Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ still tempts filmmakers

Twenty-year old Kaya Scodelari will play Cathy in the 2012 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Image Source: wikipedia.com

One of my favorite novels is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The story of the orphan Heathcliff, whom Mr. Earnshaw brings home in an inexplicable act of charity, and the subsequent primal attraction that occurs between the boy and Earnshaw’s young daughter Cathy, has haunted me since I first read it in college. Since then, I have read it about seven times. There’s something about a doomed passionate attraction that pulls at my heartstrings. And the novel’s popularity since it was penned more than 150 years ago tells me that I am not alone.

I am intrigued to learn that yet another movie adaptation of the story is due out in October 2012. To anyone familiar with the book, most of the nearly thirty film adaptations have probably been disappointing. They either focus on the youthful love story, and not on the impact that the almost feral attraction had on their descendants (which was so much a part of the novel), or they attempt to encompass the entire and lose the audience in the translation.

Which is why reading the book, at least in this case, is always better: it has provided me a much more emotionally powerful experience.

The love between Cathy and Heathcliff is one of the great romances of literature. Her dark good looks and his dark psychic demeanor—and the powerful connection that they forge between them in childhood—claw at the reader’s soul.

In this adaptation there is an interesting new twist: Heathcliff is played by a black actor.

The tragedy in their lives was so unavoidable. The hurt that Cathy caused—by choosing to marry a man who could offer her respectability even though she truly loved Heathcliff—helped to create a monster set on destroying everyone who ever hurt him. Including the only woman he could ever love.

While no film adaptation quite captures the power of the story (the 1939 version with Laurence Olivier was awful—he made an insufferable Heathcliff), my favorite was the 1970 version with Anne Calder-Marshall and Timothy Dalton. The scene in which Heathcliff learns that Cathy has died giving birth and bashes his head against a tree is truly powerful; Dalton was Heathcliff.

So, I will go to the new adaptation when it comes out in the hopes that maybe–just maybe–a film might finally capture the spirit and the power of Bronte’s story of love on the moors.

Somehow, though, I fear I will be disappointed.

Watch the movie trailer.

Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris

No end to the darkness

DisappearedOne thing that ensures that I will make it all the way through a book is if it is well written. The masterful use of language is something I have always admired and to which I aspire (although how successful I am is up for grabs!). I recently chanced upon a book by a man named Anthony Quinn called Disappeared (Mysterious Press.com / Open Road – available July 24, 2012). Quinn had me at hello. Check out the first sentence in the book:

All winter, retired Special Branch agent David Hughes waited for the sun the shear the black horizon and lift the gloom.

Not only is the idea of the sun “shearing” the horizon captivating, but the sentence sets the stage and captures the mood for what is a very dark and disturbing tale of sectarian violence in the wake of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

Here’s another example of his powerful mood-enhancing prose from later in the book:

The lough-shore fields and hedgerows were slipping back to fog and water. The mist crept ashore while the old man watched, wandering on the road behind him. Listening carefully, he could hear the muffled flight of each water droplet, the soft implosion that marked the disappearance of another tree, another house, another landmark as the fog sneaked up and enclosed him in walls of whiteness.

Beats the hell out of “It was a dark and stormy night.” But Quinn is Irish and the Irish always have had a way with words, don’t you know. This, his first novel, weaves an enchanting web of mystery as Detective Celcius Daly tries to solve the disappearance of an old man named David Hughes who is suffering with Alzheimer’s. It is years since the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland ended with the “Good Friday Agreement” of 1998, but ghosts still walk the countryside and seem to have spirited David Hughes away.

We soon learn that the missing old man is a former Special Branch agent whose job it was to recruit informers from within the IRA.

Incidentally, readers may want to familiarize themselves with the acronyms and terms that appear throughout. The “RUC” refers to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the name of the Northern Ireland police force until 2000, after which it would be called the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). “Special Branch” refers to a branch of the forces that dealt with special operations and worked to develop informers within the IRA.

