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Rolling Out the Red Carpet

posted on February 26, 2014 at 2:52 am by Jenny Oleinik
Oscar himself guards the staircase at our U-District store.

Oscar himself guards the staircase at our U-District store.

Now that the Winter Olympics have concluded–and can I say bravo to Sochi on that epic celebration of Russian literature in the closing ceremony?–it’s time to turn our attention to the 86th Academy Awards. The lights! The dazzle! The pageantry! And, most importantly, the books that made so many of these movies possible from the start.

 
This year’s nominations stem from a bunch of great reads, and we’ve listed the majority of them, along with their respective book titles, below. Read the book and see the movie (or switch the order, if you so prefer). Lights, camera, action!
 
12 Years a Slave (Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Directing, etc.) 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northrop. Solomon Northup was a free-born African American who lived between 1808 and around 1863. Twelve Years a Slave is Northrup’s memoir (as told to and edited by David Wilson) of his experience being kidnapped and sold into slavery for twelve years in Louisiana before regaining his freedom. Northrop’s book was a bestseller when it was first published (just a year after Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin) but then slumped into a a century of obscurity before it was “re-discovered” in the early 1960s. The movie 12 Years a Slave is not the first film adaptation of the book, though: in 1984, Solomon Northrup’s Odyssey (later released as Half Slave, Half Free) was aired on PBS.
 

WolfWallStreetThe Wolf of Wall Street (Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Directing, etc.) The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort. Having not read this one myself, I will pass the baton to Publishers Weekly: “Belfort, who founded one of the first and largest chop shop brokerage firms in 1987, was banned from the securities business for life by 1994, and later went to jail for fraud and money-laundering, delivers a memoir that reads like fiction. It covers his decade of success with straightforward accounts of how he worked with managers of obscure companies to acquire large amounts of stock with minimal public disclosure, then pumped up the price and sold it, so he and the insiders made large profits while public investors usually lost.” And a follow-up from Kirkus Reviews: “Entertaining as pulp fiction, real as a federal indictment […] a hell of a read.”

 

bookthiefThe Book Thief (Music – Original Score) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Book Thief has been a must-read since its publication in 2006. Narrated by death, it tells the story of Liesel, a foster child in 1939 Nazi Germany. She discovers an insatiable love of reading that she shares with her foster father, her neighbours, and the Jewish man hiding in her basement. Though categorized as a teen book, it has become an international bestseller with readers of all ages and has spent over 375 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It is one of those books that gets passed from reader to reader and has become a staple for book clubs nationwide. Zusak was recently awarded the 2014 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contribution in writing for young adults. Even if you don’t see the movie, this book is a wonderful choice.

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects) — The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien. Well this one seems pretty obvious, don’t you think?

 

Captain Phillips (Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, etc.) A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephen Talty. In A Captain’s Duty, Captain Richard Philips tells the story of the hijacking of the container ship MV Maersk Alabama and his experience as a hostage to Somali pirates before he was rescued. Tom Hanks’ acting in the role of Captain Phillips was, as is typical for Hanks, fantastic. While the film focuses mainly on Phillips’ experience, the book alternates between his ordeal and the experiences of his family in Vermont as they faced a different kind of emotional turmoil. A Captain’s Duty received starred reviews from both Booklist and Publishers Weekly.

 

mayor cover for webInside Llewyn Davis (Cinematography, Sound Mixing)The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir by Dave Van Ronk. The Seattle Times says this book is “[a] delightful, keenly-observed, cantankerous autobiography…which, if you love ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ you owe it to yourself to read.” In it Van Ronk, one of the founding individuals of the 1960s folk music revival, gives a firsthand account of his experiences and encounters with soon-to-be famous Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and more. According to the New York Review of Books blog, Inside Llewyn Davis “extensively mines Van Ronk’s remarkable posthumous memoirThe Mayor of MacDougal Street (seamlessly compiled from interviews by Elijah Wald; Da Capo, 2005) for scenes, anecdotes, and details of background, and its protagonist, Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) sings songs closely associated with Van Ronk.”

 

The Great Gatsby (Costume Design)The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Whether you loved or hated the film–and it was definitely a dividing movie–almost everyone can agree that the novel by Fitzgerald is one of the all-time best American classics. If you haven’t read it yet, now is as good a time as any.

 

The "Before they were Oscars..." display set-up at our Mill Creek branch.

The “Before they were Oscars…” display set-up at our Mill Creek branch.

