Showing 1 - 10 of 11 posts found matching keyword: literature

When I was in elementary school, my favorite book was Bunnicula. (Actually, if memory serves, my favorite was the third book in the "Bunnicula" series, The Celery Stalks at Midnight. You gotta love that title!)

In a fit of nostalgia, I searched to see if that book was still in publication. Turns out it is. A 40th Anniversary Edition was released in 2019. And surprise, surprise, in 2016 it was turned into a series of 104 cartoons for Cartoon Network. (Where was I while that was happening?)

Now, I happen to know that the 2016 cartoon is not the first animated adaptation. Bunnicula, the Vampire Rabbit was produced in 1982 by Ruby-Spears (the same company that brought the world Police Academy: The Animated Series). I had only the vaguest recollection that this existed, and if you don't remember seeing it, that's because it is objectively awful.

From The ABC Weekend Specials - Bunnicula, the Vampire Rabbit (Complete Broadcast, 10/29/1983)

Teach the kids early: the book is always better than the movie.

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True story: Emma is my favorite Jane Austen novel, and I was really looking forward to the latest movie adaptation when it finally opened in my local theater the second weekend in March. (I've seen other adaptations, of course. The 1996 version is good enough that it almost made me like Gwyneth Paltrow.) However, the second week in March coincided with the arrival of COVID-19 and the global shutdown. That's right, this whole pandemic exists just to keep me from Emma. Curses!

Well, I finally fooled you, COVID-19.

126. (1780.) Emma. (2020)

Fifteen minutes into my rental, Mom asked me, "What is it you like so much about bitches?" She was referring to protagonist Emma Woodhouse, who at the start the novel is very unlikable indeed, something the movie leans into *hard*. (Some might say that she's not much better at the end. Those people are heartless monsters.) Mom also knows I just watched 6 seasons of Downton Abbey and developed a bit of a crush on Lady Mary Crawley, another character who always gets it her way. In response to her question, I replied, "I like women who are like my mother." We did not talk much for the rest of the movie.

The enjoyment of Jane Austen's story is Emma's journey of self-discovery through a series of misadventures and comic misunderstandings which the movie does perfectly. In fact, the movie does just about everything perfectly. If you can't get behind Miss Woodhouse and the rest of the amazing cast, you at least should be able to marvel at the lush, Technicolor-like cinematography and stunning Regency period outfits. (Oscars for everyone!)

If I have any complaint, it's that the relationship between Emma and her beau develops too quickly. (Austen's Emma is constructed more as a detective novel than a romance. All the clues are there the whole time, but nothing comes together until the end.) It's a minor quibble, and the modernization of the plot does nothing to damage an otherwise wonderful adaptation. (The Harry Potter movies disabused me of the notion that movies should be exact visual duplications of their source material. If you're going to adapt another piece of art, you need to bring something new to the table.)

I've been in such a foul humor lately, what with the eternal cycle of bad news, that it's truly an unexpected delight to have a distraction like this. While I've always highly recommended Emma, the novel, I can now do the same with Emma., the movie.

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"All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds."
Candide, Voltaire, 1759

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The spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon. But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round its head, as if it were too warm to wear indoors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!

Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face. "Mercy!" he said. "Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?"

"Man of the worldly mind!" replied the Ghost, "do you believe in me or not?"

"I do," said Scrooge.

"I don't," said Velma, drawing aside the curtain to reveal herself and her friends. "Now, Fred!"

A lasso of rope fell over the Ghost's shoulders, squeezing its arms against its sides. "Let me free!" it demanded.

"What kind of ghost can be caught with a rope?" asked Daphne.

"This is no ghost," said Velma. She placed her hand on the captive spirit's head, and with a quick jerk, pulled off its mask to reveal an unexpected visage that Scrooge recognized immediately.

"Bob Cratchit!" he cried. "My clerk? But why? How?"

