Tuesday, March 15, 2005

“Wax on… wax off.”

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.


Aldo said...

What's wrong with not connecting with a certain book? It is not uncommon for me to start a book and 50 pages in put it down and use it for a door stop. Other books (and authors) I can't seem to get enough of.

When I'm asked why I didn't like the book, I try to be objective, but it does sometimes come down to taste. Tina, my wife, likes romance, I can't get past the cover. Enough said.

AnswerGirl said...

I don't think the author was taking issue with my liking or disliking the book -- rather, the author thought I had misinterpreted the book's point of view. Which must be horribly frustrating, if you've gone to all that trouble and people STILL don't get it.

I always think of the verse from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: `` I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all''--
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: ``That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.''