Thursday, June 05, 2008

Is It Irony Or Hypocrisy?

I'm home from work today (wife is sick), reading a book to my 3yr old.  The thought occurs to me that we have the movie version of the book (Barbie, always popular) and my thinking goes a little something like this...

"We have the movie version of this same book.  But spending all day sitting in front of the tv is bad, you should turn off the tv and read books.  Yet when you get older and the books get bigger, you're far more likely to have seen the movie than to have read the book.  And once the reading gets really hard, like Shakespeare, then people go out of their way to tell you *not* to read it."

Yeah yeah yeah, I get that Shakespeare is different, that scripts are written for performance not perusal.  But you have to admit, somewhere along the line it becomes not only accepted but expected that you'll be familiar with the movie/tv version.  The cliche is about the "ruby slippers" in Wizard of Oz - but in the book, the slippers are silver.  That doesn't happen when the majority of popular culture has read the book.

I wonder why that is.  Is it strictly because the younger children need the reading practice?  That would seem to imply that you hit an age where you're all set, you don't have to read anymore.  That's certainly not true.  Or maybe it is a time management thing?  You can watch a movie in 2 hours, it's very hard to say that about a book.

There's a quote about writing - Stephen King maybe?  Or Douglas Adams? - where it's said, "I don't want to write, I want to have written."   In other words, the result is positive but the act is painful.  I see a parallel here.  "I don't want to read the classics, I want to have read them."  But here it comes with a more negative impact.  "I want to be able to say among my peers that I know the story.  It's not important enough to me to devote the time to read the original, so I'll take the short cut."  How different is this from the Cliff's Notes approach?


catkins said...

It certainly depends on why someone reads books (or Shakespeare). I love reading leisurely and being transported to wherever the author (of a good book) takes me. A movie only lasts 2 hours. A good book can last for weeks. I am as thrilled to see a good performance of Shakespeare as I am to read him, but those good performances are so rare! And they are much harder to savor. (Ron Rosenbaum talks about re-running the best parts of great Shakespeare on film, but I don't get the same joy from that as I do from re-reading a favorite passage.) And neither Shakespeare nor great literature is about "the story." They are about great poetry and great prose. Something entirely missing from Cliff Notes. If you read for the experience, it doesn't matter whether you have the movie version.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever read the first chapter of _Anne of Green Gables_? That's a classic, and a wonderfully readable book for children. My young niece fell in love with Anne (and Emily) just as much as I did.

But when you compare the first chapter of AOGG with current books, you realize how much styles have changed. No writer today, for example, could get away with not even introducing the main character until well into the story -- or in fact spending a lot of the first chapter on a minor character.

In order to enjoy the classics (and I do), you have to be willing to accept a different style, a different worldview, a different vocabulary, and in particular a much more discursive style in novels. Even classic plays don't sound the same -- I just saw a production of _The Way of the World_ which was staged in the 1950s, and the conflict between the words and the look of the play was painful.

Some readers are not willing or not able or not trained to make that jump -- for them the classics really are utterly painful to read. If you want the classics to continue to be read, you have to figure out a way of teaching kids how to decode those books.

And, frankly, some "classics" are honestly unreadable (Joseph Conrad and James Joyce are my personal forget-it authors; others may disagree.)

Alan K.Farrar said...

Horses courses ...

I have yet to find anything put on the screen or in the theatre that equals the experience of reading Jane Austen (with regard to adaptations of the good lady's work). A well written novel will never 'fit' into the screen format.

I have frequently enjoyed the adaptations of other writers (tempted to say lesser) work - which is improved by the change of media precisely because the 'story' is really just 'plot'. Real people acting can add the extra dimension needed to bring to life the characters, a good adaptation can make links visually and aurally ... etc, etc.

Some plot lines and characters can stand up to many adaptations - I think of Falstaff getting filmed, opera'd'; novelised ... and all good in their own way - different, not better.

But I refer you to my 'Multiple Intelligences rant:

(I've split it in the hope it fits)

and my Onions or Garlic rant - same site.

There is considerable pleasure to be got for some people from reading the texts ... but most are not reading a play text - most are reading as if it were a novel.

To read a play as a play is very different - and a rarely taught - skill. Many people are not even aware there is a difference - and persist in treating the characters precisely as if they were in a novel.

Far more people are not going to enjoy the script - not because they are 'ignorant' (or lazy) - the script is a very incomplete part of both what was intended and what is possible.

It only becomes 'complete' when a team of people work on it - and when it is performed with a live audience ...

So too with the Barbie text - if it is well done: Isn't it meant to be a communal read - parent and child?
Doesn't the very social interaction add an element to the read which will never come from the tv? When you children go off and read it for themselves, don't they take with them the 'jointness' of the activity?

Stella said...

I think there needs to be a balance between consumption of written and visual media. They're simply two different forms - each has it's advantages and disadvantages. I don't think one or the other is more worthy - it's the lack of balance in their consumption that leads to problems.
If that makes any sense...

I think you need to read Shakespeare in order to understand his work, but you need to see it performed (and performed well) in order to fully appreciate it.