Do you ever read books that could be considered patriotic?
What would you recommend if somebody asked you for something patriotic—no matter what your country?
Because most of the texts I consume feature Americans, fictional and nonfictional, I really only go out of my way to pick up books about French history, not American history. When I was in middle school and high school, my peers were very unimpressed by my French heritage. (They also made fun of me for being born in Alabama. Not my peers, my friends.) In response, I’ve developed a ferocious and vocal pride in the motherland, bellowing “You’re welcome, America!” when people bring up American independence, the English language, and the tricolore.
I haven’t made much headway in the French history department, but I do heartily recommend Tom Reiss’ The Black Count, the story of Alex Dumas, who was born a slave in the Ancien Régime and became a general to rival Napoleon himself.
What’s the worst thing you ever did to your reading material? … Have you EVER damaged your book/magazine/paper? Dropped it in the bathtub? Used it to kill a bug? Spilled with coffee?
When I was a tiny, angry child, I used to scribble in and tear up my brother’s comics. And these weren’t American comics—these were beautiful, hardbound copies of The Adventures of Asterix in French. My mother punished me so well that, to this day, not only can I not write in a book, I can’t bring myself to damage them.
Things have happened by accident, though. My first copy of The Lord of the Rings somehow got Silly Putty smashed into the appendices, making the tale of Aragorn and Arwen glitter more than ever. But that’s the only major damage I can remember…
And, the reverse–which actors have been particularly badly cast in roles of characters you first met in the pages of a book? Do you blame the actors or the writers and other film-people for the failure? Who would you have cast instead?
“Nightmare” is such a strong word, isn’t it? I’d reserve it for something as egregious as whitewashing or anything else flat-out offensive. I’ve seen plenty of actors that I, were I a casting director, perhaps might not have cast as certain characters, but I’ve so rarely seen anyone completely fail at playing a character that I can’t even think of an example. Acting is a job like any other; at the end of the day, every actor wants to do good work for good money. If the character is poorly written, that’s the screenwriters’ fault, not theirs.
This question reminds me a little of the film adaptation of Interview with a Vampire. Anne Rice was livid that Tom Cruise was cast as Lestat. She just couldn’t see any way that Maverick could do her character justice. Then she saw the film. Afterwards, she wrote Cruise a letter of apology. Cruise is, perhaps, not everybody’s vision of Lestat, but the stamp that he does put on the character, emphasizing his weaknesses in a way that makes him entertaining as both a character and an antagonist, is an enjoyable one.
The point is, there’s always plenty of room for different interpretations of literary characters, with, of course, some reasonable exceptions (no, the cast of Anansi Boys can’t be white!). After all, they’re safe and sound in their books.
Do you ever sit and wonder who could be cast as your favorite characters? (Please feel free to give examples!)
What actors do you think have done particularly excellent jobs with some of your favorite characters?
Honestly, not that much. Sometimes, I will sit down with someone and hash out a casting list (my friend Natalya and I once put together a cast for The Lord of the Rings completely selected from sixties and eighties rock and pop stars; the sixties, obviously, is for The Hobbit), but rarely on my own. I think there’s plenty of room for many actors’ interpretation of a character, so it’s hard for me to think of the choice. I will nod along with great casting choices I find online—such as Jessica Sula as Hermione, or this brilliant genderflipped cast for The Lord of the Rings. (Judi Dench as Gandalf? Oh, my heart!)
A tiny selection of actors doing good work with good characters, then. Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny leaps to mind, but I don’t read the Bond books, so I suppose that doesn’t count. I love her out of her literary context. Ian McKellen is Gandalf, and I obviously adore the cast of The Lord of the Rings as a whole. While I haven’t seen seasons two or three of Game of Thrones, I think Emilia Clarke is doing very good work as Daenerys. While Jude Law is my favorite “classic” Watson, I also adore Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson, as well as Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes.
What makes you choose the books you read?
Genre? Reviews? Certain authors? Covers? Recommendations?
Anything and everything. Well, maybe not genre—I think of that as functional and contextual, rather something interesting in and of itself. But if I see a good review, it’s on the list. Is it someone I’ve been meaning to read? Boom, on the list. Did someone I trust recommend it to me? On the list. Is the cover pretty? Boom, on the list. There’s a reason this blog is called The Literary Omnivore: I will read just about anything, and my selection process is far from, well, selective. If I identified with bird imagery at all, Magpie would be in the name of this blog.
