Book vs Movie: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix covers Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This month I’m just sharing.

Yep, that means I’ve neither read the book nor watched the movie.

Feel superior in the comments.

20 years ago a new generation was introduced to the peak of Gonzo Journalism with Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Really great filmmakers have tried and failed to bring the savage journey into the American Dream, so what makes Terry Gilliam’s version so successful? Time to get cracking and ask What’s the Difference?!

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How Is Tech Changing the Way We Read?

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With the rise of social media and smartphone use, we are all reading fewer books than we once did. All, not just those pesky millennials. Some people are worried about what this means for the future of literature and, well, our brains. But is it true that we are really reading less? And should I care?

Above The Noise recently did a video in which Myles covers some of the research on reading.

I always appreciate it when a Youtuber or Journalist manages to discuss a topic without devolving into head-shaking admonishment, especially when it comes to the topic of reading and books. Too often these sorts of videos and articles cite bad research or buy into industry propaganda.

I’ve previously discussed the misrepresentations made about reading ebooks, the overstating of the benefits of reading – when there are some well-researched benefits documented –  and even the way we write. And the Pew Research into reading was one of several references I’ve used in my discussion of Who Reads, something I cover quite a bit here.

And yet, there were still some things in the video that I hadn’t been aware of. So I think it is worth sharing. Enjoy.

From the video:

Reading has been an important part of the human experience for thousands of years, but believe it or not, that’s not a long time on the evolutionary timescale. Before the internet, it made sense to read long texts in a linear fashion, but that’s now changing as people are adapting to skimming shorter texts on their computers or phones. But what does this mean for the future of books?

What is literary reading?

Literary reading is, quite simply, the reading of any literature. This includes novels, short stories, poetry, and plays.

Are we reading less?

The rate at which Americans are reading literature for fun is down around 14% from the early 1980s. This doesn’t necessarily mean we are reading less, however. Many people still have to read for school or work. Then there are all the words, sentences, and messages we read on the internet from emails to texts to tweets. Some people believe that this means we are possibly reading more individual words than ever. It’s just being done in a different way. I’ve also discussed the decline of literature.

And this is changing our brains?

Some neuroscientists believe that scanning shorter texts the way we do on the internet, often jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink, is actually changing the wiring in our brains. We are becoming better at searching for key terms and scanning for information, but this means it can become more difficult to read a longer text all the way through without missing major points.

SOURCES:
Children, Teens, and Reading
The long, steady decline of literary reading
Who doesn’t read books in America?
Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

Explaining the joke

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Does this sound familiar? You are looking at your social media feed and spot the latest hot-take from your favourite satirical comedy site. They have eloquently broken down the absurdity of recent events with biting insight and withering sarcasm. And then you read the comments.

Okay, so that is always a mistake. But bear with me here. You could also bare with me if you like, I can’t force you to wear pants while you read blog posts.

Inevitably in the comments, there will be someone explaining to everyone that the post is satire. This is like someone standing up in front of an audience with an applause sign, just in case you missed the right moment to show your appreciation. This is the canned laughter at appropriate moments in sitcoms to point out what was meant to be funny. This is the comedian who repeats the punchline of the joke…

Worse still are the people who jump in to explain how the joke works and why it is funny. These people are the equivalent of that annoying person in the middle of the cinema telling the movie character not to open the closet door in the creepy house.

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Now I’d argue that this sort of comment is completely unnecessary. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a statistical correlation between someone explaining the joke and that person suffering a sudden and unexplained death from choking on their phone.

At the heart of this problem are two groups of people. The first is a group of people who think they need to guide us mere mortals through life. Without their input, we would be lost, society would crumble, and within months they would be explaining how Thunderdome actually originated as a means to resolve conflict and provide entertainment in Bartertown. They don’t see it as condescension, they see it as imparting wisdom to the little people.

Then there is the second group. The second group are why the first group exist.

