Little Women: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

We all have our favorite type of book. Personally,  I am drawn to those that make me feel more like myself after reading them. More often than not, these books are classics, and Little Women is no exception. Due to my fondness of this gorgeous novel, I had very high standards for the recent movie adaption, and am pleased to say that they were exceeded. Before we dive into my thoughts, please keep in mind that this post contains major spoilers for the Little Women novel and film—read on at your own risk!


It’s become common vernacular to call classics “timeless,” but modern adaptations are always a welcome reminder of the enduring themes found in these works. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy were catered to an audience from more than a century ago, yet we can still relate to and feel seen by the sisters’ personalities (Jo, here!). Many of the ideas expressed throughout are still relevant today as we grapple with similar roles and expectations. Try as I might, I don’t think there is room in this post to capture every wonderful thing about this adaptation. Instead, I’d like to focus on three main differences between the book and film.

The first of these changes is Greta Gerwig’s ingenious decision to create a fractured narrative of the original storyline. Instead of beginning on Christmas day with four little girls, we see four grown women already established in the world. If you’ve read the novel before seeing it in theaters, it was a bit jarring to be thrust in nearly three-quarters of the way through, but the purpose soon became apparent during the first flashback to the Gardiner’s party seven years early. This creates an interesting twist on the familiar story by starting with well-established women making their way in the world, and then going back to show their beginnings. It also allowed for some powerful juxtapositions, such as Beth’s heartbreaking death scene. To keep the storyline from getting too muddled along the way, the film follows two timelines: one starting in the winter of 1861, and one starting in the fall of 1868. Both timelines progress forward from their origin point.

The second of these changes involved Laurie’s relationship with Jo and Amy. Personally, I thought Amy and Laurie’s engagement in the novel was quite abrupt, and even went so far as to reread the book upon finishing to see if I had missed clues of their feelings for each other earlier on. By comparison, Amy is seen pining after Laurie throughout the entirety of the film, and even says that she’s loved him her entire life. I found this change refreshing, as it gave the viewer more insight into Amy’s character and better justified her actions.

This change did, however, have an interesting effect on Jo’s character. In keeping with the original story, Laurie proposes to Jo, and is rejected, but she later reflects that she might have been wrong to turn him down and goes on to write him a letter asking to marry him after all. The letter is never delivered, however, as Amy and Laurie return from France engaged, leaving Jo to frantically retrieve and destroy the letter. While this change did give the viewer more insight into Jo’s feelings (an Oscar-worthy speech delivered by Saoirse Ronan on gender roles and loneliness that still has us sobbing), it also painted Jo as being somewhat resentful of Amy’s relationship. 

Perhaps the most noteworthy change Gerwig made to the original storyline is the film’s ending. After Freidrich leaves for California, the family comes together to tell Jo that she loves him and needs to go after him. The scene suddenly cuts to Jo in the publishing house with Mr. Dashwood, with the former explaining that her character doesn’t get married, and the latter insisting that her book won’t sell if it doesn’t end with marriage. Jo reluctantly agrees, and the scene shifts to a (possibly fabricated) past where Jo confesses her love to Friedrich. The ending is open to the viewer’s interpretation: the first is a meta twist where Jo publishes her book, Little Women, and remains happily unmarried, and the other stays true to the novel’s conclusion, with Jo and Friedrich getting married and opening a school together. This dual-ending could reflect Alcott’s own life, or the story she would’ve chosen for Jo if she didn’t have to meet the demands of the time period, but still honors the book’s original ending. More so than this, however, it suggests that it is not the chief end and aim of the story to focus on whether or not Jo marries.

No adaptation is without its cuts, and while I mourn the loss of Jo’s disastrous dinner party and Beth’s kittens, this film did an admirable job of condensing nearly 800 pages into a two hour film while still including the best parts.


If you have already seen the movie and are interested in reading this book yourself, you can buy it from Changing Hand’s website here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Book Review

A Woman Alone: Travel Tales From Around The Globe

Publisher: Seal Press
Genre: Non-fiction, Travel
Pages: 302
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

What is it about a woman traveling alone that sparks such mystique? From the camaraderie of a “ladies compartment” on a train bound for Bombay, to one writer’s passion for the vulgarity of Las Vegas, A Woman Alone: Travel Tales From Around The Globe explores both the exotic, and not-so-exotic parts of the globe from the perspectives of solo female travelers.

