Tour’s Books Blog

July 19, 2009

Mental Meanderings

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,Editorial,opinion — toursbooks @ 1:54 pm
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I regularly cruise blogs and forums on books and recently joined GoodReads.  It’s interesting to see how differently people view a book.  I made a HUGE exception to my ‘No Silhouettes Desire’ and got The Tycoon’s Rebel Bride from PaperBack Swap.  Why?  How could I be suckered in like that?  Simple – Maya Banks.  I can now plainly state that even in the able hands of one of the better writers out there this series is trite, formulaic, and unoriginal – in short, exactly what Silhouette and the Desire line readers wants.  On Good Reads it had anywhere from 5* to DNF.  I gave it 3*, mostly for the quality of the writing, not the plot or the characters.  I’m sure Ms Banks is being well paid for her trilogy, of which this is the middle book – and she should be.  Like many popular authors of full length novels, she has a living to make and these short books are perfect.  The story lines are constrained by the publisher so little innovation is possible, or welcome by readers, so they are far easier to write, yet sell well – if briefly.  Desire is and has been a hugely popular Silhouettes line for exactly that reason, so they’ve found a niche and authors and audience alike get to enjoy it.  Except for some of us who sit and wonder how anyone can read more than one of these a decade.  Naturally, the folks who DO read Silhouettes Desire line wonder how the hell I can slog my way through hundreds of pages of murder and mayhem, so to each their own I guess.

I’ve been thinking more and more about books can be technically proficient, possibly excellent writing, and still be of zero interest to me, or possibly infuriate me.  Then there are those that are average writing and yet be really good reads.  It seems obvious that great reads must have all the elements – great writing, great plot and great characters.  Two of the three and it starts failing.  Some books can be so strong in two of the three that they rise above the mediocre third.  Being a bestseller does not equate to being a great book.  The most perfect example of that is the hugely popular Dan Brown icon, The DaVinci Code.  The writing was boringly average, the characters below average, yet the plot appealed to such a large portion of the reading population it remains a big seller a decade after publication and made Dan Brown a very rich man  At best, The DaVinci Code is a C+ book when weighing all the factors equally, yet look at its sales!  It is rated one of the best and worst books ever on GoodReads!  I would have said neither, but hey, it speaks to the deep emotional resonance of the central plot with the readers.

How do you even guess when a book will ring that bell?  Certainly all those editors and publishers that sent letters of rejection to J. K. Rowling are wondering that very thing.  Partly it’s timing, partly it’s sheer luck, but always it’s the readers.

What of the schlock novels?  You know the ones I mean – Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins and the like.  Sheldon in particular has just mediocre technical skills, the plots might charitably be called potboilers and the characters are one dimensional.  Collins is better, but still.  How do these books hit the bestseller list?  Easy reading with enough sex and violence to keep the uncritical reader interested.  Mindless drivel, but it sells and sells very well, thank-you.  Critics can rake these books over the coals while the authors laugh all the way to the bank.  And they make great schlock movies!

And that brought me to thinking about books being made into movies – and the absolute butcher job done on character and plot alike.  Often the only thing left is a title, some character names and a key plot element.  Michael Chrichton’s Jurassic Park is one example, Sahara by Clive Cussler another.  Both books were best sellers, Jurassic Park was a theatrical success more for its (then) astonishing special effects than anything else, though the acting was very good.  The plot revolved around the children – and there were none in the book.  Sahara was a bomb in the theaters – for good reason, bad script, direction and just plain silliness.  It was at best loosely based on the book.  (lawsuits between Cussler and the movie people which Cussler lost.)  Chrichton was also a screenwriter, so his approach to having the book go to a movie was far more pragmatic.

Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings managed to be faithful to the books and still be cinematic successes over mutiple movies.  Both are extraordinary in their own way.  On a much smaller scale you have various brilliant BBC series based on mysteries, including my personal favorite, David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s brilliant, fastidtious, Belgain detective.  Albert Finney did Poirot in an all-star version of Murder on the Orient Express and Alfred Molina did a remake for a TV movie. Peter Ustinov did him in Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun (all-star big budget movies) and for the BBC in made for TV movies.  I own all of them (except Molina’s version) on DVD – I wore out the VHS tapes. 🙂  The movies played with Christie’s books, but David Suchet’s BBC series is very faithful to them – with a few exceptions.  Suchet is a classically trained actor who will likely be forever typecast thanks to having created the perfect Hercule Poirot.  It’s interesting to see the difference between David Suchet in Death on the Nile and the more familiar Peter Ustinov version.

This brought me to what I enjoy watching on DVD and it’s an odd mix.  I might read romance, but I rarely buy movies that could be considered romance.  I own all 8 seasons of Magnum, PI, 4 seasons on NCIS, BBC’s Miss Marple, 2 seasons of Murder, She Wrote, lots of big budget action movies (all 3 X-Men, all of the Indiana Jones movies, all of the Pirates movies with Johnny Depp – the high brow stuff), but of the hundreds of DVD’s I own, I think Casablanca and a collector’s version of Gone With the Wind are it for romance.  You could make an argument that movies like Some Like It Hot and The Crimson Pirate are humorous romance, but I doubt I’d buy it.  The rest, including many black and white movies (like Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, The Thin Man series, Bogart movies, etc.) are many different genre’s, but not romance.  I’m not sure what that means except I like reading romance, but don’t like watching romance.  Maybe that’s because I can still use my imagination with a book, but with a movie I must accept what I see.  Somehow, they don’t get it right for me.  I love Errol Flynn and he made a fine Captain Blood, but I don’t really see Sabitini’s books as real romance either – more like action adventure with some romance.  North by Northwest is a more modern example of the same type – with suspense in place of derring-do.  What they all are, however, are great films worth watching.  I’ve seen movies like Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and Wuthering Heights, but never had the urge to own them so I could watch them again and again.  But I love watching Hugh Jackman extend his claws in X-Men.  So I’m shallow.  So what.  I love eye candy like Tom Selleck in his prime too.

For some reason I can read mysteries and, within reason, watch the movies made from them.  The Ipcress File is just one of many spy/espionage films from books, but Hunt for Red October was by far and away the best adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel out there.  The rest were all – meh!  But I never bonded with Jack Ryan the way I have with some characters, where I see them in my minds eye.  James Bond will forever sound like Sean Connery, Captain Blood will look like Errol Flynn and Rick will be Humphrey Bogart.  Once those images are in my head, they’re there when I read the books.  Mr. Moto looks like Peter Lorrie and Charlie Chan looks like Sidney Toler, and Nick and Nora Charles look like William Powell and Myrna Loy.  Other actors might take the roles, but when I read the books, it’s the classic portrayal that I see.

Now I must get back to more modern things.  The playoff between Tom Watson and Stewart Cink at the British Open is starting and tomorrow it’s the 40th anniversary of the first Lunar landing and Neil Armstrong’s famous step.

The Landing

The Step

And it’s still a thrill!

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