Thursday, May 30, 2013

Adaptation, Please: Mistborn

Adam C. Zern discusses a few ideas about why Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn should be adapted into a film:

"Being a lover of books and movies I naturally visualize in great detail what the events, environments, and characters of a particular book would look like if they were put to screen. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson was a book I found incredibly easy to envision as a film and hope that one day an ambitious enough filmmaker with a big enough budget could adapt it for movie-going audiences.

To begin with, what Mistborn has in ready abundance is compelling visuals. Although the book presents a dying world, including persistently falling ash, the images possible could be extremely haunting but beautiful. It's a built in symbol that could be easily exploited by an adroit filmmaker. Furthermore, Mistborn's mystical magnetism, which is at the heart of its fantasy, provides innumerable opportunities to showcase the type of action sequences modern audiences thrive on. The film could easily transition between being exceptionally brutal and stunningly elegant in its violence. A talented production designer, costume and make-up artists, and special effects guys could work wonders with the city of Luthadel, the terrifying Steel Inquisitors, and characters like Kelsier and Lord Ruler.

Leaving visuals aside, however, Mistborn could be a wonderfully entertaining film if its main character, Vin, were appropriately portrayed. When Vin is first introduced to the reader she is timid and abused, but eventually becomes, under the tutelage of Kelsier and his partners, a formidable warrior and heroic personality. The fact she is a female makes this possibility all the more interesting. If the filmmakers were to cast a very capable actress like Saoirse Ronan the character could easily endear the feelings of the movie-going audience. Also, the camaraderie existing among Kelsier's crew could create a powerfully emotional dynamic in which audiences could willingly become invested in.  At the end of the day, if a film doesn't have characters worth watching no amount of visual style can salvage it.

A book like Mistborn is filled with interesting ideas and interesting people.  Some of those ideas and characters may need more development and might take a little more attention to find than others, but an apt screenwriter would have no problem culling the most important elements. Mistborn is not exactly the A Tale of Two Cities of fantasy books, but decent movies have been made from far inferior books (think Jaws). I think Mistborn is ripe for the adaptive picking and hope that one day someone takes a chance."

Friday, May 24, 2013

Reflections: An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Charles A. Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States:

"Academia is notorious for existing within a vacuum.  Every area of study becomes so constricted from every other subject of study it's almost as if other considerations don't exist.  Charles A. Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States could not be any more perfect of an example of that pedagogical approach.  As the name of the book implies, An Economic Interpretation attempts to explain the motivations of the framers of the Constitution and those who ratified it solely through their economic concerns and leaves mountains of historical information and context abandoned conspicuously on the floor.

To begin with, Charles A. Beard repeatedly commits an intellectual sin, which is one my greatest grumbles against academia; to wit,  he announces he doesn't have all of the data necessary to make a confident judgment and then proceeds to make judgments, conjectures, and theories, not to mention write an entire book based on his admittedly lacking foundation.  He presents some interesting facts, but it does little to provide a perspective that is anywhere near comprehensive.  Granted, that's hard to do regardless of the historical approach one takes, but An Economic Interpretation is so skewed and limited in its approach it's an absolute necessity that readers balance their reading of it with other historical works of the same time period and personalities.

One valuable thing the book does do, however, is present how important private property was to the framers.  Private property as a human right in America has undergone a brutal erosion over the past 100 years, and An Economic Interpretation does a fine job showing it was a huge consideration during the convention and during the ratification debates.  What An Economic Interpretation does not correctly illustrate is that for most of those involved the concern over private property was one based more on ideology rather than personal gain. 

I would only read An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States if one has a strong background in constitutional history or is willing to get one.  An Economic Interpretation presents a very, very warped and scanty view of the Constitution and those involved in its creation and eventual ratification.  I'm glad it's a part of my collection of constitutional and American history books so now I can definitely point at it and say confidently: ‘that's what I do not believe.’

By way of full disclosure, I first heard about An Economic Interpretation when I read Ezra Taft Benson's speech God's Hand in Our Nation's History, and his judgment of the book was not positive; therefore, my initial perception of the book was similarly not positive."

