Friday, July 6, 2012

Let Me Break Out the Visual Aids

Welcome to Words, Women, Wisdom or W3 for short - the home base of a group of women who, er, use words... wisely... in their writing. We are a diverse bunch, writing in a broad spectrum of genres, but the one thing, (three things actually,) that we all have in common is the use of words on a grand scale, and, well, the fact that we're women. The wise part? Well, I won't malign any of the other lovely ladies here, but as for myself, doing things unwisely might be considered a career choice? Yeah. We'll go with that.

So my monthly contribution to this gig is ... TA DA! "Books/Movies.Movies/Books: Best Damn Books I've Ever Scene".

Books, movies? Movies, books? Why? Isn't this about writing?

Here's why my contribution theme, "Books/Movies". I was a child of the television era - a time when television was bad, and I don’t mean “bad” in the way Cubby Bear said something was “bad”. (If you get that reference, you watched WAY too much television as a kid.) It was bad… for you. We were supposed to “Unplug. Read a book.” Heck, even television was telling us to turn it off and go outside, (or read a book.) And then there were those cartoons – a dark plot, warping young minds, because, well, the coyote fell off of the cliff and accordioned after going splat at the bottom. (We put an end to that evil influence by golly, by editing out all the fun, er, splats, buck-shot to the face, running with scissors, etc.)

But, when I was in my formative television viewing years, that was my only storytelling medium, because… I couldn’t read.

What? (You’re supposed to read that word in falsetto, like Gus, Dule Hill, from PSYCH. Try it again.) WHAT?

Nope. I couldn’t read until I was in my teens. If you asked one of my teachers, they probably would have said, “nonsense.” You see, somewhere along the way, early elementary school? I was tapped for gifted studies. (Clearly, a clerical error was made.) And I sounded, to the average listener, as if I was a very good reader, but… Here. Let me give you an example of what it was like for a kid like me, to read. Bear with me while I conduct a brief demonstration:

I am about to expose you to a poem. It is short. After reading the poem, I would ask that we pause to discuss your interpretation of the poem. Ready? Okay, here goes…

“Un petit d'un petit
S'étonne aux Halles
Un petit d'un petit
Ah! degrés te fallent
Indolent qui ne sort cesse
Indolent qui ne se mène
Qu'importe un petit d'un petit
Tout Gai de Reguennes.”
                        -Luis D’Antin de van Rooten

Okay, feel free to discuss it amongst yourselves.

What? You didn’t understand that? (Falsetto, like Gus.) WHAT?

Okay, so here. I’m gonna give you some help. Here is a link to an audio clip of me reading this poem aloud. Seriously! Click. Listen.

Now do you get it? If not, listen to it again. You get it now, don’t you? The poem, while in French, when spoken by someone with a moderate understanding of the rules of French pronunciation, sounds pretty literate. In the case of English speaking listeners, it sounds down-right hilarious! Of course, while you’re able to chuckle along over the meaning, to a non-fluent French reader, one not listening to themselves, but someone who is intent upon pronouncing all of the words correctly, they don’t “hear” the words, thus, they don’t make sense of the meaning of the words. By the way, this poem is one of many in a wonderful book of poems called Mots D’Heure Gosse Rammes, (Mother Goose Rhymes) by Luis D’Antin de van Rooten, who re-wrote a collection of Mother Goose Rhymes, homophonically, in French. Hilarious!!!

THAT is what it was like, for a fluid, but non-fluent reader, growing up.

I knew the rules of pronunciation. I read beautifully. I just couldn’t understand what I was reading. (shrug.)

I was able to cover my great lie, (remember – gifted studies,) until middle school, (oddly, no longer in gifted studies,) when my social studies teacher handed out text books on the first day of school and asked that we take them home and read the first five pages in preparation for a little quiz the next day. I took my book home, confident that I could magically read. I read the five pages. I re-read the five pages, I re-re-read the five pages, I re-re-re… yeah. You get the picture. But I passed the quiz. The questions were pretty commonsensical, but I was scared to death! Any day, I knew I was going to be “found out.”

And then in just one weekend, pretty early into middle school, it all changed.

I was watching a movie. It was great – black and white, intense, scary… Joan Fontaine was in her canopied bed. The curtains were pulled around except for a tiny crack that permitted a view of her bedroom door… she heard something at her door. She looked. The door knob slowly turned… something… outside her door… clawing… scratching… the door… slowly opened…

And then my mother came into the room. We had to leave. Right that second! Grandma was holding lunch. We’d be late. Had to leave immediately, and “click” off went the television.

