Monthly Archives: December 2007

Linked by Ocean Liner

Alison Morris - December 28, 2007

I was giving a book talk at a school PTO meeting a few weeks ago when I noticed a trend among the many, many books I was discussing — four of the titles included illustrations of characters immigrating (or emigrating) by way of ocean liner. I might be especially keyed in to books related to this subject, having just listened to the audio of Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck (about the development of wireless transatlantic communication and how it enabled Scotland Yard to track down a notorious murder suspect while he was traveling by ocean liner). Whether or not that’s the case, I thought it entertaining that so many of my favorite books from this year would feature some very similar images illustrated in VERY different styles.

Below you’ll see how the vision of a transoceanic voyage would unfold if you chose one spread from each of these (great!) books and then arranged them sequentially.

The first spread below (of boarding the ship) is from The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster: A Tale of Picky Eating written by A.W. Flaherty and illustrated by Scott Magoon (Houghton Mifflin, Sept. 2007).

The second spread below (of life at sea) is from The Castle on Hester Street written by Linda Heller and illustrated by Boris Kulikov (Simon and Schuster, Oct. 2007).

The third spread below (of sighting land) is from The Arrival written and illustrated by Shaun Tan (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, Oct. 2007).

The fourth spread below (of disembarking) is from Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy (Knopf, June 2007).

A Beautiful Day for Silence

Alison Morris - December 25, 2007

A week ago, I was trying to come up with something meaningful to post on or very close to Christmas when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a beautiful message from author Sara Hoagland Hunter that seemed just the thing! Sara wrote wanting me to see that she’d mentioned my blog in the Christmas edition of the semi-regular newsletter she writes "for thought leaders and creative types." I’m pasting the text of said newsletter below, not because it sings my praises, but because I think it conjures up a wonderful medley of images and ideas. I hope one strain of Sara’s song sings for you, whether you treat your Dec. 25th as a religious holiday, a secular celebration, or a day away from the office.

What follows is the text of Sara’s newsletter for December 20, 2007 (thanks, Sara!):

Dear Friends:

No matter how cheap the plastic or how many times I have to retape the darned things to the sill, I find little as satisfying as lighting the white candles in the bedroom windows on these short December afternoons. I’m sure I should rig timers, which would be more efficient, just as I should figure out computer labeling for my Christmas cards, but I don’t. There are myriad reasons for this, including lack of time and skill, but the real reason is I don’t want to be removed from the process. The lamplighting is a time to reflect on the day. It’s a twilight time of “eloquent silence.” The laborious addressing of each card with red flair pen and dubious penmanship serves a similar purpose. It allows me time to think about what each friend has brought to me this year…a lot.

“Eloquent silence” is not my own phrase but it’s one I try to make my own, especially at this time of year. Mary Baker Eddy spoke of it in an article for the Ladies Home Journal a century ago. When the editors asked her to share how she celebrated Christmas, she wrote: “I love to observe Christmas in quietude, humility, benevolence, charity, letting good will towards man, eloquent silence, prayer, and praise express my conception of Truth’s appearing.”

During the same era, another spiritual leader from our Boston area, Phillips Brooks – rector of both Harvard University and Trinity Church – wrote this line in his beautiful Christmas hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about silence lately (a fact that will no doubt cause my husband great rejoicing). I thought about it when one of you who lives in Norway wrote: “I continue to ride, year round, so we are in the cold, dark period now, the horses have great big studded shoes and we use miners lights attached to our helmets. It is beautiful – crossing snowy fields under a starry sky – trees sparkling white. But also freezing, slippery, and rather dangerous. I love it!”

I thought about silence again while attending the impressive memorial service at Cathedral of St. John the Divine for one of my favorite children’s book writers, Madeleine L’Engle. Author of one of the most formative books for kids in the 1960s, A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle was also know for her essays on spirituality. Her oversubscribed writers’ retreats often began with her statement, “What a beautiful day for… silence.”

