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The Avid Reader June 2008
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In This Issue:

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» Shelf Talk: Pooh-Poohing Pooh

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If you have comments about this issue of the Avid Reader, please send us your feedback.

In May, I talked about Passion for Books, and how that carried over to another passion: music (jazz in particular). This month, I continue the theme of overlapping passions by presenting books that became great movies.

I adore movies. It's funny; if I spend two hours watching television, it feels like time wasted, but watching a movie rarely does (I will be polite and not mention the exceptions that come to mind). Typically I find the book superior to the film, because imagination is so powerful. Sometimes they get the villain's moustache wrong, or cut out the tender bit with Aunt Irma, or the director's vision just didn't match mine. Most importantly, even longer films have a limited amount of time to tell the story, and there are bound to be subtleties, nuances, and details lost in translation.

This month's Avid Reader showcases books that have been made into superior motion pictures, both modern and classic. And because no experience is complete without a good nosh, I'll offer recommended snack pairings, as well.


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BOOKS IN REVIEW
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The Princess Bride by William Goldman

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Modern

The Princess Bride

by William Goldman

The Princess Bride has something for everyone (unless you're a fuddy-duddy). Pirates, swordplay, murder, a princess, death, kidnapping, true love, revenge (served ice-cold, of course), a giant, and even a fire swamp. The film adaptation is brilliant and amazing, and leaves me smiling and satisfied with every viewing (and there have been many). Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya ("Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die."), Andre the Giant as Fezzik, Wallace Shawn, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright-Penn, and more…the characters are cast perfectly, and play off each other effortlessly.

This is also an example of how much a book and film can differ, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The book, in my opinion, meanders too far off course on several occasions, and is so rife with footnotes, asides, and strange tangents that it somewhat compromises the joy and simplicity of the main narrative. In that regard, the film is more successful and fun. However, I don't know if I'd enjoy the movie nearly as much as I do without having read the book, which also delves far more deeply into the personal histories of Fezzik, Inigo, Buttercup and more, and I wouldn't miss that for the world. This is a story so wonderful it should be enjoyed in every format available. If ever there is a puppet show of The Princess Bride, I'll be first in line.

Recommended snacking: Chocolate (chocolate-coated miracle pills, if on hand), or a nice MLT (mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich).
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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
by Philip K. Dick

Dystopian, dark and disturbing, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? tells the story of Rick Deckard, who hunts replicants masquerading as humans on Earth. The year is 2019, and the replicants are intended only to do work on Earth's off-world colonies, but some have returned illegally to Earth. The book and film are quite different, and while Blade Runner (as the film version was titled) is one of my favourite movies, the book is superior in this case, with a lot of interesting political and socio-economic subtext that's absent in the film.

Recommended snacking: take-out noodles (best from a sketchy stand).
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Stevens is a butler. He works for Lord Darlington, has done for years, and takes his role extremely seriously, elevating it almost to the status of art form, rather than job. The story is told from his perspective, and he is so quietly understated that it would be easy for the reader to miss the heartbreak behind his words. Stevens becomes increasingly paralyzed by his duty and emotions, to the detriment of his own happiness and love. The motion picture is excellent, and Anthony Hopkins a superb choice, but the book is perfection.

Recommended snacking: crustless cucumber sandwiches and a good cuppa.
Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella Shoeless Joe
by W.P. Kinsella

I am no fan of Kevin Costner, as a rule. The exception, however, has to be his baseball movies, both Bull Durham and especially Field of Dreams, adapted from W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe. This is an instance where the film upstaged the book. James Earl Jones is genius as a reclusive writer, and there are times the viewer does wonder if Ray (Costner) is indeed crazy for plowing his corn field under because the voices told him to. But it's easy to get caught up in the sense of magic and wonder, and to believe.

