Page to Screen: Me Before You

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Film Adaptation–love it or hate it, it’s an undeniable part of our culture.

For my part, I love it. Even when it’s done poorly (and goodness knows it is), it still has the power to get people talking critically about art and adaptation.

Some Pertinent Facts:

  • Film release date: June, 2016
  • Director: Thea Sharrock (in her directorial debut)
  • Book release date: January 2012
  • Author: Jojo Moyes

The film version of Me Before You is actually really close to its source material. Part of this is due to the fact that the author had a pretty big hand in writing the screenplay, but that’s still not always the case. Joan Didion wrote a screenplay version of her book and still felt that film did not really capture the original.

However, unlike Joan Didion’s work, I think Me Before You is much more visual and externally focused. In that way, the book can sort of come to life. The setting near the castle helps to anchor the story, while Louisa Clark’s costumes help to bring her character to life for us. They mark her as more complicated than she appears to be.

Though I think that the film for the most part really captures its source material, there are a few interesting parts of the book that are left out of the film, and I thought I’d look at a few of those and discuss the choices.

There are a few spoilers here (from the book), so if you want to be surprised by them please stop reading.

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Most of the characters in the book make it into the film, but the character we don’t get to see is Will’s sister. In the book she is very angry with her brother and with her parents for honoring Will’s decision. She isn’t in the book very much, and honestly the decision to omit her makes sense–she doesn’t really add anything.

The difference in Mr. Traynor’s character however, is a little more interesting. Will’s father definitely comes off as aloof in the film, but most of this we put down to his “Englishness.” He tries to be there for his son and respect his wishes. The relationship between him and Mrs. Traynor seems to be fairly solid, despite the emotional stress they’re under. In the book however, we see two people who were on the brink of divorce sticking it out for their son as well as the sake of appearances. Mr. Traynor is clearly unfaithful to his wife, and is often absent at crucial times.

The character’s change in the movie makes him seem far more rational and more of the concerned parent, but it also makes him way less complicated.

By far the largest omission in the book concerns the main character. We learn that the real reason for Louisa’s life choices is not that she has felt obligated to her parents, although she does, or that she’s willing to settle for less. Instead, Clark has been a survivor of sexual assault and she’s leading a very safe life because it’s the only way she can feel secure again. Will helps her to work through that.

I think maybe this was omitted because it’s one more heavy thing to deal with in a film that’s already pretty emotional, but in the light of the #metoo movement, the omission feels a little glaring. Why deny Lou’s complicated past?

 

What did you think of Me Before You? Have you read the book or seen the film or both? Let me know in the comments!

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Caribbean Trip Highlights

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A shipwreck that the reef has grown into in Roatan, Honduras.

In December, my Nana and I went on a cruise together to the Caribbean and had a really lovely time. Though I’m not really a huge cruising fan as a means of travel, it does give you a very nice, relaxing vacation. I had just submitted all of my grad school documentation, so it was nice to celebrate that as well.

The ship itself was a lot of fun. I’ve never been on Norwegian before, and I really liked that you could go and eat whenever you wanted in the different restaurants instead of being tied to one place at one time. The entertainment on the ship was really good–we watched an entire off-Broadway production of the Million Dollar Quartet on board.

As fun as the ship was, the highlight of any cruise is the ports of call.

We stopped in Honduras, Belize and two cities in Mexico. Out of the four ports, my favorites were Belize and Cozumel.

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It was not my first trip to Belize. When I was there with my parents on a cruise as a junior in high school we had an amazing day in Belize City with a wonderful tour guide that we found. This trip was a little bit different because the cruise line has sort of built up this little “town” on an island called Harvest Caye. After buying some rum for my husband, we joined our group and were off (via a ferry to the mainland) to the Mayan ruins and a spice farm.

The spice farm was amazing. We ate fresh cocoa off a tree (the inside is so crazy looking). The fruit is tart and almost gooey and then there are the fresh nibs inside, chalky and bitter. We saw nutmeg growing and vanilla. The vanilla beans they grow take almost a year to reach an end buyer. The flowers bloom only for one day and have to be hand pollinated or they won’t produce a bean. That means in 6 hours their crew of 20 people has to pollinate almost 10 acres of vanilla. It’s really no wonder vanilla is so expensive.

