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The Bling Ring and The American Dream

January 28, 2014 in Fauxscars, Literary Movies, Non-Fiction, Pop Culture, Women Writers

It’s amazing how close The Bling Ring is to its source material. The article, originally published in Vanity Fair and entitled “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” does not judge the story’s subjects, a group of fame-obsessed teens who broke into celebrity homes and stole millions of dollars worth of goods. As any successful piece of hard journalism does, it leaves the readers to make their own decisions.

Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring takes on a similarly journalistic approach, mimicking exact lines and moments from the article down to outfits from the article’s pictures. In between these moments of accuracy are long montages of drug use, loud music, and thievery. You wouldn’t think that watching gorgeous teens break the law would get boring, but it does.

It is hard to know what to think throughout the entirety of The Bling Ring. Are we not supposed to get excited about seeing Paris Hilton’s real closet? At the end, as Marc faces his time in prison, I thought I understood that the film was showing us the price of celebrity obsession. But this was not the end. The Bling Ring ends with Emma Watson’s Nicki on a talk show, having just faced a short span in prison, cool as a cucumber and promoting her website.

Clearly, Coppola and Nancy Jo Sales, the author of the Vanity Fair article, have opinions about the real ‘Bling Ring.’ Sales said in a Q&A about her article that, “I think, like all stories that capture this much attention, there’s something very evocative of American culture. A friend of mine said, ‘This case implicates us all.’” As an investigative journalist, Sales doesn’t express these views in her article, but leaves the reader to come to their own conclusions. Films are typically more editorial, but Coppola has chosen to present only the facts. The result is voyeuristic and stunning, but it’s hard to feel any investment in these characters or their story. We don’t find out enough about the individual people to understand what would push them to make such poor decisions, nor enough to really feel sympathy for them. Though The Bling Ring is admirably close to its source material, its lack of emotion or editorializing created a film that is beautiful, but also boring and a bit empty. Perhaps this might have been Coppola’s point all along — to show an exclusive world that many aspire to join and how insubstantial and dull it all really is.

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If you hated to love The Bling Ring, let us know. It is nominated for in The 2014 Literary Fauxscars for “Best ‘Guilty Pleasure’ Adaptation.”  If you think it should take home the award, share your opinions in the comments section or on Facebook and Twitter. #Fauxscars

Analyzing Adaptation: Why the Source Material is Only Half the Story

December 3, 2013 in Classic Literature, Contemporary Literature, Fantasy Literature, Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies, Pop Culture, YA Fiction

In the wake of a recent surge in successful movie adaptations of literature — from classic novels like The Great Gatsby to popular young adult fiction like The Hunger Games — it is often assumed that an adapted film that isn’t faithful to its source material can’t be good. Remaining objective is incredibly difficult, especially for fans of the books who see the story and characters they love represented in a way different from what they imagined.

I’m here to tell you that adapted movies need not adhere to their source material to be “good”—in fact, strict adherence is often just as inadvisable.

We all know significant deviation in an adaptation causes disappointment and backlash. Audiences see the title and expect a certain obedience to the original story, so that when there are missing subplots or characters they feel betrayed. Let’s talk about David Lynch’s Dune (1984) for a second. Lynch hadn’t even read the book when he signed on to write the screenplay. Watching the film makes you feel like Lynch got halfway through the book and then just skipped to the end. Cuts are inevitable when it comes to adapting literature, but in this case, the entire second half of the book is significantly altered.

And what if you haven’t read the book? I actually saw Dune before I read the book myself and I thought it was pretty decent. It’s incredibly weird, but it is David Lynch. All his movies are weird. The biggest disappointment is that you occasionally have to make generous inferences on behalf of the movie due to the fact that it is trying to pack a 412 page novel (or at least 206 pages of it) into 2 hours. Otherwise it was a pretty solid science fiction film.

Strict compliance to what you’re adapting has precisely the opposite effect: fans may be pleased, but those who haven’t read the novel will likely find themselves bored by the experience. Peter Jackson’s recent adaptation of The Hobbit is the perfect example. According to Metacritic, the film earned an average score of 58%, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting that only 65% gave the film a positive (>50%) review. Personally, I had similar feelings. There were some scenes that might have worked on the page, but simply fell flat on the screen. And it’s not like Peter Jackson’s just a bad director, or that Tolkein’s world is unadaptable and doesn’t work in the movies. In fact, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring broke the top 50 of the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies”, its list of the 100 most influential films of all time.

Speaking of the AFI, 15 of their top 25 films are adaptations, and 7 of those are in the top 10. The Godfather was a novel, Casablanca was a play, and Raging Bull was a memoir. Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, Vertigo, and The Wizard of Oz were all books first. Even the ones that weren’t based on works of fiction were inspired by a real-life person or event: Citizen Kane was based on William Randolph Hearst, Singing in the Rain was based on Oscar Levant, and Lawrence of Arabia was based on T. E. Lawrence. And in each one of these cases the movie certainly didn’t become successful by strictly clinging to its source material.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to the AFI, either. Stanley Kubrick, one of the most influential directors in cinema history, almost exclusively filmed from adapted screenplays. In fact, Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss are the only two of his thirteen feature films which were original screenplays. Kubrick is also famous for not strictly adhering to the original works. His movie version of The Shining was criticized by Stephen King himself as being a bad adaptation, but it has nevertheless come to be regarded as one of the best movies of all time. (It’s #29 on the AFI’s Top 100 Thrillers, its main character Jack Torrance is 25th on the AFI’s Top 100 Villains, and “Here’s Johnny!” is 68th on the AFI’s top 100 quotes.) Ironically, Stephen King collaborated with director Mick Garris to make a more faithful adaptation of the book in the form of a TV mini series which was, to make a long story short, pretty bad.

In the end, books and movies are two separate art forms with their own advantages and disadvantages. Movies are short, but a good cinematographer can create more beautiful imagery than your average reader may be able to think up on their own. Books lack this visual artistry, but their length allows for deeper development of language, character and theme. We should probably just understand that literature can inspire great film and leave the two as separate representatives of their own worlds.

But where’s the fun in that?

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100 Years… 100 Adaptations (or: The AFI’s Top 25 Films and Their Source Material)

1. Citizen Kane (original screenplay; based on William Randolph Hearst)
2. The Godfather (novel of the same name)
3. Casablanca (stage play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”)
4. Raging Bull (novel Raging Bull: My Story)
5. Singing in the Rain (original screenplay; based on Oscar Levant)
6. Gone with the Wind (novel of the same name)
7. Lawrence of Arabia (original screenplay; based on life of T. E. Lawrence)
8. Schindler’s List (novel; Schindler’s Ark)
9. Vertigo (novel; D’entre les morts)
10. The Wizard of Oz (novel; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)
11. City Lights (original screenplay)
12. The Searchers (novel same name)
13. Star Wars (original screenplay; inspired by The Hidden Fortress)
14. Psycho (novel of the same name)
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (short story; “The Sentinel”)
16. Sunset Boulevard (original screenplay)
17. The Graduate (novel of the same name)
18. The General (original screenplay; based on the Great Locomotive Chase)
19. On the Waterfront (original screenplay; based on “Crime on the Waterfront”)
20. It’s a Wonderful Life (short story; “The Greatest Gift”)
21. Chinatown (original screenplay; based on the California Water Wars)
22. Some Like It Hot (remake of Fanfare d’Amour – which was based on a book)
23. The Grapes of Wrath (novel of the same name)
24. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (original screenplay; based on Spielberg’s childhood imaginary friend)
25. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel of the same name)

Liter-Etsy: A DIY Guide to Bookish Goods

January 24, 2013 in Art, Classic Literature, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

I have always loved stuff. I can’t explain it: I’m not materialistic, and I don’t own or desire name brands or designer goods. I just love stuff.  My friends (affectionately, I think) refer to me as a hoarder from time to time, though after watching an episode of Hoarders where a woman saved expired raw meat in her refrigerator’s ‘crisper’ drawer, I’m beginning to take offense. Plus, the stuff I love isn’t bad; it’s beautiful, it’s artsy, and it’s unique. As that under-the-sea hoarder, The Little Mermaid, once sang, “You want thingamabobs? I’ve got twenty…But who cares, no big deal, I want more.”

