Saturday 28 May 2011

What the?

A few weeks ago, I re-read Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I don't know about you, but if I feel a bit sad or out of sorts, I find nothing more comforting than returning to a book I've really loved in the past, even one as hard on the heart as this one is.

The novel was much more painful, but also much more hilarious, than I remember. If you know the premise of the novel, you know why it's sad; if you haven't read it, you must, for it contains the single best adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet the world has ever known. I did a lot of laughing in public while making my way through this novel this time 'round. (Well, the first time around, too.)

The first time I read this book, I was in Philadelphia, PA for a conference. I was playing hookie from said conference and wandering around that lovely city looking for a book to buy and a place to read it where I could also bask in the sun. I found both - a Barnes & Noble directly across from a small but well appointed park. I bought the novel and had settled comfortably into a park bench and had barely made it through the first paragraph when...But wait, here is the first paragraph of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close:
What about a teakettle? What if the spout opened and closed when the steam came out, so it would become a mouth, and it could whistle pretty melodies, or do Shakespeare, or just crack up with me? I could invent a teakettle that reads in Dad’s voice, so I could fall asleep, or maybe a set of kettles that sings the chorus of “Yellow Submarine,” which is a song by the Beatles, who I love, because entomology is one of my raisons d’├¬tre, which is a French expression that I know. Another good thing is that I could train my anus to talk when I farted. If I wanted to be extremely hilarious, I’d train it to say, “Wasn’t me!” every time I made an incredibly bad fart. And if I ever made an incredibly bad fart in the Hall of Mirrors, which is in Versailles, which is outside of Paris, which is in France, obviously, my anus would say, “Ce n’├ętais pas moi!” (p. 1)
I believe I'd gotten approximately halfway through the second or third sentence when I heard this, coming from over my shoulder:
"Waaa-waaa-wha-at a-abo-oot a t-t-t-tee-ah-te-ah...ket....leh? Wh-at if the sp-sp-"
I looked to my right; a man with sadly undeveloped reading skills was giving the book a go aloud, from over my shoulder. I looked straight ahead in confusion; the fellow across from me, sketching in a notebook previously, was now having a good chuckle at my expense. I looked down in consternation. I didn't want to leave. It was so perfectly sunny and warm and comfortable and I already knew I was going to like this book. The shoulder reader kept reading while I tried to think what in gawd's name I could do.
"-spo-oot SPOUT! oh-oh...pen-ned and clo-zed weh-weh-"
And then I hit on a way of both not leaving and not hurting his feelings:
"I'm sorry, but I really prefer to read silently." 
I tried my best to look sheepish and apologetic. He then looked sheepish and apologetic, said he was sorry, and walked away. I continued with my book. And I soon began laughing out loud...and every time I did, this fella, who'd only gone a few park benches down, would loudly and exultantly announce to everyone outside in that sweet park on that perfect spring day:
She's lovin' it! She loves the book!!!!
It was so strange, but so right for this book somehow. Foer's gentleness for humanity is so lovely and enviable. This odd experience could only have been more perfect had I been reading it in NYC instead of Philly. In retrospect, I wish I'd offered to read the book aloud to him, as he was so clearly interested in text and not able to engage in a way I probably take for granted every day, even though I never stop being thankful for the world of books I'm so lucky to live in. In the extremely unlikely event that I ever again find myself in such a situation, I hope I'll do better by my fellow(s).

Tom Hanks non-sequiter
Damn his small, puffy eyes - Tom Hanks has apparently been cast as who the hell knows which character for the film adaptation of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I can't think of who he could be - he's really too old to play Oskar's father and too young to play his grandfather. Grrr. The Hanks is also set to help ruin the film adaptation of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which I find even more heart-breaking. Again, I don't know who he'll be playing because, again, his age doesn't obviously fit with any of the major characters - and I may never know, since I will refuse to see it on the grounds not only of over-Hanksification, but also for the horrifying casting choices of Halle Berry (Luisa Rey? Sigh.) and Natalie Portman (Sonmi? FUUUUUCK!).

I've been trying to think of film adaptations of books that don't completely ruin what's good about the books they adapt, and the best example I can come up with is Oscar and Lucinda (thank gawd for Cate Blanchett (generally) and Ralph Fiennes (before he started screwing Australian airline stewardesses and needing less and less make-up to play Lord Voldemort)). What film adaptations of books, in your view, don't suck?


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

A long list of movies is possible - "doesn't suck" is kind of a low bar. I'll just suggest some possibilities:

Prisoner of the Mountains (Bodrov, 1996), a Tolstoy story brought up to date.

L'Inferno (Liguoro, 1911), an international blockbuster hit.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Disney, 1937), which I have seen at least seven times, mostly, admittedly, when I was five years old.

Heidenkind said...

What an odd incident! I probably would have asked the guy if he wanted to sit down. :P

Rebecca is a good adaptation. I also thought The English Patient movie was much better than the book.

Rohan Maitzen said...

I really enjoyed this book too. I think it may have been one of the very first I ever blogged about, too, back when I could stop at one paragraph...

Some movie adaptations I like of books I like: The Accidental Tourist, The Remains of the Day, The French Lieutenant's Woman (neither as good as their original, but still very good, I think), Persuasion (the Amanda Root version), A Room with a View (more sentimental than the book, but again, still very good). I liked A Passage to India a lot when I watched it recently but I haven't read the book in years and years, so I'm not sure how it compares. Brick Lane adapted pretty well too.

Anonymous said...

I agree that The remains of the day was a good adaptation, and I also agree that the Amanda Root Persuasion was pretty good. I also rather liked Atonement.

I thought the film of Miss Smilla's feeling for snow (or Smilla's sense of snow as it was in the US I believe) was better than the book.

I still haven't seen the film version of Oscar and Lucinda - naughty me really.

Stefanie said...

I've been meaning to read this book for ages. Perhaps I will finally manage it this summer. I can sit outside and read it and make my neighbors wonder what I'm laughing about.

As for movies. Um, Howard's End is pretty good. And since I am not much of a movie person to begin with I am now drawing a blank!

Unknown said...

Hmm, I'm not sure films and books mix...


Sorry, lost control of the Caps lock key there :(

Bellezza said...

Everyone in the book blogging world is reading, or has read, this book. I keep seeing it on so many posts of late, and I wonder why I haven't read it yet (to myself, silently or out loud :). I think I need to remedy that.

In other news, I'm so glad you joined the JLC5!

Bookphilia said...

All of your responses remind me how infrequently I actually see films. I recently saw an entertaining and horribly funny (horribly, because unintended in its hilarity) blockbuster called Limitless. I should probably just stick to books.

And as Tony reiterates, Cloud Atlas probably shouldn't be made into a film unless Tom Hanks is legally disallowed from coming within 500 feet of it!

Jeanne said...

Water for Elephants is a very good adaptation of a novel into film. And I agree about The Accidental Tourist--some pretty good casting, there.