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R.I.U. (Down With Books)

I’m writing this to go on the record with my campaign for postliteracy. I keep having to explain it again and again to people; perhaps they need it written down — I for one can process the spoken word and remember it, but that’s me.

Here it is in a nutshell: I don’t read books.

I don’t like reading books, I don’t want to do it anymore, and I’m adult so I don’t have to. I quit reading books just about one year ago, and I have to say: it’s been great. Better than great. I don’t miss them at all.

Some people (stuffy, English-literature-types mostly — you know the kind) seem to have a problem with this decision. It bothers them. It doesn’t affect them one iota, but it bothers them. I hear everything from disbelief to fear to shock to anger whenever it comes up. That’s puzzling in and of itself, particularly since the more stuffy the person the more likely they are to have a chip on their shoulder about how they don’t watch television.

Of course, when you boil it down, feeling better about yourself because you don’t watch television is a pretty shallow illusion of self-righteousness. Most of us know that. But what’s more troubling is the underlying notion some otherwise normal people hold that some forms of media are inherently better than others.

This is absurd both in general and in specific cases. To suggest that one medium is always better than another is easily disproven, and to suggest that it is “usually” better is empty.

Having had this discussion more than once, after a few coutnerexamples what you’ll end up with from the book-hugging crowd is one of two things, either “I usually like books better than I usually like television” — which is fine with me as long as you agree to be fine with the opposite in exchange — or some sort of vague, historical argument that hinges on how many more “great” books there are (you know, “how can you say you don’t like Huckleberry Finn???”) and how long people have been writing them.

Now there’s a problem: if books are better than more recent media simply because of the timeframe in which they were invented, then books and other written media are easily trumped by the spoken word. I.E., if reading books > watching TV, then hearing sermons > reading books and hearing stand-up comedy > reading books. And wait: what about watching stand-up comedy on TV?

Clearly illogical. Proudly I say, “Books: who needs em? Not me!”

So please, don’t recommend books to me, and though I am happy to hear about your summer reading list, I’m not going to pick up anything on it.

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3 Comments - Join in the conversation below »

  1. good points. i’m pro-books but that doesn’t mean you have to be. i would like to say what it is that i like so much about books (specifically fiction and literature) and why i think they have value in comparison with other types of media.
    it’s the best way to get inside someone else’s head. this can be done with movies and tv, but i think it works most effectively when written. this is not merely books, it goes for all sorts of written media, such as blogs.
    next up, books tend to be longer than a thirty minute sitcom or a webpage. thus, you have more time to develop characters, plot, setting, etc. the story can become richer and more complex. it can also become simply longer and more boring.
    so those are two big reasons why i still find a place for books in this day and age.

    Comment by janet — August 15, 2005 @ 10:43 pm

  2. Again, I would say that it’s possible to get inside someone’s head in any medium. The pitfall that many anti-multimedia folks seem to fall into is comparing a good book to a bad movie.

    So sure, monologues in a book are better than voice-over narration in a movie, but primarly it’s a waste of screen space.

    On the other hand, since we’re citing examples, I’ve found that the most praised acting performances are frequently the ones where actors convey a lot nonverbally. There’s no verbal parallel to the expression on Liam Neeson’s face when he sees the red dress the secodn time in Schindler’s List.

    Apocalypse Now couldn’t even be adapted into a book; so much of what makes it great is nonverbal. Stanley Kubrick thrived on ambiguity — is Jack Nicholson possed by ghosts or simply insane in The Shining? Leaving the answer to that question ambiguous is far better done visually than verbally; visually the director and actors can show us somethig without commenting on it — verbally an author has to pick words to describe it, and the words limit what we can think.

    As to the length issue, I don’t think a sitcom is analagous to a book. Five years of the Sopranos, on the other hand, constitutes far more time to develop characters and story. If you compare apples and oranges, you at least need ot choose examples of the same size.

    Last but not least … well, no, I guess it is easily least as well, I find it very amusing that many people repeat the maxim that books adapted into movies are always a step down. Why? Because when you think about it, movies adapted into books are generally far, far worse.

    Comment by Nate — October 5, 2005 @ 11:44 pm

  3. A few points.

    When books are adapted into movies, something is usually lost. Using The Count of Monte Cristo as an example, the reason the movie was not as good as the book is because were it to include all the depth and complexity of the text, it would have to have been about 15 or 20 hours long. Obviously there is something there that is not making it to the screen and that you are missing if you do not read the book.

    Second, perhaps the real reason that books which are based on movies are worse than movies made from books is because the writers who are enlisted to write the books are inferior. If one could get Dumas to write the Mission: Impossible novelisation, perhaps one would end up with a better product.

    Of course actors are praised for communicating non-verbally. But do you have any suggestions for how writers could emulate that? Of course not. Because writing is a strictly verbal medium. As a result, it is far more challenging medium to master. A better comparison to books would be radio, but even then one still is left with tonal inflections which cannot be as simply communicated on a page.

    The Shining was of course a book before it was a movie. Are you saying that the book did not adequately present the ambiguity, or are you arguing that point without having read the book?

    And movies are just as limiting, if not more so. When one reads a book, all the inflections and pacing of speech are what one makes of them oneself. Once they are captured on film, we are locked into what the director and actor think they should be. When reading a book, we are free to imagine the details of any scene, any face, any object as we please. But once on film, the face of the actor replaces the face of our imagination. Tragically, Orlando Bloom is now the face of Legolas.

    Finally, you are of course free to stop reading books. I do, in fact, look down on that decision. But ultimately, you probably won’t hurt anyone but yourself.

    Comment by Bob — March 16, 2006 @ 2:05 am

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