Two new books in October!

I don’t always read my email from iTunes, but I did today. And I was happy to see two interesting books being published in October!

 

Belzhar cover

Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer
(The Interestings)

This is Meg Wolitzer’s Young Adult debut. 10th grader Jam Gallahue attends a therapeutic boarding school after the tragic loss of a close friend. Her English teacher gives Jam a special journal that allows her to go back to her life before the loss.

 

A Sudden Light

A Sudden Light, by Garth Stein
(The Art of Racing in the Rain)

While trying to save his parents’ failing marriage, 14-year-old Trevor Riddell discovers a legacy of family secrets in an old Riddell mansion, a house full of secret stairways, hidden rooms and a lingering spirit.

You can check out these books and a list of other new books on iTunes. Visit iTunes Books and look for the “Coming in October” banner.

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What’s Holly Golightly really like?

Breakfast at Tiffany's book cover

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
by Truman Capote
Rating: ****

It’s impossible not to think about Audrey Hepburn when you meet the real Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote. It’s been awhile since I watched the movie, which stars Hepburn, George Peppard and Patricia Neal. George Axelrod wrote the screenplay and the movie was directed by Blake Edwards. It’s so easy to picture Hepburn in that apartment, to hear her voice and remember her sophisticated clothes. Oh to be able to carry yourself like that…

But after a few pages, despite an accurate dialogue, I realized that Capote’s Holly is a much different and younger character and that the movie glosses over some things, embellishes others, adds a plot line and changes the ending! I’ve always remembered loving the movie, but the book is much better.

This novella, a little over one hundred pages, is really a character sketch of Holly. The narrator is Holly’s neighbor, unnamed in the book, a writer who befriends her and a few years later, tries to guess what has become of her.

And she is a girl, nineteen years old, a run-away from a sad past, who makes her money entertaining men. And she makes more money on the side visiting a Mafia boss in prison and delivering coded messages that help run a drug cartel.

I remember the movie being rather light and romantic and thinking that Holly has it all together, despite her crazy life. Her source of income is barely explained in the movie, and although Holly jokes in the book about being paid for her “trips to the powder room,” there’s a deeper sadness in her and a roughness just below the surface that makes a much more complex character.

The narrator has a platonic relationship with Holly and Capote raises the question of all the characters’ sexuality throughout the story. Other characters remind me a little bit of aimless members of an earlier lost generation: Mag Wildwood, Rusty Trawler, and José Jbarra-Jaegar are examples of people who come into Holly’s life, become seemingly entrenched, and then disappear.

The themes of ownership, belonging and loss also run through the story. People connect and disconnect and Holly seems to not care, but suffers the most. She copes by developing superficial relationships and laying down shallow roots. Holly’s empty apartment and an unnamed cat are good examples of a life that is only semi-permanent. And when Doc Golightly shows up, she tries to explain away her childhood marriage and what their relationship means. “Doc really loves me, you know. And I love him. He may have looked old and tacky to you. But you don’t know the sweetness of him, the confidence he can give to birds and brats and fragile things like that. Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”

Everything changes when Holly learns about her brother, Fred, and we realize that Fred is the one person Holly has been clinging to the most. And when her business arrangement with Sally Tomato at Sing Sing falls apart, Capote leaves us wondering what Holly will do, or what will happen to her.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I’ll keep the ending out of my review. But I do think the different ending in the book is much better, and truer to Holly’s character.

On a minor note, I was glad to see that Mr. Yunioshi, Holly’s Japanese neighbor, is not the crazy and inappropriate character portrayed by Mickey Rooney in the movie, a definite cringe-worthy moment. Rooney once insisted that his portrayal received positive reviews, including Chinese and Japanese fans who told him he was hilarious. But he later admitted his shame and regret in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short. There are also moments in the book, however, that reveal the racial prejudices of the times, something that jumps out when you read fiction from an earlier time.

For the record, Truman Capote was not happy with the movie version. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, and was dissatisfied with all aspects of the film. After the film was released, Capote commented, “Holly Golightly was real-a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly, and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova.” (http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/156635|0/Trivia.html)

Check out these links for more information about the book and the movie.

http://news.moviefone.com/2011/10/05/25-things-breakfast-at-tiffanys-anniversary/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakfast_at_Tiffany%27s_%28novella%29

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What’s up next? Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany's book cover

Thinking about books that have been made into movies reminded me of the 1961 movie classic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. Although I’ve seen the movie many times, I’ve never read the 1950 novella, which was written by Truman Capote.

