Jenny Sawyer Reads So You Don't Have To
The great thing about books used to be their creepy paradoxical nature. The book, humblest of objects, its name printed on its spine because it always needs to be stored in the most efficient way rather than proudly displayed, made space for. If you had read a great book, you had to have spent at least twenty of your good hours in silence and isolation; you were definitively alone. And yet if someone else had spent those same isolated hours -- read the same book -- you felt a special connection with them. You had both done something absurd and dreamed the same dream as a result. It was as arbitrary and exciting as being someone's brother or cousin.

Fortunately, all that is over now that quirky, interesting English major Jenny Sawyer is recording sixty-second recaps of 1,000 classic works of literature so that people who don't like to read will develop B.F. Skinner-style associations between Jenny Sawyer and Pere Goriot.

"Everyone should be allowed to at least know that literature can be beautifully relevant to their own lives â€" and not just because they want to get a good grade in school, but because it has a transforming power," she says. "It has messages that can affect, for the better, our relationships with our peers (or) with North Korea." North Korea? A grandiose idea, she concedes, but "ultimately it all comes down to 'How do you deal with really obnoxious, frightening personalities?' Well, Jane Austen had the answer to that.

She sure did! Tolerate them with pleasant sarcasm, knowing that in truth you are superior, even if your society will never recognize this and reward you for it, until you are safely married to a wealthy man who is also arrogant enough to keep up with you! That's how we need to deal with North Korea!

Basically this is a well-meaning idea, but with a terrible approach. Why? What is Jenny Sawyer giving away in her videos?

Each book gets an "album" of at least 10 videos laying out plot, main ideas, themes, symbols â€" not quite CliffsNotes but "something that's going to help them understand what they're getting into."

In other words:

plot spoilers
main ideas distortions
themes vague references to social problems
symbols people who read for "symbols" are either crazy, sentimental, or obsessed with proving they are better than you; they don't really like books or anything

In other words:

all of us secretly want to make the exact things we do in order to earn an English major — staring at books until we see patterns and then describing those patterns in double-spaced essays — into some kind of viable commercial product; Jenny Sawyer figured out how

I can't help but imagine that the script for every single one of these videos will start with "Okay, so, there's this guy" or "there's this girl." I would like this plan if Jenny Sawyer would ditch the homework-help approach and just say what is actually interesting about these classics, i.e:

"You should read Moby Dick because it's about a crazy sea captain attempting to murder God, and the people who help him."

"Great Expectations is about how even if that girl in your class doesn't like you and never will, if you save the life of a criminal then one day he'll rain wealth upon you."

"The Scarlet Letter is about how if you have sex in a small town in Puritan America, you will give birth to a demon child who will help you somehow."

The videos would be best if Jenny Sawyer did not aim to be a cool "big sister" or "the smartest kid in your English class", but rather a girl wearing some kind of threadbare sweater, sitting on a sink that is coming off of the wall, huge cracks growing in the plaster. She doesn't ever look at the camera and she seems like she's afraid of finding just the right word. She is probably smoking some kind of cheap cigarette -- or rather she is lighting them, staring at them, forgetting them and letting them burn out. She says a name: "Amory Blaine." She says it again, and again. "Amory Blaine. Amory... Blaine." She shakes her head. She starts crying. The camera fades to white.

But then again that would also probably be this Jenny Sawyer:

In a society increasingly steeped in moral relativism, it's not the Harrys of the world who will make a difference. It's the Snapes. It's those who need redemption, then choose it. It's those willing to press on and fail and then to press on again â€" especially when there are no clear answers. — Christian Science Monitor

So forget it; let's figure out a different way to commodify girls who like books.

Posted by future on Wed, 09 Sep 2009 21:45:21 -0400 -- permanent link

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