"Mr. Cratchit was jealous of your wealth," explained Fred. "His plan was to feed you spicy pepperoni pizzas for dinner so that you would have bad dreams he could influence with these fake hauntings."

"Once you were scared enough, he was going to talk you into giving your entire fortune to charity," added Velma.

"I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you meddling kids!" said Bob.

"And me," said Scooby-Doo.

"Like, those pizzas were delicious, weren't they, Scoob?" said Shaggy, rubbing his dog on the head.

Scooby licked his lips. "Dee-ricious!"

"Thank 'ee," said Scrooge. "I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless you!"

"Does this mean we can count on you to make a donation to our Christmas fund?" Daphne asked hopefully.

"Bah!" said Scrooge, "Humbug!"

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I just finished a book called 100 Things You're Not Supposed to Know. I can't attest to the accuracy of that title. 100 Things You Probably Don't Know but Might Like to Know is probably more accurate, but not by a lot. The book jacket promotes such tidbits as "Most corporations pay no income tax," and "SUVs are three times more likely than other cars to kill people they hit." Neither of those qualify as breaking news.

The book was originally published in 2002. Maybe most of these 100 things were secret back then. Certainly, it took some people a long time to cotton onto the insidious misuse of the Patriot Act against everyday Americans. Certainly, no one in 2002 had seen Spotlight and may not have known that the Catholic Church was actively aiding pedophiles. However, I don't think that the facts that the Korean War never officially ended or that Victorian-era feminists opposed abortion qualify as stuff I'm not supposed to know. Maybe they're just stuff we don't care about.

To it's credit, there were two things in the book that I didn't know and have now committed to memory. The first is that the highest suicide rate in America belongs to the elderly (nearly 55 males per 100,000 over 84), and the overwhelming method of choice is a handgun. Was I supposed to know that? Because I didn't.

The other new fact was Exodus 34:14:

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God

That's right, God's name is "Jealous." I thought I'd read the whole Bible when I was much younger than I am now, but I certainly didn't remember that. The Bible seems like a bad place to hide things I'm not supposed to know.

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Among the other things my aunt dropped off while housecleaning last week was a copy of The Literary Digest Vol. 55 No. 14 cover dated October 6, 1917. Much as the Newsweek would be familiar to modern readers, so too this magazine's warnings about the dangers posed by illegal aliens (in this case German agents), military chaos in Russia (in this case the result of two Russian Revolutions), and the failure of the public at large to respect its soldiers (in this case resulting from a lack of patriotic songs). If you think shit in the world is bad now, be glad you weren't living in 1917.

The most familiar aspects of this magazine are the advertisements. Covering everything from handsaws to night shirts, most of the advertisements are — unsurprisingly in a "literary" publication — for books. Mail away and you can teach yourself electrical engineering, learn how to raise rabbits for fun and profit, and speak French in time for your deployment to the front. But the most intriguing ad might be this:

Knowledge dirty old men should have, too

A "wholesome" guide to everything I need to know about sex in 1917? Must be a short book. Thanks to the magic of the Information Age, we no longer need to mail $2 to Philadelphia to find out what Knowledge a Young Man Should Have. All 232 pages of Sexology by William H. Walling (including its 2 illustrations!) are available for free on Google Books.

First of all, the book was 13 years old by 1917, so some of its medical advice was probably outdated. But that wouldn't have been an issue for Professor Walling. Most of his teachings were based on tradition, anecdote, or religion that would have been more at home in Ripley's Believe It or Not. Chapter IV, "Masturbation, Male," opens with the incrimination, "viewing the world over, this shameful and criminal act is the most frequent, as well as the most fatal, of all vices." Is that so? I don't think there are many episodes of Law and Order where the coroners has listed "jerking off" as the cause of death.

"Dr. Doussin Deubreuil relates the case of a child who contracted the habit spontaneously at the age of five years, who, in spite of all that could be done, died at sixteen having lost his reason at eleven."

The book gives no guide to what sorts of cures could be used to prevent the inevitable "loss of memory and intelligence" inflicted upon even the occasional masturbator. Just know that if you do it, you're gonna lose your marbles and die. I suspect this is the prototypical case of the cure being worse than the disease.

This sort of drivel takes up 8 pages. A further 7 pages are devoted to the equal dangers of "Masturbation, Female" ("Alas, that such a term is possible!"). There's also guidance on the physical and moral dangers of abortion and incest and an accompanying medical explanation that the "softer and less voluminous" brains of women make them easily confused and stupid. You can't argue with science, ladies!

But the good doctor isn't a monster. His book advises strongly against rape (even by married men of their wives) and does its best to dispel myths about marriage, pregnancy, and childbirth. (He's a big fan of breast over bottle.) "A husband is generally the architect of his own misfortunes," is the first bit of wisdom listed in his final chapter. Of course the same chapter ends with "The only recipe for permanent happiness in wedlock: Christianity" does go a few steps too far.

In the 21st century, we've gotten use to misinformation and bad science disseminated through blog posts and cable news. Isn't it nice to know that the self-proclaimed experts of a century ago and their mail-order instructional manuals were just as bad?

(Footnote: If you want to read about how the motion picture industry is actually becoming — gasp! — big business in 1917 America, you can also read that copy of The Literary Digest online here.)

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I've read a lot of books, and I haven't liked a lot of them. However, there are really only two books I hate. One of those is John Knowles' A Separate Peace. (A whole book devoted to a character who pushes his best friend out of a tree? Fuck you, sir.) The other book is Johnny Tremain.

123. (870.) Johnny Tremain (1957)

When I read it for school back in 1980-something, I wish I had known I could have taken a shortcut with this movie. (Though there are significant departures between book and screen.) I discovered it by accident on TCM the other day and watched it because I wondered how it would compare. Not surprisingly, it's better. But then, it would have to be.

The book version of Johnny Tremain is a self-pitying, whiny little cripple. The movie version is much shallower, preferring to spend his time mugging for the camera. His malady is treated as a quickly-resolved plot device. This glib tripe would be annoying in a real film, but it works fine in this after-school special intended for Disney's family-friendly television show.

What really works here isn't the character or plot or primer of American Revolutionary history but the matte paintings that flesh out 18th century Boston. The ship's masts and historical settings are spectacular. Say what you will about CGI, but you really don't need Maya or AfterEffects when you have Walt Disney's gifted painters. (The blog credits the paintings to Peter Ellenshaw, Albert Whitlock, and Jim Fetherolf.)

Can I recommend Johnny Tremain the movie? No. But I don't hate it, either. That's powerful proof of the patented Disney magic at work.

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My Kindle tells me that I am 44% of the way ("location 12886 of 28927") through War and Peace. I had promised myself that I would get at least to 50% before I abandoned the book, but I don't think that is going to happen anymore. It turns out in the end that both war and peace are boring.

I typically expect to know by 44% of the way through a book what the author is trying to tell me, but with War and Peace I'm still not entirely sure. So far the message seems to be that the human condition is entirely without merit: war sucks, love sucks, religion sucks, politics sucks.... Life in Imperial Russia really, really sucks. That takes 28927 virtual pages?

Perhaps my problem with the book is the fact that I am reading an English translation of the original Russian/French. There's no significant art in the language, just enough repetitious description to be confusing. Or maybe that's because of the never-ending string of newly introduced Russians and their identical "stout" figures and posturing pretentiousness.

But it's not only the minor characters that I dislike. It's also a problem that I hate most of the major characters. Some are just foolhardy children (like Nikolas, who gambles away thousands of rubles that his family can't afford to impress a friend who steals wives for sport), but others are inherently weak characters (like Pierre, who supposedly means well but couldn't stick to a plan if he were glued to it). The "evil" characters are all one-note caricatures of one or more of the seven deadly sins, and the "good" characters are all stupid. I have a hard time pulling for stupid.

