Thursday, October 14, 2010

Book to film: Never Let Me Go

In my blog entry for April 30, I briefly reviewed Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, comparing it to another dystopian novel, The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist. I recently went to see the movie version of Never Let Me Go (directed by Mark Romanek from a screenplay by Alex Garland). The film adaptation is well done. If you happen to be like me in actually preferring solemn movies that make you think, I recommend this one.

The story centers around the lives of three friends--Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth--played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley, respectively. All three display good acting. Mulligan is required to convey a lot nonverbally and succeeds. Knightley impresses in completely inhabiting an unsympathetic character. When I read the book, I pictured the character of Tommy as a blond, perpetually youthful pretty boy--not resembling Andrew Garfield--but it is a testament to his acting chops that I was able to accept him in the role.

This is a story of a complicated friendship/love triangle, at first oddly insulated from the cruel reality of the society and then thrust out into it, with the chips falling where they may. Some hope is kept alive, but there is a (perhaps strange) resignation in the attitudes of the friends. Tommy is arguably the most likeable character because he has an innocent, appealing quality and may have the least sense of resignation of the three friends.

The film is largely faithful to the book. In the film version, the shocking premise of the plot is revealed early on by a new teacher, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins, in a small but memorable role). In the book, this character does not reveal as much, so the three friends, as well as the reader, are kept in the dark for longer. The book is therefore more subtle. Both the book and the film explore haunting questions about mortality, love, and duty. This is a deeply affecting movie, with an elusive message that is difficult to put into words.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October is Vegetarian Awareness Month!

I can't resist plugging Vegetarian Awareness Month, an initiative of the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS). Non-vegetarians who pledge to go veg for a short duration can enter a random drawing for cash prizes. Vegetarian and vegan diets save animals' lives (over 50 animals a year per person on average), have proven health benefits, and help to preserve the earth. So while to me the #1 reason to adopt a meat-free diet is to not harm animals, these other important reasons also compel people to go vegetarian or vegan. You may have heard former President Bill Clinton talking about his adopting an almost vegan diet (still sometimes eating fish) in a successful effort to lose weight for his daughter Chelsea's recent wedding.

Indeed, vegetarianism continues to permeate our culture. Popular author and food activist Michael Pollan advises, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Pollan and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser narrated the recent documentary Food, Inc., examining factory farming and its harmful effects on both animals and the environment. Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer's first foray into nonfiction, Eating Animals, inspired Natalie Portman to go from "a twenty-year vegetarian to a vegan activist."

Here are a few books I recommend on veganism and animal rights:
-Farm Sanctuary / Gene Baur
-The kind diet / Alicia Silverstone
-The pig who sang to the moon / Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
-Veganomicon : the ultimate vegan cookbook / Isa Chandra Moskowitz

How I Became a Famous Novelist wins Thurber Prize for Humor

One of the funniest books I've ever read, by a writer for the NBC series The Office, has just been awarded the 2010 Thurber Prize for American Humor. Great choice! I wrote a review of this book that was posted elsewhere; with the news of the award I am reposting it below:

Pete Tarslaw, the protagonist of How I Became a Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely, wants to ditch his job fabricating college entry essays for rich applicants. He also wants to upstage his ex-girlfriend at her wedding. In his endeavor to become a novelist, “my ambitions were simple: to learn the con, make money, impress women, and get out.” In writing his completely over-the-top novel, The Tornado Ashes Club, Pete splices together various elements common to literature that appeals to the masses.

The book skewers prototypes of popular authors and the formulas they follow. A fictional New York Times bestseller list is even contained in the book, which ridiculously amplifies popular taste.

How I Became a Famous Novelist is hilarious in a bitingly sarcastic way. In fact, despite quickly laughing my way through it, I sometimes required a break from the constant snarky humor (not a criticism). You need to appreciate the tone to like this book. In its last pages, the book gets earnest all of a sudden. It has, however, provided more than enough entertainment by that point to render it a worthwhile read.