Monday, January 26, 2015

Goodreads - one thing lacking

I've been involved with for some time, but I've only really got into it properly in the last year. It seems to be a huge site in terms of people involved, and there's certainly a huge amount of interaction. Plus the Goodreads staff are very helpful and quick off the mark.

Only one thing is lacking, I feel. And that's a way of recording the books you didn't finish in a year. I made a category on my own page for books I'd given up on and ones I'd put aside for the moment, but since Goodreads continues to categorise them as books you're still reading it's a bit confusing.

I keep track separately of the books I read on a file on my computer - have been doing this for nearly a decade in a consistent fashion - and I make a note about the ones I didn't finish with some comments about why I didn't finish them. Sometimes you can get a good way through a book before you abandon it, so there's a degree of effort put into books you don't finally enjoy.

I got Mary Poppins out of the library a couple of days ago, but only got halfway through it before abandoning it. I'd never read this children's book, regarded as a classic, and my interest was piqued after seeing the movie Saving Mr Banks, which is about the making of Mary Poppins into a movie. In the movie, P L Travers (as she called herself - Travers was in fact her father's first name) argues forthrightly for the book to be made into the film she wants to see. It wasn't, but as my wife noted this morning, perhaps her arguing about so many details actually made it a much better film than either she or Disney could have imagined.

But the curious thing I found when reading the book was that the movie is actually a much better work. The book, disappointingly to me, is merely a series of episodes. There's little development of character, no plot, no reason why Mary Poppins comes into the Banks family's life with her random use of magic, and when I looked at the last chapter, nothing seemed to have moved forward.

Now plainly the book is written to be read to children of a fairly young age, and for them plot and characterization isn't quite such an essential. But Disney and co took all the disparate elements and made a movie that has a point, has a degree of plot (Mr Banks comes into his own far more than he does in the book, something that helped Travers deal with her own alcoholic father, it seems) and has much more fully-formed characters. Furthermore the movie is charming, a great musical and only marginally too long: the laughing sequence, where everyone has tea under the ceiling is too extended for me, personally. Julie Andrews is proper and prim, but brings a warmth to the character of Mary Poppins that the book's version definitely lacks. Michael and Jane (the best drawn characters in the book) are adorable, and Mr and Mrs Banks have plenty to do in the story instead of being merely 'parents' as they are in the book. Dick van Dyke's character barely appears in the book - he's only in one chapter. (Travers hated even the idea of van Dyke being in the movie, apparently.) Furthermore he isn't a chimney sweep, but his magical picnic with Mary is one of the highlights of the movie, with the animated penguins, which were supposedly one of the sorest points on Travers' side.

Saving Mr Banks may take Travers and Disney's relationship somewhat fancifully, but it does bring to light not only Travers' unhappy childhood, but also her miserable and self-centred adulthood. As the Wikipedia entry notes: According to her grandchildren, Travers "died loving no one and with no one loving her." A sad line to have in your obituary, particularly when you delighted so many readers for decades, and have managed to live to nearly a hundred. 

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