#78. Read a book in translation from a language and/or culture that you know relatively little about

IDEA #78. Read a book in translation from a language and/or culture that you know relatively little about. You could even try a graphic novel or a comic book.

A good many of the books that children in Western society enjoy these days started out in languages other than those that dominate, and in recent decades publishers seem to be falling all over one another presenting collections of folk tales for children from cultures around the world. This kind of introduction to multiculturalism may inspire a larger world-view, but it order to sustain that view it is necessary to continue to feed the mind with even more words and ideas whose place or origin is unfamiliar.

Fortunately publishers and librarians have seen the need, and so there is a broad choice of works in translation for readers of all ages. That said, two trends in contemporary book publishing may have at least in part the effect of negating their own multicultural benefits.

One is a focus on the “exotic” that can have the effect of representing unfamiliar cultures as so “other” or alien as to be unknowable—or worse, somehow less “sophisticated” or even capable. This can be downright dangerous, as it can support stereotypes that drive wedges between cultures (and present some as “less” than others) rather than underscoring the commonality of the human experience. The point of this exercise is to underscore the richness in the varieties of ways that peoples have responded to the natural and political circumstances of their time and place. Translated and published properly, the literature of an unknown culture can be illuminating in multiple ways. Done badly, the opposite is true: a poor version of The Odyssey can make even the ancient Greeks look silly.

A second trend is the focus on the lurid and the violent, particularly in some of the “graphic novels” from Japan that are increasingly prominent in American bookstores. These extended comic books, called manga in their more popular forms, can be playful, amusing, and even instructive (for one thing, many editions are direct translations, and the panels and pages read from right to left, a cross-cultural delight in iteslf). Some series, however, focus on conflict and antisocial behavior that may not only give the wrong impression to younger readers. As in all cases where a youngster is venturing into cultural unknowns, parental guidance would be in order here.

If, however, the reader is simply discovering the joys of literature in translation—many mystery series, for example, have come into English from other languages—let the enjoyment and the pleasurable immersion into other ways take their course.

#58. Try selling a work of art or literature that you have created

IDEA #58. Try selling a work of art or literature that you have created. The internet or your public library will have resources on how to sell your writing and illustrations, or perhaps a local art store will be willing to give you advice about marketing a painting or a piece of sculpture.

This activity combines the challenges of creativity with the sometimes greater challenge of finding a market for one’s art. There are vast numbers of low-circulation poetry and literary magazines that will accept work submitted by amateur or unknown authors (usually, alas, without payment, but look hard), and there are probably at least as many magazines, books, and websites dedicated to publicizing ways for authors to get work published. The chances are good that your public library will have at least one of these “how to sell your work” books, which may also have information on selling illustrations and fine art work to the same kinds of literary magazines.

There may be other markets closer to home. Some small-town or community newspapers will happily accept fiction, poetry, and even art work from local creators. There may even be local or regional literary magazines whose existence is unexpected; the library might be a good source of information here.

As far as the marketing of visual art goes, many communities have summer arts fairs where local artists can show and sell their work. Some of these are juried—that is, artists are selected by a committee to participate—but some are open. There is likely to be at least one art dealer nearby who might be persuaded to handle good-quality work by a rising young local talent, or there is always the equivalent of the lemonade stand: put up a booth on the curb.

If the youngster has a few friends with creative urges and a pile of poetry or paintings, why not suggest that they pool resources and publish their own literary magazine or start their own gallery? A few advertisements from local merchants or friends would pay to photocopy a few dozen copies, which could also be sold. Or perhaps a local business has a small spare room that could become gallery space. And there’s always a website: many blogsites are free and could be used to post poetry, short stories, or paintings or photographs, although it’s hard to make money on a blog.

It is easy to find people who will maintain that art does not pay, and often they are correct. But an ambitious artist (and friends) might be able to raise at least a few dollars in the art market, and along the way there will be opportunities to learn about both the creative self and the art market.

#47. Find and read the book that is the basis for a film that you have liked

IDEA #47. Find and read the book that is the basis for a film that you have liked. Find someone else who has read the book and engage them in a serious discussion about the differences between the book and the film; it’s not just about which is “better.”

It is no secret that many popular films are based on books, but in a surprising number of cases the books tend not to have been best-sellers, even if the movies become blockbusters. Or the books may be “classics” that have attracted the creative imagination of a director.

In all events, if you saw and enjoyed a film based on a book, why not pick up and read the book on which it is based? Several recent film series have been based on the fantasy novels of J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling, for example, and anyone who has not ventured into the Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter stories will be well rewarded. In these cases book sales have benefited from the films’ popularity, so the reader will be able to find plenty of fellow-readers with whom to discuss the books; happily, this sales synergy between film and book often occurs.

The differences in story-telling technique between book and film are of course a subject in themselves. Not only do length, scope, and number of characters play a role, but sometimes a filmmaker will choose to take a point of view in the telling that may differ from that of the author of the book. (Such differences sometimes create real friction between writer and director, but for audiences these differences can be a source of interest.) There are examples of short stories expanded to full-length films and lengthy novels compressed to a couple of hours, often with vast amounts of plot stripped out for brevity’s sake. Both art forms, film and writing, impose certain disciplines on artists, and it is in reflecting on these disciplines and how they manifest themselves when a book is adapted for film that the young viewer can sharpen analytical and critical skill.

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