In praise of old(er) books

For many people, their awareness of books is limited to ‘horserace/sports’ coverage or quasi official imprimaturs of value and seriousness.

The latter are the books generally assigned in high school and undergraduate courses. These are the books that we are ‘supposed to’ have read and which have an apparently official seal of worth and interpretation. This, then, is the CANON.

The former are the books that even those who don’t read books and aren’t interested in books learn about through the sheer weight of media coverage. Sometimes that coverage is driven by the newsworthy quality of the ‘discovery’ of the author, sometimes the books are noteworthy because of the size of the advance given the author, or the length and value of deal(s) associated with it. Sometimes they merit headlines because of the notoriety and/or gravitas of the director/producer who has optioned the book for a movie or TV series. What is seldom discussed is the quality of the writing or its pro (or anti) social value.

What about the books that were big news last month but no one is talking about today? The books that were not particularly newsworthy two years ago, were briefly front and centre in the news when a major studio optioned them but which are now forgotten (as books) even by those who saw the film/tv show?

What about the many books that are published every year, some to be adapted years later (consider the decades between the publication of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale” and the beginning of the current TV/streaming production.)

Yet those are the books that, in my opinion, can deliver the most fun while reading. Whether or not you like the book itself (the plot or the style) you are likely to have an opinion about the wisdom of optioning it, the decisions made by the producers/studio. Do you agree with Jackson’s decision to omit Tom Bombadil from his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy? Do you agree with casting decisions? (Really? Stephen Moyer as Bill Compton in True Blood?) Do you think it helped or hurt the story to move it to another time (King’s IT was firmly rooted in an earler time than the recent two part movie.) And what do you think about moving the story not only from one time to another but from one continent to another (as in the case of the most recent remake of Wells’ The War of the Worlds?)

Notice that there are no right answers to any of these questions. You (and your friends/family) can watch the film/show, read the book and swap opinions, criticisms (and witticisms.) You can learn a lot about others (and yourself) from the ways in which you understand, enjoy and critique books and movies. And, face it, it is always fun to second guess the decisions of famous well-paid people.

Starting next week Turns & Tales will post a write-up of a book or short story that has been adapted to film or TV in an easily accessible form and whose original book/short story in available in e-book and/or audiobook form through one of our affiliates. We hope you enjoy this series as much as we have enjoyed putting it together.

— Maggie Young

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