Friday, June 29, 2007

This guy is good . . .

Minh Le has a blog Bottom Shelf Books giving an alternative view of many of the classics of children's literature. I suspect he will be frequently quoted here.
Frog and Toad are friends who (judging by their clothing) both teach in the Philosophy Department at the University of Vermont.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Well the things you learn. . .

Evaline Ness was the illustrator of Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine for which she won the 1967 Caldecott Medal. It was a popular story with our children when they were younger and I read it many times to them over the years.

What I did not know was that the Ness part of her name was from her marriage to Eliot Ness, of Treasury Department/Al Capone/Untouchables fame. I don't know quite what to make of that, but it is oddly fascinating to me.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Chronicles of Narnia

Having read the C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia as a child and enjoyed them immensely (one of those stories that take you away from your present reality and then has the courtesy to repeat the favor over several books), I anticipated the release of the movie version in 2005 with some trepidation. Your interaction with a book is often so unique that any movie version has to be a disappointment. Occasionally there are real successes where the new movie carves out its own distinct character but somehow, and often unaccountably, remains true to the source. It is then that you end up with two separate enjoyments, the movie and the book, separate but related.

More often though, the movie is more or less derivative of the original story and then you are left debating about how the weighting of this theme was overdone, how that sub-plot was overlooked altogether, how a secondary character was portrayed inconsistently with your reading of them, etc. Your judgment of the movie becomes a function of the extent to which it is closely correlated or not (Cheaper by the Dozen) to the original book.

You look forward to those occasions when the derivative movie reinforces your reading experience, often serving as the catalyst to go back and re-enjoy the book. You dread when the celluloid rendition besmirches a recollected story by its ham-fisted rendition.

And yet it is a little more complicated than that. I was struck by this last night.
When the Chronicles movie came out a couple of years ago we took all three kids to see it as they had all read and enjoyed the books. The net of the post-viewing discussion was that the filming was beautiful and that while the producers had clearly made the effort to adhere to a pretty nuanced and layered story as closely as possible and had done a fair job of doing so, it was definitely a derivative movie and that the power of the memory of the books would definitely outweigh that of the movie.

Last night the Chronicles were on TV and my daughter very much wanted to see it again and so we re-watched. Nothing in the second viewing changed my assessment from the first. However, I was struck by just how visually powerful some of the scenes were. Lucy stumbling through the closet into Narnia's winter, the lamp post, the Edwardian decorations of Mr. Tumnus' home, the wretchedly drained-of-color forecourt of the White Witches palace, the rich panoply of Aslan's army.

So I end up with the original story line and pleasure from the books intact. That is the memory carried, not the version of the movie. And yet now, in thinking of the parts of the story, there is a visual picture that supplements the reading experience. The producers have rendered a snapshot of those scenes consistent with that which I had created in my head, but theirs has an immediacy and detail which adds one more pleasure.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lines from Dashiell Hammett

The Big Knockover

". . . no more warmth in him than a hangman's rope."

"The room was as black as an honest politician's prospects."

"She didn't seem to know what it was all about, but she couldn't help knowing that it was about something."

Clive James

As he describes his site "At the moment, the contraption, built in a garden shed and first tested off the tops of small hills, is more like a free university having a love affair with a space station. Another useful analogy might be with a clearing in the jungle. The web is certainly a jungle, and without a few clearings it is hard to see how the innocent can stay sane in there, and it might soon be hard to see anything at all. There have to be at least a few areas that unashamedly represent civilized achievement, if only because there are so many that represent the exact opposite, all fangs bared."

He can be a little much to take sometimes but is almost always worth reading.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nothing like having the wind taken out of your imperial sails

from King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Having just survived crossing a desert, then climbing and descending a mountain range into new country cut off from the rest of the world, Alan Quartermain and his companions encounter a group of threatening inhabitants of this new world, whose custom it is to put to death all intruders. They speak an archaic form of Zulu and Quartermain is able to communicate with them in that tongue.

. . . "Nay, ye shall know the truth. We come from another world, though we are men such as ye; we come," I went on, "from the biggest star that shines at night."

"Oh! oh!" groaned the chorus of astonished aborigines.

"Yes," I went on, "we do, indeed"; and again I smiled benignly, as I uttered that amazing lie. "We come to stay with you a little while, and to bless you by our sojourn. Ye will see, O friends, that I have prepared myself for this visit by the learning of your language."

"It is so, it is so," said the chorus.

"Only, my lord," put in the old gentleman, "thou hast learnt it very badly."

As a non-fiction reader I'm not so sympathetic to this research

Reading Novels Linked with Increased Empathy

Sunday, June 17, 2007

RG Herge

There is a good article on Herge, the author/illustrator of the long running Tintin stories. Unfortunately available only in abstract on-line, it can be found in full in the May 28, 2007 edition in an article titled A Boy's World. It is written by Anthony Lane. Among the other tid-bits he explains the origins of the nome-de-plume, Herge.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

They're creepy and they're kooky


Years ago, at Georgetown's Lauinger Library, while avoiding some study assignment or another by trawling the stacks, I stumbled across Charles Addams, a cartoonist from the thirties and forties. His dark humor was definitely creepy and kooky and led to the famous Addams Family TV series in the sixties plus a couple of spin off movies. Some of his work has recently been re-released including even The Charles Addams Mother Goose, a rendition unlike most others to which a child will be exposed. The humor is really more off-beat rather than gruesome, somewhat in the vein of Edward Gorey. It will appeal to most children but especially to twelve year olds of the Y chromosome persuasion.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Words, words, words

This caught my eye in an otherwise also interesting article, Marriage in America, in the The Economist magazine from the May 31st issue.
Research also suggests that middle- and working-class parents approach child-rearing in different ways. Professional parents shuttle their kids from choir practice to baseball camp and check that they are doing their homework. They also talk to them more. One study found that a college professor's kids hear an average of 2,150 words per hour in the first years of life. Working-class children hear 1,250 and those in welfare families only 620.