Saving Mr. Banks (Music – Original Score) Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers. Okay, so it’s not based on Mary Poppins so much as the woman who wrote it and Walt Disney’s determination to bring it to cinematic life, but I still think it belongs on this list. Another title that might be of interest is Mary Poppins She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers by Valerie Lawson. Booklist says: “It turns out there was a lot of the difficult Travers in Poppins. […] This meticulously researched but overlong biography may help restore a diminished literary reputation, but its unsparing portrait of an exceedingly unsympathetic human being will win Travers no new posthumous friends.” Biography fans ought to appreciate this one, especially those who were annoyed with the inaccuracies portrayed in the film (as charming as it was).

 

room on the broomRoom on the Broom (Short Film – Animated)Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson; illustrated by Axel Scheffler. This short is based on the classic picture book created by the same duo who wrote and illustrated another bestselling kids’ favorite, The Gruffalo. Learn more here about the animated short, the original book, and a new game app that’s available.

 

Philomena (Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, etc.) — Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, & a Fifty-Year Search by Martin Sixsmith. Philomena tells the true story, as told by journalist Sixsmith, of a pregnant teenager in 1952 who was sent to a convent and forced to give up her son for adoption. Five decades later she decides to find him and, unbeknownst to her, he attempts to find her as well, though they are now an ocean apart. Dame Judi Dench, who is nominated for a best actress award in this film, writes, “The extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman […] Philomena’s tale is special. […] It reveals a remarkable human being with astonishing fortitude and a truly humbling willingness to forgive. […] I hope Philomena’s heroic search and her courage in allowing her story to be told will bring comfort to all who have suffered a similar fate.” (Dench has written the foreword to the newest edition of the book that is now available.)

 

lone survivorLone Survivor (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing)Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. Lone Survivor is a non-fiction account of Luttrell’s experience in Afghanistan under Operation Red Wing in which he and other Navy SEALs were to observe a local village and capture or kill a Taliban leader. An encounter with local residents, however, turns their mission treacherously violent as they find themselves surrounded and greatly outnumbered by Taliban warriors. Film rights were obtained in 2007, the same year that the book was released. According to The Washington Post, “If you’re looking for a true story that showcases both American heroism and Afghani humanity, [this] may be the book for you.”

 

Blue Jasmine (Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Writing – Original Screenplay) — This drama, written and directed by Woody Allen, tells the story of a fall from wealth to poverty by a Manhattan Socialite. Though not specifically based on a book (note the nomination for best original screenplay), it has been heavily compared to Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire. Some critics believe Allen was directly inspired by the play, citing similar plot and characters, though not all critics agree. Regardless, the two leading ladies in Allen’s film have previously been associated with Williams’ play, and a comparison of the two would certainly bring about a lively conversation about comparative art.

 

OsageAugust: Osage County (Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role)August: Osage County by Tracy Letts. This play, an American black-comedy drama, premiered in Chicago in 2007 and then received  Pulitzer Prize in 2008. It focuses on the strong-willed and disjointed women of the Weston family who reunite after a family crisis in their hometown of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The film adaptation features a star-studded cast (including Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, both with Oscar nods for their roles). The play itself is three hours long while the film is just around two hours. According to our own used book buyer, Brad Craft, “If you want to experience the full disfunction of this family, you owe it to yourself to read the play. A lot more drinking, drugs, and fighting–all of the fun.”

 

As always, happy reading! (And watching.)

At the Movies — With a Book

posted on November 7, 2013 at 12:13 am by Brad Craft
Read the Book, see the Movie

Read the Book, see the Movie

Time again for a perennial display favorite, celebrating the journey from book to film.  As you can see in the photo above, there has been a bumper crop of new movie-adaptations this year.  As you can also see from the sign and or the caption on the photo above, we suggest the order in which these things might best be done, but it’s not like it’s a hard and fast rule.

Two you should know.

Two you should know.

A perfect example of why one really ought to read the book first?   J. R. R. Tolkien‘s classic, The Hobbit. One of the great pleasures (think nerd) of watching Peter Jackson‘s ongoing film trilogy of same, is parsing what is or is not actually taken from the novel.

On the other hand, movies can bring less familiar classics back to our attention, such as 12 Years a Slave, by Solomon Northrup, just reissued by Penguin, in time for the release of the new film adaptation, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Moments That Made the Movies, by David Thomson

Moments That Made the Movies, by David Thomson

What makes this display particularly exciting though is the excuse it provides to include the latest title from the best living American film critic, David Thomson, of the New Republic.  If you are a film fan and you don’t know this man’s name already, it’s time you did. Through regular reviews and now a whole series of serious and very entertaining books, Thomson has created a body of critical work as likely to last as any film writing of the last century.

