This is a transcription of ‘Wes Anderson Shorts and Two New Books — 10 November 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a surprisingly playful, hopeful novel about the apocalypse.
David: A classic piece of literature gets a beautiful make-over.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
David: Today, we’ve got a guest coming in to talk about her distraction of the week. Her name is Amy, and she’s the co-host of the podcast The Perks of Being a Book Lover.
Melissa: Oh! I love their show so much. First of all, it’s hosted by Amy and Carrie who are long-time friends who have very different opinions and approaches to things. It’s a hoot to listen to them banter. And second, they talk to all kinds of book lovers about their reading lives. The first episode I ever heard featured a woman who runs a book club at the Louisville Zoo. How cool is that?!
David: You know, I tried to call the Louisville Zoo once.
Melissa: On the telephone.
David: But I couldn’t get through. The lion was busy.
Melissa: [laughing] Oh, come on.
David: I heard that joke at a show in Disney World when I was about six, and it just stuck there.
Melissa: I’m glad that’s the thing your brain remembers.
David: It doesn’t even work anymore. Nobody under 35 knows what a busy line is. And the joke doesn’t work if you say, ‘I tried to call the zoo, but it went straight to the lion’s voicemail.’
David: Amy and Carrie … talk to all kinds of people in the book trade – authors and bookshop owners — in a recent episode, they spoke to someone who runs a literary salon! In another, they talked to Andy Hunter, the CEO of Bookshop.org. We were guests on their show a few weeks ago. We talked about books with a strong sense of a library. It was a good time.
David: We’ll link to that in our show notes so you can listen to that conversation. You’ll hear from Amy later in this episode with a great Distraction of the Week. But first, we’re going to talk about two new titles. Mel, what have you got?
Melissa: Here’s something people might not know about me: As much as I like to pretend I have a black, black heart, I am a sucker for a good love story. The more desperate, the better. Jane and Rochester in Jane Eyre. Crowley and Aziraphale in Good Omens. The Count and Anna in A Gentleman in Moscow. I cannot resist that melange of yearning, joy, and heartbreak.
Melissa: I just finished reading Naomi Alderman’s new book, The Future. It’s a techno-thriller with a breathless love story tucked inside its sci-fi heart. I was hooked from the first sentence. I can’t say too much about the plot without giving away yummy surprises, but I’ll tell you this: A group of techno billionaires and their seconds-in-command believe an apocalypse is coming, so they flee to their blinged-out bunkers to survive the end of the world — and world-changing hijinks ensue.
Melissa: It’s a caper novel and a love story and a harsh criticism of our social media-fueled world all — and at the same time, it’s refreshingly hopeful about how it might not be too late to turn this ship around.
Melissa: Naomi Alderman is a must-read author for me. She’s the creator and writer of the exercise app Zombie’s, Run! You know this app, right?
David: Yeah, I do. I use that app for quite a while. It’s sort of a simulation where you put on your your phone and you pretend you’re being stalked by zombies, and the production quality is really high and it like, plays your own music along with the zombie hunting and all of that. It’s really fun.
Melissa: It’s got a really, really good story going. Yeah. And then every once in a while you literally get chased by a zombie and you need to sprint. Yes. So it’s a really good workout too.
Melissa: She also wrote the gripping novel The Power. That one tells the story of an alternate world where young women suddenly acquire the ability to produce electric shocks — and they use their newfound skills to upset power dynamics around the world.
Melissa: One of the things I love about her writing is that she attacks unwieldy stuff like technology and patriarchy through relatable characters and their relationships. Her stories get you in the brain and the guts and the heart, and it’s always a thrilling ride.
Melissa: When I was reading this book, The Future, it reminded me a little bit of Neal Stephenson’s novel Reamde and Cryptonomicon. I don’t know if she would think that’s a compliment, but I 100% mean it as one. The thing that I thought was really cool is that it’s kind of, for me, picking up the mantle from Neal Stephenson and updating it to the world that we live in now, because he wrote those books a while ago. And she has centered women in her stories instead of dudes, which is really satisfying. If you want to hang out with some badass, intelligent women and you have a love hate relationship with Twitter and Instagram, I recommend The Future by Naomi Alderman. It’s out now.
David: In 1972, Richard Adams’ ‘Watership Down’ was released. It is about fictional rabbits taking an epic journey to find a new home. It might sound like a children’s book. That was not Adams’ intent. According to his daughter, he wanted to write a book that would be compelling for children who were almost too small to hold the book to adults who were almost too old to see the ink on the page.
Melissa: Oh, that’s really sweet way to describe that.
David: Isn’t that nice? ‘Watership Down’ went on to have enormous commercial success and critical acclaim. There have been a bunch of adaptations. If you’re my age, you may have been old enough to have been traumatized by the animated version that came out in 1978.
David: But now there’s a new version. It’s a graphic novel. And it’s beautiful. The art, the colors, and the way the story is told on the page – they all add up to a really lovely retelling.
Melissa: I fully endorse both of those statements, and we got to see a sneak peek of this book in his kitchen this summer.
David: The graphic novel is the work of two artists – James Sturm and Joe Sutphin. James Sturm is the founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies. Long-time listeners will know that I have a degree from that school, so this is not an entirely unbiased promotion. But still. James Sturm is a brilliant cartoonist and a lovely person, and I recommend you read his book. And Joe Setphin! – His drawings will take you to the hill in Hampshire, England, where it all started.
