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September 22 is Hobbit Day! It marks the start of Tolkien Week. 

Here are 10 ways to celebrate:

1.) Click to learn more about Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week, celebrated each year since 1978 by The American Tolkien Society.

2.) Read (or reread) The Hobbit. Or share your favorite passages with a friend.

3.) Go barefoot, as hobbits rarely wear shoes.

4.) Eat heartily, and don’t miss Second Breakfast! There is some discussion as to whether Second Breakfast is the same as or in addition to Elevenses. Either way, Halflings eat six or seven times a day and are particularly fond of apples, blackberry tarts, ripe cheeses, mushrooms, hot soups, cold meats, bacon rashers, scones, potatoes (Samwise Gangee’s favorite), and fruit or meat pies. But, perhaps avoid roast mutton, as that is frequent food of Trolls.

5.) Argue with other Tolkien geeks over whether Hobbit Day actually fell on September 12 or 14, since the Shire Calendar varies from the Gregorian.

6.) Noodle some riddles. Hobbits adore riddles. Bilbo used them to get the best of Gollum in the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter. He later wrote “all that is gold does not glitter” in a telling riddle about Strider, which Gandalf gave to Frodo.

7.) Check out the latest trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug hitting theaters December 13, 2013.

 

8.) Visit your local library or a local bookstore for more Middle-Earth mythology via Tolkien’s posthumously published works: The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth, or The Histories of Middle-Earth.

9.) Have that “Unexpected” or “Long-Expected” Party! Hobbits like to socialize. Well, except Bilbo of course.

10.) Raise a glass of wine (preferably Old Winyards red), “a good deep mug of beer,” or perhaps a restorative cup of tea, and drink “to The Shire!”

September 22 is Hobbit Day!

The Hobbit: My Own Unexpected Journey

Happy Hobbitversary! 75 Years On

Bring on The Hobbit Movie Triple Play!

A Tolkien Travesty: Nobel Jury Not So Noble

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Top Ten LogoGoodness, this Top Ten really made me think! Turns out, most of my favorite books are the ones that are peopled with distinctive, believable secondary characters whom I feel that I know. (Perhaps that also explains my addiction to the ensemble masterpiece LOST.)

Anyway, I could have easily rattled off 10 favorites from Jane Austen’s works, or from The Lord of the Rings. But, I didn’t even try to pick just one of G.R.R. Martin’s cast of characters from A Song of Fire and Ice, seriously?

1.) Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen—Austen’s books are rife with hilarious and memorable supporting characters, caricatures really. But, the haughty, domineering (and hilarious) Lady Catherine takes the cake. An authority on everything and everyone, Lady Catherine commands the spotlight. “I must have my share in the conversation!” She reminds Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam.

2.) Rusty Everett, Under the Dome by Stephen King—My great sorrow is that Rusty does not even feature in the Under the Dome TV show. But he is one of the most human and memorable characters from the book. Rusty is the everyman, the guy we all root for. Of course, there is Barbie the badass, ex-army superhero. But Rusty is someone whom you know you’ve met … thrust into unusual circumstances, who rises to the occasion.

3.) Peregrin (aka Pippin) Took, The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien—It’s hard to pick a favorite hobbit, and I wouldn’t dare. But as literary characters go, Pippin is endearing, mischievous, and stellar. He elbows his way into the Fellowship, peers into the Palintir, and charms both Treebeard and the raving mad Denethor. “Fool of a Took!” cries Gandalf, after one of Pippin’s signature gaffs in the Mines of Moria.

4.) Just about everyone in the Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling—Really these books are a cornucopia of delightful, palpable secondary characters. That is why they were able to get so many British greats to take cameos in the films. There are the scene-stealing twins, Fred and George Weasley; the feared and revered Professor McGonagall; the ditzy and dreamy Loony Lovegood; everyone’s favorite fugitive, wizard godfather Sirius Black, Tonks the ass-kicking, punk auror, oh and also Dobby, the house elf, and then Winky, the drunk elf. Really, I must stop, but it’s not easy…

5.) Nelly Dean, Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë—I actually do not like Nelly very much at all. She is the original unreliable narrator, presenting her story as if she were not taking sides while in reality she drives along the friction between characters. Knowing Heathcliff is in earshot, Nelly prods Cathy to say it would “degrade her” to marry him.” Decorum prevents me from using the apt word describe Nelly, but it rhymes with witch.