There is an episode of Cheers in which Sam reads War and Peace in 5 days (without sleep) to impress Diane. It's taken me 2 months to get only 44% of the way through the same book. I'm sure that it says something terrible about me that I find a television sitcom about a bar filled with sad sack ne'er-do-wells far more engaging than a universally praised epic novel. What can I say in response to that other than, "please pass the Beer Nuts"?

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For my book report, I read Zap: The Rise and Fall of Atari.

I read Zap: The Rise and Fall of Atari so that you don't have to. While it didn't contain a lot of information that I hadn't read before, it was amusing to read a contemporary account of the collapse of the video game industry following its unprecedented boom in the early 80s. (The book was published in 1984, "the Year of the Apple," and chronicles the events at Atari through 1983, "the Year of the McNugget.")

Author Scott Cohen largely assumes that the reader is abreast of current events in the entertainment industry of the times, obliquely tying Atari's fall to such events as John Schneider and Tom Wopat walking off the set of the Dukes of Hazzard and IBM dominating the market for personal computers. And he doesn't seem to be much on fact-checking. (The man responsible for Wack-a-Mole and the glorious Rock-afire Explosion, one Aaron Fechter, is irritatingly repeatedly referred to as Aaron Fletcher.)

Despite Cohen's limited pop-style of prose -- he was a magazine editor who has penned such probing investigative reports as Don't You Just Hate That?: 738 Annoying Things and Yakety Yak: The Midnight Confessions and Revelations of Thirty-Five Rock Stars and Legends -- he was able to draw some pretty good conclusions about the future of the video game industry. " Selling computers, it would seem, will not be much different than selling cigarettes."

Most amusingly (and perhaps not too surprisingly), the best parts of the book are not what the author uncovered about the dismal state of affairs in 1983's Atari, but what he got wrong about the future. I'm not talking about simply understating how poorly the game E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was received. (Cohen calls it a bomb, but fails to convey the weight of just how much the game's poor popular and critical reception lead directly to Atari's collapse. There's no mention of the estimated 5 million Atari 2600 E.T. cartridges buried in an Alamagordo, New Mexico landfill in the fall of 1983.) Examples include

  • "No video game company is going to do as well as IBM, Apple, Commodore, or Radio Shack." Does anyone even remember the Tandy?
  • "By, 1986, everyone who can afford and wants a video game will have one, and manufacturers will have to drop their prices further.... Any further growth at Atari and in the video game industry generally, in terms of selling units and bringing in earnings, is going to come from overseas." Cohen was speaking about selling Atari VCSs to overseas markets, and was not predicting the arrival of the Nintendo NES on American shores and the revitalization of the home video game market, even if that had the same affect of keeping the Atari name alive, if barely.
  • And my personal favorite: "if there were a neat little terminal and it put people in touch with everything they wanted to be in touch with, people would stop playing video games." Hmm. I guess after posting this to the internet, I won't go and play xBox.

One more amusing note: according to Cohen, "if a movie were made of his life, Nolan [Bushnell, the founder of Atari and father of video games] says he would like Gene Wilder to play him, but he means Robert Redford." Point of fact is that there is indeed a movie planned for a 2011 release on the life and times of Nolan Bushnell (working title: Atari), and it seems that Nolan will not be getting his wish. It is rumored that Bushnell will be portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. Fitting, I suppose, since Bushnell, like DiCaprio, was once the king of the world, even if that world was Pong.

UPDATE May 2021: I just re-read this post and thought I should mention that 12 years later, that Atari movie is *still* in pre-production, now with Chris Pine penciled in as Bushnell. Gene Wilder died in 2016.

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UNPAID ENDORSEMENT: I'm currently reading Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. (I bought it for my mother for Christmas because I wanted to read it, and she just finished it and gave it to me to read. Mission accomplished!) It's chock full of interesting information about the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Hooray, book!

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To be continued...


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