You see, invariably on every single satirical comedy comments section, you will find someone not realising the article they are commenting upon is a joke. They may be unsure, perhaps posting something like “The Onion?” or “I don’t understand, is this meant to be funny, am I missing the joke, did my mother’s alcoholism affect me somehow?” Or they may think the article is completely serious, and comment with outrage, indignation, or a rambling string of ideas that may belong in the comments of a different article. Clearly, the first category of menaces to society are preempting these posters.

But you aren’t meant to explain it to people. These poor fools are meant to be mercilessly mocked. They are, after all, on the internet, where civil discourse is disallowed, and a Google search to fact-check or see whether the site is satirical takes seconds. A semi-literate turtle should be able to find the About page or Other Articles links and from there it should be obvious. Even for the turtle. And its illiterate brethren.

Some of the semi-literate turtles have lost hope in humanity and decided to document the downfall of civilisation. They have started entire webpages devoted to documenting people not getting the joke.

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Let us hope that satire continues to entertain and that the confused commenters adopt a pet turtle. Then maybe we will see the end of people explaining the joke. And the end of homeless turtles.

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Loving reading and book wardens

When do people start to hate reading?

For us readers, the answer is “Never! How could you ask such a silly question? What’s wrong with you? Do you even book, bro?” But the reality is that a significant chunk of the population have not read a book in the last year, and/or aren’t regular readers. We have to admit: some people don’t like reading.*

I have a pet hypothesis** on this. During school, mainly high school, kids start to hate reading. This is because teachers, academics, literary people, policy makers, and general busybodies, start to decree what kids should and shouldn’t be reading. As a result, kids are “forced” to read books that they aren’t interested in or that have won an award or are a “classic” or that fill a certain level of appropriate snootiness that appeases book snobs.

Or as Blackadder put it:

In the academic text – From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers – Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward discuss this issue. They outline this problem and have summarised reluctant readers with a cartoon from Dav Pilkey (of Captain Underpants fame).

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Cartoon by Dav Pilkey in From Striving to Thriving by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward

One of the authors, Annie Ward, presented at a readers summit recently and one of her slides has made it to social media. It covers some key points for how educators become “book wardens” who restrict reading and undermine reading ownership and choice. Book Wardens tend to:

Sound familiar?

While I have frequently focussed on the snobbery aspect to this problem, particularly from the reading/publishing industry itself, there is more to this. Take for example “just right” books and adults. What image do we conjure up when someone mentions comic book readers? Pimply teenage boy? An obese virgin loser who still lives with his parents? You know, this guy:

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The problem with that series of assumptions is that it is a form of reading snobbery. How could a comic be entertaining to anyone who isn’t a loser? Or similar statements that you’ll hear from people who have never read a comic book and battle to wrap their head around the art form.

In other words, even as adults, we are encouraging people not to read.

But don’t worry, as Dav’s second-page shows, we can all make a difference to people by encouraging them.***

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*A quarter of people (24-26%) haven’t read a book recently. I’ve previously discussed the reading figures for the USUK, and Australia and it is interesting how the figures come together. Suffice to say, reading is not a favourite hobby for most people.

**Hypothesis because a theory is something pretty solidly supported, whereas a hypothesis is a question you want to answer. Join me in my scheme to change the values that will stop the positive feedback of the colloquial usage of theory today!

***Although in fairness, the literary snobs are trying to encourage people to read. Their failing is that they think what they like should be what everyone reads. They have us talking about guilty pleasures and judging what we read by their standards rather than just letting us read stuff we enjoy.

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Are e-readers filled with garbage?

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Every now and then I like to look back through older posts on my blog. It’s a form of masochism built upon equal parts fascination with forgotten ideas and revulsion at missed typos and awkwardly phrased run on sentences that really don’t know when to end, that should have ended sooner, and aren’t something I do anymore. One snarky post caught my eye and I thought I should retread that ground.

The post was based upon an article in The Guardian, one of the last bastions of book snobbery that manages to not trip over its own superiority complex – sometimes. The article had decided that all of these new-fangled e-readers weren’t filled with the right kinds of books.

Kindle-owning bibliophiles are furtive beasts. Their shelves still boast classics and Booker winners. But inside that plastic case, other things lurk. Sci-fi and self-help. Even paranormal romance, where vampires seduce virgins and elves bonk trolls.

