“The subject of reading, of absorbing and interpreting, of assimilating the book’s narrative into the narrative of our lives, becomes inextricable from the text. There are schools of literary theory that focus, with varying degrees of complexity, on reader response and the “event” of reading. But the underlying concept is simple. Reading isn’t passive absorption; it’s an active rewriting based on who you are, where you are, how old you are and, possibly, whether or not it rained that morning. […]
The question remains: Why reduce these novels that grow so much bigger than their 1,000-odd pages into 2 1/2-hour movies, plays and ballets?
In her 1926 essay The Cinema, Virginia Woolf is obsessed with this problem. In reference to some of the earliest film adaptations of Anna Karenina, Woolf considers how strange it is to see someone else’s face imposed on a character that “the brain knows almost entirely by the inside of her mind.”
Woolf’s issue is how much film relies on visual distillation – “A kiss is love. … Death is a hearse” – when our experience of reading is just the opposite. Literary love is so much more than visual; the depicted relationship must travel along a twisting autobiographical pathway of ex-lovers and daydreams to make any sense to us at all. So why subject these great works of literature to such diminishing distortions?”
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