Personal Essays

There Is No Enjoyment Like Reading: A Pride & Prejudice Collection

I was never one of those teenagers who watched romance movies or swooned over the guys on the football team (those guys are overrated anyway) or talked about their crush endlessly (instead I liked to just watch from afar and fantasize about our perfect fake relationship). So you might find it surprising to know that I now collect copies of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, which is THE romance. It’s the romance that all romances aspire to be. It’s the romance that has women of all ages and backgrounds falling in love with Austen. And I’m sure you’ve seen the endless copycats and retellings and sequels of Pride and Prejudice.

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So how did I get swept in too, despite thinking I would never ever be a romantic? It was actually the 2005 movie that sucked me in. But I didn’t see it until two years later, right before I graduated high school. And that’s when I fell in love with everything about it: the romance, the characters (especially the witty Miss Elizabeth Bennett), the language, the social situations, the clothing, and of course Mr. Darcy!

Then I read the book and loved it even more.

My growing collection of Pride and Prejudice started on a whim two years ago. I was in the Strand bookstore in the fiction section when I saw a bright pink cover peeking out from all of the boring book spines. I had my brother reach up and grab it (at 4’10” not many shelves are in reach) and saw that it was a beautiful rubber-texture cover version with engraved words and phrases of the book. It was love at first sight.

As one of my favorite classic stories, I knew I had to have more copies. There are so many stunning versions out there. So then I got another and another and another. Now I have seven copies of Pride and Prejudice as well as three copies of Persuasion (my second favorite Austen book) and I’m always looking to acquire more.

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It seems I like collecting-all-the-things because I also collect mugs and anything with owls.

What do you collect?

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Sara Strauss is an aspiring novelist. By day, she is a social media guru and by night a blogger at Sincerely, Sara. She likes staying up late to read fantasy novels and eating too many Oreos. 

Turn to Books

[Editor’s note: I’m so pleased to welcome a fellow SUNY Purchase alum, Zach, to BiblioSmiles!  Let him know your thoughts -and share your own stories- in the comments below.]

More than the books themselves, I always remember the time I spent with them. This is not an insult to the stories the authors have drafted, edited, edited again and then published for me to enjoy. I see it as a compliment, maybe even the highest praise I could give to a story.

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I remember the first and only time I read Dangling Man by Saul Bellow was in the midst of a howling New York hurricane. Mom told us to keep stapling garbage bags to the walls to prevent our possessions from getting damaged by the oncoming rain. I was supposed to go back to college to start my senior year but due to weather and the threat of death by commute, I was being held hostage in my childhood home, constantly checking my cell phone to see if my sort-of girlfriend was enjoying her first day back at college in North Carolina. She’s not my girlfriend in the way that we broke up because we both agreed that long distance relationships never work, but she’s sort of my girlfriend in the way that we keep calling and saying that we love each other.

So it’s just like every college relationship out there.

I sent her several texts, sounding more and more desperate for human contact.

12:05 AM text to Kelsi
“Hurricane’s in full swing here but don’t worry! We’re all safe! Miss you!”

12:10 AM text to Kelsi
“I’ve been reading Dangling Man so I might be up later if you wanna call!”

12:20 AM text to Kelsi
“Not that you have to call. Just if you wanted to. Hope you’re enjoying being back at school!”

The wonderful thing about books is that they will always talk back to you.

At the beginning of the night, I had no intention of reading. But my parents put me in charge of checking the walls every 45 minutes for rain damage, and if Kelsi was at a party, then she was never going to call and the world was asleep or far away from where I was and I all I wanted was someone to relate to. Enter Saul Bellow and his madcap narration of Joseph, who is left stranded in Chicago without a purpose or a person he can relate to.

In short, I fell in love. I had found someone who understood what it felt like to feel trapped in your life at the exact moment the walls started to cave inside myself. I clung to the pages for dear life.

