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  • Jeff Somers 4:30 pm on 2015/06/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , jeff lindsay, , ubermensch, william goldman   

    Five “Superpowered” Characters Found Outside of Sci-Fi Novels 

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    As genres bleed into the mainstream, people who were blissfully unaware of superhero tropes in the past are now becoming mutant connoisseurs and experts on the effects of radiation exposure when combined with insects, animals, or mad scientists (or all three). This acceptance of the superhero as literary star shouldn’t be surprising—there have been superhero characters outside of science fiction for ages. To prove it, here are five characters that are basically superheroes, despite appearing in books that aren’t in any way speculative fiction. They would be an unstoppable team of literary Avengers.

    Marathon Man, by William Goldman
    Superpower: Endurance
    Goldman’s classic 1970s thriller not only inspired one of Laurence Olivier’s most memorable film performances (the phrase “Is it safe?” is still a monumental buzzkill), it introduced the titular character, real name Tom Levy, into the cultural landscape. Through no fault of his own, Levy is caught up in a world of espionage and assassination, and makes it through only because of his superpower: superhuman endurance. He survives horrific torture and manages to triumph in the end only because he can keep going when his enemies have to slow down to catch their breath. If you’ve only seen the movie, the book is not only more tense and exciting than you might think, it’s also much less sweaty than you might expect (although still plenty sweaty).

    Memory Man, by David Baldacci
    Superpower: Perfect memory
    Amos Decker’s life gets ruined twice. The first time, a head injury ends his professional football career, but blesses/curses him with a perfect memory stretching back even before the injury, allowing him to access details as if his brain were a DVR. The second time, he loses his family to a grisly murder, and is almost destroyed. When that tragedy turns out to have been the first step in a fiendish plan personally targeting him, his super memory is what helps him survive and solve the mystery. It’s a novel that seems to consciously draw on superhero tropes for much of its structure, including the origin story, the doppelgänger villain, and the “Moment of Despair” so common in superhero stories.

    Jack Reacher, by Lee Child
    Superpower: Reacherism
    Jack Reacher is one of the most popular modern fictional characters, a huge man who towers over everyone he meets, who maintains peak physical fitness despite never mentioning, even in passing, a workout regimen (although, to be fair, he walks everywhere and spends much of his time punching people). Reacher’s brawn and physical size is matched only by his big brain, and the two together, combined with a keen sense of justice and morality, make him every criminal’s worst nightmare. Remember how the A-Team used to show up and help folks fight villains more numerous, better funded, and more heavily armed? Reacher is large enough and smart enough to be his own self-contained A-Team, setting things right before walking off into the sunset while the “Lonely Man” theme from the old Incredible Hulk TV show plays.

    Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle (and others)
    Superpower: Super logic
    The “Sherlock Scan” is so well-known it is literally a trope, but when viewed through a reality filter, some of Holmes’ deductions can seem a bit supernatural. Over the course of more than a century, Holmes has arrived at countless crime scenes and figured out what’s happening merely by observing available data and then engaging in some vaguely unsavory substances abuse. His immense intelligence is shown time and time again to prevail over just about every obstacle or threat—even his most evenly matched enemy, Professor Moriarity, could only mostly kill Holmes, who figured out a way to come back.

    Dexter Morgan, by Jeff Lindsay
    Superpower: Lack of empathy
    Most of us are prevented from doing terrible things through a complex combination of an inner moral sense, fear of consequences, and empathy for our fellow living creatures. Dexter Morgan has only one of those things, and it is only his fear of consequences that keeps him from more or less destroying the world. That very same lack of empathy, however, also makes him one of the most powerful people in the world—though whether he would count as a superhero or a supervillain is up for discussion, considering his efforts to employ his special skill exclusively against bad people.

    There you have it: superheroes have been lurking in our books all along, no need to look solely to science fiction and comic book movies.

    Shop all fiction >
  • Joel Cunningham 9:47 pm on 2014/11/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , michel faber, , , , , , , , , william goldman   

    What to Read Next If You Liked As You Wish, Yes Please, The Peripheral, The Book of Strange New Things, or The Secret History of Wonder Woman 

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    wtrn116Every fan of The Princess Bride is sure to fall in “twue wuv” with As You Wish, a loving memoir of the making of one of the most universally adored movies in history by the Dread Pirate Roberts himself, Cary Elwes. If you’re still not satisfied, you can ask your grandpa to read to you from Which Lie Did I Tell?, by William Goldman, who wrote both the screenplay for the film and the novel upon which it is based, featuring an account of how the film’s surprising success saved his floundering career. Don’t miss either of these—I mean it! (Anybody want a peanut?)

