Mar 30, 2012

Friday Five: From Book to Musical

I saw Les Miserables last week and, when I'm not humming "Call Me Maybe," I've been singing "Bring Him Home" to myself (note to self: those high notes should not be attempted). So on that note, here are five musicals that got their start as books before they started infecting people's minds with their catchy showtunes:

Five Musicals Based on Books

1. Les Miserables
Loosely translated as "the miserable ones," middle school students have been mispronouncing this title for years. I've never read the Victor Hugo novel (it's on my never-ending list), but from what I understand, the musical does a really great job capturing the story of redemption, rebellion, love, morality and justice. Yeah, there's a lot packed in there...but it is a 3 hour musical and a well over 1000 pages long novel. Les Mis focuses on student revolutionaries, factory workers, and a ex-convict trying to right his life. Many consider the Les Mis to be one of the most important novels ever written. Fun fact: neither book nor musical is set during the French Revolution as most people seem to believe. Rather, it's the June Rebellion - an insurrection in Paris of mostly students against the monarchy. Watch this can that not make you want to read this book/listen to the musical?  

2. The Book of Mormon
It's right there in the title. Though not a traditional novel, everything that happens in this musical technically stems from the Mormon practices that the book sets forth.  Regardless of your religious beliefs, this is a strong musical: catchy songs, endearing characters, and a plot that's consistent.  While it certainly pokes fun at Mormons, it's not making them into bad people...if anything it highlights their optimism. And it's not just a religious satire, there's a bunch of jokes about musical theater in there as well (Wicked, The Lion King, and Fiddler on the Roof, to name a few). Plus...there are ewoks involved. The Book of Mormon won a Tony for best musical and a Grammy for best musical theater album.  It's going to become a movie and I predict some sort of Oscar for that.  If it ever becomes a TV show and wins an emmy...The Book of Mormon will have an EGOT.

3.  Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella
This musical was originally written for a TV special starring Julie Andrews, it has since been adapted for the stage and I've always wanted to be one of the step-sisters.  It debuted 7 years after the Disney version, but is a lot closer to Charles Perrault's fairy tale.  Out went the wise-talking mice and evil cat, and in came more poor, sad Cinderella.  Fun fact: in Perrault's fairy tale, there isn't just the one ball that Cinderella attends.  She gets her groove on multiple times before she loses her shoe. 

4. Wicked
So technically, this musical comes from Gregory Maguire's novel of the same name (the first in The Wicked Years series), but a lot of the plot points, and jokes, come from L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz...and the movie.  The basic political themes are still present in the musical and the focus on good intentions, but the show strays farrrrrr from the book's complex plot.  Really the only connections are the title, character names, and a basic plot line.  People who see the show and try reading the book are usually left surprised when there's no fun, peppy banter to make them giggle.  But really, both the musical and the Maguire series are great. Plus, the musical made Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel household the houses of musical theater geeks.

5. Cabaret
I once wrote a 20 page term paper on this musical. We had to select a musical that came from another source and explain how the musical elements heightened emotions and other nonsense.  I didn't realize that the stage version and movie versions are incredibly different, which meant that I got to write an extra long paper about added emotions from Liza Minnelli songs.  Anywho, Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood, details pre-Nazi Germany.  The drama circles around Jewish and homosexual characters as Nazis rise to power.  The book is interesting in it's own way, but the musical adds an extra element to the story and makes the audience think.  In the musical, the Emcee of the cabaret provides commentary on everything, there are recurring musical themes that highlight the changing times and there's an eerie song, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," that sounds sweet until you realize it's become a Nazi anthem.  Also, Basil from Austin Powers is in the movie. True story.  This is the opening to the musical, but with MUPPETS!!!

Mar 29, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Play Hooky With

I realize that it's Thursday.  But due to a downpour of homework, I had to be semi-responsible and postpone thinking about books.  It was a horrible feeling.  Now I'm just tempted to do what this list from the Broke and the Bookish is asking me to do: play hooky with books.