I remember how when I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I was walking through the hallways of my elementary school, looking at all the muggles who had no idea what I was about to become. The hallway was empty save for myself who was running late to class, because when your eyes have transported you to Hogwarts, it’s hard to get your body to return to PS 29.

One day in fifth grade, I had a fever of 101 and stayed home. Missing the schedule of my school day, I decided to sit in a corner of my room and read the entirety of The Zack Files series by Dan Greenburg. I made it through book #16, Evil Queen Tut and the Great Ant Pyramids, before falling asleep.

Sixth grade was the year my friend Amr and I began competitively sneak-reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy throughout all our classes. We designed book covers that looked like our textbooks in order to give ourselves just a few more extra minutes in Middle Earth.

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My first time sitting through Grand Jury Duty for a week was made less mind-numbing thanks to Dave Eggers and his magnum opus to quarter-life strife, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The tedious proceedings of justice rendered less monotonous with Dave Eggers in my lap.

My mother lent me Paul Auster’s The Red Notebook one day at home in Brooklyn and now I make sure it’s with me wherever I go.

There was one copy of E.L. Doctorow’s classic Ragtime at Midwood High School’s library, and I spent periods one through five devouring it. Looking up from the tattered pages and out at the bookshelves and pimpled high schoolers, I began to understand that there were life experiences I had yet to participate in.

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While working on a documentary in Florida, I escaped the stench of the state with Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. When I met him two months later, I thanked him for helping me escape Florida. He told me it was his pleasure.

I read a collection of short stories from Raymond Carver on the night my friends abandoned me for a dorm party and the next morning I was the only one to wake up without regrets.

The day I finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, I stared out my first floor bedroom window at Purchase College and admired life as a whole. I saw the sun shining bright, painting the day in orange hues. I saw a guy and a girl walking to lunch and I wondered if they were in love or if they were friends or if they would enjoy reading a book today.

When my life gets strange or weird or seemingly out of control, I look for a book to sink into. I’m never sure if I would remember those moments were it not for the books I read then and I’m not even sure if my life would have ended up the way it is were it not for books. One of my favorite moments that happens every single time I read a book is that moment when you finish a sentence and turn your eyes upwards and outwards to the surrounding world ahead of you. Books are the floating piece of wood for when your plane has crashed into the ocean and you need something to help get you back to the shores of life.

When you have the time, spend it with books. They’ll always reward you for the effort spent.

Zach Lennon-Simon is a writer, filmmaker, and YouTuber originally from Brooklyn, NY. He enjoys books, sci-fi shows, beer, pizza, and the attempts of the New York Mets to achieve greatness. Check out his YouTube channel, Zach Vlogs.

Why to Read Outside Your Genre

There are people who only read one genre. People who are steadfast horror fans or romance readers, or if the book doesn’t have vampires with smoldering gazes, then count them out.

I can’t imagine doing that. What if I miss something really brilliant?! It’s not like I have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) for every single book out there, but if something looks interesting or is about something I want to know more about, I’m going to read it. Because of that, I’ve read some really strange books that surprised me.

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There was Birth, a really interesting look into the historical, sociological, medical, and cultural aspects of being born. Another book was Plum Island by Nelson Demille, a gritty crime novel that focuses on the secret island off the shore of Long Island. And (cough) I even read a few romance novels, thanks to a friend’s obsession in high school.

I took to asking our lovely contributors for their own experiences! What were books that people would be surprised to hear they read and enjoyed?

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Danielle: I’m generally not a big fantasy / adventure story reader, but I really enjoyed Renee Ahdieh’s debut, The Wrath and the Dawn! It was full of suspense and gorgeous prose, and I fell hard for the characters. I can’t wait for the next book!

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Sara: I don’t read a lot of autobiography or self-help books, but I recently read Yes Please by Amy Poehler and The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna, and loved both of them!

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Kim: I think I’m stuck on YA books because they take no brain power from me, and I am totally done after a 50-hour work week. But one of my favorite series of books in high school was about a span of four year’s worth of The Best American Essays. The topics were all over the place and the writing styles were crazy-different, and I just loved the format and how much I learned so quickly.

