Dracula, the book not the movie

I read Dracula when the folks over at Infinite Summer were doing the reading. I started with them but finished way earlier because the book was really easy to read and the suspense kept you moving along.

Dracula had been retold so many times in movies that I didn’t know what the original version was. So, it was interesting to read what Bram Stoker had to say about his frightening villain. (For starters, when Stoker described his Dracula, it got me thinking of Christopher Lee who can look pretty scary. Stoker’s description does not match Gary Oldman who played the Count in the movie version, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.)

The book is told via different points of view, sometimes as letters, sometimes as journal entries, and it’s a brilliant example of how to pace a novel. Through the different characters, who seem so real, Stoker paints a picture of Dracula that is scary and chilling. (Another purely writing point: Stoker makes the voices so distinct and even uses confusing English for a non-native speaker, which is really such a tough thing to do.) If I had read the book without having heard of Dracula or seen the movies, I imagine that I would’ve been shocked at the boldness of his approach.

For me, the scenes when Jonathan Harker goes to meet Dracula and gets to know about him — this is mainly in the beginning part of the book — were especially chilling because you can feel his apprehension as he gets to know the Count a little better.

I am not going to go into the story of the book here because you really should be reading the book. Dracula has been around for so many decades and yet it remains a classic, a fresh classic if you will. It will probably be around for a few years more.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is truly a masterpiece.


Write to authors whose books you enjoy

(Gets on soapbox) If you read a book that you like, take a few minutes and send a note to the author. Most likely, you’ll be able to find the author’s email address quite easily now-a-days. (There are some authors who don’t list their information and if you like their book a lot, you can always write to the publisher.)

My point in telling you about all this is that writing is a terrifically lonely business and writing a book, any book, is hard work. So, if you read a book that you appreciate, take a few minutes of your time to tell the author about it. They will, in all likelihood, be happy to know that you enjoyed their book.

While you’re at it, don’t expect a response. Some authors do respond but some may not be able to. You’re not writing for a response anyway, right?

I’ve written to authors quite a few times and I always feel nice about it, so that’s another reason to do it. I suppose that I could write more to more authors though.

P.S. This goes for other writers as well as bloggers but that feedback can be given via comments now-a-days, which is why I didn’t explicitly mention them.

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

Atul Gawande’s second book Better is a collection of his experiences as a surgeon. (If you’ve not heard about Gawande, Elizabeth Gudrais’ article (An unlikely writer) for Harvard magazine is a must read.)

Gawande divided the book into three sections based on what he thinks a surgeon should be and in each section he draws from his experiences as a surgeon and an observer to produce some compelling writing. There’s stuff in there about hand washing in hospitals, polio vaccinations in India, the absolute miracle that is the birth of a child, and other wonderful stories.

Gawande’s strength is that he writes simply and he explains stuff clearly, which as any writer will tell you are the hardest things to do. Did I mention that the man’s a surgeon too — some people get second helpings on the talent buffet before they are born. (If after reading the book you want to jump off the nearest cliff because your writing isn’t anywhere as good as Gawande’s, you’re not alone.)

You can find a listing of Gawande’s articles via his web page. Now, if you’ll excuse me there’s a cliff I must get to.

Missing DFW a year later

Yesterday, September 12, was the 1-year-anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death. Reading Infinite Jest this summer has only made the loss feel deeper. It’s strange to say this about someone you’ve never met or had any contact with, but it’s a feeling that most DFW fans will share – an overwhelming sense of loss.

DFW, you are still missed.

Frank McCourt was a terrific writer

Arrgh. I somehow missed the news of Frank McCourt’s passing away (here’s an interesting online-virtual wake) and when I was told about it, I contrived to forget that as well.

I first heard about Frank McCourt — and heard him — on an interview he did for the BBC; I think it was for Hard Talk but I can’t be sure. On that interview, he spoke about his book Angela’s Ashes, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, and it interested me enough to go and buy the book. I enjoyed the book and though it’s about poverty and hardships, McCourt’s sense of humour and his writing style made the book an interesting read. (Angela’s Ashes was a memoir of McCourt’s childhood in Ireland.)

I naturally picked up his second book (‘Tis), which picks up where the first one left off, and enjoyed that as well. His third Teacher Man, about his experiences as a teacher, was also an enjoyable read.

McCourt published his first book when he was in his mid-fifties, a fact that Stephen King alludes to in his memoir, On Writing. It’s a good thing that he decided to write about his life – we would’ve missed out on some wonderful writing.

Rest in peace, Frank McCourt.

A secret that only you know?

No one will know, except you is the latest, delightful visual essay by Franke James. This essay is about her book and that’s all I am going to say. Trust me though — click the link, let the images load, and read the essay.

Like a previous essay, which I blogged about, this one too is terrific.

Franke really has a unique way of expressing herself. I know the word unique is overused but the way she “communicates” is unique.

Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain

Scott Adams’ book Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! is a collection of posts from his blog. Because of its format, the book is easy to read and I finished it fairly quickly.

Adams covers a lot of stuff in the book and he is funny as usual but the material is also serious at times. I thought parts of it were inspiring to read. If you like Adams’ style of writing, you’ll enjoy the book. Dilbert lovers will also enjoy some of the “censored” strips that Adams features in the books with an explanation of how the strips had to be changed.

I enjoyed the book immensely.

Deconstructing Thomas Friedman

When you start reading this piece you wonder if it’s a rant, but as you go on reading you realise that the piece is downright funny. The writer, Matt Taibbi, who clearly doesn’t like Thomas Friedman’s ideas, critiques his latest book Hot, Flat, and Crowded.

The language is sometimes NSFW but this is a piece that is worth reading because it is engaging and funny. (I’ve not read any of Friedman’s books and I could still relate to the article, so don’t let that stop you.)

And who cares if it doesn’t quite make sense when Friedman says that Iraq is like a “vase we broke in order to get rid of the rancid water inside?” Who cares that you can just pour water out of a vase, that only a fucking lunatic breaks a perfectly good vase just to empty it of water? You’re missing the point, folks say, and the point is all in Friedman’s highly nuanced ideas about world politics and the economy — if you could just get past his well-meaning attempts to explain himself, you’d see that, and maybe you’d even learn something.

My initial answer to that is that Friedman’s language choices over the years have been highly revealing: When a man who thinks you need to break a vase to get the water out of it starts arguing that you need to invade a country in order to change the minds of its people, you might want to start paying attention to how his approach to the vase problem worked out. Thomas Friedman is not a president, a pope, a general on the field of battle or any other kind of man of action. He doesn’t actually do anything apart from talk about shit in a newspaper. So in my mind it’s highly relevant if his manner of speaking is fucked.

Article link: Someone Take Away Thomas Friedman’s Computer Before He Types Another Sentence

DFW 1962 – 2008

I just found out via Daring Fireball that David Foster Wallace died on Friday night. He was only 46. DFW was one of those rare writers that could write volumes about any topic and make it interesting. From the NYT Obit:

David Foster Wallace, the author best known for his 1996 novel ”Infinite Jest,” was found dead in his home, according to police. He was 46.

Wallace’s wife found her husband had hanged himself when she returned home about 9:30 p.m. Friday, said Jackie Morales, a records clerk with the Claremont Police Department.

Metafilter has a thread where people are talking about DFW’s death. I don’t know what sort of anguish Wallace was going through, but it must have been really terrible for him to take his life. Condolences to his wife, who found him, and to his family.

Though I’ve read only two books and a few articles of DFW, his writing left a deep impression on me and he was a writer I truly admired. His sense of humour, his ability to tell stories, and the skill of his writing blew me away. Just like you admired Jordan hanging in the air and executing an impossible shot, DFW made you feel that way with his writing.

To know that he’ll never write again makes me very sad. Rest in peace DFW.

PS: DFW’s piece about Federer for the NY Times is a classic, if you’ve never read him.

— Edited to add —

A colleague and friend, John Seery, reminisces about DFW. Well written and moving.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian (plot spoilers in the IMDB version) is the second installment in the movie adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia. I had watched the first installment, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (TLTWTW) more than two years ago and I’d liked it, but I wasn’t sure what to expect with this installment.

I got my money’s worth and more.

Prince Caspian (TCON-PC) is a pulsating, thrilling ride that rarely lets up from the beginning to the end. The action, the drama, and the plot twists keep coming at you and the result is a gripping movie that I enjoyed immensely.

The four kids from the first edition are back, slightly older, and as usual, the youngest Georgie Henley, who plays Lucy Pevensie, steals the show. The new characters from the Telmarine kingdom, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) and King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) in particular, add a new twist the the already interesting mix; Castellito, in the role of the scheming uncle, is particularly good.

You can watch TCON-PC even if you haven’t watched the first edition though it would be helpful to get a little background information.

If the first edition was a movie that both children and adults would enjoy, this one seemed to be more for the grown-ups. The action and the pace will take your breath away and will leave you wanting more. A terrific movie from start to finish and a must-watch in my opinion.

So watch.

PS: Movie/writing geekery alert. The start of the movie is a textbook definition of how a movie should begin–not at a languid pace but with action right from the start. The pace of the movie’s also extremely well maintained and something that moviemakers and writers should strive to emulate. End of geekery.