I’ve always admired Russell Crowe as an actor. (I don’t do celebrity gossip, don’t care if he’s a jerk, I’m talking talent here.)
When he received a 2002 Screen Actor’s Guild Award, he had this to say:
“You know, I’m a storyteller. We are storytellers. And ours is an ancient tradition, contemporized by the cinema and the capturing of light. And we should all be very proud of our place in society. On any given night, millions of people across the world buy a ticket for adventures that only we as storytellers can provide. We release burdens, we galvanize emotions, we make people laugh, we make people talk over breakfast. This is a great job and I want to encourage every one of you in this room to give everything you can to the story. God bless narrative. God bless originality.”
I’m with him. He’s speaking, obviously, of films, but it applies to books just as much. Perhaps, in some ways, even more. Or at least, differently. Because we tell the story in a way that requires the participation of the reader. They must activate their own mind and imagination to process the words we present into the story being told. You can’t read and do anything else, except maybe—and dangerously–eat. (Well, I can read and knit, but that’s another story.) At least, not with any amount of concentration.
There’s an old tale about the origin of storytelling. When primitive men returned from the mastodon hunt, and gathered around the fire, someone would tell the tale of the hunt. In great, exciting, bloody detail, he would relate exactly what happened. Was he the first storyteller? No. The first storyteller was the guy who stood up next and told the tale of the one that got away and the hunt that might have been. The one who first used his imagination to build events that didn’t really happen, but seemed as if they could have. The one who created, in his listener’s minds, broader horizons, more amazing creatures, and more heroic hunters.
There’s been some resistance, indicated by lack of success or expansion of the idea, to enhanced e-books. And a lot of speculation about why. My theory is that it’s because they are two different processes. If you want a visual experience, you watch TV or a movie. If you want to read a story, you want to read a story. You want to visualize those characters in your mind in your own way, not that of a casting agency. (Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher? Seriously??) You want to picture the surroundings in your own way, perhaps furnishing it with things that are in your own experience, imagining that that painting of a landscape on the wall of a character’s home is very like the one on your own wall. The connections in reading occur on many levels, perhaps simply because we are one human being telling a story to another. We may not have a lot in common, but the connection is made for that simple reason—we are all human beings, and we share the joy and the pain that that brings.
Do you find this true? Are you sometimes in the mood only to watch, and sometimes find only reading will do? And if you’re a Lee Child/Jack Reacher fan, who would YOU have cast? (I have my choice, and I promise he would have been a much better fit!)