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Andrew: I just read my first proper “romance,” or so John Updike calls it. Marry Me was dreamy and horrifying, and now I’m not sure if I ever want to get married. Overall a great intro to the genre!

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Eden: I just read I Put a Spell on You – it’s an autobiography by Nina Simone and it was really great. I also read The Beat Hotel by Barry Miles, which describes the adventures of the beat poets in 1960s Paris. Both of these books were different kinds of reads for me but both very interesting and great!

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AlysonBecause of my yoga teacher training I’ve had to read a lot of yoga books. But one of them, The Radiance Sutras translated by Lorin Roche, is written in poetry stanzas. It is a really beautiful take on life and love and spirituality. I’ve never read a poetry book before.

How about you, readers? Is there anything you’ve read that was out of your comfort zone? Did you like it, or totally hate it? Will you try to read outside of your genre in the new year?

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Movie Review: Mockingjay – Part 2

mockingjaypart2 Though the first Hunger Games book was published less than a decade ago in 2008, it was an instant hit with fans, with tens of millions of books sold in the trilogy. The first film was released only four years later, with book author Suzanne Collins helping to write the screenplay. It was a massive success, with almost $700 million in box office sales worldwide. With the release of Mockingjay – Part 2, the last film in the cinematic quartet – modified from the original published trilogy – premiering last week on November 20th, excitement has reached a fever pitch.

We return to the world of Panem in the middle of an all-out war between the government and the rebellion. Katniss, played by the renowned actress Jennifer Lawrence, is fighting along with other rebels to free the districts from the evil President Snow, who has been skillfully played throughout the film series by Donald Sutherland. She’s been reunited with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who was previously tortured and brainwashed into hating Katniss, which puts a damper on their ambiguously romantic relationship.

Overall, the continuation of this story follows the immense and numerous difficulties faced by both our beloved characters and the viewers who have already invested time and emotion into the three earlier films, which can now be seen on Hulu or cable TV. Katniss finds herself doubting what and who she’s truly fighting for, realizing that both sides of the war she’s in really aren’t that different from each other. The element of propaganda also plays a huge part on both sides of the war, with Katniss at the center of the rebellion’s strategic display of propos.

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Though darker in tone and more action-oriented than the other films, Mockingjay – Part 2 successfully portrays its evolution from focusing on just one part of corruption within the government (the actual Hunger Games) to the bigger picture, in which everyone realizes the very existence of President Snow’s Panem will ultimately lead to society’s collapse. Because of this, we are able to delve deeper into Katniss’ desperation and anger even more than the novels did. Certainly more of the intricacy of the battles are put on display for the viewers: all the better to show the carnage and fear of war. This is perhaps even a reflection of today’s war-torn world, with soldiers young enough to still be called children.

Katniss is portrayed as more vulnerable initially, and President Coin (Julianne Moore) is more present and more obviously willing to do whatever it takes to win the war, including using Katniss and other innocent people in whatever ways needed. Both the nobility of the war and the savageness of it is on full display. The government heads of both the rebellion and the establishment are portrayed as cold and calculating – a clear indication of how governments are viewed in today’s actual society, where little trust is given to even our elected leaders.

Overall, the film will definitely satisfy fans and give them what they need rather than what they want. Plot points are neatly wrapped up and the drama that was created by the earlier releases continues to build through most of the film. Although it has all the elements of a war movie, Mockingjay – Part 2 does not fail to build upon the themes it has established in the last three movies and continues to comment on the problematic orders of dystopian societies. This ending to a long-loved franchise will continue to resonate with fans long after leaving the movie theaters.

Spencer Blohm is a writer and blogger based in the windy city of Chicago, IL. On the rare occasion he isn’t busy with work or catching up on much-needed sleep, you can find him indulging his other passions: pie-making and classic silent films. He’s a Gemini and his favorite food is SPAM. Find him on Twitter @bspencerblohm.

