Why Not Just Read the Screenplay?

by F.

Tyler Cowen has an interesting piece on Slate in which he describes how the book market is changing:

The real change in the book market is…the reader’s greater impatience, a symptom of our amazing literary (and televisual) plenitude…. It was easy to finish Tolstoy’s War and Peace when there were few other books around and it was hard to find them. Today, finishing it means forgoing many other options at our fingertips. As a result, we tend to consume ideas in smaller bits…. Long, serious novels are less culturally central than they were 100 years ago. Blogs are on the rise, and most readers prefer the ones with the shorter posts.

I think this is a welcome development. I hate long books. It takes more than 40 hours to read Don Quixote. That’s a long ass time, especially when reading isn’t your full time job. I think it was in How to Read and Why where Harold Bloom complained about our “visual” culture. But I don’t think it’s going to change any time soon, because human beings are visual animals. Technology is finally catching up with our preferences.

So what does this mean to the novel? I think it’ll have to get shorter and more visual—more like a screenplay. And, if that is the case, it may be easier just to read the screenplay. For instance, you can now buy Anne Proulx’s story bundled with Larry McMurtry’s screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, and if you read both, you may prefer the screenplay, because you know, at each scene, where you are, what you are seeing, and what is happening. Interestingly, Shakespeare’s plays were apparently quite popular in printed form. It’s actually quite pleasant to read a play. The visual layout makes it easier to read than the typical novel.

Amazon gives us the ability to see the comparative rank screenplay and the novel on which it is based. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the gap between those ranks close as the trends Cowen describes above continue.