The tour was really fantastic. We got to taste and smell and hold all kinds of spices from allspice (which, despite its misleading name is really one plant that’s native to Belize) to fresh pepper to lemon grass.

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The ball court.

The ruins we went to in Belize are not very big (there are much larger ones there), but Nim Li Punit is notable because there are a lot of stele there (carved stones).

Before going, I watched a documentary about how scholars learned to read the Mayan language, and it was really fascinating to watch them try and work backwards. There’s so much artistry in their carvings. The same sound can be represented multiple ways, and each artist would combine symbols and try to create something unique.

I loved archaeology as a kid, and this was my first time visiting any Mayan ruins, so I was pretty excited.

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In Cozumel, we went to the Discovery Park, which puts on all kinds of programs and is also an art gallery. There we made our own chocolate, which was so much fun, and we watched the Flyers.

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The Papantla Flyers are a small tribe in Mexico, and we were lucky to see them perform their rain ritual. Four men with ropes attached climb to the top of a pole that’s about 30 feet off the ground. They wind themselves around and let themselves fall, upside down and attached at the feet, until they reach the bottom. But the real crazy thing is the fifth man, who climbs to the top with no rope and plays an instrument and dances ON THE TOP of the pole. He stays up there until the end and uses one of the other guys’ ropes to come down, which ends the ritual. You can watch Discover Mexico’s video here.

Our tour guide, Bou, was super knowledgeable about the history of Mexico, and I have to say it was probably the most enjoyable and information-heavy tour I’ve ever been on.

All in all, we had a great time, and I will remember it fondly.

 

So over to you–have you ever been to the Caribbean (on or off a cruise)? What was your favorite experience there? Let me know in the comments!

From Page to Screen: Chocolat

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Literature adaptation. It causes almost every reader to cringe, but I am totally obsessed with it. This feature looks at films and their book counterparts and analyses similarities and differences between the two. The goal is not to see which one is better, but to see what artistic decisions are made and what they bring to the original work.

I first watched this film quite a long time ago–nearer to its release date. When I was looking for a book set during a holiday other than Christmas for the challenge, a reader recommended this book, though with the caveat that she didn’t enjoy it as much as the film. This seemed like an interesting (and unusual) comment, so I decided to read the book and do a post.

First, some of the vital statistics on the book and film. (click the link for the film Wikipedia page, which has a plot summary)

Book:

  • Written by: Joanne Harris
  • Published: Doubleday, March 1999
  • Intended audience: Adult
  • Reception: won Creative Freedom Award and Whittaker Gold and Platinum Awards

Film:

  • Directed by: Lasse Hallström
  • Released: Miramax Films, December 2000
  • Principal actors: Juliette Binoche (Vianne), Judi Dench (Armande), Johnny Depp (Roux)
  • Reception: nominated for five academy awards, including best picture

 

Note: I watched the film before I read the book.

The film and the book have several interesting differences, but first I wanted to comment on the importance of magic to both stories. In the book the magic is a little more tangible. Vianne has the ability to sense certain things about people, including a little bit of their futures. Her family seems to have a history of witchcraft. In the film, the magic is there but it’s less visible. The magic comes from the wind, from stories, and from the chocolate (which I think almost everyone can agree has its own kind of magic).

The magic of this story makes it something a little more than the sum of its parts. It’s not just a story of a woman who, through constantly trying to run away finds something like home. The mystical elements add a lot to the story, and give the viewer and reader something to chew on.

 

Interesting Deviations:

The book’s setting is in a time period not too far away from our own. There are microwaves and a large part of Vianne’s past was spent in the United States rather than small towns in Europe. I think the decision to set the movie at the end of the 1950s was a really wise decision. First, it makes the town far more charming. The removed time period allows the viewer to see the town’s xenophobia as a symptom of a larger problem–the changing times. We don’t judge the villagers as harshly because their world isn’t our world.

