No Buzz

How do you choose which books to read and which movies to see?

All of us are probably somewhat susceptible to “buzz”–the blaring ads and TV talk-show promos and mentions on National Public Radio that make us think we have to see or read a particular work. My book groupĂ‚ just read Wild, for example, the best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed, partly because of its buzz. Oprah liked it! It was okay, most of us thought, but maybe not deserving of hoopla. This sort of noise often drowns out the quiet music of smaller works, lacking big budgets and gargantuan publicity departments.

Paul Brannigan

I’m thinking specifically of The Angels’ Share, a new film by British director Ken Loach. We saw it last night at the Cedar-Lee Theater in Cleveland Heights, where it’s doing little business. Loach, born in 1936, is a venerable, celebrated director, but he usually makes small-ish movies, often with non-professional actors, like Paul Brannigan, the lead in this one, who does a remarkable job.

The Angels’ Share is a suspenseful heist movie and a broad, bawdy comedy. It’s full of coarse language (or “course” language, as the theater warned us) and has a leftish political slant, as does its director. It’s very entertaining. Unfortunately, though it will do okay worldwide, it won’t play here long. No buzz.

We saw it because my husband subscribes to the auteur theory of filmmaking, meaning, in plain English, that the director creates the film, so when a great director makes a movie, it’s worth seeing. Last week, we saw To the Wonder for similar reasons. We both love director Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, as well as his other films, and so we saw his new film with no hesitation. It’s arty and challenging, but also gorgeous and moving.

Similarly, I’d read any book by Annie Dillard, Phillip Lopate, Ann Patchett, or David Sedaris. If they unearthed an unpublished book by the late James Herndon, whose lovely How to Survive in Your Native Land I’m rereading for the nth time, I’d pick it up in a second. I want to read those writers, no matter the subject. Even though I might not like their new offerings, I’m interested in keeping up with them.

What about brand-new or unfamiliar directors and authors? you may ask. Well, then you have to rely on word-of-mouth and reviews. Enough people have told me, for example, that I would like Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, that I believe them and intend to get to it this summer. I just read my first Don DeLillo novel, White Noise, based on its stellar reputation, which I didn’t like at first but ended up admiring very much.

So, tell me. Do you read any and all mysteries, science fiction, or graphic novels? Are you attracted by book covers or blurbs on the back? Do you see any movie starring Vin Diesel, Meryl Streep, or Johnny Depp? How do you choose?

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7 Responses to No Buzz

  1. joanne says:

    Other than books chosen by our book group, I mostly rely on the rtecommendations of friends. Kathy, you recommended The Beginner’s Good-bye by Anne Tyler and I liked it – warm and a little quirky.

  2. Kathy says:

    I just read an interview with LeCarre that made me think I should read him. I think I’ll put him on my summer list!

  3. Sarah Becker says:

    Anything by LeCarre–and he just came out with a new one! I refuse to read a book review of it, because I have to read it anyway and I don’t want to spoil it. My husband, Sidney, and I are going through DCI Banks mysteries by Peter Robinson–anything by him is well worth reading. My local library’s book club is steering me to treasures I would not have found by myself. Especially wonderful is Arcadia, by Lauren Groff. Run, do not walk, to your local bookstore (or ebook supplier) to get this great modern classic.

  4. Kathy says:

    Jewel–I plan to read the Billy Lynn book. And we should respond to covers–that’s what they’re designed for!

  5. Kathy says:

    Mary–We didn’t perceive a dark view of women, America, marriage, or God. That’s what makes movies fun, I guess. At least it was thought-provoking and gave you something to talk about!

  6. Mary says:

    Hello Kathy, we saw “To the Wonder” the other day and while very thought-provoking and grist for a lot of conversation, I felt like I had been beaten up and run over by the time I came out of the theater. I liked Malick’s previous movie very much. This one sent me googling to try to figure out what is wrong with the guy and why he is so mean to his viewers! Really dark view of women, marriage, America, “god” and relationships based on lust. Views of Mt. St. Michel and Paris did, however, make me want to go back to Paris and to visit Mt. St. Michel. I did really like Javier Bardem. How do I choose? hard to say, but lucky to have two “Landmark” theatres in walking distance and good films to choose from…I liked “Wild” and did not know it was an Oprah pick until after I had read it and given a copy to a young man who walks the Appalachian trail. (then I sent him an apology and a disclaimer.) I saw and heard the author speak at my local bookstore. She was dynamite. ok, post is getting long….

  7. Jewel Moulthrop says:

    Like you, I have favorite authors. I’ll read anything that Richard Ford, Richard Russo, Ian McEwan, Penelope Lively, and Jon Krakauer writes. I grieve for the loss of William Styron, and despair that there will never be another book by Jane Austen. Just finished reading “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Ben Fountain, and loved it. I’m attracted to National Book Award winners, and I’m not above judging a book by its cover–is that too shallow?

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