Students, scorned lovers, and ex-nuns share their stimulating experiences while exploring both the good and bad that comes from hitting the road. These women writers recall forming unexpected friendships in Belize, saying “yes” to surprising suggestions in Paris, teaching in mountain villages in Bhutan, and battling feral dogs.

Edited by Faith Conlon, Ingrid Emerick, and Christina Henry De Tessan, A Woman Alone documents the freedom, exhilaration, and even the danger and loneliness that can come from traveling without a companion. Told by a diverse group of women, these twenty-nine true tales capture the essence of travel whether it be by plane, train, or camel. 

Thoughts

The allure of heading into the unknown will surely have readers of this collection pining for the thrill of whatever adventure might lie around the next corner. I know that I was left with a strong urge to strap on a backpack, grab my passport, and make a mad dash for the airport! Written in inspirational, bite-sized chunks, this book kept me entertained during my own daily travels. 

What I found impressive was the diversity of the writers’ backgrounds, and their even more diverse reasons for wanting to go solo. While immersing myself in their stories it was easy to discover some kindred spirits. 

This collection also raises questions—and provides enlightening answers—about cultural differences and the sometimes surprising ways in which we interact with each other. While the concept of women traveling alone has become more commonplace since this book’s publication date of 2001, A Woman Alone still has the power to inspire those to strike out on their own.

Book Review

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Publisher: Vintage
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 206
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

In her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison explores the undoing of a young black girl, Pecola, who cannot imagine herself as anything but ugly. The story is told by giving voice to members of the community as they experience Pecola’s story and by slowly unfolding the generational trauma done unto her family. Employing brilliant and beautiful language, Morrison explores the depths of poverty, sexual violence, cultural perception, and the vicious cycle of harm perpetuated by those who themselves are wounded.

Thoughts

From the first page, it is clear that Morrison has a power with her words that is unrivaled by most other writers. Equal parts poetic and challenging, this book has a way of slowly climbing back toward its central figure in the most gratifying ways possible. Even when exploring events that happened many years before Pecola’s birth, the book is always working to highlight another aspect of the harm that has been done unto her by her father and mother, her community, and herself.

While the subject matter is devastating, there is something that can be described as nothing less than joyful when reading Morrison’s work. Her deep vocabulary and creative license takes the reader far, and there is a sense that she is always in control. This, combined with the great empathy that pours out of this book for its characters, makes something that is spectacular to read and hard to put down.

If I had to say what my favorite part of reading this book was, I would say that it is the cast of characters that Morrison assembled to tell Pecola’s story. While what has happened to Pecola is enough to drive the novel all on its own, Morrison uses this instance to bring an entire community to life. In doing so, she paints a fuller picture of exactly what led Pecola to wander the streets muttering to herself.

While reading The Bluest Eye, it quickly became apparent why Morrison is so beloved. If you have not had the opportunity to read her work yet, there is no better time!    

4 Unlikely Literary Love Stories

With all things love floating in the air around Valentine’s day, it is easy to become inundated with the sappy baby-Cupid and chalky-candy-heart energy of the whole affair. Nothing is so quick to activate my cynicism than heart shaped boxes filled with mediocre chocolates and plastic roses garishly displayed in every store. For anyone who has truly experienced the gamut of emotions which accompany love, its vicissitudes more closely resemble a fiery inferno than the saccharine-sweet sentiments the Valentine’s cards would have us believe. There is as much pain in love as there is pleasure.

Still, we are all rushing towards this elusive state of being in earnest. There is no way to deny the magnetism of love. So, rather than turn a blind eye to love at this time of year, it might behoove us to look at things from a different angle. Perhaps a fresh perspective will remind us of just why we are all so obsessed, constantly searching for this thing called love.

By way of this notion, I offer some literary couples who break the mold, their bonds more closely resembling love in its true state. As Lysander tells Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” and these couples prove that. Though their undying devotion to one another remains intact, each of the couples follow an interesting and often twisted path towards love.


   

Marla Singer & Tyler Durden, Fight Club 

In Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel, the unnamed narrator (an insomniac with existential tendencies) meets and becomes obsessed with a woman named Marla Singer. It is at a meeting of a testicular cancer support group that the narrator first meets Marla. He is enraged that she would have the audacity to attend the support group, although he does not have testicular cancer himself. The narrator frequents different types of support groups in order to counteract his growing sense of ennui. Once he realizes that Marla has similar tendencies as himself, he cannot escape his growing interest, although he does not recognize it as affection. 

