Me Before You

 

I just recently finished reading Me Before You, a popular book by JoJo Moyes which was recommended to me by several friends.  Since finishing the book, people have asked me, “Was it good?”

It depends on what makes a book good.

Is a book good when you don’t want to stop reading, when you are filled with curiosity about what will happen next and are anxious to see how it will end?  Then this was a great book.  I really didn’t want to stop reading it the few times I had to set it down and I frequently found myself throughout the workday wondering what would happen next.

Or is a book good when you love the whole story and how it ended?  Then no, it was not a good book. I have mixed feelings about how the book ended so overall have mixed feelings about the book. If asked if I liked it, it’s hard for me to say simply yes or no.

But maybe it is that indecision and continued thought after finishing the book that makes it a good book.  Maybe the fact that I didn’t simply put it down and move on without any further thought makes it a success. 

Me Before You is billed as “heart-breaking”, “romantic”, and generally a weep-fest.  I did cry a bit, but found myself more frustrated than moved.

Our main characters are Louisa Clark, who in need of a job, accepts one as a caregiver to Will Traynor, a wealthy quadriplegic man who used to live a very large life and now struggles with living a smaller, more painful one.

Moyes puts a lot into the book that makes you think. Reading Me Before You made me think of a favorite quote about one of the joys of reading: 

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy. ~Edward P. Morgan

Moyes gives us both fragile thoughts and explosive ideas.  I’ll tackle the fragile thought first, as it was what I liked most about the book and why I would recommend it.  The explosive idea is morally and politically charged as well as filled with “spoilers” – as River Song might say in Doctor Who ( sorry I have a house full of Whovians at the moment and I can hear her voice saying spoilers, spoilers).

The fragile thought for me, that touched me, looked at how we define ourselves, our lives, our limits. Will Traynor challenges Lou to live a bigger life, not limiting herself to the tiny world and life she had defined for herself.  While I may not have connected with Will’s character, as I’ll discuss more later, one thing I did appreciate about Will was the way he challenged her tendency to say “That’s not me.”  Louisa’s response to things she hadn’t done before, like going to the orchestra or scuba diving was often, “Well that’s not me.”  When Will basically dares her to try things, and then provides her not only the opportunity but a strong motivation to try them, she begins to see herself differently. The Louisa Clark we meet in the beginning is a very different one than we see at the end, and I liked her journey. It made me ask myself, “What am I missing out on by telling myself, ‘That’s not me’.”?  I love that a book can open up new thoughts like that. 

The explosive idea (spoiler alert) is with Will’s decision to end his life through assisted suicide.  While I’ve read some very heated responses to the morality or politics of the “right to die” or “right to choose” or however you want to define the idea of whether a person should be able to receive medical assistance to end their own life, I don’t want to get into a debate about the big concept.  I think people will have very strong opinions about whether it is right or wrong, should be legal or should not be legal, and then even further into other related issues.  I don’t really want to go there.  Though many certainly will, and would argue it’s an important discussion to have. Perhaps.  I just don’t want to have it.

I’d like to speak very specifically about Will’s choice.  Not whether he should be allowed to have the choice. 

Why I struggled with this book and felt like flinging it across the room in the end was because Will was so determined to end his life and would not be swayed from that decision.  His argument was that it was the last choice that he was able to make for himself.  I’m sorry, but that’s BS.  He could choose to make the most of the life he had.  He still had his mind.  He wouldn’t even consider the possibility of trying to make a life work.  He gets a tattoo at one point in the book that I absolutely HATED.  The tattoo was “Best Before” and the date of his accident.  As if his life expired when he had the accident that disabled him.  All he can see is the life he used to live and the greatness of that life.  He cannot see beyond the limitation and pain of his new life.  Okay, I will concede that yes, that must suck.  You go from being the king of the world to having to have someone else be responsible for you basic physical needs.  He could no longer travel, climb mountains, ride motorcyles and have sex.  Yes, that would be awful.  But to not just joke but to believe that he was best before his accident and no longer wants to live because he can’t have those things is to take for granted what he still has or could have. 

