Jane Eyre, part 27

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life, Ramblings about Romance 1 Comment

Have you seen the new Jane Eyre movie? This latest edition marks the whopping 27th time this classic story has been captured on film.  Although Jane Eyre ranks as one of my favorite all-time stories, I am a little befuddled as to why it warrants a new major motion picture treatment every five years or so. 

Perhaps because no one has gotten it quite right yet?  A number of the adaptations feel depressingly alike.  The 1996 version starring William Hurt brought nothing new to the table.  Ditto the 1970 George C. Scott or the 1943 Orson Welles.  For my money, my favorite Rochester was in the 1983 BBC mini-series with Timothy Dalton.  He was criticized for being too good-looking and for overacting, but oh my….. I thought he was wonderful.  Despite my adolescent infatuation with Timothy Dalton, this version was spoiled for me by the actress who played Jane.  Yes, Chalotte Bronte describes Jane as having a wounded, quietly watchful demeanor, but this actress was so bland she seemed to be either bored or sleep-walking.  It was incomprehensible how she could have brought Mr. Rochester to his knees. 

For my money, the best Jane I have seen is Samantha Morton’s 1997 portrayal in the A&E miniseries.  She was physically plain and mousy as Jane is supposed to be….but with a quirky liveliness that makes her unique and helps the chemistry between Jane and Rochester spark.  Morton’s version of Jane displayed character, kindness, and compassion.  I believe she really made that version sing.  

My overall favorite so far?  I confess a guilty fondness for the 2006 BBC miniseries starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson (pictured below)  This version has been rightly castigated for not being true to the book, but I admire the producers for trying to bring something new to the table.  In short, this is the “hot” Jane Eyre.  The characters smolder.  They yearn.  They lust.   Physically, they don’t stray outside of what Charlotte Bronte wrote in the book, but the foundation of their relationship is nourished by a healthy dose of lust, which is not an unrealistic reaction for two healthy adults stranded in a remote country estate.  While many of the other Jane Eyre adaptations have the staid, proper feeling of a 19th century novel, this version is a steamy twentieth century adaptation, and I confess to being quite fond of it.

 I have not yet seen the newest version, and probably won’t until it comes out on DVD.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the latest version, or any commentary on the earlier ones. 

Splendid Libraries: The New York Public Library

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I think New York certainly ranks as one of the world’s greatest cities, and I have visited Manhattan on a number of occasions to attend library conferences.  Alas, I have never actually been to the NYPL.  Something about NYC is simply overwhelming for me, and I actually get a bit claustrophobic when I am walking down those streets and must crane my neck waaaay up to see the sky.   

But someday I WILL get over to see the New York Public Library.  The Reading Room is probably the most famous of the rooms in the library:

Although the Reading Room is the most famous, I rather prefer the Map Room, with its slightly warmer feeling:

The ceiling is a masterpiece of gilded splendor, but I think the wood around the gorgeous windows and the close proximity to books impart a warm feeling despite all the opulence.  Even in this era when many people come to the library and use nothing but their laptop or other online resources, studies have shown that most library patrons want to be in close proximity to books.  I know from over fifteen years of observation in libraries that many patrons come for a quiet place to study or do other online research….but they almost always gravitate to tables that are near windows or books.  The NYPL Map Room has both going for it.  

Photos are courtesy of GK Trammrunner and Diliff

The Cavalry Ain’t Coming

Elizabeth Camden What Inspires You? 2 Comments

Have you ever had a moment when you heard a phrase that was so simple, so clear in its intent, that it sticks with you?  That happened for me when I was watching a re-run of Larry King interviewing Chris Gardner.

Those of you who saw the Will Smith movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, will know who Chris Gardner is.  Gardner was a down-on-his-luck man who had lost everything: His wife, his career, all his money….his bitter girlfriend even cleaned out their apartment of every stick of furniture and all his clothing.  With literally only the clothes on his back, he had to begin again.  Gardner spent several months as a homeless man, washing up in subway restrooms while he struggled to find work and care for his young son.  He ultimately landed an entry-level job at a financial institution, and through hard work mixed with a couple of lucky breaks, he ultimately became a phenomenally wealthy man.

Back to the Larry King interview.  King said something along the lines of, “You were broke, you were sleeping on the streets… How could you get up and face the world every day?”  And Gardner had a terrific response.  He said, “Because I said to myself: Chris, the Cavalry ain’t coming. Get up and do something!”

