Page or Screen – a personal policy

Keeping calm
Keeping calm

I have this policy. It’s more of a personal preference, really, but, either way, I’m usually pretty good about following through. The premise is straightforward enough – do not watch the cinematic rendition of an already established literary piece before first reading the piece itself. In lay terms – don’t watch the movie before reading the book.

This is in no way a disparagement of the film industry, of course, but the grounds of which certainly merit elaboration.

Let’s face it – as a species, we’re suckers for stories. Every day, hour, microsecond (someone could argue that), we’re engaged in some sort of story. It could be anything from reading about the latest restaurant review to writing an e-mail to a friend agreeing to meet for dinner. Whatever it is, talking or listening, at some degree, whether we’re cognizant of it or not, we’re all storytellers – chefs serving anecdotal entrées (be it entertaining or strictly informative) using our special ingredients of fact and fiction. Stories of love, hate, fear, and loathing, no matter the case, we love it; we eat it up. Yet, without trying to sound too judgmental, we’re also a wee bit averse to more effort than necessary (FINE PRINT: yes, I just said that you were lazy). So, given the choice between film or font, we would usually prefer to recline in front of a 30’ X 70’ screen and get fat on fake-buttered popcorn and nibbles and bits of sugary goodies.

There’s no need to state the obvious here – as a population, we read less than ever before. I’m not talking about the malarkey online statements that aver that we read more than ever before, because reading e-mail, Tumblr, or Amazon receipts ad nauseum doesn’t quite constitute reading.

You know what I mean by reading, right? I mean real fucking reading. Reading books, not e-readers, not bullshit iPods/Pads/Pamphlets or whatever other type of pocket screens you carry around (books and games for me are like Church and State – keep ‘em separate). I’m talking about reading for pleasure, reading something that you love.


Because that’s the “real” story. I use quotation marks here because it’s my own definition of real. The real story are the ones that each of us sees in our own heads. What did Harry Potter look like in your mind before you saw Daniel Radcliffe play him? What about Hermione?

Exactly. They were your own, just the way that you saw them. They were perfect.

I read the books first for different reasons. I could create a list of those reasons, but this is prose, not a grocery list, and I’d rather not allow my thoughts to be bullet points.

Text, in as many advantages as it has, comes with the requirement of effort on the part of the ‘to be entertained.’ The entertainer, on the one hand, certainly has to put in the effort to provide the entertainment, the product. It’s sort of like the soda jerk who makes the viscous, but highly-addictive milkshake for you, the customer. The idea is that you will probably enjoy the product, however, you will have to extend your arm, grasp the low-quality, but visibly catchy paper/plastic cup, raise it to your sweet little sugar pouting lips and suck like a porn star. That’s how we, the customer (after having paid for our product) acquire the value of said product. Now, compare that to reading.

We (the humans) buy the book, to get all the joy of the book into our bodies, it’s not like we can just snap a USB cord into it and slip the opposing end into our brain’s pleasure center. Doesn’t work that way. We have to run our eyes over every single word beginning after the first cover and going all the way to the back cover…and that usually takes longer than the porn suck.

If only there were a more expeditious way.


Enter FILM, Stage Right.


The motion picture – humanity’s answer to the “full” story in a small fraction of the time it takes to read a book.

Short and sweet – now (finally!) we don’t have to spend days or weeks or (yes) even months reading this bullshit and having to trudge through the ultra boring bits about the main character’s love life and how they really feel about the guy and their emotions or the work, all for the sake of ‘character development.’ Now I can finally watch Tolkien’s classics without having to read all that prolonged trash about him describing a branch on a tree in a forest full of Orcs, or Ents, or ugly things. Yes! The Movie! Finally! My prayers have been ans-

Hold up.

You may feel like your prayers were answered, but (and you’ll never believe me) you’re missing all the glory of the written word. If you watch the movies all the time and never read, you’ll be missing how much better the book is compared to the movie. Now, if you’re just plain impatient, well I can’t help you, although I do believe there are certain people within certain professions who may be of service. But, I’m imploring you not to just do it out of your love of things that blow up, or colors or beautiful people (though I’m not saying you should deny yourself of such pleasures – they’re wonderful; they are. But this is simply my own commentary on watching movies before reading the work in text).


