Book Nook (141)
I have to tell you, I’ve been avoiding emotional books lately. After two months of dealing with my own life tragedies, the idea of reading about other people’s—even fictional ones—has felt like torture to me. So I’m not quite sure what possessed me to pick up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I’m not sure that I can say I’m glad I did. What I can say is that Me Before You is a beautiful book, and that sometimes it’s the harder-to-read books that are the ones that stick with you the longest.
I’ve written before about publishers and e-books, specifically, their difficulty in adapting the new medium to benefit them—not just profitability, but also in the ways e-books can be used to introduce new authors/books to the market. The fact is, e-book reader and tablet owners buy a lot of books. I’m no exception to that rule; when I think about the sheer number of e-books I buy, and the percentage of my budget eaten up by my Kindle purchases…well, quite frankly, I realize that I really need to get a life that involves other people.
This has been a challenging year for me personally, which has resulted in more weeks away from my CC2K post than I would like. Still, the one thing that has kept me going through the good and the bad has been reading, and I’ve done a lot of it this year.
So here, without further ado, are my top 10 books for 2013:
I have to admit, I’m still trying to wrap my head about the scandal that gripped the self-publishing community regarding erotic e-books in the past few weeks. I’ve been digging around, and this is what I’ve been able to find:
Sometimes I have no problem writing a review, because I have very strong feelings about a book one way or another—either love it or hate it. But when I don’t have strong feelings about a book in either direction, writing a review becomes much more difficult. Such is the case with Redemption by C. J. Barry.
Tony Lazlo here. I met Andi Cumbo-Floyd through Twitter, where she holds weekly discussion with other writers. She's one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I've interacted with, and her writing reflects that. Besides her ongoing pursuit of creative nonfiction, Andi is also a teacher and editor. She recently launched a new online community for writers, and she maintains an artistic commune of sorts on her 10-acre farm in Virginia. I'm proud to feature her here on CC2K.
Last week, I wrote about the television adaptation of the Outlander book series, and about my concerns that certain elements of the book series might not translate well into television (and inadvertently infuriated a lot of Diana Gabaldon fans when I did). But I stand by what I said: some books simply don’t translate well to television or movie format (e.g. The Time Traveler’s Wife’s non-linear narrative would have been very hard to pull off on-screen even with the most brilliant writers and directors in Hollywood). Other books actually translate much, much better than you would expect. (John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, which worked onscreen namely because Irving, who also wrote the script, was willing to make the necessary changes to the story to ensure it worked—primarily, shortening the time frame so that baby-faced Tobey Maguire didn’t have to age 20 years.)
But some books just beg for an adaptation. Certain books/series just have that something that you know they will, in capable hands, adapt well for either the big or small screen. So today, I’m going to talk about a few that I think would.
Starz recently announced that one of its new series, set to debut in spring 2014, would be an adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The first book follows Claire Randall, an English woman who travels back in time from 1945 to 1743 Scotland. She finds herself forced to marry to a young man named Jamie Fraser, but as she gets to know the Highland warrior their bond grows, and Claire must choose between her life—and her husband—in 1945 and the man she’s grown to love in 1743. Irish actress Caitriona Balfe has been cast as Claire, with Scottish actor Sam Heughan playing Jamie Fraser.
I’m writing this as a book article, but it really applies to all entertainment/storytelling mediums. Yesterday I watched the movie Bachelorette, starring Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, and Lizzy Caplan. It centers around three young woman who find out that one of their high school best friends (Rebel Wilson) is getting married. Rather than being happy for their friend, the three friends are aghast that their heavyset friend is getting married before any of them are. With its dark, sardonic humor, it’s clear that Bachelorette was going for the same demographic as 2011’s Bridesmaids. Yet the movie made barely a ripple, and a year after its release, it’s already been relegated to the $2.99 and under section in the video-on-demand library.
So it got me thinking about something: are likeable characters required in order for stories to succeed? Certainly, there’s ample evidence to the contrary: Humbert Humbert, Patrick Bateman, Hannibal Lecter. But all three of these characters have something in common: they’re men. Where are our unlikeable female characters in fiction?
I have to admit: I’m a little biased. As a reader and viewer, I much prefer characters that are at least somewhat sympathetic, if not always likeable. I didn’t really dig Bachelorette because the main characters were just completely lacking in redeeming qualities. Yet even with the selfish “heroines” of Bachelorette, they’ve given an overly sentimental final act that seems to say, “See, they aren’t so bad after all,” as if the filmmakers feared what would happen if they let them persist in their completely selfish, unrepentant state. The other (albeit limited) examples of unlikeable heroines I can think of—Bad Teacher, Young Adults—follow the same trajectory.
Meanwhile, Humbert, Bateman, and Lecter get to start out as horrible people in their fictional spaces (much MORE horrible than any of the female heroines, since they’re killers and pedophiles) and stay horrible throughout. There’s no redemption for them, and no one asks for it.
We seem to judge female characters by different standards than male ones. Or is it just that we don’t like those uncomfortable in-between spaces when it comes to women? I’m a big fan of "Game of Thrones," and one of the most frequent criticisms I’ve heard, of both the television series and the books, is that Catelyn Stark is not a likeable character. But what did Catelyn do? Reject Jon Snow because she couldn’t forgive her husband’s infidelity? Release Jaime Lannister and risk compromising her son’s war in order to get her daughters back? Meanwhile, Cersei Lannister is the more overtly “bad” character, in her continued scheming and covering the misdeeds of her psychopathic son. But it’s Catelyn Stark who gets singled out as unlikeable.
Unlikeable or unsympathetic characters may not be my thing. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think female characters should be given the same breadth of possibilities as male characters.
A Missing Peace by Beth Fred is a YA romance that starts out on a very She’s All That trajectory: popular guy Caleb makes a bet that he can get the new girl, Iraqi war refugee Mirriam to go to the prom with him. But the story really excels when it focuses on the cultural dynamics of Mirriam and Caleb’s relationship and of Mirriam’s life in Killeen, as well as the revelation of a shared history that connect Mirriam and Caleb.