radio micApparently, I’ve got a good face for radio. Two days ago, I was on the air again, this time on Martha Stewart’s Living Radio—Sirius Radio/XM, the satellite radio.

No, it wasn’t Martha but instead two shock-jocks, Kim and Betsy, who banter their way through morning drive time.  They’re a hoot.  We talked about starting a book club, how to talk about a book, etc.—the usual book club stuff. Here’s the short version (6 min.):

makeovers1A real challenge for any author is the remaking of a classic story. The new novel might set the older work in the modern era (Hamlet Edgar Sawtelle). Or it might use the older novel as a starting point—for a sequel, or a retelling of the story from a different perspective (Wizard of Oz → Wicked).  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far...

Makeovers
Resetting a classic in the modern era

Anna Karenina .......... What Happened to Anna K by Irina Reyn
The Great Gatsby ...... Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
Hamlet ...................... The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David
                                    Wroblewski
The Illiad .................... The Human Stain by Philip Roth
Howard’s End ............ On Beauty by Zadie Smith
King Lear ................... A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
Mrs. Dalloway ........... The Hours by Michael Cunningham
The Odyssey ............. Ulysses by James Joyce
Pride & Prejudice ....... Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
Sense & Sensibility .... The Three Weissmanns of Westport (added: 1/2011)

Starting Points
Writing a sequel, ”prequel,” parody, or using a secondary character’s point of view.

A Christmas Carol  ...... Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard
Dr. Jekyll &Mr. Hyde  ... Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin        
Gone With the Wind ..... Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley
Gone With the Wind ..... The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall
Great Expectations ...... Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
The Great Gatsby ........ The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
The Great Gatsby ........ Jack Maggs by Peter Carey
Jane Eyre ................... The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Ryhs
Huckleberry Finn ......... Finn by Jon Clinch
King Arthur ................. The Mists of Avalon
Mansfield Park ............. Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd
Moby-Dick ................... Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
Pride & Prejudice ......... Pemberley by Emma Tennant
Pride & Prejudice ......... Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Rebecca ...................... Mrs. DeWinter by Susan Hill
The Scarlet Letter ........ Angel and Apostle by Deborah Noyes
A Tale of Two Cities ..... A Far Better Rest by Susanne Alleyn
The Wizard of Oz ......... Wicked by Geoffrey MacGuire
Wuthering Heights ....... Heathcliff: The Return to Wuthering Heights by Lin Haire Sargeant

What have I missed?  Surely, there are more.

gaggle-geeseA recent quip from the New York Times about book clubs caught my ire. It’ll probably catch yours, too. So here it is…

Gaggles of readers get together monthly to sip chardonnay and discuss the latest Oprah selection.*

Ouch. Don’t know about you, but that sounds a little…oh, I dunno… condescending? Not to get too upset about an analogy to unruly geese, but it’s kind of a potshot to all those who get together, out of a passion for literature, to talk (not honk) about something of value—books!

So…are mindless cocktail parties better? I’m just asking….

And what’s wrong with Oprah selections? —Breath, Eyes, Memory; Edgar Sawtelle; 3 Faulkner novels (Faulkner!); House of Sand & FogWe Were the Mulvaneys. That’s some pretty good reading.

To counter that unfortunate “gaggle” image (nothing against geese…understand?), I offer, again, two defenses of book clubs: one by moi and one by Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony:

Oh, heck…maybe I’m just over reacting. Honk. Honk. 

Mokoto Rich. ”The Book Club with Just One Member.” New York Times, “Week in Review” section (1.24.10) 

throw-a-bookYears ago a friend came across a sex scene in Nelson DeMille’s Gold Coast—a couple playing a masquerade to juice up their sexlife. It was so offensive to her she tossed the book across the room—all of which she proudly announced to our book club. (The offending passage involves Lady Godiva...on a horse, of course...very funny. There's an even funnier pirate scene later on.)

What about you? Ever throw a book? I nearly did the other night. In my case, it had to do with the book’s heroine—dense, bratty (her own words turned on herself), and stubborn, in a very stupid way. It was all the more irritating because the book had started out with such promise.

