By Claire Taylor
I start my mornings with a cup of coffee and the sound of Stockard Channing’s voice.
To fit my writing time into busy days with a young child, I must rely on distractions. So when I got a credit for a free audiobook, I made the most of it and purchased The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection, seven Beverly Cleary titles for the price of none, totaling nineteen hours of reading, all performed by Stockard Channing. My four-year-old listens to these books on a perpetual loop, Beezus and Ramona flowing seamlessly into Ramona the Pest, the Brave, and onward into Forever while he builds block towers and races his toy cars across the kitchen floor. It is heaven apart from the fact that it has forever ruined Beverly Cleary’s books for me.
I grew up on Ramona. I always saw a part of myself in Beezus, the responsible, bossy older sister, both proud of and exasperated by my role. I had a very clear picture of Beezus in my head, and an even clearer one of Ramona: a combination of the most delightful parts of my younger sister and the most obnoxious traits of one of her childhood friends. Both images of the Quimby sisters have now been supplanted by a bizarre amalgamation of every role I’ve seen Stockard Channing play. Ramona is now an unsettling combination of the rebellious Rizzo from Grease coupled with the unabashed whimsy of one the old aunts in Practical Magic. And Beezus is basically a young Abbey Barlett from The West Wing.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Since my son enjoys Cleary’s storytelling, we decided to borrow The Mouse and the Motorcycle and the other books from that series from our local library. I read these books aloud to him at naptime and before bed, and I cannot stop myself from slipping into Channing’s distinct cadence and inflection that I have come to associate with Cleary’s writing. Ralph S. Mouse is just a rodent Stockard Channing in my mind.
The bookshelf above my son’s bed is lined with the colorful spines of the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder: is there any way to read these books now without picturing Daniel Radcliffe as Harry? Someday when I introduce my son to these books, in addition to a more complex conversation about JK Rowling’s abhorrent transphobia and the problematic depictions within the texts themselves, there will be a simpler question of whether it is better to let him see the movies first so I can have a clearer sense of how he is picturing the more upsetting and terrifying moments of Harry’s plight in his mind. Which is scarier: the image of Ralph Fiennes’ serpentine face, or whatever picture of Voldemort my son is able to conjure from his own imagination?
There is plenty to be gained by translating a written work into other creative mediums. For one, it increases accessibility—audiobooks, for example, are a necessary and valuable alternative to print reading—and can bring awareness to work you might have missed in its initial form. I have found my way to a lot of great books by being introduced to them first through film or television. But I do feel a sad nostalgia for all those first readings that I have lost to the popularized images of the characters and settings. I wish I could remember how I pictured the pivotal scene in Ian McEwan’s Atonement the first time I read it (one of my favorite books), but all I can see now is Keira Knightley and that radiant green dress. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind that image at all, but I’m curious to know what picture McEwan’s writing initially created in my mind. And I miss the Ramona and Beezus I grew up with, characters I had built up in my imagination in a way that made them feel like close friends.
Linda Holmes, author of Evvie Drake Starts Over, once tweeted about how she intentionally kept the descriptions of her characters minimal and bit vague, mentioning only a few physical characteristics and focusing instead on clothing style and aspects of their personality because she prefers writing that allows her to project her own images onto characters, sometimes even imaging them as people she knows. I too prefer this style of writing over heavy descriptions that encourage me to picture the character exactly as the author sees them. I like to lose myself in a book, and for me that usually means letting the world of the story unfold and slowly reveal itself in my imagination. If I go in with a clear image already in mind, I can’t help but feel like my reading experience is less immersive.
But in another tweet I saw from Holmes, she suggested Merritt Wever as potential casting for Evvie in a hypothetical film adaptation of the novel, and now, rereading Evvie Drake Starts Over for the third time, it’s all I can picture. I have to admit, though, Wever would make an excellent Evvie and I would love to see this movie. Plus, a story set in a small town in Maine full of warm but matter-of-fact lifelong residents who are, as Evvie directly points out in the book, old and white sounds like a perfect opportunity to cast Stockard Channing.
Claire Taylor is a writer in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lives with her husband, son, a bossy old cat, and an anxious dog who longs to be the cat’s best friend. Claire’s writing has appeared in a variety of publications, and she was a finalist for the 2020 Lascaux Prize in Poetry and winner of the 2021 Serotonin New Year’s Day poetry competition. Her micro-chapbook, A History of Rats, is available from Ghost City Press. Claire is the founder and editor in chief of Little Thoughts Press, a print literary magazine of writing for and by kids. Claire joined Capsule Stories as a reader in March 2021. A selection of Claire’s work is available online at clairemtaylor.com.
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