Reflection 4 – What I Learned

Well, here I am. Writing the last piece that I will be submitting to my book blog, at least for my SASAH experiential learning credit. I have to admit that I am both relieved and sad to be done, since this is something that I have worked on for a year, reading ten books and critiquing them alongside completing all of the work for my other classes and studying abroad in England. At times, the blog has been a pain, while I struggle to meet self-imposed deadlines for probably the first time in my life, and other times it has been a relief, a great excuse to read something that I chose for myself instead of something that a professor or lecturer has chosen for me. And even though something that was only supposed to take one semester ended up taking the full year, I am actually glad that it did. It took some extra will power to complete once I moved to the United Kingdom, but I am proud of myself for doing it and making my blog what I really wanted it to be, back when I was just in the first stages of brainstorming.

For the first time, I was writing not only for my professor, but for–potentially–a much larger audience. At first, this fact made me so nervous. My thoughts and opinions would be on the internet for anyone to see and criticize. I shared each of my posts on my Facebook page, where family, friends, and acquaintances could possibly read them, and using WordPress, I tagged each post, making it easier for complete strangers to find them. After a while, I became less self-conscious about this and instead got excited whenever I posted a new critique, hoping someone would read it, enjoy it, and want to comment on whether they agreed or disagreed with my arguments. I did get some interaction and I definitely got a lot of support, which I am very grateful for. I have also become a lot more confident and am no longer nervous about my opinions being seen by anyone who happens to open up one of my reviews.

I am not yet sure if I will continue posting critiques in my free time or not, now that I am submitting my portfolio of ten reviews and four reflections to be graded. If I do, I know that I will be changing my format to make it simpler and less ‘academic’. Through critiquing novels from different genres and age groups I have realized that narrowing my focus to only a few aspects for each novel is more beneficial than trying to discuss every aspect of every book in every review I write. If I were to continue writing these reviews, I would only write about the parts I feel passionate about. I would eliminate (or at least cut down on) summarizing the story, because the target audience has probably already read the book, I would spend less time discussing things like genre and authorial writing style, and I probably wouldn’t use secondary sources aside from the novel I am discussing. This way, my reviews would get straight to the point of what I want to say, instead of being weighed down by me feeling like I need to address every little thing.

In this experience, I pushed myself to read and critique books inside and outside of my comfort zone. While I love young adult, it was refreshing and rewarding to delve into other age categories like middle-grade and adult. I also tried out unfamiliar genres, such as screenplay, memoir, and free verse poetry. Even within my preferred genre of fantasy, I learned that there are many different facets of the genre: epic high fantasy, paranormal fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy, etc. Now I can see how while some people can hate epic high fantasy because they have to suspend their disbelief, it is possible that those same people can love urban fantasy, because they can imagine it happening in the real world. Liking or disliking a genre is something that many people don’t question once they’ve made their decision on whether they like it or not, but I feel like now I can be more knowledgeable in giving people recommendations, catered to what that specific person likes to read about. Maybe I’ll even convince some people to consider genres that they had previously dismissed.

Something that I quickly realized was that because of my decision to include spoilers in my reviews, the amount of people able to read them would be smaller than if they were spoiler-free. I briefly considered trying not to include spoilers, but because of the way I enjoy discussing and critiquing novels, I decided to keep them. I did not feel like I could provide an honest, in-depth review without discussing how the novel ends, or the plot twist that I didn’t predict, or the character development that I thought was amazing. This is why I included my score out of ten in the “Quick Facts” section that I wrote at the beginning of every review, because then anyone who was curious could see in a quick and easy way what my overall opinion of the book was, without the worry of being spoiled. I have decided that I am okay with a smaller viewership, because that means I can explain my thoughts and opinions in the best way I can.

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to do something like this during my undergraduate degree. Being in English Literature at this level has not given me the opportunity to think about recently-published books in a critical way–until now. It took a course entirely focused on experiential learning and independent study to give me the chance to explore the way someone working in today’s publishing industry might look at a novel. For most of these books, I found something that I would change or improve, if I could. Hopefully, I can take this new skill, as well as the others that I have been working on throughout this experience, and continue to develop it, especially as I move into the professional realm of publishing and editing.

Thanks for reading!