6.) Aunt Dahlia, The Jeeves and Wooster books, by P.G. Wodehouse—Again, I could have picked Aunt Agatha, aka ‘the nephew crusher,’ (or the simpering Madeline Bassett who calls stars “daisy chains,” or the completely daft Barmy Fortheringay Fipps, or Harold ‘Stinker’ Pinker). But Dahlia is the one of my favorites partly for the many whacky schemes into which she ensnares Bertie, but also for her line, “curse all dancing chauffeurs,” uttered after she gets locked out of Brinkley Manor during the servants ball. No wonder, Wodehouse titled a book, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen.

7.) Everyone, Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky— Némirovsky planned this as a sort of paean to Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It is a wonderful, shattering novel about the early days of World War II in France, as the Germans roll through Paris and the small villages. There are so many finely drawn and distinct characters: the parents of a son missing in battle; wealthy Parisians fleeing to resorts; and the kindly, well-mannered German officer who is also a musician. It is so heartbreaking that this novel was never finished.

8.) Aloysius, Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh—Sebastian’s teddy bear, who accompanies him to Oxford and upon most of his forays, is sort of a forerunner to Hobbes, the best friend of Calvin. Unlike that stuffed plush, though, Aloysius never comes to life, but often Sebastian can express his feelings, or avoid them, by attributing them to his teddy. “How silly, Aloysius wouldn’t approve of that at all.”

9.) Nick Adams, In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway—Ok, so technically Nick is the *main* character. But he is so often the observer, giving us honest, at times awful, insights into those around him, like the brutal, clinical manner of his father in “Indian Camp.” Every few years I reread these stories because I always find something new in Nick’s view of the world. In “Big Two-Hearted River,” there is so much brewing under his subdued reactions to nature. “He went over and sat on the logs. He did not want to rush his sensations any.”

10.) Mma Potokwani, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Series, by Alexander McCall Smith—This bossy, but lovable mistress of the orphanage is like the bizarro Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mma Potokwani orders people about and makes humorous demands, but all for the good of the orphans for whom she will go to (and push others to) just about any lengths. And of course Mma Ramotswe would not be happily married to the quiet, reserved Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, if Mma Potokwani hadn’t ambushed them with a surprise wedding!

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other typistThe Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell is a twisty, noir page-turner. Fans of Gillian Flynn will definitely enjoy this book, which feels like Gone Girl set in the 1920s. Actually, strike that. The plot is totally different, nor is The Other Typist so dark. It’s snazzy!

What I mean is that Rindell also offers us an unreliable (and rather unsettling) narrator, Rose Baker, who spins out an alluring, slow-boiled plot.

Rindell sets the story in a New York City police precinct in 1923, when women have only recently been brought in as typists. I won’t divulge any other plot details, as the reveals will be best enjoyed firsthand.

The writing crackles with a sort of stylized, art-deco feel:

“We were headed into the long black nights of winter, and although it was only four o’clock, outside a cloudy sky was already turning from ash to soot. And yet inside the office there was still something vital, the peculiar sort of kindling that comes from human activity buzzing away in the falling dark of dusk. The electric lights still glowed, and the office thrummed with the sounds of telephones, voices, papers, footsteps, and the syncopated clacking of many typewriters all being operated at once.”

I was a tad concerned when I saw The Great Gatsby cited in the author’s acknowledgements page. That is sacred text. However, this is not an overblown attempt at replicating Fitzgerald. (Phew.) Though this would be a good pick for those who enjoyed the new film version of The Great Gatsby.

