5 Books I Couldn’t Put Down

It isn’t often that I’m struck by this phenomenon: I start reading, pass a point, and I can’t stop. I literally steal every single moment to read, craving each and every word of a book. What follows are five books I’ve been addicted to.

Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

Although the selling point for this novel is the bizarre (and authentic) photos of freaks, the book doesn’t need them. That’s how captivating the prose is. I started reading it on my Nook and eventually sneaked away from my family to finish it. It has time travel, freaks, and monsters. Who could want more? Plus it has the most realistic young romance I’ve read in years. I actually want to buy another copy in print, just to appreciate the pictures.

Uglies
by Scott Westerfeld

This book constantly circles through my head. It’s not just the premise (getting surgery at 16 to make yourself pretty) but the characters and the world is addicting. The hoverboards, the Smoke, the Specials (hyper-enhanced soldiers). I’m amazed this hasn’t made it to film yet.

 

The Wave
by Todd Strasser

This is a book I chanced upon in the bookstore, picked up, and then never put down. It concerns a high school teacher wanted to instruct his class on why Germans were swept up by the Nazi movement, so he started a propaganda campaign in his class. Soon the whole school is involved and the experiment is out of control.

 

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
by Stephen King

I’ve read this book at least six times (in print and audio). The opening line is the best: “The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted.” It follows a girl who gets lost in the woods and has to face the God of the Lost. She struggles to survive, her only salvation is a radio which plays the Red Sox games with her favorite pitcher, you guessed it, Tom Gordon.

 

Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare
by Darren Shan

There are too darned many vampire books. Yet this one has such a vivid voice it’s addictive. I showed it to a colleague of mine who can hardly spare the time to read a comic book, and he devoured it. It’s a book build for people who don’t like to read. Addictive.

Hope you fall in love with one of these.

Tim Kane

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Hunger Games: Movie vs. Novel

Often people complain that a movie is nothing like the book. Well of course. A movie unspools images whereas a book delivers content through some 70-100 words. It takes me the better part of a week to finish a book, but only two hours to see the average movie. Given the condensed medium of film, there’s no way to include everything that appears in a book. And no need to really.

There are advantages to each media. A smart filmmaker will realize this and utilize the unique qualities of film to not only condense sections of the book, but also highlight others. If you haven’t read or seen the Hunger Games book or film, you may find sections spoiled.

The movie zoomed through the opening chapters of Hunger Games at light speed. I think they did this to allow them to spend more time on the actual arena combat. Many of the thoughts that Catniss used to express backstory or her attitudes could not transfer to film. For example, her whole story about saving the cat and Prim’s love for it was condensed to a single line: “I’ll still cook you.”

One element I felt they didn’t communicate well was the matter of names and the reaping. The film established that Galen had his name in 42 times, but didn’t go into putting your name in extra times to get food. My guess is that the filmmakers felt this wasn’t as crucial and viewers would get the concept as the film went on. It certainly didn’t bother me.

Rather than put the entire backstory of Peta and the bread and Mom’s zoning out at the start, the film smartly incorporated these into tiny flashbacks. The best was during the tracker jacker delirium scene where Catniss remembered how her dad died and Mom tuned out.

The film also solved a few problems I had with the book. I noticed that Suzanne Collins was one of the screenwriters, so perhaps she took a second look at her material. First, the fact that she never mentioned the position of cameras at any time in the novel really bugged me. It go so that I couldn’t focus on the story. The film handled this with one scene. Catniss climbs a tree and a knot twists to look at her. That one moment alone told us that everything could be a camera.

Also, the novel had a conspiracy plot at the end that felt tacked on. The film provided cut-away scenes with the gamemaker and President Snow that expertly delivered this same feeling without distracting from the plot. The best part of this was the final scene with the gamemaker. The key to films is what they can deliver with a single image. The gamemaker is led to a room and locked in. A bowl with berries (the same that Catniss nearly swallowed to poison herself) were presented on a table. The message was clear. He screwed up and was expected to pay the price. This also underscored the tyranny of the Capitol’s regime.

