Films vs. books

Dinner with friends last night got me thinking about the differences between reading a book and watching a movie. We talked about films we’ve seen recently and would or would-not recommend. Few people have time now to read full-length novels, I can hardly recall the last time I discussed books to recommend with anyone. With all the other pressures on people’s time and the fact that other forms of knowledge and entertainment can be absorbed much more quickly, novels are a hard sell. Is the highest purpose for a novel these days as a try-out for a screen treatment?

I picked up a copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Choke last Thursday while at the library to pick up my order for Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and have been reading both for the past few days. The authors are polar opposites in style and theme. Lahiri’s collection of short stories recounts tender and emotional episodes of immigrant life of South Asian’s in the U.S. Themes of loss of historical roots, generations raised in different cultures that can’t understand one another, issues of coping with maintaining one’s sense of self and family while living halfway around the world from what used to be home. I have always been fascinated by India and it’s diverse cultures and stories. Working with many South Asians in high tech also has given me a bit of a window on the problems faced, and the ambitions and opportunities that drive people to make that move.

Choke, on the other hand, is a full-on manic and in-your-face story about, well about almost everything for a few pages before flying off to confront another facet of the anxieties of modern-day existence. From what constitutes love, to our desire to outlive our fate of aging, to the masks we wear at work (or home) the story caroms. On one page accidental wisdom spouts from the insane child-abusing mother and on the next page the solemn doctor is talking about her experiments with immortality. And the now-grown-up child may just be the sex-addicted second-coming of Jesus Christ. Or not.

I like Palahniuk for his Carl Hiaasen zaniness meets Zen Buddhism anti-materialism tone. I like Lahiri for the experience of a slice-of-unfamiliar-life and longing to somehow maintain a romanticized sense of community that may no longer exist in our technology-based society.

And best of all, I can read them both at the same time. Try that with a movie!

Oh, Choke, is about to be released as a feature film.


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