I have gotten myself into a bit of a bind. On Friday night, I started to read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and continued reading most of Saturday. The novel is set in 1960s Nigeria and during and in the period leading up to the Biafran War, something that I knew almost nothing about.
On Sunday, though, I woke up a little later than normal and was frustrated to find out that my TV (which I almost never watch) was not working. This was due to the fact that I am much less of a geek than one would think from my New Set Up, and I had inadvertently unplugged my TV set and DVD player. So what did I do? I dug up the first season of Lost that my brother had given me months ago and decided to watch one episode (on my laptop), and the next thing I knew, I had a major problem on my hands.
So, here I am caught up between two stories: one is basically irrelevant (the plight of fictional castaways on a mysterious island) and the other is serious (the historical fiction of the real life events that took place in Nigeria some 30 years ago). Now when I get home from work, I struggle to divide my time between the two, alternating one episode of Lost, with one hour of Half of a Yellow Sun.
Both Lost and Half of Yellow Sun are cliffhangers. Lost may lack any real intrinsic value in my life other than simple entertainment, but I am still impressed by cliffhangers in general. I think that one of the most important techniques in literature is the ability to get the reader to want to move on to the next chapter and progress with the story. This is a technique that I don’t know that I would be able to sustain from one page to the next. And Lost has done a wonderful job of keeping my attention, and essentially creating an addiction.
The real problem with Lost, though, is its inability to manage the viewers’ expectations. After a few episodes you realize that the use of suspense has the sole purpose of keeping the viewer addicted and watching from one episode to the next. Thus, they purposely avoid resolving many of the plot twists so as to ensure the series’ longevity over time. If the island’s mysteries were solved and the castaways saved, then the show would be over. But like the girl who refuses to “give it up” to make sure the guy is still interested, eventually she runs the risk that he may tire of waiting and simply throw in the towel. And this is what is happening with Lost. You eventually get the feeling that you are being played with, and lose interest in the characters’ well being. Your interest is lost.
On the other hand, Half of a Yellow Sun alternates between the stories of three main characters and between the early and late 1960s. Besides the fact that the reader is interested not only in the resolution of genocide and war, but also with the fate of the individual characters. The use of suspense is to perpetuate one’s interest in the characters and their feeling of empathy for them. This moves the story to its central theme, rather than simply keeping the story on air.
Furthermore, books have and advantage to TV shows, for they have a definite shape and weight. You can feel the length of the story in your hands and know that it will come to an end, regardless of whether or not it is the one you are hoping for.
Having said this, though, does not resolve the central problem. How do I manage my time between the two? I have already decided that I will not pursue the future Lost seasons. Half of a Yellow Sun will come to an end, and I will move on to other books. But, it is nice to also diversify and enjoy some cheap entertainment now and then also.
And yes, I am twice the loser: one for even watching Lost, and two for never having seen even a single episode of Lost until now. But, I can live with it!