From page to screen

Pride and PrejudiceAll book lovers, everywhere, will have experienced on at least one occasion the immense frustration of watching a TV or big screen adaptation of a classic novel fail to do justice to the original.

But sometimes, one such adaption comes along that well and truly bucks the trend. Today marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a novel that has enjoyed enduring popularity and continues to inspire countless adaptations on screen.

The majority of the time, I would fall firmly on the ‘books are best’ side. However, sometimes TV adaptations can prove particularly effective in making classic literature a bit more accessible and slightly less daunting. I know first-hand that having to study literature at school can sometimes have an adverse effect, probably from having to analyze novels rather than just being able to sit and enjoy them. As a result, I’ve got a shelf of novels that I always think I should read – The Moonstone, Middlemarch, and North and South just to name a few – but that always somehow seem to get passed over in favour of modern fiction.

TV and film adaptations take classic novels from the schoolroom desk to the living room sofa, The Paradiseand maybe after watching an adaptation or two some people might be inspired to go and read a classic for themselves?

A recent Radio Times poll (here) voted the BBC’s 1995 TV mini-series was voted the best ever adaption of Jane Austen’s classic novel, which is probably down to the now infamous lake scene involving Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy! But it’s not only Austen that translated well from page to screen. From The Paradise, based on Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames, to Brideshead Revisited and the BBC’s Sherlock, it’s clear that literary dramas are here to stay

Everyone’s got a favourite adaption – so if there are any good ones you’d recommend, let me know!

Judging a book by its cover

The saying goes that you should never judge a book by its cover. However, in my experience, a book’s cover can reveal a lot about its contents and can be instrumental in its success.

It’s been reported that on average, it takes us only seven seconds to subconsciously judge a new acquaintance. Which leads to the question, why should it prove anything different with books?

I for one confess to doing this on a regular basis. If a book doesn’t feel right when I pick it up, the style of text doesn’t appeal or the image doesn’t draw me in, I’m immediately prejudiced against it. In fact, there’s a whole shelf of unread books from my to-be-read list sitting on my bookshelf that I continue to pass over for others.

It’s not just me that feels this way. Take Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat for example. Read the reviews and it’s clear that bloggers and critics everywhere have very different opinions of this novel, but one thing that’s generally agreed upon is that the cover is truly lovely. Some even state it as their reason for buying the book in the first place.

The thick matt finish and the raised embossed print create a tactile finish to the book and distinguish it from its competitors on the shelf. The author and title are clearly displayed and the dark, stormy cover image visibly hints at the subject matter addressed within its pages. The blurb effectively summarises the plot and provide a degree of intrigue, as do the testimonials from respected industry critics and authors.

There’s no way around it. The cover of a book is the first thing we see and in my experience as a reader, a good design can be a massive influence on a reader’s initial reaction to a book. In a world that’s increasingly moving towards the Internet, e-readers and the such like, this is arguably more important than ever. Anyone can download a book from the Kindle store, but if a cover is beautiful and interesting then – just maybe – more people will invest into a physical copy.

But although a good cover design is important, it’s what’s inside that counts the most. A great story that generates great reviews and a good social media buzz is always going to do well!

A review of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’

Set in 1960’s Nigeria, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun gives a heartbreaking and moving account of civil war from the points of view of a group of people experiencing conflict in a very different ways.

The reader experiences the Nigerian Civil War through the eyes of Olanna, a privileged and educated young woman, Ugwu, a houseboy for a university, and Richard, a white Englishman living in Nigeria. The lives of these three central characters, each of whom effectively represent different social, economic and ethnic groups, are intrinsically linked, although the horrors of war will tear them apart and test their loyalties to the limits

Before reading Half of a Yellow Sun, I have to admit I knew very little about Nigerian history and culture. I actually took a break after the first few chapters to research the country as well as its languages and its politics. This massively increased my understanding and made it much easier to concentrate on the main plot.

I’m only ashamed that I knew so little about the conflict in the first place!

The novel doesn’t shirk on details or shy back from difficult or controversial topics. The thread of the story that follows Ugwu in particular was one that I found actually quite hard to read. That said, I was utterly gripped from page one. I really empathized with all the characters and couldn’t stop imagining how I would react if I found myself in a similar situation.

The author writes beautifully and communicates strong, recognizable and very real emotions through simple and seemingly effortless prose. I haven’t read any other books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie but I definitely will in the future, and I wouldn’t hesitate to whole-heartedly recommend Half of a Yellow Sun to anyone.

A review of ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus

Sometimes when you pick up a book you just know that you’re not going to be able to put it down. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was one such book for me.

Essentially, the novel tells the story of two competing magicians and their protégé’s Celia and Marco. Against the backdrop of Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams) these two trainees are pitted against each other in an elaborate challenge that spans years and binds the two young protagonists together in more ways than one. Competing to out-do each other with displays of increasingly brilliant magic, neither Celia nor Marco know how or when the contest will end. All they know is that there can only be one winner.

The circus, with its wonderfully individual and meticulously described signature clock and its individual tents with fantastical names like the Pool of Tears, appeals to all the senses. Every detail is recorded with such brilliant imagination and detail that the reader is transported there through the pages. Add to that the fact that the circus only appears at night, and the whole book feels as if you’ve entered a magical (quite literally!) dream world. In the end, the circus itself is central to the survival of Celia and Marcus, who battle to save their love against all odds and against the will of magic itself.

I’m actually jealous of all those who have yet to read this as I’d love to do it all over again. I’ve been searching for another book like this but as yet I’ve been running up against a brick wall. Any suggestions from other Erin Morgenstern lovers would be more than welcomed!

100 Books in a Year Reading Challenge 2013

This year, I’m planning on joining in with Book Chick City’s mammoth reading task – more details can be found here  – to read 100 books in 2013. That’s on average over 8 books a month, which if I was on holiday by a pool all year I’d have no problem with. However, fitting this round work and other time commitments might make for more of a challenge! Still, I’m going to give it my best shot.

Hot on my wish list at the moment are The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Elijah’s Mermaid by Essie Fox, The Nightmare by Lars Keplar and A Small Circus by Hans Fallada. I’ll probably try and slot some classics in there along the way as well. Anna Karenina has been on my list for a while as has War and Peace, but given the time frame allowed that might have to wait a while yet!

If you’d like to join in, click on the link above. The rules are simple. Any 100 books from 1st January 2013 – 31st December 2013. I’ll be sure to post regular updates of my progress!