The Tangled Webs Lit Weaves

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you find out you have the opportunity to do something totally awesome, but just won’t allow for? It’s like getting your acceptance letter to Hogwarts only to be told, “Actually, that was late in the Owl Post, and you’re one day too old to go now. So. Yeah. Oops.”

I had one of those today! As we who love awesome YA lit know, Martin Scorcese’s Hugo comes out in theaters tomorrow, based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by writer / illustrator extraordinaire Brian Selznick. Well, the Museum of Moving Images in NYC had an advance screening tonight with Selznick and screenwriter John Logan in attendance to do a presentation and Q&A discussion before the movie. Flavorpill had a giveaway, and yours truly unexpectedly won. Unfortunately by the time I found out, I couldn’t grab a train in the city to get there on time. Thus, not only did I miss the opportunity to get a book signed by the wonderful Mr. Selznick, but I feel doubly horrible because the unfortunate timing means I potentially cheated another eager fan out of the opportunity to experience such a wonderful event. For this, I apologize to the world at the large, and hope karma doesn’t back and smack me too too badly in the future.

But reading about the event, and the movie itself, did make me realize just how entrenched in the cinematic tradition Hugo Cabret is. See, not only is the film about early French cinema (which, for those unaware, is the ancestor of all the Hollywood classics and not-so-much-so films we have today), it’s also by an author directly associated with classic American film (Brian Selznick is the descendant of the great David Selznick). And once I knew that, it raised all sorts of interesting ideas about the stories of stories.

For example, now that I have that context for Hugo Cabret, I feel as if it enriches the literary experience, as is there’s some new innate truth to it because of the fiction’s association to the reality of an art form I greatly enjoy. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that’s possible with every book, but knowing the time, the attitude—in other words, the sensibilities—alter my understanding of the work itself. Its like the extra information is a freakish spider web that has the potential to bog down the work it affects, or, inversely, to become trapped itself, embedded in the affected work and enriching that story as a result. For example, reading news articles about the 1970s and then reading Tom Perotta’s Bad Haircut, or looking at the work of modern illusionists and then watching examples of older magic in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

Have you had experiences like that with your YA lit? Or lit in general? What were they? And do you think having that information is good, bad, or irrelevant?

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