Hughes’ disappearance is soon tied to the death of an IRA member named Oliver Jordan nearly a score of years earlier. A bomb Jordan had set failed to go off because the battery had been taken out. The IRA smelled a rat, especially when Jordan was released from custody, and inferred that he was an informer. Jordan was marked for death—a slow, brutal, and painful death. Unfortunately, Jordan hadn’t been an informer. Someone set him up. Celcius, a Catholic man inconveniently more interested in truth than in sectarianism, finds himself overcome with a “raw desire for justice”.

The only problem is, it seems that the PSNI Special Branch doesn’t want him looking into this old stuff and he is stonewalled throughout the investigation. A hard-boiled cynicism seems to have infected officials over the years and Daly’s search for the truth threatens to put him in harm’s way.

Author Anthony Quinn Souce – anthonyquinnwriter.com

Daly is already damaged goods. He is dealing with a separation that has left him morose and he carries this sadness with him everywhere. When he meets Jordan’s widow, Tessa, in the course of the investigation he finds himself attracted to her and this fills him with Catholic guilt over what seems to be an infidelity (even though his estranged wife seems to want nothing more to do with him). Still, he starts to care for Tessa and soon takes her teenaged son under his wing.

Her son Dermot, however, may in fact be part of the mystery. The boy is deeply troubled over the death of his father, a man he hardly knew, and is obsessed with finding out the truth—or at least recovering his father’s corpse. His involvement in the affair will complicate things for Daly, especially since the Special Branch is out looking for the boy too in order to clean up “loose ends.” Soon Daly finds himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Quinn’s novel captures the horror and inhumane behavior of sectarians in Northern Ireland, even following the much-heralded end to the “Troubles.” The Good Friday Agreement may have caused the barbed wire to come down but it did little to end the hard feelings. An informer was the lowest of the low. The thought is well expressed by Father Fee, the parish priest in Quinn’s novel, who knew that “if you raped your next door neighbor it would soon be forgotten, but if your grandfather was an informer you would be an outcast all your life.”

The story of Oliver Jordan is fiction, but it smacks of headlines about the murder in 2006 of former Sinn Fein member Denis Donaldson following his disclosure that he had been an informer for the Special Branch. Time does not, apparently, heal all wounds.

Quinn has developed a plot that immerses the reader into a darkness we have only read about in the papers or seen on the late night news. I found myself wrapped in that wall of blackness only to be disappointed by an ending that would not allow me to escape. But then that may be Quinn’s whole point: maybe petrol bombs no longer are hurled into the streets, but darkness still looms over Catholics and Protestants alike in this war-weary part of the emerald isle. For those who lived through the worst, maybe there is no escape.

Rating 3/5

Copyright Isaac Morris 2012

A new light shines on the archbishop

“The last act is the greatest treason. To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

― T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

On June 22, 2012, Monsignor William Lynn, who served as secretary to the archbishop of Philadelphia until 2004, was convicted of child endangerment. As incredible as it might seem, especially following upon the avalanche of news reports since the 80’s about pedophilic priests, Lynn—allegedly with the full knowledge of the late Cardinal Bevilacqua—removed offending priests from their parishes “for health reasons” and reassigned them to other parishes. He effectively moved them from one hunting ground to another, and the good and faithful Catholics in unsuspecting parishes were left to discover for themselves that predators lived among them (my novel, Along the River Road, deals with exactly this scenario).

What is truly significant about this story is that Monsignor Lynn’s conviction marks the first time ever that an official of the Roman Catholic Church was indicted on charges related to the clerical abuse crisis.

How is it that “criminous clerks” (to use historian John Guy’s phrase) have for so long been immune to scrutiny by secular courts? Part of the answer to that may be found in a new biography of a twelfth-century Archbishop of Canterbury: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, by John Guy (Random House, 2012). (Note: It’s interesting that the title of the book in Britain adds “Victim” to the list.)

John Guy is a British historian (actually, he is Australian; he moved to England when he was 2 or 3 years old in 1952), and—yes—this is a work of history, not historical fiction. That might put off some readers, but Guy’s easy prose style and his reservation of notes (more than forty pages of them) to the end of the book make this a smooth read. Readers may remember his award-winning Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005), arguably the best biography of the doomed queen since Lady Antonia Fraser penned Mary, Queen of Scotts in 1969. (I should note that Queen of Scots was originally published in 2004 in Britain with the title My heart is my own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots ).

