Monthly Archives: February 2015

2015: A Moviegoers Guide to Book-Based Movies in March and April

Read the book, watch the movie, or, if you’re like me, do both? With this guide, you can figure out which option you’d like to pursue.

Out March 13th, In The Heart of The Sea

If you like the tragedy of The Titanic (not to be mistaken for the love-centered movie Titanic) and the whale in Moby-Dick, then say hello to your new favorite book. This book is based on the story of the Essex crew, a ship that was captained by George Pollard Jr. and was attacked by a sperm whale in 1820. The story of the Essex is what actually inspired Herman Melville’s whale in Moby-Dick. Author Nathaniel Philbrick reconstructs the tragedy that happened to the ship along with the ordeal of the crewmen drifting at sea for over ninety days.


Out March 20th, Insurgent

This is the second book of the Divergent Series by Veronica Roth. War is going on in Chicago between the different factions. Tris, the main character, continues her story from where it left off in Divergent. This time she is faced with a story that pulls her through the world of grief, love, politics, loyalty, identity, and forgiveness.


Out March 27th, Serena

George and Serena Pemberton are newlyweds traveling from Boston to the North Carolina mountains in 1929. There, they hope to start an empire of lumber. Serena proves herself a strong woman – both in the lumber camps and out in the wilderness, finding herself at comfort in command of crews or killing rattle-snakes. The story turns dark once Serena realizes she can’t bare children, and her husband George has fathered an illegitimate child with another woman in camp before her arrival. Ron Rash’s story isn’t necessarily a happy one about a strong woman.



Literary Paraphernalia: Necklaces That Look Like Books

When I chose the theme of this week’s literary paraphernalia—necklaces that look like books—I was reminded of those memes of the host of Pimp My Ride. Book lovers showing their love of books with a necklace that looks like books. Books on books on books.

But in all seriousness, Etsy is a place for vintage finds and some beautiful, handcrafted pieces from shop owners with a very eclectic range of tastes—and we’re just lucky books are one of them.

1940s Gold Locket Book with Engraved Flowers

Jane Austen Book Charm Necklace

Mini Brown Leather Book Necklace with Rose

Silver Flower Book Necklace with Turquoise

Book Necklace with Vintage Book Pages

Polka Dot Book Locket

Shakespeare and The Spanish Tragedy

I think it’s safe to say that readers of this blog are familiar with Shakespeare, but has anyone heard of Thomas Kyd? Thomas Kyd was a popular dramatist during the late 1500s, but later fell into obscurity in the 1700s. He authored a play called The Spanish Tragedy which, besides being popular in its time, is considered the father of revenge tragedy–a genre which Shakespeare happened to dabble in as well.

For the past two hundred years, there has been speculation that The Spanish Tragedy wasn’t written by Thomas Kyd alone and that none other than William Shakespeare put pen to paper to write part of this significant play.

While this debate has been ongoing, new evidence has surfaced which people agree is as conclusive as we can get, without, of course, finding the Doctor and riding his T.A.R.D.I.S. back in space and time and asking Shakespeare ourselves.

Who could say no to that?


My New Favorite Holiday

Look, I like weird, pagan traditions like dragging a live/soon-to-be-not-live tree in the house as much as the next confused American, but I’m the first to welcome a holiday that makes sense: National Readathon Day (January 24), sponsored by the National Book Foundation, Goodreads, Penguin Random House, and Mashable.

The first-ever holiday gave bookworms an all-day excuse to read—and if that isn’t cause for celebration, what the hell is? Not only did the holiday rake in donations for the National Book Foundation’s literacy programs, but it also raised awareness about some pretty bad news: 40 percent of American adults are barely proficient readers, and 14 percent can’t read at all. Yikes.

It’s too bad it takes a gimmick to remind me, a lapsed reader, of my first love, but the campaign was a much-needed call back to the book and a challenge to consider what my life would have been like without Wayside School and Hank the Cowdog and birthmarks and veils and maypoles and naked pictures of famous people (a lot less harebrained adventuring and thinking, is what). So I gave my measly $10 via FirstGiving, joined bookworms across America, and cracked open a brand-spankin’ new Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. And since it was an oddly social event for an entirely antisocial activity, I live tweeted the holiday until midnight. (The official rules called for a reading marathon from noon to 4 p.m., but real bookworms would hardly call four hours a “marathon.”)


My Favorite Harlem Renaissance Poetry

In the 1920s the neighborhood Harlem, located in New York City, became a hotbed of culture for the disenfranchised black minority in the United States. Harlem became the place where black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and blacks across the U.S. came together in the hopes of a better life, establishing an educated black middle class, and creating art in all of its forms. This movement became known as The Harlem Renaissance.

Great thinkers, writers, and poets like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, and Elizabeth Alexander, among others, emerged from this scene and left behind a lot of work that is heavily influential today.

To celebrate Black History Month as well as the work of these authors, I wanted to share some of my favorite poems from The Harlem Renaissance. While these poems were penned in or about the 1920s, the sentiment found within and the struggle they illuminate are still present in America today. By reading, remembering, and celebrating these authors’ works, we’re better able to reflect on the society we live in, where it evolved from, and hopefully how to influence it to be better in the future.

You and Your Whole Race

By Langston Hughes

You and your whole race.
Look down upon the town in which you live
And be ashamed.
Look down upon white folks
And upon yourselves
And be ashamed
That such supine poverty exists there,
That such stupid ignorance breeds children there
Behind such humble shelters of despair—
That you yourselves have not the sense to care
Nor the manhood to stand up and say
I dare you to come one step nearer, evil world,
With your hands of greed seeking to touch my throat, I dare you to come one step nearer me:
When you can say that
you will be free!

Dead Fires

By Jessie Redmon Fauset

If this is peace, this dead and leaden thing,
Then better far the hateful fret, the sting.
Better the wound forever seeking balm
Than this gray calm!

Is this pain’s surcease? Better far the ache,
The long-drawn dreary day, the night’s white wake,
Better the choking sigh, the sobbing breath
Than passion’s death!


By Countee Cullen

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

No Images

By William Waring Cuney

She does not know
her beauty,
she thinks her brown body
has no glory.

If she could dance
under palm trees
and see her image in the river,
she would know.

But there are no palm trees
on the street,
and dish water gives back
no images.

If We Must Die

By Claude McKay

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!


By Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?


Dan Hogan: Why I Hate Biopics and Love Raccoons…or Musings on the Oscar-Nominated Literary Adaptations of 2015

Dan Hogan teaches English at Fullerton College, UCI, and Norco College. I’ve known Dan for years, and one thing I look forward to every year is Dan’s Oscar predictions. This year, I’ve asked him to share his opinion on book-based movie adaptations that have been nominated in this year’s Oscars and he was more than happy to oblige.

The Online Free Dictionary defines “biopic” as a “biographical film, often with fictionalized scenes.” And therein lies my issue with such films: the word often. If I were writing the definition, I might opt for the word always. And that’s, more or less, why I hate biopics. In my graduate thesis, I examined how the concept of Collective Memory influences our understanding of phenomena around us. And in my freshman composition classes, I give a lecture on selective representation, specifically as it pertains to art. Simply put, the difficulty with biopics is that regardless of how hard a movie tries to give an honest, unbiased take on a subject—particularly a historical one—there is always some fictitious coloring and choices of representation. Even when movies do a really darn good job at being as vérité as possible, like Paul Greengrass’s United 93, it’s literally unavoidable that what’s on the screen will differ substantially from the “thing that happened,” to borrow the phraseology of one of my lit professors.

So what does this all have to do with the Oscars? It’s simple: most of the literary adaptations this year, particularly the ones nominated for Best Picture, are forms of selective representation. Not only that, they are based on biographies and autobiographies—so they are twice removed from the “thing that happened.”

Why does this upset me? It’s not that I can’t enjoy a movie on its own merits without fussing over the history—I can (which is why The Social Network was so enjoyable to me). It’s that it depresses me that most people look at the “movie version” of history, and it therefore enters the collective consciousness of the masses. When people will remember Chris Kyle, they will remember him going head-to-head against a Syrian Olympian rival sniper, even though that never really happened. When people will remember Alan Turing, they will remember Benedict Cumberbatch whispering to his giant machine, called “Christopher” after his childhood friend (which it wasn’t).

So when musing on the literary adaptations, I will not be judging them as works of history, but rather works of literature – fiction, if you will – because to a certain extent, that’s exactly what they are.

So let’s get started?

