Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cocktail Party Effect

It's hard to believe that with both my love of books and interest in writing, I've never kept a serious log of the books I've read. No matter, I can start now. I keep a pocket-sized notebook that now lists one book title. In addition to the title I've decided to list the date, author, publisher, and some notes about the book. My first entry:

May 19th, 2007:
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl. Viking, 2006. About an intellectual teenager, her professor father, and their frequent moves around the country. She's in her final year of high school where she attends an elite school and falls in with a crowd called the Bluebloods. Also, there's a murder mystery.

It's well written with many book references that had me googling away, much as I hate to admit it. The books and author references are not all real. The plot is captivating and unusual, although it reminded me a little of The Secret History by Donna Tartt.


(Each of these books are their respective author's first novel.)

Of course, the movie rights have been optioned. Producer Scott Rudin - who began his career in theater in New York, eventually casting before moving on to movies - is known for wanting to make high-quality, art films. His work is diverse, including "The Addams Family", "Searching for Bobby Fischer", "Clueless", "First Wives Club", "A Civil Action", "Sleepy Hollow", "Wonder Boys", "The Royal Tenenbaums", "I Heart Huckabees", "The Hours", and "The Queen".

Not all of those are based on books, nor may some be in any way considered an art film, but all in all, not a bad list of titles. I'm always interested when a book becomes a movie. So many movies start as books or plays, and movies are a great way to find out about something new to read.

I appreciate the challenge of taking something from the page where there is all the time in the world for description and backstory, not to mention beautiful language, to the screen where there is about an hour and a half and stories must be totally visual. The transformation can be quite satisfying (Gone With the Wind, 1939; The Silence of the Lambs, 1991). Or, not at all (Congo, 1995). There are instances - very few, but I can think of at least one - where the movie is better than the book (How to Make an American Quilt, 1995). More often than not, the reverse is true (The Shipping News, 2001). There are movies that started as screenplays, and so the writing was never intended to be read, and you never have to worry about seeing the movie without reading the book because there is no book to read (Good Will Hunting, 1997; Finding Forrester, 2000; Lovely + Amazing, 2001).

The only problem is, like any other human endeavor, less desirable forces are at work. Forces like money, power, and who knows who. It's not random at all. Sometimes the system works, and sometimes it doesn't.

It's funny how, when you are engaged in the act of reading, you realize how much more there is that you haven't read. When I come across references to books or ideas I haven't read or am not familiar with, I look them up or jot them down to do it later, always feeling as though my booklist is growing longer the more I books I read. It's quite the paradox. Paradox! Another topic I want to read more about. Vicious circle, this.

Reading, and writing about reading is not exactly the stuff of great literature, but it is good practice. If I can advance my critical thinking and power of description to become something close to insightful (e.g. beyond "...it was a good book. I liked it...") it will be worthwhile. And hey, if it gives me more topics for conversation at cocktail parties, so much the better.

1 comment:

andrea said...

As geeky as this may sound, Bladerunner is another (rare)example for you of a movie that is actually better than the book (originally titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick).