I got some weird email this week from someone who follows my Twitter feed @BossyBookworm, and was disappointed when I’d mentioned watching television once too often. As a reader, she said, I shouldn’t even have a tv set! WHAT? How will I know what’s happening on True Blood? How would I see every single minute of the lives of the Kardashians? Or the latest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race?! Not having a television is un-American.
I am a reader, from an early age. I do not remember not being able to read, or having a love of books. Some of the first pictures of me show me with books; either being read to, or reading. Mom & Dad read to me, my grandparents read to me, my older brothers and sisters read to me. And when my baby sister came along, I read to her. We are a family of readers. Books have been with me through everything. I never buy a purse unless it will hold a book–or these days, my e-reader. Somewhere there exists a photo of me, in my wedding dress, an hour before the ceremony, reading a Stephen King novel. I took two books along on my honeymoon, something my then mother-in-law found odd, but those who knew me well weren’t at all surprised by. I am never more than a few feet from reading material. My worst nightmare is not being able to read; going blind, or having no access to words. When I read The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time, the thing that bothered me the most was that these women were not allowed to read.
Yes, I love my books. But I am also a television junkie. I am of the first Sesame Street generation– I was a year old when it first aired, and according to Mom, we were watching. That same year we watched the moon landing on television. Two historical events, both televised, and I don’t remember either. I do remember watching a wide variety of well, variety shows as a child. We watched anything that had music or skits: Carol Burnett was my favorite, but we also watched Lawrence Welk, Glen Campbell, Hee Haw, and the Barbara Mandrell show. Those shows fueled my love of music and drama, and inspired my imagination. I’d write plays that I coerced my friends and relatives into performing. One other show that inspired lots of skits was Rocky and Bullwinkle; something about that made me love melodrama. I wrote a Snidely Whiplash-esque plat for my nieces and nephew. That play is still talked about in our family, mostly because Shelley screamed so loudly and threw her tea cup so far we never found it.
My love of books and television has always been intertwined. One of the first times I recall this happening is with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved the Little House on the Prairie books, and read all of them in second grade. I still have the set my mother gave me for Christmas! The next year the television series based on the books began, and I was a faithful viewer for years, although I often pointed out differences between the show and the books. This set a precedent I still hold to today: if I see a film or watch a tv show and discover it is based on a book, I have to read that book. Or vice versa: if a book has a film or television version, I have to watch it.
Sometimes, this leads to a wonderful discovery, an author I truly like even though the movie might have sucked. I’d never read Agatha Christie until I saw a film version of And Then There Were None; how could I stop once I began reading Aggie, how could I stop? Sometimes, it’s the other way around. The shining example of this for me, as far as movies goes is Forrest Gump. Most people don’t even know it was based on a book, and after reading it, I understand why. That was one of the worst books I’d ever read, and how the funny, touching film came out of it, I do not know. In television, I compare Bones. I love the show, don’t care at all for the books. (They’re better than Forrest Gump, but not my cup of tea.)
I also read Gone With the Wind for the first time because of television. Blame Carol Burnett for that. I remember being blown away (no pun intended) by her famous ‘Went With the Wind’ sketch, even though I had no real idea why parts of it was funny. (Something that happened a lot back than. And happens now, when I watch Comedy Central, but for a different reason.) I found a hardback copy of the book at the library the summer I was 10 and checked it out. It was huge, at least 6 inches thick, and the librarian looked at me oddly, asking if someone as young as I was could read something that big. I assured her I was capable, and trundled it home. Read it all in about three days, mostly sitting in the tree house in our back yard. It’s stayed with me since then, as I eventually saw the movie, and saw Carol Burnett again. Now I understood that curtain dress!
I’ve always loved the interaction of the two. One of my favorite television shows is True Blood, which is based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels. I have read all of her books, and even got to meet her at a reading last year. This is one of those times where a show lead me to an author; I’d never heard of Charlaine Harris until I began watching True Blood. I began reading the Sookie books, which I loved, and then her other novels, which are even better, if not as well-known. Through a television show I love I have been introduced to many books I love. It’s the circle of life.
My current fascination is Dexter. After years of hearing about how great the Showtime series is, I decided to give it a try. I had an ulterior motive, I must confess; the actor who plays Dexter, Micheal C. Hall, was one of the stars of another of my favorite shows, ‘Six Feet Under.’ I love a good mystery or thriller, and I do enjoy books and movies about serial killers. Dexter brings them all together. I am enjoying it, in the twisted way I always do. And to follow my rule, I began reading the book on which the series was based, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay. Happy to say it is just as dark and twisted as the show, maybe even more so. Another circle.
So, I testify that I can be a reader and a watcher. I have a brain, and know how to use it. Which is why I’ve never actually watched the Kardashians.