READ THE 100

Blood Meridian: The Movie?

Revolover WoodcutAt first glance, it is somewhat surprising that a book like Blood Meridian, with so much critical acclaim, has yet to be made into a movie. After all, many of McCarthy’s other books have made the transition to the big screen. And these aren’t small film festival/art house productions. His credits include movies like The Road (starring Charlize Theron), No Country for Old Men directed by the Coen brothers (starring Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin), and All the Pretty Horses (directed by Billy Bob Thornton and starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz). Child of God is currently in post-production, scheduled for release in 2013. (Links go to the books, not the movies, sorry.)

But read Blood Meridian and you’ll understand how difficult it would be to translate this book into something movie-goers would want to see. First, with a few exceptions, westerns haven’t exactly been the genre of choice in Hollywood over the past thirty years. Add to that the unending violence—stuff that goes way beyond movies like Natural Born Killers or Kill Bill (both volumes). It would make a very depressing movie. And if it’s true to the book, the closest character to a protagonist, “the kid”, is likely to be killed (and possibly molested) at the end. Not exactly the kind of thing that sets ticket sales on fire.

If we were hiring a director for it, Quentin Tarantino would top the list.

That hasn’t stopped actor James Franco from at least toying with the idea. Last year he announced his intention to produce a film version of the book (along with an adaptation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying). But as this report in The Independent opines, “neither project seems likely to win the hearts of studio financiers”. We’re not financiers, but we’re inclined to agree.

Don’t look for Blood Meridian in theaters any time soon.

 

Books Mentioned in this Post:

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
Natural Born Killers (Screenplay) by Quentin Tarantino
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Picture credit: John Mejias from the very cool Six Versions of Blood Meridian, an art project based on the book.

Blood Meridian: A Nightmarish Read

“If God meant to interfere with the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now?”

—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

 

Vigilantes RidingIn 1975, ABC released a made-for-TV movie called Tales of Terror, based on three short stories by horror writer, Richard Matheson (probably most famous for writing I Am Legend). The last segment was based on the short story, Prey, about a small african Zuni doll with razor sharp teeth and a sword. As long as the statue had a gold chain draped around its neck, nothing happened. But if the chain comes off, the doll would come alive and viciously chase and attack the woman who owns it. She finally kills it by cooking it in the oven.

One television critic wrote about the movie saying, it “… is arguably the scariest piece ever crafted under the made-for-TV label.”

Having seen this movie as an eleven year old boy, up late and all alone, I can confirm that the critic was right.

To this day, I still remember it as the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.

I had nightmares that I was being attacked by a Zuni doll.

I slept on the floor next to my father’s bed for days.

Which is very similar to how I felt after reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

About half-way through the book, I woke up in a cold-sweat, having dreamed I was in the middle of an Apache massacre.

Honestly. This book gave me a nightmare.

Blood Meridian is a western, but it’s nothing like anything Louis L’Amour wrote. There are no homesteaders protecting their claims from railroad speculators. No marshals looking out for the poor widows in the town. No white-hatted heroes riding in to save the day.

Just a gang of wild men, tracking, chasing, and killing Apaches. And Mexicans. Then just about anybody else they could exploit and kill.

This book is incredibly violent. Gratuitous doesn’t begin to describe the massacres.

Here’s a very mild example of the kind of thing you’ll read—a conflict between two men named Jackson, one black, one white, about who could sit at a fire:

You aim to shoot me? said the black.
You don’t get your black ass away from this fire I’ll kill you graveyard dead.
He looked to where Glanton sat. Glanton watched him. He put the pipe in his mouth and rose and took up the apishamore and folded it over his arm.
Is that your final say?
Final as the judgment of God.
The black looked once more across the flames at Glanton and then moved away into the dark. The white man uncocked the revolver and placed it on the ground before him. Two of the others came back to the fire and stood uneasily. Jackson sat with his legs crossed. One hand lay in his lap and the other was outstretched on his knee holding a slender black cigarillo. The nearest man to him was Tobin and when the black stepped out of the darkness bearing the bowieknife in both hands like some instrument of ceremony Tobin started to rise. The white man looked up drunkenly and the black stepped forward and with a single stroke swapt off his head.
Two thick ropes of dark blood and two slender rose like snakes from the stump of his neck and arched hissing into the fire. The head rolled to the left and came to rest at the expriest’s feet where it lay with eyes aghast. Tobin jerked his foot away and rose and stepped back. The fire steamed and blackened and a gray cloud of smoke rose and the columnar arches of blood slowly subsided until just the neck bubbled gently like a stew and then that too was stilled. He was sat as before save headless, drenched in blood, the cigarillo still between his fingers, leaning toward the dark and smoking grotto in the flames where his life had gone.

Pretty grim stuff. And like I said, this is the tame part.

Literary critic (and Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University) Harold Bloom described this book as: “the major esthetic achievement of any living American writer.”

I just don’t see it.

That’s not to say that McCarthy isn’t a fantastic writer. He is.

And its not that Blood Meridian isn’t gripping. It is.

But this isn’t even McCarthy’s best book. No Country for Old Men tells a more compelling (and complex) story. The same is true of All the Pretty Horses. And the descriptions of the cold, hopeless landscapes in The Road are so real, it’s hard to read that book without reaching for a blanket.

I think Blood Meridian gets so much critical love for the very reason that it breaks all the stereotypes of the western and is so over-the-top violent, it is hard to ignore.

If you want attention break conventions, make people uncomfortable, be offensive.

Mission accomplished.

Which reminds me of another movie.

Shortly after seeing Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, I had a conversation with my mother about it. I said it was an excellent movie and that the pacing and dialog were great. And the writing was outstanding. But I also told her NOT to go see it. She would hate it. HATE IT. Under no circumstances should she see it. The foul language is over the top. And the movie is incredibly violent. She wouldn’t like the storyline. So of course, she immediately saw the movie and was appalled that I liked it.

That’s the way I feel about Blood Meridian. It’s a unique work of fiction. And well-writen. But it will offend.

It may even give you nightmares.

 

Media: Book (351 pages)
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

 

Books Mentioned in this Post:

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Prey (Nightmare at 20,000 Feet) by Richard Matheson
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
The Collected Stories of Louis L’Amour by Louis L’Amour
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

 

Fellow Travelers

Travelers at an InnI learned a long time ago (from years spent in advertising) that there are no original ideas.

This is especially true in advertising.

And it’s also true of the idea for READTHE100.

There are many who have gone before, although they are reading different lists of books.

What do others working through a list of the best books, have to say?

Check them out:

Robert Bruce at 101 Books.

Jason Pettus at the CCLaP 100.

Bryan at ReadingAllTimeNovels.

Matt Bowes at This Nerding Life.

Matthew Read at 1001BookstoReadBeforeYouDie.

TBM at The 50 Year Project.

Doug at Doug Reviews the Top 100 Novels.

Robby at Blogging the Canon.

All of these readers have been at this project longer than we have, so you’ll find plenty of great reviews on their sites.

Do you know any others that belong on our list?

If so, please tell us, so we can add them.

Literary Movies: Kim

Kim MovieThe story of Kim by Rudyard Kipling has been criticized by some for implication that the Indians were inferior to the British Raj. True enough, Kipling believed in the white man’s burden and the book is an artifact of its time.

But it has nothing on the movie that came 50 years later.

Casting Eroll Flynn as Mahbub Ali is nothing short of awesome (or ridiculous).

Paul Lukas as the Lama is terribly miscast. It’s not that he’s a bad actor, he just isn’t convincing as a Tibetian or a lama.

And I was surprised to see Kim was played by Dean Stockwell, whose acting career has spanned 70 years (Beverly Hills Cop 2, AirForce One, Manchurian Candidate).

