4 Modern Movies Adapted from Classics

Some stories are evergreen. They are told and retold in new ways, through new media. They are as relevant today as they ever were. Four of the most popular movie adaptations of well-known classics are listed below.

CluelessJane Austen’s Emma is about the eponymous heroine’s knack for matchmaking and keen eye for finding the perfect partner for everyone but herself. In its 1995 adaptation, Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone, Cher is a poised teenager who is on the top rung of the social ladder in her high school, like Emma Woodhouse is in her village, Highbury. Having made two successful matches, Cher and her best friend Dionne (played by Stacey Dash) decide to take the newly arrived Tai Frasier (Brittany Murphy) under their wing. All goes well until Cher misreads a situation and Tai gets her heart broken. The resident cupid of Bronson Alcott High School makes a few surprising discoveries about her own feelings and, for the first time in her perfectly organized life, loses her composure.


10 Things I Hate About YouThis is adapted from the Shakespearean comedy, The Taming of the Shrew. Julia Stiles plays Kat Stratford, the present-day version of the infamous Katherina. The movie gives her a much deeper personality than the original. She is headstrong, cynical, and independent in a generally “unfeminine” way, which, of course, makes her undesirable to most men—especially in contrast with her affable sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). But Kat is far from a shrew, and the movie deserves credit for voicing her opinions and not stuffing her into the “difficult women” drawer. Patrick, played by the legendary Heath Ledger, is a refreshing upgrade from Petruchio as he makes no attempt to “tame” Kat. It’s a delight to watch the two find their way into each other’s hearts.


Bridget Jones’ DiaryThe movie is based on a novel of the same name by Helen Fielding, which is inspired by the beloved classic Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Bridget Jones, played by Renee Zellweger, is the modern-day reincarnation of Elizabeth Bennet, with the same characteristic wit and tendency to get herself into awkward situations from which she needs to be extricated by her friends, who are her lifeline for surviving single life in London. Much like the Bennets, Bridget’s family, especially her mother, never fails to mortify her in public gatherings. Love seems a baffling mystery as Bridget trudges through heartbreak and disappointment and finds resonance in unexpected places.


She’s the ManAlso adapted from a Shakespearean comedy, Twelfth Night, this hilarious movie features Amanda Bynes as Viola who, after a humiliating fight with her boyfriend on the soccer field at school, goes to her brother Sebastian’s (James Kirk) private school, disguised as him, to cover for Sebastian while he goes to London to play music, his true passion. Viola, posing as Sebastian, gets an attractive new roommate in the form of Duke (played by Channing Tatum), and rises to become the star soccer player of the school with Duke’s help. Amidst a few secret crushes and a lot of confusion resulting from Viola hastily switching between her aliases, the day of the game against her old school arrives.

The Heroines of Olympus

In 2005, Rick Riordan had the brilliant idea to write about a fantastical universe where ancient Greek mythical characters are “alive and kicking.” However, the gods have adapted to the growth of civilization and developed some new characteristics: Dionysus, god of wine, is on withdrawal and drinks nothing but Diet Coke. He is unhappily in charge of a summer camp for demigods, children of gods and mortals. Mount Olympus, home of the gods, is perched atop the Empire State Building (invisible to mortal eyes), which, of course, means that the entrance to the Underworld, land of the dead, is in L.A.

Growing up as a Riordan fan, I developed a keen interest in Greek and Egyptian mythology. But, as enraptured as I was with his three series—Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus (a spin-off of PJO) and The Kane Chronicles—I couldn’t help but notice a pattern in his character sketches that really bothered me.

No one can deny that Riordan has created some very powerful female characters. He places fierce warriors like Annabeth Chase and Clarisse La Rue on the frontline in battle scenes. His depiction of Artemis, goddess of the moon, and her immortal troupe of maiden hunters (who have swapped their tunics for camo pants and combat boots) is bordering on reverent. But he also, maybe inadvertently, puts down several female characters who are traditionally more feminine—Aphrodite, goddess of love, is portrayed as an affected diva who likes to meddle in people’s love lives. Most of her demigod children are vain and have skills that are of little use to Camp Half-Blood, and their cabin is described as “decorated like a Barbie house” where “supermodels go to die.” The final insult comes in the form of her daughter, Piper McLean, who is revolted to find out her godly parentage.

