Fiction or nonfiction? Twitter reading poll results

The results are in on my small Twitter poll. Eighty-seven percent of those who responded on Twitter prefer fiction over nonfiction. And I had six write-ins on my blog. One for fiction, one for nonfiction and four readers who say it’s kind of even.

Despite these results, I feel as if readers are reading more nonfiction than ever. I’ve always preferred fiction over nonfiction, but I’m reading more nonfiction than I ever did in the past.

Here are some recommended nonfiction books I’ve read since I started my blog.


The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – I wasn’t sure I would enjoy reading this, but I was happily surprised to find Franklin’s memoir a remarkable and amusing record of time in America during the mid- to late 1700s. I also enjoyed refreshing my memory about the colonies before the American Revolution and the steps that led to independence.


Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. – Dedman was intrigued by two vacant but fully maintained mansions and two large apartments on Fifth Avenue in New York, owned by reclusive heiress, Huguette Clark. Clark, by choice, spent the last twenty years of her life in a hospital bed and gave away large amounts of money to her caretakers and advisers. When she died at age 104, who was to inherit her $300 million fortune?


Helen Keller – The Story of My Life – If you grew up in the United States, you very likely learned about Helen Keller in school.  She was an American girl from Alabama who lost her sight and hearing as a baby and determinedly overcame these obstacles to become a writer, a social activist and an advocate for the blind and deaf.


In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – Many believe that Truman Capote was the pioneer of the nonfiction novel genre. In a 1966 New York Times interview with George Plimpton, Capote explains his decision to write a book about the brutal 1959 murder of a Kansas family: “The motivating factor in my choice of material—that is, choosing to write a true account of an actual murder case—was altogether literary. The decision was based on a theory I’ve harbored since I first began to write professionally, which is well over 20 years ago. It seemed to me that journalism, reportage, could be forced to yield a serious new art form: the ‘nonfiction novel,’ as I thought of it.”


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – Here’s a book I resisted reading because there was so much hype that I took a step back. I also avoided it because I am not a science person. But then my book club chose Lab Girl and I committed to reading it. So, wow. This book was excellent. Jahren writes beautifully about her lonely childhood in Minnesota, college life and early years trying to make it as a scientist.


Night by Elie Wiesel – I had read other books about the Holocaust, but never Night, Elie Wiesel’s memoir about being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II. The New York Times calls it “a slim volume of terrifying power” and I couldn’t agree more. In 1944, Wiesel was deported by the Germans from his town of Sighet, Transylvania and sent by cattle train to Auschwitz and later Buchenwald. He was just a teenager. His account of this experience is a horrifying reminder of a terrible period of history.


Notes from a Public Typewriter – edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti – Here’s a quick book that is guaranteed to put you in a good mood. It’s about the owners of the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When they set up the store, they put out a typewriter and paper for anyone to use. It wasn’t long before customers began to type random, sometimes whimsical and often heartfelt messages for all to see. Notes is a compilation of these messages.


Have you read any of these?  What are your favorite nonfiction books?

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The movie Charly and Flowers for Algernon

I recently read Flowers for Algernon by William Keyes, a classic science fiction story about a mentally disabled man who undergoes an experimental surgery to increase his intelligence. (Read my review here.)

Today I watched the 1968 movie Charly, which is based on the book and stars Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. The movie was one of the most successful films made by ABC Motion Pictures and Robertson won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance.

While the film is dated in its style and effects, the main story is close to the one depicted in Flowers for Algernon. As with any book-to-movie, however, not everything is the same. The setting is changed (book in New York and movie in Boston), several side stories are omitted and the romantic element altered. I was disappointed that the movie didn’t include references to Charly’s childhood relationships, especially those with his family, because I feel they explain a lot about how he came to forgive or at least accept how his mother, father and sister treated him. I think if the movie were made today, the directors might focus on some of these aspects.

There’s definitely a 60s feel to it, particularly at its climax, when Charly begins to understand how he’s been treated and what will happen to him. He goes off on a wild spree and at that point, I felt I was watching something out of The Mod Squad because of the effects and music.

I liked watching it so soon after reading the book, which I enjoyed very much. It’s impossible not to compare for accuracy and, even though there are some differences, I thought the movie was entertaining.