Even those who make noise for a living require stretches of silence to be able to hear the notes amidst the chaos. I loved the stratospherically talented Alicia Keyes’ admission, in an interview with Tyra Banks, that she had to escape the noise and craziness of her success by buying herself a ticket to Egypt. After a while, alone at the peak of a pyramid, music poured out of her, as she sang at the top of her lungs, renewed. I can’t help but think her incredible new album is a direct result of that creative retreat.

Within our own readership, composer/musician/orchestra leader Bill Elliott recently arranged Beyonce’s opener “Over the Rainbow” and Tony Bennett’s closing “White Christmas” for the CBS special “Movies Rock,” a tribute to music in the movies. His Berklee College of Music students were duly impressed but were apparently even more awed by a field trip to a Holiday Pops rehearsal at our own Symphony Hall. Empty of an audience, the venerable building reverberated with the richness of a European cathedral. As if that weren’t enough, the four complete sections of the Tanglewood chorus, rotated separately through the demanding month-long schedule, were rehearsing in unison that day. Bill described his students as “slackjawed” at the surround sound of 260 voices caroling from the first and second balconies.

To punctuate your eloquent silences, I not only recommend Alicia Keyes’ As I Am album but also Duke Levine’s new instrumental release Beneath the Blue. Modest Boston sideman to the stars, Duke most recently toured with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Aimee Mann. He is one of the most superb string pickers (guitar, mandolin, mandola) I’ve ever witnessed in a session. For upbeat, holiday gift fare, treat someone to YouTube- launched pop star Colby Caillat or the Boyz II Men Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA album.

Other creative works I’m giving this year include the newly released DVD The Namesake, a universally acclaimed film directed by the effervescent, articulate, and brilliant world citizen and filmmaker, Mira Nair. I’m also giving the Planet Earth series to all ages. For show-biz fans, I am giving three autobiographies: Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, Michael Palin’s diaries of the Monty Python years (Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years), and the 1997 book The Name Above the Title by It’s a Wonderful Life director Frank Capra. If you ever need children’s book suggestions or information and can’t make it to Wellesley Booksmith, read ShelfTalker by our hometown star, Alison Morris, Publishers Weekly’s children’s book blogger. She’s as charming and informative online as in person.

As for me, I will be re-reading my favorite Christmas story – second only to Linus’s child-voice recitation of Luke’s gospel in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” – Truman Capote’s "A Christmas Memory." In the final autobiographical scene he lies in an Alabama field with his closest childhood friend, an outcast, elderly aunt, flying the beautiful kites they have made each other for Christmas. To me, the scene has always been reminiscent of the Bethlehem shepherds beholding something new and glorious in the midnight sky over the same silent hillsides they’d known their whole lives. As the kites dance and dip in the breeze, the woman has a sudden, joy-filled realization. “I’ve always thought that a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord…But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown himself…just what they’ve always seen was seeing Him. I’d be happy to leave the world with today in my eyes.”

May your today includ
eloquent silences, patience in store lines, and a little bit of grace on the roads. As Phillips Brooks said, “Greatness, in spite of its name, appears not to be so much a certain size as a certain quality in human lives. It may be present in lives whose range is very small.”

However tiny the wattage, our candles in the window are piercing the night.

Merry Christmas,

Walk Two Moons in Their Holiday Moccasins

Alison Morris - December 24, 2007

If, like the brilliant but curmudgeonly Raymond Briggs, you would just as soon skip over the coming week as have to deal with any holiday-associated stress, you might want to try dissociating for a few days, slipping into the shoes of, say, the star of your favorite novel! Begin by asking yourself the same question The Washington Post recently posed to several well-known authors: "IF YOU COULD SPEND A HOLIDAY WEEK AS A FICTIONAL CHARACTER, WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY?"

Just think how entertained your in-laws will be if you start speaking to them in the voice of Huck Finn, Hermione Granger, Despereaux Tilling, or Father Christmas ("blooming Christmas, blooming snow, blooming chimneys, blooming soot")!

