Which is better: The book or the movie?

With the all of the excitement over the pending release of The Hunger Games movie, I want to ask you all, which do you usually like better, the book or the movie version of a story?

Now any Word Nerd worth his or her sobriquet (see last week’s post for a review of this vocab word) will tell you the book is ALWAYS better.  At the tender age of eight, my daughter had figured this out while she read the early Harry Potter books.  When I asked her why she liked the books better, she said, “There’s more stuff going on, and I KNOW what Harry is thinking.”

Exactly.  Books give us more detail than movies ever could.  So here are my top reasons why books are a much better investment of time than movies:

·         We get more details, specifically sensory details, than we do in the visually focused cinematic world.  Better to imagine how Harry’s scar burns his forehead, or how sweet Edward Cullen smells.

·         On screen, we can only see a character cry; with a book, we often know the thoughts running through the character’s mind while she cries, which hits us much harder.  Of course, if you’re a sap like me, you will shed tears in either situation.

·         A movie lasts, at best (or worst?) two hours, but even the fastest reader gets to spend much more time with the story and characters of a book. 

·         Most importantly, watching movies will NOT improve your vocabulary.  Undoubtedly, reading will. 

Now, we have ALL seen BAD movie adaptations of the books we love.  But, sometimes movies do compliment their literary counterparts and offer worthwhile entertainment.  For example, Peter Jackson’s excellent  Lord of the Rings trilogy opened up the world of Middle Earth for millions who might not have otherwise dared to pick up Tolkien’s dense books.  (A true Tolkien fan will, of course, still read the entire collection, including The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and all the related appendixes, and will know how to pronounce Celeborn correctly in proper elvish.  Yes, I’m one of those fans.) 

Also, buzz in the media credits successful movie franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight with bringing more kids, particularly that prickly population known as “teenagers”back into the library. 

Finally, watching the movie after reading the book offers the opportunity for great discussion.  How are the characters different in the film and the book?  How did the film capture the story?  After watching all of the commentaries for the Twilight movies (I needed something to distract me while I was on the “dreadmill”), I have a better appreciation for why some things cannot transfer to the screen well.   But I get tense when films alter characters too much.  For instance, when in The Two Towers movieFrodo offers a Ringwraith the One Ring.  He NEVER does this in the book, and that scene undermines his inherent strength. 

Can you recommend any movies that have adapted well from page to screen?  I suggest Water for Elephants.  Some characters have changed, but the essence of the plot remains, and the setting, a Depression Era circus, lends itself well to visual media.  Besides, I don’t want to smell the animal poop.

Please add your movie recommendations, as well as your thoughts on the books vs. movies debate, by clicking the comments link below, and thanks for stopping by!


The Fault in Our Stars: Insightful Teens with Impressive Vocabulary

I’d seen positive reviews about John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars in the blogosphere, so when I spotted it on display in the YA (young adult) section of our local library, I snatched it immediately.  Our children’s librarian has done such a great job of stocking our small town library with current titles.  TFIOS just came out this year!

Synopsis: Although a medical miracle has bought Hazel “a little more time,” she knows better than to expect exciting things for her future.  Then charismatic Augustus Waters shows up at cancer support group, and all of her assumptions about life get turned upside down.
Cancer.  Oh no, I thought, this book WILL make me cry.  I’m a sap, and it’s getting worse with age.  But, nevertheless, I peeked at the first few pages, and despite my better judgment, I fell in love anyway, just like the characters in The Fault in Our Stars.  When I found out that the title is derived from one of Shakespeare’s poems, I really became a fan.
Hazel and Augustus pulled me in with their witty and incredibly insightful banter.  Sometimes while reading I wondered if there really are teenagers who speak and think as these two precocious characters, but then again, I’ve never known an adolescent who has endured the trials of cancer treatment.  I imagine it ages you, physically and mentally.  In Hazel’s words (well, really John Green’s, but…)
I present to you Augustus Waters, whose existential curiosity dwarfed that of his well-fed, well-loved, healthy brethren. 
Amid humor and clever dialogue, Green mixes in beautiful prose, for example:

While he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.

Yet Green also includes painful punches of reality, never letting you forget that these two kids live with grave illness.  Hazel says to her parents:

“I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?  … I can’t be a regular teenager, because I’m a grenade.”
Hazel and Augustus humbled me with their extensive vocabulary.  I had to consult the dictionary more often while reading this book than I have while reading several adult novels.   Two of my favorite new word nerd words:
·         Now, it wasn’t as if I held my phone in my sweaty hand all day,… waiting for my gentleman caller to live up to his sobriquet.
Sobriquet-\ Sō-bri-kā\ , noun, French:  a descriptive name or epithet; nickname
·         …the inexorabletruth is this: They might be glad to have me around, but I was the alpha and the omega of my parents’ suffering.
      Inexorable   \in-‘neks-sə-rə-bəl\ adj, Latin:  not to be persuaded, moved or stopped; relentless
With those tid bits in mind, I HIGHLY recommend The Fault in Our Stars to spark a cerebral and emotional response on many levels.  Just be sure to keep a tissue (or box of tissues) nearby.  If you can read this book without crying (I had to seek out my husband to comfort me), I want to hear about it! 
WORD NERD WORKOUT:  Use sobriquet or inexorable in a sentence
·         When my husband comes home and greets me with the complimentary sobriquet “Beautiful”, I always respond with a kiss. 
Now it’s your turn.  Click on the comments below to practice some new vocabulary or to add any thoughts about The Fault in Our Stars or John Green’s other books.  Thank you!

