Monday, September 28, 2009


My reading has been directionless and serendipitous lately. One of the movie channels ran a series of films based on great books and so after my stint with the Spanish Flu, William Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows, (which was slightly disappointing compared to his great short story collections and the magnificent So Long, See You Tomorrow), and Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider, I let this cable station steer my literary rudder.

Triggered by the films I’ve seen, I read or reread E.M. Forster’s Howards End and A Room With a View, then Peter Carey’s wonderful Oscar and Lucinda. Merchant and Ivory managed to perfectly capture Forster’s spare prose and deceptively simple plots but Gillian Armstrong could not visually paint the magical language of the Booker Prize winning Oscar and Lucinda, despite starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett as the leads.

Into the Wild on HBO shamed me into finally reading a book I’ve been hand selling for years to parents of “boys who don’t like to read but like outdoors stuff”. Kind of funny, considering how I devoured Jon Krakauer’s other book about the fatal to climb Mount Everest, Into Thin Air, in my drafty third floor apartment in New Haven under a quilt during a bitter cold snap. Better there, than on Everest.

I had an advanced reader’s copy of Into the Wild, a prepublication edition sent by the publishers to reviewers and booksellers, which means I’ve been putting off reading it for 13 years. It was well worth it. Sean Penn’s adaptation really just focuses on Christopher McCandless’s journey across America and makes it look epic, but the book has a much larger scope and, of course, more material about the people McCandless met in his journey. It’s short, just under 180 pages - very non-threatening to some kid who thinks reading is agony - but it’s also very well written.

Then I stumbled across some very schlocky film adaptations of some H.P. Lovecraft stories, which drove me to reread from my collections of his schlocky works. Lovecraft is one of those writers whose ideas sound great on paper and are very influential in horror fiction, but whose images just look silly on film . Neil Gaiman said something once about how Lovecraft’s great monster, "the green, sticky spawn of the stars", part dragon, part octopus, part demon, Cthulhu looks absolutely ridiculous when depicted on screen. They sometimes look silly on paper too.

After this reading sherbet, time for a bigger project.