Would Harry Potter Have Made a Better TV Show?

harry-potter-voldemort-hp7-1600x12001Before I begin, I feel the need to state that I whole-heartedly enjoyed the Harry Potter movies. The directors did an excellent job of cutting everything that they could to fit such detailed and extensive narratives into 2 to 3 hours of cinema. Several sub-plots were eliminated to make room to highlight the most important moments of each year of Harry’s time at Hogwarts, and each film was a great showcase of J.K. Rowling’s talent as a creative storyteller.

With that out of the way, I think I would have enjoyed having Harry Potter being a high-end production TV show instead of a series of movies. Especially after seeing HBO’s efforts in Game of Thrones, I think that a major production company could have created an amazing show. Episodes, from how I’ve thought about it, would be an hour long segments that showcase one to three chapters from each book, and each season would cover one book.

Admittedly, there are a few pitfalls to having a TV show instead of a movie series. The most prominent one would be how potentially lackluster some episodes would be. The majority of the chapters in each book cover a major plot point, but some episodes would be forced to cover dull moments nonetheless. Perhaps with some creative liberties in how to align all of the plot points, this could be avoided. Maintaining excitement and viewership would also be fairly difficult given how long the series would have to last to cover everything.

Because the Harry Potter films are already out, I can’t imagine a show being made anytime soon. Daniel Radcliffe is forever ingrained in my mind as Harry Potter, and I don’t think I could follow someone else playing the character, and he can’t play an 11 year old version of himself. All of that being said, what’s your take on the idea of the famous book series being adapted for television?

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SXSW Day One

I’m at SXSW in Austin, TX so my posts for the next few days won’t be literature related (although there’s a book signing event here that I may attend). I will post events that I attend and the bands/speakers I see.

I just finished talking to the event manager for the Buffalo Lounge showcases. He said they’re having multiple music showcases tonight and some film ones later this week. There was an Interactive event last night where ten companies pitched projects for a $10,000 investment prize. Sounded really interesting and the venue is definitely worth checking out.

The 512
408 E. 6th Street
Austin, Texas
(SXSW Badges and Wristbands only, but some tickets will be sold to the public. First come first serve.)

Don DeLillo – White Noise

white_noise.largeTitle: White Noise
Author: Don DeLillo
Year: 1985
Publisher: Viking Adult
Date Read: January 29, 2013

Goodreads Rating: ~ 7.5

My Rating: 6.5

By the time White Noise was published, Don DeLillo (1936 – ) was already an established author, with this novel being his ninth piece. The novel follows the life of Jack Gladney, who is the most renown professor of Hitler studies, and he lives with his family in College-on-the-Hill. He begins to have doubts regarding almost every aspect of his life, both professional and personal, and he makes attempts at improving his lot after a chemical spill releases its toxins into the atmosphere in the town.

DeLillo’s writing style in White Noise is not necessarily appealing. He does definitely demonstrate why he’s an acclaimed author, but it isn’t the dramatic tension felt by the reader or an attachment to the characters that draws someone in to this novel. Rather, it’s the plot path that DeLillo chooses to employ.

At the beginning of the novel, the reader becomes aware that something is amiss in Gladney’s college town on top of the fact that he does not get much fulfillment out of his life. Strange occurrences take place leading up to the chemical spill that serves as a major climactic moment part-way through the novel. If you read my review of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, you will remember my opinion that the climax of the book takes place essentially immediately, and then it declines from there. White Noise does this in a sense, but DeLillo uses it to his advantage. He baits the reader in an interesting way and changes the focus of the novel. Perhaps it only appears to be a change of focus, when actually the reader was only paying attention to the minor details of a larger plot.

As I read this novel, I was under the growing impression that it would be some sort of fallout scenario. It is, in some aspects, but the chemical fiasco and clean up is only a background event both before and after it happens. A few dozen pages are devoted to how the Gladney’s family deals with the event, but it mainly serves as a catalyst to draw out the insecurities and doubts of every member of the family. DeLillo heightens the reader’s attention with the biohazard in the city, and redirects that attention to the mindset of the characters. The chemical spill doesn’t directly cause any immediate concern for the members of the Gladney family, but the threat of catastrophe causes long-standing problems to completely surface.

