Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I’m an odd girl. Two of my favorite movies are Titanic and Fight Club. I love romance just as much as I love watching guys beating each other up. So, I was super excited when one of my favorite books of all time, Pride and Prejudice, had zombie violence added to it. It was like a marriage of a favorite sister with an undead monster; a match made in comedy heaven!

This book is literally the exact same text as the original Pride and Prejudice except that now there is a strange plague facing England that is bringing the undead back to life. Good thing the Bennet sisters are some of the best fighters out there, having been educated in China by the best dojo’s of the day. Seriously though, what could be better than a regency romance, zombies, and ninjas? Nothing.

This book was really so much fun to read. The one thing you have to remember is that at the end of the day, it’s the same text as the original Pride and Prejudice. A few times during my reading, I was confused about why the book was taking so long to read and I even thought to myself, “this is like reading a classic!” Oh wait, it IS reading a classic, just with some flying limbs every now and then. So when you approach this book, remember that it is classically written and take it slow, it’s worth it.

But besides the fact of this book being a good way to introduce yourself to Jane Austen in a very entertaining way, it’s just hilarious what Seth Grahame-Smith wrote into this book. Two of my favorite scenes in Pride and Prejudice are the first ball at Netherfield and when the dreadful Mr. Collins comes to dinner. During the first scene at the ball, zombies attack!

“Unmentionables poured in, their movements clumsy yet swift; their burial clothing in a range of untidiness. Some wore gowns so tattered as to render them scandalous; others wore suits so filthy that one would assume they were assembled from litter more than dirt and dried blood. Their flesh was in varying degrees of putrefaction; the freshly stricken were slightly green and pliant, whereas the longer dead were grey and brittle- their eyes and tongues long since turned to dust, and their lips pulled back into everlasting skeletal smiles.”

Don’t worry, everything works out because the five Bennet sisters form the awesome Pentagram of Death and slay Satan’s army (Yeah, that was how it was in the book, it’s fabulous.)

But without a doubt my favorite part of the book happens to be the about the author section on the back of the book. It reads:

Jane Austen in the author of Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and other masterpieces of English Literature. Seth Grahame-Smith once took a class in English Literature. He lives in Los Angeles.

I laughed for a full five minutes after I read that and it was what ultimately made me want to read this book. Grahame-Smith has a great sense of humor and when you think about it, he has to know this book inside and out in order to so skillfully inject zombies into it and make it seem like they were meant to be there, which he manages to do. My one negative comment about this book is actually that there weren’t enough zombies. Sometimes it seems like they come out of nowhere and there is literally no point to their scene in the book. Or you will be reading along for pages of the original text and the only mention of a zombie or anything is one random sentence about the girls training in China. It made it hard to follow a few times because it got to be distracting when it should have been the center of attention. But all in all, this book was so much fun to read and I recommend it to any lover of Austen and zombies alike!

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I’d be happy to check them out and review them all! Leave any comments below! I’d love to hear them!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

What a wonderful week for reading plays! It’s been a long time since I read a play of my own accord and it was great to get back to doing that. I haven’t read "The Glass Menagerie" in quite a while and it was great to revisit it now when I am older and wiser and I know how to read plays as an actor and a director instead of just a reader.

If you don’t know what this play is about, it follows the Wingfield family and their life in St. Louis. The play is narrated by Tom, the son of Amanda and brother to Laura. Tom is constantly seeking escape from his overbearing mother who’s one goal in life is to find a gentleman caller and then a husband for Laura, who’s leg is crippled. At the end of the play, one gentleman caller shows up, but expectations are not met as they are supposed to be.

I loved the version of the play that I had because it contained a forward by Williams that explained how he wanted the set and the lighting and everything along with that. One of the important discoveries I made while reading the play was how central Laura truly is, even though she doesn’t speak much in the play. She is supposed to be lit in a light of “pristine clarity such as light used in early religious portraits of female saints or Madonna’s.” The play is constantly described as a memory play so the stage is said to be kept dim with shafts of light on focused areas or actors. This, I think, provides the audience and reader direction as to where to focus the attention.

When I first read this play I didn’t notice all of this, but now see how important it actually all is. The picture of the father who abandoned his family is said to be larger than life, which shows that his small act of leaving them has altered this family and has an ever present impact on their daily life. There is always a cloud of trouble and stress hanging over this family whether it’s about money, husbands, or finding a life of your own and all if that is expressed through the father’s picture.

This play is very delicately written; delicate is really the only word I can find for it, as if it were made of glass. Even the characters, especially Laura are delicate. Laura seems to be made of glass; beautifully crafted and taken great care of but if a person takes one misstep, the entire thing shatters. The most beautiful part of this play, in my opinion, is when Laura is dancing with Jim and her favorite glass unicorn breaks. When he asks her if it is broken she replies:

“Now it is like all the other horses… Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.”