Who was Thomas Becket? As Guy’s title suggests, Becket was many things. The son of a middle-class commoner from Cheapside, through a series of fortuitous acquaintances he was able to capitalize on his charm and good looks. He stood six-feet tall, creating an imposing counterpoint to the much shorter King he would come to serve, Henry II of England. He is revered as a saint by millions (he is especially revered by high church Anglicans and Episcopalians—perhaps because of fellow high churchman T. S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral). As such it is difficult to get a good idea of who he really was since much that is written about him is more hagiography than history.

Was he a saint? Guy offers some interesting and perhaps shocking insights.

Monsignor William Lynn: The first prelate to be indicted in the Catholic church pedophilia scandal. Source: Huffington Post

The sources Guy cites suggest that Becket was a decent man, but the picture we get is that he was ambitious. Early on, he became enamored of the trappings of wealth in his association with a nobleman who took him under his wing. Becket became addicted to falconry, a rich man’s sport. His father sent him to university at Paris, where he was probably a so-so student, but when he returned he fell into an opportunity he couldn’t refuse. He was offered a clerkship in the house of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury.

The background of Becket’s early life was a civil war over succession that left the countryside in chaos. The king who would come to bring order out of this mess was perhaps one of England’s greatest, Henry of Anjou, who would be called Henry II. His was a mercurial personality; he was not an organized individual nor was he a man who cared much about his personal appearance. But he was a man with a plan, and his plan would make England a very different country. Henry’s judicial reforms, such as the use of precedent and the development of the common law, would change jurisprudence from that time on.

There was only one problem: the Catholic Church had its own well-established system of laws and its own ecclesiastical courts. Popes held spiritual sway over kings and exercised it in a way that had been causing political tension for decades. In England, persons holding clerical orders of any kind could not be tried for criminal offenses in the relatively novel king’s court, but only in church courts.

This was a problem for quite a few reasons, and Guy explains the issues very clearly. Essentially, Henry saw it as a threat to law and order because persons holding even very minor orders in the church, such as acolyte, were exempt from secular law, and there was a large number of them in England. Henry saw the protection of “criminous clerks” from the king’s justice as a threat to the peace and stability of the kingdom. Henry wanted all of his subjects to be bound by the same laws. In order to achieve this, he had to bring the church under his power.

Becket became acquainted with Henry while Thomas served Theobald, and Henry was impressed. He later appointed Henry chancellor of England, and in that position Becket continued to impress. Henry and Becket became inseparable, even on the battlefield (the Warrior).

IN 1964, the Hal Wallis film “Becket,” starring Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O’Toole as Henry II portrayed the two as having a homoerotic subtext to their relationship. Watch a trailer from the movie.

Tradition has always held that they were fast friends. In the 1964 film “Becket,” based on a play by Jean Anouilh, the opening scene is of Becket and Henry “wenching” together. This wouldn’t have happened, Guy points out. Oh, Henry would have done it, and he certainly tried to get his friend to join in—but by the time he met Henry, Thomas was living chastely.

The film also suggests a homoerotic underpinning to their companionship—at least on Henry’s part—but that too is a fiction. Guy argues persuasively why Becket’s sexual orientation was not an issue: had it been, his enemies would have used this “sin that cannot be named” to disgrace him. But the two were very close, although it was clear in Becket’s mind that the relationship—however strong it was—was subject to the needs and whims of a man who was, first and foremost, a politician. More than once Henry would remind Becket of his place, their friendship notwithstanding.

The Church was becoming a thorn in Henry’s side. A pope could excommunicate a king, thus removing the obligation of the faithful to be loyal and setting the stage for civil war. Henry had to balance his dealings with the papacy carefully in order not to have the Church disrupt his policies and goals for the kingdom as he sought justice for all his subjects. He was always seeking ways to reduce the interference of the papacy and his bishops. When Archbishop Theobald died, Henry had a brilliant idea. Why not make Thomas archbishop – and chancellor?! Thus, the church-state issue would go away, since Thomas was Henry’s man.