When I was younger I had many collections. Apart from the typical stuff (books, stamps, postcards), I collected spoons. You know, those baby-sized spoons gift shops sell in both ritzy hotels and highway rest stops?  You know, the ones your friends look at and say, “Who would ever buy that?”  Well, I did. You think I am kidding? For a while, my spoon collection was hung proudly on the wall of my parent’s dining room.

Most of the stuff I love, however, is handmade.  I’m not a visual artist, but I like to think that in another life I could have been. I did snatch up the “Best Female Artist” superlative back in high school, but I was one of only two students who elected to take an art class — and I was the only girl.  What little remains of my artistic ability, I invest into wine-laden craft nights and DIY art projects.

So it’s no surprise my artsy, DIY, stuff-loving brain nearly exploded with the advent of Etsy, a website dedicated to the production of small-batch, beautiful handmade goods (with a large vintage presence on the side). What’s best, it’s easy to find artists who are into the same wacky things I am. For instance, there’s practically a surplus of bookish knick knacks and literary ephemera. Whether you’re looking for a unique gift, adding to your personal stockpile, or squirreling away goods for a rainy day, Etsy has a multitude of crafty sellers who will amaze you with their bibliophilic whimsy.

I recently did a little online window shopping and handpicked some of my favorite literary Etsy shops. Each artist melds his or her love of literature with a passion for both crafts and fine arts, yielding a beautiful (often surprising) collection of items that anyone would be lucky to own. Why purchase your stuff anywhere else? Through Etsy, you can directly support the artists who made it…and apparently, just for you.

Check out my “favorites” for my personal picks. If all else fails, Etsy has some lovely decorative spoons that my twelve-year-old self would have been all over.

Obvious State

Writer and illustrator Evan Robertson’s shop offers original illustrations, posters and prints with a literary slant. He believes that “the best thing about paperbacks (apart from the smell, of course) is that when a little jewel of a sentence grabs you, you can underline it.”  His posters, depicting his own artwork alongside quotes from literature offer a unique way to underline – by hanging it on your wall as art.  The 32 gorgeous black and white designs featured on Etsy include the words of authors ranging from William Shakespeare to Vladimir Nabokov, Jack London and Virginia Woolf.

Accessoreads

Anyone who knows me, or got as far as the title of this blog post, knows that I love a good pun, so right away I was drawn to this shop.  The owner, Lauren Davidson, offers unique on-trend brass cuff bracelets with literary edge.  Each is engraved with a classic quotation from the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emily Dickenson, among others.  The designs on each are beautifully rendered and connected with the artwork associated with the text.

Castle on the Hill

London-based artist, Jess Purser, creates gorgeous works using pages from classic books.  She predominantly offers ACEOs, which I recently learned stands for Art Cards Editions and Originals.  The works of art can be made from any medium (Purser paints on vintage book pages before mounting on card for durability).  The only requirement of an ACEO is its miniature size; 2.5” x 3.5” – the size of a standard sports trading card.  (Where was ACEO collecting when I was an artsy child in need of a hobby?)  Her book page canvas serves as a unique template for her art, which takes a variety of forms apart from ACEO.  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet bookmarks, Jane Austen greeting cards and French literature post cards, oh my!

Uneek Doll Designs

Artist Debbie Ritter came upon the idea for Uneek Dolls while creating inhabitants for a dollhouse her husband had built. Afterwards, she quickly realized that miniatures provided a way to create the authors and characters from classic literature that she loved so much.  Custom orders are accepted, but with such a wide selection of authors, historical figures and literary characters to choose from, I’d be surprised if there was anyone she missed!  From Edgar Allen Poe to Edna St.Vincent Millay.  Looking to score some brownie points with the book-loving child in your life? May I suggest a dollhouse Pemberley? I know where you can find a miniature Elizabeth Bennet ready to make it her home.

 

Fauxscar Nominee: Cosmopolis

January 6, 2013 in American Authors, Contemporary Literature, Crime Novels, Economy, Fauxscars, Literary Movies, Pop Culture

By Antoinette Weil

When I chose to watch Cosmopolis as part of our Literary “Fauxscars” segment, I went in with a clean slate. That is, I had never read the book it’s based on by Don DeLillo. I didn’t know the story. As such, it could have qualified to be in the running for the sought-after “Best Stand Alone Film” category. But it won’t get my vote.

The film follows Eric Packer, played by Robert Pattinson, a 28 year old billionaire/finance wiz throughout his stretch-limo-capsuled journey across Manhattan to get a haircut. Most of the film, including a sex scene, a doctor’s appointment, a loss of millions (or more) of dollars resulting from a risky financial bet against the Chinese Yuan, takes place inside the comfort of Packer’s over-the-top custom stretch limousine.

What happens inside the car is what matters to Packer. He meets with his finance manager, his physician, his tech guru. The dialogue is intensive, thick, unwelcoming. While watching you’re wondering (at least I was) what the characters are actually saying, what it means, and whether it’s all very interesting or just jibber jabber.

And what happens outside of the car is the world; all of Packer’s encounters with his young wife (played by Sarah Gadon), a traffic jam in the city caused by a visit from the President, a charged anti-capitalism street protest, a massive funeral procession for a fallen rap star, who happens to be beloved by Packer, and eventually a potentially deadly encounter with a disgruntled former employee.

David Cronenberg’s direction on this film was impeccable. There is something to be said for shooting almost an entire movie inside of a car with hardly any action or changes in scenery. And his dark, psychologically introspective style fit perfectly with Don DeLillo’s original novel. Should we have a “Best Director” category, I will vote Cronenberg for Cosmopolis.

Pattinson was believable, vivid, and genuinely good in the role of Eric Packer. He has a certain smoothness and a dark quirkiness that made him well-suited for the part. That said, the character is a dry, jagged, unpleasant pill to swallow. He seems to be a morally damaged, self-centered, downright bad human being. He has sexual encounters with two women in the film, neither of whom are his wife. He tries to persuade his art consultant (played by Juliette Binoche) to bid on not a single painting but on on the entire museum, so that he can lock it up in his apartment and keep it from the public. He calls one of his employees to an emergency meeting in his limo on her day off, and kills another in cold blood. All around a pretty loathsome guy.

And yet, I didn’t hate him. I ended up having so little emotional investment in this movie, and in Eric Packer, that even his most shameless sins didn’t produce the type of dislike one typically has for a “bad guy”. Perhaps this is because none of the other characters were “likable” either. Perhaps the beauty in it is that the audience feels for him exactly what he feels for every human in the film (yes, including himself): nothing.

I found myself looking for the real world political/socioeconomic parallels easily apparent in other movies (V for Vendetta, Avatar, even Hunger Games) but ended up, instead of relating, wondering if those parallels were there to be found, or if this was to be taken at face value: a movie about the fall of one arrogant, brilliant, young billionaire.

Cosmopolis is not for the lazy viewer. Simply processing the dialogue is an intellectual achievement  But it’s not enlightening, or, by any means, a “feel-good” film. Quite the opposite in fact; you may, as a viewer, find yourself feeling low when it’s over, scratching your head and wondering what exactly just happened.

But here’s what it is: smart. So while I didn’t like the film, I couldn’t help but respect it.

The original article is featured in the Books section of Literary Traveler!

Bram Stoker’s Legacy Lives On After Death

April 17, 2012 in Classic Literature, Gothic Literature, Literary News, Pop Culture, Travel to England, travel to Ireland, Vampires in Literature

Birthdays are not an occasion given much significance in vampire lore; it is death that denotes the beginning of a vampire’s immortality.  Therefore, it’s only fitting to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Irish author Bram Stoker, whose characterization of Dracula was the vampire who spawned all others.  Although he died one hundred years ago April 20th, much like Dracula, he lives on.

As nearly everyone knows, there’s no shortage of vampires in pop culture today–from Twilight to True Blood, readers cannot seem to get enough of the undead. Do we have Stoker to thank (or to blame) for the overwhelming popularity of the vampire in literature? Although the myth of the vampire dates back to the 15th century when Vlad the Impaler, son of Dracul, whose reputation for sadistic killings inspired the story, Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, is often regarded as the archetypal vampire novel.

Museum exhibits, interdisciplinary conferences and events honoring Stoker’s centenary are being held throughout the year all over the world, including Dublin (where Stoker was born and educated) London and Salt Lake City. Vampire-themed conference topics like “Vampires and/as Science” and “Bram Stoker and Gothic Transformations” will take place at Trinity College and the University of Hull, respectively. Trinity College will also hold a separate Bram Stoker Centenary Conference this summer which focuses on the life and writing of the author, who graduated from the school in 1870.

Fans of the vampire genre and Gothic era can to pay homage to Stoker by taking in the vampire themed cruise, Vamps at Sea.  The Alaskan cruise honoring Dracula and his contemporary fanged bedfellows sails roundtrip from Vancouver this summer.  Special guests on Holland America’s week long voyage include John Edgar Browning, an expert on vampire lore whose forthcoming book focuses on Dracula and vampires in visual culture.  C.J. Ellisson, author of contemporary vampire stories targeted to the over eighteen set, will also be on board.  (The cast of Ellisson’s VV Inn series would make even the palest Twilight vamp blush.)  Another fitting guest rumored to make an appearance is Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great-grandnephew.

At the World Horror Convention, held this past March 31st, the Horror Writers Association also honored Stoker’s memory by giving away the “Bram Stoker Vampire Novel of the Century Award.” Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I am Legend beat out Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire for the title.  Upon winning the award, Matheson indicated that he was influenced by Stoker’s novel and its film adaptation.  Of his first experience with Dracula he states that “even as a teenager, the thought occurred to me that if one vampire is scary, what if all the world were full of vampires?”  Now, more than ever, it appears that his question has been answered.  Vampires are inescapable in popular culture, and none more infamous than Stoker’s Dracula.  So on April 20th, sleep until dusk, avoid garlic and raise a glass of red wine to Mr. Stoker.  Although he may have died one hundred years ago, not even a stake to the heart can snuff out his legacy.

 

Jimmy Buffett: A Key West Icon

December 12, 2011 in American literature, Pop Culture

Jimmy Buffett is a tropical legend. With so much of his life and work based around the atmosphere of Key West, it’s easy to forget that Buffett wasn’t always an easy-going beach boy. In fact, Buffett was born on December 25, 1946 in Alabama, where he spent the majority of his childhood. He developed an interest in music early, learning several instruments, including the guitar and trombone, during childhood.

He went to university in Mississippi, then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in order to work as a correspondent for Billboard magazine, one of the premier music magazines in the country. Buffett focused on composing country music, not the tropical, beachy style he is known for. His love for music never abated, and although he was working as a writer, he also began performing his music in public in Nashville and in New Orleans, Louisiana. Though he loved the culture of New Orleans and the people around him in Nashville, Buffett’s life completely changed when another musician, Jerry Jeff Walker, invited him to visit the Keys.

