Friday, October 03, 2008

The Best Song That Is About Writing, or Being In, A Book.

See? This one's about music.
I told you this would be fun; I told you that October Is Book Month would be fun and not boring -- because reading and books are fun and not boring; no matter what you learned in school and what your parents told you, reading and books are fun and not boring.

Reading and books have also permeated our culture more than most people realize; despite the fact that some people say that 80% of families don't buy a single book in a given year, reading and books are actually revered in our culture, revered in a way that is inversely proportionate to the number people who actually read books regularly. We are a nation of people who want to read, a nation of people who want books -- but the books we get are mostly terrible and require more effort to partake of than the other mostly-terrible entertainment we are offered, so we're a nation of people who want books but don't get them or take them.

How can I say that we want books, and love books, when nobody really reads them? Simple: the same people that say 80% of families don't read a single book a year also say that 80% of the people in the U.S. say they want to write a book. (Those statistics are on the Internet, so they must be accurate, right, Wikipedia?)

And, even simpler: I know that America secretly loves books, has a crush on books and is writing "Me + Books" in the inside of its Trapper-Keeper, surrounded by a little heart, because American pop culture reflects our love of writers and books and how they fit into our life.

Some of our most-beloved movies are also our most-beloved books, and our most-beloved books become movies (good or bad) all the time. One of the biggest movie trilogies of all time was The Lord of the Rings-- which had been a set of books forever. (And do I even need to mention the Harry Potter series of movies, movies that began as books? Movies that wouldn't have been made if the books weren't so popular?)

But books inspire more than movies. Sex and the City and Dexter started their life as books. 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter started as a column written by a guy trying to write a book, then became a book of its own, and then a TV show. Gossip Girls were in books before they were obsessively watched by Middle Daughter on TV. How about this? The Six Million Dollar Man was based on the 1972 novel Cyborg. I could go on, but I don't need to.

And finally, there is music. Songs about books and writing have hit big ever since The Beatles wanted to be a Paperback Writer. Shadow Stabbing by Cake is a song that talks about being a writer and was featured in a movie (Orange County) about a kid who found a great book that made him want to be a writer -- a teen movie about a kid who wants to be a writer because he read a great book. One of the most romantic songs ever, Romeo & Juliet, by Dire Straits, is based on a play by William Shakespeare; while plays are meant to be performed, most kids read Romeo & Juliet in school and so I'm going to include it. (For more literary references in songs, read an excellent post by Jodi on Bittersweetheart, her blog. )

Those pop culture references all show that Americans, who profess to hate reading, are really in love with books and writing and reading; we are crying out for good books to read; we want to read them and write them and turn them into songs and movies and TV shows.

We want that because like nothing else, books capture and ignite our imagination; a book is the only truly personal entertainment experience. Reading a book allows us, and us alone, to create and populate the world the author is showing us. No matter how descriptive the book, no matter how colorful the language, an author can only provide so much detail and so much information. The rest of it is up to us, the reader. We read about Hogwarts or the forest where Terabithia lies or the guys digging through mountains with shovels to lay the transcontinental railroad or a guy who's the son of a mountain, we read that, and we have to make up the world the author gives us the basics of: we have to picture the car Alan drives to the mountain ,we have to picture the sweaty woolen clothes of the workers, we have to imagine the crowded streets of Diagon Alley. It's all there in our heads, and it's all ours.

One of the things I was amazed about, when I saw the Lord of the Rings movies, is how much everything, almost, looked exactly the way I imagined it. Peter Jackson built a Middle Earth that was 99.9% like what I pictured it. Except for one thing: He got Gollum wrong.

Gollum, in my mind, looked a lot more like a frog and a lot less like a skinny guy, than he ended up being portrayed as. I pictured Gollum, always, as a froglike thing with big yellow glowing eyes perched on top of his head -- a creature that had begun as a hobbit-like thing but had morphed into a frog-like thing through years of living underneath the mountain eating blind fish and strangling goblins.