Gone Girl

The first literary adaptation I will mention is the one for which I have actually read the book. David Fincher and Gillian Flynn did something that I thought was impossible – they made a great movie out of a great book with the full cooperation of the original author. When I heard stories of E.L. James fighting for creative control of the abominable 50 Shades of Grey, I laughed hysterically at the darlings she was trying to save. Movies and films are very different media, and it’s hard to make a decent adaptation of a book. But Flynn did it better than I thought was possible. She killed her darlings, and she did it remarkably well. When I heard her interviewed, she said something to the effect that she stripped the entire novel down to its bare essentials and then started to add things back in – often at the behest of David Fincher. Gone Girl, with its unorthodox structure and convoluted plot, could have been utterly un-filmable. That same problem nearly sunk Fincher’s earlier Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which clung to the anvil that was the source material. The cuts Flynn made to her own masterpiece were smart, smooth, and efficient. Only a handful were ones that I—a lover of the book—even noticed, much less missed. While the phenomenal Rosamund Pike stands as the sole representation of this film on Oscar night, I feel that Flynn’s snub in Best Adapted Screenplay is one of the biggest of the whole ceremony.

The Imitation Game

This movie falls into most of the traps that typical Hollywood biopics do, and that’s the fact that I could tell that the movie was Hollywoodized—big time. While this film won the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Writer’s Guild, I was baffled because I felt the writing was forced, contrived, and way too visible. What do I mean by this? While the subject matter of this film is fascinating – a brilliant outcast cracks an uncrackable Nazi code and wins the war for a country who would later betray him over his homosexuality. But I could tell when the writing was intentionally trying to make me feel things and squeezing history into its most pithy, quotable form. For instance, the aforementioned “Christopher,” the hulking machine that Turing creates is, in the film, named after his childhood friend and crush. Sure, that makes a thematic through line, tying Turing’s alienation to his work and also to his eventual fate, but I could tell it was a thematic through line, trying to tie a complicated story into a neat little bow. That example on top of oft-repeated lines, howling coincidences, and scenes seemingly written more for Sherlock than for Turing, annoyed me. In a way, the movie was too well-written, meaning I could see the strings, and it took me out of the film. I wasn’t convinced that half of the movie really happened, and when I did my research, I was annoyed that it hadn’t. I wish the movie had felt more real. Here’s hoping a fiction like Whiplash takes Best-Adapted-Screenplay over this Hollywood schlock.

American Sniper

Oh boy. I have found that the reaction to this film has more to do with the person reacting to it than to the movie itself. It’s like a political and cinematic Rorschach test – the right loves it, the left hates it, and much of the middle gets lost in the social media firefight that has raged since the movie hit screens. For that reason, I don’t wish to comment on the morality of the Iraq war or the personal character of Chris Kyle. Rather, I’d like to look at the movie itself. While Sniper suffers from biopic syndrome as well, as I mentioned earlier, manufacturing a villain out of a glorified footnote in Kyle’s memoir, it made for some compelling cinema (even though I could see the strings there too). What I appreciated about the film, however, was its characterization of Kyle. The film paints Kyle as a man who absolutely—100%–so-help-him-God—believed in what he was doing. Perhaps that’s why it opens itself up to so much controversy. For instance, some changes from the book to film, from what I have read, include adding more anti-war sentiment than the memoir had. For instance, loading up for a tour, Kyle meets his brother, who seems very disillusioned with the idea of war. In the scene, Kyle comes off as naïve for seeing the issue as black-and-white as he does (a simple “the enemy is trying to kill Americans, so I will kill them first” approach). Apparently that was a movie-only addition, and I think the film as a whole adds way more grey areas to the situation once the viewers can set aside their preconceived political beliefs.

Still Alice


Literary Paraphernalia: Bookish Socks & Sweaters

I hear it’s pretty cold out there. Though most of our contributors are based on the West Coast, we do feel a pang of empathy for all of you readers dealing with this:

Seriously, what is this blasphemy?

The good news is that with weather like that, there’s plenty of time to get some reading done. And shopping, of the online variety. Below are some bookish socks and sweaters to help keep you warm.

Got My Number Two Socks

To The Lighthouse Pullover


Throwback Thursday: How to Make Grammar a Habit

The other night, while brainstorming ideas for upcoming posts, a few other contributors here at The Poetics Project and I began discussing–well ranting, really–about the importance of grammar, which eventually led here:

 “I hate when people mess up grammar when texting for me. I have to send a text that says, ‘That grammatical error was due to the text not being composed by me. I thought you should know.'” – Allison Bellows

“If my boyfriend texts someone for me while I’m driving, I get mad when he forgets a comma.” – Melanie Figueroa (Me)

Now, at this point, some of you may be tilting your head and thinking to yourself, “That’s just ridiculous.” And you’re probably right, but at least let me defend myself and my fellow grammar nazis.

I can’t remember a single grammar lesson from my K-12 days. I’m sure I had them, but so much of the English I speak and write every day was just sort of instinctively imbedded in my brain. I didn’t will it to happen; it just did. I imagine that’s how it is for most people and their native tongue. In high school, the only time my teachers mentioned grammar was after several students made the same mistakes on our papers. It was the same for most of my college career as well. When a few students appeared to have a problem understanding the proper use of a comma, the lessons on run-on sentences, comma splices, subjects, and verbs would begin. But these lessons were abrupt; they didn’t stay with you.

It wasn’t until my senior year at a university that I actually took a English grammar course. After researching the requirements of different types of English majors, I realized that grammar wasn’t even a requirement for most of them, which was pretty depressing, actually. Even though I am pretty sure my professor was the devil himself (he had a thing for public humiliation and torture), I learned more in those few months in his class than I did in my entire life about grammar. My professor was a bit radical in the way he taught the subject. Despite the fact that he had worked at my university for almost thirty years, he had never taught a class on grammar. He hated the typical grammar books with slews of exercises to be assigned for homework each night, and he fundamentally believed that in order to really understand and retain grammar,  you had to use it, properly, every day. By this I mean that he believed if his students were to learn they had to write–not simply complete drills. He also believed in always speaking using proper English grammar. He was quite emphatic when he insisted that if we were to enter a job interview and say something like, “My sister and me–” instead of “My sister and I–” they would laugh us out of their office.


Everyday Inspiration

I don’t like to make generalizations, but let’s face it, book lovers and writers tend to be an introverted bunch of people. We like to live vicariously through our stories—which is good because as much as I like reading about the zombie apocalypse, I’d rather not live it.

As far as writers go, most of the ones I know tend to fall on one side of the same coin. They are either, like me, of the get-out-there-and-experience-shit variety—because what better way to write about it? Or, they tend to be of the aforementioned introverted type. The classic writer, locked away in his room typing away.

But it’s important, regardless of what kind of writer you are, to get out there and experience life because inspiration can strike in the strangest of places. Here are just a few tips how:

Take Public Transportation

I have a few poems and short stories that have been inspired by a trip on the bus or train. Buses and other forms of public transit tend to be places where you can find all types of people and personalities. You can be sitting next to someone who’s homeless or someone who owns their own company.

Sometimes, being so close to strangers leads to some pretty memorable experiences.

One time, on my way to the Greyhound station downtown, a couple boarded the MAX together. The woman was swaying and slurring her words. It was 7 a.m. She was saying goodbye to the man she was with, but she wouldn’t leave, no matter how many times he asked her. The lights on the doors flickered. “The doors are closing,” a woman’s voice said on the loud speaker. But each time the door attempted to shut, it was stopped by the woman’s large bottom and wide hips. She swatted at the door like it was a fly.

It was a little funny and sad. And when she started yelling and another man on board started yelling back, a tiny part of me was even afraid. But then it ended. And I wrote it down. An anecdote in a larger story.

Walk Through the City


Fifty Shades of Conversation

While I have yet to and probably will never see the Fifty Shades of Grey movie nor read the books that inspired it, I am happy it has been written, has become popular, has been made into a movie, and has changed what is and isn’t taboo for the public to have a conversation about.

Literature is reflective of the society it is written in and can often point out uncomfortable truths about the world around us. Is Fifty Shades of Grey literature? I don’t want to get into that debate. I know the grammar is awful and it started off as Twilight fan fiction, but I’m not the ultimate authority on what and what isn’t literature nor do I know what future generations will think is great literature from our time.

“Here we see the inspiration for the greatest novel of the 21st century – the color grey.” – Some guy 1,000 years in the future.

What I do know is that Fifty Shades of Grey has started multiple conversations throughout multiple news sources, on multiple blogs, and even on multiple people’s Facebook pages related to women’s rights, affirmative consent versus coerced consent, BDSM, capitalism, and pornography. If Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t around, would these conversations be happening in the open? Would our society be looking at these issues?

I, at first, was wary of clicking on articles related to Fifty Shades of Grey because I had no interest in the story, but when I noticed a trend of critical societal examination in the titles, I started to click on articles and I was happily surprised.