Buffett became immediately enamored of Key West’s history, its inhabitants, and its culture. In an interview, Buffett once stated that for him, one of the most incredible things about the Keys was “that it was completely virgin territory, completely different from what [he’d] left behind.” The people he met were larger than life, the bars teeming with great stories waiting to be told. The relaxed lifestyle in which people could go out onto the beach to catch their food, make love, smoke marijuana, and simply while away the hours resonated with him. And in addition to all that, Buffett fell madly in love with the islands’ history: the smuggling heritage, the Native American history, the literary heritage, the slave and gold trades, and of course, the pirates.

Buffett was inspired by these elements and befriended talented artists, pirates, drug smugglers, drunks, and tourists alike, often ending up in jail overnight and finding work in various Key West staple establishments. Unwilling to return back to Nashville, he remained in Key West for some time, and his music truly began to shape itself into his characteristic musical style. By combining what he saw, lived, and breathed in Key West with warm, tropical lyrics and a love for pop, folk, country, and coastal music, he invented his own brand of music, often referred to as “gulf and western.” His music gradually became popular with denizens of Key West and outsiders alike, and when his number one single “Margaritaville” was released in 1977, it became the unofficial anthem of Key West.

Even though Buffett comes and goes to the islands these days, he’s become as much of a Key West figurehead as legendary author Ernest Hemingway. Through his music, literature, and Margaritaville brand, Jimmy Buffett turned his love for this culture into a lifestyle and business venture and, forty years later, continues to transport the tropical feel of the Florida Keys to households all over the world.

Midnight in Paris: A Philosophical Stroll through the City of Lights

July 6, 2011 in Famous Painters, Literary Movies 2011, Pop Culture

Midnight in Paris, Sony Pictures Classics

Amid the tempest of sequels and special effects that currently shrouds Hollywood, it seems difficult to find a good summer movie. Woody Allen’s latest production, Midnight in Paris, might cast off your concerns–it’s a thoughtful and strikingly elegant film.

Owen Wilson plays Gil Bender, a restless, romantic screenwriter, who travels to Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents. Inez isn’t as enamored by the bohemian lifestyle Paris represents for Gil, so he walks the city streets at night alone, finding himself actually transported into the roaring twenties, an era he considers to be a golden age.

Some of the film’s most delightful moments occur as Gil encounters beloved literary and artistic figures of the time. He comes across a brusque, rugged Hemingway (Corey Stoll), whose blunt remarks on the value of courage, truth and the importance of hunting and making love epitomize (even exaggerate) the persona that is clearly present in Hemingway’s prose.

Woody Allen also attempts to capture Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) and of course, her husband F. Scott (Tom Hiddleston), as well as Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and my personal favorite, Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody).

The plot thickens when Gil finds himself not only falling in love with 1920s Paris but with Picasso’s young mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Gil’s relationship with Adriana is no carefree fling though, forcing Gil to ask an uncomfortable question: Can he live happily in the past and forget the present? This philosophical quandary becomes more complicated as Adriana confesses that she would prefer to live in the 1890s, a time she considers a golden age.

This “grass is always greener” mentality is something that resonated with me. I’ve often thought I would love to have grown up in The Sixties, a time when important social movements took the world by storm and rock n’ roll was at its finest. Midnight in Paris reminded me that there are downsides to living in any time period. If I lived during my golden age I would miss the convenience and profound influence of the internet, and been frustrated by the enforced Vietnam draft. But I can certainly relate to Gil’s longing for a perfect, simpler time.

Midnight in Paris not only brings to the screen witty representations of important artists and gorgeous Parisian scenery, but it serves as a commentary on the nature of humans, our longings and awakenings.

Plain Truth is Just Plain Good

April 25, 2011 in American literature, Literary Traveler Book Reviews, Pop Culture

By Ammon Monroe Aurand, Jr.

