Books To Get You Thinking

March 2014  marked  86 years since the Academy began its annual tradition of honoring outstanding cinema. The Oscars have a history dating back to 1927 when the Academy was originally founded as an honorary organization dedicated to promoting the arts and sciences of motion pictures. The Oscars are awarded as a mark of excellence in categories of film-making.  These categories include cinematography, sound editing, costume design, directing and acting. Looking at past movies that have received Academy Awards, a striking number are screen adaptations of existing books. The vivid imagery and mesmerizing stories created by accomplished authors are captured and transformed onto the big screen by talented directors. Here are a few well-known movie titles that have their origins in books. You can find both the movies and the books at the Mercer County Library!

Twelve Years A Slave Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853 by Solomon Northup
The movie won three Academy Awards including the coveted 2014 Best Picture and is based  on the book originally published in 1853, coauthored with David Wilson. It is a rare and heartwrenching memoir written by Solomon Northup about the twelve years of his life during which he was kidnapped, drugged and sold as a slave at an auction in New Orleans. Casting light on one of the darkest periods in American history, the book is unflinching in its narration of the daily lives of slaves, the relationship between the masters and the slaves whom they considered as their property, and the cruelty and  physical abuse that was inflicted upon them every day. Northup also provides intricate details about life on a nineteenth century plantation and the prevalent methods of cultivating cotton and sugar cane. Sold from one tyrannical owner to another, Solomon Northup was miraculously rescued from a cotton plantation in Louisiana in 1853. The original book and the movie directed by Steve McQueen will soon become part of the public school curriculum thereby sharing Solomon Northup’s harrowing story with today’s generation.

Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Based on Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Doris Goodwin’s riveting novel about the Lincoln presidency, the movie Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, was nominated for twelve Oscars and emerged from the 85th Academy Awards ceremony with two awards.  This well-researched book traces the fascinating journey of Abraham Lincoln’s emergence as America’s sixteenth President in May 1860 when, rising from relative obscurity, he defeated three of his politically powerful contenders: Senators William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates.  Subsequently, Lincoln includes each of his powerful rivals in his Cabinet and the ensuing dynamics between them reveals not just Lincoln’s political acumen but also the individual character of these dominant members of Lincoln’s inner circle. Goodwin’s fascinating and riveting narrative provides readers with a portrait of the personal lives and the political drama that ensued between the coalition of rivals during the critical years of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Winning four Oscars at the 85th Academy Awards Ceremony in 2013, the movie was adapted from the fantasy adventure book by Canadian author Yann Martel that won the prestigious 2002 Man Booker Award.  It is more than just a mystical adventure on the high seas – there exists a deep, underlying theme of spirituality that envelopes the entire narrative. The opening backdrop is the island of Pondicherry in India where young Pi grows up in the company of the zoo habitat owned by his father and develops a deep understanding of animal behaviors and the unspoken rules of cohabitation in the Wild. Early in life Pi becomes fascinated with different religions and identifies himself not just as a Hindu but also as a Christian and a Muslim. While the family is moving to Canada with their menagerie of animals, the ship sinks and Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat in the company of a Bengal tiger named Richard Parks. What follows is a beautifully written narrative of how faith, the will to live, and an unerring instinct for survival gives Pi the strength to control and coexist with the tiger as the lifeboat drifts over the ocean and finally washes up on the shores of Mexico.  Richard Parker disappears into the jungle without a second glance and Mexican officials dismiss Pi’s account of the shipwreck. Pi then comes up with an alternate story that leaves out any mention of his adventure with the tiger  - readers are left to ponder on the version of the story they want to believe ……

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
In 1996, The English Patient, directed by Anthony Minghella was nominated for twelve Oscars and won nine Awards including Best Picture. The movie was based on the Booker Prize winning novel written by Canadian poet and author, Michael Ondaatje.  It is a haunting story of four lives caught up in the exigencies of war whose lives intersect and collide in a rundown villa in war ravaged Italy at the end of World War II. Hanna, a nurse who is a just a shell of herself after losing both her sweetheart and her father to the War, spends her time nursing the one last patient left in the villa; the English Patient, who is on his deathbed, charred beyond recognition following a plane crash in the deserts of North Africa and  now sharing the story of his past and of the woman he loved and lost; Caravaggio a former thief who was engaged as a spy but was captured and tortured, now striving to discover the real identity of the English Patient; and Kip, a Sikh from India who worked in the British army diffusing bombs, in a relationship with Hanna that ends as he breaks down with the news of America’s Hiroshima bombing.  Ondaatje’s writing, suffused with exquisite prose, carries readers to an era gone by and to faraway places, from the deserts of Sahara to the streets of London and to the Italian countryside.

-Nita Mathur  


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