David: Did you know Watership Down is a real place? Sturm and Sutphin went there so that they could capture the place.
Melissa: I wonder if they found any bunnies when they were there.
David: I bet they did. If you’re a fan of graphic novels, or Watership Down, or charming fables with hidden depth, take a look. It’s the new graphic novel adaptation of Richard Adams’ ‘Watership Down’ It’s by James Sturm and Joe Sutphin.
David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: We’re here with Amy and Carrie from Perks of Being a Book Lover. So nice to see you guys.
Amy: I know it’s been a while, but when we had Mel on the show, she was one of our favorite guests ever. We wish we could have talked to you too, David, but we got so nice, and it was awesome.
David: I mean, you definitely got the better half of that show.
Melissa: Oh, stop!
David: Amy, I understand you’ve got a istraction of the week for us.
Amy: I do! I binge watched something last weekend. Netflix has come out with a four part series of film shorts by Wes Anderson. Wes Anderson, you know, he did The Royal Tenenbaums. He did The Grand Budapest Hotel, and his films have a certain style. Now, I’m not like a film connoisseur, so I’m not sure that I can adequately describe exactly what his style is. But it’s like if you see it, you know it. I think it’s called weird.
Carrie: I think it’s called weird.
Melissa: It always looks like a box of candy turned into people doing things like pastel colors and really adorable and quirky.
David: I was going to say whimsical. I love Wes Anderson’s style.
Amy: I do, too, so I was really excited when I saw that he was coming out with these four film shorts that are based on Roald Dahl short stories. And, you know, Roald Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Fantastic Mr. Fox and, you know, The Witches, several other ones that we have heard of. But he wrote a lot of short stories, so I did my homework. I read these four short stories before I watched the film shorts. And there’s four stories: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, The Swan, Poison, and The Ratcatcher. And all four of these film shorts have the same actors in them. It’s Ralph Fiennes, I think we all usually say Ralph Fiennes, but he insists it’s Ralph because apparently that is a very British way of saying Ralph, which I did not know until I looked it up this morning to make sure I was saying his name correctly.
Carrie: Are you serious? You’ve been calling him Ralph Fiennes all this time?
Amy: Yes, yes [laughter]
Carrie: And I agree to do a podcast with you?
Amy: I know, I’m sorry. I just didn’t know. I just didn’t know. Okay, so Ralph Fiennes, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley and Rupert Friend, so, you know, there’s some there’s some big names in there, but these shorts, they felt more like small theater pieces that were filmed on a stage built for a movie set. So the sets are somewhat sparse, but they feel like they’re almost from a storybook world. Some of the props that they use are imaginary, so, you know, you have to just pretend like they’re there. I mean, often like when I’ve gone to see experimental theater, you know, that kind of thing. And sometimes the characters will change their costumes while filming instead of off camera, and the characters are actually narrating the story to you while they’re acting it out. So imagine being read a story at bedtime and you, the audience, are a part of it because they break the fourth wall quite a bit. The film shorts, they follow the stories very closely, and I’ll admit that some of the endings of the stories were a little vague, and it left me with like that, ‘Hmm. I wonder what what this all means,’ but it didn’t really matter because I enjoyed the the spectacle of it. I enjoyed watching it, and it was sort of fun to afterwards ponder, like what it all meant after I watched it.
Melissa: That sounds really fun.
Amy: It was. And you know, it’s funny because after I read those four, I had checked some books out of the library of Roald Dahl short stories, and I’ve read some more, and these are not my favorites that they picked to do these shorts. I’m sure there’s a reason why they picked these particular ones. I’d like to hear more about why they picked these particular ones, but it didn’t. It didn’t mean that I enjoyed the shorts any less. So yeah. So that was my distraction of last weekend.
Carrie: I would like to say I watched them too, but I did not do all the preliminary homework that Amy put on herself. I just watched them.
David: Did it stand up without the homework?
Carrie: Yeah, I thought they were good. Yeah, I enjoyed them. But, you know, there was nothing for me to compare. Contrast. I didn’t do any Venn diagrams. Nothing like that. So.
Amy: No Venn diagrams on my part either. I just read the stories and they really followed them almost exactly. So there really wasn’t much difference between the two.
Melissa: It seems like a fun project to read the stories and then watch them.
David: It does.
Amy: Yeah, I think, you know, I hope that they do more of these because some of them were shorter, like maybe 17 minutes. The longest one was the Henry Sugar one. It was maybe like 35 minutes. But it’s nice if you just like have a few minutes, like maybe you’re eating lunch and you just want to watch a little something while you’re, you know, eating. You can just sit down and watch it. And it’s not a huge time commitment, but it’s just like a little piece of art for your day.
Amy: I recommend it.
David: Roald Dahl has written short stories for children and books for children, of course, but he’s also done some very adult stuff. I think when I was about 13, I found a book of his of adult short stories, and I started reading those and I was like, oh, I am not the intended audience. [laughter]
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library more about the fantastic podcast The Perks of Being a Book Lover, those Wes Anderson shorts, and all the books we talked about today.
David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.
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