But Thomas wasn’t, in the final analysis, Henry’s man. Though there may have been a time when he could be accused of “putting the King before God,” this all changed after his ordination (the Priest) and consecration as archbishop. Thomas realized that he was in the untenable position of having to serve two masters, and shortly after his consecration he resigned the chancellorship. He underwent a gradual conversion away from the world and towards an ascetic life (after his death he was discovered to have worn a hair shirt beneath his garments). From that time on, Thomas was God’s man (the Rebel). After a clash over the trial of a cleric in a church court, Henry’s temper flashed: “Now,” Henry is said to have proclaimed, “I have no more love for him.”

It’s a bit complicated, but essentially Thomas fought Henry’s attempts to make clergy subject to the king’s law and was eventually forced into exile in France. He would eventually return, but Thomas would not relent in his support of the church over and against his king. Bishops who opposed him in favor of the king, he excommunicated. He fought with every ounce of his integrity and formidable intelligence to protect the church from what he saw as an increasing incursion into its divine prerogatives.

Thomas’ unceasing support for the church may have led him to cover up heinous behavior on the part of some of the clergy. It is disturbing to learn, based on some fairly good historical evidence, that Thomas may have worked to cover up an incident whereby a prelate preyed on a young man repeatedly and later even arranged the boy’s murder to protect his reputation. Since the perpetrator was connected with Archbishop Theobald’s household, Thomas felt it necessary to do whatever to protect his patron—and the church—from scandal. He served his church faithfully, as would Monsignor Lynn nineteen centuries later in Philadelphia.

At last, the tension between the king and “his” archbishop came to a head. Henry lamented (he was well in his cups at the time) to some of his henchmen that he felt helpless and asked why no one would do anything about this meddlesome “low-born” priest (his exact words are a matter of historical conjecture). Four of his knights took his words as signifying a command, and set out to rectify the troublesome situation.

At Canterbury, on December 29, 1170, the four men killed Becket as he prepared to offer vespers, lopping off the crown of his head and scattering his brains about the floor. Thus was born Becket the Victim: or more precisely, Becket the Martyr.

Henry did public penance (more ceremonial than sincere, Guy says) in order to overcome the impact of what was a public relations disaster, even without Twitter or Fox news. The four knights fled the country. The battle over who would have primacy in England, pope or king, would continue (Henry VIII would eventually trump the pope in his desire to bed Anne Boleyn). Time has clouded the issues and all but obscured the men involved, and all we are left with is an historical sketch of a man long dead. Guy presents him in a way that few other biographers have done, and the picture is not always flattering.

One thing becomes apparent however: the events that led to the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 still have relevance today: Monsignor Lynn is going to pay for endangering children he was entrusted to shepherd. It’s about time. Law enforcement has for too long shown deference to the hierarchy in such matters. If Becket had had his way, the Monsignor would never have made it to a secular court of law as long as he maintained clerical status.

John Guy’s Thomas Becket is the story of a battle between “two titans” of history that requires close reading. But it is well worth it.

Rating 4/5

Copyright Isaac Morris 2012

The woman who sent Columbus to “find Ray Charles”

Books about history—either fictional or non-fictional—seem to appear frequently on this blog. Two previous reviews were about women who ruled in a man’s world (see my reviews of Cleopatra – A Life and Catherine the Great – Portrait of a Woman). Such characters appeal to me because I find hilarious the attitude of some who scoff at the idea of a woman president (Pat Buchanan comes to mind) when, in fact, women like Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II of England, Catherine I of Russia, Cleopatra and Margaret Thatcher could deal with the best of men, and best the best of them at their own game while not sacrificing an ounce of their essential femininity.

So, when I discovered The Queen’s Vow – A Novel of Isabella of Castile, by C. W. Gortner, I snapped it up. I was not disappointed.

Every school kid knows—or used to at any rate (Columbus somehow went from discoverer of America to pillager of America since I got out of grade school)—that Christopher Columbus appealed to the King and Queen of Spain and Portugal to help fund his trip across the ocean to find great riches (not, as Flip Wilson suggested, to “find Ray Charles”). But that’s all most of us ever learned about them.

Who were these two rulers of a place we know very little about? Why were they important? What, besides their entrepreneurial assistance to a Genoese navigator, was their legacy?