I'm sure Peter Jackson doesn't think he got it wrong, but I do, because in my Middle Earth, the one I created in my mind when I read those books 27 zillion times, my Gollum looked like a frog. And that's why reading is so beloved -- because when you read, you're not trapped into my, or J.R.R. Tolkien's, or Peter Jackson's Middle Earth. You're in your Middle Earth, the one you create. Maybe you have a little help from J.R.R. Tolkien, but you're the creator of that world and it's yours and yours alone.

The flip side of that, the flip side of creating imaginary worlds all of our own, is this question: what is it based on? I'm asked a version of this question all the time about stories I write. Is it about you? Me? Them? (It's kind of a weird thought, given that a lot of what I write is horror.) People like to see parts of the real world mirrored in their fiction; that's essential, actually, because it provides the framework for them to build the imaginary world they'll create when they read your book.

In nonfiction, the what is it based on is obvious, and obviously more essential. But even in fiction, even in science fiction and fantasy and experimental fiction, that basis in real life, the foundation to spring into other worlds, has to be there so that people can relate to it.

And with fiction based on our current world, literary fiction or pop fiction, the question about what is it based on is even more pertinent. Some books rise to prominence because we assume (or are told) that they are based on real life, books like Postcards From The Edge. Some books become famous because they are supposed to be real even though they are not (and are obviously, patently, not real), like A Million Little Pieces.

Why is this question asked? Two reasons. First, when we create that world of ours -- ours-- while reading a book, we want to join it. (At least, I do.) So asking what is it based on is essentially asking is it based on something that I have a connection to?

Second, and equally important, is this: we wall want to believe that life is exciting. Our lives are included in that. So when we ask what is it based on, a part of us is hoping not just that it's based on something that's kind of connected to us, but on us ourselves. That we, us, me, I, you, are people who are exciting and literary and clever and cool enough to be in a book. We'd probably all settle for being the 4th Grade Nothing, if we could, because we'd be in a book.

Outside of "You're So Vain," has there ever been any other art form that people clamored to be in and hoped to be in and wondered if they were in? Which actually brings up the third reason that people ask what is it based on and hope it's based on some aspect of their life, a third secret reason, which is this: Books, because we create the world they describe, allow us to live in that world, to a greater or lesser extent. Every other art form excludes us: see a movie, and it's not me on the screen, it's Bruce Willis, or maybe this guy:

...who everyone says I look like, but even then, it's not me. Songs, paintings, operas: they keep the viewer out. There are barriers. They show us something, they tell us something, but they do not invite us in and ask us to help with the creation of that thing, a little or a lot.

Why does everyone want to be a writer? Because when you read, you are, in your own way, helping write; you are helping create the thing you are experiencing... right there in your mind.

And that's how I picked, in part, The Best Song That Is About Writing, or Being In, A Book, which is Page 28 by Seedy Gonzalez.

In Page 28, the narrator of the song, in a few sparse words [SPOILER ALERT! AND IT'S APPROPRIATE BECAUSE THIS IS KIND OF ABOUT A STORY THAT'S IN THE SONG] creates an image -- standing on the balcony at his ex-girlfriend's house, listening to her play the guitar, and musing about the book she's writing, and how he knows more about her than her current boyfriend does, and also how he's in the book, on "page 28 or thereabouts."

The feeling that's conveyed, when the singer reveals that he knows he's in the book, is exactly what I'm getting at in this post: The feeling that being in a book is something special, something great -- and it's only that great because books are great, right?

And the song is great, too. So if you're looking for The Best Song That Is About Writing, or Being In, A Book, look no further than Page 28 by Seedy Gonzalez:

Nobody has made a video or posted a video for "Page 28" yet -- how is that possible?-- and I have no clue how to do that, so I'll give you this link to the song to go listen to it -- and I recommend that you do so right now. Listen to it and picture the scene... and put yourself into it.

Note: People... well, Sweetie... point out at times that I have a pretty disproportionate number of gal photos to guy photos. There's two reasons for that, too. (1) I'm a guy. (2) Try to find decent pictures of guys holding books. Careful what you Google or you'll have a lot of gay porn staring you in the face. The pictures in this post are the best I could do.

October Is Book Month!

The Best Book That I Think of When I Think of The Words "The Best Book."

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