Read Across America Next Week

Next Friday, March 2, should mean something to Word Nerds everywhere.  The National Education Association (NEA) and at least 50 other organizations are promoting literacy all next week with activities culminating on Friday with Read Across America (RAA) day.




Word Nerds helping to promote reading!

RAA started 15 years ago when a special task force decided to devote a day to celebrate reading.  Organizers wanted to “build a nation of readers” because they knew that children who enjoy reading have better success in school. 

Motivating children to read is an important factor in student achievement and creating lifelong successful readers.  (www.nea.org) 

This year, RAA is linked to Dr. Suess’s birthday and the release of the movie “The Lorax,” based on one of his books.  Cast members from the movie, including Zac Efron and Taylor Swift, will serve as co-chairs for RAA this year, and they have filmed videos designed to encourage young readers. 

At the official RAA site and the NEA site you can find plenty of information about activities, events, discounted books, and other resources to promote literacy.  The NEA also needs volunteers to pledge donations of money or to organize reading events.  You can check with local schools and libraries to see if anything has been planned for your area.  NEA also has “Fan” and “Cause” pages on Facebook that you can join to stay up to date on important information.

With so much focus in our culture on celebrities, sports stars, and consumption, I’m excited to see so many people spending time and energy to encourage reading.  Literacy definitely deserves, and needs, national attention.

Do you know about any events in your town associated with RAA?  How can you participate, even in a small way?  What can you do throughout the year to help make better readers in your community?  Click on comments below and share how you’ll be celebrating reading!



Ann Patchett’s Run: A Call to Responsibility

February selection from the Reading List

Americans frequently speak about their rights; Ann Patchett wants them to think about their responsibilities.  In an interview printed in the back of the novel Run, Patchett says that we have lived so long in this beautiful country without having to give anything up that it has made us lazy.  She wrote Run to encourage us to think about what we owe to each other, our families, and our society.

Synopsis  In her novel Run, Patchett throws strangers together on a cold, snowy night in Boston and then slowly unveils the connections between them.  Doyle, the former mayor of Boston, has cajoled his two adult sons to come out to hear Jesse Jackson speak.  Tip and Teddy have acquiesced, again, but by the end of the evening, Tip, the older son, decides he’s had enough.  He argues with his father, steps out into the snow covered street, and narrowly escapes a terrible accident.  A black woman standing nearby does not, and her daughter is left to cope by herself at the scene of the accident. 

By the way, Doyle is white, and Tip and Teddy are his adopted black sons.  The EMTs assume the black girl belongs to Tip and Teddy and leave her with the young black men.  And then, the story unfolds.

Discussion points This character drama provides thoughtful insights into racism, politics, and family dynamics.  One of my favorite passages reads:

Politicians never mentioned the details of life because of course the details that appealed to one person could repel another, so what you wound up with in the end were a long string of generalities, stirring platitudes that could not buy you supper. 

This rang so true for me, since I have been listening to the speeches of the Republican presidential hopefuls for weeks now and have heard little about real policy. 

In regard to families, Run weighs the value of perception over fact, the force of nature compared to that of nurture.   Every character has something to run from or toward, not the least of which is responsibility.  It had me thinking, perhaps Patchett is saying that family has less to do with biology and more to do with choices.

Recommended for…   If you like character driven stories, as well as themes of family and politics, you’ll probably like this book.  Although I enjoyed Patchett’s writing and appreciated her skill in character development and revelation, I did long for a more fulfilling plot. 

And back to the issue of responsibility- are we, as Patchett implies, lazy?  Have we gotten soft over the past few generations because we have not endured losses like The Great Depression or the two World Wars?  Do we understand sacrifice and civic duty?   January’s book, Winter Garden, sparked similar questions, and I have decided, yes, we Americans have gotten spoiled.

Do you agree or not?  Please click on “comments” to add your thoughts on Run or the issue of responsibility in modern American society.  Thanks so much.


The Future of Books Depends on Barnes and Noble

Bookstores feed my craving for peace, calm, and intellectual stimulation.  I love walking slowly past the quiet shelves as I search for the familiar cover of an old favorite or pause to flip through a promising new novel.    But unfortunately, bookstores in America now face an uncertain future.  According to a recent New York Times article, the nation’s largest “physical” bookseller, Barnes and Noble, is currently fighting for its life against Amazon and digital media.