Okay, where am I going with this.


Here’s where I’m going. The long (Tolkien version of the) story is that (for whatever reason) I chose to watch the film rendition of a story that was already in text. Mistake No. 1. I really wanted to have read the story before the movie came out (just like I did with Harry Potter), but for some reason I didn’t, and now that I’ve watched the film, I have picked up the book and am finding it exceedingly difficult to read it.




Because I already know what happens! That’s why. So, guess what I have to do. Well, let’s start with guess what I can’t do right now – I can’t really enjoy and savor the book the same way. It’s not like I’ll be up until the wee hours of the morning waiting to see what happens when everyone finds out that the butler’s really a herm. I already know the story. It’s almost as if it’s cheating, almost as if I’m cheating myself.

So, back to what I have to do – I have to wait until I forget the entire story and then go back to the book.

Well, lessons learned for next time, I suppose.

Look, for me a book can take at least a week (two if I have a job – which, at the moment, thankfully…), but a  movie takes a couple of hours. Why not just read the book, enjoy it, lap it up, savor it and all that, and then, when you’re ready for a nice evening out, reward yourself with the movie. You’ll find exactly how different they are – as you have heard or experienced, perhaps, yourself.

Go ahead – stop reading this right now and look up how books sales have changed in the past 50 years.

Just a thought, but makes sense to me.


Read much?

A while back, I posted a poll with a question on reading. I asked all the fine folk out there how many books they read a month. Most said that they read somewhere between ZERO and THREE books a month. I thought that was pretty good. Well, not bad if your toward the THREE range, but rather abysmal if you’re closer to ZERO. Every time I become engaged in a conversation about reading, I usually say that as a people (not so much as a nation or as even a continent, but as a people) we’re not reading nearly as much as we’re used to. Then, someone, without fail, will bring up the idea that we’re actually reading the most we’ve ever read – the issue is that what we’re reading is not what I’m thinking of when I consider “reading.” That is, we’re reading all kinds of Internet trash, which is mostly written at a lower level than what we used to be reading.

I’ll agree with that.

The way we’re reading is also different. We’re not reading with a degree of patience in silence, any more. We’re reading in short blurbs and blips. We don’t want to take the time to read because (well, among other reasons), we’re afraid that we’ll be missing something somewhere else. There’s so much out there nowadays. It besieges us and, is it any wonder that we feel overwhelmed. It’s similar to the feeling we get when we’re driving down a dark road in the middle of the night and all of a sudden, three cars begin to close in on you from behind. No, they don’t have their brights on, but you know how technology and the automotive industry is? They have those headlights that are just those kind that look bright no matter where they are or what they’re doing. Their lights always look extraordinarily bright. So, I’m presuming we all know that feeling. How do we feel? We were just enjoying our smooth drive at our own pace and these race cars came up on us out of nowhere and started making us feel that we had to rush. Well, shit. Okay. I’ll rush.

It’s too bad. We’ve been rushed to read faster, which makes for lower comprehension. Well, I’m urging all of you to not do that. I’m urging you to read and to keep reading. You shouldn’t even need to ask what you should read. Read what you would have read when you were 14 or 15. What do you like? Do you like adventure, romance, action, literary, fiction, non-fiction, horror, mystery – it doesn’t matter! Just read. Now, don’t read something WAY below your level all the time. That is, I don’t think you would benefit all that much from reading books for 5-year olds with any sort of consistency, but expand yourself. Read a little bit of everything if you’d like. But read what you want. That’s the main thing.

Me? I’m reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s once that I never thought I would read, or if I did, it wouldn’t have been until later in life. But how often can we really say we’re waiting. That’s bullshit – something to make the ego feel better. We all know the truth in that. We can say what we’re “GONNA” do until our eyes fill up with the yellow water of the lie. There is no “I’m gonna”, there’s only either “I’m doing” or “I’m not doing.”

Whatever you want to do, read, read, and read while you’re doing it. Keep reading and keep creating. That’s it.