Why I Heart the Holiday Rush

Alison Morris - December 21, 2007

Each year at this time we retail folks hear words of sympathy from non-retail folks who imagine we must hate the holiday rush. Truth be told, this is my FAVORITE retail time of year. It’s exhausting, yes. But I love it! Holiday "RUSH" indeed!

Before you send for the men with the white coats, let me to explain myself. During the holiday season, my job as a children’s book buyer/children’s section manager/children’s author events coordinator is considerably less stressful (in that slow burn sort of way…) because I’m not trying to juggle as many things. I don’t have to make time for lengthy visits with sales reps. I don’t have to fret much about author events, as we do scant few (if any) in December and most publicists hold back, knowing we booksellers don’t have time for them at this time of the year. I still fill school orders for teachers with purchase orders to burn, but these tend to come in less frequently during this home stretch, and with a lot less urgency.

During these December days my job consists primarily of three activities: shelving books, selling books, reordering books. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’m still inundated with e-mail, but anyone sending me messages nowadays knows I’ll be even slower than usual to reply. And they understand that. (Or at least they will now…)

In addition to the "less juggling=less stress" reason, I also enjoy the holiday push because it brings an exhilarating sort of energy to the store that simply doesn’t exist during the other months of the year.  Because all of our booksellers are working flat-out these days, tending to the needs of customers, wrapping gifts at the speed of light, tag-teaming one another at the cash register, we all feel very much like we’re part of a team — much more so than on our slower days. It’s gratifying to feel like we’re all working together, and working HARD, to keep the wheels of our beloved machine running, keep people happy, and go home feeling good about what we’ve done.

And just what have we done that’s so gratifying? Sent people home with wonderful books! Hand-picked titles for Milo and Suzy, Hector and Lola, Great-Aunt Stephanie and Grandpa Dave, anonymous kids receiving charitable donations. And oh the praise! Oh, the countless thank-you’s and "Wow! You really know your stuff" and "What would we do without your store? You guys are the BEST!" (my personal favorite).

Of course, there are the handful of folks who make us feel like our time would be better spent, say, shoveling coal than selling literature. These are the people who reject each of the 20 books you show them, either because they feel a general dissatisfaction with everything or because they have something specific and nonexistent in mind. By this point in the holiday season, though, most of the shoppers fitting this description have already flown south (i.e. to the malls). In their place come the frantic but friendly souls who will buy almost ANYTHING (making for swift, satisfying transactions) and their seemingly evil counterparts, the kind who are simply NOT going to be happy with you. The latter adopt attitudes like the one I was met with on the phone this morning, when I told a women that, sorry, we were out of a book she wanted and therefore couldn’t get a copy to her today, the date by which she apparently needed it. In a very unfriendly tone she snipped, "You’re going to force me to go to Barnes and Noble, aren’t you?" which is a weirdly nasty statement to which I wasn’t really sure how to reply…

For the most part, though, exhausting customers are in short supply at our store these days (thank goodness). What’s NOT in short supply is snow. Flakes and mounds and mountains of it. Last week we got slammed with a snowstorm that turned my usual 40-minute drive home into a 4-hour ordeal. Over the weekend, when Gareth and I were out of town, we got hit with snow again. Then with sleet. Then with the detritus of passing snowplows, the accumulation of which formed semi-solid ice hill at the end of our driveway. The ice-encrusted sight that greeted us upon our return from the Southland (stay tuned to find out just where…) made for a back-breaking adventure when we dug out on Tuesday morning. We were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves until Mother Nature decided to dump on us again yesterday, leaving us with still more inches of the inescapable white stuff, and leaving the parking lot behind our bookstore in absolute turmoil, as no one could see the lines that create the boundary around a parking space.