As I mentioned before, though, I was not very impressed with the actual writing style. I really enjoyed how DeLillo approached the overall plot of this novel, but not so much how he executed the narrative from page to page.

“The family is the cradle of the world’s misinformation. There must be something in family life that generates factual error.”

“Is it better to commit evil and attempt to balance it with an exalted act than to live a resolutely neutral life?”

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I really admire the first line to Seamus Heaney’s “The Forge.” So much so that I decided to get a tattoo of it wrapping around my wrist. It reads “All I know is a door into the dark.” To me, it’s a brave sentiment saying that despite not knowing what comes ahead, I will step towards it.

Evelyn Waugh – Decline and Fall

360673Title: Decline and Fall
Author: Evelyn Waugh
Year: 1928
Publisher: Chapman and Hall
Date Read: February 16, 2013

Goodreads Rating: ~ 8.0 / 10

My Rating: 7.0 / 10

Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh’s (1903 – 1966, and male) first published novel, is a satirical portrayal of British society and education system in the 1920’s. Paul Pennyfeather, the novel’s main character, consistently finds himself in bad circumstances, none of which are entirely his fault. After a run-in with Oxford’s Bollinger Club, he is dismissed from the university and takes a job teaching a public school for young boys. He later marries one of his student’s mother, who causes him to take the fall for her after her human trafficking and prostitution.

Critics are typically under the impression that Waugh makes the claim that society is constantly falling from the standards it had in bygone eras. Decline and Fall follows this presumption to a certain extent. Commentary on society is made by several characters through dialogue with Pennyfeather, as his peers seem to constantly have an opinion on their lot as well as civilization in general. Sometimes, the criticism seems genuine and would reflect the author’s views, while on other occasions, the commentary is blatantly invalid and shows Waugh’s disfavor for individuals that think this way.

The dialogue between characters makes this novel. Waugh excellently crafts ideas for everyone to say that are crude, tasteful, or humorous all when they need to be. However, the passivity of Paul Pennyfeather is the only thing that truly kept me from enjoying Decline and Fall. Despite constantly having misfortune fall upon him that he could object to, he just allows every bad event to happen and accepts consequences without any thought. A lead character in this sort of story, I will admit, must demonstrate passivity to some extent so that the calamities that are being criticized can actually happen, but Pennyfeather has almost no for argument. Instead, he functions almost as the reader: just an observer.

Because this novel takes place in the British 1920’s and serves as commentary on the lifestyle and social strata at the time, I would highly recommend reading this immediately before or after reading Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. Both novels take place, entirely or mostly, in the 1920’s and early 1930’s and exemplify the expected standards of individuals at that time. Interestingly, Decline and Fall was contemporary for the time period, while The Remains of the Day was written decades later, but both novels provide similar accounts and are enjoyable in conjunction with one another.

“In fact, the whole of this book is really an account of the mysterious disappearance of Paul Pennyfeather, so that readers must not complain if the shadow which took his name does not amply fill the important part of hero which he was originally cast.”

“But Paul had very little appetite, for he was greatly pained at how little he was pained by the events of the afternoon.”

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Kazuo Ishiguro – The Remains of the Day

9780679731726Title: The Remains of the Day
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Year: 1988
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Date Read: March 8, 2013

Goodreads Rating: ~ 8.0 / 10

My Rating: 8.5 / 10

The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro’s (1954 – ) third novel, is impressively subtle in the way its plot unfolds. The reader is immediately introduced to the protagonist, James Stevens, who is frequently referred to as only Stevens. The entirety of the novel is told from his perspective, and Ishiguro demonstrates his full capability of drafting memorable characters through him. Stevens is the head butler of Darlington Hall, the previous residence of Lord Darlington, now under the ownership of a Mr. Farraday. Stevens, after noticing minute mistakes that he’s been making in his work routine at the manor, agrees to take a vacation to visit with a former coworker, Miss Kenton, or Mrs. Benn. The story frequently cuts back and forth between Stevens’ analysis of his current trip and recollections of his time spent serving Lord Darlington.