Studying what I Love

We started off talking about Bilbo Baggins today and the Lord of the Rings. It was something that I think has been one of my favorite classes. I’ve taken several classes in linguistics and pedagogy, but never a class on a Fantasy book. Well, I’ve done several of the online Brandon Sanderson classes, which have all been fantastic. But I’ve never been able to be in class reading one of my favorite books.
There are those out there who say that if you haven’t read the entire LoR trilogy, you’re not really a fan. Well, bah humbug to them, because dammit I am a fan, and I’m not a fan because of the movies. I’m a fan because I love the lore of it all, I love the adventure, the journey, the quest, the magic, the frilly banter and eloquence of Gandalf the Grey and all of the other beautiful bits that come along from existing within Middle Earth (Today I saw it written ‘Middle earth’, with the lowercase ‘e.’ Is that right?).
The day was great. There are only six students in all taking this lovely three-week course (can you believe that?), and they were all very much into it, asking questions, presenting opinions, contributing. What a lovely bunch of kids we had – I love when they group aren’t forced that they have to be there. It’s not like some of the language courses (my gosh, to put someone through a language course who does not want to be there – what cruel dealings we give one another) where the students are forced to take a language. It’s basically a very long and focused elective – you elect to take the class. What a concept!
But that was that. Anyway, the schedule is just as simple as ever, and it starts off with something called ‘no homework.’ Does it get any better? We get to class, read a few hours, take a two-hour lunch, read The Hobbit a few more hours and then go home – with no homework.
It’s exquisite; there’s just no other term.
We just started the whole thing today and it was, as I’ve elucidated in the above, very nice.
We started off the day today discussing all of the ins and outs of the Hero and his/her journey, as described by Joseph Conrad, most succinctly in his opus, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It’s not something I’ve ever personally read, but I do get some of the references. Conrad, as one of our team paraphrased today, says that if one were to amass all of the stories of mankind up to this point, one would find that they all follow a very similar pattern. They include things like a hero/protagonist, villain/antagonist, an ordinary world, a mentor, an ally, etc. Now, those are all their own words, of course, and each of them has specific meanings which separate them from the others, and again, I’m not quoting anything here. I’m just paraphrasing…paraphrasing what Rick paraphrased. An interesting concept, all the same.          Perhaps I should bring in a copy or two of the Conrad book and we can look at some different quotations or segments from it.
Fantasy literature has changed. We were able to discuss that briefly. I was actually talking about this with my brother several nights ago. He was saying how back in Tolkien’s day, fantasy (as he created and mastered it – the LoR is a pillar of almost all of modern fantasy today, one could argue) was more black and white. There was a good guy and a bad guy, and it was a very simple visual from the starting point to the finishing point. Today, with wondrous stories like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, it’s not all that clear cut. There are people backstabbing others, there’s betrayal, there’s schemes and machinations for one party to dominate over another. It’s much more in-your-face, much more cutthroat than it was back in Tolkien’s LoR days. Not to say that the older ones are outdated and, by today’s standards, of poor quality – good heavens, no. It’s just more that taste, rhythm, and the arc of modern-day entertainment has changed.
What else is there?
Not much.
The point is that this is me getting out the fact that today was superb. I spent my working day talking about something that I adore and have adored since I was quite young. I personally didn’t get into the reading game of fantasy until I was in my early twenties, but I was always into the lore, the world, the, well, for lack of a better word, the fantasy of it all.
Back to work tomorrow, starting from page 8. Let’s see how good it does to turn Gandalf away. Just as I remember. Ohh, this is getting good.

The Color of Water

If you haven’t read the book, you should know that it’s a memoir  – something written on the book’s cover but not a concept I took into account. James McBride does a great job on the narrative and goes into great storytelling mode when talking about his own life growing up with a white mother. The mother’s story is also interesting – but neither were interesting enough for me to finish. It’s a quick read; I got through half the book in a few hours. It just wasn’t holding my attention. So, it’s back to The Hobbit. This is my third read of the Tolkien classic and I’m enjoying it. I get to spot all of the liberties that Peter Jackson took in the movies. 

Hope you had a great weekend!