For we New England booksellers, pre-Christmas snow can function as both friend and foe. In small doses it puts everyone into the festive, holiday, spend-like-there’s-no-tomorrow spirit. But in large doses like the ones we’ve had this past week, it can keep customers away and considerably limit a store’s available parking space, which tends already to be at a premium. When this happens, leaving us with slower traffic levels at the store, we catch up on our shelving, find time to relax a bit, fortify ourselves with Christmas cookies, and try not to imagine that our gift-panicked customers might be curled up at their home computers, giving their business to online retailers not affiliated with our bricks and mortar. (Sigh…)

But we beat on, boats against the current. Or shovels against the snowdrifts, I should say. As we do, I treasure the moments when our customers hobble out of the store, their arms laden with text-filled treasures, their faces sporting "I just checked every name off my list!" expressions. It’s satisfying to imagine the worlds their kids are about to discover, to know the stories that will flare up to consume their school-free afternoons (but probably only after they’ve run down the batteries in their other gifts from Santa).

It’s satisfying, too, to reenact your own childhood fantasies — your sleuthing dreams, let’s say — as part of your daily bookselling routine. Here’s how it happens: A shifty-eyed mother sidles up to you, slips a book and credit card into your hand, and glances at you out of the corner of her eye. Her lips barely moving, she whispers, "I don’t want my son to see this…" then walks purposefully in the opposite direction, her face betraying no hint of your (non)conversation, her son oblivious to the exchange. Five minutes later you watch as she leaves your store, a Wellesley Booksmith bag in one hand, her still-believes-in-Santa son in the other.

Alex Rider, eat your heart out.

And have a happy holiday.

Blog Change = Fewer Headaches for Me. You?

Alison Morris - December 20, 2007

I generally like seeing the words "Read More" printed almost anywhere — a reminder to all of us to pick up more printed material, to make time for text. If you’ve been visiting any of the PW blogs this week, you may have noticed "Read More" popping up a lot more often, and may or may not have welcomed the repetition of this short command.

On the primary page for ShelfTalker, where you could previously see my most recent posts in their entirety, you now see only the first paragraph or so of my lengthier missives, followed by the words "Read More." Clicking on those two magic words will take you to a new page where you can read the entire post. If you’ve been enjoying the option of scrolling through the entire text of my posts, in reverse chronological order, you may find this change a bit frustrating. On the other hand, if you prefer being able to catch up on my posts by picking and choosing from an abridged menu of sorts, the "Read More" alteration might be working for you.

Whatever your thoughts on this change (and I’d like to hear what they are!), please know that its adoption did allow for one very significant improvement in the lives of we bloggers. Over lo these many months I have been limited to a total of 7,000 characters per post. This character count includes not just the characters in the sentences themselves, though, but also the characters in the embedded links, the photos in the posts, and all the html language that goes along with the formatting . In other words, a post might not be all that lengthy, word-wise, but if it contains a lot of links or photos it can hit 7,000 characters in no time flat. This is why I’ve had to split some of what were intended to be single posts into two separate ones.

The most frustrating element of that previous arrangement has been the fact that the blog tool we use on this site has no character count feature. So, as I’ve been writing my posts I’ve had to PRAY, PRAY, PRAY that when I finally finished typing and hit "save" I wouldn’t then be greeted by a "posts must be 7,000 characters or less" error message, which would prevent me from saving my work until I’d somehow cut out enough characters to bring the number under the acceptable limit.

Here’s what that looked like: Finish typing post. Hit save. Get the error message. SWEAR LOUDLY. Look over post and consider splitting it in two. Decide that this particular post reads as one complete thought and therefore shouldn’t be divided into multiple posts. Sigh deeply. Take out a sentence. Hit save again. Get the error message. Whimper. Find a couple sentences that probably shouldn’t be cut but are worth expelling just to escape the nightmare of the $*&!*^% character count. Hit save. Get the error message. SWEAR AGAIN and utter LOUD, WHINY sound of exasperation. Get sympathy from boyfriend who rushes into room and says, "AGAIN?? That stupid $*&!*^% character count!!" Copy entire post and paste it into a Word document. Run character count in Word. See that the text itself is under the character count, so the problem is the characters added by the links and/or photos and/or formatting. Decide what’s more expendable: another section of text, another link, another photo. Cut out some of each. Hit save. (You get the idea…)

Eventually I would hit save and the post window I was typing in would disappear, taking me back to a menu on which I could see my post and know that it had inded been saved. In other words, by then my problem was solved — usually about an hour after I *should* have been done blogging.