Not all reviews were positive, however.

Vincent Canby, an American film and theater critic called Charly a “self-conscious contemporary drama, the first ever to exploit mental retardation for… the bittersweet romance of it.” He added, “we [the audience] are forced into the vaguely unpleasant position of being voyeurs, congratulating ourselves for not being Charly as often as we feel a distant pity for him.”

But Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars out of 4 and, in 2009, Entertainment Weekly included Charly in its “25 Best Movie Tearjerkers Ever.”

Have you watched the movie? What did you think?

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If you like book-to-movie comparisons, check out these previous posts:

The Age of Innocence
Billy Bathgate
Brooklyn
The Dinner
The Great Gatsby
The Light Between Oceans
The Lincoln Lawyer
The Martian

 

Sweetness by Jeff Pearlman – thoughts on NFL legend Walter Payton by Austin Vitelli

I like when I read a book and feel the need to discuss it, but I mostly cover fiction and fiction book reviews tend to stick to what’s on the pages, with commentary about characters, plot, writing style, etc. It’s harder to find opinion pieces that take the subject of a book to the next level, but biographies are a great way for readers to develop and share ideas about a person’s life story.

Today I’m sharing a post by Austin Vitelli about the life of NFL legend Walter Payton. He wrote it after reading Sweetness by Jeff Pearlman, a biography about Payton. If you’re not a football fan, you may not know the name, but Walter Payton is the namesake of the annual NFL Man of the Year award. Each year, the NFL honors a player “for his excellence on and off the field. The award was established in 1970. It was renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton. Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community.”

Vitelli writes,

One thing I struggled with throughout the book was weighing the good and bad in Payton’s life. Payton was likely one of the nicest and most genuinely caring NFL players ever. But he also made lots of questionable decisions that seemingly get left out in many people’s stories of him.

Click here to read the rest of Vitelli’s thoughts on Walter Payton’s life and career. And visit austinvitelli.com for more about Austin’s career in journalism and editing.


Like sports biographies? Check out Gunslinger by Jeff Pearlman
and this Q&A with the author.


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Book Club Mom’s top reads of 2018

Image: Pixabay

Today is the perfect day to look back on the best books I read in 2018. Who can resist a list? Here are Book Club Mom’s 5-bookmark reads:


Days Without End by Sebastian Barry – 2/4/18

Thomas McNulty and John Cole are just boys in the 1840s when they meet under a hedge in a Missouri rainstorm. A strong friendship develops during their early days and later as soldiers in the Indian and Civil Wars. Questions of morality, faith, and fate run through this poetic narrative. It’s an impressive feat that a writer can take a piece of ugly American history and throw a moving balance between love, friendship, honor and duty and the brutal violence that comes with following orders.


Second Chance Romance by Jill Weatherholt – 6/13/18

Sometimes you need a feel-good book, a story in which realistic characters face many challenges, but are able to overcome them through love and faith. That’s what you get in Second Chance Romance by Jill Weatherholt, a wonderful inspirational romance that promises just what the title suggests.


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – 7/25/18

Classic children’s books don’t get any better than this story about a spoiled, but frail and lonely ten-year-old orphan girl, sent to live on a vast English moorland manor, with a reclusive uncle she has never met. In a delightful transformation, fresh air, exercise, surprise friendships, returned health and the newfound wonders of a secret and neglected garden are the springtime magic that brings Mary Lennox and her new family together.


Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder by Claudia Kalb – 8/18/18

Excellent collection of mini biographies of twelve famous personalities and a look at their known or likely battles with mental illness. In addition to a compassionate explanation of the problems these entertainers, artists, musicians, leaders, writers and groundbreakers suffered, Kalb wonders how many would have fared had they been accurately diagnosed and treated with modern methods.


The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov – 9/1/18

There’s a lot of great literature on the public domain and I found this terrific collection of nine short stories by Anton Chekhov for free at the Kindle store. Chekhov (1860-1904) was a Russian playwright and writer of short fiction and is considered one of the all-time greatest masters of the short story.