The novel takes us from Isabella’s birth to the voyage of Columbus, and focuses on the struggle to unite warring factions and to bring peace between Portugal and Castile—something that the marriage of Fernando and Isabella would eventually do, but not for many years. Much of the story deals with the war of succession in Castile, fought by supporters of Isabella’s niece, Juana, before and after the death of Isabella’s half-brother Enrique.

When we meet the adolescent Isabella, who has been living in penury with her mother—having been put “aside” by her older half-brother Enrique who ruled Castile since her father’s death—she is mounting and learning to ride and control a powerful steed. This girl, who overcomes her fear of the animal and soon gallops away in clear control, gives us a glimpse at the woman she will become. A woman who will be called by her friends and detractors alike as a “mujer varonil,” or a “manly woman.” The description suited her, not because of her looks (she was, by all accounts, an attractive woman), but because of her determination. A determination that would make it possible for her to bring a country under control and deal harshly with those who sought to disrupt the peace of her kingdom.

The novel is well researched and covers not only the ten-year war of succession, but the rejuvenated “Reconquista”, the struggle to reclaim the south of Spain from the Moors.

Isabella’s husband, Fernando, was a man she loved, and who loved her in return. This is the idea we get from history, and this comes across clearly in Gortner’s telling. It is a charming love story that begins when eleven-year old Fernando dances with the thirteen-year old princess in a courtyard (this is fabricated—in fact the two met only days before they wed). From that moment, she knew whom she would marry. Of course, she had to battle her brother who sought to marry her off to the aging Alfonso, king of Portugal, in order to solidify an alliance. But fight him off she did, and finally married Fernando. Her defiant act would cause a break with her half-brother that would lead to serious consequences. But Isabella was not about to be brokered off to a man she did not love for political gain.

Gortner’s narrator is Isabella herself. It takes skill for a man to write from the point of view of a woman, but Gortner has the requisite skill. There comes a time when Fernando confesses an infidelity to Isabella, and having her relate her anger and grief presents a truly heart-rending scene.

One thing that made the book a bit troubling at times was its length. It was almost too short. That’s a strange criticism, perhaps, but Gortner covers many historical incidents in a mere 360 or so pages. This sometimes creates the impression that Isabella was indecisive or weak when history declares that she was anything but.

This shortcoming is evident with Gortner’s treatment of the official policy that Ferdinand and Isabella adopted toward the Jews. Isabella was a compassionate woman who suffered no ill treatment of her subjects, be they Jew or Christian. When some Christians in Segovia are found guilty of stealing livestock and raping the daughter of a Jew, she orders the summary execution of the perpetrators and has their intestines draped on the city gates (Isabella was known to do stuff like that!).

If she had a weakness it was her strict adherence to Catholicism as the one true religion and her self-imposed obligation to rule accordingly. When the Dominican Tomas Torquemada—a monk who would eventually go down in history as the Grand Inquisitor—convinces Fernando that the king and queen need to deal with heresy in their kingdom, Isabella suffers a crisis of conscience.

The “heresy” in question stems from the behavior of “conversos,” Jews who converted to Catholicism but continued to practice their Jewish faith behind closed doors. Torquemada appeals to Fernando’s need for cash—the treasury was all but empty—by saying that conversos found guilty would have their property revert to the treasury. This “side benefit” was no doubt tempting, as it would be during the Third Reich for Hitler and Germany.

At first, Isabella is opposed, but in short shrift (at least in the novel) she becomes convinced of the importance of having a kingdom united in the true faith and gives her consent for the establishment of the Inquisition in Spain. She later is seen to regret the decision, but I think this runs counter to the woman’s nature. If history is any judge, Isabella didn’t do anything without considering the consequences. Her struggle was undoubtedly more drawn out and complex than it seems in Gortner’s telling. His story relates a truth, but a truncated one.

Gortner also passes lightly over Isabella’s reactivation of the Santa Herminadad (Holy Brotherhood), a state-sanctioned vigilante committee that scoured the countryside catching highwayman and other bandits, tying them to poles, and using them for archery practice. It gets a mention. That’s all. Yet, it was one of Isabella’s most effective crime-fighting efforts.

But, there are so many issues and so few pages.