I've done this before.  Some people play hooky to go the beach, go to a theme park, wreak havok, etc. Me? I stay in bed and read books.  Or do homework.  But mostly books.

Top Ten Books I'd Play Hooky With

1. Harry Potter series 4-7. 
Honestly, I'd play hooky for any of the seven books, but the last four are just so damn heavy that it's too much of a hassle to cart them into work every day to read on the train.  Once I get going, I can read them in a day, so really it just makes sense to take a day off and read them.  Of course, once I read one, I need to read the next one which just sets off a reading frenzy until I finish Deathly Hallows and that awful feeling like I've been punched in the stomach because that's the end of the road.

2 + 3. Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic, Carrie Fisher
After I read Wishful Drinking a few weeks ago, I could not stop telling people how Christopher Walken was on the list of actors to play Han Solo.  Think of how that movie would have turned out.  But I digress. The real doozy came from my realization that Debbie Reynolds was Carrie's mother.  I'm still digressing.  I read both of these books in one sitting and refused to do anything else until I was finished.  She's hysterical and ridiculously honest.  I usually only read memoirs once, but they were so fascinating and funny that I would consider taking a day off to read through them again if I needed a day to cheer up.

4. The Eight, Katherine Neville
This is one of the best historical fiction books I've ever encountered. It goes back and forth between present day and the French Revolution.  It's definitely worth skipping work to read.  DO IT.

5. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Szelznik
Now that I have historical fiction on my mind, and also because I just glanced over at a shelf full of graphic novels, this book can be read in one sitting, so it's not really something you'd have to skip work to finish.  But it wouldn't hurt.

6. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
I was going to try to refrain from mentioning this one, but I actually know many people who have skipped class or work to finish reading this book.  I didn't even like it when I first started reading it - that first chapter is a snoozefest until you understand what's going on - but I constantly found myself wishing I didn't need the money my work so graciously gives me so I could stay home and read.

7. Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
I've never read these books. If I had time to, I would in a heartbeat.  One, to get everyone off of my back for having not read them yet; and two, I'll never be able to stomach watching the HBO series, but I like knowing what people are talking about and reading would obviously help. 

8. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
I've recently felt a desire to read everything Neil Gaiman has written, I think this is thanks to Twitter, so taking a day...or twenty, to devote to this project would be wonderous.

9. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Seriously.  I've read about half of the book already, but then grad school started up, and coupled with work, it just became too much of a struggle to read.

10. Ender's Shadow, Orson Scott Card
This is the last book I read that I hated having to put down to go do real work.  I ended up staying up until about 3AM one night to finish, which made work a bit of a struggle the following day.  Calling in sick clearly would have been the wise decision.  And then I could have started on the next one...

Mar 23, 2012

Friday Five: Hunger Games

I got maybe 3.5 hours of sleep last night because I made the ever wise decision to see yet another movie at midnight and then go to work the next day. What can I say? I'm a trooper. So, because it's on my mind, here are my

Five Thoughts on The Hunger Games Movie:

1) Almost everyone in the theater laughed every time they showed a reaction from Gale. *Sad Gale*. I know they added those scenes to highlight the times in the book when Katniss wonders if Gale is watching (answer: yes), but really they're just playing up the love triangle so they can sell some Team Peeta and Team Gale shirts. I'd rather have a Team Cinna shirt.
2) I really enjoyed the movie, but I think they could have focused on the hunger part for a bit more clarification. Not everyone watching will know about the tessarae and will wonder why Gale's name was entered 42 times instead of just 1. Plus, I was really looking forward to seeing Katniss eat like a pig and freaking out Effie with her lack of manners.

3) Stanley Tucci was absolutely perfect as Caesar. Like, there are no words. But really, when isn't Stanley Tucci perfect?

4) I could have used a little more drunk Haymitch, but it was interesting to see him working the sponsors and trying to protect his District's tributes, which we don't see happening in the book.