Will and his family have the means to provide him the best care possible.  Will has full use of his mind and could use much available to him to still do something with his life.  Will has people who care about him, including a woman who loves him and wants to help enrich his life.  He has life.  I was so frustrated with this book because of his refusal to even consider that his life could still be good despite the incredible difficulties and limitations. 

Maybe it is the part of me that is an optimist that hated his pessimism (or even realism if you want to look at it that way).

Maybe it is the part of me that loves to see people rise up in difficult circumstances that hated his decision to end his life because it was difficult.  I want to read about a person who fights against difficult odds, overcomes insurmountable obstacles, and is ‘bloody, but unbowed.” 

I do not, and did not, want to read about a character who believes the best of his life is over and the rest of his life has no value.

And then he focuses his determination toward ending his life, despite how he knows it will hurt those around him.  I couldn’t like Will for all of these reasons.

I find it interesting that Moyes never gives us a chapter from Will’s perspective after his accident.  We get bits from the POV of most of the characters, but not Will.  I wonder why Moyes chooses to limit his POV chapter to only before the accident.  I have to say it contributed to my inability to connect with his character.

But do I have to like Will to like the book? No.  So was it good?  Yes, for making me want to read and making me think after.  But if someone asks me if I like it – my answer is no.  Because of Will.  Because of his decision.

Feel free to share with me (not political or moral outrage please) how you felt about the book.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Read on for a related note on this book from my Fangirling world.

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Part of the reason I read the book was because there are rumors that Tom Hiddleston has been considered or suggested for the part. Here, for my fangirl friends, are my thoughts on Tom in this role.

Tom is extremely talented and this could be an excellent vehicle for him to show off his talent.  He communicates much through his eyes and face alone, so playing a role where his face and eyes would be pretty much what he’d be limited to would show off his skill.

It’s also not hard to imagine Tom as the larger than life pre-accident Will that is an upper crust British gentleman or to imagine our devastation at seeing him broken.  I am certain Tom in this role would add a whole other layer to the story that I don’t know that I’d honestly want to explore. There is little possibility that we would not care about Will.  I’m certain Tom would fill in a lot of the holes in that character that I feel were present in the book.  I’m afraid I would love Will like Lou did and I would indeed be a weeping mess at the end when they say goodbye.

If Tom were Will I am sure I would care in a whole different way than I did in the book. 

And that is just one reason I don’t want him to play the role.

I think that whoever takes on this role will be thrust into the kind of discussions I’ve wanted to avoid when discussing this book.  People may ask if because of his decision to play the role, does he then support the choice Will made?  Certainly Tom is intelligent enough and articulate enough to make whatever argument he would choose to make, but I don’t know that I want to see the idiocy that may become prevalent on social media if he stars in this movie.

One of the reasons I am a huge Hiddleston fan is because of his positive and joyful spirit.  Many quotes are full of optimism and I love that. A favorite quote is:

“Never, ever let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Prove the cynics wrong. Pity them for they have no imagination.  The Sky’s the Limit. Your Sky. Your Limit.”

I know actors play characters that aren’t like themselves.  I know Tom has played characters that aren’t like him.  I know that. I just don’t like the idea of this character in his collection of characters. I don’t want him inhabiting a character who would value life so little.  I just don’t want it. 

But if he does, I am sure I will watch. I am sure I will weep. But I kinda hope I don’t have to.

A Night Out With The Girls and The Phantom of The Opera

This week I had the opportunity to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, TX.

If you live in or are visiting Dallas, the Winspear is well worth checking out. The building itself is an architectural beauty in downtown Dallas from the outside, but is equally lovely inside. Before entering the performance hall, you can mill about with others by the wall of windows looking out into downtown, get wine in re-usable sippy cups (no lie, but hey I wasn’t complaining), and pose for pictures against the shiny red wall. At least that’s what we did. For the crowd claustrophobic, like myself, it can get a little crazy waiting for elevators, or queuing up for wine, or when exiting post-performance, but they were well staffed to help move people through to where they need to go.