Recommended snacking: What else? Corn (creamed, if you like, but I suggest popped).
The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike The Witches of Eastwick
by John Updike

The Witches of Eastwick is another example of a film adaptation differing greatly from the original text. Both versions concern three women with magical abilities and their relationship to a new man in town. Both focus on themes of love, jealousy, sexism and revenge. However, where the movie portrays the three women as basically good and redeemable, the book is much darker, and the trio is vindictive, dangerous and out for blood, and the man in town is painted as less of a cheating bachelor and more of a truly evil villain.

Recommended snacking: Cherries (careful of the pits).
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Classic

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

by L. Frank Baum

The Wizard of Oz is certainly remembered as a film - Judy Garland's sweet singing voice, the fantastical story, the oddball characters met along the yellow brick road and the brilliant Technicolor all help to make it unforgettable (not to mention the winged monkeys, of which I was terrified as a child). It's a classic favorite for a reason, and enduring - having been released almost 70 years ago, it is still consistently mentioned as one of the top fantasy films ever made.

But have you also read the amazing children's novel by L. Frank Baum from which the movie originated? Titled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book was first published in 1900. It was the first of a series, and differed in many ways from the film released in 1939. For one thing, Dorothy's time in Oz wasn't a dream in the book version, but a real adventure. And she was given magic silver shoes, which became - you guessed it - the ruby slippers in the film adaptation. A wildly popular book for children, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a must-read for fantasy-lovers of any age.

Recommended snacking: (Somewhere Over the) Rainbow Sherbet.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

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Breakfast at Tiffany's
by Truman Capote

Audiences everywhere have been charmed by Audrey Hepburn's wide-eyed portrayal of the naïve and lovable Holly Golightly since the film's release in 1961. Arguably Hepburn's most well-known role, Holly Golightly feels lost and afraid of adulthood - even as far as naming her cat. See where she originated - in Truman Capote's 1958 novella of the same name.

Recommended snacking: Breakfast, of course (with a cocktail).
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
by Ken Kesey

Gregarious and charismatic, it's tough not to like Randle McMurphy, who brings life and humor to the mental hospital he is remanded to after a prison work term. The film is a remarkable masterpiece, but if you've never read the book, you're missing out; if possible, Nurse Ratched is even scarier in print. The frustration, intolerance and sorrow are palpable in its pages - but so is the irrepressible joy we can bring to each other.

Recommended snacking: Whiskey (preferably stolen). Definitely no vegetables.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Doctor Zhivago
by Boris Pasternak

A dramatic, compelling love story set smack-dab in the middle of the Russian Revolution, Doctor Zhivago struggled to be published - it was originally smuggled out of the Soviet Union. Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and Alec Guinness all contributed to the film's successful rise to celebrated classic. Even at a whopping 197 minutes, the film doesn't capture everything in the book. Find out what you missed.

Recommended snacking: Nothing. Or, if you must, some good dark bread and a bottle of Stolichnaya.
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

Despite serious themes of racism, injustice and rape, To Kill a Mockingbird is about a single father trying to raise his children with dignity, love and understanding. Very much an understated hero, Atticus Finch astonishes his children when they see him in the courtroom, and realize their boring father is actually an extraordinary man. Gregory Peck played the role to perfection, but there's so much more in the book. Don't miss it.

Recommended snacking: Ham (watch out for chicken wire).
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
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SHELF TALK
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Pooh-Poohing Pooh: Where Hollywood Gets it Wrong
by Richard Davies - PR Manager; Resident Brit.

Since we're talking about books turned into movies, I have to let off some steam - there should not, I repeat not, be a gopher in Walt Disney's Winnie the Pooh movies. It was a cynical ploy to Americanize the most British of children's stories, and it gets my goat every time I see that whistling gopher, which I see frequently because I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old. Why didn't Disney just go the whole hog and have Pooh addicted to hot dogs rather than honey? Do you reckon AA Milne, who went to Cambridge and smoked a pipe, was inspired by gophers? I think not.

Hollywood frequently messes up books. They just can't help themselves, it must be all that blazing sunshine in California. The worst book-to-film adaptation has to be The Mosquito Coast - Peter Weir's movie was a complete turkey and marked the only time I've ever walked out of a movie theater mid-film. Sometimes you just know after 10 minutes that the film isn't working. Paul Theroux must have cringed when he saw Harrison Ford struggling to make sense of it. Here are two more stinkers. The Bonfire Of The Vanities - great book, terrible film. HG Wells' War of the Worlds - great book, legendary radio adaptation, but a shocking Tom Cruise film.

It's just impossible to cram the entirety of a book into two hours of action and dialogue. You can't put a pint into a quart pot. The Bonfire of the Vanities took me about a month to finish because it is 550 pages long and I read at tortoise pace. I think Hollywood should step away from attempting to convert big strapping novels into silver screen epics, and use short stories and novellas for their inspiration.

Field of Dreams has become one of my favorite films - a wonderful feel-good movie - and that comes from WP Kinsella's novella, Shoeless Joe. Now, I liked the book but I think the movie is actually better than the book - the characters emerge more in the film than on the page. I saw a TV interview with Kinsella once and he seemed to agree the film outshone his book. Short stories can make good films. Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain movie comes from a short story in E Annie Proulx's Close Range: Wyoming Stories - a wonderful collection of tales I heartily recommend. John Ford's Stagecoach came from Ernest Haycox's short story Stage to Lordsburg.

Sometimes it's best to discover the book after the movie. Get a taster from Hollywood first; get the full story from the book later. I've done that many times and knowing the ending has not ruined the book.

However, the bottom line is movies, like books, touch us emotionally. Alistair MacLeans' Where Eagles Dare will never be critically acclaimed for its prose, but I love that 1968 movie with Richard Burton (going through the motions, I know) and an exceptionally young (and wooden) Clint Eastwood and all those English character actors who steal each scene from the big stars. I'll never pick up MacLeans' book but I will always watch that film - it's that damn soundtrack.

Tell us your thoughts about great books that became terrible movies or even terrible books that became great movies.
Winnie the Pooh, Old vs New
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ON THE SITE
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Bestsellers for May
  1. The Last Lecture
    Randy Pausch
  2. A New Earth
    Eckhart Tolle
  3. The Audacity of Hope
    Barack Obama
  4. Devil May Care
    Sebastian Faulks
  5. Three Cups of Tea
    Greg Mortenson
See the whole list on our homepage

Sex and the City Love Letters

Sex and the City Love LettersIn the age of cellphones, email and instant messaging, you would think love letters would be a thing of the past but a love text message (I luv u) hardly compares to a letter from the heart. The producers of the Sex and the City movie agree and they are currently helping to revive interest in love letters.

Read the entire article.

Raising The Next Avid Readers

Raising The Next Avid ReadersThe Story Laboratory is a fun (and free!) event where kids can write their own stories and then make their own books from them.

Read all about it, and see past creations!
Most Expensive books sold in May
  1. Etudes à l'Eau-Forte
    Francis Seymour Haden - $17,216
  2. Grimm's Fairy Tales
    Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm - $11,388
  3. Atlas der Krystallformen
    Victor Goldschmidt - $8,500
  4. Treatise of Elementary Chemistry
    Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier - $7,709
  5. The Library of Treasury of French Law
    Laurent Bouchel - $6,356
See the whole list

Found in Books

Found in Books Be careful what you use as a bookmark. Thousands of dollars, a Christmas card signed by Frank Baum, a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card, a marriage certificate from 1879, a baby's tooth, a diamond ring and a handwritten poem by Irish writer Katharine Tynan Hickson are just some of the stranger objects discovered inside books by AbeBooks.com booksellers.

See What Else Has Been Found in Books.
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Our Bundle of Books Contest continues and as an Avid Reader subscriber, you are already entered. This month's bundle features some of the best titles that have become really excellent films. It's up to you whether you read then watch, or vice versa!

See June's Bundle of Books.