The Other Typist reads much like a paean to film noir classics of the 1940s and 1950s. At one point Rose says of another character, “Gib and I were building up a slow tolerance for each other, the way some people slowly build a tolerance for a specific kind of poison.”

Overall, The Other Typist is clever, atmospheric, and unpredictable. There’s a lot of buzz online about the ending—so avoid the spoilers!

The Other Typist

Suzanne Rindell

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pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x-200I just signed up for the Pride and Prejudice Challenge! I have actually been celebrating the novel’s 200th Anniversary on my own, but now I am making it official. (Also, despite my daydreamy browsing of Janeite blogs … I’ve only just discovered the challenge.)

I always love rereading P&P, but this year I am trying to be more mindful of its ongoing influence on our culture.

The Bicentenary Challenge does just that, by prompting us to look at the different books, films, and updates that this beloved novel continues to inspire 200 years later.

Like Potterheads and Trekkies, we Janeites just can’t get enough of Pride and Prejudice!

You can sign up for the challenge until July 1:

Neophyte: 1 – 4 selections
Disciple: 5 – 8 selections
Aficionada: 9 – 12 selections.

If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice … now is the time! No just watching the movie doesn’t count, especially not the somewhat improvised 2005 Kiera Knightley version.

I’m shooting for Aficionada. Here’s what I’ve read, watched, mulled so far:

1. Pride and Prejudice 200th Anniversary post

2. Pride and Prejudice (reread)

3. Sense and Sensibility (reread)

4.  Pride & Prejudice graphic novel by Marvel Comics (amazing discovery!)

5. Pride and Prejudice 1995 BBC Miniseries

6.  Pride and Prejudice 2005 film

7. Spotlighting Jane Austen in the News:

Jane Austen, Genius of Economic Game Theory

Kate Middleton Decried as Jane Austen Character

8. Perusing Austen blogs and #JaneAusten via twitter for even more Austenalia

 

More Jane Austen on Word Hits…

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

Jane Austen, Genius of Economic Game Theory

When Pride and Prejudice Clicks: Boring to Brilliant

How Did I Not Know about Marvel’s Pride & Prejudice

Kate Middleton Decried as Jane Austen Character

So Glad Jane Austen Made Me Do It

A Joyous Season for Janeites

Spoiler Alert: This Book Has No Ending

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Hobbit movie image crop etcSomehow, with the bustle of the holidays, I did not make it to the The Hobbit—An Unexpected Journey. We had a collection of extended family—cousins, grandparents, in-laws—almost like a gathering of the Bagginses, Brandybucks, and Tooks. Our festivities kicked off the Thursday before Christmas with people coming-and-going, so it was nearly the six-day hobbit Yule celebration.

After Christmas dinner, when things had finally settled down, I was feeling rather like Bilbo Baggins, ready for a quiet night by the fire with a cup of tea. Then, the phone rang. The family fun was not over, and an evening trip to The Hobbit was proposed. Much like Bilbo with the dwarves, I declined the adventure at first. But my 14-year-old nephew talked me out of this moment of temporary insanity. Just like Bilbo, when I saw everyone leaving, I realized I did not want to be left behind.

There were eight of us, heading off like Thorin Oakenshield’s merry band of dwarves. Among us were three Tolkien geeks (moi aussi), including my brother-in-law who quoted to us impressively from The Silmarillion. Our company also included a couple of people who hadn’t “gotten into” The Hobbit, another way of saying “I just stopped reading.” And, we actually brought along someone who’d never seen The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) film trilogy. (I know, but you cannot pick your relatives.)

Everyone, from the neophytes to the Tolkien-obsessed, loved The Hobbit movie! As with LOTR, Peter Jackson mined Tolkien’s detailed notes and his history of Middle-Earth, The Silmarillion. Jackson starts his story before the novel does, with the exciting tale of the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor and the Lonely Mountain. Also, in the first few scenes, we get a cameo of Frodo—and the whole theater cheered. There were more cheers when Bilbo’s pen scratched out the book’s first words: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Later, there were gasps and some hisses when Saruman showed up in Rivendell.