    After the smashing success of best-pal Tina Fey’s Bossypants, I can’t imagine the pressure Amy Poehler was under to deliver with Yes Please, but her hybrid memoir/showbiz insider account more than delivers. It’s one of the funniest books of the year, packed with insights on life, motherhood, marriage, and making it as a woman in the cutthroat world of comedy. If you’ve already shown love to Tina and Amy, go straight to the source with I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts About Being a Woman, by Nora Ephron, a trailblazer whose remarkable career set the stage for so many funny ladies who followed her.

    In 1984, William Gibson’s Neuromancer managed to more or less accurately predict exactly the ways the rise of the not-yet-invented Internet would change all of our lives (even if some of the more outlandish sci-fi trappings, like neural implants, haven’t come to pass quite yet). The jury is still out on whether his newest work, The Peripheral, which deals in quantum theory, augmented realities, immersive gaming, advanced drones, and global catastrophe, will be regarded as prescient one day. In the meantime, it’s probably a good idea to read both of these books, just to be prepared.

    The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber, is lyrical literary sci-fi, the epic story of a missionary sent to spread the good word to the alien inhabitants of a distant planet, even as the Earth he’s leaving threatens to crumble away in a global environmental and political disaster. Mary Doria Russell’s 1996 debut novel, The Sparrow, similarly imagines the hardships and communication barriers faced by a band of Jesuits who travel to make contact with a distant star and discover that some cultural divides may simply be too great to bridge.

    The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill Lepore, uncovers the feminists roots of the world’s most famous superheroine via the strange history of her polygamist, counter-cultural creator. For another book that takes a look at female heroes, feminism, and sexism in comics, The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines, by Mike Madrid, is an engaging, pop-academia read.


  • Nicole Hill 3:30 pm on 2014/10/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , william goldman   

    5 Facts About The Princess Bride We Learned From As You Wish 

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    Cary Elwes's As You WishIf there is a universal cultural touchstone in this fractured world, it is, perhaps, The Princess Bride. Between the ever-quotable Rob Reiner movie and the equally beloved book by William Goldman, at this point, only a very few particularly isolated tribal peoples are unaware of the twue wuv story of Westley and Buttercup, as well as the swashbuckling adventures of their hangers on (Fezzik, Inigo Montoya, Miracle Max…).

    Because sometimes good things happen, Westley himself (i.e., actor Cary Elwes) has released a memoir of sorts, As You Wish: The Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride, that details his experience of making one of the most memorable and adored film adaptations of the last half century. It’s chock full of cute on-set anecdotes and includes inserts from several of its movers and shakers, including Reiner, Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, and Christopher Guest. Basically, besides eating a mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich (when the mutton is nice and lean) on a picnic at the Cliffs of Insanity, there is no better way to spend a day than reliving the elaborate sword fights, daring battles of wit, and “kissing parts” of The Princess Bride in this compendium of behind-the-scenes tales. Below, just a few nuggets we learned from Elwes. Have fun storming the castle!

    Alternative castings!
    As is so obvious from the finished product, the cast of this film is perfect, from beginning to end. But it wasn’t always such a sure bet. Elwes hints that among the actors considered for Westley were none other than the dashing Mr. Darcy, also known as Colin Firth. Joining him could have been Sting as the fiendish Prince Humperdinck, Danny DeVito as the Sicilian mastermind Vizzini, and, drumroll please, Arnold Schwarzenegger as friendly giant Fezzik. I can’t imagine the peanut rhyme would have come off as well with the Terminator, but it’s fun to wonder.

    Bill Cosby impersonations!
    Apparently, besides his dashing resemblance to Errol Flynn, Elwes won his leading role as farmboy-turned-pirate thanks to his expert impersonation of…Fat Albert. Lesson: when you have to prove you have a sense of humor, always go with Cosby.

