How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love/Tolerate The Kindle

This Dr. Strangelove titled post chronicles my love/hate relationship with the Kindle and more broadly, e-books.¬†First off, I should establish that I enjoy going to bookstores. Much as I mourn perusing the aisles of movies stores (Netflix browsing just doesn’t quite do it for me), I miss Borders already. Sure, Barnes and Noble is still around, but there’s something kind of eerie and foreboding about its existence. It’s not that I think it’s haunted or anything, it’s more like when a twin goes to camp without his brother/sister for the first time and they’re just kind of awkward 100% of the time.

And yes, I know the two headed monster known as Amazon still lets you order hard copies of books, and I appreciate that, I do, but again, like Netflix, it’s a different experience than holding a copy of a book in your hand, reading the first few pages (a feature I know Amazon offers) and leaving the store with your purchase. It reminds of when I was a kid and would go into bookstores with a spiral pad of paper to write down information from magazines because I couldn’t afford to buy them.

Today, everything is available digitally and while I wouldn’t argue that it’s a bad thing, I think the decline of hard copies has diminished the products that we read. Because the web is an endless stream of information, some good, some bad, it can be very difficult to sort through which is which. I believe the same argument can be applied to the emergence of digital film.

In the digital age, anyone with a camera can shoot a short film/movie with little to no cost involved. Is this a good thing? On paper, sure. But the side effect is that there are now a glut of films produced that are just lazy products. Because they are shot digitally and the filmmakers don’t inherit the costs, time spent in preparation and the strain that goes along with shooting on film stock, they often become careless with pre-production and production elements, telling themselves either that they’re unimportant or can be corrected in post production.

This same problem pops up with e-books. The fact that their authors can publish them for almost no cost encourages people to release old word processor files of unfinished, unedited, unproofed fantasy epics that they convinced themselves are much better than Game of Thrones or Wheel of Time. Sure, this problem still existed in the age of paperback self-publishing, but now it is even more rampant.

So, inevitably we have to call into question the value of Kindles, e-readers and e-books. At one point, I marked the advent of the Kindle as the demise of the written word. Farenheit 451 fully realized. I was convinced that it was only a matter of time before e-books became e-illustrated books and then soonafter e-illustrated-book-movies themselves. This may still inevitably be fate of e-books (there are already some iBooks with moving illustrations and interactive elements), but for the time being, there is still some actual reading involved.

I have owned a Kindle (I actually own an iPad with the kindle app, but for the sake of argument, we’ll just say they’re the same) for a few weeks now, and as much as I’d love to tell you that I hate it, I can’t. I am unable to deny the convenience of e-readers. I know the format of books has pretty much stayed the same for as long as we can remember, but that doesn’t mean we were weren’t bound to confront some sort of evolutionary crossroads for how we read books. Am I saying that e-books are a necessary change? No. Is it going to happen anyways? More than likely.

I also have to acknowledge that my experience turning the corner with e-readers may be heavily influenced by the iPad itself. I feel somewhat biased because of the iPad’s additional features. If I owned a straight Kindle, I would more than likely become frustrated with its lack of features (to my knowledge, its sole feature being the bastardization of books) and find myself shaking it like an etch-a-sketch more often than not.

For me, I will still buy books in paperback and hardcover form. That is always going to be my preference. Will I buy Kindle books though? Sure. I’m not exactly sure what dictates which genre or type of book I’ll buy on the Kindle, but for me, e-readers represent a window into impulse buy reading. These are books that I might not previously have had convenient access to, low listing prices for or a medium that clued me into their existence.

As I previously mentioned, I don’t think e-books are a necessary step in the evolution of reading, but they’re happening regardless. We can kick, scream and call Ray Bradbury for advice on how to stop them, but it would just be a pointless gesture and I’m sure a little frightening for Mr. Bradbury.

What are your thoughts on e-readers/e-books? If you have old published books still out there in circulation and have the rights to do so, have you thought about putting them up on the Kindle? What is your favorite Kindle only/indie published e-book out there? Do you own an e-reader? If so, which one?

