Why Books Are Better Than TV (Okay, Sometimes)

Back when I started this blog I thought I would add a post at least every week. Of course work and life got in the way. Right now I am extremely busy, trying to manage multiple projects at once, and recent health problems didn’t help. At the end of a long day the only thing I usually want to do is collapse on the couch and sleep.

Luckily I always keep a pile of books next to my couch. In the past this pile often turned into an accusatory Pile of Shame, staring angrily at me from beneath the empty teacups and files that gradually began to cover it as I left books unread for months. Even though I was proud of my literary background, I felt increasingly guilty about my lack of actual reading. Sure, I read all the time. But it was all work-related. Useful, sure, and necessary too. But I couldn’t remember the last time when I’d been totally emerged in a book. Which is ironic, because it was that experience which got me into academia in the first place.

At some point I decided to read more regularly, and it worked. Reading turned out to be like exercising: once you get into a habit of doing it regularly it will become easier. In addition I’ve always been a big fan of the advice Stephen King offers in On Writing: carry a book with you everywhere and read whenever you can, even if your window of opportunity is just five minutes on the bus home.

Over the past few months or so I’ve discovered a strange trait in myself: I don’t like TV anymore. Sure, I’ll watch the occasional show sometimes and enjoy it. I like films too. And people keep telling me that I should check out some of those series everyone’s talking about. Yet I don’t. The thought of having to catch up on all the series of Game of Thrones seems more daunting that completing my degree. Of course this is a First World-problem, but it’s still an interesting one. Why am I currently reading two books per week while film or TV do not appeal to me?

I think the answer is simple: books are simple. Of course plot lines can be complicated and characters can be difficult, but in the end every book still looks the same: words on paper (I still don’t own an e-reader). When I’m tired moving images and sounds tend to overwhelm me, definitely now contemporary filmmakers often appear to think that the only way to go is to overuse CGI and sound-effects. Books, meanwhile, are quiet. They are reassuringly non-technological. Most importantly, they are fun.

Of course I’m not one of those sourpusses who claim that so-called new media are inferior and I suspect my preferences will change when my lifestyle will change. But right now, for example, I’m reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. The story follows a group of (pseudo)scientists who move into the haunted house of the title in order to unravel its secrets. The novel has been filmed twice, according to Wikipedia, and though I haven’t seen the films I can understand why. Horror tends to work well in visual form and that’s particularly true for haunted houses (The Shining, anyone?). Yet at the same time the fact that I can’t see the house, that it’s up to me to imagine it and its inhabitants, adds to the experience. I’m not even halfway through the novel so I have no idea what will happen once I proceed, but I love how it manages to draw readers (i.e. me) into the rooms of an abandoned mansion, despite the fact that I have been reading much of it outside while enjoying the sunshine. For me that’s an experience that can only truly be conveyed through literature. Stay tuned.


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