The film added many scenes showing the gamemaker designing and running the game. This really helped me understand how the arena functioned. I liked seeing them comment on the tracker jackers as well as seeing the dogs being designed. (I didn’t miss that the dogs were former contestants as this bothered me in the book.) One of the best added scenes was the riot in District 11. I know the book was explicit about cutting the scene where Catniss added flowers to Rue’s body so that viewers wouldn’t see it. However, I liked seeing the riots in District 11 and the subsequent put down.

The last element that the film added is a technique I saw before in Green Mile: The Song. Catniss sings a song to Prim at the beginning. I knew right away this would be the same song she’d sing to Rue. It served to create an emotional connection between Catniss’s little sister, and her adopted ward, Rue, in the game.

The next time someone whines about how badly films adapt books, explain to them that a film is not a book. Stories you read and the action unfolds in your mind. The film shows you the action, so it will never match the images in you head.

Tim Kane

Steampunk Shakespeare

What if William Shakespeare had lived in Victorian times? What would he make of mechanical engines and steam-power? That’s the premise behind The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter.

I discovered this contest by happenstance, trolling through the Twitterverse. The concept so intrigued me, I had to give it a go. Truth be told, this was the hardest story I’ve ever written. I had to balance good storytelling with accuracy to the Bard’s intent (and sometimes actual lines) while incorporating stempunk elements. It’s also the work I’m most proud of to date.

My contribution to the Omnibus was The Malefaction of Tybalt’s Mechanical Armature. I set a scene of Romeo and Juliet in post Civil War America. Why hadn’t anyone else ever thought to do that? Civil War is tailor made to the sort of family rivalry integral to the Shakespeare story. There were many possibilities, yet I opted to center my tale on Tybalt. He was an escaped slave whose sister was Juliet (still on the plantation). Romeo and the Montegues were the plantation owners.

Rather than take on the whole war, I set the story in Kansas (as state with leanings toward both side in the conflict). The town is run by the Capulets, who own a mining company. He’s also adept with mechanics and has built Tybalt a mechanical arm to replace the one that was sheared off in a cotton gin accident. (Romeo was running the gin, thus fueling Tybalt’s hatred).

I was incredibly nervous when submitting this story. What if the folks a Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders didn’t pick it up? Where else was I going to sell a story about a steampunk Tybalt? I couldn’t really even reslant it. It was them or nothing. Luckily, it sold and many revisions later, the tale will appear in the omnibus May 11th.

Writing this tale also helped me reimagine a manuscript I’d written (and rewritten) over five years. One agent read though it and finally passed. It had potential, yet I couldn’t stomach rewriting it another time. It was going to go into the drawer forever. That is, until I realized I could tweak the tale and set it as a steampunk tale. This not only worked, but revitalized my interest in the manuscript.

The power of the Bard shines through, even when he’s dealing with cogs and top hats. Be sure to check out The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter, for sale May 11th.

Tim Kane

 

Hiccup in the Day

I knew the final day of school was going to be hectic. I just didn’t know it would start its assault before I even got out of the house. I sat in the car, ready to head out, and the darned thing wouldn’t start. Totally dead. And this is a new car. (Relatively. Four years old.) So I’m crossing my fingers that it’s just the battery and not something worse.

Be a Word Horder and Squirrel Away Words Like Nuts

I have a box filled with words. Nearly all come from a decade-long obsession with page-a-day calendars. Each January, I purchase a new one—always a dictionary calendar with word origins. As I flip through, I squirrel away words that interest me. My recent post on Greek myth words came from said box.

The correct word in the right situation can give you power. I recall one time, years ago, when my boss was pontificating to all of us on a subject. I could tell he was making a big deal of a small thing. He had some sort of agenda about picture books and the best way to teach vocabulary. At the time, none of us would ever speak up to him. No one dared. We were all terrified.

I had finally had enough.There were things to do. More important than listen to a contrived lesson. I believe he asked us to define figurative language. So I spouted off: “It’s when the connotative meaning is different from the denotative meaning.” He didn’t know what those two words meant. (Denotative is the literal dictionary meaning and connotative is the implied or suggested meaning.) The lesson came to an abrupt halt.

I realized then how much power words can hold. Especially when people won’t challenge them.

One another time, at my writer’s meeting, one of our wordsmiths used “lubricious” in his writing. I had previously squirreled this word away, but had completely forgotten it. So I asked what it meant. There weren’t exactly giggles, but I could feel the awkwardness in the air. It was assumed that I should know. Still, I got my answer. (In this case, it carried the meaning of: intending to arouse desire.)

Sure it’s embarrassing to ask what a word means. It shows that you don’t know. But what’s worse, wallowing in ignorance, or simply asking? I advise this to my students every day. Ask the “dumb” questions. It’s a guarantee that many other people wanted to ask the question, but didn’t have the guts to come out and say it.

Tim Kane

5000 Year Old Sunlight (Plus 8 Minutes)

I don’t often expound about science, but this latest bit of trivial has sent my mind in spirals. I recently bought the book Solar System: A Visual Exploration of All the Planets, Moons and Other Heavenly Bodies that Orbit Our Sun by Marcus Chown. I had previously read The Elements by Theodore Gray and loved the format.

Then I read about sunlight. It seems that the actual light part of the phenomenon occurs at the core, where the pressure of billions of Hydrogen atoms create immense heat. Then two Hydrogen atoms collide to create light.

We all know that light travels, well, at the speed of light. I recall the standard eight minute number as the time it takes light to reach the Earth. Not so. Apparently sunlight has to escape the sun first, and this means barreling through lots of other Hydrogen atoms surrounding it (it was formed at the core, remember).

It’s like a bizarre game of football, except the endzone  is about 600,000 kilometers away and there are about a billion defensive linemen smashing into you. With no time outs. Luckily once light is created it never fades or loses energy, so it keeps going, bouncing from atom to atom for 5000 years. Yes, you heard that right. Five thousand. (Okay another site said it was 100,000 years, but no one’s slapped a stopwatch to a photon of light.)

That means, that the sunlight you feel today was created 5000 years ago (plus the 8 minutes it took to travel from the sun through space to Earth).

Okay, if that’s not weird enough, how about taking a picture of the sun through the Earth. That’s right pilgrims, it is possible. You see light isn’t the only think our big ball of fire spews out on a daily basis. It also shoots out these tiny particles called neutrinos. These guys are so small that nothing affects them. They’re like ghosts, zooming through solid lead faster than I can consume a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

At any given second, 100 million million neutrinos are zipping through your thumb. Every once in a while these tiny atomic specks do strike an atom dead on. This can create a tiny zap of light. Don’t go looking for it. You’d need total darkness and a super fine camera to see it. Turns out the Japanese have built said neutrino camera. (What haven’t they built?)

Over a period of 503.8 days and nights, the Super-Kamiokande in Japan took this picture. This is what the sun looks like using only Neutrino particles. And, it’s shot through the Earth. Crazy.

No amount of sunblock will work against that. Just throw in the towel and admit that the universe has stranger things than we could ever imagine.

Tim Kane

10 Words Derived from Greek Mythology

Some words have a distinct pedigree. These words hail from Mt. Olympus itself. Godly in origin, use them to spice up your conversation or writing.

1 Antaean

Antaeus was a gigantic and powerful wrestler, son of Gaea, goddess of the Earth, and Poseidon, the sea god. Whenever Antaeus touched his mother, his strength renewed. He always kicked butt when people threw him to the ground. Heracles, always a crafty fellow, bested him by lifting Antaeus off the ground. Then Heracles crushed the god to death.

In English, this word means mammoth, for Antaeus’ size, and superhuman strength.

2 Caduceus

The Greek god Hermes served as a herald and messenger for the other gods. He carried a winged staff with two snakes twisting around it. There is also another staff, that of Aesculapius, the god of healing. This had only one snake and no wings attached.