Books Whose Film Adaptations Were Better Than The Source Material

The phrase, “The book is better than the movie,” is so commonplace, that the mere mention of these words will often draw moans from the average non-reader or easily annoyed theatergoer in nothing flat. It’s almost a cliche at this point. Chances are that books, video games, comic books or other adapted source material will always be held in higher regard than their movie counterpart for whatever reason.

Maybe it’s unfair to compare books and movies though. Despite both being artistic mediums, they differ greatly in their presentation of material to the intended audience. Books draw in their reader with a power that movies do not possess, and that’s the power of the reader’s imagination. Outside of the prose and description they’re provided with, the reader controls everything else that filters through their mind. Imagery, music, colors, landscapes, characters, it’s all up to the interpretation of the reader. So, it’s unavoidable that readers are more than likely going to be disappointed when they see their favorite books turned into movies, because the films will hardly ever match the expectations or preconceived images they entered the theater with.

But there are instances where film adaptations eclipse their source material by producing a superior product that actually improves upon the original. I don’t mean to imply that books in such cases are poorly written. In fact, I love some of these books. They’re well crafted, have won awards and captivated millions. But for whatever reason, the cinematic versions illicit certain emotions that were never extracted when reading the texts and in the process create a more fulfilling experience.

Here are some examples:
Jaws (Peter Benchley)Peter Benchley’s Jaws was a successful and well received book. It is however, not as well received as Steven Speilberg’s movie of the same name, a movie that is credited with creating the modern blockbuster. Jaws is a perfect movie in my opinion. The cast, the score, the mood, the cinematography, it is all executed exceptionally well. Benchley’s Jaws, while well written and certainly suspenseful, has a certain bleakness in its characters that the movie does not possesses. The characters of Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) hate each other in the book. Brody’s wife cheats on him with Hooper and there’s a lot of added drama that distracts from the whole shark smorgasbord that happens to be going on in the background. As a result, the characters are highly unlikable, which is a sharp contrast to the movie version, where even Quint, the crazed Ahab archetype, is likable in his roguish manner (mostly because Robert Shaw was an amazing actor). So, when it comes down to it, I’ll take John Williams iconic score and a grey animatronic shark over curling up with Benchley’s paperback.

City of God (Paulo Lins) – Paulo Lins’ City of God is a dense, complex novel that introduces many characters and perspectives at an almost breakneck speed. The movie wisely condenses these narratives down and while still presenting a glut of characters and perspectives itself, it manages to make everything easily digestible to the viewer. The book is very well written and profound at times, but has enough viewpoints to rival an E.L. Doctorow novel. And I’m not a huge fan of books that require scribbling flow charts on napkins to keep up with the characters. I do like this book a lot though. The movie, however, I like a lot more as it happens to be one of my favorites of all time. I struggle to remember too many other movies that were the emotional gut punch this movie was. Brilliant stuff.

Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien) – Don’t get me wrong, I love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, I do. But Tolkien’s somewhat bland prose (at least compared to modern fantasy writers like George R. R. Martin) is trumped by the world that Peter Jackson created for his epic three part adaptation. Jackson did many wise things with his movies. He chose a cast of mostly unknowns and low profile actors. He slightly modified the timelines of events for the three books, placing some things that happened in Two Towers in Return of the King and vice versa. The result was a more fluid narrative that improved upon the sluggish pace of Tolkien’s final book.

Honorable Mentions

I feel like there are also a number of movies which are solid adaptations that live up to their source material, but do not really surpass them. Shutter Island is one example. It’s a book that is skillfully written and consequently, skillfully directed. Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s thriller is faithful enough to not displease fans and tense enough to stimulate moviegoers. I also think some of the Harry Potter movies draw even with their source material (I know there are plenty of people who would argue with me on this, but I believe The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire were pretty close to matching Rowling’s novels).

I’d be interested to see if the ratio of favoring the book over the movie changes when someone sees the movie first and then reads the book. Have you ever found yourself doing it in this order? Were you disappointed when you read the book? Do you have any movies that you think are better than their book counterparts? If so, what are they?