The only Indians in the cast are children or bit-parts and props.

And despite the fact that the film was shot on location in Rajathstan and Uttar Pradesh, it feels like it was shot on primarily on a Hollywood sound stage (other than a few shots of the Khyber Pass).

Having said all of that, this movie is every bit as enjoyable as the book. Flynn is obviously having fun in his role. And Stockwell demonstrates his acting prowess even at that young age (it’s too bad the other child actors in the movie don’t have his skill).

The movie follows the plot of the book rather closely, starting with Kim’s begging and ending when he saves the day. And unlike the book, the movie is clear that Kim’s lama dies as he discovers the river he’s been searching for.

If you’re looking for authenticity or Indian actors, Kim isn’t a movie for you. But if you enjoyed the book and want to watch a somewhat dated, fun movie that even your kids will like (mine did), put Kim on your list.

 

Books Mentioned in this Post:

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Literary Geography: Gun of Zam Zamma

Kim's GunKim by Rudyard Kipling opens with the boy Kim sitting “astride the gun Zam Zamma”. It’s from his perch on the cannon that Kim first sees the lama he follows to the end of the story. Thanks to its prominent place in Kipling’s book, today it is often called Kim’s Gun.

The gun stands in front of the Lahore Museum in Pakistan, just as it did in Kipling’s day.

An inscription on the cannon calls it a “mighty fire dispensing dragon” which reportedly has led the term “zam zamma” to be used in the region as a somewhat admiring (or derogatory) term used to describe a man with considerable sexual prowess.

There are a lot of places on the subcontinent that I’d like to visit. And if I ever make it to Lahore, I’ll get a picture of me standing with Kim’s Gun.

Books Mentioned in this Post:

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Kim: The First-Ever Spy Novel?

“Something I owe to the soil that grew—
More to the life that fed—
But most to Allah who gave me two
Separate sides to my head.”
—Rudyard Kipling, Kim 

 

Rudyard Kipling's KimI love a good spy novel. My obsession started with James Bond—from Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and John Gardner’s Icebreaker to Sebastian Faulks’ Devil May Care and Jeffery Deaver’s Carte Blanche. And continued with dozens of others by Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Jeffery Archer, and Fredrick Forsythe. More recently, Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series has become a favorite. Silva is an excellent writer and his thrillers are gripping.

So when I picked up Kim by Rudyard Kipling and saw that it has been called “the first modern spy novel”, my interest was piqued.

Turns out that description is almost right.

Kim (published in 1901) is part spy novel, part travel narrative, and part coming of age story. All set during “The Great Game” in 1890s India.

Kimball O’Hara is an Irish orphan living in the streets of Lahore. He delivers messages for Mahbub Ali, a horse trader and an agent of the Secret Service. Because Kim speaks Punjabi, very few people know he is British. Kim befriends a Tibetian lama and becomes his disciple (chela). As he wanders with the lama searching for enlightenment and the River of the Arrow, Kim is discovered by men from his father’s Army regiment and is sent first to military school, then to learn trade craft from other spies.

Eventually, Kim is sent with a message to a spy named Huree who has been watching the Russians. Unfortunately, Kim finds Huree dead. Rather than give up, he ingeniously infiltrates the Russian’s camp and is able to steal maps and other papers and deliver them safely to the British. The book ends rather abruptly, as the lama finds his river and enlightenment. Is he alive or dead? It’s not exactly clear.

There is no doubt that espionage is one of the main themes of this book. However, most of Kim’s involvement is training for the game that is to come. The stuff that happens after the book ends. That’s not a complaint. This is a good read. But if you’re looking for intense, adrenalin pumping action, Kim is something else.

The other main theme of the book is the search for enlightenment. Yet even the lama seems to understand that the real world of “The Great Game” protects those who don’t pursue it, teaching Kim that a world where evil men are not slain would not be very good for “weaponless dreamers” like himself.

