It’s a dark time day for us booklovers, especially the U.S. variety. Noting the many high-lit imports that inspired high-brow movies and TV shows here in the States, the Atlantic asks: “Is American literature too Too Dark for TV?”
The subhead warns: “The executive producer of Masterpiece Theater says Jane Austen works a lot better on screen than Hemingway does.”
Atlantic pop critic Spencer Kornhaber‘s post then asserts: “While an fan of the American canon might bristle at those comments, consider the history of literary adaptations. Whereas English Literature 101 authors like Shakespeare and Jane Austen have inspired a host of well-loved movies and TV shows, often, when talking about American writing turned into viewing, you end up talking about ‘genre’ works: science fiction, Westerns, comic-book films, The Hunger Games. Most American novels widely regarded as classics have been made into movies or shows at one point or another, but many have yet to receive an on-screen treatment that lives on in the cultural memory.”
Well, if you say so, Mr. Kornhaber. I’m not by background a high-lit crit and I notice you aren’t, either. So your judgments are hardly definitive. As for your post’s big source, Rebecca Eaton, producer of the Masterpiece TV series, the “OBE” after her name says it all. The woman has more or less specialized in processing Brit Lit for U.S. television audiences, and Queen Elizabeth II has shown her gratitude by bestowing upon her an honorary “Order of the British Empire.”
Another problem, Mr. Kornhaber, is your dismissal of genre works. Few are high lit, given that they’re written to cater to the masses, not challenge their expectations. But exceptions abound. To give one example, is Dashiell Hammett outside the realm of literature? He isn’t as dead as Jane Austen—well, at least not in his grave as long—but he is one example of the difficulty of identifying True Lit.
Mr. Kornhaber concludes: “But as for perhaps the most famous work of American literature that has been repeatedly adapted over the decades, Eaton seemed mystified. ‘The Great Gatsby really is a very enigmatic story—what is this really about?’ she said. ‘It amazes me that it keeps getting taught.’” Um, that would be news to Prof. Maureen Corrigan, National Public Radio critic, as well as author of an excellent, if slightly too worshipful, book titled So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures.
But wait! I promised TeleReaders more lit-doom links, and here they are, ready for dissection in our comments area:
—Nielsen Says Book Sales Up Are Slightly in First Half of the Year, But Can We Trust Their Numbers? (Ink, Bits & Pixels). Granted, this includes books in a bunch of categories, but since many lit lovers start off reading less venerated titles, the link seems apropos .
–Have Editors Reigned Too Long? (Digital Book World). Why are we asking this question, whether or not the issue is book publishing? The world needs more editors, not fewer, even if the title for them nowadays might instead be something like “producer.” No, the real question should be, “Have MBAs and bankers and their allies reigned too long?” Yes, I agree with Matt McInnis, quoted in the article, that people with the title “editor” have “stifled innovation.” But if we don’t want publishers to churn out just crap and otherwise maximize just for popular appeal, then we’d better retain a proper respect for the E word or at least updated variants of it.
—Pandering to or Presuming Shorter Attention span (Publishers Weekly). Ah, fits in with the preceding item! Dumber and dumber, eh?