January in the library: Movies!

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 Ambien substitute The Scarlet Letter (PS 1868 A1) is on nearly every book-to-rotten-movie list that Google can find.  What a coincidence that a book that’s been alienating high school and college students across three centuries should also have inspired a movie that alienated critics and audiences.  The 1995 movie won a Golden Raspberry Award for worst remake or sequel, according to our friends at Wikipedia, who add that Demi Moore, who plays Hester in the film, escaped Worst Actress only because Showgirls, a film that caused skin lesions in laboratory animals, was released the same year.

Any library with a healthy selection of fiction on its shelves will also have a lot of books that spawned a movie, so let’s see what’s upstairs.  I asked south campus librarians Larry Gainor and Lynda de los Santos to find us some movie books.

You may have already guessed that our shelves are home to a variety of odd and challenging books.  Larry proves it with J. G. Ballard’s 1973 novel Crash (PR 6052 A46 1973), which eroticizes smashed-up cars.  Maybe you saw the 1996 movie it inspired; Holly Hunter’s in it.  I remember reading an interview with Mr. Ballard in which he reminisced about the reception his publisher threw at Crash’s release.  They had wrecked cars on display in the reception hall and waitresses wandering around in bikinis, handing out cocktails.  These hot-button icons, with the host’s champagne added to the mix, bested the self-control of quite a few of the attendees.  The security guards the publisher hired for the event spent the night rescuing waitresses from tight corners and 86’ing misbehaving guests.  The gang at Internet Movie Database had, in general, nice things to say about the film adaptation, but even the ones that loved it were quick to concede that it wasn’t for everyone.

Larry says that the 2013 movie of Larry Brown’s novel Joe (PS 3552 R6927 J64 2003) was filmed near Austin, and is remarkable for a number of reasons, one of them being that one of the stars was a homeless man found by movie scouts combing the streets of Austin for local color.  They settled quickly on Gary Poulter, a mentally disturbed drifter who lent credibility to the role of a troublesome and abusive drunk.  The picture of Mr. Poulter that I found on Gawker shows the unruly mane and hard stare of a guy that doesn’t spend much time in the same world you and I do.  Fun fact:  Hmm; no fun facts, unless you think it fun that Mr. Poulter played his role to perfection because he wasn’t acting.  Nicolas Cage stars, and the movie was favorably noticed by  critics.

If we include books that ought to be made into movies, Larry’s next pick, China Miéville’s The City & The City (PR 6063 I265 C58 2009) suggests itself right away.  The 2009 novel has more fans than the Dallas Cowboys, and readers at Goodreads and Amazon cite the novel’s murder mystery plot and its odd fantasy urban setting as reasons why.

J. K. Rowling’s 1998 chartbuster Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (PZ 7 R79835) (movie released in 2001) made number one on Lynda’s hit parade.  I caught the Harry bug early on from one of our evening librarians, who worked at a local middle school during the day and so was privy to kids’ reading habits.  She assured me that the books were an off-label hit with adults for a good reason, and lent me her copy of Sorcerer’s Stone, the first in the series.  Remember when Harry Potter novels were a charming and outré discovery, like finding a bar within walking distance of your house that has Chimay on tap and doesn’t have a TV?  That was then.  Quick: How many Harry titles are there now?  The number’s under ten, but if you neither knew nor cared, or thought the number was way higher, try Sorcerer’s Stone if you haven’t already, and remember that Ms. Rowling had no idea at the time that her little story was about to start laying golden eggs for her and her progeny, yea, unto the third and to the fourth generation.  You didn’t ask, but I recommend a hard-cover for hearthside reading, or a used trade-format paperback to keep by the tub.

A friend from library school once swore that if he owned a television station, at any assassination of a consequential public figure he’d forgo the network feed and run nothing but James Bond movies for as long as he could get away with it.  Lynda notes that the south library has a few of Ian Fleming’s novels (five, at my count, and I’ll spare you the litany of titles), although I see that the copy of Dr. No that I donated is missing from the shelves.  With the recent release of the Bond film Spectre, people have been following Mr. Bond for over sixty years.  I have little doubt that hundreds of years in the future it will still be possible for someone living near an art cinema, and having the mind for it, to sit through a public screening of Thunderball.  It won’t surprise followers of mid-twentieth century politics that President Kennedy enjoyed reading From Russia With Love, and wasn’t afraid to admit it, either.

Department of Enigmatic Photographs:  The allegorical scene in the attachment was photographed some years ago on the staircase that now faces the welcome center, right outside Dean Ann Tate’s office.  The picture was taken at a Halloween observance, which should get us at least half way to understanding how these hijinks got started.  I’d say that Dr. Williams, campus president at the time the picture was taken, never saw it.  If she had, she’d no doubt have used it in student recruitment brochures, and with some effect, I’d bet.  I can’t guarantee that I’d have stood my ground for long if I’d seen one as a high school senior, so maybe it’s best that the brochure I did succumb to featured pictures of kids throwing frisbees in the quad, and pretending to study in the library.

The Ectoplasmic Report: During a recent séance in the library’s Texana Room the shade of Robert B. Merrifield dictated this neat little haiku, in honor of the semester’s beginning:


Lost kids in the halls.

Meeting follows meeting now.

Egad: A new term.


Don’t blame me; I told you the place was haunted.

With kindest new term regards,