The scene dramatized above has played out SO MANY TIMES in my household this year that I shudder to think how many hours I’ve lost to the senseless back and forth of this EVIL, EVIL blog tool feature. Therefore I am THRILLED that the lovely folks who manage this site have found a way to spare me and my fellow bloggers from this problem in the future.

That having been said, no one at RBI wants this blog (or any other on their sites) to be less enticing for its readers. And I certainly don’t want you to stop reading my posts! So, please, fill the comments field with your feedback on the switch to truncated posts with the "Read More" invitation. And while you’re at it, feel free to comment on anything else you do or don’t like about the set up or appearance of this blog and/or others on PW. I’ll be sure your comments are seen by the people who care most about them. (And I’m certainly one of those people!)

Leonard Nimoy to the Rescue

Alison Morris - December 16, 2007

Booksellers: tired of playing holiday carols hour after hour, day after day this holiday season? Why not play this song in your store instead! It’s got a book-related theme, it’s sung by a celebrity, and BOY is it catchy! Nothing says "Buy, buy, buy," like the voice of Leonard Nimoy.

Book Love Amid the Holiday Rush

Alison Morris - December 14, 2007

Two quick reports from my many hours spent on the sales floor this week, catering to many, many holiday shoppers:

1.) Yesterday a nine-year-old dissolved into tears when I told his mom that we were currently out of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and are eagerly awaiting the reprint’s arrival. His mom eventually calmed him down and convinced him to try reading something else in the meantime. Wow. Disappointment rolled off him in waves.

2.) Today a mom came in looking for a copy of The Invention of Hugo Cabret to give to her second grader (age eight) for Christmas. She said he’s normally a pretty reluctant reader but came home yesterday from the school library, excitedly talking about the book. He read for an hour last night — twice as long as the 30 minutes he’s "required" to read each day for his reading journal, and this morning he apparently woke up about 5:30 am to read some more, as he was already up and reading when his mom got up at 6.

When I asked what other books this kid really enjoyed she said he loves reading the Tashi books by Anna Fienberg (one of our bestselling series). This was intriguing, because the Tashi books are, reading-level-wise, complexity-wise, and maturity-wise, a big step down from Hugo Cabret. They are, in other words, right where most second and third graders tend to be reading. Like Hugo, the books do feature lots of illustrations, though, and wonderful touches of whimsy, but…? In the end I suggested that this kid try reading the first book in The Far Flung Adventures series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Also fantasy, also peppered with illustrations, it was the closest "middle ground" I could come up with between Tashi and Hugo, which isn’t saying much!

In the meantime this mother is going to suss out whether or not her son is really understanding the text of Hugo Cabret or is mostly just swept up by the pictures. Hopefully she’ll also sort out what it is he likes most about the story, so that we can figure out just what things are likely to keep him glued to the pages like this!

A Gold Star for Mary Amato

Alison Morris - December 12, 2007

With a nod to the beloved "star charts" that often graced the walls of my elementary school classrooms, I think I’ll start giving out (virtual) gold stars to people, publishers, books, experiences — anything that wows me in a given week or on a particular day. I’d like to give the first of these to author Mary Amato, whom I’ve never met, never corresponded with, and whose novels I’ve (sorry, Mary!) never read, though I can boast that I’ve read the f&g of her forthcoming picture book The Chicken of the Family and found it to be very funny. Here’s why Mary gets ShelfTalker’s first gold star….

One recent afternoon a mother and her daughter (approximately age 10) came into the store looking for a copy of Mary’s middle grade novel The Naked Mole Rat Letters. As I escorted them over to our Intermediate Fiction section the woman explained that her daughter (and she) had actually already read the book and were hoping maybe the author had written others. I showed them the only other (sorry again, Mary!) title we had in stock but then looked up Mary’s others, many of which we’d carried previously, and asked if the woman would like me to order any of them for her. "I think we’d like to order one of each!" she said enthusiastically. As her daughter turned away to browse she explained sotto voce, "I’ve got a reluctant reader who’s excited about reading someone’s books. I want to do what I can to keep her going here!" As her daughter returned to the desk and our conversation the mother went on to explain that they’d read The Naked Mole Rat Letters together. In fact, her daughter had read most of it aloud to her.

This whole conversation made me want to hug these two customers AND hug Mary Amato for turning a hesitant reader on to at least one book, with the prospect of more to follow. And it’s made this not-the-least-bit-reluctant reader that much more eager to pick up The Naked Mole Rat Letters too.

So, here it is, Mary. Your own gold star. Earn enough of them (from me and others) and perhaps you can have a pizza party at the end of the year, or take the hamster home for the weekend.

The Best T-Shirt of 2007

Alison Morris - December 11, 2007

The good news: Threadless has printed a gem of a shirt for devoted library patrons and their favorite librarians! The bad news: too many book lovers managed to beat you (and me) to the punch, buying up the first print run of these beauties before I could alert you to their existence. If you’re as sad about this as I am, click on the photos above, then (on the page listing the details of this shirt) click on the "Reprint me" link beside the size you covet most. If enough people do this, they’ll reprint the shirt and we’ll all be in the red. Or rather, we’ll all be in the black, but wearing red. Or… You know what I mean.

‘The Golden Compass’ on the Silver Screen (My Review)

Alison Morris - December 7, 2007

I said I’d tell you today about The Golden Compass, so on the heels of a 12-hour work day (hello, holiday season retail!) here goes:

GORGEOUS. Absolutely gorgeous! I loved the Oxford sets, the North sets, the lighting, the costumes, the make-up, and the way the special effects worked seamlessly with all of these. There was a sweeping sense of space in each scene, making it easy to forget that the scenery didn’t extend beyond the confines of the movie screen. Within that sweep, though, there were so many fine details, costumes among them. And oh, Mrs. Coulter’s dresses and the costumes for the Gyptians! Fantastic!

FAST. The story clipped along at an astonishing pace. Blink and you miss half the story! Use the restroom and the world unravels! I wondered, often, if I would have been able to keep up if I hadn’t already known where the story was heading and been so well-acquainted with the characters. Someone less "in the know" will have to pass proper judgment on that. In all I’d say that it moved a bit too quickly for my taste. A movie that covered the same ground in three hours (instead of two) would have been more to my liking.

WELL-CAST. I can’t imagine a better Mrs. Coulter than Nicole Kidman, and I thought Dakota Blue Richards made a fantastic Lyra — with just the right mix of sweetness and cheek. Even more perfect, though, might’ve been the choice of Sam Eliott as Lee Scoresby. From the second he appears on screen with his lopsided grin (and long-eared rabbit) he exudes every ounce of Lee’s charm. Once he opens his mouth he seals the deal.

TRUE. To the book, that is. Granted, much had to be cut (again, for the two-hour reason) but the "essence" of the book was undoubtedly there. Most importantly, the characters felt real — as if they’d stepped right out of the book and appeared on that big screen. The things that won me over the most in this movie were the small moments, brief conversations in which I suddenly felt as though I really was watching the book come to life. The scene in which Mrs. Coulter asks Lyra to remove her (alethiometer) handbag, arguing that it’s silly to wear one around the house, might have been my favorite scene in the movie, because emotionally it hit the book’s notes PERFECTLY. The escalation of evil in Mrs. Coulter’s voice against the escalation of defiance in Lyra’s was so good in this scene, the tension so perfect, that I felt, momentarily, like I was watching the scene I see in my head whenever I read that section.