The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett – 10/15/18

I wasn’t sure how I felt about reading a hardboiled detective novel from the 1930s. But one page in and I understood why Dashiell Hammett is considered a master of this genre. It’s a tightly written story about detective Sam Spade, three murders, a valuable falcon statue and an assortment of shrewd characters on both sides of the law.


Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – 11/4/18

Here’s a great family saga that begins in the 1960s with six kids from two different families, thrown together because of an affair, a divorce and then a marriage. As the four parents establish their new lives, the kids are left to figure things out for themselves. Until one summer when tragedy changes everything.


Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson – 11/20/18

A great story about being different and making it anyway. In some ways, it is a classic success story about perseverance, but mostly, it’s a shout-out to anyone who’s not mainstream. Through a rambling, often irreverent and always hilarious “where is this story going?” narration, with plenty of colorful vocabulary, Lawson tells you about her childhood, depression, anxiety and illness, her family, early jobs, marriage, motherhood and how she became a blogger and writer.


Blue Monday by Nicci French – 12/9/18

First in a series of eight mystery thrillers featuring Frieda Klein, a highly regarded psychoanalyst who, in this story, becomes entangled in a kidnapping investigation. One of the things I enjoyed about Blue Monday is that it is a character-driven mystery. The authors’ characters are both interesting and complex, with their own sets of problems.


Audiobook: Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal and Quinton Peeples – 12/14/18

Have a Nice Day is a play, but this version is a live script-reading. In addition to Billy Crystal, Kevin Kline and Annette Bening, the cast is full of stars, including Rachel Dratch and Darrell Hammond. Kline plays President David Murray, who has just received a visit from the Angel of Death, played by Billy Crystal. Murray learns that this is his day to die and he makes a deal with the Angel to give him until one second before midnight so he can finish strong.


What did you read this year? Coming next, more excellent reads from 2018. Meantime, check out all my 2018 reviews here.

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Book blogs and reviews – the good, the bad and the ugly

Image: Pixabay

Do you like everything you read? The answer for all of us is, of course, no. That would be impossible. If we liked everything we read, we would all be bland, with no opinions. And then no one would be able to distinguish between good, great, really great on the one side and average or not so good on the other side.

Social media has given readers a voice. Book blogs, Amazon, Goodreads are all places we can express our views about the last book we’ve read.

Everyone likes to gush when they love a book. And on what we could call the dark web of book reviews, many readers like to rip a book apart if they didn’t like it. These reviews are often nasty and don’t have much substance. And once posted, they sit out there, attached to the book for all to see. That’s hard on authors, especially new ones.

As readers, we tend to pick books we know we will like. With limited time, why read a book you know you won’t enjoy? But even when we select what we think will be winners, not everything works. As a book blogger, what to do?

  1. I could choose not to review the book.
  2. I could give it a positive review anyway.
  3. I could give it an average rating, point to the good things and let the rating speak for itself.

Option three works a lot for me, but every now and then I have to choose between that and something else: Option four:

  1. I could give it an honest review and explain why, without being harsh.

Yesterday I posted a review and gave it 2 bookmarks. Ouch! I thought about it for a long time. Could I do that? Did it deserve only 2 bookmarks? For me, yes.

If you’re in a book club, you know that very rarely does everyone like the book of the month. In my group, some of our best discussions were about books that some people hated and others loved! We are able to laugh about it and tease each other.

Can you do that on a book blog? I think so. My goal here is to develop a brand so that people who read my blog know my tastes and can choose based on them. We have to have a personality or it isn’t real!

So here is my idea for the future, and I will start with yesterday’s review of Exposed by Lisa Scottoline. If you are a Scottoline fan and want to tell me about her best books and why you like them, I’m inviting you to either make comments below or on the review linked above, or be a guest blogger on Book Club Mom. Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com if you are interested.

Because isn’t it best to reach across the book aisle?

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The Martian – the book and the movie

   

Who believes that the book is always better than the movie? I usually feel that way, but sometimes the film adaptation of a book removes the storytelling weaknesses, takes the good parts and makes an excellent story even better. That’s the case here with the movie version of The Martian.

