Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Movie people / Book people

A few weeks ago I read this essay about the differences between movie people and book people.
There is much to quibble with, but in general I agree with the points the piece makes. It dove-tails with some thoughts I've had about book people. Too many of them are pretentious, a manifestation, I think, of insecurities. They -- we, I should say -- lose track of why we fell in love with books in the first place. There should be room in everyone's to-read pile for junk as well as literature. There are many reasons to read.
I think this too-serious attitude of too many book folks is one reason that, compared to movies and some forms of popular music, contemporary books (I won't say literature) seem to lack vitality.
I think some areas of book-culture are livelier than others. I think science-fiction, though certainly suffering from, on the one extreme, really bad "literary" writers, and, on the other side, Star Trek junk, is in general a more vital place to play. Things happen quickly. People really read the books. The readers _really care_.
Sure, the generalizations make me squirm. I know plenty of people who read broadly, even some high-profile ones, like Michael Dirda at _The Washington Post_. But there's not a little truth in it all. I hope we book folks can renew some of the excitement. I think looking at places in book culture where there is some excitement would certainly help. But I'm not holding my breath. Ever tried to get an English major to read a science fiction novel? Maybe 1 in 10 will go for it--and then probably not in public.


  1. Imported on behalf of: Lee Capps
    **Test Reply**

    Bear with me, please. I'm testing the "writeback" feature.

  2. Imported on behalf of: Dan
    **at the risk of straying off topic...**

    I got a lot more out of that essay when I replaced the word "book" with the word "music." I guess that might be because, try as I might, I'm not what you'd call a "reader." I'm going to add my two cents anyway.

    Here's an example of what I mean: "And I'm often left wondering: how can books people say of themselves that they love books when they look down their noses at 90% of the books that are published?"

    Replace "book" with "music" and you'll have a question I've asked myself a million times - about myself. Unfortunately, the answer "they're all books" (or music) just doesn't cut it in that case. I guess the difference is, there aren't a lot of idiotic talent-short-image-long hacks inexplicably successful in the book world.

    So yeah, what the book world needs to add vitality is a literary equivalent of Britney Spears. Oh wait, I guess that would be Jewel. Nevermind.

  3. Imported on behalf of: Lee Capps

    . . . or where we come from, "tushy."

    I think the difference between the so-called book-people and movie people (or music-people) in my experience is this: Many more music people (people who make music) like a range -- from pop stuff like, say, White Stripes, to say Charles Mingus to, say, (I'm out of my depth here) Schumann. Whereas w/ book-people, the folks who like Samuel R. Delaney and Ed McBain and Jack Vance are not usually the same people who say they like Nabokov and Faulkner etc. etc. It's not that there's no qualitative difference between Delaney and Nabokov (or White Stripes and Mingus), but it's all good stuff. If you like music, you should be able to enjoy (w/ some allowances for taste) all three of those artists (or ones like them). If you like books, you should be able to enjoy quality pop/category fiction as well as the more literary pleasures. I mean they're all \_good\_ records; they're all \_good\_ books.

    Does that make sense? I think it's snobbery and/or insecurity that keeps people from acknowledging what they really like. How \_can\_ you say you don't like books if you can't enjoy a good adventure story? Nabokov, for instance, loved Stevenson's \_Jekyl and Hyde\_ . He also liked junky Hollywood movies.

    Also, I think Britney Spears is \_way\_ better than, say, U2 .

    And don't even try to pretend you don't still have the New Kids on the Block (or as you like to say, NKOTB) nightie!


  4. Imported on behalf of: Michael J. Jasper
    **Time's are a'changing, though**

    Lee -- I think the genres are opening up, big-time. Sure, there's always going to be a hard-core group of SF/F readers who only want that on their diet, but a lot of folks I know read and write ALL OVER THE PLACE. And it's fantastic stuff I'm seeing coming out of that mix.

    SF has the hugest ego problem I've ever seen. If they could fix up the covers, make them look cool and not full of buck rogers and dames in distress (the Gibson cover of PATTERN RECOGNITION is quite cool, and the British version is even more cool), I really think more people will read it.

    But check out my links page on my Web site, man -- there are LOTS of young writers our age who are starting to make a difference in the genres, I think. It's gotta start somewhere -- the Grand High Poobahs can't live forever!

  5. Imported on behalf of: Lee Capps
    **Hey, Mike!**

    Thanks for coming by.

    I agree with you. I think many people who are into genre read and write stuff that's quite literary as well. I worry a little about this because I think the genre distinctions are actually useful to a degree. It's important not to lose what's distinct and good about science fiction (or crime or mystery or -- well, whatever new genre may be invented in the future). But it's nice that there are so many people working in the genre now who are sophisticated readers and writers in other areas. That has to help in some ways. But I think we \_don't\_ want to turn it into a poor man's Literature. We want to make better and better sf, not second rate literary mainstream. Part of this is understanding why people want to read sf. You don't have to be a writer to want to read it, for one thing. The basic, ancient -- if I can get a little grand -- storytelling elements are tended to well (OK -- talking in relative terms) in sf (and all category/pop fiction) in ways that they are not in almost \_all\_ "mainstream" fiction.

    I do, as you know, like literary experimentation coming from whatever angle, but I think (perhaps counter-intuitively) that it's not just the \_experimentation\_ that keeps art lively. It's also paying attention to the audience -- staying accessible and relevant. Accessibility and relevance are things genre fiction really has going for it.

    And these are the places that literary fiction is falling down on the job, IMHO.

    I guess to put it in a nutshell I'd like to erase the perceived differences in value between mainstream fiction and genre fiction without losing the qualities that make them distinct from one another.

    Two caveats: 1) I just got out of grad school (again) and may have gone off my feed, if you see what I mean. (Though I should point out it was my teacher Tom De Haven in the novel workshop who got me reading genre stuff again. We had to read a novel a week, and every other one was supposed to be a genre or pop novel. I read mostly mysteries at the time.)

    2) I forgot what the second caveat was while I was writing the first. Probably I meant to say something about how a healthy book culture would value many different kinds of books -- and the people in that culture wouldn't be afraid to admit it.

    Hope this makes sense!


  6. Imported on behalf of: Kirstin
    **movies vs. films?**

    I know I'm coming late to this game and maybe you don't care anymore--but can we be a movie person and a book person and a music person? And can't I care a lot about anything by David Lynch or the Coen brothers while retaining my status as someone who is more familiar with the Tarkovsky version of Solaris than the Clooney version? Sure, Troy sucked, but there are good mainstream films and good genre films that exist side by side on the shelves with Battleship Potemkin--I just finished teaching a class in which we discussed very intellectually the contributions of The Matrix, Dark City, and The Cube to how we understand architecture--and one of my best student papers took that discussion (+ a little Foucault) to Battle Royale (an anime version of Lord of the Flies--not one bit of highbrow taste in it).
    But your original point was about broader appeal while retaining quality, no? So let's go back to Troy--the movie sucked, and it took great liberties with its literary source--but maybe, just maybe, one more person will actually read some Homer (d'oh!) because the movie sparked their interest--and learn that Patroklos was both older and more intimate with Achilles than the movie suggested...