Thanks to this Star Wars-esque reverse filming of LOTR before The Hobbit, many viewers learn about Saruman’s treachery before they see him as an important force for good in the first book. It’s like watching young Anakin Skywalker, knowing he will grow up to be Darth Vader. Though here it’s a pity, because the Saruman story unfolds with some great twists in LOTR that have much more punch if you’ve read (or seen) The Hobbit first.

Without anymore near spoilers, I’ll add that keen observers will note that the dreaded three Trolls from this film make a brief cameo in LOTR: The Fellowship of The Ring. Finally, I’ll admit that I teared up when Bilbo first reaches for Sting.

My favorite part of the movie, however, is when Frodo heads out to greet the arrival of Gandalf. Yes, this film starts on the very same day as the LOTR trilogy, Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday—now celebrated around the world as Hobbit Day. We will next see Frodo at the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring, on the road waving down Gandalf. This circular approach is a brilliant move by Jackson, and I feel will ultimately weave the two trilogies together perfectly. The Hobbit—An Unexpected Journey is worth the trip!! I just wish, per Saturday Night Live’s trailer above, there really were 18 more sequels.

Bring On the Hobbit Triple-Play!

Happy Hobbit Day! Happy Hobbitversary! 75 Years On

September 22 is Hobbit Day

Ten Ways to Celebrate Hobbit Day

The Hobbit—An Unexpected Journey (official site)

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy

Lord of The Rings Wiki

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September 22 is Hobbit Day!  Here are 10 ways to celebrate:

1.) Read or reread The Hobbit. Or share it with a friend.

2.) Go barefoot, as hobbits rarely wear shoes.

3.) Eat Heartily, and don’t miss Second Breakfast at 11:00 am. Hobbits eat six or seven times a day and are particularly fond of apples, blackberry tarts, ripe cheeses, mushrooms, hot soups, cold meats, bacon rashers, scones, potatoes (Samwise Gangee’s favorite) and fruit or meat pies. But, perhaps avoid roast mutton, as that is frequent food of Trolls.

4.) Argue with other Tolkien geeks over whether Hobbit Day actually fell on September 12 or 14, since the Shire Calendar varies from the Gregorian.

5.) Noodle some riddles. Hobbits adore riddles. Bilbo used them to get the best of Gollum in the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter. He later wrote “all that is gold does not glitter” in a telling riddle about Strider, which Gandalf gave to Frodo.

6.) Check out the latest trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hitting theaters December 14, 2012. Or, look behind-the-scenes via The Hobbit movies official blog.

7.) Log onto HobbitDay.com for an all-day online festival with Tolkien experts, readings, and events.

8.) Read about The Hobbit‘s 75th Anniversary:

Bio Close-up: The 75th Anniversary of J.R.R.  Tolkien’s The Hobbit

The Hobbit: What Has Made the Book Such an Enduring Success? (via the Telegraph)

The Hobbit Second Breakfast (via the Wall St Journal)

Why J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit isn’t Just For Kids (via the Wall St Journal)

9.) Have that “Unexpected” or “Long-Expected” Party! Hobbits like to socialize. Well, except Bilbo of course.

10.) Raise a glass of wine (preferably Old Winyards red), “a good deep mug of beer,” or perhaps a restorative cup of tea, and drink “to The Shire!”

September 22 is Hobbit Day!

Bring on The Hobbit Movie Triple Play!

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Hello?! Am I the only person who is excited—thrilled, actually—that Peter Jackson is turning The Hobbit into three movies?! (FYI, the book celebrates its 75th anniversary on Friday, September 21.) Seriously, I don’t understand all the snarkiness. Genius director: check. Passionate about the source material: check. Proven track record: double and triple check. Jackson won countless awards and honors for The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) film trilogy, including the 2004 Best Picture Oscar for The Return of the King.

