The Movie: The Karate Kid, 1984 (Robert Mark Kamen, screenwriter; John G. Avildsen, dir.)
Who says it: Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. Miyagi, a handyman who turns out to be a martial arts master.
The context: Mr. Miyagi orders his pupil, Daniel, to do a repetitive, apparently meaningless task that proves essential to his karate skills.
How to use it: When you’re doing something tedious that’s bound to pay off, eventually. When you say the line, put your hands up at chest level and move them separately, side to side, in the waxing movement.
I don't like this movie. Don't e-mail me about it -- I know it was a life-changing coming-of-age movie for many of you, and a powerful healing moment for post-Vietnam America, and an inspiring tale of fathers and sons, blah blah blah blah blah. I took a screenwriting class where we had to study this script as an example of near-perfect structure, dialogue, and character development. I can acknowledge all of that, and still say I didn't like the movie.
Even so, I have friends who can crack me up with this line (you must also use the hand movements) every time. It's a cultural reference everyone of a certain generation shares.
This morning I got my very first response to one of my capsule reviews... I'm not saying from whom, except that it wasn't Rex Pickett, whose book is the only one I've really slammed (Mr. Pickett is decrescendoing all the way to the bank, and should not care what one blogger thinks of him).
It was a nice note, asking for some further explanation and suggesting that I had misunderstood the author's intent. It was another reminder, although I didn't really need it, that every book is the product of another human being's most personal and heartfelt effort, and should be treated with respect for that reason alone.
Not every book succeeds on its own terms. No book is right for every audience. What I loved most about being a bookseller was matching individual customers up with books or authors I knew they would like -- it was more than matchmaking, it felt like my very own evangelical Ministry of Books.
Every so often, I'd get it wrong, but that was the fault of neither the book nor the reader; it just wasn't a match. Not everything I read is a match for me, either. Sometimes even my favorite authors disappoint me.
It would be fatuous to say this isn't personal, because nothing's more personal, in its distant way, than the relationship between author and reader.
My Friday reviews probably won't change much as a result of this morning's e-mail, but it's given me even more to think about.