Reflections: Theodore Boone: The Abduction

Brad Howes shares his thoughts on John Grisham's Theodore Boone: The Abduction

"I did a little research on the Theodore Boone books after finishing the first one, Kid Lawyer. As a reminder, I thoroughly enjoyed Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, much more than I would have anticipated liking Grisham's 'adult' books. Nonetheless, what I learned was that Book three (The Accused), not two, more or less picks up where Book one leaves off. The result? A placeholder that winds up being a 'meh' kind of book. Let me explain why...

First of all, the book is technically a sequel, but spends a lot of time reintroducing people, places, and things that I was already familiar with. There is no reason to do this because you have no business reading a second book in a series if you don't read the first. Secondly, it was just a little random. A few weird characters were never fully developed, but details pertaining to setting were over developed. Lastly, the 'drama' was a little weak, especially compared to the first book. It was criminal fiction without a crime - if that's possible. Theo isn't even as cool as he was in the first book.

I guess to be fair, I probably shouldn't compare everything in Theodore Boone: The Abduction to the first book; but let's be honest, you want to write a series, this is what you get. I wouldn't suggest this book as a stand-alone; however, I enjoyed the first so much and am still extremely excited about the third, such that I do recommend Theodore Boone: The Abduction, just because it'll only take you two or three hours and you probably have nothing better to do anyway. Perhaps after I finish the series (the fourth in the set comes out May 21), I'll look back and have a different opinion on Book two, but for now, just 'meh.'"

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Words to Remember: To Learn to Read

"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark."
-Victor Hugo

Reflections: The Devil and Miss Prym

Megan Kline Shimer shares her thoughts on Paulo Coelho's The Devil and Miss Prym:

"I read The Alchemist many years ago and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to read more of Paulo Coelho's work. The Devil and Miss Prym seemed like a good second venture into his world.

This book can best be described as a good, old fashioned fable. Miss Prym lives in a small town of less than 300 people in the mountains. The town of Viscos is always the same, until a stranger comes to stay and causes everyone to question their moral fiber. The stranger finds Miss Prym and uses her as his spokesperson to the rest of the town and has her tell them his proposition: If they kill 1 inhabitant of their town within the week of his stay, he will give them 10 solid gold bars. If Miss Prym tells them, she will get an additional bar for herself; if she does not tell them, he will tell them all anyway and expose her for keeping the secret from them, which would very likely make her the victim they all decide on. She turmoils over her role in the whole business for several days before she finally figures out how and what to say. She believes that the townspeople are inherently good and also cowardly, so she believes that telling them will only cause them to throw the stranger out. Much to her dismay, the townspeople think the proposition through a little more than Miss Prym bargained for. In the end, she must stand up for her beliefs and call all of the others to stop trying to justify evil actions in order to get financial gain for their dying town.

I had no idea what to expect when I got into this book. Just going off of my experience with The Alchemist, I knew it would be a life lesson-type story. To be perfectly honest, the book was slow going at first. It is well written, but there are quite a few details the author takes for granted and the climax was a little too wordy for me to really say I loved it. I enjoyed the book, the lesson it teaches was great, it's just not one I would read again. I recommend The Devil and Miss Prym for anyone who wants a classic tale of good versus evil told in an unconventional and modern way."

Monday, May 13, 2013

3 Reasons Why You Should Read

Adam C. Zern highlights a few reasons why we should all read:

"I have spoken to so many people who bemoan their own lack of reading.  'I need to read more,' they'll say, and then provide a robust litany of why they don't.  Most of the reasons given are wholly unpersuasive to myself and to the person offering them.  After some pondering, I have identified at least three reasons why you should read and why Thousanders already do.

stack of books1. Too Big to Know
Instead of being discouraging, the vast amount of knowledge available should motivate us.  As I have written before, what we don't know is exactly why we should read.  To read is to fill your mind with a small portion of what is available.  True, there is too much to know in the world.  However, a surplus of knowledge and information is a sorry excuse for ignorance.

2. Let's Talk About . . . 
Aside from just knowing things, reading gives you the ability to talk about things.  The subject of conversation may or may not be directly related to what you've read, but chances are very high that something you've read in the past, especially if you've been reading consistently, will highlight something being discussed in the present.  Reading can make you interesting because it can give you interesting things to say.

