Books, Movies, and Albino Squirrels

Last week, the smart and entertaining Rose Gowen sent me an excerpt from a recent Bookforum article, which tangentially addressed the notion that film has liberated the novel from a certain kind of documentary realism. Furthering that discussion, Rose sends the following excerpt from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life:

A nine-foot handsome face, and its three-foot-wide smile, are irresistable. Look at the long legs on that man, as high as a wall, and coming straight toward you. The music builds. The moving, lighted screen fills your brain. You do not like filmed car chases? See if you can turn away. …

… The printed word cannot compete with the movies on their ground, and should not. …

Why would anyone read a book instead of watching big people move on a screen? Because a book can be literature. It is a subtle thing — a poor thing, but our own. In my view, the more literary the book — the more purely verbal, crafted sentence by sentence, the more imaginative, reasoned, and deep — the more likely people are to read it. The people who read are the people who like literature, after all, whatever that might be. They like, or require, what books alone have. If they want to see films that evening, they will find films. If they do not like to read, they will not. People who read are not too lazy to flip on the television; they prefer books. …

Rose ends her email with:

So, there’s that. But I do take a slightly different point from Indiana’s [in the Bookforum piece] (that a certain kind of “realism” can be left to film, and books are free to do fantastic things that actually wouldn’t work very well on screen). Also, Dillard is promoting the idea that people either read *or* watch television, which is the idea that I’m not sure about — it seems entirely possible to me (though I don’t have any data on this) that some people do both.

Anyhow, to change the subject entirely: yesterday I saw an albino squirrel! It was amazing!


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