Heck, The Lord of the Rings legendarium by J. R. R. Tolkien could have easily been four movies, or six! There were actually six volumes to the series—two per book. So much was left out! The Rangers of the North; the Hobbits’ Second Breakfast (mentioned only in the Fellowship Extended Edition); Mirkwood Forest and its mischievous elves (though we know we will get this in The Hobbit films); the Scouring of the Shire; the true reach and power of the insidious Palantír; the tenuousness of Aragorn’s position as the ‘heir of Isildur among the fiefdoms of men; the storied history and strategic importance of Osgiliath; and also Minas Morgul, which in the book (but not the movie) is one of the ‘Two Towers.’

The mystery and tense uncertainty as the Fellowship wound through the Mines of Moria had me so gripped reading the book, but the The Fellowship of the Ring movie reveals the fate of the dwarves straightaway. I must give Jackson major props, however, for including my very favorite line from the trilogy in both his first and second film. It’s in Moria, when Gandalf is dangling from a precipice in the clutches the Balrog. The rest of the Fellowship hesitates, turning back to help him. “Fly you fools!” he barks, just before he plunges into the abyss.

Most egregiously, however, they cut the wonderful romance of Faramir and Éowyn. Seriously, how could they have left that completely out?! It’s barely referenced even in the Extended Edition. (Yes, I own the Extended Editions of all three movies.) Two of my favorite characters, individually, actually end up together. All in all, there was simply not enough of Faramir in the films.

Still, there is only so much of this epic that could be squeezed into just three movies. If only the extendo craze (which made two films out of the final volumes of both Harry Potter and Twilight) had happened pre-LOTR. I did like the first three Twilight flicks, but Breaking Dawn – Part One was a low point, painful really. If you haven’t subjected yourself, skip it and rewatch Vampires Suck.

I don’t mean to knock or diminish Jackson’s achievement with the LOTR trilogy. All three films are amazing, brilliant, seminal—truly among the best ever made. But, The Return of the King felt to me a tad rushed and left me a teense unsatisfied. I wanted more.

There is so much to cover in The Hobbit. Did I mention that Friday, Sept 21 is the books 75th anniversary? I am so eager to see all of it—every minute! After all, the past few holiday seasons have seen a dearth of blockbusters, with Harry Potter done and James Bond mothballed by MGM’s bankruptcy (until this November 9th—eureka). It’s been a real let down. I am savoring the whole fevered run-up to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which hits theaters on December 14th. Check out the awesome latest trailer! Even better, after that we have two more movies to look forward to … bonus!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Latest Trailer

The Hobbit Movie: Original Announcement Trailer

The Hobbit Movies (Official Website)

The Hobbit (background on the book via Wikipedia)

Tolkien’s Hobbit Celebrates 75th Anniversary

September 22 is Hobbit Day!

Ten Ways to Celebrate Hobbit Day

The Hobbit: What Has Made the Book Such an Enduring Success?

The Hobbit Second Breakfast (via the Wall St Journal)

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As this weekend marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, I decided to read A Night to Remember by Walter Lord. I had never read the classic, which was first published in 1955, has never been out of print, and is still considered the definitive text on that disastrous event. I can’t believe I hadn’t picked this book up before—what a gripping read. Lord did exhaustive research, interviewing survivors and studying all the newspaper accounts. Though it’s not just the facts, but Lord’s pacing and the way he metes out the many small moments that make this book so memorable. Lord writes with a crisp, descriptive hand. “The Atlantic was like a polished plate glass; people later said they had never seen it so smooth.” Even 60 years later, the book holds up and does not feel dated.

We’ve all heard much of the Titanic lore. For example, there’s the much-repeated story of the cook who got drunk and thus survived in the freezing water. He has a cameo in the James Cameron film, clinging to the rail of the stern next to the mawkish Jack and Rose (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet). In fact, reports Lord, Chief Baker Charles Joughin treaded water in the 28-degree ocean for four long hours—no wetsuit! That’s a Navy-Seal caliber achievement. I love the scene in which Joughin calmly enjoyed a whiskey in his cabin as the water lapped up over his shoes.