5) I didn't think this so much during the book, but seeing the alliance of the "Careers" onscreen made me question why one of them didn't even attempt to kill the others in their sleep. No one was on lookout (at least in the movie). You have the chance to easily eliminate your top competition and you don't take it? You're just asking to lose. Or maybe I'm just a horrible human being who would betray an alliance in a heartbeat. *hangs head in shame, but also in secret pride*

All in all, I really liked the movie. It was faithful enough to the book even with its little additions (sad Gale). I'm maybe even looking forward to Catching Fire already...

Mar 22, 2012

#TheList, No. 817: My Side of the Mountain

I'm an indoors kid. My near-transparent skin earned me the nickname "Pasty" in high school.  Accordingly, I'm probably not the target audience for Jean Craighead George's book about a teenage boy who runs away from NYC to live in the wilderness. That said, I actually liked the book.  But we all want to run away at some point in our lives, so I guess it's something with which we can all relate.

Sam runs away to live a simple life in the Catskill Mountains and ends up hunting, gathering, and making friends with all the woodland creatures he doesn't eat.  The book is presented out of order: we meet Sam while he's snowed in his tree-house (literally a house inside of a tree), and he takes us back to when he first "ran away," using both his narration and notes from his adventures until the story comes back to winter and continues into spring.  All the while, Sam's story is on the verge of becoming a media frenzy. 

It's interesting to see the animals go from being animals, to tools for hunting, to substitutes for people.  When Sam encounters actual people camping, it's amusing to see him take on a teaching role as he simultaneously tries to ensure that no one will come to bring him back to NYC. 

I didn't really have a problem with it until the last few pages.  His entire family, tiny tots and all, come to live with him because his mother is sick of the neighbors talking about how she must not be a good mother.  First of all, you're from NYC. You don't interact with your neighbors.  Also, your son wanted to escape city living and now you're building a house in his environment and doing everything he hated.  And while that's responsible, that's also super annoying to the reader (or at least to me).  Anyway, this is the start of the series, so I'm assuming the next book, On the Far Side of the Mountain, addresses the problems Sam has with his family living with him. 

Because this book was published in 1959, long before children had microchips implanted in their arms, there are a lot of activities children could do with this book.  Comparing the media reactions of a child missing/running away in the 50s and today, discussing the technology that children would probably try to rely on if they ran away to live in the woods, researching the animal behavior explained in the book, and predicting what will happen in the remainder of the series are some that come to mind immediately. 

Mar 21, 2012

A Ball for Daisy

I love books without words; they're so much fun. You can have kids "read" to you what they see in the pictures without them feeling afraid that they're getting something wrong. I once had my then two-year-old cousin read me what I thought was a wordless book. She spent 12 minutes on one page that only included Elmo and his family in their kitchen. She felt daunted by the next page's inclusion of words, so I had to step in and read to her. Unfortunately, the written words didn't correspond to her creation of Elmo's wedding, and I wasn't creative enough to keep going with her story. #sadface

A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka just won the 2012 Caldecott Award.  I had recently read a picture book by him about a sardine becoming a sardine (for adults who like to laugh at morbid things in picture book form: me!), so I wanted to check out what his more child-friendly books were like.  A Ball for Daisy is precious.  The impressionistic illustrations are fun, energetic and I can't think of any other word but adorable. Seriously, the dog is so adorable. Look at her. Just go grab the book and look at Daisy. She's adorable.

Even without words, the illustrations are organized clearly to give a child a path for reading the story. Daisy is a fun, happy dog who loves playing with her red ball. Then it pops in the park and she's depressed until she gets a new ball.  So simple.  

Or maybe the story isn't that simple. Maybe Daisy is actually an evil dog. I don't know. But the kids reading the story will, and that's what matters.

Mar 20, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR List

I've seen this blog meme feature thing (that is in fact the technical term, little known fact) from The Broke and the Bookish around for awhile and I love lists so I don't know why I haven't joined this before.  Jumping on the bandwagon it is!