I very much enjoyed the book version and the huge success of Andy Weir’s book is something all self-published authors can aspire to. The book was nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read. Here’s his success story:

Andy Weir, Image: Amazon.com

Andy Weir, a software engineer, has always enjoyed studying relativistic physics, orbital mechanics and manned spaceflight. The Martian is his first novel. He started writing it in 2009 and spent a great deal of time researching. It was originally self-published in 2011. He first offered it for free (in serial format) on his website. Weir’s chapters were popular and he developed an enthusiastic fan base. His readers urged him to offer it in Kindle format on Amazon. This 99¢ Kindle version was hugely popular and became an Amazon best-seller, selling 35,000 copies in three months. That got some publishers’ attentions. Weir sold the audiobook publishing rights to Podium Publishing in 2013 and soon after, Crown Publishing bought the print rights. Twentieth Century Fox bought the film rights the same year and the movie, starring Matt Damon, hit the theaters in 2015.

The story is about astronaut Mark Watney, who is stuck on Mars after being separated from his crewmates during a dangerous wind storm. The team thinks he’s dead and they reluctantly escape in their Mars Ascent Vehicle. How will he survive the huge challenge ahead of him, in a NASA habitat, with no communication and only a limited supply of food and water?

I liked both reading and watching how Watney improvises and uses his mighty brain to survive. He overcomes what to a normal person would be impossible challenges and becomes the hero we all want to see. Matt Damon does a great job in the role. His sense of humor and human side make him all the more likable. The movie is directed by Ridley Scott and also stars Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels. Click here for IMDb’s listing of the full cast and crew.

I thought the book was very good, although it was a little heavy on the math and science. And that’s why I think the movie is even better, because the story rises to the top. It’s what we all want in this type of film: action and a feel-good finish. As with all action films, viewers need to let go of analyzing whether or not events could actually happen and just enjoy the story.

I recommend both the book and the movie to science fiction fans and all movie-goers who enjoy action stories about heroes and overcoming adversity. I also recommend reading the book first because I don’t think the story would be as enjoyable if you’ve already seen the movie.

Click here for Book Club Mom’s review of the book.


I watched The Martian as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to watch a movie based on a book.

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What is historical fiction and does it have to be totally accurate?

Image: Pixabay

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between readers of historical fiction and the writers of these popular books. How much of their stories should be fact and how much should be fiction? The genre is, after all, historical fiction, which, I think, gives writers the license to use their imaginations. But what happens when readers take issue?

Dictionary.com defines historical fiction as “narratives that take place in the past and are characterized chiefly by an imaginative reconstruction of historical events and personages.”

Goodreads adds to this definition by explaining that:

“In some historical fiction, famous events appear from points of view not recorded in history, showing historical figures dealing with actual events while depicting them in a way that is not recorded in history. Other times, the historical event or time period complements a story’s narrative, forming a framework and background for the characters’ lives. Sometimes, historical fiction can be for the most part true, but the names of people and places have been in some way altered.”

There is also a term called “alternate history” in which writers speculate what could have happened if certain events ended differently.


Are you, as a reader, bothered by a writer’s imagination if the story portrays well-known leaders, heroes or organizations in a not-so-nice way?


Consider The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. How much is fact and how much is fiction? Are there really clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci and is the Priory of Sion—a secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci—accurately portrayed? Does the author’s imagination take away from the story, or enhance it?


How about Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier? Not much is known about Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and his relationship with the girl in this famous painting. Is it scandalous to suggest he had an affair with a servant girl from his own household?


I recently re-read the 2015 historical mystery, Second Street Station by Lawrence H. Levy in which there are many American historical figures from the late 1800s, including Thomas Edison. We all think of Edison as the inventor of the electric light bulb and many other important discoveries that have greatly enhanced our lives. In his book, Levy incorporates some lesser-known facts about Edison, including the inventor’s favorite drink, Vin Mariani, a popular cocaine-laced wine that helped him work around the clock. Levy also portrays Edison as a highly competitive and vindictive businessman, who orchestrated the public electrocutions of dogs, calves and an elephant to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current, which was developed by his chief rival, George Westinghouse. (Read all about the War of Currents here.) And Levy also ties Edison to an unsolved murder of film pioneer, Louis Le Prince, who was the first person to record motion on film and received patents on his devices before Edison. Levy isn’t the first to suggest Edison had something to do with Le Prince’s disappearance, but it’s likely new information for the casual reader.