When Marla starts sleeping with his roommate Tyler Durden, the narrator’s obsession and irritation collide. Only through a surprising plot twist does the true shape of their love story become clear. As Marla states, “You love me. You hate me. You show me a sensitive side, then you turn into a total asshole.” He is both repelled by and drawn to Marla with equal fervor. Yet, it is with thoughts of Marla that he ends his narrative, promising a continuation of their anything-but-typical love story.


Lisbeth Salander & Mikael Blomkvist, Millennium (series) 

A love story that spans across several novels, the complicated relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael unfolds with as much passion and pain as any true romance often does. In the first book, the two are drawn together through the power of shared experience as well as a mutual tendency towards acting as social pariahs. When Lisbeth finally decides to accept and express her love for Mikael at the end of the book, it is only to see him with another woman. This causes Lisbeth to push away her feelings, and for the larger part of the second novel, the two communicate only in a distant and business-like manner. 

Through the impetus of another harrowing experience, Mikael must rescue Lisbeth from near-death, again forcing the two together through tragedy. This situational closeness continues in the third installment of the series, as Mikael and Lisbeth must face danger, the possible imprisonment of Salander, and major life changes together. Although they have continuously experienced separation, the third book closes with Mikael at Lisbeth’s door. Though they are both unsure, Lisbeth again welcomes him in, both to her home and to her heart. 


Celia Bowen & Marco Alisdair, The Night Circus 

Set in a fantastic and fairytale-like atmosphere, the love affair between Celia and Marco is equal in its intensity only by their inability to act upon it. The two are the pawns of powerful rival magicians, each tied to the magical Le Cirque des Reves and forced to use all of their abilities in an attempt to overcome one another. Although they cannot be together in any typical sense, the two are drawn to one another with a consuming passion. Each expresses their love through magical acts conjured to speak to the soul of the other, thus growing their bond from a forced distance.

Perhaps it is this very distance and the continual effort which it demands, that makes their love so perennial. Through the course of the novel it becomes clear that there can only be one winner in this dangerous competition, with the death of the loser as the inevitable outcome. Faced with Marco’s death, Celia risks herself to save him. The two are taken out of the physical world to become spirits, still tied to the circus, yet finally free from their bonds. As the book closes, the ghosts of Celia and Marco restore the devastated circus to its former splendor, ensuring that they will forever have a place where their love can endure. 


Lady Amalthea & Prince Lir, The Last Unicorn 

Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel focuses on a lonesome unicorn who sets out on a quest to find her sisters, despite the danger of a formidable enemy, the Red Bull. According to the tale, the Red Bull has driven all of her sisters into the sea, and keeps them prisoner there, at the whim of the cruel King Haggard. 

Along the way, the unicorn meets the failed magician Schmendrick and a nomad cook named Molly Grue who vow to help her with her quest. As the three get near Haggard’s castle, they come face to face with the Red Bull, and Schmendrick is forced to act quickly in order to save the unicorn’s life by turning her into a young woman, Lady Amalthea. 

At the castle, Lady Amalthea encounters Haggard’s adopted son, Prince Lir, who becomes hypnotized by the beauty and mystery of the Lady Amalthea, and pursues her although she shows him only indifference at first. Later in the quest, Lir sacrifices himself in an act of love to save the unicorn from the Red Bull. She, in turn, revives him from death with the touch of her horn. As the book closes, the two lovers are forced to separate, each returning to their own destiny. While they cannot ultimately be together, their souls have grown with the experience, and both are forever changed.    

4 Romances to Make You Fall in Love with Love

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and love is in the air! Whether you plan to celebrate with friends, family or a significant other, it’s a great day to remind people why you love them—and what better way to get into the spirit than with romantic novels? Here, I’ve compiled some of my favorite reads for Valentine’s Day that are sure to help even the most cynical fall in love with love.


The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks. This novel has always had a special place in my heart. It follows Ronnie Miller as she and her brother move to North Carolina to stay with their dad for the summer. However, ever since he left their family three years ago, Ronnie has held a grudge against him. She is an amazing musician with a scholarship to Julliard, but finds herself fighting that part of her because of the anger she holds towards her father. While in North Carolina, she meets Will who begins to thaw her heart. The more time she spends with him and learns about his family life, the more she learns to appreciate her own. It is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking story that beautifully captures the sweetness of new love, and the ups and downs of father-daughter relationships.


Me Before You – Jojo Moyes. Warning, this one is a real tear jerker, but, if this book doesn’t make you want to fall in love, I don’t know what will. The story follows Louisa Clark as she gets a job as a care-taker for a young man named Will Traynor. Will used to spend his time traveling the world doing every outdoor activity imaginable until he got in a motorcycle accident rendering him a quadriplegic. He’s been hardened by the accident and rarely interacts with people, but Louisa is determined to remind him how exciting life can be. The characters in this book are beautifully crafted and will truly leave a mark on your heart. The story is both sweet and heart-wrenching, the perfect mix for a Valentine’s Day read.

P.S. If you love this one, there’s two more in the trilogy!


Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan. On more upbeat note, this novel is both funny and heartwarming. Rachel Chu is a professor at NYU dating Nick Young. Nick’s childhood best friend is getting married in Singapore and Nick is set to be the best man. Rachel has never met Nick’s family and has no idea what she is getting into by agreeing to attend the wedding with him. She is thrown into the whirlwind that is royalty in Singapore and doesn’t really know how to react. While in Singapore she learns about her own past as well as Nick’s, leaving her with very important decisions to make about her future. This novel is a beautiful blend of humor, family strife, and love. Plus, it’s also a part of a trilogy!


The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger. This is another tear jerker that is totally worth it. It follows the love story of Clare and Henry as they try to maneuver through a life where Henry, essentially, time travels. He is diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder, which causes him to spontaneously transfer to a different time period of his life. Despite the difficulties this creates, Clare loves him so deeply that she tries her best to live with it. This life style is constantly testing the strength of their love as the world seems to be against it. The story is captivating and stressful at times, making it a real page turner. It’s sure to put you in all the feels and is the perfect addition to any Valentine’s Day reading list.

Literary Event: Getting Published in Literary Journals Panel

Are you interested in getting published in a literary magazine? Are you looking for information about what editors are looking to publish? Head over to Desert Nights, Rising Stars Literary Fair for more information!

From 2:15 to 2:45 p.m. on February 22, editors from Superstition Review and Hayden’s Ferry Review (two ASU-based literary organizations) will provide helpful tips about submitting to literary journals. Editors in attendance include Rachel Hagerman (The Spellbinding Shelf‘s very own editor-in-chief!), Tess Prendergast, Lucas Selby, and Scott Daughtridge DeMer. They will share advice about contributing to the publishing world, and will also be available for questions and an individual follow-up at the conclusion of the panel.

For more information about this event, and to RSVP, click here.


Location: Front Lawn, Old Main, Arizona State University, 400 E. Tyler Mall, Tempe

Date: Saturday, February 22, 2020

Time: 2:15 to 2:45 p.m.

Book Review

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
Format: Hardback
Pages: 498
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

As with all good things, this story begins with a book. Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a mildly enthusiastic college student, is wandering through the shelves of his university library. He is searching, although he does not know what for, when he happens upon a book which is more than it seems. The book is old, unmarked and deliciously mysterious. Once Zachary begins to read, he cannot stop, because in its pages Zachary finds stories of pirates, and gatekeepers, and finally, himself.

The book describes the young man as he was in his childhood. It is a chronicle of a moment of magic when Zachary was offered passage into another world—a moment which he chose not to seize. The promise of the book is that this moment has not been lost, only postponed. It is this promise that propels Zachary through a painted doorway into a world full of wonder, a world in which a Starless Sea exists beneath the earth, on whose shores exist all the stories that ever were and that will ever be.

Thoughts

The Starless Sea is long-form love letter to books. It is collection of stories within stories, all neatly woven together with the thread of the main narrative, which the reader learns is yet another story in another book. There is some not so subtle subtext here concerning the nature of “Story,” and what that means to those who are passionate about it. In one of my favorite tangents, those who wish to protect and keep the treasures of the Starless Sea must pass a test in which they relate a story to a single person. Based on their performance they are deemed either worthy or not. This is an enticing prospect, and a call-to-arms of those (such as myself) that fancy themselves storytellers. Morgenstern blatantly states, if you do not love books, this one is not for you.

The powerful imagery immerses the reader in a magical reality outside of the mundane world. From the masquerade party where the attendees must dress as literary characters, to the underground quarters where any food you wish appears by means of an enchanted dumbwaiter, each scenario is finely crafted to enchant the lover of the unusual and fantastic. While there is little explanation as to the why of events, the richness that they offer renders this unnecessary. Why explain the realm of magic? The prose is lovely, full of metaphor, and unabashedly romantic.