    Errant wind and other Andre the Giant hilarities!
    Among the absolutely funniest stories from the set related here involves Andre the Giant, a mostly dead Westley, and a monumental gastric anomaly outside Humperdinck’s castle. The scene is too giggle-worthy to say more, though its amusement is rivaled by the other irregularities recounted about working with the gentle gargantuan actor (who used to be chauffeured by Samuel Beckett, for your obscure trivia needs).

    Jangled author nerves!
    Goldman has long stated that The Princess Bride is the work nearest and dearest to his heart, and this fondness for the base material made him a nervous wreck during filming—so much so that his incessant praying and fretting interrupted it. Clearly, looking back, he had nothing to worry about, for both Reiner and Elwes wear their fanboy passions freely on their sleeves.

    Ad libs!
    Not that this comes as any great surprise, but outside of the brilliant Goldman dialogue, there was quite a bit of improvisation (see: basically the entire Miracle Max scene). Even part of the Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times was thrown together last minute, and executed near flawlessly. Of all those moments of genius, only some of them were planned.

    So, to reiterate…no, there’s too much, let me sum up: life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something, and in this case, it’s an entertaining look at one of the greatest stories ever told. Please consider it as an alternative to suicide.

    As You Wish is on sale now.

  • Ginni Chen 5:00 pm on 2014/07/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , voldemort, william goldman   

    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Cures 5 Fictional Villains 

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    Mrs Piggle Wiggles Farm

    While writing this post, I stopped by my local Barnes & Noble to revisit the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books. When I asked the sales assistant where the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books could be found, she asked me if I was the woman who called earlier about them. “No,” I said, “that wasn’t me, but I’m happy to hear someone did!”

    When we got to the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle shelf in the children’s book section, we discovered that not only had the unknown woman called about them, she’d bought every last book on the shelf! I was delighted. Someone is as big a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle fan as I am! Dear Unknown Lady who bought all the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books from the Barnes & Noble on New York’s Upper West Side—this post is for you.

    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is the lovable title character of a children’s book series written by Betty MacDonald in the late 1940s and ’50s. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is the widow of a pirate, lives in an upside-down house full of animals, toys, and books, and magically cures neighborhood children of bad habits. From children with poor table manners to incorrigible show-offs, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle manages to cure them all with (fairly) harmless and (always) humorous magic. But what would Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle do if called upon to cure some really bad habits in some really awful adults?

    Here’s how we think Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle would cure some of the most dastardly villains in fiction:

    Voldemort (The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling)
    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle would put two drops of Auto-Correct Elixir in Voldemort’s mouth while he slept. Auto-Correct Elixir does just what it sounds likeit autocorrects everything Voldemort says in ridiculous ways, much like a smart phone. Whenever he rants about Muggles and Mudbloods, it comes out of his mouth as “Puggles and Mudhuts.” When he wants to say horcrux, he says “s’more crust,” and when he says “Harry Potter,” it comes out “Scary Daughter.”  This soon causes the Death Eaters to dissolve into laughter whenever Voldemort opens his mouth. Bellatrix Lestrange keeps taunting him, asking him to say things like “Dark Lord” (“dart board”) and “Avada Kedrava!” (“I’ve had a cadaver!”). Eventually, Voldemort can’t take the ridicule anymore and gives up on his evil schemes.

    The White Witch (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis)
    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle would sprinkle Frigid-More Powder on the White Witch’s cloak. The powder would render her white fur cloaks useless, and the White Witch would start to feel cold in her own Endless Winter. Teeth chattering and shivering uncontrollably, she’d have to resort to hugging other creatures of Narnia for warmth. Eventually, after many hugs and many sleepless icy nights, the White Witch would see the error of her ways. She’d lift her Endless Winter curse and experience a change of heart toward the creatures of Narnia.

    Count Dracula (Dracula, by Bram Stoker)
    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle would blow People Pepper Powder in Dracula’s direction. Once he inhales it, it changes his sense of smell. Every time Dracula gets near his human victims, he gets a terrible itching in his nose as if he’s just sniffed pepper, and he sneezes. Loudly. This makes it impossible for him to sneak up on his prey. What’s worse, everyone keeps saying “Bless you!” before they run away, which vampires simply cannot abide. Dracula eventually gives up trying to suck people’s blood, stops sneezing constantly, and discovers he much prefers donuts.

