Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Best Is A Book"

The above title is a direct quote from an interview I conducted in 1969 with Mel Brooks.  (Published in my Toronto Telegram newspaper column.  Canadian hoarders may be able to find it.)

Mel’s clarifying explanation for his literary preference was that

“A book never has ‘Herman Shumlin Presents’ on the front of it.”

It just has “Written by Mel Brooks.”

That’s why, for Mel, best was a book.

But that’s about “creative control” and “Stay off of my cover!”   Call it “Proprietory Dominance”, if you will.  (Or even if you won’t.  And I am not that crazy about it myself.)  It seems to me, however, that there is something else about a book that, in our culture at least, makes books best and loftily better than the rest.

Let me allude to it this way.

Almost from the beginning of this blogatorial exercise, I would report/slash/subliminally brag about how many posts I had written.  To which friends – who nevertheless never read my blog – would respond,

“Sounds like you’ve got enough there for a book.”

“Why would I want to do that?” I’d inquire, genuinely confused. 

And they’d reply, with measurably equal confusion,

“So it’ll be published!”

To which I’d sensibly reply,

“It’s already published.”

To which they would shrug weakly and move on to something else.  Or someone else, if there were rescuing people in the room. 

The thing is, I meant it.  Why would I want something published that was already published on my blog?

The popular distinction:

“Because it isn’t a book.” 

Implying that a book is not only “best” because of why Mel Brooks thought it was best,

But simply because it’s a book. 

With the distinguishing “Bragging rights.”

“I wrote a book – I’m a ‘writer.’  And you didn’t – so you’re not.”

For some people – a really large-numbered “some” – that’s what writing a book does for you.  It makes you a legitimate “writer”, elevating you not only above blog writers, but also above screenwriters and – it goes without saying but I am saying it anyway – television writers.

(Note:  I don’t know if I heard this or just intuited it, but I recall that two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman believed best was a book, continuing to write them even after he got “Huge in ‘Pictures’.”)

Do I feel that way?  That books are “All that” and everything “not books” is not?

No, I do not.

Not just because I am doing this and I’d naturally defend what I am doing.  I truly enjoy blog writing.  At this point in my “Life Passage”, I would honesty – unless something came up – not want to do anything else. 

Still, I know in most people’s minds,

Best is unquestionably a book. 

And I am not certain why.

Maybe it’s because books were there first.  As “free-time entertainment”, books were a step up from the previous “free-time entertainment” of the day –

Looking out the window. 

Maybe it was like,

“Whoa!  Someone’s making up stories for me.  Now I don’t have to imagine my own stories, about those guys I see out in the cornfield, which is a relief because one them’s my wife Flora and I don’t like what I am imagining.”

Books did the imagining for an isolated and unimaginative audience.  This, of course,  is also true of movies and television, and now the Internet as well.  Still, despite those subsequent “entertainment providers”, there remains something special about books.  And it has got to be more than “Books came first”, doesn’t it?  Because I’m thinking, “So what?” 

Do you have to be smarter to write a good book – leave out “good”; it seems like writing any book sets you “A cut above.”  Lemme start that again.

Do you have to be smarter to write a book than to write a good movie, TV show or blog post?  (I had to add “good” there, because a bad one puts you totally out of the running.)

Setting aside “The Oral Tradition” – because it doesn’t fit what I’m talking about – a book was the original way of communicating a story.  And that’s it.

Why does that automatically give it – and its writer – elevated respect?

Illuminating responses are welcome.

Unless you are too busy, writing a book.

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