In his story Do Teens seriously Read any more?, David Denby talks about how teens spend most of their time on screens, and so they read less. Although they are continuously taking in text in some form or another, teens are not really involved in a continuous flow of narration.
Of course, these kids are very busy. School, homework, sports, jobs, clothes, parents, brothers, sisters, half brothers, half sisters, friendships, love affairs, hanging out, music, and, most of all, screens (TV, Internet, games, texting, Instagramming)—compared with all of that, reading a book is a weak, petulant claimant on their time. Reading frustrates their smartphone sense of being everywhere at once. Suddenly, they are stuck on that page, anchored, moored, and many are glum about it. Being unconnected makes them anxious and even angry. “Books smell like old people,” I heard a student say in New Haven.
Are teens missing something? Obviously, they are. Literature is transformational. Just because there is no money in literature, it doesn’t mean that the beauty and relevance of this subject will evaporate. What teens who are students as well need is a teacher(they aren’t extinct yet, underpaid, yes, extinct,no) who can change their lives by talking about literature.
Learning literature takes out the bias that has become so much a part of TV journalism today. Teens can stay hooked to their phones and keep a few hours a week for reading continuous narratives. They owe it to themselves, and if physical books makes them feel old, digital books are not a bad idea.
Further proof that good literature is invaluable is the list of books that make it to best screenplays at the Oscars. In an essay entitled Want to Win an Oscar? Base your Movie on a book, Brangien Davis is in conversation with his father Bruce Davis, former director of the Academy, and has uncovered some surprising statistical evidence that good books translate into winning screenplays.
“Good many of the 87 Best Pictures to date were based on original scripts, nine others first existed as plays, and a handful don’t fit into those three obvious categories. Marty (1955), for example, was originally a television drama.
It’s a tricky calculation to make with some movies, but the list I made certainly supports your impression: nearly half of the recipients of Oscar’s largest prize have been based on books. The 42 films I’ve placed in the “book-based” category are not all based on novels. I’ve included nonfiction memoirs like Twelve Years a Slave, along with Collette’s novella Gigi and even F.X. Toole’s Million $$$ Baby, because it appeared in a book of his collected short stories.”
So this whole idea that good books make bad movies could be wrong if the book goes into the hands of a good director. Another observation Bruce Davis makes is that many of these books were unknown, and so a film maker is one more person who could benefit immensely from the treasure trove that books can be.
Who doesn’t benefit from a good book?