Literary feedback loop: Same ol’ books, same ol’ movies

godfatherFROM JASON’S REDUNDANT HOME LIBRARY — Well, it happened again. I grabbed my battered, old copy of The Godfather on the way to the bathroom a couple of days ago, and before I knew it two hours had passed and I was 120 pages in.

It started when I caught a much-edited showing the Coppola’s film on Bravo — it’s one of those films that is a must-watch if I stumble across it while flipping channels. But the Bravo version didn’t end the right way, with Kay (nee Adams) Corleone praying for Michael’s soul.

The more I saw, the more scenes I missed… either those that were edited, or those that never made the script. It’s perhaps my favorite movie of all time (I waffle between The Godfather and Goodfellas, which is strange because I don’t really care so much about mafia as a subject, just the conspiracy of it all).

But there’s none of Vito Corleone’s rise to power in Coppola’s film. You don’t meet Genco Abandando. Almost all of Johnny Fontaine’s story has been excised (which was supposedly all about Frank Sinatra, and Sinatra hated author Mario Puzo for it). Aside from the first scene, there’s nothing more about Lucy Mancini. You don’t get a whole lot about the wooing and turning of ex-cop Albert Neri.

I love those character studies. They are not the focus of the story. They are not the brain of the story. But they are its heart — all the people Vito has pledged to protect and provide for.

My reading binge didn’t stop there. The Godfather was just the ignition point for a terrible habit. I go through re-reads like fire goes through gasoline. I find myself, year after year, returning to the same cache of old hard-bound friends: The Three Musketeers. Breakfast of Champions. The World According to Garp. Dune, The Belgariad, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 2010, Ender’s Game, Robin Hood.

They are familiar. I worry this habit is just childish, escapist regression. I justify it as stress relief, as returning to familiar works that deserve time and attention on a second or third or forty-third reading.

It’s happening with movies, too. I went through a particular rough patch in my life a few months ago, and ended up watching Fight Club every other night or so for two weeks, just because it was looping on G4 and my emotional malaise turned into apathy.

I rarely hit the video rentals these days (though I just finished watching Oliver Stone’s W.). Instead, I opt to watch the animated 1984 Transformers movie endlessly, or to rehash Lucky Number Slevin for the 20th time, or pop in a random Arrested Development disc.

I’m a little paranoid about the habit, I think, because I’m nearing 30 and starting to wonder whether my choices reflect an overall mental slowdown. I find it less and less appealing to pick up an all-new title with its unknown depths. It’s so much more comfortable to go back to those novels to which you already know the ending as soon as you read page one.

Is this a sign that I’ve reached my mental peak? If I am more and more hesitant to absorb new knowledge, new stories, does that mean my cognitive growth is stagnant? Is that the point where I can consider myself old?

And here I thought the middle age crisis was a psychological myth.

By the way, have you heard of Goodreads.com? It’s a list-keeping service that helps track all the titles you’ve ever read, organizing them into databases that can then be cross-references to find new books you might enjoy. You can share and compare your lists with your friends.

Some of mine include:goodreadsI had been wanting to sit and draw out just such a list for a few years, trying to see just what scope and breadth of literature I’ve read. I’m sure I’m missing quite a few, and will continue to flesh out my account as I remember and/or visit the library.

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