The Benefit of the Book
November 5, 2013
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Felicitaciones de Mexico. As I sit here overlooking this beautiful tropical landscape on the Pacific I feel the need to share some thoughts stemming from my most latest re-reading of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. As you may know there is a new biography on the author who passed away a few years ago and some recent radio interviews regarding the author and his work sparked my interest in returning to his iconic novel.
Besides the many private and undisclosed details of Salinger’s life, I find it fascinating that he repeatedly refused to allow a film adaptation of his most famous book to be produced despite numerous offers over the later decades of his life. There are several reasons for this rationale, but one is the ownership he took over the character of Holden Caulfield and how his perfectionist streak could not envision anyone other than himself being able to play the role of this angst-ridden youth. Now, here is the main point of this unfolding dialogue: Thank God we have not had to see a movie version of this book up to this point! As someone actively engaged in visual culture (the arts, not what passes as “culture” in these days of the intellectual demi-monde), it does not bother me in the slightest that there is as of yet no cinematic realization of this wonderful piece of American literature, just as I am equally pleased that I have not had to view scores of others of my favorite reads as overly-simplified, watered-down caricatures of themselves as translations from the written word to the pictorial image. This is not to say that film or movies are not works of art or valuable pieces of culture, just that some narratives and characters are better left to the page and not the screen.
Most of us have had the experience of having read a book only after it has been adapted to cinema, and often there is the unfortunate occurrence of not being able to picture the events or persons described on our own terms, but rather as they have already been presented to us by a theatrical visualization. This is precisely why I have avoided watching some of my favorite novels as films (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Child of God serve as prime examples), because once you have had that personal mental image supplanted by that which is provided to you on the screen, you can never get it back. This seems inconsequential to the non-reader I realize, but when an author transcribes their words to the page and you read those same pieces of text directly off of said page, there is an intimate relationship thus created. The writer is now speaking to you alone, and no matter how many millions of copies a book might go on to sell or how popular it already is, there is a connection between the two of you that accounts for just one of the multitudes of reasons that reading can be magical. So, even if you aren’t overly-concerned that your favorite book will soon be turned into the next vapid Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay monstrosity, heed these words: don’t see the movie.