Garner went on to explain that he realized he was the only one who could haul himself out of the mess he had gotten into.  He could whine and complain…..or he could rise to the occasion and do what was necessary.

I can’t tell you how many times students have approached me at the library and complained about how their professors demand too much of them or that the college should re-distribute their workload.  I usually smile and listen politely, then simply use Gardner’s line.  “The Cavalry ain’t coming.  Time to get back to work on that paper.”  The line almost always earns a laugh, and it is amazing how quickly most students immediately snap out of the cycle they’ve worked themselves into.

And…I must admit, when I feel tired and run-down, I use the same line on myself, too!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon

Elizabeth Camden Recommended Reading Leave a Comment

The main character of this novel is an autistic 15-year old boy. An intriguing mystery begins on the first page, when the boy walks outside his house one night to discover his next-door neighbor’s dog killed with a garden rake. He decides to figure out who did it and why. This unlocks all sorts of deep secrets and complicated, surprising developments.

While I can’t say that I enjoyed this book, it was mesmerizing, simply because of the insight it provides into how the autistic mind works. Never before have I been curious about what it must be like to live inside the mind of an autistic person, but I do try to understand different world points of view, and this book was simply outstanding for accomplishing that task.

I recommend you go over to Amazon and preview the first two or three pages. You will immediately see what I mean about experiencing the world through a mind that processes information a little bit differently. If you are intrigued by the preview, you will like the book. If the preview does not appeal to you, read no further. What you see is what you get, and you probably won’t warm up to the book.

Although this sort of novel is not my usual fare, I found it touching, eye-opening, and very illuminating. It is also a quick read, which is always a bonus!

Is it a Sin to Throw a Book Away?

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 2 Comments

People have a hard time throwing books away. How do I know this? I work in a library. We have people calling us daily asking where they can bring their books to donate. In the interest of maintaining good relations with the public, we will accept them, but always with the caveat that “if we can’t use them in the collection, they may be sold or discarded.” Most people are fine with this. And 99% of the time, the books end up being discarded. So in a way, the library is helping perform a service….throwing out books which people find too painful to do for themselves.

We rarely have this feeling of attachment to old cooking equipment, clothes, or the toys our children no longer play with….but books are different. We treasure the hours we spend with our books, and it would seem cruel to toss them out. So the books are donated to a library in hope they will be granted a second life.

Sometimes objects should have a second life. If clothes are still serviceable, they should be donated. If the toys are not broken and can be cleaned, ditto. In most cases, books are another story. This may sound like sacrilege coming from a writer and librarian, but it is okay to throw books away.  Some people suggest that the books should be donated to less developed nations, but libraries have been down this road with very poor results.  The cost of packing and shipping books is immense, and as the people of those nations would be better served by new books in their native language, there are better ways to get information to the developing world.

 Here are a few tips to know when to toss a book:

  • It is dirty, stained, or musty.
  • Outdated books. You know the ones….Computers for Dummies dating back to 1985. Or how to make a macramé vest for your boyfriend. This type of book has outlived its useful life, and should be put out of its misery.
  • You know you will never read the book again, and it is so widely available even the used bookstores are not accepting copies of it.
  • You have tried to sell or donate it, but you can’t. If no one picked it up at your garage sale, the library didn’t want it, and even Good Will won’t take it…this is a clue that the book may have served its useful purpose.

One of my favorite blogs is Awful Library Books, where librarians nominate the worst books from their collections. This site is a hoot, and I think you’ll agree with me that these books have served their purpose.

*Thanks to Holly Hibner for this groovy example of macramé fun!

Researching the Professions

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life Leave a Comment

The following Research Tip is geared toward people writing contemporary fiction.

There will inevitably come a time when one of your characters is employed in a profession you know nothing about. Do you really have a sense for the daily experiences of a Graphic Designer? A Mortician? A Lumberjack? A Librarian? Beyond a few stereotypes, most people could not really provide the answer.

Here is a fabulous resource: The Occupational Outlook Handbook. You can search the database by using the “search ooh” box on the middle left of the screen.

Provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, this site gives you an excellent overview of the training, pay, job requirements, and typical responsibilities of every profession from street-sweepers to brain surgeons. It provides practical insight into the daily life of a huge range of professions, and can help imbue your writing with an authentic feel.