I initially thought that Stevens’ flashbacks were used to simply provide an in depth characterization of the butler, and I became more concerned as the novel progressed because little seemed to be happening in the present in the novel. I remember thinking to myself for almost half of my reading This novel is hardly progressing and is, instead, lingering in the memory of this character. However, after reaching a certain point, the actual intent of the plot line became much more clear, which is why Ishiguro’s style is so compelling. By understanding everything that Stevens values in his occupation, life, and personality through his recalling the past, the impact of singular events of his present journey become so much more significant. Stevens finally meets with Miss Keaton with only a few pages of the novel to spare, and, by this point, the reader is fully aware of why his identity and sense of purpose seemingly become shattered, or at least disassembled, in this encounter. 

Stevens explains what he values in a butler, and occasionally in any individual, in his defense of his father, his employer, and himself. The reader comes to sympathize with Stevens, especially considering how realistic and sensible the main character is. However, Stevens reveals how flawed his logic is – he tries to be as professional as he possibly can, at the cost of having any individual personality or opinion. He praises himself for the majority of the novel, claiming that his professionalism perhaps made him “dignified,” but as the novel advances, he feels the need to defend the actions of his former employer, Lord Darlington. In his defense, he comes to realize how futile the efforts of Lord Darlington were in regard to the reputation the Gentleman eventually received. Because of this, he questions whether or not he actually served his employer loyally – by not having any judgement of the man’s actions – and whether or not his life served any real purpose. All of these identity crises are catalyzed by the encounters that Stevens has on his trip, and especially so by his awaited encounter with Miss Keaton.

Ishiguro fantastically keeps the climactic series of realizations in the back burner of the reader’s mind, allowing him or her to make conclusions naturally, instead of force feeding every major plot point. The characterization in the novel is incredibly indicative of how a reader would expect an individual in each character’s position to behave. His subtle method of introducing ideas to the reader without overtly stating the purpose of each one is also very well done, making this novel a great process of discovery and disclosure. Ishiguro, in a telling narrative, shows the struggle between priding oneself in the professional world and maintaining a healthy personal life.

“I did perhaps display, in the face of everything, at least in some modest degree a ‘dignity’ worthy of someone like Mr Marshall – or come to that, my father. Indeed, why should I deny it? For all its sad associations, whenever I recall that evening today, I find I do so with a large sense of triumph.”

“It is essential, then, to keep one’s attention focused on the present; to guard against any complacency creeping in on account of what one may have achieved in the past.”

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A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby

alongwaydownTitle: A Long Way Down
Author: Nick Hornby
Year: 2005
Publisher: Viking Books
Date Read: February 6, 2013

Goodreads Rating: ~ 7.0 / 10

My Rating: 4.5 / 10

Nick Hornby’s (1957 – ) A Long Way Down is incredibly reminiscent of Mitch Albom’s books (Five People You Meet in Heaven, For One More Day) for me, and, upon reading it, I had to look up his works that I’ve read to make sure it wasn’t the same author. Hornby’s style is very sentimental which can be uplifting to read, but the reader is always assured that seemingly everything will work out in the end and that the characters will come to some realization or revelation about how they’re living their lives. Throughout the entirety of the novel, I was frequently thinking surely something will actually happen.

A Long Way Down follows four individuals that all decide to commit suicide by jumping off of Topper’s House on New Year’s Eve. Because they all meet at the top of the building, none of them decide to jump, and the group agrees to reassess their lives and meet again to make an ultimate decision on a later date. What then ensues is a series of conflicts, discussions, and reflections by each of the characters as they come to terms with their understanding of life.

The idea of the novel is creative, and I enjoyed the premise. However, that’s about as far as my interest ran. The characters are archetypal and behave almost exactly as you would expect them to. The conflicts that arise between them are realistic in the sense that the characters are genuine to their principles, regardless of how predictable those may be.

The main problem I have with the plot, and as a result the novel itself, is that the climax occurs the first time the group is on the roof together. The tension the reader feels as each character debates falling from the roof is never reached again in the novel. At no point after the first meeting did I ever think that any of the characters would succumb to their doubts and decide to commit suicide, making the last three quarters of the book just a resolution to the problem that was all but solved at the outset of the novel. I thought for the last hundred pages or so that one of the characters was going to die to something unexpected, be it a car wreck or something similar, but instead, they all slowly reorganize their lives.

What could have helped the progression in the book would have been to structure it differently, in my opinion. The characters are all given a voice which makes each one more personable, but without an objective or omniscient narrator, the reader has a difficult time forming his or her own opinion of each character. The novel would have dramatically benefited from a third person lead in to the climactic meeting at the top of Topper’s House so that the reader can fully comprehend what brought each character there. Without it, there’s little sympathy exhibited from the reader when it’s most necessary.

Had the novel been shaped in a way to build up to a climactic engagement at the top of the roof, instead of starting with one, Hornby’s suicidal Breakfast Club would have been much, much more appealing.

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My Name Is Red – Orhan Pamuk

$(KGrHqN,!qUFCwE22EEcBQ3f6TO+G!~~60_35Title: My Name Is Red (Turkish – Benim Adım Kırmızı)
Author: Orhan Pamuk (Translator – Erdağ M. Göknar)
Year: 1998
Publisher: Knopf
Date Read: February 28, 2013

Goodreads Rating: ~ 7.5 / 10

My Rating: 6.5 / 10

In my analysis on the influence of translators in my previous post, I neglected to mention the work done by Erdağ M. Göknar in translating Orhan Pamuk’s (1952 – ) novel My Name Is Red. Not only did Göknar face the task of reworking the original Turkish text into English, he also had to maintain the style of the novel and make it accessible to a Western audience. The translated work made Pamuk a significant contender to become a Nobel Laureate which he achieved in 2006, a true testimony to the influence of good translating.

Interestingly, the notion of conflicting ideologies between the East and West is a central theme in the novel. Based in the 16th-century Ottoman Empire, a group of miniaturists are faced with the daunting task of creating a piece that satisfies the religious tendencies of Eastern art with the realistic portrayals in those of the West. The notion of depicting characters and scenes as they truly appear is taboo in the culture that the novel is based in, and the growing tension results in murder, conspiracy, and secrecy. Pamuk also manages to interweave a love story within the confines of the novel through a fantastic use of multiple perspectives.

The use of several different perspectives is something that I’ve always admired in lengthy novels, with Stephen King and Harry Turtledove being my two favorites that have mastered this method of storytelling. However, I put a certain emphasis that I enjoy this in lengthy novels. My Name Is Red is about 400 pages long, making it just too short for this style to reach its most effective state, in my opinion. Using multiple perspectives, especially in the case of this novel’s use of 19 narrators spanning 59 chapters, allows for a diverse look into the different intricacies of the plot. Simultaneous events can easily be described, unique thoughts can be elaborated on, and crucial accounts can be highlighted. However, if the novel is too short, as I believe the case of this one to be, the use of many perspectives crowds the flow of the plot and forces too much into too little space.

All of that being said, Pamuk creates a plethora of enjoyable angles to view the plot unfold. Most of such outlooks are through the eyes of the human characters, but occasional exceptions are made for illustrations, objects, and ideas to be able to speak. In a sense, the “fly on the wall” that would usually be ignored is given the opportunity to reveal things that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Also, the naming convention for the miniaturists (Elegant, Butterfly, Olive, and Stork) themselves is something I found very appealing.

My Name Is Red employs several traits that are creative and clever, but the story doesn’t meet the sum of its parts. While each individual stylistic choice has its merits, they do not combine cohesively enough to make an enjoyable read a great book. While reading Pamuk’s work, I came to be under the impression that some portions of the novel could have been omitted to make more room for more crucial inclusions. The unnecessary bits, though, are still incredibly well written and weren’t, by any means, detrimental – only superfluous. The romantic side of the novel, that is otherwise exclusively a murder mystery with philosophical implications, seems tangent to the overarching plot other than the fact that it appears to be a tool to tie loose ends together.

As previously mentioned, one of the principle ideas in the novel is whether or not to embrace the different ideas unique to Eastern and Western thought in art and style, and the elevated notion of what qualifies something as a true and pure art or form. This was an interesting thing to keep in mind while reading the book, considering that I am an American reading an originally Turkish book, i.e. a Western reader of an Eastern text. This thought contributed significantly to how I value the work of translators in preserving the original flow, style, and the connotative diction of the original author.

“They depict what the eye sees just as the eye sees it. Indeed, they paint what they see, whereas we paint what we look at.”

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Crediting Translators

I typically choose to read 20th century works by English speaking authors, as I would presume most readers opt to do (the English speaking authorship portion, at least). Recently, though, I’ve been picking up novels originally written in other languages. Two books that I’ve read recently are Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (Russian) and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (German). Notably, when I mention the novels, I don’t state who the translators are. In fact, if asked, I wouldn’t be able to name the translator of any major work, other than Seamus Heaney’s rendition of Beowulf.

I thoroughly enjoy taking quotes from books and works that I read. I have a spiral notebook that I write down passages that are particularly memorable, and my books are always dog-eared on pages where I was drawn to a sentence or section. That being said, when quoting something from a translated work, who should get the credit? The author, the translator, or both? The author came up with the original idea, but the translator is the individual that worded that idea to make it most appealing.

books42Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the translators of Doctor Zhivago, are praised for their ability to “masterfully restore the spirit of Pasternak’s original—his style, rhythms, voicings, and tone.” I would argue that this is the goal of most translations, otherwise the process would be an adaption instead. If the reader hears the original author’s supposed voice in the translation, the contributors successfully accomplished their goal. And yet, when I say I enjoyed a quote from Doctor Zhivago, should I mention “I liked how Pevear and Volokhonsky worded this?”

aqowf-new-coverAll Quiet on the Western Front takes this thought and amplifies it. The title of the novel comes from one of the concluding paragraphs. The original German line translates most directly to “there was nothing new to report on the Western Front” according to Brian Murdoch regarding his translation. So, the English title of the novel comes exclusively from a translation (the German title being Im Westen nichts Neues – Nothing New in the West). The English title comes from the translator A. W. Wheen.

Regardless of whether or not a translator should be attributed with quotes from foreign works, translators definitely deserve more credit in the literary world.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant – Anne Tyler

77699Title: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
Author: Anne Tyler
Year: 1982
Publisher: Knopf
Date Read: January 24, 2013

Goodreads Rating: ~ 7.5 / 10

My Rating: 9.0 / 10

Anne Tyler’s (1941 – ) Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is a heartbreaking glimpse of a dysfunctional American family. After being abandoned by their husband and father, Pearl Tull and her three children,  Cody, Ezra, and Jenny, are faced with the task of overcoming the family’s and each others’ shortcomings. Spanning several decades, the story follows each member of the family as the group slowly separates and communication between them falls apart.

The effectiveness of the family’s portrayal is dramatically magnified by two impressive feats of Tyler. First, she masterfully constructs unique identities for each character. Pearl, Cody, Ezra, and Jenny all have their own individual temperaments and dispositions. Each of them behave exactly as they are characterized to, and the perspective of each is exclusively representative of the character presenting it. Also, the different members of the family see the same events in very different ways which is incredibly indicative of how such occurrences would be perceived in reality. Interestingly, the characters recall events at different points in their lives that others had recalled much earlier which adds the deterioration and distortion of memory to the already particular accounts.

Second, Tyler is able to capture feelings that have built up and developed for years in the characters to be clearly evident in very specific and precise moments. When the family meets for the dinners that the novel is titled after, as well as in several other circumstances, the reader is readily able to grasp how everyone observes and reacts to different provocations. The conflicts that seemingly arise out of nowhere between the Tulls are rooted in longstanding issues between the characters that the reader comes to terms with throughout the novel.

The actual dinners at the Homesick Restaurant become the focal points of the novel, and every instance is memorable. The resentment that builds in each character’s mind becomes manifest when the separated family is sporadically reunited. Tyler does a fantastic job of spacing climactic moments with periods of brooding and recollection, making the novel a series of steady crescendos that do not disappoint when they peak.

“Supposedly, Jenny Tull was going to be a beauty someday, but the people who told her that were so old they might easily be dead by the time that day arrived, and no one her own age saw much promise in her.”

“Their growing up amounted, therefore, to a gradual dimming of the light at her bedroom door, as if they took some radiance with them as they moved away from her.”

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