The film plays up the Mayan elements and shrouds Vianne’s mother in mystery. Vianne in the book has clear premonitions and sensitivities about people, but in the film these are a little more tempered. For example, she can guess people’s favorites and does this instinctively, using her abilities. In the film this ability is filtered through the use of the wheel she apparently received from her mother. People tell her what they see in the spinning wheel, and she uses that to make a determination. It’s a very subtle difference, but one that plays up her heritage and downplays her specific abilities.

It also serves to bring a more complex element into the film–that of colonization and cultural appropriation through the journey of these white men to seek new world remedies. Vianne’s father learns that ultimately he cannot hold his wife down–her spirit cannot be conformed or contained to suit the culture he has brought her into.

Likewise, her mother’s role is changed in the film. She is more present in the book as a character–her virtues and faults are cataloged, and her influence on her daughter is well documented. The first person narrative assures this. In the film, Vianne’s mother is shrouded in more mystery–she is a presence, of course. Her ashes, the relics that Vianne surrounds herself with, and her attention to the wind all show this. However, she’s much more mysterious. The most we ever see of her is in the story that Vianne tells Anouk, and we know that it’s a story she doesn’t share very often. The story gives background, but it doesn’t reveal a lot about the nature of their relationship.

 

Differences in characters

Mr. Reynaud in the film is a deeply conservative man with high moral standards, at least that’s how he would describe himself. While his character is pretty much unchanged between the book and the film, the fact that he represents the Church in the book changes the relationship between Vianne and the rogue element that she represents and the religious welfare of the town. Religion in the film is humanized through the young and inexperienced Pere Henri, whose compassionate and forward-looking nature help the whole town to come to terms with themselves. This allows Vianne to fight something other than religious principle itself–tradition and narrow minded behavior. And it allows the Church to look towards a more progressive future. This is a much softer stance than the one the book takes.

Anouk’s imaginary friend, Pantoufle. In the film, Pantoufle is a kangaroo, an exotic, otherworldly character. In the book, he is a rabbit, which is a more familiar and home-y pet. They both serve to show how lonely Anouk is, but the kangaroo stresses her imaginative and creative side and the rabbit seems to suggest more of a longing for home.

Differences in perspectives

The book is told from both Father Reynaud’s perspective and Vianne’s. In this way, you get a lot more of their inner lives, but you lose a little of their mystery in order to gain their humanity. In the film, it seems as though the town itself is revealing the story to you–only at the end is it revealed that Anouk herself has been the narrator the entire time. Seeing the story through a child’s eyes provides the viewer with different kinds of details and observations and increases the feeling of magic.

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I love the way the film makes me want to roll around in chocolate (a la the Comte de Reynaud), but mostly I love the wonderful performances and the atmosphere of mysticism. The book was enjoyable for me, but the film is delectable.

Have you seen Chocolat or read the book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

 

Throwing Things Out or My Journey with the Konmari Method

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Two thirds of these books are being given as gifts or donated.

I live in a very small apartment. It’s adorable and close to everything. About a hundred years ago, this building was a Basque boarding house. Every apartment is different and a little bit special. I’ve very much enjoyed living here except for one thing–we have too much stuff.

To be fair, we are middle-class Americans. We were always going to have too much stuff. And to be fair to my husband, the majority of stuff is either mine or “ours” like kitchen goods.

I’m pretty good at organizing, and I love getting rid of things, but it always seems to be too much anyway. I love organizing, but I hate putting things away and when the clutter starts to pile up it just messes with my productivity (since I work from home and can’t escape it except for short periods of time).

A lot of you will be familiar with Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s become almost a cliche in certain circles, and it’s made fun of on a regular basis. I think this is a shame.

Here’s the cliff notes version of the book: Go through all of your things by category rather than by location. Move everything from it’s original location (i.e. take clothes out of closets and drawers) and then touch everything, decide if it brings you joy. If it does, keep it. If not, discard.

You wouldn’t think that a self-described vintage enthusiast could feel happy at the prospect of giving away half of her clothes and accessories, but it’s been glorious. I can actually see and access everything in my closet from, and every outfit feels like an opportunity instead of a reproach.

