Arts critic Moira Macdonald will now be writing about 2 things she loves: movies and books. She welcomes your feedback, readers and viewers, and shares what she’s reading now.
Well, hello! It seems odd to be introducing myself when I’ve been here at The Seattle Times for quite a while, but it’s a time for new beginnings. For more than 15 years I’ve been the movie critic; now, with the retirement of book editor Mary Ann Gwinn — a wonderful friend, colleague and cubicle-mate whom I’m missing already — I’ll be tackling both books and movies. I’ve got a shiny new title — arts critic — and an opportunity to devote my time to writing about two art forms I adore.
It’s daunting to try to follow in the footsteps of giants, though it’s a familiar sensation — I succeeded the amazing John Hartl as Times movie critic. And, while we at the Times figure out what books and movies coverage will look like going forward (tell us what you’d like to see!), I intend to throw myself wholeheartedly into the challenge of covering both, with Mary Ann’s encouraging voice echoing in my head. (Her voice will continue in these pages, too, thank goodness; she’ll be contributing Lit Life columns every month.)
Back in 2001, I introduced myself to Times readers by sharing some recent and favorite movies; here’s a reprise, with a books flavor.
Reading now: “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders, “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes, and “On Turpentine Lane” by Elinor Lipman; all for work-related reasons, and all pretty swell. Also, for fun: “Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, The Man Who Wrote “Dracula’’ ’ – I love literary biography. And grimly flogging, er, slogging through E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades Darker,” because of the upcoming movie. (And you thought my job was all fun and games, didn’t you?)
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Recently read and enjoyed: I’ve been drawn to collections lately, both of short fiction (Roxane Gay’s “Difficult Women”) and nonfiction essays (Mindy Kaling’s “Why Not Me?,” Roger Angell’s “This Old Man”).
In the to-read-soon pile: Angela Flournoy’s “The Turner House,” which is this year’s Seattle Reads book. (Maybe some of you will be reading it too? We’ll discuss in the spring.)
Books I’m excitedly awaiting (but will have to wait a while): Kevin Kwan’s final entry in his delightful “Crazy Rich Asians” satirical trilogy (reportedly coming this summer); Brit Bennett’s follow-up to her remarkable 2016 debut “The Mothers”; Sue Grafton’s final two installments in her delicious Kinsey Millhone alphabet series. (According to Grafton’s website, “Y” is coming this fall and “Z Is For Zero” is scheduled for fall 2019. What will I do without Kinsey and Henry?)
Book club: I’m a founding member of a small and select Seattle women’s book club, known informally as The Common Readers and meeting regularly for more than 25 years. (We were, for the record, mere toddlers when the group began.) Our grand total: 215 books read together; favorite authors include Penelope Lively and Virginia Woolf. Unlike many book clubs, we were underwhelmed by Elena Ferrante; go figure. Next up for us: “A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson. (We loved “Life After Life.”)
Where books and movies meet: Conventional wisdom says that the book is always better; I say that the book is always different (though yeah, it’s often better), and I like thinking about the adaptation process as a sort of duet — film can do things books can’t do, and vice versa. Some of my favorite examples of great books turned into great movies: Marleen Gorris’ “Mrs. Dalloway” (with Vanessa Redgrave in the title role), John Huston’s “The Dead” (based on James Joyce’s novella; a work so perfect you wonder how Huston even dared try), Merchant/Ivory’s version of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day,” and more recently “Atonement,” “Gone Girl,” “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” “Room” and “The Handmaiden” (a very clever adaptation of Sarah Waters’ “Fingersmith”). Looking forward to Ava DuVernay’s take on “A Wrinkle in Time.”
Getting a clue: I love detective novels, particularly those written by Grafton, Robert Galbraith (i.e. J.K. Rowling), Tana French, Michael Connelly, Kate Atkinson and Laura Lippman. I keep meaning to dive into Ian Rankin’s work, recommended highly by Mary Ann, one of these days.
Paper or digital? Paper, always. I love the tactile feel of a book, particularly a worn-soft paperback. Though I have occasionally entertained the idea of an e-reader, particularly in the moments immediately before leaving on vacation when I realize that bringing six absolutely essential books is really weighing down my carry-on.
Favorite place to read: Armchair, in my living room. Diet Coke within reach. Cat sprawled, purring, in my lap, interfering with sightlines. Rain tickling the rooftop. Bliss.
First book I ever bought: I remember, at maybe age 5 or 6, saving up my allowance to buy Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona the Pest.” I still have it somewhere, with my name printed in big letters on the title page.
Favorite classics: Thanks to a long-ago master’s degree in English lit, I’ve spent plenty of time immersed in great books of the past. (“Ulysses”: yes. “Moby Dick”: no. “Remembrance of Things Past”: someday.) Two I keep returning to: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” — which has a gossamer perfection that fascinates me — and Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.” Reader, I can’t resist it.
And what about you? Read anything good lately? Heard a great author speak? Have ideas on what kind of books coverage you’d like to see in The Seattle Times? Would you join an online book club if I had one? I would love to hear from you, as I figure out how to go forward in my semi-new position. Email me, call me or find me on Twitter — I’m really looking forward to reading with you.