Current Distractions, March 2016 Edition

I need to write a much longer post in the near future about this, but for now I'll just say that I'm going through some pretty major life changes at the moment and they are very distracting. Spring is on its way to Saskatchewan, though, and the main thing I'm working on at the moment is getting some spring into my steps and my life, too. I should have rather more to say in April.


Lots. I've got a somewhat too large stack of books out from the library right now, in an effort to somewhat reduce the length of my to-read list on Goodreads by reading some of the shorter works and stuff that's been on the list for way too long. I'm currently reading Lyndall Gordon's biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication, a short story collection of Arthur C. Clarke's, and Parade's End, among other things.


I zoomed through the rest of the Friday Night Lights show this month, and also the new season of Netflix's Daredevil, plus I watched Ant-Man and Kingsman: The Secret Service.

What I'm Reading: Bad Houses by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil

So yes, I am cheating a bit with the number of graphic novels, etc. that I'm reading for my Year of Reading Women, but I'm hoping that maybe I'll exceed the 12 books that I'm supposed to be reading and make it up that way. I also can't really help what I pick up when, especially considering that this year I'm actively trying to make up time with my List progress.

Anyway, with all of the excuses out of the way...

I read Bad Houses by Sara Ryan, illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil. It's a story about two young people in small town Oregon: Anne, whose mom is a hoarder, and Lewis, whose mom has an estate sale company. A "bad house" is one that Lewis and his mom will have a hard time staging for a sale for various reasons such as longterm chain smoking or hoarding. I liked the book well enough, because there were genuine emotions in it that really came through the pages, but for whatever reason, it felt sort of hollow. There were too many characters juggled in such a short book, so most of them weren't explored very well. Again and again when I read things like this, I find them falling short because the graphic form just isn't enough for me when it comes to the material. I want it to delve into the psychology of hoarding and what it's like to be a child of a hoarder. I want more from Lewis and Anne's relationship than a few scenes where they kiss in abandoned buildings and then Anne feels anxious about his other friends.

On the other hand, I'm now feeling a little extra motivated to sort out my spare room full of junk.

What I'm Reading: The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman

I'm posting about this book a lot later than I would've liked, considering that I'm supposed to be posting about my Year of Reading Women as I finish the books, and I finished The Sunne in Splendour before I went to Halifax in February. But I finished it just before, and that's why it's taken so long for me to get around to writing about it.

Anyway, The Sunne in Splendour is this immense tome about Richard III. Credit where it's due, he wasn't really on my radar before I read the book. I remember the discovery of his remains a little over three years ago, and I've seen the princes in the Tower show up in multiple "haunted places" trashy tv shows, and that's about it. Frankly, I'm not particularly excited about learning a lot more about him after reading this novel, although I'd like to pick up Shakespeare's version of the story at some point this year to contrast it with this much more sympathetic portrayal. A little amusing: Penman was so sympathetic to Richard III that she went so far as to speculate that his deformities were almost completely invented, but his skeletal remains (discovered after she wrote the book) prove that he did have scoliosis after all.

I've been looking forward to reading this book for quite a long time, and unfortunately it ended up being pretty disappointing.

First of all, while I'm not afraid of long books, once you get beyond the 500 page mark, every additional page needs to be solid gold. If not, then there's room to trim things down. This book is over 900 pages long, and those additional 400+ pages are definitely not extremely good. They aren't even, like, moderately good. In my opinion, the book starts too early and repeats itself too much. There are several places where a character will state pretty much exactly what a different character has stated about a third character's motivations or options, and it's irritating and unnecessary. There are good reasons why a lot of historical narratives chop out or combine the actual people involved in the events. I admire Penman's dedication to historical accuracy and the obvious care she took with her research, and her book isn't exactly bad, it's just way too long and meandering.

Which brings me to what's probably my only other point: so many of the relationships that form the foundation of the story feel very hollow. There's supposed to be a feeling of grand romance between Richard and his cousin Anne Neville, and I never really got a good sense of that. It wasn't even the fact that they were cousins, because of course at this point in English history, that's just how things were. It just felt forced, and I didn't particularly like Richard, or Anne, or possibly even any of the characters at all.

So yeah, I can't say I really recommend this one. It was a slog to finish, to the point that I wish I'd abandoned it and read something else instead. On the other hand, people do like it, and I only heard about it because someone on the internet recommended it to me. So... read the first 50 pages or so and see what you think?

Five Years Ago This Month: March 2011

Five years ago this month...

...I unofficially made the first post in my "Saskatchewan is A Thing" series. As further proof that this is A Thing, I've seen or heard of at least two more of these in the past month: one in the Deadpool movie, and one in Rob Lowe's memoir. Each will get its own post in due time, I'm sure.

...I reviewed Rules for a Lady. This was the very last romnov that I reviewed, sort of. I have to admit, I haven't missed these books at all, but I'm still looking forward to exploring some of the genre's other offerings.

...I was distracted.

Northern Saskatchewan

The Dark Tower on the Big Screen

Up to now I admit I've done an indifferent job of writing about film and tv adaptations of books that I've reviewed, although I've got plans to watch some older ones eventually and write about them. Maybe even sooner rather than later. When I posted about The Magicians being on tv, I mentioned that I basically didn't care, except that I recently found out that Arjun Gupta is on the show (playing Penny!), and I think he's a major hottie, so maybe I'll give it a try after all.

Anyway, this post is about the recent announcement that the movie adaptation of Stephen King's Dark Tower is happening after all, starring Idris Elba as The Gunslinger, and Matthew McConaughey as The Man in Black. I'm not sure I think Idris Elba is as perfect for the role as everyone says he is (although he does seem to have the right mix of dignity and menace about him), but that's not what I'm here to complain about today.

Instead, I'm reacting to the details in this article. There will probably be some spoilers and I'm going to assume some level of familiarity with the material, although I'll try to clarify where I can.

"The movie will take place 'in our day, in the modern world'"

Does that mean that the entire thing will take place in our world, and that there's somehow no Mid-World? How does that work? The books bounce between our world and the others pretty liberally, and it makes sense to bring some of those scenes up to modern times (especially in the later books, more on that in a sec). But setting the movie in our world alone would require significant changes that might actually alter the source material beyond recognition*.

"The movie's plot will actually pick up in the middle of the story"

I can only assume that this means they'll start with Wolves of the Calla, for the following reasons:
  • The actual middle book in the series is Wizard and Glass, and unless they can magically age Idris Elba down to John Boyega (who proved he can also do dignity+menace in Attack the Block, and ideally they'd go with an even younger actor) using CGI, they are obviously not starting with Wizard and Glass;
  • I'm not sure what else you'd call the middle of the story, because the first three books are all rising action;
  • Mostly just those two things.
This is a huge problem for reasons that I don't think I even need to state to anyone familiar with the source material, but for everyone else: after Wizard and Glass, the series takes a more or less noticeable dive in quality, depending on how critical you are. As far as I'm concerned all of the best stuff in The Dark Tower series happens in the first three books, with honourable mention to the witch in Wizard and Glass. More importantly, though, the books get weird, and I have no idea how the casual moviegoer will swallow most of what happens in the last three books of the series without being primed by the first three books, and even then it would be a hard sell.

Characters from other Stephen King books (besides The Man in Black) show up. Stephen King himself shows up. The man who nearly killed Stephen King with his vehicle shows up. The accident in which a man nearly killed Stephen King with his vehicle shows up. Susannah has an accelerated pregnancy and eventually gives birth via, let's just say, a number of complications, to a weird demon baby. There is a ton of travel between different dimensions. There are lightsabres and golden snitches. This is without getting into the Crimson King and the Tower and the Rose and God knows what else.

The Dark Tower isn't your run of the mill, straightforward, Game of Thrones-style fantasy epic. It is Stephen King's epic, and that makes all the difference. It's not something you pick up halfway through and catch up as you go along.

The movie I might actually want to watch 

I'd watch an adaptation of The Gunslinger for sure, especially an adaptation that restores some of Roland's sharper edges and moral ambiguity that King shaved off in the expurgated edition (sitting on my shelf). While the plot can tend to meander a bit, that would allow cuts for a more cohesive and contained story that wouldn't make the action completely bewildering to people who aren't familiar with the source material. I suspect other people would also be more prepared to show up for a post-apocalypse fantasy Western than a post-apocalypse fantasy Western parallel universe road trip.

Despite my general dislike of Wizard and Glass, I'd also happily show up to see an adaptation of that. This would allow the filmmakers to capitalize on the current YA film trend and, again, it's a relatively self-contained narrative that wouldn't be overly bewildering to a casual audience. I'm positive that a group of charismatic young actors could overcome virtually every problem that I had with this novel, and getting the witch, Rhea, on screen would give me everything that I wanted and didn't quite get from The Witch.

Just maybe, the whole series could be a tv show instead of a movie. I feel like the work as a whole isn't really adaptable at all, though, to be honest. The early going is so good and then it just descends into half-baked madness. And I say this as someone who really likes the series!

*On the other hand, maybe significant changes to the source material are the whole point. There's more than a little room to improve upon the original, but there's no way that the serial numbers could be convincingly filed off, so instead they might just make something that's informed by the Dark Tower books but doesn't stay faithful to them. I'm more ok with that prospect than I would be with a clumsy attempt to bring the last three books to the screen in a way that's accurate but so abridged that they no longer make any sense. Either way, I won't be seeing The Dark Tower film at all until I see some reviews.

NB: Since initially writing this, I've come across at least one article speculating that the film will actually begin with The Drawing of the Three. I think that's a bad idea, too.