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Here’s why I think her method works better than other methods I’ve tried in the past:

  • You go through everything all at once (which she defines as within 6 months) while you still have momentum instead of doing a little bit every so often.
  • You see and touch all the things you have and may not remember owning–it’s a great way to take stock.
  • Taking everything out of its original location makes it easier to get rid of things because it’s not easier to leave them where they are.
  • The criteria of “joy” is an emotional one rather than a rational one. I often rationalize why I shouldn’t get rid of something out of guilt (something was a gift) or because it still has use left (awful ballpoint pens). Making emotional decisions allowed me to really see my things for the joy they can bring to me.
  • This method teaches you to make decisions quickly and to trust those decisions.

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Now for the big question:

Can everyday, boring items bring you ‘joy’?

I think part of the problem with the book’s reception sometimes is that everything is taken very literally instead of abstractly.

I read a Goodreads comment suggesting that Ms. Kondo was crazy for forcing her clients to say ‘Thank you’ or greet their home, and further suggesting that if they heeded her advice that the house would in turn welcome them. Taken at face value, this can seem, to put it nicely, a bit of a stretch.

But how many of us say grace before meals or keep a gratitude journal? This is really no different. Being actively thankful for the things in your life has been shown to be very good for mind and body, so why not be grateful for shelter? And your house may not literally talk to you, but when you put good vibes into the world I find that they tend to come back to you.

The advice in this book need not be taken literally. It’s language is extreme because it is trying to change the way people think about their things.

Similarly, you might not actively find “joy” in antibiotic ointment, but isn’t it amazing that you have something in your cupboard that can be used to help heal yourself and others? I treated this process like a game. And if I really couldn’t find an answer? Chances are it wasn’t really an essential item or it was, but I’d always hated it.

I’m sure I’ll find more to say on this subject. But here’s what I’ve gone through and gotten rid of so far:

Clothing: donated, tossed, or consigned 200+ pieces

Books: kept, about 100, donated about 200+

Art supplies: discarded about 2/3 of things I was keeping for “someday”

Papers: I went through all of our home papers and weeded out everything except essentials and took it to get shredded. Now we don’t have to keep the big, ugly filing cabinet that I’ve never really liked.

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Still to go: lots of little things (CDs, DVDs, the kitchen, the bathroom, towels and linens, etc.) and mementos, which will certainly be the most difficult, which is why Kondo tells you to leave it for the end (otherwise you lose entire days reminiscing over pictures and derail real progress, which is super true. I’ve done it many times…)

 

Now over to you: Do you like or dread organizing and tidying? Have you read or tried Marie Kondo’s method? Let me know in the comments!

 

Remake Review: The Philadelphia Story and High Society

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“The time to make up your mind about people is never.”

There may be no type of adaptation more tricky to pull off than a remake. Unlike a more subtle retelling, a remake matches its subject–sometimes line for line and scene for scene. In many ways, remakes have more riding on them than an original film. An original film has to stand on its own, but a remake must do that and also contain within it some sparkling effervescent quality that contains the reason for its existence.

There’s a lot that can bring down a remake–nostalgia for one thing. Take a film that’s good, but not necessarily a shining example of movie brilliance like The Ghostbusters or The Karate Kid. These films are fan favorites and redoing them, however well, means that you’re putting a beloved film into competition with a film that simply doesn’t have the rosy glow time adds. Its imperfections are not the ones we remember fondly, its strengths are different and sometimes jarring.

Some remakes are done to take advantage of advances in special effects or new perspectives and social attitudes. Some are done to capitalize on successful stories (hello SpiderMan and Robin Hood adventures), and some–well some you don’t even know what people were thinking.

No story is safe from the remake bug, and I honestly think that’s okay. Remakes are part of a process of self invention and adaptation that keeps Hollywood films interesting and engaging not just with current trends but also with its own history. It’s an art form that is constantly engaging with itself and with other disciplines like theater, music, and fine arts.

 

Now let’s look at one:

I rented The Philadelphia Story from the library. I didn’t realize that it was the original and I had already seen the remake (it does say it on the back of the DVD case that I own–but who reads the back of the DVD case? I mean, except me out of curiosity or to find out the run time). This I quickly ascertained from the first few minutes of the film.