This demonization of femininity is not unique to Riordan. Many male authors find the need to create heroines who are unmistakably “tomboyish,” and who despise all things pale pink or frilly. Although the intent behind this is to empower these characters and, consecutively, the preadolescent girls who idolize them, it is inherently sexist because it assumes that femininity is weak. I can’t stress enough how damaging a message like this is to a young girl’s psyche—finding your identity as a teenager is confusing enough as it is. Adding to it, characters like Piper McLean, who has a huge “not-like-other-girls” complex, shame young girls with naturally feminine tastes. It also suggests to young boys that women who don’t show outward toughness somehow deserve less respect and are, therefore, at the mercy of the men in their world.

To Riordan’s credit, however, the vilification seems to reach its peak with Piper. Sadie Kane, who first appeared in 2010 in The Red Pyramid, the first book in The Kane Chronicles series, is more realistic. At twelve, she is moody, chews a lot of gum and wears combat boots. But she also wears a chic dress and light makeup to her school dance. She is much closer to the idea of a real adolescent girl than most of the heroines in the other two series because her personality grows and changes substantially through the series. More importantly, she’s respectful of other people’s tastes, even when they don’t match her own.

Despite giving the impression that they were all initially built from the same mold, Riordan’s heroines are inspirational to say the least. In the world of Greek mythology, which is the definition of a patriarchy, the idea of female heroes who go on quests with their male peers as equals is a novelty that the heroes take in their stride. The three series also address issues like racism and homophobia, which is rare for young adult fiction published around the same time. As a loyal reader who stuck with Annabeth and Sadie and their respective gangs till the very end, I hope to see more strong women with diverse personalities on the pages of Riordan’s future books.

3 Books You Should Read before You’re Thirteen

Whether or not you’re a nostalgic person, you will never forget your favorite books growing up. Your taste in literature may change, along with your reading habits, but the books you read when you’re young are imprinted in your brain forever. Here are a couple books I read and re-read through middle school, along with one I wish I had read before my teenage years.


What Katy DidSarah Chauncey Woolsey. In college, Sarah Chauncey Woolsey wrote this charming novel under the pen name of Susan Coolidge. It follows Katy Carr, a twelve-year-old daydreamer, into adolescence. As the oldest of six children who lost their mother years ago, she is constantly expected to set an example to her younger siblings, which she often fails to do, but not for lack of enthusiasm. She is reminded of this frequently by her father, Dr. Carr, and Aunt Izzie, a strict disciplinarian who has been raising the children since their mother died. Aunt Izzie’s general disapproval of her only adds to Katy’s disappointment at being “all legs and elbows, and angles and joints.”

Among the many relationships that the book explores, a notable one is the strong bond between Katy and her sister Clover, second oldest of the Carr siblings. Shy, soft-spoken Clover complements Katy’s wild, whimsical nature. Katy doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do when she grows up, but she’s sure it will be something marvelous, and Clover faithfully agrees. Through the countless escapades, Katy grows on you with her wit and artlessness. It is a heartwarming story filled with colorful characters with interesting turns in the plot.


Black BeautyAnna Sewell. This famous autobiography of a horse personifies a handsome black stallion with a white star on his forehead. He begins at his dewy days as a foal on a farm. After he is broken in, he is bought by the village squire. Here he meets a few other horses, some of whom, he realizes, have not been as well-treated as he has. As he grows older, he moves from the countryside to the city, and has a diverse experience at the hands of several owners with varying temperaments. There are instances of animal cruelty in the book that give you the victim’s perspective on the subject.

The theme of empathy towards animals and their reciprocation to it is prominent throughout the book. When Black Beauty describes how uncomfortable it is to wear a bit, and how his first owner takes great care to make sure his breaking in is as comfortable as it can get, his affection for the farmer becomes prominent. Later, he grows to love his first ever groom, John. Black Beauty is the first popular novel to change the way we look at animal welfare, and is a classic for all ages.


Anne of Green GablesL.M. Montgomery. The novel is set in the picturesque, fictional town of Avonlea where life is uneventful until the Cuthberts decide to adopt a boy from an orphanage to help around the farm. Matthew and his sister, Marilla Cuthbert, live in Green Gables, a house on the edge of the woods. When Matthew goes to receive the boy at the station, he is in for a surprise. A fortunate miscommunication brings Anne to Green Gables, which her extraordinarily imaginative mind transforms into something out of a fairy tale—something she frequently does with places and things. The only thing she can’t seem to improve with imagination is her red hair, which she hates.

Through many adventures and misadventures with her “bosom friend,” Diana Barry, and other assorted characters over the course of four years, Anne becomes irreplaceable in the hearts of her family and friends in Avonlea. Although Anne sounds mature for her age when she speaks, mostly because she uses long words, her naeïvete appears every now and then when she gets into scrapes, or when she tries to deal with the awkwardness of entering adolescence. Reading this book is a luxurious experience, full of eloquent descriptions of the most mundane things transformed into something exotic and beautiful through Anne’s eyes.

