Dec 7, 2008: Let us consider, for a moment, Moby Dick. Herman Melville’s masterpiece is perhaps one of the greatest examples of the classic novel: it is an epic journey ending against the White Whale; wonderfully written, wonderfully formed. Moby Dick’s crowning achievement is its ability to stretch the long form medium to its very limits. Melville included whole chapters on the anatomy of the sperm whale and spent equal amounts of time on his own classification of the beasts. It’s a classic, sure, but here’s my question: will it ever translate properly to the screen?
I have believed for some time now that novels are not meant to be ported whole into the digital format. These are two different mediums we’re talking about: the novel allows you to do some things; the Internet provides you with different liberties. Both mediums also come with different sets of rules. I have, for instance, broken one of the basic tenets of Internet writing: don’t quaffle, and get the basic gist of what you’re trying to say in the first paragraph. Oh I’ve been naughty, by gum.
Snowplow Extra is a book. It belongs firmly to the realm of the dead tree, and even then probably at the top of a slush pile. I’m saying top because it’s not without its charms: Wes Boyd writes well, he writes plenty, and his stories are firmly set in a real world. It’s in the slush pile because it’s not particularly publishable: in these dark times the only way a publisher might pick it up is if Wes has had some connections in the old boy network.
I want to like Wes Boyd, and I want to like his stories, but here’s my problem: Snowplow Extra isn’t made to be read on a screen.
I have had several questions I’ve posed to myself throughout writing this review. Some of them are difficult. Firstly, was Moby Dick only popular because not many people were writing back then? Does it affect its value if it was published in this cynical day and age? And, secondly, if Moby Dick was a blook, and I was reviewing it, would I give it a higher rating than 3? We have to remember that Moby is a classic – it’s one of the cornerstones of American literature, for God’s sakes – and to give it anything less than a 3 would be blasphemy.
And yet I would. I can bear with reading Moby Dick on a train, or in a clinic, waiting for my turn to see the doctor, but the problem here is that we’re talking about the computer screen. And when you’re reading on a screen certain things go flying out the window – you aren’t likely to sit through a pedantic, stuffy first chapter when you’ve got email a button away, no matter how promising the reviews about that book are.
Snowplow Extra is such a work. I’m fairly certain it can get published, given the right connections, and it’ll be far better in page form than on the screen. But my job here is to tell you if it’s worth your time. And I conclude: no, it isn’t. The patience to enjoyment ratio, particularly on screen, isn’t worth it.
A novel is one thing; the web page another. Both are different mediums. I hope Snowplow finds it niche audience, if it can, but I have to admit this: the sooner Wes turns his considerable talents to the screen, and not the logbook, the better. Till then.
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