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Goodreads, Comic Books, and a Bit of Snobbery August 22, 2013

Filed under: Apps,Comic Books,Literature,Reading — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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I finally caved.  After receiving repeated invitations from my literate friends, I decided to join the social media platform known as Goodreads.  I’ll admit that my reasons were purely selfish: I needed an efficient way to track both the books that I’m currently reading as well as those that I would like to read… someday… if I get the time.

It took a couple of hours, but I finally finished uploading each title.  I don’t know whether my friends will care about this disparate list of tomes.  Does it matter that I’m reading “Les Misérablesand The Pond Owner’s Problem Solver”?  Do they care that I’m enjoying slowly making my way through “Auto Repair For Dummiesand Introduction to Manuscript Studies”?  Will they gaze in wonder at the number of reference manuals I’m reading from cover-to-cover?  Or will they simply be overwhelmed by the fact that my reading list, at present, comes to 51 separate books? Yes, I’m out of control.

I’ve had this problem since High School. I’m fascinated by nearly everything; science, history, philosophy, art, language – if you can write about it, you run the risk of my wanting to read it.  And, since I’m in the mood for different genres at different times, my “active” reading list has rarely dipped below 35 books.  (For those who would ask, yes, I do remember where I am and what I’ve learned from each.)  This fits well with my marginally snobbish nature.

I’ve always valued the slippery and somewhat illusive title of “well-read”.  Unfortunately, the pursuit of this title led to some serious introspection as I sat, scanning one book at a time into my new-found social friend.  My gaze flitted towards the top of one of my many book shelves where a stack of comic books had been neatly curated.  Would it damage my image if I included those?

For most of my life, I’ve looked down upon comic books as the “reading” material of the illiterate and unimaginative.  Not that I’d have actually phrased it this way.  I had a few friends who enjoyed occasional issues of Marvel or DC and, while I didn’t actually read the comics, I did watch a few of the TV series’ based upon them.  (I used to have dreams of being the female version of “Batman” – only without the side-kick.)

Instead, my fall came much later in life… just after the premier of “Star Trek: Into Darkness”.  In the course of rediscovering my love of Trek, I came across a fascinating detail: the original series (TOS) was being reworked for the new timeline in the form of comic books.

I wrestled with myself for several days, then quietly stole away to a local comic book store where I picked up a used copy of “Star Trek: Countdown” and “Star Trek Volume 1” and sat down to read.  What I encountered astonished me.  These were not what I’d envisioned.  While the plots weren’t deep (a feature shared with TOS), they were entertaining.  And the artwork was beautiful!

I was astounded by the level of detail and captivated by the rich colors which filled each page.  It wasn’t long before I was able to identify the difference between the works of various artists and found myself looking for my “favorites”.  Comic books, it turns out, are not simply “a kids thing”, but a medium for self-expression with which (quite sadly) I had been hitherto unacquainted. My eyes had been opened.

But now I faced the delicate question: was it time to share my new vision with others?  Was it appropriate to include the soon-to-be released “Volume V” alongside titles like “The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons” or “The Arabian Nights”?  Would it damage my snobbish image to post it with a collection of language learning materials representing tongues which, if I ever speak at all, I will speak only poorly?

I pondered the question for some time before finally settling upon the belief that it was.  After all, what is literature if not a form of art: the personal, verbal expression of those worlds fictional or otherwise, which we as individuals have come to love?  Comic books express that love differently, but they express it nonetheless and it seemed that this entitled them to a place amongst the other tomes which made up my list.

This philosophical quandary laid to rest, I went about my day… never once admitting the truth that the comic books don’t belong on my list because they’re “art”, but because I simply enjoy reading them.  The snobbish side of me could never admit to that!


The Great Gatsby June 13, 2013

My sister’s eyes nearly bugged out when I announced my desire to see Baz Luhrmann’s new film, “Gatsby”.  Based upon F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby” (a book which I had never read), it seemed an odd selection, and my sister immediately seized the opportunity to expand my literary horizons.  Digging out her copy of the book, she informed me that if I could read it in the three days which preceded our movie-viewing appointment, my ticket would be free. I of, course, could not turn down such a generous offer and what I discovered in the process was simply put, “enchanting”.

Fitzgerald used words like a painter uses a brush and it was not long before I was able to see all of the glorious extravagance of Gatsby’s home, the brilliant lights and colors of the raucous parties, and the sunlight glinting from the windshield of his bright yellow car as if it were all laid out before me, tangible and real.  His world sucked me in, not because I would choose it for my own, but because the description kept begging me to immerse myself ever deeper in a narrative that left me questioning the moral rectitude of nearly everybody!  It was flamboyant and excessive and it absorbed me.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had only made it half-way through the book by the time of our appointment.  Upon the conclusion of a brief interview, however, my sister determined that I had, indeed, been reading the book and, more importantly, paying attention.  She decided to purchase my ticket anyway and I was treated to a movie almost as enrapturing as the words printed upon the page.

Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation left little to the imagination.  Though the first part of the film seemed a bit “trippy” (a sensation created by Luhrmann’s distinctive filming techniques), I couldn’t help feeling that this only helped to draw viewers into the production.  If the day was hot and the characters drowsy, we were hot and drowsy as well.  If the characters were lost in the chaos of the party, so were we.  And if the characters got drunk, we got drunk with them.

These sights and sounds only confirmed us as Nick’s companions.  The rest of the tragic story unfolded… a story that, like the best of adaptations, was so close to the book that any departure seemed to blare like a siren.  While I understood the literary reasons for most of the alterations (like cutting Gatsby’s station wagon from the picture or changing Tom Buchanan from a footballer to a polo player), others left me wondering.

Why, for example, did Wolfsheim’s molar buttons become a tie-tack?  Was there simply not enough money in the budget to make three or four matching buttons?  Was it fear that the audience would be more aghast at the excess of human teeth (presumably wrenched from their victims’ mouths by Wolfsheim’s henchmen)?  Was there some particular need to turn Gatsby’s vibrant pink suit to a dusty, near-white?

These questions haunted me in light of the excruciating detail which allows us to see the only briefly mentioned Negros with their white chauffer or the gigantic eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleberg which watch over the film with an almost god-like omniscience. Perhaps someday I’ll have my answer, but not today.

Despite these notable oddities, however, the film was an excellent one.  With dialogue copied directly from the book, it felt every bit the “Gatsby” I’d come to know.  It was loud, gaudy, extravagant, and moving… a film worth seeing, whether you’ve read the book or not.  Like its literary counterpart, it served as a stark reminder that, those things for which we sell our souls are, in the end, merely illusions – things of yesteryear forever beyond our grasp.  Yet for some reason “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


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