Essentially, it’s whatever catches my fickle eye, and that can be anything from an interesting presentation to a story element to an author’s name to just looking cool. Whenever I’m at a library, I will come home with stuff that’s on my list—and anything that looks remotely interesting, like a book on candy or an oral history of NBC.
If you’d like to see what this looks like in practice, let me direct you to my “Books to Read” spreadsheet.
I want you to think about your ideal reading experience. Think about the location. (Your bed? Favorite chair? The beach? Indoors or outdoors?). Think about the sounds. (Is there music playing? Happy children playing in the background? Utter silence?) Is there a snack or beverage nearby? Are you alone or with friends/family (presumably being quiet enough for you to read in peace)? What kind of lighting is there? Are you dressed in something ultra-comfy? What’s your position? Curled up? Stretched out?
Now … describe it so that we can all feel exactly how perfect it is … and why.
A room with a lot of windows, a lot of natural light. Definitely not my bed; that is for sleeping only. It’s late afternoon, so the sun is still out, but as I progress in my book, it sets, making me turn on a light. I’m warm enough, which usually means a blanket, or perhaps a friendly dog or cat on my belly (provided I’ve taken my allergy medication). I’m on a couch or chaise: something I can spread out on and keep fidgeting on. I might have an apple.
Have your reading habits changed since you were a child? (I mean, I’m assuming you have less time to read now, but …) Did you devour and absorb books when you were 10 and only just lightly read them now? Did you re-read frequently as a child but now only read new books? How about types of books? Do you find yourself still attracted to the kinds of books you read when you were a kid?
I didn’t actually read a lot of books as a child—I compulsively reread old books from my parents’ sea of books, as well as comic strip anthologies. (Public libraries and network televisions: things I didn’t understand as a child or during the Wombat Years.) I read How The Irish Saved Civilization at one point as a child, and got nothing out of it. I wasn’t getting a lot of meat off the bones, because I understood fairly little. Because I could read quickly and parrot back story information, I was identified as a good reader at school, but at home, I was paging through books I already knew over and over again. Looking back at it, it was probably a self-soothing exercise, as much as picking my belly button as a little kid was.
I get much more out of reading now. Not only do I read more, I’m a much better reader (in terms of understanding and get much more out of the books I read. I adore having my commonplace book and reading wildly widely, instead of circling in a weird pool of comic strip anthologies, torn up copies of Asterix, and the wildly outdated and homophobic Understanding Other People. Just thinking about going back to that gives me the creeps.
What book(s) do you find yourself going back to? Beloved children’s classics? Favorites from college? Something that touched you and just makes you long to visit?
(Because, doesn’t everybody have at least one book they would like to curl up with, even if they don’t make a habit of rereading books? Even if they maybe don’t even have the time to visit and just think back longingly?)
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not that much of a rereader; I’m like a shark, I have to keep going forward. Nonetheless, every time I come across a copy of The Lord of the Rings, I always open it to a random page, read a few paragraphs, and feel better about my place in the universe. And since I’m back where my collection of out-of-print American editions of The Lord of the Rings is, that’s a lot.
My brother-in-law turns 50 this weekend. So, in his honor, please pick up your nearest book or whatever book you’re currently reading, and turn to page 50 and then share the first 50 words with the rest of us.
From Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle:
The bottom was a Seven, and so was the second and then the third. The bottom trig in Ch’ien, he realized. That sounded good; Ch’ien was the creative. Then line Four, an eight. Yin. And line Five, also eight, a yin line. Good lord, he thought excitedly; one more yin line and I’ve got Hexagram Eleven, T’ai, Peace. (50)
What’s your favorite hobby OTHER THAN reading?
Geez, what don’t I like to do? As of this second, I’m knee-deep in pinning organizational ideas, so I love doing that. I love watching films (as y’all already know), I love acting, I love costume design, I love sewing… but probably the thing I’m most known for besides reading is cooking. I think I finally locked down my perfect banana bread recipe yesterday. Of course, it’s my perfect banana bread recipe with butter; yogurt banana bread has yet to be perfected by my hands…