Breakfast at Tiffany's movie

Here’s the movie version, starring Audrey Hepburn

Last night, I spent the evening reading about Truman Capote and watching an A&E Biography about him. Then I watched a bunch of Capote interviews on YouTube with David Frost, Dick Cavett, and William F. Buckley.

truman capote pic

Truman Capote

Truman Capote (1924-1984) was an American author of fiction and non-fiction, including novels, short stories and plays. He loved being the center of attention and was also a well-known figure on the New York social scene. His first novel, Other Places, Other Rooms, was published in 1948 and is the story of a thirteen-year-old boy who, like Capote, confronts and embraces his homosexuality. Although Capote’s fiction had gained great attention, it was In Cold Blood, a work he called his “non-fiction novel” (1966) which launched him into his greatest fame. In Cold Blood, which was also made into a movie in 1967 and stars Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, became an immediate best-seller and one of the most profitable books in publishing history. Capote spent five years researching the 1959 murder of a family in a small town in Western Kansas. Capote was great childhood friends with Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird and she helped him with his research for In Cold Blood.  His research included extensive interviews with the convicted killers and Capote developed an intense relationship with one of the men before they were executed. In Cold Blood was his last published book while Capote was alive.

In 1966, Capote threw a lavish party for his New York friends, called the “Black and White Ball” in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Plaza. It was the most talked-about event for years to follow. He continued to work on his tell-all novel, Answered Prayers, published posthumously. But Capote’s social downfall came after Esquire Magazine published a chapter excerpt from this book (“La Côte Basque 1965”), said to reveal intimate secrets of many of his real female friends.

Capote spent the rest of his years partying and celebrating his fame on the interview circuit. He was a regular at New York’s Studio 54. He struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and died just short of his sixtieth birthday.

Capote had a style all his own and was very sharp and witty and, before his social downfall, was well-loved among socialites. I think his interviews are fascinating, very funny and a little bit sad.

Now I’m ready to start reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Many thanks to Google Images, YouTube, Biography.com and Wikipedia!

Truman Garcia Capote. (2014). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 06:59, Sep 24, 2014, from http://www.biography.com/people/truman-capote-9237547.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7278BPpa-jw&index=1&list=PLnQiGCuCfnW-yBkU-ueF7j83ELc3163-E

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySkwEXDVgEg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truman_Capote

Picture of Truman Capote: http://sunpeople77im.com/truman-capote.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Billy Bathgate movie review

Billy Bathgate movie

Rating: ***

Here’s an okay movie based on a really great book. This 1991 film stars Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman, Loren Dean, Bruce Willis, and Steven Hill. I’m not exactly sure why the movie doesn’t work, but I think it has something to do with the casting and the scenery. And despite the big names, the whole movie comes across as bland and too perfect, with scenes that resemble a lot of other gangster movies.

To begin with, I pictured Billy Bathgate as a sharp, wiry and wily street-smart teenage boy, but Loren Dean’s Billy looks so wholesome and so well-groomed in the movie that it’s hard to believe he’d ever be part of a gang. And the Bronx tenements where Billy lives look more like a slightly crowded, but colorful and friendly place than they do a dangerous neighborhood.

Here’s another problem: Dustin Hoffman may resemble the real Dutch Schultz, but I think it ends there. He doesn’t come across as the hot-head, unpredictable and insane violent mobster portrayed by E. L. Doctorow in the book. Instead, he’s mostly mannerly and soft-spoken and friendly. Nicole Kidman plays Drew Preston. She is certainly beautiful, but she too seems one-dimensional, different from the enigmatic Drew Preston I had imagined. Bruce Willis (Bo Weinberg) plays a great pretty boy wise-guy, but I had a different character in mind when I read the book, someone tougher and not so smooth.

While these characters don’t seem to fit, I did enjoy watching the guys in Schultz’s entourage. Steven Hill plays a different Otto Berman, but I think it’s an improvement from the humpbacked, colorfully dressed book Otto. And I think he is the best part of this movie. In addition, while I had a hard time picturing what Lulu was like, I think John Costelloe does a good job portraying him in the movie. It was also fun to see Steve Buscemi as Irving, since he is so great in Boardwalk Empire!

So all-in-all, an unremarkable film. It’s hard to resist watching the movie version of a book you’ve enjoyed, but this one was disappointing. The ending was also slightly different and that surprised me, since the twist in the book was just right.

What great books have been made into great movies? What makes them work? I can think of a couple. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell is just as great as the book. And a more appropriate comparison is The Godfather, by Mario Puzo, one of my favorites.

I can also think of some clunkers. Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe is a great book, but the movie was not good at all. And of course, my number-one favorite book, Youngblood Hawke, by Herman Wouk did not make a great film, even as a recent remake!

Can you add any to these good and bad lists?

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Father figures in organized crime – Billy Bathgate, by E. L. Doctorow

Billy Bathgate

Billy Bathgate
by E. L. Doctorow
Rating: ****

If you like intelligent and well-written historical fiction and New York stories about organized crime during the 1930s, check out Billy Bathgate, by E. L. Doctorow. Published in 1989, Billy Bathgate won both the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The 1991 movie stars Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman, Loren Dean, Bruce Willis, Steven Hill and Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire).

Billy Bathgate is a fifteen-year-old boy from the Bronx who becomes a protégé of the notorious Dutch Schultz, a hot-head New York mobster who made his money during the 1930s running beer and controlling the numbers racket. Billy is a fictional character, but he moves with the very real Schultz and his advisers, including Schultz’s genius accountant, Otto “Abbadabba” Berman, hit man Lulu Rosenkrantz and lawyer Dixie Davis. With no father and a mother who is not altogether with it, Billy looks to Schultz and Berman to show him how to make it in the world. His initiation into the gang begins with a chilling murder at sea, during which one of Schultz’s associates, Bo Weinberg, has his feet set in a tub of cement.

But Billy has joined the gang at the end of Dutch Schultz’s reign over organized crime in his part of New York. Narrated through Billy’s voice, the story tells of Schultz’s wildly unpredictable and violent temper and of his upcoming tax evasion trial. Drew Preston is a young and beautiful society woman who is difficult to read. She becomes Schultz’s companion and a dangerous temptation for Billy.

Beating the tax charges might not be enough to keep Schultz out of trouble. Schultz’s end is near when his political connections fall through, and his plans to kill Thomas Dewey, a U.S. attorney and prosecutor, are unsupported.

Billy’s reflections are both street-smart and deep and this point of view presents a surprising narration. He is naïve and sweet and crude and eloquent at the same time. His reader appeal and respect is in his innocence and in his ability to take care of himself. And Doctorow has a way of making Schultz’s illegal and violent henchmen seem fatherly at times. He presents them as professionals who take extreme pride in what they do, from neatly rolling up the cuffs of the doomed Weinberg to shooting precisely, to performing elaborate acrobatics with numbers.

I enjoyed reading Billy Bathgate because the author does a great job showing the positives and obvious negatives of these complex characters and historical figures.  Billy also makes some terrific philosophical and spiritual observations about this life.

Here are a few of my favorites:

When Billy describes the sounds of an unexpected murder, he says, “…and when its echoes died away I heard the silence of the sudden subtraction from the universe of a life…” p. 196

As he reflects on the importance of money, Billy says, “It didn’t matter how the money stopped flowing, in or out, the result was equally disastrous, the whole system was in jeopardy, just as, if the earth stopped turning, according to what a teacher explained to us once in the planetarium, it would shake itself to pieces.” p. 280

And when he thinks about the men who died at the Palace Chophouse, he remarks, “What happened to the skills of a man when he died, that he knew how to play the piano, for instance, or in Irving’s case to tie knots, to roll up pant legs, to walk easily over a heaving sea?” p. 312.

I like Doctorow’s writing style. He uses long sentences, with lots of commas and they often take up an entire page. But they always return to the central point and I think they are easy to follow. The book has the inevitable and uncomfortable violent scenes, but a story like this could not be told without them, so they serve a necessary purpose.

This is a very entertaining and educational read and it describes a unique period of time in New York City. And it’s so well-written that it is just as great now as it was twenty-five years ago!

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What’s available from the free e-book library? Billy Bathgate, by E.L. Doctorow

Billy Bathgate

I’m really happy that our local library has improved its way to search for e-books. Now I can sort in all kinds of ways, including finding books that are immediately ready to borrow! Sometimes I just want a book right away, don’t you?