Incidentally, this site is terrific for young adults who don’t yet know what they want to do with their life. For all those kids who think they are destined to be an artist or designer of video games, it tells them exactly which degrees they need to earn, and the competitiveness of landing a paying job. Young kids are usually stunned to see how much computer and engineering skills this requires, rather than merely being good at playing games! It is also a terrific resource for college students who have not picked a major yet, or people considering a career change.

*Photo courtesy of Mr. Plakboek.

The Gothic Study at Hearst Castle

Elizabeth Camden Splendid Libraries 1 Comment

Several years ago I was lucky enough to visit Hearst Castle near San Simeon, California. This was where the famous newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, lived for the last half of his life.

During its heyday in the 1920’s and 30’s it was the gathering place for Hollywood royalty and power-brokers from across the world.

Overall, the castle was a little overdone for my taste, but I loved the library. The warm, comfortable seating and the built-in book shelves make me want to curl up and spend the weekend in there. Much of Hearst Castle was very ornate and overly-gilded for my taste…..but the library was perfect.

*Photos courtesy of Trey Ratcliff and Meg Pi.

A Glimpse into Yesterday

Elizabeth Camden Videos Worth Watching Leave a Comment

I have always been intrigued by the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century, and I generally use it for my historical novels. This was a time of such transition. The difference between how people in lived in urban and rural environments was staggering. Towns were being wired for electricity and telephones, the cities were being plumbed for running water and flush toilets. Kitchens could support refrigeration and modern stoves. The city streets were sound enough to support new-fangled automobiles and streetcars, but just a few miles outside town, all these amenities were scarce.

Much like we now struggle to establish proper etiquette for cell phone usage in movie theaters or in business meetings, people at the turn of the century were learning the same thing. The video above is a fascinating example of emerging technologies clashing with the old. These people don’t seem to realize that in the battle between a bicycle and a streetcar, the streetcar always wins! As you watch the video, see how many forms of transportation you can spot. Or how many different uniforms worn by the passers-by. Or watch how people respond to the camera.

Incidentally, this video was shot in San Francisco, just a few weeks before the catastrophic earthquake and fire that caused the death of more than three thousand people and left half the population homeless. When I watch this video, I wonder what happened to all those lively people captured in this brief glimpse into their world.

What is the appeal of Twilight?

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life, Recommended Reading Leave a Comment

If you are a teenage girl, I don’t need to explain this to you. For older adults, the appeal of this series is something of a mystery. Even for those of us who took guilty pleasure in these novels (and I’ll confess that!), it can be hard to pinpoint what on earth makes these odd, slow-moving books appealing.

I’ll take a stab.

Do you remember what it was like to be fourteen? Most young girls are riddled with insecurity. They wrestle with the contradictory desires to fit in while still carving out a unique identity that will set them apart from all the other girls. They generally seek validation by looking outside themselves. How do they compare to their peers? They emulate the latest hairstyle and fashion trends, adopt the right slang, and ideally, land a cute boyfriend. Somehow these things will give them validation they are still too awkward and insecure to feel for themselves.

Now let’s have a look at Bella Swan, the 16-year old heroine of Twilight. She is a nice enough girl, but is aimless and her only real charm is her self-deprecating sense of humor that makes her approachable to the reader, who may suffer from similar insecurity. Bella is the classic “placeholder” in the story, someone who is vague enough that almost any girl could insert herself into the storyline.

It is Edward who holds the appeal in the Twilight franchise (or Jacob, for the girls who prefer the more approachable types,) but let’s focus on Edward. He is fantastically strong, tortured, and mysterious. He has brooding good looks, fabulous cars, and an aloof demeanor that makes him the equivalent of high school aristocracy. Most importantly, he is utterly captivated by Bella (to a profoundly creepy degree.) Still, most fourteen year old girls are willing to overlook Edward’s stalker-ish behavior in order to savior the idea of being the object of such utter and devoted fascination. What girl doesn’t want to be cherished? Doesn’t want to hear someone profess his total and worshipful adoration? Edward is Heathcliff without the unhappy ending. Mr. Rochester without the crazy wife in the attic. He is Lord Byron without the philandering problem.

For all of Edward’s dangerous appeal, he was created by the hands of a devout Mormon housewife. Thus, he is chaste, with an old-fashioned respect for Bella who is not yet ready to handle the tumultuous world of unbridled passion. And we wonder why this guy is appealing to a teenaged girl?

If you’ve got thoughts on Twilight, I’d love to hear your comments!