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>Actions Speaking Loudly as Words

>Storming out of a screening of Clerks II, movie critic Joel Siegel hollered “This is the first movie I’ve walked out on in thirty fucking years!” Gosh, I wish I had that option. Unprofessional, but feels so good.

I’m no movie critic, and when Richard and I watch something together I’m amazed by the stuff he sees–he used to work in film and tv. (The glamour jaw-and-name-dropping moment of my life came when his old friend Andy Davis called me and asked whether he should cast Annette Bening or Sigourney Weaver as the Warden in Holes. I went with Sigourney and made history.) Whereas I tend to miss as much as I see–it all goes by so quickly.

We saw The Lady in the Water the other night and he assured me I didn’t miss much, though. It reminded me of the kind of book I’ve wanted to walk out on for the past thirty fucking years–the kind where it seems like the author is making it up as he or she goes along. Like a sculpture you try to finish by just slapping more and more clay onto it, rather than carving away at what you already have. When I read that the movie began as a story Shyamalan told his kids at bedtime (a genesis often stated for celebrity children’s books, too) I shoulda known it would be trouble. As Zena Sutherland told me Ursula Nordstrom used to say, “you could read your kids the telephone directory and they’d be happy.”

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. fusenumber8 says:

    >So here’s the question. I’ve seen the picture book version of Lady In the Water. Which do you hold in more contempt: The movie based on a bedtime story, or the wanna-be-Chris Van Allsburg picture book novelization of that self same tale?

  2. Gregory K. says:

    >As one who has said that the M. Night picture book was not really a celebrity picture book but was merely a writer stretching his writing bones (said on Fuse’s blog, actually), I have to say that I was startled by how far off the mark the book was, at least from my point of view. I, too, would like to hear the opinion from these regions.

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >I didn’t know there was one, and since it was never sent to the HB offices, I’m guessing it was published by Little, Brown’s adult division. Do I HAFTA go and find it (he whined)?

  4. Anonymous says:

    >In addition, there’s a new book about Shyamalan, The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale and the making of this film, which is apparently an exercise in obsequious flattery.

  5. >Hmmm–I have made a concious decision NOT to go to the movie or read the book. Life is too short.


  6. Chris Barton says:

    >And I have decided, retroactively, not to go see The Sixth Sense or any of his subsequent movies.

    Which is made easier by the fact that I, um, haven’t seen The Sixth Sense or any of his subsequent movies…

  7. Gregory K. says:

    >No, Roger, you don’t need to go find the book. Life is too short, as noted. But I just want to note that M. Night is a talented writer, and I’m all for the idea of folks crossing genres or media. And yes, I’ve got a vested interest in that! However, despite a few positive reviews on Amazon, I honestly can’t figure out who the publishers/editors thought this book would appeal to. His own kids loved the story, I’m sure, but Ursula Nordstrom’s right on there. So it’s that disconnect where the frustration lies for me not with a “celebrity writer” trying something new.

  8. Andy Laties says:

    >I thought I made up that idea about reading the phone book out loud (expressively, though, I might add).

    However, as to making it up as you go along, you might be interested to know that Philip K. Dick’s Hugo-award winner, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (1962) was written using the I Ching. During the writing process, Dick cast the yarrow stalks to determine which way the plot should go. Repeatedly. He reached what he knew would have to be the final scene without any idea how the book would end. He was apparently shocked by the instruction he received from the I Ching for the book’s conclusion. The book is set in an alternate universe where Japan and Germany won World War II, and there’s a subversive novel in underground circulation in that world (the novel within the novel is called THE GRASSHOPPER LIES HEAVY, I think), in which the (fictional) GRASSHOPPER author posits a world where Japan and Germany LOST the war. In the final scene of the actual (outer) novel — that is, in the final scene of the real book THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, a reader finally meets the author of GRASSHOPPER, and requests some insight. The author of GRASSHOPPER informs his reader (and this is where Dick consulted the I Ching for the last time) that his (the fictional author’s) book — GRASSHOPPER — is true.

    When Dick received this reading–that his fictional author-character’s book was factually true, Dick apparently concluded, additionally, that HIS book (MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE) was also literally true. That he (Dick) had somehow been guided to create a fairly faithful narrative of an actually existing alternate universe in which Japan and Germany had won World War II. Dick finally admitted, 15 years later, in a speech in France, that he’d been living for many years with the knowledge that OUR OWN regular world is one of many alternate universes. (He called the world he’d discovered where Japan and Germany had won WWII “The Nebenwelt”. Dick’s French audience apparently concluded that Dick was joking with them. He wasn’t joking — he really believed this.