Top Ten Books on my Spring To Be Read List:

1. Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the Civil War, Steve Sheinkin
Yes I'm starting my list off with a nonfiction title.  I'm a NERD.  But I just heard about this author last night in class and his books sound amazing - they present history in a readable fashion. Humourous history. That's what I like.

2. Insurgent, Veronica Roth
I cannot wait for this book to come out.  I absolutely loved the first book in the series, Divergent, and I think I loved it more than the Hunger Games.  Yeah, I said it.  I'm just hoping that the sequel isn't a letdown because they usually are.

3. The Lying Game, Sara Shepard
I'll admit it. I thought the Pretty Little Liars series was completely ridiculous.  Of course, I loved it, or at least the 5 books that I've read so far.  So I want to try out Shepard's other series that she has going on to see if there's more hilarity to be found.

4. Insatiable, Meg Cabot.
It's been described to me as a book that makes fun of Twilight.  That's the only reason I need.

5. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
I own it, I've never read it, it's mentioned all the time.  I'd like to understand the references.  Ergo, I will read it.

6. Bunheads, Sophie Flack
I don't like ballet. I don't like doing it, I don't like watching it.  But there is always excellent drama/humor when it's used for plot purposes, so when I saw this on the new fiction shelf at my library, I immediately wanted to read it. 

7. Briar Rose, Jane Yolen
I'm all about fractured fairy tales and using well-known stories to tell new ones.  I just picked up a used copy of this book last week and I'm excited to finally read it.

8. Changeling, Philippa Gregory
Despite how the covers all look like cheap romance novels, I really enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl, and other books in the Tudor series, so I think I'll try this new series out too.  Yeah, I tend to like series if that wasn't obvious.

9. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon.
Another book people talk about all the time that I've yet to read.   It's on The List.  It's also another book crammed into my bookshelf that I need to reorganize into read and not-read sections.  Sigh.  I'm a book owning addict. 

10. The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
Seriously, I need to catch up on my series-reading.  This one is also on The List so it'll accomplish two things at once.  Plus, I love mythology so I already know that I'll love this series. 

Mar 15, 2012

#TheList, No. 843: Sounder

Here's a hint: if you're not a fan of uber sad stories and you see a children's book with a dog on the cover, don't pick it up.  Don't do it.  Nine times out of ten, that dog is going to die.  And it isn't going to go easily.  Oh no.  That dog is going to die in the most heart-wrenching way possible.  And sometimes that dog will fake you out and stay alive, but then die once you let your guard down.

Spoiler alert: That's what happens in William Armstrong's Sounder, an insanely depressing children's novel about an African American family in the 1950s.  So yes, there's racism, poverty, and a dead dog. 

A young boy's family is poor, and relies on their dog's hunting abilities (aside from the dog, the characters are unnamed).  Even then, they go hungry most of the time.  Consequently, the father steals meat from the town, is caught and arrested.  As the sheriff brings the father away, Sounder runs after them and gets shot. Right in the head.  Mind you, this all happens in the first 20 pages, so you think the sad part is over.  Oh no.

Sounder disappears into the woods to die, according to the mother.  Still the boy constantly searches for his beloved pet.  When the dog hobbles back of its own accord, weeks later, he's missing a leg and half of its head.  You will want to weep.  You might be on the T, surrounded by strangers who look at your oddly contorting face and try to stay strong.  Then the father comes back from working on the chain gang.  He's now disabled thanks to a blast of dynamite.  Oh my goodness the dog and the father parallel each other.  Just pour it on thick and pull on the heartstrings a little more, why don't you, Armstrong?

Challenge accepted he says! The boy starts going to school because he's always wanted to learn how to read.  With his new education and understanding of life and death, he's able to say goodbye to Sounder and his father, knowing that they will live on in his heart.  So then they both die for real, and the emotional roller coaster ends. 

If it's not clear yet, this isn't the happiest of books.  So if a kid comes up and says, hey give me a book that'll make me cry (and this request has been made to me many times), this will get the job done.  Aside from the tears, there's also a fairly good look at racism and economic standings of the mid-20th century.  I did think that the parallel between Sounder and the father was a bit heavy-handed, but sometimes children need to have things spelled out for them while they're learning to decipher literature.  The boy's connection and relationship with both Sounder and his father is the forefront of the story, but these race and financial elements underscore the action.  