Laura is changed by her one night with Jim forever; she will now be able to move through the world independently and conduct herself with confidence and not have to live in her own glass bottle anymore.

A menagerie is defined as a place where animals are kept to be trained for exhibition which is what the mother, Amanda, is doing through this entire play. Amanda has been so hurt by her husband’s leaving her lost youth that she is living almost vicariously through her children, who will have none of it. At one point while explaining to Tom why she must plan for everything so far in advanced, she says:

“You are the only young man that I know who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don’t plan for it!”

She is a character incapable of letting her own past failures go so that she struggles with accepting her children’s differences and failures. Although you can see her throughout the play as a sort of unsympathetic and pushy character because of how she treats her children, you have to realize how much she has been hurt by her past and how scared she is for the future.

Tom is a very interesting character to look at. He is so desperate for a life of his own that is jeopardizing his entire family to satisfy himself, like using his money for registering for the marine’s instead of paying the electricity bills. I can’t say that I don’t see where he is coming from. It hurts to have so much pressure like that thrust upon you and having no escape and when you do find that escape, you are reprimanded for it. My favorite quote from Tom is in scene four when he says:

“You know it don’t take much intelligence to get yourself into a nailed-up coffin, Laura. But who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nail?”

Tom is desperate for his own life so he knows that he will eventually have to make a false move in order to escape the life he despises so much, living in a home that is like a coffin and working in a warehouse that is like a prison.

This play is full of beautiful characters and is a wonderfully crafted and moving story. Anyone involved in theater should be required to read it but even more, anyone interested in reading about human actions and life should read this. This is a wonderful look at the show we are all putting on every day when we push our past and our pain back inside of our minds and live as we are “supposed” to live, as if being viewed as glass pieces.

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I’d be happy to check them out and review them all! Leave any comments below! I’d love to hear them!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

This book was recommended to me by my dear teacher Andra Thorne. I asked her if she liked it but instead of replying in a normal way, she stopped for a moment, narrowed her eyes in concentration and simply said, “It intrigued me. You just have to read it.” After reading it, I couldn’t agree more; there isn’t much else to say about it.

This book begins on a snowy night in 1964 with a very pregnant Norah Henry and her husband David. She begins her labor and they arrive at the hospital just in time for David, who is a doctor to deliver her baby. To his surprise, Norah was pregnant with twins, the first being a healthy baby boy and the second, a girl born with Down syndrome. He makes the rash decision to hand his little girl over to his nurse, Caroline Gill, and tell Norah their daughter had died, a decision that affects them from that point on. Caroline is instructed to take her to a home for the mentally challenged but after seeing the home, Caroline takes the girl to raise as her own.

It took me a very long time to get involved in this story. Edwards uses a very interesting writing style that, at times, was littered with too much romanticized wording. The detail she put into everything was overshadowed with the overuse of metaphors and comparisons. The bigger metaphors that flow throughout the book are truly beautiful and captivating, however. At one point in the novel, Norah buys David a camera called The Memory Keeper. This turns into an obsession of David’s, as he tries to use photography as an escape and a way to capture his son’s life and the life of his now very distant wife. I loved the use of photography through the course of this novel and how seamlessly Edwards used it to highlight defining moments in the characters lives, like the moment Norah meets a man named Howard on the beach and begins her string of affairs.

For the longest time, I didn’t know what kind of a review I was going to give this book. Truly, it isn’t enough to say that I hated it, but I can’t say that I loved it. Through the course of the novel, I had a very hard time sympathizing with any of the characters. I think a big part of this is because I have no idea what it feels like to lose a child or to be a mother in general. If you are a mother, I will say that I think this book is a must read. If you aren’t a mother, I would say give it a try. For the most part, I hated Norah especially. She was contrived, I felt. I’m a fan of reading about affairs but I saw no point in hers. Her anger, which would have been justifiable, felt like it had no purpose. A big part of this was the way she was written. In a way, she was written a bit like Ophelia in "Hamlet"; a main character, but unfairly underdeveloped. I wish there would have been more to these characters.

I went through a lot of periods of hating this book. It took me a long time to finish because there were times when I couldn’t even pick it up because it made me so angry. But, there were even longer periods of time when all I wanted to do was keep reading this story. At places in this story, I hated every character. But at other times, I was crying because I felt their pain as if it was hitting me. In the last few pages of the story, I finally connected to Norah and I cried as she did.

This story has a very magical quality that mesmerizes the reader until the very last page. I still can’t explain how I feel about this book. All I know is I’ve never been affected like this by a novel. I would love for more people to read this book because I’m dying to discuss my feelings with people. I can’t even tell if I would recommend this book or not but I think that it would most definitely be worth your time to read it. It opens your eyes to a lot of new things. Give it a chance and let me know when you do, I’d love to discuss it!

Until next time, happy reading! Send me your book recommendations if you have them, I’d be happy to check them out and review them all! Leave any comments below! I’d love to hear them!