So, the awesome news is that my next book, Blackout, has been turned in to my publisher and is in the revision process! It’s coming along marvelously, and I have to say that I’m extremely happy with how it’s turning out. I don’t know how other authors are, but I always start a new project wondering how I ever even managed to write a book before, let alone a good one. So it’s always nice (and, admittedly, rare) when the first draft comes out so well.
Anyway, once the book was done I breathed a sigh of relief and the dove headfirst into a pile of books, music and movies that I had been ignoring while I was writing. Here are a few thoughts.
The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum
I am an enormous fan of the Bourne movies. I think I’d put the trilogy (I haven’t seen the fourth one yet) into my top five favorite movies. (In fact, I have, if you look at the FAQ and see what I listed.) Anyway, I’ve always heard that the books are completely different from the movies, but I figured: they have to be kind of the same, right? I mean, they are based on them.
Well, the sad truth is that the book is kind of… crappy? Am I allowed to say that? I know these are beloved, and I’m probably blaspheming, but this really does seem to be a case where the movies far outshine the book.
The big issue I have with the books is that Jason Bourne just isn’t very competent. Sure, he’s a good fighter, but that’s really all he is. He’s not inventive, he’s not a strategist, he’s not brilliant and clever. He’s just good in a fight. And that’s disappointing. In one of the more egregious examples, he lets Marie (the girl who starts as a hostage and becomes an ally, similar to the movie) plan an operation. I’m all about girl power, and I like that Marie isn’t incompetent (instead of the wandering, down-on-her-luck Marie of the movie, the Marie in the book is a doctor of economics and a high ranking official in the Canadian government), but she isn’t the super soldier that Bourne supposedly is. And yet he lets her decide timing, who stands where, when action should be taken. The Bourne in the book is practically incompetent: a boring nobody who can only be heroic when something snaps in his brain and briefly turns on his Super Soldier mode–and then he goes back to being a nobody.
Anyway, I admit I have a pro-movie bias in this franchise. But I’m trying to be as objective as possible when I say: the Bourne movies really improved on the source material.
It seems that the concept of fragmented, boarding-school-style societies have popped up all over books these days: think of the Houses in Harry Potter, the Factions in Divergent, even the gangs in Variant. It’s becoming a common trope, especially in genre fic, but I’ve never seen it used so well and so meaningfully as in the contemporary YA, On the Jellicoe Road. The book is Austrailian, and the three factions are the Townies (kids who go to school in the town), the Cadets (the kids at a military school), and the Jellicoe students (kids who go to a private boarding school on the Jellicoe Road).
There’s all the same kinds of things you’d find in a Variant or a Divergent or even a Harry Potter: wars over territory, fights between faction leaders, invasions and diplomacy. But the difference between On The Jellicoe Road and all those other books is that On The Jellicoe Road is intensely personal, and intensely character-driven. There are deep and serious mysteries, but they’re all about what happened to this character, or what memory is that character suppressing, or what terrible personal tragedy happened long ago to shape the way things are now.
I always like to say that I’m not a fan of contempory YA or literary fiction, but then I’ll run into a book like this that completely blows me away. It’s such a completely different experience reading it than most of the books I read: so much more rich and dark and emotional and personal. It makes me wish I could write half this well.
I read this one about two months ago, and kept meaning to blog about it: it’s a pop-science look at where creativity comes from, and how our minds develop ideas, and how the brain works.
And then it was revealed recently that the author, Jonah Lehrer, who I’ve loved from other books (like How We Decide) and podcasts like RadioLab and This American Life, did something unethical in this book: he made up some quotes that fit his narrative, and attributed them to Bob Dylan.
The book aside, it’s made me wonder a lot of ethics. As far as I can remember, the book would have been just as strong without the fictional quotes; they simply added a little flair. Why would such a successful up-and-comer like Lehrer–he’s only 31!–resort to something so stupid?
I don’t know. It makes me want be more attentive, more cautious.
And it sucks all the more because Imagine was a great book.
Mind Games, by Kiersten White, and Taken, by Erin Bowman
I recently read these two ARCs. I plan to blog about them in more detail later, but let me just say that Erin Bowman and Kiersten White are both brilliant.
I’ve been familiar with Regina Spektor for years, but never a huge fan. That all changed when I heard this new album, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats. I wish I was more of a music critic so I could speak intelligently on the subject, but I can’t. Instead, I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves. This is the song “All the Rowboats”, which presents a museum from the point of view of the artwork.
All the rowboats, in the paintings
They keep trying to row away
And the captain’s worried faces
Stay contorted and staring at the waves
They’ll keep hanging, in their gold frames
For forever, forever and a day
All the rowboats, in the oil paintings
They keep trying to row away, row away
(I’m having trouble embedding the YouTube video today, but here’s the link: All The Rowboats)
I’ll also say this album has two songs that are immensely meaningful to me. I won’t say what they are. Just listen to the full album. It’s terrific.
I finally got around to watching the movie, now that it’s out on DVD. (I’ve been eager to watch it since its release, but my agoraphobia and I don’t go to movie theaters.) I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. There were so many ways they could have screwed this up, but they managed to do the book justice while also making accomodations for the different medium. (I particularly liked how they would cut to Caeser Flickerman for commentary and background information. It was a clever little bit of writing that managed to maintain the depth of the story while not bogging us down with out-of-place infodumps.)
- Cinna was underused. Why get Lenny Kravitz and then give him nothing to do?
- Haymitch was perfect. As was Effie Trinket.
- Gale’s audition: “Show us your pouty face.”
- Jennifer Lawrence is pretty hot.
- This is a little thing, but I liked the cornucopia. I could never picture it in the book.
I started watching Breaking Bad halfway through season four, so I watched as far as the end of season three and then waited for four to come on Netflix to catch me up. And then, the day it appeared on Netflix, I stayed awake THE ENTIRE NIGHT and watched season four straight through.
Man, this is the best dang show on TV.