Whether Kipling intended it to or not, the two themes of this book seem to represent the conflicts within British India itself.

The thing that really stands out from this book is Kim. Unlike protagonists from other books on our list (boorish Rabbit Angstrom or whiny Will Ladislaw), Kim is an incurable optimist and a survivor. A very intelligent and adaptable boy who does what it takes to get ahead. He is a quick study and easily moves from his Indian persona to a British one. He is unfailingly faithful to his friends, whether it be Mahbub Ali, the lama, or even E23, a British spy he has only just met and helps escape danger by changing his appearance. Through it all, Kim is his own man.

But this book can be difficult to understand at times. As I read it, I would find myself suddenly asking what is going on? Then a few paragraphs later, it was all making sense again. Maybe that’s indicative of the way 1890s India was?

So is Kim a spy novel? Not really.

At least, it’s not the kind of book we would call a spy novel today. But Allen Dulles (the longest serving Director of the CIA) might disagree. One rumor has it he kept a copy of Kim on his nightstand.

 

Media: Audiobook and E-book (421 pages, print edition)
Rating: 3.5 Stars (out of 5)

 

Books Mentioned in this Post:

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Icebreaker by John Gardner
Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks
Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver
Gabriel Allon (series) by Daniel Silva
Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Literary Movies: Middlemarch

BBC MiddlemarshSo I admit it. Despite the fact that George Eliot’s Middlemarch has precious few manly characters and suffers from a long, drawn out story line, I actually liked the book. Sadly, the same can not be said for the Masterpiece Theatre Production.

It’s not like I was expecting explosions or car chases. I have read the book remember. But the 14-hour TV adaptation is simply too long and much too boring to sit through. In fact, just the first episode is too long.

About 10 minutes in, I turned away from the television and began re-organizing the books on my bookshelf. Seriously.

Good news! My bookshelf looks great.

As for the mini-series, meh. If you’re into long, drawn out, boring BBC mini-series full of womanly men wearing waist coats and top hats, you’ll probably like it. But it’s just not for me.

On the other hand, award-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) expressed interest in a big screen adaptation. There hasn’t been much talk about the film version in the past three years so the project may be dead. But a Middlemarch production in the style of American Beauty? I’m guessing plenty of men would be willing to see that.

 

Books Mentioned in this Post:

MiddleMarch by George Eliot

9 Words I Learned while Reading Middlemarch

DOne of the best parts of reading an e-book is that anytime I come across a word I don’t know, I simply tap the word and see the definition.

This doesn’t happen all that often.

But George Eliot clearly knew a lot of words I don’t use. She sent me to the dictionary a dozen times.

Most of these unfamiliar words have fallen out of use since the 1800s, so I suppose I have an excuse for my ignorance.

Here are 9 words I don’t remember knowing before I read Middlemarch:

Jackanapes. Noun: an impertinent person or a tame monkey. Applied to a person whose behavior resembled that of an ape.

Sedulously. Adverb: zealous.

Dithyrambs. Noun: a wild choral hymn of ancient Greece or a passionate or inflated speech or poem.

Postilion. Noun: the person who rides the leading left-hand horse or a team when there is no coachman.

Asservation. Noun: the solemn or emphatic definition or statement of something.

Energumen. Noun: a person believed to be possessed by the devil.

Pertubation.  Noun: anxiety, mental unease.

Somnambulist. Noun: a sleepwalker. (I may have heard this one before as it is vaguely familiar, but I certainly don’t use it myself).

Recherchy. Adjective: Exotic, rare, or overblown.

I did recognize a few dozen other words that have fallen out of use and perhaps shouldn’t have: dastard, burthen, dowager, fop, for example.

But hats off to you Ms. Eliot and your use of the entire dictionary.

 

Books Mentioned in this Post:

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch: Where Are The Men?