My First Novel: Steady is the Fall

[Editor’s Note: Readers! I’m so excited to share that Emily, a BiblioSmiles contributor and a fellow Purchase creative writing alum, has a novel coming out on October 29th from Black Rose Writing! She’s here to talk about her experience. I’ll be sharing my review of her novel closer to the release date, so keep watch!]

Steady Is The Fall Cover You never know which will be the one. The thing which takes all those whens and maybes and transforms them into something tangible. Something outside of your dear and tender imagination. Over the last nineteen years I began writing dozens of novels and completed three of them before beginning the one. The first to be published. The first to change everything.

I began writing when I was very small. I don’t know a life without stories. I wouldn’t want to really. I treated each book I wrote carefully. They were all different genres with different virtues and flaws, but the only really difference between them was the evolution in quality with the passage of time. Stories from a child. Stories from a teenager. Stories from a writer.

The book which will be published this year is called Steady is the Fall and while I may not have known at the time that it would be the one, I do remember the start of it. I wrote a majority of the first draft in a small three-person room in college with no air conditioning. It was on the first floor and bigger than most rooms, though the building itself was nothing remarkable. I had always dreamed of going somewhere with historic stone buildings and breathtaking architecture, but that never happened. Instead I attended a small, strange, beautiful college at the edge of New York state. It was there that I wrote most of this book, first in the hot first floor room and the following year in a third story paradise in one of the newest buildings. Private bathroom. Real light fixtures. Air conditioning. Beautiful view of the forest right outside my window.

It was in this room where I read The Bell Jar and Ordinary People, two books which made me realize that my own novel did have a place after all. It is hard to get people to read bleak literary fiction, let alone want to bother with the money to buy it. I’m not saying that I’m Sylvia Plath or Judith Guest. I would never dream it. Their books did, however, prove that it is possible and that devastating, beautiful tales could stand against the brutality of time. They could be heard and treasured and matter in a world which thrives on flashiness and high-octane thrill rides.

Steady is the Fall will always be important to me, not just because it will be “my first” but because it was the book which bridged childhood and adulthood for me. When I started writing it I possessed all the naivety and insecurities of a teenager. Of course those attributes haven’t just disappeared, but so much has changed. Evolved. To undergo such a transformation during the course of one novel is a unique thing and for that I will always look at this story as the one which grew me up.

You never now which will be the one and I hope, as all writers hope, that this book will be worthy of such a landmark. Such a title. Such a truth.

It is the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another.

[Add Steady is the Fall on Goodreads here!]

Emily Ruth Verona is the author of the novel Steady Is The Fall. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies from The State University of New York at Purchase. She is a recipient of the Pinch Literary Award in Fiction, a Jane Austen Short Story Award Finalist, and Luke Bitmead Bursary Finalist. In 2015 she was shortlisted for the Galtelli Literary Prize. Her work has been featured in The Pinch Literary Journal, The Lost Country, The Toast, and Indigo Rising. She lives in New Jersey with a very small dog.

A Botched First Date: A Blog Tour Stop by Scott Wilbanks

(Editor’s Note: I’m so pleased to share that BiblioSmiles is a blog tour stop for Scott Wilbanks, the author of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. Gabriele was given a copy via NetGalley, and Scott Wilbanks is here to promote the book with a personal essay.)

9781492612469-PR I wonder how many writers can claim a botched first date as the inspiration for their debut novel? And if they could, how many would actually have the cheek to admit it? As Stephen King said, “Fiction is a lie, but good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” So here goes…

It had all begun so charmingly, really.

I’d lived in the Castro district of San Francisco for a good ten years up until that fateful moment, and can say with a good degree of certainty that our paths had never crossed until that peculiar weekend when I’d spied him at my regular neighborhood haunts five times.

The first of our encounters was so vivid that it even found its way into Lemoncholy‘s pages.

