Monday Miscellany

Happy New Year!

Novels and Television

Recent news that HBO plans to adapt the works of William Faulkner for television has prompted critical discussion of the suitability of novels for this kind of medium translation.

“The novel and television are commingling as never before. And it’s about time,” declares Laura Miller in TV and the novel: A match made in heaven. She argues that television and the novel have more in common than do the novel and theatrical film because “[r]arely are a book’s most devoted admirers satisfied by the film.” Not only must much of any novel usually be cut to fit the 90- to 120-minute format of a feature film, but the standard three-act structure of film also trims much of the rich expansiveness of a novel. “A television series, however, has the time to spread out and explore the byways and textures of a novel’s imagined world,” says Miller. But whereas the necessity for mass-market appeal of shows on the broadcast networks prevented more than an occasional successful adaptation of a novel until the advent of cable, “A network like HBO, however, doesn’t need to attract large audiences; rather, it aims to persuade a much smaller population of subscribers that it’s worth paying a little extra every month to see better programming.”

Craig Fehrman makes many of the same points in The Channeling of the Novel:

The cable network [HBO] has optioned a number of widely recognized literary works, including Karen Russell’s “Swamplandia!,” Chad Harbach’s “Art of Fielding” and Mary Karr’s memoirs. “At some point in the last year,” says Michael London, the indie-approved producer whose Groundswell Films brought “Goon Squad” to HBO, “everyone in the business had an epiphany that the DNA of cable television has much more in common with novels than movies do.”

“Indeed, where a movie means paring a novel down, a TV show can mean breaking it wide open,” Fehrman adds. He reports that many authors are now eager either to write their novels with an eye toward later TV adaptation or to collaborate on an adaptation after book publication. He compares this trend to what happened in the 1930s, when authors such as William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, Nathanael West, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all headed for Hollywood to try their pens at writing for the new medium of the feature film.

Defining Words, Without the Arbiters

You may remember learning in school that there are two kinds of dictionaries:

  1. descriptive: those that describe how language is used
  2. prescriptive: those that dictate the standards for how language should be used

In school your teachers used the second type almost exclusively, admonishing you to check the dictionary to find out whether a particular word in your paper was acceptable. You remember: “Ain’t ain’t in the dictionary” and that kind of thing.

This article describes the rise of Worknik and a few other linguistic databases that have arisen with the explosion of electronic communication. For these databases “automatic programs search the Internet, combing the texts of news feeds, archived broadcasts, the blogosphere, Twitter posts and dozens of other sources” to discover exactly how language is currently being used. Without the intervention of human evaluation, such databases serve only to describe how language  is used rather than to prescribe how it should be used.

25 literary resolutions for 2012. What’s yours?

The Los Angeles Times asked writers, editors and publishers what their literary resolutions for 2012 will be. If you’re looking for some literary resolutions, you’re bound to find some inspiration here. These resolutions range from “I’m going to reread “Moby-Dick,” “Crime & Punishment,” and “The Scarlet Letter” to “Read more poetry. Use fewer commas.”

And, in a related article, the LA Times checked back with some of the people who had offered their literary resolutions for 2011. Reading through this piece might soothe your conscience a bit. Lots of these people didn’t quite fulfill their annual resolutions, either.