The Latin translation for herald is karyx, modified into karykeion. Is should only refer to the winged staff with two snakes, but in practice is also refers to the one snake healing staff as well. The staff of Aesculapius as well as the staff of Hermes are used as medical symbols.

3 Chimera (pronounced Kymera)

This was a fearsome beast with a lion’s head, goat’s body, and dragon’s tail. It breathed fire and terrified the people of Lydia. Finally, their king, Iobates, called in the hero Bellerophon. He didn’t actually want Bellerophon to win. The king’s son-in-law wanted the hero killed and the king thought the chimera would be the trick. Trouble was, Bellerophon summoned reinforcements: the winged horse Pegasus (not at all related to Perseus). Bellerophon then took down the creature from above.

Chimera lives on in Enlglish as an illusion or fabrication of the mind. It’s also an impossible dream.

4 Cornucopia

Zeus wasn’t always master of all the gods. In fact, he once was a baby too. As an infant, he was suckled from the horn of a goat. Later, this horn was filled with flowers and fruits and given as a present to Zeus. This filled horn then served as a symbol for abundance.

Besides as serving as a climactic battle scene in the Hunger Games, the word now means an inexhaustible store of something or simply abundance. That’s why it so often appears during Thanksgiving.

5 Halcyon

Alkyone, the daughter of the god of the winds (Aeolus), learned that her husband had been killed in a shipwreck. Her grief was unbearable, so she threw herself into the sea and was changed into a kingfisher. The Greeks call these birds alkyon or halkyon. Legend also has it that kingfishers build floating nests on the sea. Because of their heritage, the wind god clams the sea until the eggs have hatched.

The legend prompted people to associate calm and peaceful with the word halcyon. (Actual kingfishers make nests in tunnels dug into the ground).

6 Nemesis

Nemesis was the goddess of vengeance. She doled out rewards for noble deeds and cruel punishments for evil acts. She didn’t punish offenders instantly. Rather she might wait generations, inflicting her wrath on a descendant to avenge the crime.

In English, the word originally referred to someone who doled out just retribution, much like the goddess herself. Modern usage has transformed the word into someone (or something) that frustrated another person’s efforts (much like a curse or an adversary).

7 Paean

The Apollo sometimes disguised himself as Paean, the physician of the gods. Later, musical hymns were sung at to praise Apollo. These were called paeans. They evolved into songs sung at events ranging from  funerals to drinking festivals, as well as traditional marching songs for armies.

Now a paean is any song mean to celebrate joy, praise, or thanksgiving. It can also mean a tribute.

8 Promethean

Probably one of the most recognizable Greek myths is that of Prometheus. One of the Titan giants, he modeled humans from clay and taught them agriculture and how to live together. His final gift was fire that he stole from the gods so that humans could cook and have warmth and light. Zeus, however, wanted the humans to perish, so he punished Prometheus by tying him to a rock. An eagle tore at the giant’s liver every day for eternity.

The modern word bears out its heritage. Promethean means daringly original and creative (in the way that Prometheus helped create civilization). The word can also mean defiant of authority or limits (because Prometheus stole from the gods). Finally, Promethean signifies suffering on a grand scale (to represent the torture inflicted on Prometheus by Zeus).

9 Rhadamanthine

Three judges hold court in the the underworld: Minos, Aeacus, and Rhadamanthus. Minos was the son of Zeus and Europa. He had been the kind of Crete before dying and becoming supreme judge of the underworld. Aeacus, another son of Zeus (he got around) was king of Aegina before shuffling off the mortal coil and doning judges robes. Rhadamanthus was brother to Minos and king of the Cyclades Islands. He was known for being especially inflexible when handing down his judgements.

The word in English means rigorously strict or just.

10 Thanatology

Thanatos was the personification of death. His twin brother, Hypnos, was the personification of sleep (the root for hypnosis). The ancient Greeks began to use thanatos as a generic word for death.

Thanatology is the study of a description of death. It’s also the psychological methods for coping with death. In 1935, Thanatos came back to describe people with an unconscious tendency toward self-destruction.

Tim Kane