    Agatha Trunchbull (Matilda, by Roald Dahl)
    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle would serve this evil headmistress her daily slice of chocolate cake alongside a big steaming cup of Tiny Tyrant Tea. The tea causes the Trunchbull to shrink a little each time she does something terrible and tyrannical. Since the Trunchbull is a particularly nasty bully from the moment she wakes, she’s reduced to the size of a teacup in no time at all. She’s unable to exact any punishment on anyone and she lives in constant fear of being trampled under other people’s feet. The only way to survive unsquashed in her tiny state is for her to beg for forgiveness and rely on the kindness of the schoolchildren she used to torment.

    Count Rugen (The Princess Bride, by William Goldman)
    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle would cure this six-fingered nobleman of his sadistic fascination with torture devices by swapping his regular six-fingered gloves with Goof-up Gloves. The Count’s Goof-up Gloves give his two hands a mind of their own. Whenever he tries to activate his torture devices, his hands mess up and push the wrong buttons. He tries to correct them, but they just keep yanking on the wrong levers and twisting the wrong dials until the torture machine malfunctions and the victim is left sitting there unharmed. Embarrassed, the Count is forced to let his prisoner go while he calls maintenance. He eventually gives up trying to operate torture machinery and picks up knitting instead, which his six-fingered hands are surprisingly good at.

    Which fictional villains would you like to see Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle cure?

  • Heidi Fiedler 5:00 pm on 2014/07/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , dav pilkey, , fantastic mr. fox, , , , , , polly horvath, , , sideways stories from wayside school, the adventures of captain underpants, , wayside school, william goldman   

    Bust-a-Gut-Books for Middle-Grade Readers 

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    The Adventures of Captain UnderpantsSummertime should be filled with water-balloon fights, sleepovers, piles of books, and squeals of laughter. So we’ve rounded up some books sure to make your kids giggle all summer long. Just make sure they’re not drinking any soda when they read these. That stuff burns coming out the wrong way:

    Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl
    Pretty much anything by Roald Dahl is sure to enthrall kids and make them lifelong fans. His books are filled with wonder, humor, and enough big ideas to leave kids thinking about them for years. Fantastic Mr. Fox hits all the right notes, with charming characters, oh-so-silly situations, and yes, lots and lots of burping.

    Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire!, by Polly Horvath
    This book has the pacing and artwork of a classic children’s book. But look closer and it’s totally trippy. There are the titular bunny detectives, marmots who love garlic bread, hippie parents, and an ever-so-likeable girl at the center of it all. Silly, smart, and sweet!

    Captain Underpants series, by Dav Pilkey
    You might not know these books, but your kids do. They’re funny, action-packed chapter books that “reluctant readers” will gobble down all summer long.

    Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar
    Authors around the world still glare at Sachar with the evil eye, wishing they had written this book from 1985. It’s smart, strange, and totally funny. Those who first encountered it 30 years ago are still enthralled by it.

    Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein
    Adults forget that children’s poetry used to be where the good stuff was: wacky characters, impossible situations, and outrageous drawings all found their way in. Today, Shel Silverstein’s wry, wise poems stand tall as bastions of pre-tech humor amid kids’ ever-present digital distractions.

    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, by Betty Macdonald
    These classic books are filled with the perfect mix of wisdom, magic, and whimsy. Just like with Mary Poppins, kids finish the books, drifting off to sleep with a smile on their faces, wondering what it would be like if they could go to bed whenever they wanted, eat whatever they wanted, and pretty much do whatever they wanted,  all the while wishing Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lived on their street to save them from themselves.

    The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
    The movie The Princess Bride is about a grandfather reading a book called The Princess Bride to his grandson. The bad news is Fred Savage is no longer 8 years old, and neither are you. The good news is the book is real, and it’s as delightfully weird and heartwarming as the movie.

    Lunch Lady, by Jarrett Krosoczka
    Jarrett Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady graphic novels feature cafeteria mayhem at its finest. Bring on the hairnets and fish-stick nunchucks! The Lunch Lady is here!

    Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney
    Don’t dismiss this wimpy kid based on his scrawny stick drawings. These deadpan diaries are one of the strongest success stories in children’s books today! The author of the series has proven he knows exactly what makes kids laugh for 8 blockbuster cartoon-filled books and counting (#9 hits shelves this November!).

    What books have your kids laughing this summer?

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