What makes a book toss-worthy? What gets us so riled up that we want to throw it across the room? Is it anger … revulsion … disappointment … fear? And what sparks those emotions?

What's a toss-worthy reason?

graphic sex or violence?
offensive language?
gross injustice?
irritating characters?
predictable plot lines?
unrealistic coincidence?
just plain bad writing?

But here's the thing...isn't it wonderful how literature evokes such passion? Think about it—books come to us as nothing more than tiny black squiggles on a flat white page…which we use to create meaning…which in turn inspires powerful responses. Astonishing…when you think about it.

booker-prize-bookclubCheck out LitLovers newest Featured LitClub—a brainy group of New Yorkers, who tackle the Booker Prize awards list (winners and nominees). That’s some impressive reading!

They also have a great idea for any book club—a Book Swap. The group organized a Swap at a library in SoHo (SoHo…ah, how cool izat?) in conjunction with a Peace Corp veterans book club. It proved so successful the library wants to make it a seasonal event.

The two groups are also considering a joint read and discussion. The Peace Corp group reads international books, which ties in beautifully with the Booker Prize list. *

* Britain’s Man Booker Prize is awarded to English-written novels by authors from the 54-member [British] Commonwealth of Nations, plus Ireland and Zimbabwe. Commonwealth nations include countries in Africa, the South Pacific, and the Carribbean, as well as Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand.

harry-potterIt’s late in the game, I know. But I just finished reading all 7 Harry Potter novels. I’d avoided them up to now because...

1. They’re for kids
2. I don't like fantasy
3. Way too much hype
  4. I’m swamped with a long list of “must-reads.”

Turns out, I was misguided—on all 4 counts. Apologies to the millions of HP fans—I’m now one of you. ICH BIN EIN HARRY POTTER-ER!!!!

Some thoughts on Harry Potter books

  1. They're complex—Seven long novels with interlocking plots, details, secrets and characters. How did Rowling keep track of it all? Post-it notes?

  2. They're funny—Portraits that talk and leave home to vist to their neighbors; books with titles like “Which Broom” and "One Minute Feasts–It’s a Miracle!” and much more.

  3. They're mythological—Represent the archetypal hero's journey; peppered with parallels to Greek, Druid, and Norse mythology.

  4. They've got rich, long sentences—All of us, kids and adults, can work on our ability to read long, complex sentences. And Rowling gives us some doosies…stretching out to 50 words! F-I-F-T-Y words! They’re long, lovely things!

Granted, the writing on occastion is clunky, storyline overplotted, and villains cartoonish—but all of that’s incidental considering the totality of Rowling’s project. I’m enthralled…and surprised that I am! If you haven’t read Harry Potter…do!

For book clubs, we have Reading Guides for all seven…with discussion questions.

video_games2In my last post, I raised the issue of whether video games might someday inspire book-club-like-groups. Here’s a follow-up…

Jeff, my nephew showed up at our house (after I’d written the first post) with “Rain,” an adult mystery video game. As I watched him play, I found myself caught up in the story—unable to pull my eyes away from the screen, let alone leave the room to fix dinner.

The graphics were good, the storyline engaging, and the interactive nature allowed Jeff to make decisions on the part of his characters. And different decisions led to different outcomes.

What was surprising was how invested I was in the characters—yet I wasn’t the one holding the joystick!  Jeff was the one holding the joystick—and he clearly cared about his people. After all, they could act only through him.

It's a bit like writing and reading a novel at the same time. Playing these games, you're both author and reader of the same work. How cool is that?

Prediction? I bet 10-15 years from now people will be meeting to talk about video games—just as we do about books. Given time, the plots and characters will grow more sophisticated and complex—with rich possibilties for discussion. We’ll talk about why we made the choices we did, why we developed the characters we did … and how outcomes varied from member to member.  

Exciting but worrisome. One wonders about the future of BOOKS—stats on the number of folks who read them is increasingly dire. So one asks (well, I do) as wonderful as technology is, is it leading us backwards?

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