Win a Selection of Hot Summer Books

Make room on your bookshelf for these three new books, When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris, Beijing Coma by Ma Jian and The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston.

Visit Our Summer Reading Room and Enter to Win.
Current Promotions

June's featured best buy is James Patterson's mysterious and strange Sundays at Tiffany's which details the intriguing story of a little girl named Jane, who lets go of her imaginary friend, Michael, as she grows up. But Michael returns to her as an adult - in a very real way.

Brand new copies of the hardcover are available for $14.99 - a 40% savings off the list price! Visit our Best Buys page.

Talk to Us

Thoughts? Comments? Witty anecdotes? We'd love to hear them.

Let us know what's on your mind.
Notes from Avid Readers
Thanks to everybody who wrote to weigh in on our last issue, and who shared their stories of reading on public transportation. We had some great submissions! Here are some of our favourites. And as always, please keep writing, as we love to hear from you.

I live in LA and as such drive a bit. I have been addicted to talk radio for decades...I do like to keep up. Had always looked down my nose at "Books on Tape", but no more. I discovered them on frequent seven-hour drives to Arizona. The first was Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, unabridged (I haven't been over that one with books on tape...yet...I'm a bit of a purest), I don't know if I'd ever have picked it up in tome form, but oh was it exquisite to listen to...a soap opera really but the prose was amazing. I still listen to talk radio driving around LA...but I now switch on the CD function during those long commercial breaks and repetitive news broadcasts...amazing what I squeeze in. I met Will Lee about 30 years ago, bassist for The David Letterman Band (I'm afraid I watch Craig Ferguson now-brilliant...oh, wait a minute he's opposite Conan-I'll be able to watch him when he takes over for Leno soon) -he showed me his over the shoulder bass case to which he had had attached a large outside pocket for his subway companion; I was impressed. I suppose he uses an IPod on the subway now- but one can listen to music and read simultaneously though I haven't seen anyone doing it as of yet.
—Karen

As one who seldom leaves home without a book to read just in case I catch a few minutes waiting for whatever I am out and about for, i.e., appointment, standing in a line, meeting a friend, stuck in traffic, etc., I enjoyed your description of your life with books, especially while traveling. Often, I'm disappointed when I don't have to wait for the appointment or whatever I'm expecting as a time to enjoy my book. (While I do like magazines, I don't find them to be a satisfactory alternative to a book.)
—Paulette
I was so glad to read Richard Davies comments about reading on the Tube and missing his stop. I have been reading on the bus most of my adult life. Heck, I've been reading anywhere and everywhere ever since I learned how to read but since starting to work for a living reading on the bus is a necessity to fill that void between work and home. Usually I'm pretty aware of where on the route I am and know just when to put the bookmark in and close the book. However, about a year ago I was reading Kathy Reichs' book "Break No Bones". I was so deeply engrossed in it that I was oblivious to the fact that we had arrived at my bus stop. Fortunately, my neighbour was on the same bus and tugged at my sleeve to ask me if I was getting off. Goodness knows how long I would have stayed on the bus before I took notice of my surroundings. Since it was an express bus I could have travelled quite a distance.
—Wendy

One of the best experiences I have had reading on public transportation was in England. As I took trains through the countryside, I read Notes from a Small Country by Bill Bryson and contemplated my own experiences as an American living in this country so alike and yet so very different from the one I'd known. I highly recommend reading pertinent travelogues when riding trains, planes, and buses to, from, and around a new country or region; it can enhance what you'll see out of the window with deeper thoughts than a pleasant ride normally provokes.
—Colleen

At the age of 80 and long retired, I find that reading and music ARE my public transport. The reading is mostly in historical mysteries and takes me to Ancient and Medieval times to rub shoulders with the people and experience the setting and life from afar. Music, in many ways, does the same -- still some reminiscing in the classics, but a lot of vicarious international travel to enjoy the traditional and ethnic music of every continent.
—Larry
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