The book holds so many small precious stories, true ones. Two young men, new friends that night, shook hands and jumped off the rails together—one lived, one drowned. Men worked furiously in boiler room 5 pumping water and keeping the coal burning for ship’s lights (and the wireless). John J Astor IV disguised a ten-year-old boy in a floppy girl’s hat so the lad could get into a lifeboat. I did not know boys that young were considered ‘men’ and thus not included in ‘women and children first.’ Instead, they were told to buck up as they watched their mothers and sisters drop down in the boats. Oh, and those officers on the nearby SS Californian who watched the whole thing, flares and all? Darwin Award.

Titanic lifeboat shot from the RMS Carpathia. Image: Public Domain via Wikipedia.

Instead, the RMS Carpathia raced north. I hadn’t realized this was such a full-court press, with them turning off the lights, heat, and hot water to send all power to the engines. Even after Titanic sinks, Lord takes us through the tensions and the struggle to survive in the lifeboats, several of which were swamped with water and listing themselves.

A Night to Remember was so riveting that I did not pause to turn on “Downton Shipwreck,” Julian Fellowes’s four-hour TV saga. Full disclosure: I did dvr it. Still, I get a little frustrated with these fictionalizations as I’m more curious about the actual events. “Truth is stranger than fiction,” said Mark Twain (and/or Lord Byron).  And, it’s certainly more gripping than melodrama.

After all, what could beat the story of the sinking of the “unsinkable” ship? Industry was vanquished, and its magnates, such as Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, were also proven vulnerable. The ship’s demise marked the end of an era. Some say the Edwardian Era, others the Belle Époque. “To anybody who lived at the time, the Titanic more than any other single event mark[ed] the end of the old days, and the beginning of a new, uneasy era,” wrote Lord. The ship has since become a cultural phenomenon, spurring myth, discussions, and fascination for a century now.

Lord wrote a sequel The Night Lives On, highlighted with several other picks listed as “Best Titanic Books” on Goodreads. There are also several recent releases to mark the centennial reviewed by The Washington Post. And, The New York Times Book Review just spotlighted two new books that deal with the aftermath of the survivors. Several of whom committed suicide in the years after.

But my favorite take on all this Titanic hype is Book Riot’s “What Books Were People Reading on the Titanic?” Talk about a meta must-read.

A Night to Remember by Walter Lord

Sinking of the RMS Titanic (Wikipedia)

Best Titanic Books via Goodreads

The Unsinkable Story via WSJ Blogs

Fascination with Titanic Goes On, 100 Years Later

Round-Up of New Titanic Books at The Washington Post

100 Years at Sea: New Books About Titanic Passengers at The NYT Book Review

Book Riot: What Books Were People Reading on the Titanic?

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hunger tixCall me The Hunger Games hypocrite. Yes, I raced through the books. Yes, I got advance tickets for opening day. (Not the midnight show—not since I slept right through Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.) And no, I could not concentrate for much of Friday thanks to the zeitgeist of anticipation via email, Facebook, and Twitter.

The books are hugely readable and addictive. Suzanne Collins offers up lots of great plot twists, which keep them far from predictable. Collins must be commended in hooking, not only girls, but also the elusive non-reading demographic of teenage boys on a story told from the point of view of a schoolgirl. That is a phenomenon in itself. It’s refreshing and exciting to have a strong, determined, and capable heroine, and I know that my teenage self would have loved to read about Katniss Everdeen. Still, I have some real problems with these books.

hunger games 1For starters, the body count is higher than a season of 24. Spoiler alert: pretty much everyone dies. And they die savage, gruesome deaths. Kids—yes, these are kids here. They’re dying and killing each other like something out of the 300. The grisly fate of stylist Cinna in Catching Fire would work great in a pulpy noir novel about Russian mobsters. But, um, this book is aimed at ages “12 and up.” To contrast, in Lord of the Flies, three boys die and it is a really big deal. In The Hunger Games, every kid dies and it is no big deal. At least it seems to be no big deal judging by the hordes of kids (not teens) who packed the theater.

Also, the dispassionate tone of Katniss, the narrator, really unnerved me. She seems fairly anesthetized to all the violence and takes a disturbing matter-of-fact approach to her Death Wish-esque rampage. Gosh, even in Jason in The Bourne Identity (book or movie) seems more conflicted than Katniss, um, as does Darth Vader at the end. When nice guy Peeta dispatches another wounded and helpless tribute (that’s a child/teen competitor), the book plays it off like that was a smart move, as though it were some heroic reach to protect Katniss. Again, little remorse. Even in Saving Private Ryan, the trained soldiers—men who have just been through D-day—find themselves torn about whether to execute their German prisoner.

hunger-games-2This lack of emotion and also the frenetic pacing made me feel like I was reading a video game. Snipers shoot unexpectedly from trees or roof tops, assailants jump out from behind corners, and there’s a constant stream of surprise dangers—fires, rabid mechanical dogs, poisoned gas—that Katniss keeps dodging. Particularly the third book, Mockingjay, feels a bit like “Call of Duty” as Katniss is almost continually shooting at someone. The whole underground trek in the tunnel was dizzying, as menaces popped out at nearly every turn. I had to stop several times during this book, because the choppy pace was so bing, bang, boom that I was getting a headache. My 13-year-old nephew told me that his teacher did not like The Hunger Games because he said it doesn’t offer the same sort of ‘patience and reward’ as traditional books. And I do wonder if kids are getting the same benefits to their comprehension and concentration skills when reading this flash-and-dazzle compared to say, Treasure Island, or eventhe Harry Potter series, which featured plenty of more ruminative passages and lots of complicated plot lines and backstories.

In the film Jennifer Lawrence, who was so striking in Winter’s Bone, added nuance and complexity to Katniss. I liked the character better than in the books. It’s interesting, because there was a bit of an uproar when Lawrence was cast, as Hunger Games fans called her too pretty or too old. But, she nailed it.

I’m not sure how they will handle Katniss as the films progress, but it really bothers me that the books never resolve the difficulties between her and her mother. They have a distant, unsettled relationship which percolates throughout the trilogy, and it was a real let down to have that go nowhere. Katniss is able to forgive and accept Buttercup, the cat she hates, but why not her mother? I must add that I loved the fractious dynamic with Buttercup.

Indeed there are many things to love in these books. Collins delivers memorable characters—Rue, Haymitch, Cinna, President Snow.  Even the tributes who we don’t know that well (Foxface, Glimmer, Thresh) we can visualize clearly. Collins is also a wonderfully descriptive writer and does an amazing job creating the sparkling Capitol, the rundown “Allentown” of District 12, and the workaday poverty of the Seam. You really sink into the world of Panem. Also, it is quite a feat that with only her words, she sort of put me off the smell of roses. I got some right after I finished the last book, and they did smell overly sweet and almost sickly. With each whiff, Katniss’s negative associations came to mind. Now, that’s some pretty impressive wordsmithing.

hunger games 3It was great fun seeing all of this come together on the screen in The Hunger Games movie, which so far seems to be a hit with both the diehard fans and those who’ve never read the book.  I do look forward to the next movie and also the next book by Suzanne Collins, although before I crack the spine, I will brace myself.

The Hunger Games Series Official Site on Scholastic

The Hunger Games Movie

The Hunger Games Wiki Site

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Am I the only one who switched from Google to Bing on March 1? Don’t get me wrong. I loved Google, but I have no love for their new shockingly invasive “privacy” policy. As of March 1, Google is saving *and consolidating* all of your data: your searches, your phone number, any Gmail accounts on your computer, your Google+, YouTube, and anywhere that you’ve Google Mapped.

Did you browse for a divorce lawyer? Did you look up side effects of Ambien? Did you ask for directions to the AA meeting? Er, do you know what your teenager has been watching on YouTube? Google does, and they are holding onto all of this information to build a composite of you and your family. Basically, they are creating their own avatar of you which they plan to save indefinitely. Google says it’s for advertising—now you might get ads for Lunesta or for the Wal-Mart near that AA meeting you mapped. (Actually, you are already getting these tie-ins if you use Gmail.)

