a general anxiety about the dumbing-down of modern society: if all we do is eat fast food and watch reality TV, just how different from unthinking primates are we? Of course, Hale has done his research into current thinking on ape’s and language and his simian, Bruno, is the opposite to lumpen-humankind: he is curious, a hard worker, open-minded and extremely clever.

Yes but. This book lives or dies by its narrator, and while there are good moments Bruno is overwhelmingly a bore. He never uses one word when a hundred will do (you teach ‘em to talk, then they never shut up!) and as a result the novel is disappointingly baggy and episodic.

Plot twists, such as they are, are constantly flagged up in advance (it’s a knowing narrative, dahling) thereby destroying any chance of suspense or, dare I say it, that we are being told a story, rather than being invited to witness how smart the author is. But then, perhaps it is targeted at readers who are into endless tangential discussions on everything from Darwin to why Barbie dolls don’t have nipples.

This is a novel steeped in its own apelore. Bruno is a reverse of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes: he is an ape raised by humans who shuns his own kind to become human. But what the book actually turns out to be is an elaborate, often pornographic reworking of Pinocchio, the puppet who wants to be a boy. Bruno even gets himself a human nose – a nose, get it?

Oh yes, The Porn. It’s not that big a spoiler to say that Bruno has (a lot of) sex with a human woman and that this is described in such graphic detail, well, some of you might be compelled to throw the paperback out the window. Others, however, may want to post quotes on Facebook, which is pretty much where they belong.

* This review appears in this week's Big Issue Scotland magazine. Buy it from a vendor today.

Mary Higgins Clark: 83 year old gramma as $64 million superauthor

As one blog put it, Kiri Blakeley - The Bold Type - Forbes: "Americans like their tragedies to have a happy ending."

Mary Higgins Clark has recently signed a FIVE BOOK DEAL worth $64 MILLION.

She has sold 100 million books in the US alone. She sells 4 million books a year.

Oh yes, and she's 83 years old.

So when anyone tells you there is no money in publishing, DON'T BELIEVE THEM.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Adaptation blues

A novel should be far better off being adapted to the small screen rather than the big. Often novels are too long and complex to be converted into feature films. A mere 90-120 minutes is simply not long enough to capture the plot twists, the range of characters and the subtleties of a novel. And that is the case as much for Anna Karenina as it is, I believe, for Harry Potter. Fun though the Warner Bros films are, Rowling's books are far more satisfying (their numerous flaws included).

The BBC are having one of their periodic splurges on literary fiction. We've just had the floaty, moody and rather brutal Women in Love, and now we are about to get Michel Faber's Crimson Petal and the White.

These are different beasts of course. The former has been part of the 'canon' for decades. A classic novel. The latter is more recent: a modern novel set in Victorian times which deals with the sexual hypocrisy of the age.

Petal, I must admit, has been on the 'must get round to' pile for too many years now. I really must get round to it, and this adaptation will probably drive me to it. This is TV as bossy bully: This is a Great Novel, TV is telling us, You Must Read! And yes I will, if for no other reason than to enjoy the experience before I watch the BBC version - there's always the risk it will be so bad that it might ruin the book forever.

Women In Love I read two decades ago when I was a student. I'm not sure what to make of DH Lawrence now. I never loved his prose: his style was a turn off. So many of the things he would have fought for - sexual equality, an openness about sex - have become mainstream. Social classes are more fluid than they were in the Edwardian era too: we've had the rise of the working class intellectual. Of course if Jamie's Dream School is anything to go by, we might be having the fall of it too. But is Women In Love an important book for now, or an exercise in going over what we learned at school? Television does reading nostalgia if you like?

Relevance is what really counts with any adaptation of this sort. Why pluck Lawrence off the shelf when there are other writers around now addressing current issues better? Is Women In Love a relevant drama or is it just an exercise in branding: DH Lawrence = Intelligent Drama With A Lot Of Sex. And there's nothing the chattering classes like more than a lot of intellectual sex.

Which brings us back to Petal and its world of brothels and mistresses. Think I'd better set the V+ and get reading...

Friday, 1 April 2011

Has the Black Swan Stolen an Oscar?

Will Natalie Portman one day come to regret ever taking the lead role in Black Swan?

This Guardian blog sums up the case neatly enough. Perhaps the new allegations, that Sarah Lane of the American Ballet Theatre provided 85 per cent of the dancing on screen, isn't that much of a surprise really. I always thought it was a bit of a stretch to describe Portman as an accomplished dancer - she didn't look like one or move like one, however good her performance. I always suspected that some double work was inevitable. But 85 per cent? If that is the case, shouldn't the dancing have come across a little better?

I wrote when I saw the film: "The problem with ballet films is that ballet isn't there to be filmed. It is only really impressive when performed by real ballet dancers and Portman - who is wonderfully athletic compared to mere mortals - came across as a lumpen, pale imitation of the real thing. As a result, instead of being transported by the dance you end up almost giggling at it."

I stand by that. There was a heaviness to the dancing that made me think that perhaps it was mostly her. Or rather, it didn't alert me to the possibility that it might not have been. But I'm no ballet expert and the new claims are potentially explosive. Face it, if she did so little of the physical work in the film her performance is reduced: to a few high tempo rows with mommy and a lesbian sex fantasy... The stuff of mere daytime soap.

The dancing, at least the effort she put into it, regardless of the fact that it still looked less than you would see in a proper ballet, lifted the performance up two, three, ten levels.

If there has been a campaign to falsely present Portman's work as greater than it was - and the allegations have been denied - a campaign which included covering up the fact they used CGI techniques to 'mac' Portman's head on Lane's dancing body, then surely - suuuuurely - even in America, even in Hollywood, questions have to be asked about her Oscar.

There's a lot of respect for the little statuette in America and all round the world. Sure, the Academy often vote in the mildest bit of entertainmosludge imaginable as top film and celebrate and actor's performance in a bad movie because they ignored the one that was really good, but still: Oscars are credible. They rely on their credibility.

And if Portman didn't do all the dancing we were led to believe she did, then how does that Oscar look? The answer I think is seriously undermined. So will anyone be brave enough to ask for it back?