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 group 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.
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 If they unearthed an unpublished book by the late James Herndon, whose lovely How to Survive in Your Native Land I’m rereading for the nth time, I’d pick it up in a second.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?