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Book 12

  1. Grossmith, George & Weedon — The Diary of a Nobody (166 pages)
  2. McCarthy, Cormac — Blood Meridian (334 pages)
  3. Moore, Alan & Dave Gibbons — Watchmen (399 pages)
  4. Moore, Christopher — Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (507 pages)
  5. Murger, Henri — The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (381 pages)
  6. Walk with Me: A Lenten Journey of Prayer for 2009 (98 pages)
  7. Douglas, Lloyd C. — The Robe (438 pages)
  8. Robinson, Marilynne — Gilead (281 pages)
  9. Jerome, Jerome K. — Three Men in a Boat (182 pages)
  10. Satrapi, Marjane — Persepolis (343 pages)
  11. Dodge, Jim — Fup (121 pages)
  12. Bauby, Jean-Dominique — The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly (114 pages)

Page count: 3364.

A quote on the front cover of The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly states it is, "One of the great books of the century." That is an ambitious claim, and one that is hyberbolic. This is a good book, an important book, but not one of the great books.

The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly is the memoir, dictated through a blinking left eyelid, of former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered from locked-in syndrome brought on by a massive stroke. It gives insight into what it's like to be so vibrantly alive yet trapped in a body that cannot respond, brilliantly conveying his frustrations, his regrets, and the vividness of his memory and imagination.

That I was not terribly moved is doubtless a reflection on my own jadedness than on the book's quality. It is sad that a person who enjoyed life so much should be cut down in his prime like that. But then I think of all the suffering in the world, and of other touching accounts of personal tragedy and disability, and Bauby's story — significant, honest, unsentimental, and certainly praiseworthy — just doesn't stand out.

I watched the movie this afternoon. Of course. It seems I always watch the movie, if there is one, shortly after I've finished the book and tend to gravitate towards books that have movies based on them. It is a very good movie, strictly by movie standards. I might even say the movie is a better movie than the book is a book.

But the movie is a lie.

I often bemoan Hollywood's need to alter elements from the book when adapting it to the screen. Some of the changes I can certainly understand and often agree that they were necessary for drama or pacing. Others simply boggle the mind. Why was it necessary to give Bauby a third child? Were his two not enough? Why is the girlfriend who was constantly at Bauby's side during his ordeal almost completely excised from the movie, except to be represented as a coward and hypocrite in a couple of scenes? Why was the ex-wife, who was off galivanting with her new boyfriend, represented as the doting love of Bauby's life? Why was practically not a single detail from the book included in the film until more than forty minutes into it? In the penultimate chapter of the book, Bauby mentions that the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," was on the radio the morning of his stroke, and the song is engraved in his memory as a sort of soundtrack of and commentary on events, heightening the drama and adding to the surrealism of the day. So, why did the director replace this song with Charles Trenet's "La Mer," a charming French song, to be sure, but one which has no relevance to the story?

Usually, such unjustified alterations of the story merely cheapen the end product. In this case, because this is a real story, real people were offended and hurt. A Salon.com story relates the outcry of Bauby's closest friends and relatives. It is well worth reading. By all means, enjoy the movie — it is a very good movie. But if you want a true account, stick to the book.

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