Before we get into the pros and cons of each film, let’s take a look at some of the pertinent stats:

The Philadelphia Story:

  • release year: 1941
  • director: George Cukor (also well known for My Fair Lady and Les Girls)
  • stars: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, & Jimmy Stewart
  • reception: won 2 Oscars (best screenplay, best lead actor-Jimmy Stewart), nominated for an additional 4), 5th most popular box film of the year
  • genre: screwball comedy (or remarriage comedy)

High Society:

  • release year: 1956
  • director: Charles Walters (also known for The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies)
  • stars: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra
  • reception: nominated for 2 Oscars, both for music–it almost received a third nomination for best story, which was one of the academy’s more famous gaffes considering that 15 years earlier they gave an Oscar to the original screenplay. It was the 10th highest grossing film that year.
  • genre: musical
  • fun fact: This was Grace Kelly’s final screen performance before marrying the Prince of Monaco.

 

Here’s the basic plot of both films: The divorced Tracy Lord is getting married again. To save her father’s reputation, she is allowing two reporters from Spy magazine to report on her nuptials. What follows is a comedy with plenty of love triangles and emotion before Tracy ultimately decides what’s important and who she’s going to spend the rest of her life with.

While High Society is definitely the more comical of the two, the original black and white film will always be the greater of the two for me.

Here’s why:

  • Both films have a great cast, but no one can steal Katharine Hepburn‘s show. The root of both characters is a seemingly goddess or queen-like disposition, but Hepburn shows much greater range of emotion than Kelly, who often comes off as a little more immature rather than complex.
  • The original film also plays up all the relationships more, so that you can really feel the tension as Tracy Lord flits between Dexter, George, and Mike.
  • Both films are well cast, but I feel that as a musical it would have done even better if they’d picked an actress who could sing. Too much of the romancing is left to the gentlemen.
  • I also think that Miss Imbrie is played better in the original film–instead of being light and comic she is observant, serious, and engaging. Her dilemmas hold more depth and her relationship with Mike becomes more nuanced. We actually see more of the background of both characters–even though they work for a gossip magazine they’re both artists–Mike is a writer with a full-length, published book, and Elizabeth is a painter. Their talent and work becomes another, deeper way of looking at the class struggles that are bared in the film.

However, I really love the relationship between Tracy and her sister as portrayed in the newer film. They have more of a good-natured rivalry going on that’s fun to watch.

Favorite moments:

My favorite stand alone scene (i.e. one that isn’t repeated in the remake) in the original is where Mike goes to the library to do research and finds Tracy there reading his book. This scene goes a long way to challenging both character’s perceptions of each other.

My favorite part of the remake is without a doubt the flashback scene to Dexter and Tracy’s honeymoon aboard the yacht, the True Love. In the original film, you don’t see any of the once-loving relationship between Tracy and Dexter, so it’s nice to have Bing crooning to Kelly.

One of my favorite sequences in both films is when the reporters come to the mansion and see the room full of silver presents and meet Tracy’s sister who has made a pact with her sister to give the reporters a show.

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All in all, while both films have something to offer, the first is more nuanced–even the cinematography (full of close ups) signals that. The characters tend to be more dynamic and display a greater range of emotion. While Cole Porter’s songs make a lovely addition to the remake, they don’t do all that much to spur the plot along or bring much insight (aside from the ‘True Love’ song).

 

But now I’ll turn it over to you: have you seen either or both of these films? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments.

A 2017 Retrospective (plus some reading goals)

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Happy 2018, everyone.

I hope that you had a good New Year. I spent New Year’s eve with my family, celebrating my Nana’s birthday, and then my husband and I spent New Year’s day driving back home from Portland.

The New Year is always a great time to look back on the year behind you and think about what you’ve accomplished and what your new goals are. I did something a little different this year and thought about it on the Winter Solstice too, which I really enjoyed. It was almost like I was more prepared to make goals on New Years because I’d thought about my accomplishments and what I needed to work on for the next year already. I did something unheard of for me, which is set only one Resolution–to do yoga every day. We’re only 5 days in of course, but so far I’ve met that goal, which is pretty much a first for me.

2017 was an interesting year–in blogging terms it doesn’t even feel over yet because I still have a lot to say about different things that happened throughout the year, but it was full of ups and downs and lots of work. Not to mention, I sort of dropped the ball on blogging.