For me, this books speaks with the voice of a kindred spirit. If the Reveurs of The Night Circus (Morgenstern’s first book) were my tribe, then this book is our destination. Were we all to go on a voyage, I am sure that we would set sail together on the Starless Sea. Of course, we would be traveling together on a boat crafted from heartwood of the Ancient Forest, with sails of silk woven from the hair of naiads and perfumed with the dew of night-blooming flowers. If this sounds like exactly the type of adventure that you would like to go on—one full of lovers, villains, and unlikely heroes—then this is the book for you. I would highly recommend it devotees of fantasy and bibliophiles alike. Curl up with a nice cup of tea and The Starless Sea and be prepare to be transported into a dream!

Literary Event: "How to Write a Love Letter"

Join Changing Hands Phoenix on Thursday, February 6 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. to learn about all the ways to write a love letter.

No one love letter looks the same—just as no one love looks the same either! Sit down with a drink from the First Draft Book Bar (which will offer extended Happy Hour prices to those who attend!) to learn from Amy Siverman and Deborah Sussman about how to write the perfect limerick, poem, or even prose letter to someone you adore.

Keep in mind this is a class, so you must register to attend. Here, I’ve linked more information, as well as where to register for the class. Don’t miss this—February is the month of love after all!


Location: Changing Hands Phoenix, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix
Date: Thursday, February 6, 2020
Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Price: $30 per person

Helpful Tip: Bring a notebook and pen/pencil or an electronic device for your love letter writing.

Register here.

Book Review

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Literary Fiction/ Historical Fiction
Pages: 224
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

In this novel, Whitehead examines the potential of youth and shows how corruption and injustice can so easily crush that potential. By all accounts, Elwood Curtis is a formidable young man—smart, curious, hardworking, and determined—he is even enrolled in college courses while he is still in high school. When Elwood is sent to the Nickel Academy for stealing a car to get to those classes, he finds that he will have to adapt to a harsh new reality if he wants to survive. Elwood discovers the strength to do so through his dedication to the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which has engrained a deep sense of moral justice within him. At Nickel, however, injustice is bred into the very fabric of the institution.

Thoughts

What most entranced me with this book is the way in which Whitehead masterfully intertwines personal history with the history of an institution. Many chapters of this novel start like the slow panning of a camera until it zooms in on the narrative focal point. No words are wasted, though at times it can feel to the reader as if they are far from the places that the book has previously taken them. Many times I did not think that what I was reading could have anything to do with the Nickel Academy, and then the book would whisper in my ear “trust me.”

I did not feel the full weight of this book’s emotional impact until the epilogue. When I closed the book’s final chapter I was ready to give it a four star rating because I felt somewhat confused and dissatisfied. I could not have felt more different when I turned the final page of the novel. Hold on, this is an emotional and tumultuous ride worth seeing through to the very end.

Book Review

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero

Publisher: One World
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Sometimes, the only way to find yourself is to go back to your roots. In Crux, Jean Guerrero travels back four generations to understand her father, Marco Antonio, who has been absent most of her adolescence. She starts with her mother, Jeannette, and paternal grandmother, Abuelita Carolina, and proceeds to climb further up the family tree.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Marco sees sinister shadows that pursue him around the world when he tries to escape them by leaving his family behind.

Jean is shaped both by her mother’s unwavering dependability and her father’s desertion. She searches for answers in Mexico, her father’s birthplace, a country that holds as much enigma for her as an adult as it terrified her as a child.

Through a series of life-changing experiences, she finds herself at the edge of an age-old chasm and preparing for the crossing: the crossing across country borders, the crossing into lunacy, the crossing between life and death—amalgamated into one flickering fence.

Thoughts

Stretching as far back as the Spanish invasion of Mexico, it is a memoir that reads like a novel owing to the poetic symmetry of the events and characters. Guerrero captures quite a few of her unique experiences in this book along with an element of mysticism—presented with a commendably unbiased view.

Crux is clearly a product of meticulous research and a highly perceptive mind. It uses interviews and historic documents among others as its sources. The compilation of these into a coherent narrative could not have been easy, as first-hand accounts of the family’s lives in or before the early twentieth century were hard to come by. It is a fascinating read and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in human psychology and/or ancient philosophy.


Thanks to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.