Sunday, January 30, 2011

Where Are You Reading? Challenge: January Status

Originally, for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge, I had decided to read whatever I had planned on reading for the year, preferably from my TBR stacks, pin my map and see what happened. Disconcertingly, I realized fairly early on that almost all of the books in my stash are set in England, so I had to be a little bit more proactive in acquiring titles that were actually set in the U.S. I then decided to approach the challenge alphabetically which meant that January would be devoted to AL (Alabama,) AZ (Arizona,) AR (Arkansas) and, AK (Alaska.) Four books, five weeks, so neat, so organized. What could go wrong?

AL - The Most They Ever Had (written and narrated by Rick Bragg) - I actually had two options for Alabama: Gods of Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson (print) and The Most They Ever Had by Rick Bragg (audio.) I went for The Most They Ever Had and semi-consciously decided that wherever possible, I was going to listen to audio editions for this challenge.

AZ - 3:10 to Yuma (by Elmore Leonard; narrated by Henry Rollins) - Ooh, quite excited about this state as I had seen 3:10 to Yuma in hard copy at the local Barnes & Noble. Not really a fan of the Western genre, I wanted to see what the author of Get Shorty and Out of Sight had to offer. I headed over to B&N but they were out of stock. The local library didn't have it either. So I dnloaded it from What?! 33 minutes long? That can't be right! But it is. "3:10 to Yuma" is a short story and the book I had seen in the store was a collection. And my library does have The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard which presumably includes "3:10 to Yuma." I had qualms about including a short story in my challenge entries; but seriously, this is a case where size doesn't matter.

AR - Will the person from Central Point who currently has a hold on Shakespeare's Landlord (by Charlaine Harris; narrated by Julia Gibson) please, please pick up the audio, listen to it and return it so I can have my turn? You are screwing up my timetable! Anyway, I picked this title despite my reservations about Charlaine Harris. Last year I listened to Dead After Dark (narrated by Johanna Parker) and didn't particularly care for it. I won't go into it now, but I only decided to try Shakespeare's Landlord after being reassured that it's different from the Sookie Stackhouse series: No kitschy backwoods diners or sexy vampires.

AK - Okay, much research and discussion about "The Call of the Wild" (by Jack London; narrated by John Lee.) It takes place in the Yukon Territory in 1903. Parts of Alaska were then part of the Yukon Territory and a U.S. territory; but not a state at that time. I really wanted to count this as my Alaska entry, but further research indicates that though the snow trek starts at Dyea Beach (in Alaska) most of the action takes place squarely in the Yukon Territory of Canada, so to be fair, it doesn't count. Instead, I've uploaded Caribou Island (by David Vann; narrated by Bronson Pinchot) which I have been told takes place almost entirely on/just off the Kenai Peninsula in the full-fledged state of Alaska.

For the map, I've included all the titles of the books and audio that I've read/listened to in 2011 so far. I included links to the reviews (when I have written the reviews) and replaced the pin heads with the covers of the books. It's been a lot of fun locating the settings on the map, especially when the setting in the book is fictional and I've had to extrapolate from the text where the setting probably is!

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

3:10 to Yuma

"3:10 to Yuma"
by Elmore Leonard
narrated by Henry Rollins
Harper Audio
33 minutes

There are short stories, novellas, full novels and, epic tomes that, regardless of length, spark the imagination and become something greater then themselves through the people who interpret them. The interpreters can be like the daydreaming boys who imagines themselves in the dust, high-noon drama and clear-cut morality of a time when the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats or; the interpreters could be like the screenwriters who see the written work as the foundation for great visual mediums or; the interpreters could even be someone like me, who's not well versed in Westerns but was intrigued by the iconic stature of the work and open to experiencing a moment in another time and place. "3:10" to Yuma" is a short story written by Elmore Leonard, the same writer who wrote the fun crime fictions Get Shorty and Out of Sight. "3:10 to Yuma" is about a deputy, Dan Evans, from Bisbee, AZ, who is responsible for transporting a convicted felon, Ben Wade, to prison. He just needs to get his charge from the hotel to the train. That's it; but that's enough. In a half hour, Elmore Leonard draws strong imagery and characterizations without a wasted word anywhere. The scene is set primarily in a hotel room where the two principals wait for the train. The room is full of tension, of possibilities, of the certainties that each of the men carries, even knowing that in the end, only one will prevail. Their personalities are drawn out by their words and actions, both of which are sometimes small and subtle and, other times heart stoppingly dramatic.