The best part of the night, for me, was that I saw the musical with the majority of the women in my family: my mom, my sister, my cousin, my sister-in-law and my two beautiful nieces. We all got (sorta) dressed up, had dinner and drinks downtown near the Winspear & then headed to the Phantom. We had never had a night out on the town together like this before, so for this reason alone, the night was a success.

I was very excited for The Phantom, as I have seen it live only once before when I was in London many years ago. Then I have only also watched the movie with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. So I know the story, the characters and the music. I love the music. And here I will admit to being very spoiled, having listened to Michael Crawford’s Music of The Night. That man is difficult to beat.

Despite the beautiful venue and the great company with whom I attended the performance, I was disappointed in the production. The stage had a ton of bells and whistles, always moving from scene to scene, literally moving and opening and shifting. It seemed there were very few still moments on the stage. While it was easy to “see” the scene because of the details of the stage, it was hard to see much else. I am no expert on staging, but I have seen it done well with great simplicity This year I have seen Donmar Warehouse’s Coriolanus (via National Theatre Live)and Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s The Tempest, both on very small stages where grand stories were told with very simple sets. I believe it can take very little to suggest a lot, if done well. If the story takes center stage, that is how you will have me.

The music was what I’ve always heard and I couldn’t help but enjoy Andrew Lloyd Webber’s big musical moments, like Masquerade, but overall they all felt a bit hollow. For all the activity on the stage and vivid backgrounds, the heart of the story was lost. I didn’t connect to the characters. The transitions from scene to scene were sometimes quite abrupt and several times I wondered, “Wait, what? How did we get here?” There was no flow.

Probably the biggest issue for me was that the story of the main characters, Christine, The Phantom, and Raoul, which should be the most compelling, felt thrown together as an afterthought to the stage and the need to get all the musical numbers together.

I realized while watching how very important a connection to the characters is to me. And I was ultimately disappointed in this production of The Phantom of the Opera, not because of a lack in the music, which, for the most part, delivered, but for missing the heart of the story.

Perhaps we caught it on a bad night. They did start 20 minutes past the scheduled performance time, and it looked like there were a few small technical glitches on the stage during the show, so maybe there was something off for them all night.

I can only say that for me, it was as my sister said, “underwhelming”.

But the Winspear was beautiful and the night out with the girls was great.

Have you seen a great production of the Phantom of the Opera? What really made it great for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

Begin Again

Do you ever find a movie, or a book, or a TV show, something that catches you in just the right moment?  Speaks to your current mood?  Makes you smile?  Makes you happy?

The movie, Begin Again was that movie for me this weekend.

I went to see it without knowing much about it except that it had Keira Knightley (who is Elizabeth Bennet in one of my favorites, Pride&Prejudice) and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner in the Avengers, but also lovable Matt in 13 Going on 30).  I knew it was about music, but that was about it.  I went in with no real expectations.

I really enjoyed the movie.  I had a friend post on Facebook a brief review that said it started out kinda angsty – and I would agree.  It starts out establishing where the characters are at in their lives when they meet. Neither is in a good place.  The story really gets going when they meet and begin to work together.

I’ve seen the movie billed as a romantic comedy. I wouldn’t say it’s a romantic comedy.  This is not a story of two characters coming together to fall in love with each other.  No, these characters come together for a different partnership.  It’s really about discovering themselves again and changing the direction of their lives.

Ruffalo’s Dan is floundering professionally and in his family life.  He has lost control of his music development and production company and is estranged from his wife and daughter, living in a sad little apartment alone.

Knightley’s Gretta is a singer/songwriter who came to New York, “tagging along” with her emerging artist boyfriend and is essentially lost in the shuffle as he takes off into his new rock star life.