-Hailey

Reflection 3 – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Book to Film Adaptation

 

Quick Facts:

  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Screenplay: Jane Goldman
  • Year: 2016
  • Main Actors:
    • Asa Butterfield as Jacob
    • Eva Green as Miss Peregrine
    • Samuel L. Jackson as Barron
    • Ella Purnell as Emma

*There are SPOILERS for the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children film and novel in this post!*

After reading Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I knew that I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on a more controversial topic in the world of readers: book to movie adaptations. There are so many differing opinions about the topic, such as whether someone should be happy or unhappy that one of their favourite books is being adapted, if the movie can ever be as good as the book, and how much liberty should the screenwriter and director be able to take with the author’s original story. Personally, when I hear that a book that I’ve read and really liked is being made into a film or a TV show, I tend to be optimistic that they will do a good job with the adaptation. I try to go into it thinking that there is no way the film will ever be as good as the book, but they will do their best to be true to the main plot. After seeing the adaptation, if I notice that it’s lacking important scenes or plot points from the novel but it includes scenes that have been invented by the screenwriter or director, I usually get pretty upset. Why waste time on unnecessary, invented scenes when you could have just used the ones from the novel? However, I do realize that there is only so much a film can do while a novel is only limited by the imagination of its author.

After researching the method of translating a novel into a film, I found that a lot of the problems that readers have with film adaptations are actually very typical of the genre. In “From Book to Film: Summary” by Lester Asheim, it is made very clear that even though a film is based on a novel, it does not mean that the film must stay loyal to it. The director and screenwriter can take liberties with the story in order to make it more understandable for a movie audience. Certain aspects of the book will be emphasized, while other aspects are toned down. In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, many of the strategies that Asheim mentions are put into place.

I admit that I definitely had high hopes for the film adaptation of Miss Peregrine, because it was directed by Tim Burton, and I thought that he would do a fantastic job with capturing the world and the peculiarities of the children. I was definitely correct about this, for the visuals of Miss Peregrine’s home and the surrounding area were both beautiful and fantastical, capturing the ‘magic’ of the place. The peculiarities were also showcased in the best ways, possibly in even more creative ways than in the novel (dare I say it). There was a distinct change in that Emma and Olive swapped peculiarities, with Emma now being the one as light as air and able to manipulate air and Olive now being able to manipulate fire. I actually really enjoyed this change and thought that it gave Emma, as more of a main character, a more active role since she had more opportunities to use her peculiarity. I do have to say, however, that it seems like Tim Burton and Jane Goldman took the last forty-five minutes of the film to kind-of just go crazy with the world. The ending was completely different from the novel and that really surprised me, since for more than half of the movie, it was a pretty spot-on adaptation.

There were quite a few differences between the book and the movie, some I liked and some I didn’t. In the book, we do not know the true identity of the wight that comes after Jacob, Miss Peregrine, and the other children. In the film, we know him as Barron, the leader of the wights. I think that giving him a clearer identity was probably the best move for the film, since it would help the audience understand his character better. Another change was that the romance between Jacob and Emma was given greater emphasis and actually made a lot more sense in the movie, although it did still feel like insta-love. Asheim says it is common that “the importance of the romantic love story is stressed to a greater extent in the film than in the novel” and this is due to romance plots being ingrained into audiences, who have come to expect it and who watch films, “seeking for romantic clues” (264). I believe that by the film leaving out how Jacob’s grandfather and Emma were in a relationship when they were younger, it made the relationship that Jacob and Emma develop a lot less strange.

Finally, I also loved the emphasis on Miss Peregrine’s ability to manipulate and understand time in the film. Miss Peregrine has created a time loop for them to live in, where they repeat the day of September 3rd, 1940 (1943 in the film) over and over again. Everything in the loop runs like clockwork and if it didn’t, a lot would go wrong. In a scene invented for the film, Emma tells Jacob that on the day the loop was created, a hollowgast came toward the house and tried to attack. Now that they have lived this day for many years, Miss Peregrine now knows exactly where and when she must kill the invisible monster, preventing it from causing any harm. Changes like these definitely make the story easier to understand, especially for the audience that has not read the novel first.

Unfortunately, not all of the changes were good ones, in my opinion. Tim Burton definitely exaggerated the “characterization, setting, and action beyond the norm presented in the novel, for purposes of more dramatic and sensational presentation” (Asheim 265). While his exaggeration was appreciated in some cases, for he made the characterization, setting, and action incredibly rich and developed, the entire conclusion of the film took this exaggeration too far. The completely new, alternate ending lacked substance and just seemed to be focused on the visual aspect of the monsters coming after the children and the children using their peculiarities to overcome them. To explain the characters’ motives to the audience, there is a conversation between Jacob and Emma where they say what their plan is and why. However, even after rewinding and re-watching this scene three times… I still didn’t understand it. They did not made the distinction between the past and present clear at all and this made their whole plan very confusing. In the end, the use of the children’s peculiarities was very visually stunning, but the whole scene still felt ridiculous. At one point there was an army of skeletons (animated by Enoch) fighting the hollows and it was just silly. There was a lot of comedy added to the movie that wasn’t in the novel and while I enjoyed it most of the time, I definitely did not for the last thirty minutes of the film, when I felt like I was just watching an absurd, undead circus act.

In the end, I found Tim Burton’s take on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to be a pretty average book to movie adaptation. I would give the first half of the movie a 10 out of 10 and the second half a 2 out of 10. But my overall final impression of the film is probably around a 7.5, because although the ending was fairly awful in comparison to the novel, I did enjoy the movie and most of the changes that Tim Burton and Jane Goldman made. I recommend this movie to anyone looking to watch something mildly creepy, with beautiful scenery, and some comedy thrown in for good measure.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Asheim, Lester. “From Book to Film: Summary.” The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, vol. 6, no. 3, 1952, pp. 258-273.

Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Quirk Books, 2011.

Reflection 2 -Critiquing a Middle-Grade Novel

*There are SPOILERS for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, New World: Rising, and Delirium in this post!*

While writing my review for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I realized that critiquing a book that is meant for children rather than for a mature audience was actually quite challenging. I found this ironic, because even though it is a ‘simpler’ book, I had more trouble discussing it than I did for my more ‘advanced’ reads. The root of the difficulty was that I realized I could not compare the quality of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the quality of any of the other books I’ve reviewed, because it just wouldn’t be fair. Of course New World: Rising has more detailed, unique characters than Dahl’s novel – in order for the former to be a successful young adult novel, Phoenix and Triven had to be much more complicated than the characters of Charlie Bucket or Willy Wonka. In middle-grade it is less about character development and more about having each character fill a necessary role in the story in order to send the author’s intended message. Further, the bad guys are just bad and that’s that. To compare, in young adult novels, the readers typically find out the reasons behind why the bad guys are acting the way that they are – the author actually gives them a motive.

The differences between MG and YA should not be overlooked. What an eight-year-old wants to (and should) read is very different from what an eighteen-year-old wants to (and should) read. The way a book concludes is an easy way to identify a middle-grade novel from a young adult novel, for “MG novels end on a hopeful note, while YA novels could have less optimistic endings . . . you could say that that’s youth vs. experience coming into play” (Lamba 9). I can attest to the truth of this statement, for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to a clean, easy happily ever after, with Charlie agreeing to inherit Wonka’s chocolate factory and saying, “We’re going to the most wonderful place in the world!” (Dahl 155). Meanwhile, Lauren Oliver’s Delirium (which I am reviewing this coming Thursday) ends with a cliffhanger *SPOILER ALERT* of the possible capture and/or death of a main character. In these cases, the simplistic ending was perfect for the middle-grade book and the complicated ending was right for the young adult book. A reader cannot say that one ending is better than the other just because one is more complicated.

Lamba also explains the different mindsets of the characters in each genre. In MG the “focus [is] on friends, family and the character’s immediate world and relationship to it; characters react to what happens to them, with minimal self-reflection” (4). While in YA, the “heroes discover how they fit in the world beyond their friends and family; they spend more time reflecting on what happens and analyzing the meaning of things” (Lamba 5). Charlie doesn’t give Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, or any of the other kids a second thought after they make their mistakes and have to leave the group, for he is busy continuing his own tour with Mr. Wonka. In contrast, New World: Rising’s Phoenix reflects on her parents’ deaths again and again and that is what turns her into a survivor.

The final major difference is the restrictions placed upon the respective age categories. MG must not “contain profanity, graphic violence or sexuality,” while in YA this is all allowable, except for eroticism (Lamba 4). MG books are more heavily criticized for their content because it up to the parents to buy the novel for their child, and so it must pass the parents’ ‘is this appropriate?’ quiz before the child can go anywhere near it. Some middle-grade novels are banned from school libraries due to restrictions like this. While young adult books can also be banned, the audience is old enough that they can read books without asking their parents’ permission. Adolescents can decide for themselves what they want to read, regardless of the level of appropriateness.

If I had measured Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the same scale that I have been measuring the YA books, I could not have given it the 10 out of 10 I believe it deserves. Due to its characters being much less developed and the plot and the conflict being so simplistic, I may have been forced to take points off of my rating. However, because it exists in a different age category from the rest of the novels, I can rate it without comparing it to anything else. This conclusion that I could think of Dahl’s novel in a completely separate category took a long time for me to come to terms with, because I do want my ratings to be fair. Eventually I realized that it would only be fair to give Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the rating it deserves within the limitations of its age category, and that rating is a very deserving ten.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Puffin Books, 1964.

Lamba, Marie, Guest Column. “The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs Young Adult.” The Writer’s Digest, http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-key-differences-between-middle-grade-vs-young-adult. Accessed 18 Dec. 2016.