The cars crawled. A hummingbird inched forward like a slow-motion sequence in a National Geographic special, its wings undulating in the exquisite fashion of a Japanese fan dancer. A dog floated upward in the park across the street, a look of pure joy frozen on its face, eyes focused on a Frisbee hovering inches from eager jaws and spinning so slowly that you could read the word Wham-O on it. Then, whoosh… time repaired itself and Christian was walking all too quickly past the face with the secret smile.

Okay, so I just gave away two secrets right there. Christian—Annie’s best friend, a young man burdened with a debilitating stutter—is based on me. And, as the excerpt reveals, I do love my melodrama.

But getting back to those mysterious encounters. As the narrative indicates, I quickly dubbed the object of my fascination “the face,” and by the fifth encounter (at the gym), one that involved my tank top and a joke about “third cousins, twice removed” that earned me a laugh, I had his phone number.

We met for coffee—a calculated decision on my part—what with dinner showing too much commitment, and drinks at the local pub showing too little class.  In my opinion, coffee for a first date is the equivalent of the third bear’s porridge. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, it puts everybody at ease, and is j-u-s-t right.

Truth be told, I’d thought everything was going swimmingly, that is until my date made it clear that it wasn’t by rocking back in his chair to declare, “I think we are destined to be great friends.”

Great… friends.

Not the comment you’d expect when you’re picking colors for a picket fence.—I might have been jumping the gun a wee bit, but who hasn’t? I’d even come up with a name for the dog the two of us would surely be adopting. Sneeze.  I’d already decided that we’d name him Sneeze.

Thirty minutes and a cataclysmic decline into tragically boring conversation later, I found myself driving home—fenceless, dogless (sad face emoji)—and with my tail tucked firmly between my legs when it occurred to me that things are only inevitable when you accept them as such. By the time I’d pulled into my drive, I’d concocted a pair of characters in my head—Annabelle Aster, a modern day San Francisco eccentric with a penchant for Victorian clothes, and Elsbeth Grundy, a cantankerous, old schoolmarm living in turn-of-the-century wheat field —pen pals who write one another between contemporary San Francisco and Victorian Kansas, depositing their correspondences in a brass letterbox that stands in some common magical ground between the two.

I ran upstairs, whipped up a letter from Annie to Elsbeth in which she asked for advice regarding her love-struck friend—me—and promptly emailed it to my date. I know, right?

The following day, I received a call. Amidst the laughter in the background, I was slowly beginning to grasp that my email had made the rounds at my failed date’s office and was a bit of a hit. More were demanded.

“Sadly, I cannot,” I said.

“Why’s that?”

Wait for it now…  (This part is positively diabolical.)  “Elsbeth hasn’t written back,” I responded, as if nothing could be more obvious.

Within the hour, there was an email in my inbox with Elsbeth’s name in the subject line. And while he’d certainly gotten into the spirit of things, I must admit that Elsbeth’s grammar was shockingly poor for a schoolmarm.

These letters became a regular thing, and ultimately formed the core around which I built the plot of my book.

And what my date’s prognostication, you might ask? We did become the best of friends. After all, how could we not? He’d inspired Edmond, the character in Lemoncholy who coaxes Christian’s secret to the surface, curing him of his stutter.

Sadly, my friend passed away two years ago, though I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s rolling his eyes at this little piece of drollery from Heaven.

About the Book:

Annabelle Aster has discovered a curious thing behind her home in San Francisco–a letterbox perched atop a picket fence. The note inside is blunt—trespass is dealt with at the business end of a shotgun in these parts!—spurring some lively correspondence between the Bay Area orphan and her new neighbor, a feisty widow living in nineteenth-century Kansas.

The source of mischief is an antique door Annie installed at the rear of her house. The man who made the door—a famed Victorian illusionist—died under mysterious circumstances.

Annie and her new neighbor, with the help of friends and strangers alike, must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and somehow already did.

Scott Wilbanks graduated summa cum laude from The University of Oklahoma and went on to garner several national titles in the sport of gymnastics. Scott’s husband, Mike, is a New Zealander by birth, and the two split their time between the two countries while Scott is at work on his next standalone novel. Visit Scott’s website at scottbwilbanks.com.