In sum: if there's a dog on the cover, it's going to die, this book is horrifically depressing (though well-written),and it covers a good deal of history.  My apologies to the people on the T who saw my trying-not-to-cry face.

Mar 7, 2012

Glee Library Scenes

I tried to pick just one, but realized that the William McKinley High School Library is where it's happening for some pretty great times. Or maybe that's just how I feel.

1. "U Can't Touch This"
The New Directions members want to be cool. Being cool means breaking rules. What better way to break the rules than by causing a ruckus in the library? So some of the teens put on their best parachute pants (because why wouldn't teens from the 2000s own parachute pants) and kick it old school with a boombox on top of library tables. Only problem is, the librarian is clearly an MC Hammer fanatic (or I imagine her to be), falls in love with their song and dance number, and wants them to perform for her church. Whoops.

2. "Borderline/Open Your Heart"
Glee mashups are one of the few things the show can still do right. In this one, Finn and Rachel are not only completing their "Madonna assignment," but also fulfilling their role as season one's "will they or won't they" couple. This is fitting because Rachel was named after Rachel from Friends, and if there's anything Rachel from Friends could accomplish (aside from the best hair), it was the Ross and Rachel will they or won't they see-saw.  They sing to each other in the library, staring at each other through bookshelves. It's really quite adorable.

3. Rachel Researches Her Biological Parents
Glee isn't the most well-structured show.  Episodes are built around themes or songs, without much care for past occurrences.  In "Dream On," Rachel's biggest dream is suddenly to find out who her real parents are.  Never mind that in the first episode, we're told that one of her two dads is her biological father. No, Glee doesn't care much for the continuity. Anyway, due to her sudden desire, Rachel hits up the library to do some research and decides the only possibility is that Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin had a secret love child.  A lot of people dream that their real parents are kings and queens, so why wouldn't she believe her parents are Broadway royalty? 

4. "Smile"
This is one of the sadder scenes of Glee.  Set to one of the greatest songs ever, "Smile" (the Charlie Chaplin one, not the Lily Allen one), the Glee Club finally poses for their yearbook picture. Then we see clips of the football team in the library immediately drawing on their picture, because everyone knows that the losers' pictures are always defaced and the biggest losers are in Glee Club.  Sigh. Ruined faces and defaced books. So sad.

Are there any other Glee library scenes that you like?

Mar 2, 2012


If you're having Hunger Games withdrawals (Hunger Pains? no?) start reading Divergent, by Veronica Roth. Immediately.  Then start impatiently waiting for the sequel, Insurgent, to come out on May 1, like I'm doing right now.

Set in the near distant future (one of my favorite dystopia phrases), this world is split into five factions; each faction representing a human personality:

Abnegation - Selfless
Amity - Peaceful
Candor - Honest
Dauntless - Brave
Erudite - Intelligent

When people turn 16, they take an aptitude test to determine where they belong. Some initiates remain where they grew up, others transfer. They then must train and take an initiation test to completely belong to the faction. "Faction before family."

Beatrice, a member of the Abnegation Faction, knows that she's not where she belongs. But when she takes her aptitude test, her results place her into three different factions - she's Divergent. Apparently being divergent is a dangerous trait, causing her test proctor to delete it from the file and beg her to keep it a secret, with no explanation.  In fact, no one will tell her why being Divergent is a problem.  In additon to trying to find answers to her questions, Beatrice must decide where her future and loyalty lies, all while a war is quietly brewing between the factions.

It is SO GOOD. It's very similar to the Hunger Games (female protagonist who kicks ass, dystopian society is split up into different specialties, war), but different enough that it holds it's own against that series.   I'm really hoping that Insurgent is just as great.

You can take a quiz to find out what faction you'd join.  My result was Amity, which is accurate seeing as they're the Hufflepuffs of this series.