In his latest, Moments That Made the Movies — a truly gorgeous object, full of the most glorious color and black and white movie images — Thomson selects and analyzes pivotal scenes, masterful shots, and some of the greatest acting in the whole history of the movies; from the silent era down to the modern day.  Some the reader will recognize instantly, others may be unfamiliar, but Thomson’s witty and wise dissections can only make the reader want to see these films again or for the first time.

Now’s as good a time as any to read a great book, see a good movie, and or read a great film critic.  (Then head over to the greatest video store on the West Coast, and possibly in the country, if not the world, Scarecrow Video, and support a truly remarkable institution.  Bring a list, or browse the aisles, or ask the staff for recommendations.  There really is no greater resource for film anywhere in the world.  We love them.)

Hooray for Hollywood!

posted on October 4, 2013 at 9:46 pm by Dan Doody

I love books. And movies. And books about movies, well don’t get me started—those are like the literary equivalent of Reese’s peanut butter cups. For me, one of the most fascinating periods of history is the Golden Age of Hollywood, from the 1920s till the early 1950s, the era of the Studio System and such moguls as Irving Thalberg and Samuel Goldwyn. The former served as inspiration for the main character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished final novel The Last Tycoon; the latter is the subject of A. Scott Berg’s second biography, Goldwyn, an insightful and comprehensive portrait of one of the most powerful Hollywood figures to rule a studio. (And thanks to Mr. Berg’s recent stop at Town Hall for his new, and impressive biography on Woodrow Wilson, the University Book Store has signed copies of both Wilson and Goldwyn.)

 

The Studio System excelled at doing two things: producing films with astonishing efficiency (at its peak, Goldwyn’s studio MGM produced 52 features a year, one for every week) and promoting its stars into pop culture icons. One of the most iconic stars ever to emerge from Hollywood was Elizabeth Taylor, the subject of M. G. Lord’s The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted By Her Beauty to Notice. Lord’s award winning book recounts how Taylor—in such films as BUtterfield 8, Suddenly, Last Summer, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf—was able to subtly embodied the ideas of postwar feminism through her performances and also discusses her lasting legacy as an AIDS activist. For those wanting further evidence of Lord’s thesis, University Book Store has a compilation of four Elizabeth Taylor films, which includes her Academy Award-winning turn in BUtterfield 8.

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One can hardly mention Elizabeth Taylor without conjuring up the specter of Richard Burton. Their romance and marriage defined Celebrity in the 1960s and early 70s. Last year, The Richard Burton Diaries were published and is now available in paperback and offers invaluable insight into one of the screen’s master thespians.

 

The 60s and 70s were a turbulent time for the movies. Television had chipped away at the once powerful studios, leaving them shells of their former selves. Mick Harris’s Pictures at a Revolution recounts how the Hollywood reinvented itself for the modern era. Along similar lines, Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value examines the indelible mark horror films—from Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist to Alien—made on cinema in the 70s and 80s.

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The best contemporary writer on the movies and Hollywood is David Thomson, whose The New Biographical Dictionary of Film is a witty, engaging, and entertaining reference to nearly every major figure in cinema. His most recent book, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies, comes out in paperback next month. Thomson explores how the movies first entranced America and what it means now that the silver screen is shrinking and shrinking to the point where we can (and sometimes, do) watch a movie on an iPhone. New Yorker film critic David Denby’s book, Do The Movies Have a Future?, furthers the discussion started by Thomson and will also be released in paperback later this month.

 

Of course, The New Yorker‘s most famous film critic was the formidable and influential Pauline Kael, the subject of Brian Kellow’s Pauline Kael: A Life In The Dark. She is also the only film critic to have a selection of her reviews published in the prestigious Library of America series. In Life Itself, Roger Ebert’s wonderful memoir, the critic shares how much cinema shaped his life. Both works show, in turn, how Kael’s and Ebert’s criticism shaped the movies we know and love today.

ebert

Finally, the fall season always heralds a new slate of literary adaptations, and this year is no different. Among the films based on books that you’ll be hearing about include 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, already touted as a Best Picture favorite; The Invisible Woman, based on Claire Tomalin’s account of Charles Dickens and his mistress Nelly Ternan, starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes; Horns by Joe Hill, which stars Daniel Radcliffe, who also portrays Beat poet Allen Ginsburg in Kill Your Darlings; and Life of Crime, an adaptation of The Switch by the late, great Elmore Leonard.

As always, we recommend reading the book before seeing the film.

–Dan