3. I'd Rather Read a Book
book and tvReading is entertainment.  Certainly it's harder for some to get into the 'habit' of reading.  Yet, once a reader is truly born (or made) he or she finds a main channel of entertainment through reading.  When I have laid my eyes on the words of some of the best fiction or non-fiction books it has been as difficult to put it down as it has been to turn off a favorite movie, television show, or video game.  Personally, I have found that reading more helps you enjoy it more over time.  And any entertainment that gets better the more you experience it is worth looking into.

Read more.  Read now.  I have offered only three reasons, but there are no doubt other reasons, possibly some more compelling to you.  To start or re-start reading is easy.  Open a book, start at the first word and go left to right and top to bottom.  It's no use giving excuses.  They don't even convince you."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Reflections: Frankenstein's Monster

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Susan Heyboer O'Keefe's Frankenstein's Monster:

"I loved Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  I thought it was profound, moving, thoughtful, and unforgettable.  It is, in my opinion, one of those classics which actually deserve the status of being one.  Frankenstein's Monster is an unofficial follow-up to Shelley's classic, and it strives for greatness but comes up very, very short of the goal.

Frankenstein's Monster is ambitious in that it strives to continue the fascinating themes and motifs established in Shelley's book.  Initially, I was very pleased with Frankenstein's Monster and was anxious to read more of it.  Written in the form of a journal by Victor (the 'monster' created by Victor Frankenstein), the book felt very personal and intimate from the outset but quickly regresses into incessant self-pity and anger which sounded more like an adolescent going through puberty than a being attempting to discover its humanity.  It all became very trite and irritating instead of exploratory and enlightening.

Furthermore, the book attempts to create contrasts between human beings and the monster and make the reader ponder which the true monster is.  It's a fine idea, but it's buried by the fact that most of the characters the reader becomes familiar with during the course of the book are all monsters with very little reason to be redeemed in the reader's mind.  Even the characters that are genuinely good are overshadowed by Victor's petulant whining.  I think the author, Susan Heyboer O'Keefe, might have realized this deficiency by the end of the book and created an exceptionally odd circumstance in which Victor the monster discovers himself to be a man and the monsters of men are forgotten because of the kindness of a few.  It felt contrived and subsequently emotionless.

Thousanders should read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein but skip Susan Heyboer O'Keefe's Frankenstein's Monster.  Writing a follow-up book about Frankenstein's Adam (his monster) is a great idea for a fascinating character.  I think it can be done well, and I'd love to read it.  But this isn't the book to read."

Monday, May 6, 2013

Reflections: Bossypants

Megan Kline Shimer shares her thoughts on Tina Fey's Bossypants:

"I was fortunate enough to be selected as a 'giver' for World Book Night 2013. I found out about the organization last year and was a giver then as well (I gave out Little Bee by Chris Cleave). This year, I was thrilled to be responsible for handing out Bossypants by Tina Fey. Having never read the book before (but always wanting to), my giving out 20 copies of it gave me the excuse I needed to finally open it up.

Bossypants is an autobiography that chronicles Tina Fey's life. She touches on experiences from when she was 5 (did you know she had a large scar on her face?! I never noticed it before reading this book). She tells several funny anecdotes from her teenage and college years, talks a bit about her family and friends and job history. All of this was funny, but the book really took off for me when she gets into her time at Saturday Night Live. Before reading this book, I never knew that she was actually a writer on the show for years before anyone ever saw her. She only hit the camera when she was chosen to read the Weekly News Update apart from Jimmy Fallon. After a while, she decided to branch out and started 30 Rock on her own. She had already quit SNL and solely worked on 30 Rock for 2 years when Sarah Palin was chosen as the running mate for the 2008 election and Lorne Michaels asked Tina back to do her impersonation. I found that all very interesting.

Tina Fey goes into great detail about her successes with the Sarah Palin impersonations (that only lasted 6 weeks), her (somewhat un-sought-after) critical acclaim for 30 Rock, and even her battling personal anxieties with raising her daughter. The book's main theme is how women can be just as funny as men, despite belief to the contrary in the professional side of things.

Bossypants was just as funny as I would expect from Tina Fey. It's hilarious and a little dorky and embarrassing - the perfect combination!"