What Hath Tinseltown Wrought? | Newberry

What Hath Tinseltown Wrought?

   I had a complaint about a book last week, from a grandmother who is doing her very best to infect her grandchildren with a passion for books.  She has her own special technique: she asks a children’s librarian what books are both new and in style.  She’s willing to slip her propaganda through any window that appears.  If reading in general doesn’t seem cool to a grandkid, but some book IS, she sees to it that that book appears in said grandchild’s hands.

   The librarian she consults has never failed her, or, at least, HAD never failed her until last week, when she recommended The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  If you have walked past any magazine racks lately, you know this is expected to be one of this summer’s blockbuster movies, and, because the book is the first of a trilogy, the beginning of a mighty franchise.

   It isn’t the franchising which bothers the loving grandmother.  It’s that she finds the book bleak and somewhat nihilistic.  “It’s all just kids killing each other in a blasted landscape,” she said.  “How can I give somebody a book like that?  Don’t you think it’s terrible?”

   Well, yes, I do, actually.  I’ve mentioned it before.  I WISH Hollywood would tell me when it’s going to give a book the big push, so I could mark up the price.  I see where a first edition in great shape of The Hunger Games—which was published only five years ago—is being offered by some maniac dealers for over $2,000.  I never heard of the series, myself, until I saw a copy of the book a couple of months ago, looked it over, marked it at two bucks, and packed it in a box.  I suppose that instead of spending my days reading book prices, I should study the entertainment news.

   Did anybody bother to tell me that The Invention of Hugo Cabret would be turned into an Oscar-winner by Martin Scorsese?  Did somebody even whisper to me about a movie adaptation of a book called War Horse?  Not a bit.  You’d think Hollywood didn’t want me to make any money.  How do they expect me to be able to afford movie popcorn?

   I do my best on my side, Heaven knows.  I’ve had them come in, young men mostly, with hope in their voices and stars in their eyes.  “Do you know a good book I could adapt into a screenplay?” they ask me.  What I want to do is sing them a few bars of my own version of Nashville Cats: “There are 16, 652 kids with a screenplay in their pocket (they used to have a briefcase but they made so little money they had to go hock it.”  But I try to encourage young artists and so I pick out something they’d like: usually something set in a bleak landscape with some existential blues.  Haven’t had a note of thanks from any of them, with or without a check enclosed.  My own suspicion is that they haven’t made enough to buy a stamp yet, let alone the envelope.

   Anyway, as for giving children a book with lots of killing in it, why not?  It might encourage them to be home by curfew.  Whether they spend their time at home reading books is between you and them, Grandma.

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