Ironically, Barnes and Noble used to be the bad guy: a large chain that killed off all of the small, independent booksellers.  However, now that Borders has collapsed, Barnes and Noble remains the only hope for traditional publishers who depend on space in brick and mortar bookstores to market printed books.   If Barnes and Noble fails, pessimists predict that Amazon and iPads will do to books what iTunes did to vinyl records: make them obsolete.

But William J. Lynch, Jr., CEO of Barnes and Noble, scoffs at that idea.  He believes that he can use advances in electronic media to hold interest in his stores and the printed books that they sell.  Although the Nook got a late start, it has recently snatched a large chunk of the e-book market away from Amazon.  However, Amazon still has more money and more power.  Recently, it acquired contracts with well-known authors who will write e-books solely for publication through Amazon.

All of this makes me nervous, as a reader and a writer.  On the one hand, it’s a wonderful time to be writing, as e-books and social media have opened up new pathways to publication and have given authors more control over their “product.”  However, writers now spend much more of their own time and money promoting their books.  Also, I worry that ePublishing, for various reasons, will devalue the written word.  For more on the writer’s perspective, see Kristen Lamb’s blog.

Yet, I must admit that I regularly shop at Amazon.  My small town doesn’t have many stores, so I frequently turn to Amazon for books, gifts, and most recently, movies. Last month I decided that the $79 Prime Membership would pay for itself in saved shipping costs, so I joined.  But Amazon doesn’t give me the tactile experience that Barnes and Noble does. I need both.

I cannot imagine a world without printed books, especially children’s books.  Knuffle Bunny and Where the Wild Things Are simply will not look good on an eReader.  In the YA dystopian novel Matched, the characters don’t use books, only tablets, and they never even learn how to write letters!  I would hate to see this become reality.

I’ve written about this before: in short, I want physical andelectronic book formats to endure.

How do you feel about this as a reader?  Do you care if Barnes and Noble survives?  How do you envision the world of reading in the future?  Will your opinions drive your purchasing choices?  Please click on “comments” below to share your thoughts.  Thanks!


Word Nerd Workout: Figurative Language and Vocabulary

Welcome Word Nerds!  Are you ready to stretch your literary muscles?  First this week, I’d like to explore plays on words, or figurative language.  Last weekend I went BY MYSELF (translation: my husband watched kids all day!) to the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, where several presenters sparked creative ideas about the craft of writing.

Jim Minick has written and published The Blueberry Years, a memoir, and several books of poetry, including Burning Heaven.  On Saturday he encouraged writers in his workshop to use fresh, creative metaphors.  “Good writing,” he said, “is writing against cliché.” 

Let’s review.  Webster’s defines metaphoras a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them.  Jim pointed out that the word comes from Greek roots meaning over or beyond (meta), and to carry (phor).  So, with a good metaphor, an author carries a reader over to another way of looking at something.  A simile does the same thing, except it often introduces the comparison with “like” or “as.” 

You’ve heard plenty of overused metaphors and similes, for example, “Like a fish out of water,” or “skinny as a rail.” These do help us form a visual image, but fresh comparisons evoke a stronger response.   I can find several examples in this month’s book, Run, by Ann Patchett:

Kenya watched the workers like the foreman of a construction site.

Teddy looked down at the girl who was tucked under his arm like a permanent resident… 

The figurative language helps us understand more about the characters without saying it directly.  We know that Kenya watched very carefully, and we realilze that the girl under Teddy’s arm has no intention of leaving.

Workout assignment: Try to think of a fresh metaphor/simile to describe something.  Here’s mine:

The energetic toddler moved through the house like a funnel cloud through a city, bringing destruction to everything he touched.

On to vocabulary.  So far, I’ve found two words in Run that I want to add to the Word Nerd Vocabulary List.  Here they are quoted in context:

From the moment of their childhood in which Bernadette’s sisters figured out who looked like the statue they had sung a never-ending chorus of petulance behind her…

Bit by bit, Jackson took over Doyle, washed him down in the waves of mellifluous repetition until the speaker and the listener were one. 

Petulance \’pech-e-len(t)s\ From Latin petulans, petere to go to, attack; the state of being rude or insolent in speech or behavior
Mellifluous \me-‘lif-le-wes\ From Latin mel honey + flere to flow having a smooth, rich flow, as in a mellifluous voice
Petulance is definitely one of those I should know this! words; I had the sense of it, but wanted to confirm my gut feeling.  Here’s how I apply it:
  • Martha noted the petulance in her daughter’s reply and prepared for battle.

Now it’s your turn, and you have two exercises this week.  Click on the comments below and use one of the above vocabulary words in a sentence AND come up with a fresh metaphor or simile.  I can’t wait to read your responses!  If you can do that in one sentence, I’ll be impressed!