It gets worse. Google will identify and track your computer hardware model, operating system, software, unique device identifiers, and network information, including your phone number. Once they have your phone number, they will track and save any number that you called, any calls you forward, as well as the time, date, and duration of all your calls. It’s like they commandeered the Patriot Act, minus the semblant subpeonas and court orders. Why does Google need to know about every call you have ever made in order to pop up an ad for Disney or American Airlines???

What’s even scarier, and downright outrageous, is that there is NO way to opt-out.

OK, so it’s pretty tricky to figure out the labyrinthine, Kafkaesque opt-out of say, Facebook. But at least Facebook is acknowledging our right to privacy, sort of. Google is acting like we don’t have any such rights. They are just pushing ahead, hoping we don’t notice—sort of like a quarterback rushing to get the next play off before the ref realizes that the last catch was actually out of bounds.

So now, beware, Google is watching and monitoring your every click … and call. Heck, even the police need a warrant to search your computer or your phone records. I’m no lawyer, but it’s pretty clear Google is violating our constitutional right against unlawful “search and seizure” as outlined in the Fourth Amendment.

If this all sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because you have read George Orwell’s 1984. “Big Brother is watching you.” Or maybe you have read The Hunger Games? Or perhaps you were around 30 years ago when this sort of surveillance was regularly practiced by the Soviet Union’s secret police, the KGB, which in 1983 Time Magazine called “the world’s most effective information-gathering organization.” These tactics were also used by the Stasi, the secret police of East Germany. Note, if you haven’t seen it, this is rendered heartbreakingly in The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2006.

Perhaps I’m starting to sound alarmist with a twist of conspiracy theory? It’s just Google, after all. But …

Hey, remember that time Google hired the head of the Pentagon’s research arm?” tweeted writer Chris Arnold. Ha ha, but wait. It’s true. Director Regina Dugan, who has overseen the Pentagon’s cyber security R&D for three years, has accepted a job at Google. Hmm. Arnold also compared Google to Skynet in The Terminator. Ten years ago I would have laughed at that. Now, I’m not so sure. Google saves my search data, they scan my Gmail for key words, they track all my phone calls, and they zoom in on my house via Google Earth. Logan’s Run, anyone?

Isn’t it also odd how little buzz has surrounded all this? Only a month ago we had a giant protest and media out lash against the proposed SOPA/PIPA regulations. But, of course, that was promoted on Google, by Google. This time Google is the one pushing the boundaries, and except for Bing and Twitter, there has been surprisingly little criticism from Silicon Valley.

I’m hoping people wake up and take notice. I’m hoping Google gets reigned in. The Attorneys General of of 36 states have banded together to address the issue. Also, several members of Congress have expressed concern. But so far not much has been done. So PLEASE contact them with your concerns. If not, it won’t be long before other internet companies adopt similar profiling measures. Seriously, Skynet!

Meanwhile, I’m using Bing, which I actually really like. Who would have thought that Microsoft would be the “alternative” to the Evil Empire? Or Yahoo would? I’m back to them for email and news etc. I never got into Google+, but if you use it, again, beware! Here are some tips to limit your online exposure to Google’s new tracking system.

I do miss Google. Even though I’ve deleted the apps and the bookmarks, I still sometimes land there by habit. And when I do, I type in “privacy.”

Google’s New “Privacy” Policy

CNN: Google Knows Too Much About You

UK Daily Mail: Google Will Soon Know More About You Than Your Partner

Time Magazine: The Basics Behind Google’s New Privacy Policies

Time Magazine: How to Limit Your Exposure to Google’s New Privacy Policies

Washington Post: Google Announces Privacy Changes: Consumers Can’t Opt Out

Google Hires Pentagon Director of Cybersecurity R&D

Attorneys General Join Together to Challange Googles Privacy Policy

Lawmakers Question Google’s New Privacy Practices

Contact Your Elected Officials

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