The story is narrated by Henry Rollins, a respected spoken word performer and actor. But I've only really ever known him as the lead singer to a hard-core punk band in the 1980s (Black Flag) that I loved and so I wasn't sure what to expect. He was a little fast off the start to the story; but overall he delivered a fine performance, clear and sympathetic to the text. Thankfully, he did not drop into any sort of Western drawl OR scream out in anarchistic angst, instead speaking in a voice that sounds remarkably smooth and young; but with just enough of an edge or roughness to make it perfect.

3:10 to Yuma
Directed by Delmar Daves
Starring Glenn Ford (as Ben Wade) and Van Hefin as Dan Evans)
Columbia Pictures (1957)
Sony Home Entertainment (2007)

This film adaptation of Elmore Leonard's short story is roughly an hour and a half long, so you know that quite a bit had to have been added to the original story and there was, most notably back story and women. The back story involves providing the motivation for the deputy for doing his job, as well as action sequences that get all the players into place for the big scene at the hotel and railroad station. It's all good, nothing that violates the spirit of the original story; but it must be noted that by expanding the original story, they've created a new mythos surrounding "3:10 to Yuma." Now the chemistry between the two men is emphasized as opposed to the push-pull dynamic of the original short and audience members are given reason to expect that either of the two could change.

3:10 to Yuma
Directed by James Mangold
Starring Russell Crowe (as Ben Wade) and Christian Bale as Dan Evans)
Lionsgate and, Tree Line Films

It would be more fair to say that the 2007 film adaptation was based on the 1957 version rather than the original short story. That said, even though many elements of the 1957 movie were preserved, the differences are manifest and significant. The whole of the story has been embroidered with more historical context to include, but certainly not limited to, Pinkerton men, Apache Native Americans, Chinese workers, railroad expansion and, Civil War histories to the characters. The story as played out in the crucible of the hotel room has been moved across more varied terrain, allowing shared experience to forge a bond between the two men. The emphases is clearly centered on a sense of realism rather than the abstracted setting in the short story or the Hollywood set of the 1957 film. But most importantly, the nature of the relationship between the two men has changed into a much more personal one than the previous iterations would suggest, a relationship wherein at least one of them changes rather dramatically.

Other Stuff: I picked this audio because I wanted a story set in Arizona for the
Where You Reading? Challenge. I had recalled seeing "3:10 to Yuma" in a local Barnes & Noble and thought the title would be perfect. It wasn't until I dnloaded the title from that I realized it was a short story; but I'm running with it anyway because in this case, size doesn't matter. This title also qualifies for BethFishRead's challenge, What's in a Name Challenge #4, in the "number" category (read a book with a number in the title.) I also wanted to move a little out of my comfort zone and listen to a Western. I rented both movies from Netflix (

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Most They Ever Had

The Most They Ever Had
Written and narrated by Rick Bragg
4.20 hours

I do believe that Ms Guilianni, my sixth grade Social Studies teacher, is the one who tried to impress upon the class that history was not a bunch of dates and names and battles to be remembered. History was the story of people and The Most They Ever Had is a great example of what my teacher meant. The Most They Ever Had is the story of a community in Jacksonville, Alabama whose economy, whose lives, were predicated on cotton. The Profile cotton mill offered more than jobs for people, it offered them an opportunity to reach for the American Dream. For eighty years, Jacksonville's destiny revolved around cotton and the mill. Then the mill closed and the world as they knew it, ended. Far from being an affectedly sentimental memoir about his hometown, Rick Bragg narrates his book with affection and candor (and a nice soft Alabamian drawl.) It's not a ploy for sympathy so much as a nod of recognition towards the proud people who worked hard and, deserved dignity; but whose culture was destroyed in the name of global economics. While the book chronicles the history of the Alabamians who signed on at the Profile, the specific lot of a Southern community, the story is really about a lot of people, including the New England textile workers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the timber and lumber communities of today that stretch from Tunkhannock, PA to Southern Oregon, the citrus grovers from Florida to California and, even Silicon Valley. Just something to think about the next time you go to Wal-Mart and you buy a tee-shirt for $2.99: How much is it really costing you?

Other Stuff: I borrowed this book (library edition) from Blackstone Audio, Inc. purely on the qualification that it was set in Alabama. I listened to it as a part of the Where Are you Reading? Challenge hosted by Shiela at her blog, Book Journey.