Books Aren’t Movies… And That’s Okay

[Editor’s note: I’m so pleased to welcome a fellow SUNY Purchase alum, Jonathan, to BiblioSmiles! Read his awesome piece on books and movies below, and be sure to follow him on Twitter: @itsjonrobertson.]

In the 1960s, crime novelist James M. Cain was interviewed by a fledgling reporter who asked “What do you think of what Hollywood has done to your books?” Cain had sold the rights to many of his novels (Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity) to movie studios, dating back to the 1940s. Cain replied:

“They haven’t done anything to my books. They’re right there on the shelf. They’re fine.”

For as long as cinema has existed, filmmakers have used literature for narrative source material. It makes sense, really – both can easily contain plot, story, and character. And there’s an added sense of security for a film studio to invest in an adaptation of a best selling book because the source material provides both a solid story foundation as well as a built-in audience.

Even if the film adaptation doesn’t fare well, there is still a devoted group who will head straight to their local cinema on opening night to spend a few hours with characters and a story they love, made from a new perspective at twenty four frames per second.

No matter how faithful or derivative the adaptation proves to be, you’ll no doubt hear (or even say yourself) “The book was so much better. They left out so much.” Or “[Character] was nothing like what I imagined. Horrible casting!”

But I think that part of the reason for this reaction is that film and prose literature are so completely different in how they are experienced.

Viewing a film is a shared experience, brought to you by a group of filmmakers and artists who are telling a story to an entire room of people munching popcorn. It’s a great experience, but how can it even be compared to reading, which is so often a quiet, isolated experience?
The answer is: It can’t.

So I’d argue that one should never be disappointed about the translation of a novel onto the silver screen – rather, one should approach the film knowing that it’s another artist’s tribute to the source material.

Let’s take a look at The Shining, which was written by Stephen King in 1977, and adapted to film in 1980 and to TV in 1997. When you read The Shining, you’re experiencing the characters and a story via a one-on-one translation from the author to you. The words spoken by the characters, the details, the story – all are being related to you by the author himself. Any details that your mind fills in (the appearance of a character or their voice, for instance) are yours alone.

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But when you see the 1980 film you’re experiencing the story through the following people:
Stanley Kubrick, who directed the film and wrote the screenplay with
Diane Johnson.
John Alcott, who shot the film with
Ted Churchill operating the Steadicam rig.
Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, and Danny Lloyd, playing the family in peril.
And Ray Lovejoy, who edited the film.

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And those are just the principal cast and crew. There were dozens of others involved in the production of the film, and dozens more involved in the marketing and distribution of the it. So it’s meritless to be disappointed with the film because it didn’t give you the same or a similar experience as a book because in reality, they’re two completely separate entities.

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Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut once engaged in a book-length conversation on cinema and art (published as Hitchcock/Truffaut – a brilliant read), in which Truffaut asked about Hitchcock’s approach to adapting literature. Hitchcock said:

“What I do is to read a story only once, and if I like the basic idea, I just forget all about the book and start to create cinema. Today I would be unable to tell you’re the story of Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds. I read it only once, and very quickly at that.”

A book exists unto itself, and attempting to adapt it as closely as possible is ultimately a fruitless endeavor because the film will never in two hours, accomplish what a book can in two hundred pages. And that’s alright – they’re completely different. Literature and Cinema are separate mediums, each with their own possibilities, many of which they don’t share with each other.

So the next time one of your favorite books finds its way on to the silver screen, when they miscast a character so horribly that you cringe, or they change the ending to allow for a sequel, remember:

That book is still on your shelf, and it’s fine.

Jonathan Robertson is a New York based filmmaker who will never be as cool as Steve McQueen. And that crushes him. But he still tries. Feel free to follow him on twitter @itsjonrobertson for musings on film, literature, and occasionally Mexican food.