Friday, November 30, 2012

My son gave me a list of books he wants for Christmas. I’m glad he’s getting back into the written word. He wants to be “well read” before starting college next year. On his list were such greats as Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Huxley's Brave New World, titles everyone should read. I added a few like Stranger in a Strange Land and Dune but his list is a good start.

One thing struck me though. My son is a bit of a collector. He can appreciate items that are in “mint condition” and “original packaging.” I suppose it’s a throwback to when I collected Babylon 5 figures and wouldn’t let him open the package. He’ll read a paperback and carefully not crease the spine. Many of us are like that I know. But he did have one detail that I found interesting. He didn’t want any books that sported a cover which tied it into a movie. So Dune was okay, as long as Sting wasn’t on the cover and the words “now a major motion picture” didn’t appear on an embossed gold star in the corner.

As I’ve waded into the world of professional fiction, however shallow I have, I find myself looking at this condition with new eyes. On the one hand, I can understand his desire for a pure literary experience, “giving credit to the author and not the filmmaker” as he put it. But I know now that if an author’s book is made into a movie, they have become a successful author.

Fiction, for all it’s traditional greatness, is a hard world to inhabit if you measure your success either financially or through fame. People don’t read; they watch movies. This was my thinking when I got my Master’s Degree – that movies, more than books, are the popular cultural medium and so more accurately reflect and create the culture. A book that rises out of the literary world and onto the screen is not only rare, but is also the ultimate success of a story. True, the wordsmith is lost and often only the tale remains, but the creator of that tale will be rewarded, their words immortalized in a way mere paper (or electrons) never could. They will eat that day and maybe buy a car. Maybe a house. Their next book will be noticed, their older works revisited. I won’t call them a sell out, I’ll call them successful and envy them in my own brooding way.

So, son, I’ll look for books without film references. Vonnegut and Huxley did alright without film rights so they’ll be easy to find, as did Herbert. These greats endure. But if I ever get a gold star on the cover of one of my books, I’m going to frame the sucker and pay off the credit cards. And I’ll send you a copy.