Reflection 1 – “Reading” with an Audiobook

Instead of ‘actually reading’ Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park using the physical copy of the novel and my own eyes, I chose to use an audiobook so I could listen to it instead. I am a fan of audiobooks already; I love listening to them on drives, on walks, and while doing chores. I bought […]

*There are NO SPOILERS for Eleanor & Park in this post!*

Instead of ‘actually reading’ Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park using the physical copy of the novel and my own eyes, I chose to use an audiobook so I could listen to it instead. I am a fan of audiobooks already; I love listening to them on drives, on walks, and while doing chores. I bought Listening Library’s version, with Rebecca Lowman reading from Eleanor’s point of view and Sunil Malhotra reading from Park’s point of view. In my experience, the voice (or in this case, voices) of the narrator(s) will decide whether or not the audiobook will be a good one. If an audiobook is not listenable, I tend to give up on them very quickly. Eleanor’s cynicism and intelligence was captured perfectly by Lowman in her vocal inflections; I was able to imagine the character of Eleanor much easier by listening to her voice. Malhotra’s voice was less perfect for the character of Park, mostly due to it sounding like it was coming from a man that is definitely older than sixteen, but his voice was still very pleasant and smooth to listen to. Overall, Lowman and Malhotra did an excellent job in making the Eleanor & Park audiobook a very easy and enjoyable listening experience.

I often use audiobooks to help me read the more dense, uninteresting books that I am assigned in my university classes. I will download the audiobook, press play, and then proceed to clean my room or play a mindless game on my phone while I listen (I recommend the game ‘Dots’ for audiobook listening). This way, I am kept physically busy so I will not accidentally fall asleep (oops), and I am getting chores and homework done simultaneously. Now, I have told many people about this strategy of mine, and a response that I occasionally get is the question of whether or not using an audiobook is ‘cheating.’ My response is always, “DEFINITELY NOT!” because, as an example, I know that if I do not read the dense, boring book using an audiobook, I typically will not read the book at all, and taking in the story using an audiobook is obviously a much better option than the former. If I have to read a book that I am not at all interested in, I sometimes have a hard time forcing myself to open that book and read it. And often, when I do eventually start reading it, I fall asleep in minutes (university is hard, okay? I’m sleep deprived!). In using audiobooks, I believe that I retain the same amount of information that I would if I read the novel traditionally.

University of Virginia psychologist, Daniel Willingham, argues that if “you take the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology – that is, the mental processes involved – there is no real difference between listening to a book and reading it” (Dahl 2). Listening to an audiobook rather than reading the physical copy of a novel is something that should not be looked down upon, for either way the reader is taking in the story. Something unique about audiobooks, however, is that there is always the possibility that the author will choose to narrate their audiobook. This way, the reader or listener knows that they are “consuming the text the way the author intended it” (Dahl 9). When one reads a novel traditionally, there is always the chance of misinterpretation and mispronunciation. If the author is reading the book to you, however, one can be sure that he or she is using the right vocal inflections and pronunciations throughout the story, preventing the reader from making incorrect assumptions.

My only complaint with the Eleanor & Park audiobook is that sometimes the chapters are very short and the quick switches between Lowman and Malhotra’s voices were not always easy to follow. I was able to figure it out after re-listening to the section of the novel I was confused about, except for Chapter 47. In this case, I was unable to grasp the meaning of the chapter without opening the physical copy. Chapter 47 is told from Eleanor’s perspective, and reads, “Eleanor considered her options. 1,” and that is the end of the chapter (Rowell 280). Once I finally saw it written on the page, I was able to understand that because a list did not follow the number one, it meant that Eleanor couldn’t think of any options to remedy her situation. When listening to it, I thought my recording might have been damaged, causing me to lose the rest of the chapter and skip forward to the next. This showed me that although using audiobooks is not cheating, there are benefits and drawbacks of each format.

I have learned from this audiobook reading experience that not everything comes across perfectly to readers through just words and not everything comes across perfectly to readers just through listening. The best way to use these resources is to have them work together. One does not exclusively have to read traditionally or exclusively have to read in another kind of format, for using a mixture of words and sounds allows for a reader to take advantage of everything a novel has to offer. I plan to continue using audiobooks whenever I am in the mood for it, and to read traditionally whenever I am in the mood for that. There are no limits to reading, or to the way one reads, and that is one of my favourite parts about literature – how it can exist in so many different forms.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Dahl, Melissa. “As Far as Your Brain is Concerned, Audiobooks are Not ‘Cheating.’” Science of Us, New York Magazine, http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/08/listening-to-a-book-instead-of-reading-isnt-cheating.html. Accessed 18 Dec. 2016.

Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park. St. Martin’s Press, 2013.