Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Bridge to Terabithia: Connecting the Real World to Fantasy

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Surprisingly few Newbery winning books have been made into movies. The Bridge to Terabithia (1977), by Katherine Paterson, is one of them. The 2007 Disney movie tweaked the original story. In the book, 10-year-old Jess and his friend Leslie imagine Terabithia as a kingdom in the woods. The book, however, does very little to detail that kingdom while the movie makes it into a more visual, seemingly real place.

The general argument is always supposed to be that the book is better than the movie. However, the book-version of Terabithia leaves something to be desired. There are relatively few scenes which let the reader get any sense of just how magical Terabithia is. I was left wanting full-fledged chapters about the kids' imaginary adventures, but got little more than a few paragraphs sprinkled throughout the book. The movie, however, clearly builds on the fantasy element of Terabithia, as one can see in the trailer alone:

As always, my point in reading the Newbery books (I'm up to 25 now) is to see what I can learn as a writer. What talents in storytelling and style and characterization can I bring to my own writing based on what these award-winning authors have done?

My first lesson is to elaborate on where Paterson fell short. My in-progress Abigail's Atlantis relies heavily on making Atlantis feel like a very real place and that requires enveloping a reader in caring about what it looks like and what happens there. I didn't get that with Terabithia.

On the other hand, the story is more about the friendship between Jess and Leslie. She enters Jess's life as the new girl from the city, a rival - the one person who can run faster. While no one else becomes friends with her, eventually she and Jess unite over their makeshift shed in the woods which they dub "Terabithia." It represents the imaginative and creative spirit which brings the two together as friends - and the place where Jess will go to deal with the tragedy at the climax of the book.

On that note, Paterson does an excellent job of creating real characters which the reader cares about. I root for Jess and Leslie as the outsiders, the artists, the dreamers. I care about these characters in their real-world scenarios and the problems they faced. I just wish I could have fallen in love with the supposed-to-be-magical land of Terabithia which connected them to each other in the first place.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Love Is a Mix Tape: A Review

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I just finished reading the New York Times bestseller, Love Is a Mix Tape (2007) by Rob Sheffield. The book reads like stream-of-consciousness journal entries written by a music fanatic. I can definitely relate. See my reading, Ways to Spot a Music Geek.

As is par for the course, when I review books on my Writ by Whit blog, I am looking for what I can learn as a writer. My closest related work to Mix Tape is my unfinished Music Lessons from the Pit. (See a sample chapter here). The events are inspired by people and events from my coming-of-age years in the 1980s. While highly fictionalized, my goal is to capture real feelings and emotions in the context of the music of the moment. Each chapter comes from a song title, generally under-the-radar indie-rock and alternative-rock hits like New Order's "Blue Monday" or The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go." Check out a sampling of songs referenced in the book here.

Similarly, Sheffield's book surrounds autobiographical events with the music that framed them. Each chapter kicks off with the rundown of songs collected on a mix tape. Sheffield then uses that as a springboard for unfolding his saga, which is mostly about meeting Renée, marrying, and then tragically losing her to pulmonary embolism.

Obviously the death of his wife at such a young age is the overriding theme of the book. However, Rob gives his tragic tale its unique spin by giving the reader insight into how music played into his relationship with Renée - and how he used it to cope with her loss.

Learn more about this book and others written by Sheffield at Here a sample from Mix Tape here: