The Book and/or the Movie

Last night I finished reading A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick. Six months ago I finished watching Richard Linklater’s rotoscopic adaptation of the book. Three weeks before the film played in my town, I borrowed the book with the intent to read it first. But after a lot of deliberation and discussion with friends who’d both read and seen it, I came to the conclusion that it was going to be okay for me to not put down the other books I was reading in order to squeeze in A Scanner Darkly. But in general I prefer to read a book before watching the movie version. In fact, if I plan on reading the book at some point in my life, then I practically need to read it before seeing the movie.

Previously–as an example of when it didn’t work for me–I watched and then read Fight Club. I saw that movie probably five times before reading the book. And while reading it, my imagination was completely taken over by the imagery of the movie. I saw everything through the eyes of the film — the characters, the settings, the dialog. The book didn’t stick with me at all, the style wasn’t effective or exciting, and each scene was depreciated by the knowledge of what comes next.

But I absolutely enjoyed reading A Scanner Darkly. Despite the fact that I knew the ending and most of the scenes, I was still swept up by the story and the writing. I mean, the characters were still, in my head, celebrities (though disguised by rotoscope, which helped to scramble them in my head). When I read, “A girl walked along now that made him take notice. Black hair, pretty, cruising slow; she wore an open midriff blouse and denim white pants washed a lot.” the image that immediately came to mind was: Winona Ryder! As with other of Dick’s later books, the strength of this one stems less from bogglingly-creative plots and more from the study of characters and their relationships to themselves, the world, and to God — and also, in this case especially, to what they’re going through as they’re falling into a drugged-out, disassociate existence, a death without sleep. The woah-crap spin at the end wasn’t as important or as crazy as other Dick books. So the story and effects weren’t depreciated by foreknowledge of the ending.

Last week, for example, I read Ubik. It is very much steadily thrusted by plot and action. It’s a plot that continuously spins the reader around. You don’t know where it’s going, everything is twisted and everything you thought you knew was wrong, and it never stops. When reading Ubik it’s important and exciting to not know the whole story and ending.

I was very happy to find that I could enjoy A Scanner Darkly so much after having already seen the movie (and I think the movie is great, by the way). Plus, I could tell the story was a personal one. The writing is executed with grace and respect, and I could glimpse his own relationships to the characters.
My first foray into PKD came in high school, when I was presented with VALIS as a b-day gift. Although as a first foray this book was a bit overwhelming, I still felt a strong connection to him and his work–to his style, his dialog, his ideas. I remember being disappointed that the Exegesis hadn’t found publication. I remember being saddened and even more deeply connected to him by the fact that he died on my second birthday.

But thereafter I for some reason fell out of PKD-land, with many many of his books still left to read. Then, while working at an arts library, I found a duplicate holding of the Summer 2002 issue of Bookforum. The cover story was a wonderful essay by then-unknown to me author, Jonathan Lethem*, about his love for PKD. I manipulated the catalog record and then took home that duplicate! The article brought PKD back to my full attention, and since then I’ve been steadily going through the irv. While I know that I can, like Lethem, read and reread everything by him, I’m also very excited to still have so many books that I can read for the first time. I can’t wait to read them!

*Worth checking out is the new Virginia Quarterly Review Fiction Supplement. The theme of the stories is writers on writers — new fiction that features authors as characters. Lethem wrote a story featuring “writer of Ubik“, Philip K. Dick. Read: Phil at the Marketplace.

Humongously Light Books of the Future

Some things to note:

  • The Universe on Urban Honking has an interview with sci-fi author Mark von Schlegell:

    “The novel will have to expand if we hope to keep track and take control of what these lives might mean, into dimensions it hasn’t even realized it’s had. When space travel is the norm, long hours of flight will best be filled by long novels, longer, I think than we even imagine. Presumably, off-Earth, 1/3 gravity will be the norm so we’ll be able actually to hold enormous books rather easily.”

  • He sounds like something else, let me tell you.

  • George Saunders’ latest article for GQ Magazine is contained within the January issue. It covers his travels along the entire US/Mexico border. It’s prefaced with a personal note from Mr. Saunders, in which he asks for donated money to go toward a wheelchair for a recently paralyzed undocumented worker. Read: The Great Divide.Or actually, don’t read it, because it’s not all online. GQ likes to present their stories as teasers on the website. So what to do? To buy the magazine itself, of course. I recently attempted to do this, and I write this here to register the unsatisfying results of such an attempt. None of the newstands I checked carry it. To put it frankly, I can’t find anyone selling GQ. So I guess I can’t read this article. GQ, if you’d like to expand your readership, you have a few options: expand your distribution; or put the entire article that many people want to read, and should read, online.
  • According to William T. Vollmann’s celebrated* review of Jarhead author, Anthony Swofford’s, debut novel, Exit A, that previous book, Jarhead begins in much the same way as Tim O’Brien’s great The Things They Carried. This is not coming from Vollmann; it’s coming from me.Vollmann notes that Swofford beings Jarhead by saying, “What follows is neither true nor false but what I know.”

    If I remember correctly, O’Brien begins his book with a similar statement along the lines of, “Some things in this book may not be factually true, but they are all real.”

    I’ll get that exact quote later. I suppose that grappling with the relationship between factual accuracy and the truths within a story is something that memoirish war-writing often has to do. To check if this checks out, check out Garry Trudeau’s outstanding MilBlog repository, The Sandbox. I strongly recommend checking out The Sandbox.

    *Read a vibrant discussion of Vollmann’s review over at MetaxuCafe.

  • There’s currently a writing contest going on at McSweeney’s. The deadline is Jan. 22, so write right now! To enter, pick one of the unpicked story ideas that F. Scott Fitzgerald devised but never fully realized, and use it to create a story. Fun! I’m eager to discover if the winning story will be a creative story about writing a story, as the winning stories have been for the last three contests I’ve entered. Let’s hope not!
  • Vomit for a New America

    A new, acerbic call for peace has been issued by my friend Jacob. I, for one, fully support the mobilization of the efforts proclaimed below. When the time comes I will buckle forward and let flow my disgust for President Bush’s latest warrant for escalated violence.

    The protocols of Bush invariably stand for more dead Americans: more active engagement with the insurgents, more fighting in the streets. This brash, bloody strategy will never reset what poor policy has already wrought on the country of Iraq. However, I do golf clap the choice to reform the De-Baathification. The reforms would essentially be a reversal of Paul Bremer’s first major issue, CPA Order No. 1: De-Baathification. In 2005, the Washington Post referred to this directive as follows:

    In an act that many saw as the original sin that led to Iraq’s current turmoil, Bremer crippled Iraq’s institutions of governance and security and created half a million angry and jobless people in the process.

    Other than this acknowlegment by Bush that the rebuilding of Iraq was bungled from the start, this new latest attempt at strategy is just more of the same. A surge in violence. Well, that makes me, and it makes Jacob, and it might make you, want to barf. And that’s exactly what we plan to do. If there’s any way to meet Bush head-on, it’s with our guts.

    What follows is Jacob’s rebuttal to last night’s speech:

    Last night as I watched President Bush address us, his nation, with his brow creased and his voice slow and deliberate, I was struck by a sensation that has become familiar when I watch most politicians speak and especially Mr. Bush. I wanted to throw up in my mouth. This nausea was accompanied by outrage and disgust. What we got was what we expected, more of the same.

    I marched against the Iraq war and against foreign aggression. When we commenced bombing on Baghdad, and Mr. Bush made an elated announcement, I stood outside the federal building and banged on pots and pans, shouted at passers by, made chalk drawings on the steps and huddled in the cold til 3 a.m. while a military deserter rallied us, a flag wrapped around his head. And though I left for the comfort of my own bed, some of those protestors stayed on for weeks, leaving their jobs and social lives behind.

    If only anyone had heard us. I stopped going to protests when I read an Associated Press article in which Mr. Bush made clear that protests, and the voice of the public in general, mattered nothing to him. He is the decider of decisions, and he has been entrusted with the voice of our nation.

    Perhaps I gave up too early, but here in Portland people march every week, handing out flyers and yelling through bullhorns on the corner of Pioneer Square in the heart of downtown. For years peace groups have made banners, sewn dolls and flags, yelled until their throats were raw and painted the faces of their children in opposition to an administration which serves only its own interests and the interests of its business associates, and then scoffs in disbelief when the public withdraws its support, throws hissy fits at podiums when asked a challenging question, and takes action only within the margins of its policy, blindly and deafly staying the course as we lose our senses and our friends.

    The days of fruitless marches are over. When I told my friends I was sick, that I wanted to vomit, my friend C. suggested that we all go to the capitol and throw up outside the White House.

    I want to start a concerted effort to make this happen. In an orderly fashion, we will line up outside those gates and take turns vomiting, thereby registering our disgust and shame at watching our “leader” turn away from every suggestion to soften his policies, whether it comes from the people, the analysts (who predicted the strife in Iraq before we even dropped a bomb), congress, his own father and a panel of experts.

    Let’s see Mr. Bush ignore his citizens as they vomit upon the house of his rule! Lets see the press turn a blind eye to that!

    So vomit my friends. Vomit to resist the campaign of aggression and sightlessness.

    To a leader who addresses us like children. Who presumes it is we who are uninformed.

    To a government which robs our money and places it into the coffers of the businesses and industries of their friends.

    To a doctrine based on ignorance and lies.

    To oppose selfishness, greed, and deception.

    To an administration that ignores our voices and our votes.

    To a man who sends our friends and coutrymen to their deaths.


    Jacob Schraer.

    I’m not exactly sure what the funds would go toward — perhaps giant plates of curly fries and milkshakes. We’re currently mobilizing the Propulsion Police, which will monitor the Barf Brigade as they establish the base vomitorium. And we’ll keep everyone posted regarding progress. I’ve never used, but maybe that could work for this project?