So for my next read, I’m shifting from current popular fiction and picking up some older popular historical fiction, Billy Bathgate, by E. L. Doctorow. In 1990, Billy Bathgate won both the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. It’s the story of Billy “Bathgate” Behan, a fifteen-year-old protégé of the real-life New York mobster, Dutch Schultz. Billy Bathgate was made into a film in 1991, with Loren Dean, Dustin Hoffman, Steven Hill, Nicole Kidman and Bruce Willis. The movie was directed by Robert Benton and the screenplay was written by Tom Stoppard.

I remember this movie, but I haven't seen it.  I have a free pass for a movie rental at the library so I think this will be my choice!

I remember this movie, but I haven’t seen it. I have a free pass for a movie rental at the library so I think this will be my choice!

 

E. L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow is an award-winning American author of fiction, short stories, plays and essays. Some of his other novels include Welcome to Hard Times, Ragtime, Loon Lake, City of God, The March, and his newest novel, Andrew’s Brain.  You can check out Doctorow’s website at:

http://www.eldoctorow.com/index.html

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Teen drama in If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

if i stay

If I Stay
by Gayle Forman
Rating: ***

If you’re on the brink of death, do you get to decide which way to go? Is it up to you? Which world pulls you harder? Your life on earth or what awaits beyond? Mia, seventeen, finds herself in this very situation in If I Stay. As the only survivor of a car accident in which her parents and younger brother are killed, Mia is clinging to life in the hospital. A nurse whispers that it’s up to her to decide.

If I Stay is a Young Adult teen drama that takes a look at the possibility of making powerful decisions at a person’s weakest mortal moment. Something resembling the spirit of the gravely injured Mia watches over as her grandparents, friends, and boyfriend Adam wait and worry. Gayle Forman uses this spirit-like version of Mia to tell the backstory of Mia and her family and of her teen romance with Adam.

I enjoyed reading If I Stay because of this interesting suggestion, of being able to control your destiny. It’s a fast read that focuses on family, friendship and love. Despite the semi-spiritual theme, this is not a deep-thinking book, but I think you have to make a conscious decision, early on, to go with the roll of the book and its plot. The whole story has an exaggerated looseness about it which may irritate some readers.

Mia is a gifted cello player, a senior in high school, hoping to be accepted at Julliard. Dad’s an ex-punk rocker and Mom’s a former punk rock groupie. Adam is a modern punk rocker whose band Shooting Star is about to make it big. Teddy’s the little brother. Music holds this group together and there are many references to songs, bands and the punk rock era. This may seem a little unlikely, but you have to commit to all this if you want to finish the book.

Certain parts of the book strike me as unrealistic, specifically the characterization of Mia’s parents, who are extremely liberal and loose with rules and don’t act at all like parents. They immediately embrace Mia’s romance with Adam, with no reservations and enthusiastically encourage their daughter to jump right in, giving her all kinds of freedom. I wonder how many parents would allow their teen daughter to have sleepovers with her boyfriend or to stay out all night. In addition, the hospital scene is a little wild, with attempts to sneak into the ICU, including using a singer from the fictitious band Bikini as a decoy. Also unlikely is a family friend who happens to be a nurse at a different hospital and is somehow able to take charge of the entire ICU, allowing unauthorized visits, in the name of love.

Smaller details that don’t fit take away from the story. The author makes references to several classic reads, including To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorites. This is a book I never would have read or understood as an eleven-year-old, but in this story it marks the beginning of Mia’s friendship with Kim in sixth grade. The two girls argue about whether to focus on racism or people’s goodness for their school project on the book.  Mia admits in her narration that she was not a particularly good student so it surprises me that this is the book Forman chooses to use. It seems a little contrived. A later reference to Lord of the Flies also seems forced and unnecessary.

Although it’s not exactly clear when the story takes place, references to cell phones and the internet make it a modern read. So it doesn’t make sense when one of the cousins sits in the waiting area playing on a Gameboy. It’s a good example of how risky it is to use technology references. That handheld game system was popular in the 80s and 90s and is a dinosaur compared to the game apps kids play now!

I did enjoy the book, however, and I think the author raises an interesting question and ties this central theme together with a nice story about teen love. I think the strongest part of the story is near the end, when Mia’s grandparents visit her bedside. With her grandparents and later with Adam, Forman does a nice job imagining how someone who is unconscious may still be able to hear and understand.

So if you’re in the mood for a bit of a tear-jerker, and some good emotional bonding scenes, pick this up before you see the movie. The movie looks pretty good to me!

Have you read If I Stay? What did you think? Have you seen the movie?

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