CLEVER: In order to include the book’s "biggest" scenes but the conclude the film with an action-packed finale, director Chris Weitz had to do some inventive rearranging of things, which worked surprisingly well. I won’t spoil it for you here, but suffice it to say you get your Battle of the Bears and you get your Bolvangar, just not when you expect them.

BAFFLING. Completely so. (And there’s a spoiler here, so skip ahead if you don’t want me to ruin anything for you…) Chris Weitz chose NOT to end this movie where Philip Pullman ends the book. This makes sense when you consider that it’d be evil to end a movie on a depressing, cliff-hanger of a note, when you’re not yet assured of the finances to film a sequel. But still… I was COMPLETELY unprepared for this change. At the end of what I didn’t yet know was the final scene Roger is telling Lyra that he wants to go with her to find Lord Asriel, and my heart was breaking, my head shaking NO, NO, NO, the voice in my head telling Roger to turn around and JUST GO HOME when poof!  The credits rolled. Whaaaaaaaaaaat?! WHAT?!? It’s over? Just like that? With no _______ and the ______ and we don’t find out that _________??! Well… okay then. Happy ending it is. But how the dickens is he going to start off the second film on THAT terrible note??

BREATHTAKING. In places. Little, wonderful places. When the daemons would change form and zip suddenly from bird to mammal to insect, the change looked SO REAL. So completely real! And each time a person would die their daemon would explode in a sparkling whirl of gold dust! Beautiful!

CHEESY. Yes, cheesy. But only in one recurring place: each time Lyra read the alethiometer we, the audience, see gold sparkles swirling around brief hazy glimpses of people and scenes, making it look a bit like Lyra is falling into some 1980’s film vortex — traveling back in time or watching her life flash before her eyes. Those moments were my least favorite of the film (though I’ll grant you that I haven’t yet thought of a better way to capture them).

IMPERFECT. Like everything. I love Ian McKellen’s voice but found it distracting to hear it coming from the mouth of a polar bear, almost as if Sir Ian (or perhaps Gandalf) had been swallowed and was calling out from the bear’s stomach. This didn’t prevent me from enjoying Iorek’s scenes, though, except for the occasional moment when the computer-generated bears bore a slight resemblance the advertising bears of Coca-Cola. And Pantalaimon was believably real in his ermine form, but not so as a cat.

A LABOR OF LOVE. That’s what it felt like, above all. This movie was clearly made by someone who wanted to put a beloved book on film and make it fly.

NOT THE BOOK. It’s not the book. And in the end I think that’s what I found disappointing about this film — I got so much FROM this film, but I didn’t get enough OF this film. What was there was wonderful! Almost perfect! But that made it almost all the more painful to get such a small fraction of the full story. In my dream world, there would have been enough funding to do this elaborate film as a 6-hour or 12-hour movie. Except, who would be able to sit though such a thing? So… maybe a 6-hour or 12-hour HBO mini-series! Except then you’d lose the impressive sweep of seeing these sets and these costumes on a big, BIG screen.

Gareth commented tonight that he thought the biggest thing missing from the movie was, for him, the "edge" that’s present in the book, and I’m inclined to agree. The trouble is, there’s just not enough time, in two hours, to move the plot where it needs to go AND build in that edge — the tension, the fear, the conflict, the love, the betrayal. But without them, the end results just aren’t that powerful. I teared up at the end of this movie, but I feel relatively certain that’s because I know the WHOLE story. I know what’s been cut, I know what comes next, I know how the whole affair finally ends. If I didn’t, well…? Let’s just say that I HOPE this movie will make people who don’t know the whole story want to go in search of it. If it does that, then it’s doing about as well as ANY movie version of The Golden Compass could do, even if it ran for 6 or possibly 12 hours!