    Dick has become enormously influential. (The adjective coined for his books in Berkeley in the 60s — phildickian — is increasingly applicable to many paranoid books and movies.) I’d suspect that Shyamalan is completely familiar with Dick’s work — and that lots of authors whose work is infused with paranoia and psychosis would argue that “not knowing where the book is going” constitutes a BETTER way of writing than straightforward outlining of plots.

    This also reminds me of the Zen pottery form, Raku Yagi. In Raku, the potter glazes lots of pottery and fires the pieces in a way that results in completely unpredictable outcomes. The streaking and unevenness that result generally produce unpleasant-looking pots. BUT — the potter then SELECTS the one pot among many failed pots which looks TO HIM like it’s gorgeous (or, more accurately, the pot should exhibit Yugen: = Profundity). So — the potter’s editorial process operates against a field of random outcomes.

    What you’re really complaining about isn’t the technique of “not knowing where the story’s going”. You’re complaining about the subsequent editing process being insufficiently critical.

  9. rindamybyers says:

    >Roger, I THINK you need to start the official hornbogwiki! So we can all ventilate into a well-organized database that we can access easily.

    Password protected ventilaros could then have the opportunity to go back and re-read and re-edit the ventialation on differnt topics and re-ventilate if they needed to, just in case we didn’t get it loud enough and clear enough first time round….oooh! I’d LOVE something like ventilate on…

    I don’t need or want to see this’s nice to know my intuition gets validated about things like this though…I’m like to see “Holes” again, re-read that one, compare the two..a more productive way to spend my time… or go and find a movie version of Romeo and Juliet and re-read the play again and have a good cry…..

  10. rindambyers says:

    >hornbookwiki sorry all….very tired today..

  11. >I read my kid the telephone directory, but she said it sucked.

  12. >Er, Andy my dahling, here is where you and I part ways. There are two really equally valid ways to write a book. One is the know-it-ahead-of-time, the other is the fly-into-the-mist. Each type may have some crazed or psychotic practioners, but they should not define the route. Each manner of writing is valid. I happen to be a fly-into-the-mist writer. Love to find out where it’s all going as I gallop along.


  13. Andy Laties says:

    >Hmmm. Lo these many years ago you made an appearance at Printers Row Book Fair which I’d arranged. During the Q&A session, you (humbly, I thought) informed a questioner “I’m not a good writer. I’m a good re-writer” — you proceeded to extoll the virtue of carefully polishing one’s work.

    An in-between position perhaps: Misty in the Morning, Knowing at Night.

  14. Roger Sutton says:

    >I don’t care if it’s Muriel Spark’s alleged “dictation from God” or someone else not deviating an inch from a detailed outline. My point about a book “seeming like the author is making it up as she goes along” was directed to neither the writing or editing process. I don’t care how you write. I’m talking about reading books that wander, wander, wander–how the book came to be that way, whether by distraction or design, is not relevant. To me.

  15. Andy Laties says:

    >”I see,” said the blind man to his deaf wife.

  16. >Ah-we were all talking PAST one another.


  17. Andy Laties says:

    >I had a deaf customer today, right at closing time. There was another family in, from Italy. The Italian family spent an hour in the store, and I spoke with the mother and recommended books — she grew up in New York and wanted to know about the availability of books from her childhood, their publishing history, etc. The dad was keeping the kids from doing too much damage in the shop and seemed kind of impatient. When I announced, 15 minutes after closing time, that the museum was closed and the store was closing, the Italian family got upset because they’d though the museum was open an extra hour and now they wouldn’t get to go into the galleries! They’d been shopping in the store for so long they forgot to visit the galleries. A bit of a dust-up with the rest of the museum staff ensued. When I finally got back to ringing up the deaf woman, she complained to me in barely understandable speech that I was a grumpy man and that she had been waiting patiently while I talked with the other people and now why was I so grumpy about making her leave the store? She was quite upset with me. Of course she hadn’t heard the content of my talk with the Italian family. She didn’t know that I had been dealing with a mini-crisis (they really wanted the staff to let them into the now-locked galleries and the staff didn’t intend to make an exception for them). She thought that I was being unprofessionally grumpy with her.

    I thought about my post here yesterday about the blind man speaking to his deaf wife. The thing about being deaf to what others are specifically trying to say is that you don’t KNOW that you’re being deaf. You think you understand what the other person is saying! So — sorry, Roger, for not reading you carefully in the first place. I guess I just said the stuff I automatically say. (I did apologize to the deaf woman about seeming to be grumpy with her, and assured her that I wasn’t.)

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