“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”
—George Eliot, Middlemarch

 

George ElliotSpoiler alert: this review may reveal some plot points, though knowing them probably won’t detract from your reading of the book.

I admit it. I’m not a big fan of Victorian literature.

You can keep your Sense and SensibilityWuthering Heights could have benefitted from additional wuthering. And then there’s Middlemarch.

A book without a single man. Not one.

Okay, that’s not exactly true.

There’s one scene near the beginning of the book where a group of field workers run two railroad surveyors off an estate.

But that’s it.

The manliest thing about this book is the author’s pen name—George Eliot.

And she was a woman.

It’s not that there aren’t characters with XY chromosomes. There are. But the y’s are all lower-case.

There’s Will Ladislaw, who lives off his uncle’s charity, and spends a good portion of the book lounging in Rosamond Lydgate’s parlor.

There’s Camden Farebrother who loves Mary Garth, but won’t do anything about it.

There’s Fred Vincy who, in his late 20s asks Camden to talk with Mary, whom he also loves, to find out if she will allow him to woo her. (Who knew Victorian England was so much like seventh grade?)

There’s Arthur Brooke, who is a silly old man with zero influence over his nieces.

There’s Tertius Lydgate who is so deep in dept, he must sell the family’s furniture but can’t bring himself to tell his wife because it will upset her. When he runs into trouble at the hospital, he spends weeks unable to talk to her, while she hears it all behind his back from neighbors who assume the worst.

Finally, there’s Bullstrode, who, having had his reputation ruined by John Raffles can’t manage the courage to get rid of him, and instead allows a nurse to do his dirty work.

Not a man among them.

Too many of them cry. And not just once or twice.

This book could benefit from a dose of testosterone. Or guts.

But maybe that’s the way life was among the gentry in 1830s England. And why women tend to love these “especially long, boring books” as one notorious critic called them.

Fortunately, the author makes up for the lack of men with some of the longest sentences I can remember ever reading. Like this one:

“Plainness has its peculiar temptations and vices quite as much as beauty; it is apt either to feign amiability, or not feigning it, to show all the repulsiveness of discontent: at any rate, to be called an ugly thing in contrast with that lovely creature your companion, is apt to produce some effect beyond a sense of fine veracity and fitness in the phrase.”

And this:

“It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self–never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.”

Try diagramming those, English major.

It’s no wonder some people dislike Middlemarch. Some rather intensely.

A page-turner, this is not.

But as much as I wanted to hate this book, I didn’t. In fact, by the end I kind of liked it.

Not as much as Virginia Woolf, who said Middlemarch was “one of the few English novels written for grown-ups.” But compared to many of the other long, boring books that the BBC likes to turn into long, boring miniseries, this one isn’t too bad.

Which is saying a lot for this man.

 

Media: E-book, 904 pages (print edition)
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)

 

Books Mentioned in this Post:

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Middlemarch by George Eliot

Literary Movies: Rabbit, Run

Rabbit, Run Movie PosterI didn’t enjoy my experience reading Rabbit, Run by John Updike. It’s a novel with very little to say and it spends way too much time saying it.

So it makes complete sense that Hollywood made it into a movie.

The 1970 film stars James Cann as Rabbit and Carrie Snodgrass as Janice. (Snodgrass also played Sarah Wheeler in one of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies, Pale Rider.)

I have not seen this movie. It doesn’t appear to be in high rotation at the local Blockbuster, or NetFlix for that matter. But if the adaptation is anything close to literal, it’s not likely to be very enjoyable.

I do, on the other hand, like the movie poster.

 

Books Mentioned in this Post:

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

About READ THE 100

READ THE 100 is a reading project in which we read all of the books from our list of 100 best novels, then write about the experience. No book reports, just a few thoughts about the author, story, and style. Or, in the case of anything by
E. M. Forster, how dreadful the experience was.

  See the list here.

  Read our methodology here.

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