Yeah, I know.  I’m 11 years behind.  The novel Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult was published in the year 2000 and still continues to be successful.  However, I hadn’t gotten around to reading Picoult until this year.  I was inspired by our blogger Katie Davis’ feature article on Plain Truth.  After reading it, the intent of reading the book stayed with me.  When my mother gave me a free copy, I knew it was the perfect time to start reading.

I was curious as to why Picoult is so popular, especially with women readers.  I was also curious to see how she handled the Amish topic.  What I’ve found reading the book is Picoult did impeccable research on the Amish, detective work and the Pennsylvania court system.  I like a dark edge to my reading and Picoult brings it as she portrays the Amish as enigmatic people.  Katie, the Amish girl that’s at the center of attention, is a pious, young woman, but she also has a dark side, which makes her all the more human to us readers.

The woman protagonist, Ellie, a non-Amish woman and lawyer, is so flawed–just like the rest of us.  She’s successful in her career, thin, attractive and financially stable.  She seems to have it all.  But that’s just looking on the surface.  Underneath, just like Amish Katie, Ellie has a dark side that makes her so humanizing, she could be any of my women friends approaching 40.

And, of course, anyone who reads Picoult knows about her flawless descriptions that evoke a picture in one’s mind of exactly what is happening, but in a lovely and poetic way. In this excerpt, Picoult masterfully describes an Amish barn raising:

Mixed with the sweet, raw scent of new construction was the heavier tang of men’s sweat as they hoisted the other walls into place, secured them, and climbed the wooden rigging like monkeys to fasten the boards of the roof.

So I can say I fully understand why women love Picoult and why she’s so popular.  She creates a very human world where women can feel just like themselves.

Please continue onto The Plain Truth about Amish Country by Katie Davis.

Scott Turow Mystery Suspense Novelist & Working Lawyer

April 12, 2011 in American literature, Mystery Writers, Pop Culture

Scott Turow

When you become a best-selling author who has sold more than 25 million copies of your books worldwide, you quit your day job, right?  Not Scott Turow.  The mystery-suspense novelist has had his books translated into over 25 languages, but he still works as a partner in a Chicago law firm.  Turow, born April 12, 1949, seems happy to wear both hats as writer and lawyer.  In his spare time, he contributes opinion pieces and essays to a plethora of literary magazines, including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Playboy and The Atlantic.

Turow has been developing his other creative side: music.  He plays in the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band of bestselling authors, which includes heavy hitters such as Stephen King, Mitch Albom and Amy Tan.  Their motto is simple: “The more people drink, the better we sound.”  Even though it sounds like a comedy, the band seriously donates all their proceeds to literary causes.  They’ve raised $2 million so far, and in 2010, they played their “Wordstock” tour to support the victims of the Haitian earthquake.

Scott Turow is a man of many talents.  We celebrate his birthday today, April 12, as his new novel Innocent hits the shelves.  Happy Birthday, Mr. Turow!

American Girl Dolls, A Historical Toy

April 10, 2011 in American literature, children's literature, Pop Culture

Book Cover by Janet Shaw © 1986, Courtesy of American Girl

American Girl Dolls is a little girl phenomenon.  The dolls are not of my generation, so I never played with them; however, the generation after me has fond memories of American Girl.  (I’m from the Cabbage Patch Kid generation.)  I found out about the dolls last Christmas when my fiance’s little cousins were playing with them.  They showed me the books that come with each doll.  I was shocked to see that one doll, Molly, was growing up in World War II.  Kit was another doll in crisis; she watches her father lose his job during the Great Depression and she must save the family’s home.  These are pretty heavy subjects for little girls.  I remember playing in a worry-less wonderland with my vapid Barbies.

I like that these dolls have a back story and that children are encouraged to read and learn about history.  I find it even more fascinating in this world of the Wii, X-box, Internet and a thousand channels of brain-rotting TV, the dolls seem to be thriving.  Writer Katy Kelleher reminisces about her childhood with her American Girl Doll named Kirsten in our latest feature article: Of Dreams and Dolls: American Girls and the Spirit of Exploration.