I didn’t quite meet my book goal–I ended up being five books short of finishing the Popsugar reading challenge–but I did meet my Goodreads goal of 75 books and even exceeded it by a couple of books.

This year I’m not participating in any sort of formal reading challenge (besides the Goodreads one). I have a couple challenges that I’ve entered into with friends, and I will be posting about those. I’d like to do 12 of these, one for each month, so if there’s a particular book (or two) you think I should read, or a challenge you’d like me to write about, please let me know in the comments!

The first challenge is sort of a book club challenge of sorts–my friend and I are reading Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott first and then Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe by the end of January. These classics have been sitting on our shelves for a while, and we figure if we don’t read them together we’ll never be motivated enough to read them at all.

The other challenge was given to me by a different friend. She thought it would be interesting to read about the same event or period of history from two different, opposing perspectives. If anyone has a suggestion for this, please let me know. I’m thinking that the US Civil War might be the easiest historical period for me to find (though it is certainly not my favorite…).

My blogging plan for the year is to do a lot more movie/book posts. I have a lot of fun writing those. I’m also going to share some travel/DIY/recipes–whatever comes to mind.

Is there something you’d like to see on the blog? Have a reading challenge for me? Let me know in the comments.

Top Ten Tuesday: 11 Books I Need to Read By the End of Year

IMG_2962Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish.

The period between Thanksgiving and the end of the year is typically a good time to wind down, but if you’ve got a big reading challenge to finish up it doesn’t alway feel that way.

My grandma and I are going on a cruise next week, and, not unusually, my suitcase is packed with more books than bathing suits.

For most of the challenge, I just sort of picked books up and looked to see if they fit any category on the list, but as the year draws to a close, I decided to pick out all the books so that I knew what I was going to get myself into.

This is the list of books I’m trying to finish by the end of the year to complete the advanced Popsugar reading challenge:

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

For the category of “book with a season in the title.” I haven’t read this late Shakespeare play, and it’s one of the few digital books I’m bringing on my trip.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

I’ve been saving this book for the “book about food” category all year, and now it’s finally time to read it.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Everyone in my book club loved this book that they read the year before I joined. Since it was made into a movie this year, it seemed like the perfect choice for that particular category.

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe 

The category of “books mentioned in other books” was a really interesting category, but it was kind of difficult to pick a book for it. Shakespeare would have been a no-brainer, but I really wanted to choose a novel. Jane Austen’s heroine in Northanger Abbey is a self-proclaimed connoisseur of gothic literature and mentions this book.

Unnatural Creatures edited by Neil Gaiman

I don’t have a lot of books with cats on the cover, so I chose to interpret this cat as any animal in the cat family. My edition of this book has a lion on the cover.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood 

It’s probably no secret that I love Margaret Atwood and really admire her ability to write well in a number of different ways—across genres. This book will be fulfilling the category of “a book written by someone you admire.”

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

This classic is “a book recommended by an author I love.” I wanted to finish this book I started reading aloud with Paul, and pretty much every fantasy writer was influenced by Tolkien. I picked George RR Martin as the particular author I love, in case anyone is interested.

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

I try to fit in the books in this Naomi Novik series wherever I can, but “a book involving a mythical creature” seemed too perfect to pass up.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

I buy books on pretty much all of my trips, so that category was a no brainer, but I wanted to save it for a book purchased on the ultimate trip—our honeymoon. This is one of the (probably too many) books I bought. I couldn’t help it—I didn’t find anything much in the used bookstores, but the new ones were filled with beautiful covers. Books are probably the cheapest souvenir you can bring back from London.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while, and reading the back made me think it might work for a book about an immigrant/refugee, which was one of the categories I hadn’t filled yet.

Catherine the Great by Robert K Massie

For a book that follows a character’s life span, I decided to pick a biography instead of a novel. I haven’t read a lot of nonfiction this year, so I wanted to read at least one more before December comes to a close.

 

Over to you—is there a book you’re dying to read by the end of the year? Do you pick out your reading list in advance or do you prefer to play it by ear? Let me know in the comments.