Book Review

The Cheapest Nights: A Collection of Short Stories by Yusuf Idris, Translated by Wadida Wassef

Publisher: Penguin Classics
Genre: Short stories, satire
Pages: 181
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars





Published in Egypt in 1954, this collection of short stories captures glimpses of the lives of the Egyptian lower class, most of them based in Cairo. This compilation, which is to be published on June 9, includes a few stories from Idris’s other collections as well. Here, I’ve shared my thoughts on the three stories I found the most remarkable.

Summaries

The Dregs of the City —It all begins when Judge Abdallah loses his wristwatch. Being a textbook introvert and a man of routine, this minor inconvenience sends him into an introspective spiral where he contemplates his social awkwardness and general lack of success with women. But, he must find a wife before he is thirty-five (few aspects of his life are left unscheduled), so he doesn’t give up.

The narrative describes Abdallah’s misadventures with women in a jesting, almost O Henry-esque tone until it takes a sudden turn and we meet the dark side of the man that polite society knows as Judge Abdallah—a morally bankrupt person with no shortage of enthusiasm in judging others for faults in character, especially women. The story depicts in unapologetic detail the carnal urge to abuse one’s power that lurks in the best of us, and the pain of living with oneself after it’s been done.


Did You Have to Turn on the Light, Li-Li? —A priest forgets to end the morning prayer and leaves rows of men bowed in prostration for a long time. This is eventually written off as a joke and added to the annals of the neighborhood. But the narrative reveals the real reason behind the Imam’s lapse.

It goes back to when a young Sheikh Abdel Al is appointed as the Imam of the mosque in Al Batiniyya, where the people are generally intoxicated on opium and hashish throughout the day and go to bed at dawn, when he calls for prayer. But his real test appears in the form of temptation: a woman. When we covet something that we have no right to, we tend to blame ourselves less than we blame the thing itself. The story stealthily underlines that.

Having remained chaste and above impulses all his life, he sees her as the devil incarnate, even as he is drawn to her. Suddenly, he is very aware of his mortal flesh with all its weaknesses. He prays for divine intervention so that he may remain worthy of his position. His deliverance comes in a wave of poetic irony.


The Errand —In his youth, El Shabrawi traversed the length and breadth of Cairo as a city cop. But in recent years, he has been stationed out of town and he would give his life—his words—to go back to the city, if only for an hour. As luck would have it, a woman of unstable mental disposition is brought into the police station one day by her relatives and the need arises for a chaperone to take her to the asylum in Cairo. Predictably, El Shabrawi volunteers and, as no one else does, is given the responsibility of Zebeida.

But, it turns out that it is a little difficult to enjoy all the city has to offer with a woman in tow who is screaming and struggling to get away at every step. El Shabrawi is pushed to his limits as his patience is tested and as he dashes from one government building to another, caught in a web of bureaucracy. His release comes in an unexpected way. When it does, he is taken aback by his own feelings and subsequent actions. It is a story of human compassion written at a time when the subject of mental illness was treated with little sensitivity.


Thoughts

A writer who lived in a time and society of strict moral codes, Idris’s writing is bold yet eloquent. He doesn’t hold back in his dressing-down of the entitled, privileged man, or the underprivileged man, for that matter, and shines a clear light on the oppression of the women they lord over. His stories signify that he acknowledged and despised the hypocrisy of a society that held different standards, always, for men and women, for the powerful and the subjugated.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

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.

Literary Event—First Draft Book Club: “Nothing to See Here” by Kevin Wilson

What’s better than a bookstore? One with a bar where you can relax with a beer and read, of course.

This Wednesday, join the First Draft Book Club at Changing Hands Phoenix, as they discuss Kevin Wilson’s newest novel, Nothing to See Here.

In this heartwarming comedy, Madison asks her old roommate, Lillian, to help take care of her twin stepchildren—who burst into flames when excited.

Hosted by Barbara VanDenburgh, reporter for Arizona Republic, this book club is a great way to get a fresh perspective on your favorite reads.

For more information, click here.

Location:  First Draft Book Bar inside Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix

Date: Wednesday, December 18

Time:  7 p.m.

Price of the book: $21.59

5 Books that Marked Changing Times

History is a rolling saga of love and war, and we are irrevocably changed by both. Generations of great writers have documented the change of times and the novelties they brought with them, and so I’ve decided to give you a few books that have truly marked the end of an era.


Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind fondly remembers the last golden days of the South antebellum, before the Civil War wrenched families apart and changed the landscape of American society.

