Saturday, 29 April 2017

Magical Menagerie

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I love the writing of JK Rowling, especially the wizarding world of Harry Potter. However my last journey into this world was rather disappointing as I found Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016), the play based on a story by Rowling, to be seriously lacking.

But then along came Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rowling's screenplay of the latest film in the franchise. I saw the movie first, which I absolutely loved, and then quickly went on to read the screenplay.

Set in New York in the 1920s, British Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives at Ellis Island with a case filled with his fantastic beasts. Some of his creatures escape from the case and Newt has to round them up before they wreak havoc and are seen by muggles (called 'no-maj' in America). Along the way Newt befriends no-maj baker Jacob, is taken to the Magical Congress by Tina, a witch trying to advance her career. There is also a temperance movement on the rise, attempting to quash any difference and encourage segregation. The story is entertaining but has a strong political backbone.

The movie was wonderful. Eddie Redmayne was delightful as Newt, Colin Farrell is mysterious as Auror Percival Graves, Ezra Miller plays Credence, a teenaged orphan wanting to fit in, and Katherine Waterston as the hotdog eating Tina. My favourites were Dan Fogler's Jacob and Allison Sudol as telepathic Queenie. The special effects were great and the set and costumes captured the period well. This is the first in a multi-film franchise so I look forward to seeing them all.

Reading the screenplay after seeing the film was interesting. I had expected there to be more in the screenplay - scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor or on the DVD extras. But it was more of a transcript of what happened on film, almost as if it was written after the fact. That was a bit disappointing as I thought I might learn more of Newt's world than was shown on screen.

I should also note what a beautiful book the hardcover screenplay is. Filled with illustrations and sketches, it is a gorgeous package. I would recommend the screenplay, but suggest you see the film first.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Stella Prize 2017

The Stella Prize winner was announced this week with the award going to Tasmanian author Heather Rose for her novel The Museum of Modern Love.

Rose sets her novel in 2010 in New York at the Museum of Modern Art. MOMA is hosting an event in which artist Marina Abramovic sits opposite attendees and holds their gaze. She calls her piece The Artist is Present and for 75 days people come to sit with this artist. The novel focuses on the lives of those who attend the exhibition.

Lauded for its originality and the way in which real events are merged with fiction, the novel focuses on the lives of characters struggling with deep questions.

Heather Rose gave a wonderful acceptance speech upon receiving the prize and the transcript is well worth reading.

Another book to add to my ever-growing pile!

Update June 2017 - Now read, read review here.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Learning for success

I will be changing jobs in the next few weeks, so I have been keen to work my way through some of the books that I have purchased for my employer's library before I go. One recent acquisition is Dr Carol S Dweck's book Mindset (2006, revised 2017).

Dr Dweck is a world-renowned psychologist from Stanford University. She has spent much of her life researching success and failure, and the way our mindset is linked with our potential. She has found that there are essentially two mindsets - fixed or growth - and the mindset in which we approach our life can have a profound effect on how we progress.

A fixed mindset is one in which intelligence, talent and abilities are fixed - you either have it or you don't. This mindset leads one to view success and failure through a narrow lens. Challenges are avoided, effort is a waste of time, the success of others is a threat.

A growth mindset is one in which intelligence, talent and abilities can be developed. Learning is valued and the process is just as important as the outcome. Challenges are embraced, mistakes are learned from, effort leads to mastery and there is a sense of free will.

Dweck looks at mindset through exploring the stories of athletes, artists, students, parents, employers and others. She shows the limitations of a fixed mindset and the advantages of growth. Dweck shows that most of us have both mindsets - for example, we may believe that we can learn to do most things, except that artistic talent is something you either have or you don't.

Her main message is 'the view you adopt of yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life'. I found this book enlightening, as I am generally one with a growth mindset, but have had periods where I have become fixed. Not only does Dweck identify these mindsets but she provides a pathway for change.

This book made me think a lot about how I give and receive feedback, praise children for their achievements, communicate with those close to me. I would recommend Mindset to parents, managers, coaches, those wanting to develop themselves and anyone involved in developing others.

Dr Dweck also gave an interesting Ted Talk on this subject which can be viewed below.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Pulitzer Prize 2017

The Pulitzer Prize Winners and Finalists were announced this week. The Pulitzer Prize recognises achievement in journalism and other written works.

The winner of the fiction prize is Coulson Whitehead for his book The Underground Railway (2016). This is the story of Cora, a slave in Georgia, who attempts to escape through the underground railroad to the North.

This novel has previously been awarded the National Book Award, made many top ten lists, and was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as a selection for her popular book club.  I have heard great things about this novel and look forward to reading it. Whitehead will be speaking at the Sydney Writers Festival next month, which I will miss this year due to my travels.

Finalists for the prize this year were Adam Haslet's Imagine Me Gone (2016) and C E Morgan for The Sport of Kings (2016).

The winner of the non-fiction award is Matthew Desmond for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016). Desmond explores poverty in the poorest areas of Milwaukee, and the landlords that control the fate of their tenants. Eviction has become a regular occurrence for renters. Using personal stories and data, Desmond looks at poverty cycles and housing issues.

Finalists in this category were John Donvan and Caren Zuker for In a Different Key: The Story of Autism (2016) and Micki McElya for The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery (2016).

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Changeling

In 2013 I read Hannah Kent's debut novel Burial Rites, a fictional account of the true historical case of an Icelandic woman sentenced to death for her part in a murder. It was a gripping masterpiece, well researched and written.

Like many other Kent fans, I have been eagerly awaiting her next foray into fiction. In late 2016 she published her second novel, The Good People. Set in 1820s Ireland, the story centres on a  remote Killarney village where the locals are aware of the "Good People" - the mischievous fairies that reside near by. Initially, the idea of a novel based on folklore and fairies did not interest me, so I put it aside for a few months before deciding to crack the spine. However, once I entered Kent's world I was deeply engrossed by this compelling tale.

Nora Leahy has recently been widowed and in her grief she finds it even more challenging to care for her grandson Michael. The four year old boy is unable to walk or speak due to some mysterious malady that suddenly beset him at age two. Nora hires Mary, a teenaged girl from out of town, to assist with the care of the child. Nora also seeks support from the local doctor and the priest, both of whom offer prayers as the only option for the boy.

Nance Roche is an elderly woman who lives on the edge of the fairy forest. She knows the fairy ways and with local herbs and potions she can cure many ills. Many locals come to her for treatment of aches and pains, although the priest is convinced she does the devil's work and others view her with suspicion. Nora seeks out Nance's help to cure the boy as she becomes convinced he is a changeling, and that the fairies have her real Michael.

The inspiration for this book, as with Burial Rites, was a real life case. The author vividly creates a village of poor, uneducated, superstitious locals. The three women - Nance, Nora and Mary - are well crafted and you can feel their desperation to cure the boy. Kent's description of the environment, the flora and weather, transports the reader back in time.

I recommend this book highly to anyone wanting to lose themselves in another time and place. It would be a great read for book clubs as there are so many things to discuss.