Noooo! This movie was the best thing I had ever seen, but there was no catching the ending later. This was 1977. There was no such thing as a VCR! There was no Tivo. There was no “cable” in our neck of the woods with multiple re-showings. It was about to be lost to me forever! Unless I could catch it sometime in the next year, when it re-aired on some late night B-Flick/Classic-Movies Program. If only I knew the name of the movie... so, I snatched up the TV-Guide, found the listing, (I could read and make sense of little snippets like charts and guides, because remember, it was like translating French to English one-word at a time,) and I read these delicious words:

“Based on the novel…”

But I couldn’t read! Or could I? I decided to give it one more try. So on the next family outing to town, I forced the family to take me to a local bookstore. TV-Guide in hand, I marched in, walked right up to the sales clerk, explained my movie interruption and asked, “do you have a book called, Jane Erie, by some woman named Charlotte Bront?” To this dear woman’s credit, she did not so much as bat an eyelash, but simply said, “Yes, I think we may have a copy of your movie on our shelves.” I couldn’t believe it!!! My movie… in book format! She led me to the shelf – so many books, and she was able to lead me to the exact spot – and she pulled out a copy of my movie! (in book form) and it even had a picture of Joan Fontaine on the cover, (sort of.)

I remember reading in the car. I read in the car all the way home until it was too dark to see to read in the car. The images from the movie helped me to make sense of the book. I read late into the night until my mother made me turn out the lights and go to bed. The next day, Sunday, I read all day long until I reached the end.

And I was so depressed.

I realized, too late, my great error. With my first book, I had just read the best damn book ever written! A new reader’s got no place to go but down after that. Sure, I proved to myself that I could read... but what was the point now?

Still, Monday morning, I told all of my friends about this book – the most AMAZING book ever written - and I encouraged them to read it, because it was so amazing, and that they should prepare themselves, because even though it had a happy ending, they would be sad that there wasn’t another book out there that would ever be as good… until I got to my friend, Cindy. She cut me off mid-stream. “Oh yeah! I’ve read that book, (and by the way, it’s pronounced Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte,) and if you liked that book, then you’re gonna love this one!” She pulled a book out of her purse and waved it in front of my face.

I was a tiny bit encouraged. I pointed out that she had that book checked out of the library, so I couldn’t read it until she returned it. “Nooooo,” Cindy denied. “They have tons of these books.” My friend marched me downstairs to the library and introduced me to the shelf of books – the ones with covers similar to her book. And I checked it out – one of those books by the same author. And I read it. In one night. And IT was the best damn book I had ever read! Ahhh, Barbara Cartland, that literary giant.

I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t watched an over-abundance of television. If I had decided to go outside and unplug during that movie, would I have discovered, “Jane Erie, by some woman named Charlotte Bront”?

So don’t denigrate movies or television – not in front of me. I wouldn’t be a reader without television. I might never have discovered Austen, Dickens, Henry James, without television, I wouldn’t be a writer, without television. And one of my absolute favorite pastimes is watching movies based on books, then re-reading the book, then re-watching the movie, then watching a different version of the movie, then re-reading.... I have been known to sit in front of a television with a movie on the blu-ray player, a different version of the same movie on my laptop, and the book open in my lap. THAT is why I’ve chosen the topic of Books/Movies, Movies/Books for my monthly column here at Words,Women,Wisdom – W3.

I hope you’ll join me next month, on the first Monday! In preparation, you MIGHT wanna go check out SWEET LAND, by Will Weaver. Rather, SWEET LAND, the movie, is based on Will Weaver’s short story, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat”. (Click Here.) Go watch it. Go read it. Then come back here… and we’ll chat! (Truly, it’s the best damn short-story I’ve ever read.)
And while you're at it, you might wanna go on over to this site and check out another writer's work. (Who? Who is this writer who churns out literary masterworks? Could this be shameless self-promotion?)

MOONSHINE, by Sofie Couch
"Who's your daddy... and where's he buried?"


  1. Hey, Sofie --

    Jane Eyre was one of my first great literary experiences, too (I read it and Dracula at about the same time). I still remember reading through that giant plot sucker punch -- it made quite an impression on a young girl already distrustful of marriage!

    And that woman on the cover really does look just like Joan Fontaine. How weird is that?


  2. Don't laugh, but I've learned more history from movies than I ever learned from school! Okay, okay, I know movies take factual license, but the movies got me hooked enough to actually read or learn more about the historical events! Names that sort of hovered in the recesses of my brain from being force-fed via dry, boring history books suddenly represented real people, with real lives, joys and despair, when viewed as a movie. I'm with you! I love my books, of course!, but I love my movies too. (BTW, I remember that TV Guide cover of Family Affair!) Thanks for a great piece, Sofie!

  3. Glad you liked it! (Mr. French was my favorite hero.)