This is a powerful story that carries the reader through the life of a young woman caught up in factionalism, continual conspiracies, and threats to her life and to the kingdom that she and her husband would eventually rule jointly. The love that they felt—his infidelities notwithstanding—is conveyed together with the respect that they felt for one another. She was not just a queen consort. She was a co-ruler. She may, in fact, have been the stronger and more powerful of the two.

Rating 3/5

Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris

Hemingway: Into the rain. Alone.

Young Hemingway with Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, the woman who broke his heart and whom he immortalized as Catherine Barkley in “A Farewell to Arms.” Source: Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Ernest Hemingway is one of my literary heroes. Has been since I read For Whom the Bell Tolls in high school. Part of the attraction may have been his machismo (something boys valued when I was a kid but which we learned to overcome when we entered the workplace: I am now “sensitive”), but part of it was just the excitement and energy his writing generated. I doubt the man would have known an adjective if he saw it. He simply declared.

His breakout novel A Farewell to Arms (1929) has been re-released by Scribner, and this edition includes all of the endings he toyed with. If you haven’t read the book, it is about a young man, Frederic Henry, who is serving in the ambulance corps in Italy during World War I. He meets and falls in love with Catherine Barkley, a British army nurse, and their relationship grows after a mortar shell wounds him and he finds himself in her ward at hospital. It is a bleak story of love amid darkness and death, and it doesn’t end happily. But apparently it took 47 tries for Hemingway to find just the right words, the right way to end it.

After Catherine dies in childbirth, Henry is devastated. He charges into the hospital room to see her one last time and orders the nurses to leave him alone.

But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-bye to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.

With such paucity of words, Hemingway brought down the curtain on unspeakable pain and loss. That is artistry. That is why Hemingway could always blow me away.

The re-release (Scribner, July 10, 2012) carries a facsimile of its original cover – and all of the endings that Hemingway toyed with. Here are just a few:

  • Finally I slept; I must have slept because I woke. When I woke the sun was coming in the open window and I smelled the spring morning after the rain and saw the sun on the trees in the courtyard and for that moment it was all the way it had been…
  • In the end it is better not even to remember things but I know that.
  • That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.
  • In the end it is better not even to remember things but I know that.

There’s more in an article from last week’s The Huffington Post if you are interested. But this sampling is enough to tell me that Hemingway chose the right ending. What is telling about this is that, as a writer, he cared enough about his craft to try over and over and over again until he found just “the right words.”

Hemingway was a drinker, a womanizer, a male-chauvinist pig, and a man who was very disturbed (he, like his father, took his own life). These shortcomings frequently come out in his novels and stories. But for all that, he was unquestionably the one thing he always aspired to be, the only thing that mattered.

He was a great writer.

A Farewell to Arms – Rating 4/5

Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris

Lincoln and vampires: Absurdity or biting satire?

All we have are grainy black and white photos of Mary Todd Lincoln–but I can’t imagine that she really looked like this! Image of actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead: freewallpapers.com

If you accept these two premises—that Vampires exist, and that history only tells us part of the truth—then books like Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter won’t strike you as too much to swallow.

I read this book over a year ago, shortly after I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies—a book I thoroughly enjoyed. Seth Grahame-Smith had done something for me that no teacher or professor had ever accomplished: he made Jane Austen interesting. I always thought that something truly bizarre needed to happen in her novels in order to overcome the soporific effect of her prose.

Well, after all of the hype surrounding the movie version of Vampire Hunter, I went to see it. And I enjoyed it. I checked out Roger Ebert’s take on the film first, just to see what an intelligent reviewer might think of it (I don’t always agree with his take on movies, but I respect his erudition), and was surprised to learn that he liked it!

I enjoyed the movie. It is perfect summer fare: lots of action from the get-go and quite a few chills and thrills. I actually jumped on more than one occasion as horrific vampires materialized from nowhere to bare their fangs.

If I was at all disappointed, it was because the movie lacked the rich detail of Grahame-Smith’s novel. The novel includes not only the death of Abe’s mother (who died of a vampire bite, not of the milk-sick—duhh), but also of Abe’s beloved Anne Rutledge. Abe’s hatred for slavery in the book stems not from the mistreatment of his childhood friend, but from a trip down to New Orleans he took with his mentor, Sturges, where he witnessed slave auctions. It is likely that this detail may have been fairly historically accurate. The famous poet, Edgar Alan Poe makes an appearance in the novel, as does John Wilkes Booth (Guess what! He is a vampire—go figure)—whom we never encounter in the film. And, in the novel, Lincoln—through the devices of his mentor, Henry Sturges—becomes an immortal who apparently still spends his nights in the White House (probably in his old bedroom, when it isn’t being used by campaign contributors).