Scarlett O’Hara, a blooming southern belle, and Rhett Butler, an outrageous pragmatist, fall in and out of love in this classic as they struggle with the pain of losing loved ones, drastically altered social positions and wartime hardships.


Mother is the most popular work of Maxim Gorky. Based on real-life events that Gorky was personally connected to, this novel is about the spiritual awakening of a young factory worker and his careworn mother in Tsarist Russia.

Pavel Vlasov starts out by taking after his hard-drinking father, but soon meets a group of revolutionaries and begins to get an education in politics and philosophy. He stops drinking and undergoes a quiet transformation into a sharp, receptive young man.

This incites curiosity in Pelageya Nilovna, Pavel’s mother. After a lifetime of abuse and poverty, she overcomes her illiteracy and political ignorance to become a revolutionary. It is because of this display of willpower and strength of character, Nilovna Vlasova, not Pavel, is considered by many to be the true protagonist of the novel.


In one of the greatest love stories to emerge from World War I, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is set against the background of the Italian front, where Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver, falls in love with Catherine Barkley, a British nurse’s aide.

The stark reality of war brings real affection out of the playful simulation of love that the two initially engage in.

Frederic and Catherine are symbolic of the countless men and women who were kept apart by social and geographical boundaries in those uncertain times. This classic is about the illusion of glory in war and the courage to bid it farewell.


One cannot think of World War I without remembering the concurrent movement of the suffragettes, which spanned decades before and after the war.

My Own Story is the autobiography of Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Ghostwritten by Rheta Childe Dorr, it is a detailed memoir of Pankhurst’s work as an activist and the long road to electoral equality between British men and women.


The Diary of a Young Girl is a compilation of the diary entries of a pre-adolescent Jewish girl in Germany, forced into hiding with her family by the onset of the Holocaust.

Anne Frank kept a thorough record of the two years she spent in the Secret Annex, the mortification of growing up among near-strangers with various quirks, the lack of privacy and, of course, the uncertainty of life itself.

This piece of literature is remarkable for its unaffected style of prose and the sheer truthfulness and poignancy of the emotions portrayed on the pages. Anne Frank is a literary icon, immortalized through her work as an unwitting historian.


Literary Event: Hank Early signs “Echoes of the Fall”

Do you nurse a weakness for gripping mystery novels? In the latest of The Earl Marcus Mysteries, follow the titular protagonist of the series down a long, tortuous road of unraveling a mystery revolving around a gruesome murder and a cryptic message.

Join the author, Hank Early, for a signing of Echoes of the Fall at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore this Sunday. For more information, click here.


Location:  The Poisoned Pen, 4014 N. Goldwater Boulevard, Scottsdale

Date: Sunday, November 17

Time:  2–3 p.m.

Price of the book: $26.99

Book Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Publisher: Penguin Classics
Genre: Gothic Drama
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Are we all running from our reflections? Must there always be a great price for being extraordinary? Oscar Wilde paints a painfully clear picture of human nature, its propensity towards sin, and its struggle with conscience in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

A young man in late nineteenth-century London endowed with remarkable beauty sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for eternal youth. In a fit of narcissistic despair, he prays that he may forever remain as beautiful as he has ever been. His portrait—painted by a friend who is infatuated with Gray—bears the marks of his moral deterioration while he stays handsome and appears to be not a day over 21.

Quite the scandal in 1890, The Picture of Dorian Gray tiptoes around themes of homosexuality and substance abuse, the former being considered an unspeakable sin during that time, even worse than the latter. It was revised and republished in 1891 with a few edges softened to better suit the audience of the time.

Thoughts

It is interesting what Wilde classifies as sin in this Gothic novel. Perhaps in an unconscious effort to concur with the ideals of nineteenth century English society (in spite of his rebellious nature and general disagreement with said ideals), Wilde’s protagonist primes himself for sin by indulging himself in sensual art and music, which are invariably pagan or Eastern. Did Wilde really believe the East and “the Orient” to be godless, or was he merely tired of rebelling and, for once, wanted English society to nod along with him?

Either way, our protagonist (also the antagonist) doesn’t disappoint. Dorian Gray warms up with regular debauchery and, over a course of twenty years, spirals into actual crime. His portrait grows horrific while his person remains aesthetically angelic.

A fascinating read for the most part of it, it is a dramatic novel with only a dash of fantasy but an era-appropriate amount of misogyny. The plot unfurls steadily and tapers towards a gripping climax. The reader is caught among the many facets of the marvelous Dorian Gray, even as they converge and bring him to face the reflection of his soul.