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Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hell House

Hell House
by Richard Matheson
narrated by Ray Porter
9.20 hours
Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Hell House is about four people who spend a week in a haunted house and who are commissioned to verify the existence of afterlife. "The Four" consists of Dr. Lionel Barrett, a scientist who seeks to empirically prove that paranormal functions are a manifestion of electro-magnetic forces in conjunction with the power of the mind; His wife, Edith, a sexually repressed woman loyal to her husband, but has no dog in the paranormal fight per se; Florence Tanner, a mental medium (one who receives messages from the hereafter) and who believes her gift is from God and; Benjamin Franklin Fischer, a psychic nonpariel who happens to be the only survivor of another team that had gone into that same house forty years earlier. The story is told from the third-person POV as each of the characters experiences exactly why the Belasco mansion is "the Mount Everest of haunted houses." Hell House presents some interesting ideas about what paranormal activity might actually be and maybe even how much of our own fate/destiny is determined by our psychological makeup; but the book's importance lies more in its set-up of themes that will be explored more in Matheson's later works (i.e. What Dreams May Come and Somewhere in Time) such as love crossing the boundaries of life and time.

Ray Porter exhibits more animation than he did narrating The Amityville Horror and he voiced the role of Fischer perfectly, with all the right notes of petulance, reluctance, suspicion and stubbornness the character demands. There were a couple of particularly lewd scenes in which a lesser narrator may have pulled his punches in embarrassment and diminished the intensity of the moment; but Ray Porter delivered with relish. There were some passages that sounded stilted; but that may be because of the type of narrative structure Matheson chose to employ: Instead of the single voice of a protagonist which would have informed the mood and color of the story (i.e. I am Legend,) Hell House attempts to weave together disparate approaches which results in an arrhythmic narrative.

Overall, I was a little disappointed with Hell House. It could be that the hype from others who thought I would love it built up my expectations too high or; it could be that after listening to I am Legend (narrated by Robertson Dean) Hell House suffered by comparison or; it could be that after having the epiphany that horror isn't so much about the monsters as it is about the men, there wasn't much there to introspectively grab a hold of or; it could be it's not as well-written as I had expected (Oy! The ending!) or; maybe even a little of all these things. I'm not sure. But still, it's better than the movie!

The Legend of Hell House
Directed by John Hough
Starring Clive Revill, Gayle Hunicutt, Peter Bowles, Roddy McDowall, Roland Culver and Pamela Franklin
1.5 hours

I am not a movie critic but I'm becoming increasingly fascinated by the film adaptations of the books I have been reading. For better or worse, this seems to involve quite a number of movies from the '70s with all its freewheeling hamminess, cheesy sets and props, and low-tech f/x. The Legend of Hell House was no exception! Roddy McDowall, playing the role of Fischer, is seized in convulsive torture as he opens his mind to the powers in the house. This rivals Rod Steiger's performance in The Amityville Horror (1979) as Father Delaney ("I'm blind!") in terms of sheer over-the-topness. The lurid red flocked wallpaper and lamp in Florence's bedroom, far from the faded and spider-webbed props you might expect, shine with the brightness of newly minted bordello. There is certain Technicolor Gothic tenor to all the scenes. And as for special effects, well, they seem pretty lame compared with today's CGI-enhanced movie world; but on the other hand, if any of those things happened to me IRL, I would freak. So while levitating tables, tableware flying through the air and, smoky ectoplasm may seem laughable, I'm not so sure it's less realistic or frightening than the special effects employed now. I will give kudos to The Legend of Hell House for sticking to the major points of the story. The ending was as it should have been (for the most part) and given the mores of the times the aforementioned sexually explicit scenes (which Ray Porter handled with such aplomb) really could not have been staged. Hmmm, even even the current mores of our times, I'm not sure the public would be ready for that!

Other Stuff: I borrowed a library copy of Hell House (by Richard Matheson; narrated by Ray Porter) from Blackstone Audio and; I rented a copy of The Legend of Hell House (directed by John Hough; starring Roddy McDowall) from Netflix.

EDITED: 10/21/2014 - 
  • "The story is told from the third-person as each of the characters experiences exactly why the Belasco mansion is 'the Mount Everest of haunted houses.'" was changed to "The story is told from the third-person POV as each of the characters experiences exactly why the Belasco mansion is 'the Mount Everest of haunted houses.'"
  • "For better or worse, this seems to involve quite a number of movies from the 70's with all its freewheeling hamminess, cheesy sets and props, and low-tech f/x." was changed to "For better or worse, this seems to involve quite a number of movies from the '70s with all its freewheeling hamminess, cheesy sets and props, and low-tech f/x."
  • A period was added to the end of, "I rented a copy of The Legend of Hell House (directed by John Hough; starring Roddy McDowall) from Netflix"
  • The Youtube Video clip of the movie trailer ("No Longer Exists") was removed.
  • The sound clip (no longer working) of the audiobook was removed and the link to the product page at Blackstone Audio's web-site was removed (legacy web-site is no longer maintained, and re-direct sent users to a new home page.)
  • Book and movie titles were unbolded and underlined. Title at the top of the page remains bolded. Bolded "Other Stuff:"