There is richness in the novel—never mind its absurd premise—that didn’t make it into the film. The film may be called by the book’s title, but it is a very different work. Nonetheless it is enjoyable on its own terms as summer entertainment. Not great summer entertainment, but not bad. Not bad at all.

If you like the movie, and if you are interested in seeing the rest of the story, you owe it to yourself to pick up the novel.

There is one historical glitch in the film that I couldn’t get over. In the movie, Mary Todd is a knockout (and hell on wheels with a rifle, too). Aly Semigram from Hollywood.com observed that “some artistic liberties were taken with the portrayal of the First Lady, including how she looked (having three names is about as close to resemblance as the two women have) and excluding her oft-speculated bipolar disorder.” Just those two little things. That’s all

In real life, if you believe much of what has been written about Mary, she may have been hell on wheels—but a knockout? Oh well. Abe (played by Ben Walker) wasn’t near as good looking either. So, I guess it balances out.

You have to keep saying to yourself, “It’s only a movie.”

What do you think? Printed books or e-books? What is the future of reading?

When I am talking with friends about their reading habits, the advantages of e-books over bound books—or vice-versa—frequently become part of the discussion. “I just like having that book in my hand,” is a comment I hear quite a lot. “But you can read your (Kindle, Nook, e-book reader—just fill in the blanks) at night without having the light on,” or “I can carry dozens of books on the plane with my (Kindle, Nook, etc.), and I couldn’t do that with hardcover or paperback books.” All points are good ones, but one walks away with the feeling that the some people think that the issue is a dilemma that will only be resolved with the disappearance of print or with the relegation of e-book readers to the trashpile of faddish gadgets like the Walkman or the 8-Track Tape Player.

“Print is dead,” Egon (Harold Ramos) said to Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) in “Ghostbusters.” History would seem to side with those who see this innovation eventually making print go away. When Julius Caesar published his Gallic Wars, instead of having it displayed on hinged wooden tablets which could be written over, he bound the papyrus (probably) together in a notebook fashion. This wasn’t done widely for some time, but eventually the bound book—or codex—replaced the old tablet approach because it was so much easier to transport—and to save. With the invention of the printing press, there was no question that codices were the way to go (even though the word codex now refers only to handwritten bound books). So, the more practical, in the case of codices, clearly beat out the less practical, and book binding made it possible for everyone to own and easily read books of their choosing.

There is no question that the Kindle, the Nook, and other e-readers are cool, practical, and portable (if you want to take three dozen books on a long trip). But the question is—practical for whom? Not everyone is comfortable with the new technology, so for the time being I doubt you will see printed books going by the wayside. And, furthermore, you can read a printed book on the airplane on the runway, whereas you are sometimes asked to turn off your electronic devices. We can all learn a thing or two from Alec Baldwin’s experience!

Then there is the problem of vulnerability. Unless your books are stored in a cloud somewhere, if you lose your device you have lost your books. You may be able to pick up another copy of what you were reading in your next stopover (depending on how deep the book you were reading is!), but you will have to wait until you get to your destination to purchase another device.

Bound books appeared in the 2nd century and eventually became the standard. Will the e-reader to the same for printed books? Souce: Bing Images

I read books using a Kindle app and galleys using an Adobe e-reader. But I also still read “real” books. I can’t say I have a preference. I doubt I am alone in this. So, frankly, I think that the issues of e-reader versus real books is much ado about nothing. If the e-reader does displace print, it is not going to be for a long time. And there are many, many books that are not now—and I doubt they ever will be—available in electronic format. There is a treasury of knowledge that we must continue to be able to access, and who is wise enough to choose which should and should not be translated into electronic format just for the sake of coolness, practicality, and portability?

What do you think?

Do you think electronic books will displace printed books? Which do YOU prefer? What will the future of reading look like?