These books are all great choices for a book club discussion because of the questions they raise. Many of the questions can’t be fully answered. I think that’s why they make great stories!

So can fact and fiction get along in the same novel?
I think so. What do you think?

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The Lincoln Lawyer – the book and the movie

    

I always wonder if the movie version of a book I’ve read will be a good one. You never know how the two are going to match up, so I was happy to see how well the 2011 film of The Lincoln Lawyer matched the book of the same name by Michael Connelly.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Matthew McConaughey plays the lead, but the cast is full of well-knowns, including Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy and Bryan Cranston. The story revolves around Mickey Haller, an LA defense attorney whose office is the back of a Lincoln Continental. Haller faces his greatest fear when takes on a wealthy client who has been arrested for assaulting a woman: is his client telling the truth? The words of his famous lawyer father echo in his brain, “There is no client as scary as an innocent man.”

Both the book and the movie tell a swift-moving and entertaining legal crime story. I like Michael Connelly’s writing and enjoyed seeing his characters on-screen. The book, of course, provides a lot more detail and back story, including the connection between Haller and Connelly’s other famous character, Harry Bosch (the two are half-brothers).

I recommend both, but read the book first so you can get the full story in your mind. The movie is pure entertainment!

Click here for a full review of the book.

Want to know more about the movie? See the whole cast and crew on IMDb.com.

And to reward you for reading to the bottom of this post, here’s a nice pic of McConaughey.

Image: Popsugar

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The Dinner – 2017 film adaptation

I recently watched the 2017 film adaptation of The Dinner, a drama and thriller based on Dutch author Herman Koch’s novel (read my review here). The book was first published in 2009 and translated to English in 2012. I thought the book was excellent, despite the fact that the story’s characters are hateful and selfish. It’s only natural to want to see the movie too, right?

Oren Moverman wrote the screenplay and directed the 2017 film, the book’s third adaptation. This movie stars Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall and Michael Chernus.

In both the movie and the book, the story is set at a swank restaurant, where two couples meet to discuss a so-far unsolved violent crime that their teenage sons have committed. Paul Lohman is struggling with mental illness. His older brother Stan is a slick politician who is running for governor. And the wives come to the table with their own secret agendas. The plot revolves around their dinner courses, the unfolding details of their children’s crime and their desire to deal with what might happen to the kids if they are found out.

This movie is a perfect example of how a poor adaptation can wreck a book that offers excellent (if unlikeable) cynical characters and throws moral decisions upon them. Several changes in the story make the movie slow and ambiguous. While the book was set in Amsterdam, the movie takes place in America, most likely Washington. Endless interruptions at dinner make the movie hard to watch. No one sits at the table for any period of time and flashes to the crime and other back stories jumble up an already confused sequence. Trying to get a grip on the story is like trying to hold onto an unhooked fish in the rain.

In the movie, Paul is ready for a breakdown. Long scenes and references to the Civil War dominate a major portion of the film, with little connection to the story, except to Paul’s failed teaching career. In addition, the movie’s finish is completely different from the book, which changes the whole idea of the story. It’s no surprise that Herman Koch walked out of the premiere and did not attend the after-party. He objected to how the movie became a moral story, rather than the cynical one he wrote. He’s quoted as saying, “That after-party would have been rather awkward. What would I have done? Shake hands with everybody and tell them I hated their movie?”

So I pass on recommending the movie, but I do recommend the book. You can check out my reviews (one with spoilers) below:

The Dinner (no spoilers)

The Dinner (spoilers included)


And for information about the movie:

IMDb The Dinner

IMDb Trivia about The Dinner:

RogerEbert.com 1.5 stars out of 5

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Book Club Mom – Books Read in 2017

Image: Pixabay

 

Talking about books is just as fun as reading them. Choosing the next one is lots of fun too. And lists are a great way to get things started. Today I’m between books, but I’m looking forward to picking something new soon! I’ve added a page to show my running list of books read in 2017. Check it out up top or click on the link below.

Book Club Mom – Books of 2017

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