Dan has previously shown talent for finding new artists and helping to develop, nurture and market them.  He sees Gretta’s potential and wants to work with her.  The movie centers on that partnership.

What is so fun, so joyful about this movie is that they both are at a point where they can have a ‘Well Why The Hell Not?’ attitude and can take chances. 

Why not try this crazy idea of recording this album together?  Why not challenge what’s conventionally done? Why not bring in artists that might not otherwise be used?  Why not take a chance on ourselves and others?

The heart of the movie, where it really sings, is where they are recording the demo all around New York.  Everyone seems to be having fun with it.  Dan comes to life again during the process and the joy is infectious. I don’t know about the others in the audience but I was having fun along the way, too.

I also enjoyed the interactions between the characters, especially our main characters, but also all of the many in the great cast of characters.

Dan’s relationship with his daughter, Violet, played by Hailee Steinfield, starts out awkwardly, but then builds as the movie goes on and you find yourself cheering for him to mend that relationship and really be a dad for her.  His wife, played by Catherine Keener, doesn’t get nearly enough screen time because she’s fantastic.

Gretta’s boyfriend, Dave, played by Adam Levine is believable, if a little unlikeable. You can see the star quality, the performer on the stage, but despite his real life wattage, I
mainly just hated his beard.  🙂

The character I absolutely love in this movie is Gretta’s friend, Steve (James Corden) from back home that she finds in the city. He seemed like the kind of friend we all would love to have.  He sees her in a moment of heartbreak and literally drops what he is doing to hold her.  He comforts her, but he laughs with her, too.  He pushes her when she needs it and supports her through it all. I just loved him.

What really spoke to me in this sweet little movie was the theme of beginning again.

It’s never too lateto begin again. It’s never too late – with your career, with love, with your family, with your friendships, with your life. It’s never too late to find joy.  It’s never too late to dare to try something different.  It’s never too late to imagine that your life can be different.

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Who Moved My Cheese

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid

 

My department at work was challenged this week to read the great little book, Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson.   Chances are you’ve seen this or read it.  I’ve read it before, but read it again as part of the challenge.  If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a short parable of 4 characters in a maze and how they react when their cheese moves.  The cheese is metaphorical for whatever we may be pursuing, money, success, happiness, etc.  The cheese moving represents change.  How do we deal with change, both before and after it happens.  The author uses the story to highlight lessons we can apply to our own life.

One of the comments the writer makes is that what we get out of the story changes depending on what may be going on in our own lives, so each reading will most likely be seen from the perspective of our current situation. 

I am in the process of changing jobs, in the same company and essentially in the same department, but there will quite a bit of new changes.  My cheese is definitely moving.  I read this story with my situation in mind.  I thought of which characters I was most like, and also about some of the people I know and which character they are most like.  One character sniffs out cheese – always looking for change.  One character scurries after new cheese – actively deals with change.  One character hems about, resistant to change.  The last character is resistant at first but then learns to laugh about how change is inevitable and then sees himself getting to the new cheese he needs and makes it happen. 

After the story, there’s a section of the book that creates a little fictionalized discussion where people who had heard the story applied it to their own lives.  I seem to remember last time I read this that I skipped this section for the most part as it does seem a litle forced.  I read it all through this time and there was one part that really stood out to me. 

The fictionalized conversation has the 6 or 7 people talking about whether they are afraid of change.  Most say no, they’re not afraid of change, but one of the people reframes the question, “So tell me do you think other people may be afraid of change?” and they all say yes.  This section spoke to me this time because it is always comforting to think about how we are not alone.  Sure I am making a big change at work, moving away from cheese that was working out okay, but I am stepping out into the maze in search of new cheese.  It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who may be afraid of change.  And as the author points out, the result of change is not necessarily anything to be afraid of and may even lead to something that makes us happier than we realized previously was possible. 

For my situation I also thought about how great it would be to be the character who ventures out in the maze first, leaving behind a path of suggestions for the character who resisted change and stayed behind.  I like the idea of being someone who ventures out in a new direction and may possibly set an example for others to take a risk and make a change, too, instead of being the character who ties him/herself to what may be a bad situation just because it’s comfortable or the idea of change is too scary. 

I’ll remind myself of this when I get scared or have moments of struggle with my “new cheese” and like Haw, the character who ventures out into the maze for new cheese, I’ll visualize myself being successful. 

I hope everyone has a great week – see y’all next Sunday when I will be on vacation – Yay!  🙂

What I loved about Only Lovers Left Alive

Today is our day off from the A to Z Challenge, so I’m sneaking this response to (finally!) getting to see Only Lovers Left Alive into this my normal Sunday post day.  Tomorrow the A to Z will resume with X and we will finish up this week.  It’s been really a fantastic experience, but I really will be happy to go back to once a week posts, so I can focus more time on my book.  🙂

I’ll admit, the main reason I was so stoked to see Jim Jarmusch’s new movie, Only Lovers Left Alive, was for my fangirl favorite, Tom Hiddleston, who stars as the reclusive musician vampire Adam. But the movie is really a beautiful little treat of a movie, so I would recommend it even if I weren’t a Hiddleston fan.

The fabulous Tilda Swinton stars as his longtime lover (and fellow vampire) Eve.  Though they have loved each other throughout a great deal of time, they live separately, Adam in a ghostly Detriot and Eve in Tangiers. Eve sees Adam is sinking into a darker state, possibly considering harming himself, so she makes the trip to be with him.

The scene where she packs to go to Detroit is fantastic. She lovingly selects from her stacks of books that fill her small home the ones she can pack into her suitcase. She touches the pages with tenderness and I think any reader, human or undead, could relate to that type of affection.

Adam has books in his home as well, but it’s instruments and musical equipment that fill his space. His gentle loving touch is directed toward antique guitars and a beautiful instrument Eve buys him near the end of the movie. And toward Eve, of course.

There is a scene when Eve arrives at Adam’s home where he welcomes her over the threshold, removing her glove and holding her hand to his face. Oh my, swoon.

Jarmusch gives us such lovely quiet little scenes and the movie is filled with simple moments and beautiful details. They play chess and discuss historic people they’ve known while enjoying a blood Popsicle. They go to a club with Eve’s troublesome sister played by Mia Wasikowska and Ian, played by Anton Yelchin, who helps Adam locate some hard to get items. Adam goes dressed as a doctor (Dr. Faust 🙂 ) to see Dr Watson, played by another favorite, Jeffrey Wright, to fill his blood supply needs.

Then there is a scene where Eve confronts Adam about something she finds that shows how he is seriously contemplating harming himself. I can just feel the ‘how could you possibly consider harming yourself’ panic she might feel at the possibility. Of course maybe I am projecting. 😉

But then they dance. And it’s my favorite scene in the movie. The connection between the two as they playfully but lovingly dance is so beautiful. Yes, I cried a bit.

I know I have said beautiful so many times, but so much of what is great about the movie is how it looks. Tom and Tilda are just striking and they look like the world’s coolest vampires. Adam plays the violin at one point and just watching his hands…well okay maybe that is the Hiddleston junkie talking. Still, it’s lovely.

I would say this is worth checking out, if it is available to you, though it isn’t in the widest release, which stinks. It is true that this movie is a smaller, indie, art-house type movie, but it’s a shame that more people don’t have access or opportunity.

I may need to take advantage of my opportunity and see this one again. 🙂

 

Usual Suspects

Gotta say this is such a cool movie. The writer in me loves the big reveal ending. Ta-Daaa! It’s magic.

I am also a huge Kevin Spacey fan. This was one of the roles that really seemed to launch him to stardom – and for good reason. He owned that movie, which wasn’t easy given all the well written characters and talented actors. Spacey is so unassuming you believe everything, so as they unravel the ending, it’s just perfect.

Gabriel Byrne is also a favorite as Dean Keaton. Isn’t that a great name by the way? I love it. Keaton may need to be a future character name. (Writes that down.) Byrne is very easy on the eyes, but I am an accent junkie so I love listening to the man speak. He’s also quite a talent and this is one of my favorite characters that he plays.

Benicio Del Toro, Steven Baldwin, Kevin Pollack, and Chazz Palminteri all give strong performances also, but it is so very much about the writing! The writing was what made this movie and the Oscar for Best Screenplay was well earned.

Below are some of my favorite lines. If you haven’t seen this one, and can stand a lot of bad language, it’s also on my highly recommended list. 🙂

Fenster- They treat me like a criminal, I’ll end up a criminal.

Hockney- You are a criminal.

Fenster- Why you gotta go and do that? I’m trying to make a point.

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Cop: I can put you in Queens the night of the hijacking.

Hockney: Really? I live in Queens. Did you put that together yourself Einstein? You got a team of monkeys working around the clock on this?

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Verbal – A man can convince anyone he is somebody else, except himself.

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Agent Kujan – A rumor’s not a rumor that doesn’t die…

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The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And then like that, poof. He was gone.

The Power of One

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T is for The Power of One by Bryce Courteney. All right, the title is essentially a P, but I am fitting this one in because it is one of my all-time favorite books. And it is the correct title. 🙂

I picked up my first copy of The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay in paperback off the shelf in a grocery or Wal-Mart type store in preparation for the trip that took my family from Texas to Indiana. I was about to be a junior in high school and the move was not our first (or last), but it was one of the biggest.

It turned out to be the perfect book at the perfect time. Has that happened to you before? It’s incredible when it happens and this was one of those times.

Bryce Courtenay crafts an expansive tale taking us from our main character’s early childhood to his young adulthood through some extreme difficulties and beautifully triumphant moments. The novel is Peekay’s story, but is also a story of South Africa.

Courtenay paints a colorful story so vivid you can feel the heat as Peekay watches his first boxing match and starts learning about the Power of One. You imagine the cacti in the garden Doc has planted as he helps Peekay’s budding genius find roots. You wince as Peekay starts climbing in the ring, but you cheer and cry and read again and again how Peekay topples opponent after opponent. You can imagine the debates and laughter between Peekay and Morrie and feel a little proud as they make some crazy things happen together.

I loved the language and descriptions. I loved the So Real You Feel You Know Them characters. I loved the relationships between the characters that Courtenay builds and lets us see. I love the simple little scenes and the big moment scenes.

But the biggest love I have for this book, and what I think is best about any of our favorite books, is how it made me feel. I was the scared little boy in the beginning of the book, feeling weak and powerless. But then I got to grow from that weakness into newfound strength. I went from being alone and feeling invisible to being honored and respected, even if it had some mystical meaning behind it all I didn’t fully understand. I got to see little beat big and feel like maybe anything was possible.

My life was nowhere as challenging. I was just a Texas high school girl moving to a new state and another new high school. But even though my challenges were far different, I was still encouraged by (and thoroughly enjoyed) this book.

I have read it more times than I can tell you. I have purchased the book 3 or 4 times because paperbacks couldn’t last. The trade paperback I have now is in good shape though. I am probably about due to read it again. (Adds to my TBR pile.)

Yes, there is a movie that was made based off the book, but it is extremely disappointing. They cut out Doc, who is one of the best characters, and they stick in a love interest! I love a good love story but that did not belong in a movie based on this book. The book is always better, of course, but the movie that’ll play in your head as you read Courtenay’s descriptions far exceeds that pitiful one.

I will say there are some
scenes that area bit tough. This is not an easy world where Peekay lives. But go read this one. The really tough scenes are important to the overall story. It is also a tiny bit lengthy. But I really think you’ll be glad you went on this journey.

And like me, you may go back again and again.

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