Ahh, good, they’ve figured out what people actually enjoy reading. Do go on.

The ebook world is driven by so-called genre fiction, categories such as horror or romance. It’s not future classics that push digital sales, but more downmarket fare. No cliche is left unturned, no adjective underplayed.

“So-called” genre fiction categories of horror and romance… This article was published by a so-called newspaper.

At this point, you can see why I originally wrote about this article. Like many of these worthiness arguments, the article is quick to deride any genre book, particularly e-books in this case, as not having “classic” potential. You know, classics like The Godfather (crime), Lord of the Rings (fantasy), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (science fiction), Frankenstein (horror), or Pride and Prejudice (romance). Why would anyone ever read dreck like genre fiction?

As I’ve said before, I could easily write a post-a-week pulling apart one of these articles. They are very common and rely on the same handful of bad arguments. In my original response to the article, I wrote that literary fiction – the preferred genre of the authors of these sorts of articles – and biography markets have been kept afloat by this sort of snobbery. People like to be seen reading high-brow stuff, and people like to give worthy books to friends and family. Not one person has ever bought a political memoir to read, they are always a Father’s Day gift. And as the article states, e-book readers don’t have to let people see what they are reading, so they don’t have to pretend any longer.

The reading public in private is lazy and smuttyE-readers hide the material. Erotica sells well. My own downmarket literary fetish is male-oriented historical fiction (histfic). Swords and sails stuff. I’m happier reading it on an e-reader, and keeping shelf space for books that proclaim my cleverness.

Well, maybe people will pretend just a bit longer…

Since this was an article from 2012, the talk of e-books was as they were ascending in popularity. Growth in the e-book market has since slowed, with the market being 20% of the total sales for the major publishers, down from a high of 28% five years ago. Of course, in the fiction market e-books are more like 50% of sales for the Big 5 publishers. And those publishers are having trouble with new fiction titles, as they haven’t had any “big titles” selling well, instead relying on genre fiction backlists and the sudden interest in political books… Wait, what?

It puzzles me why the author of this article insisted that e-readers are filled with garbage, particularly since the arguments supporting the claim lack evidence. A large chunk of book sales from major publishers are e-books, so it can’t all be the dreck titles, can it? What proof do we have that e-readers only contain Twilight fan-fiction and Dan Brown* novels? The proof we are offered is that anything genre is garbage: checkmate person who reads books! So maybe these article writers at The Guardian are onto something, maybe e-readers like the Kindle are filled with garbage.

Guardian on Amazon

 

*Sorry Dan, you and James Paterson are my go-to punching bags here. If I’ve offended you or James by suggesting your books aren’t high-quality writing, then I’m quite happy to edit out those comments from my blog for a small six or seven figure fee. Just post me one of the bags of money you use as a pillow, that should cover it.

 

 

Book vs Movie: American Pyscho – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix tackles the disturbing book and the amazing movie, American Pyscho.

I can’t remember the exact reason, but after hearing about the novel American Pyscho I decided I should read it. To the library! Where they didn’t have it. To the bookshop! Where they didn’t stock it. To the indie bookshop! Where I was able to find one copy being sold in shrinkwrap.

There’s a point to be made here about the value of indie bookstores. And having all the sick and twisted novels available for sale probably isn’t the point I intended.

And this is a sick and twisted novel. There are some scenes in there that would make a horror fan blanche – break free little rat, break free! The “satire” of the novel doesn’t feel like satire, it feels like gratuitous sadism that is there as an extreme juxtaposition to banality in a lazily made point about yuppies.

Which is why I regard the movie as far superior. It manages to skim through and grab the major elements of the book and put them on screen without becoming horror porn for vore fans – don’t look up that word, you don’t want to know. Ellis may not be a fan of the movie – because it is hard to tell if Bateman got away with it or imagined it – but his complaints are far too typical of the precious artists I’ve commented on in this series many times.

The irony is that many people would say that the movie is still ultra-violent. In which case, don’t read the book. Don’t do it. Or keep some lye on hand.

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