So there’s me, posting yet another photo of a paperback nestled next to a cup of coffee, but I find myself distracted by a particular comment. It said:
Would you rather read a book, or sit and watch the movie version?
It’s not exactly a groundbreaking comment or anything, but as the day went on, I found myself thinking about it a little more. While the usual reaction is to say “yes, of course”…I couldn’t help but feel a nagging feeling that there were more than one exceptions to the rule.
In case you didn’t know, I’ve read an awful lot of books in the last eighteen months. It’s crept up to a level where I’d wager it rivals the time I dedicate to movies in any given week. By that, I just mean to establish that I’m every bit the bibliophile that I am the cinephile these days.
But would I always reach for a book over watching a movie?
On the one hand, it’s not really a fair comparison. Most often, my books keep me company as I go back and forth through my working week. They illuminate my subway rides, allow for a respite during the lunch hour, and turn any sliver of downtime – like the wait for a friend at a restaurant table – into a moment for enriching entertainment. Where these moments used to be spent using my phone to distract, they are now spent consuming a versatile form of art. (Note: No offense if you happen to be reading this on your phone during a moment of distraction).
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I could watch films during these moments. I could carry a tablet and headphones with me and soak-up a scene or two. I could dedicate myself to shorts, or films that compartmentalize nicely into chapters, but a big part of the reading is a respite from screens…not an effort to direct my eyes at a different type of screen.
So in these parses of time, it’s not as fair to say “I’d rather” than it is to say “It’s better”. It becomes the question that I answer the question with: ‘Am I sitting around at home, or am I on-the-move?’
So, argument over, right? Not so fast.
Last week, I tore through a book that’s been something of a pop culture phenomenon the last few years. If you have a brick-and-mortar bookstore nearby, I promise you the bright read cover has stared you in the face just steps inside the door for a good long while now. The title is “Me Before You” by JoJo Moyes, and in just a few weeks the film version will be unleashed upon us all.
Now I did enjoy this book, but when the dust settled I found it “only okay”. I might get deeper into it in my film review, but in a nutshell I got to a point where it became pretty darned clear how the story would end. At that point, it becomes more about the journey than it does the destination…and that’s where I wished it was a movie.
When it comes to stories that aren’t my bread and butter, I find I take more from the film versions than I do the books. I’m thinking specifically of “The Notebook”, “The Fault in Our Stars”, and even “Mockingjay” to a certain extent.
On paper, these stories wouldn’t dig their claws into me all that deeply. I’d get to the end of them and think “Well, that was nice”…but that’s it. That’s not to suggest that any of them were bad, just that they weren’t for me.
Adapting them into films however allowed me to get lost in acting, photography, direction, and music to name but a few. Just the same, if it’s a selection that’s over my head – one where I’d find the prose or the style tough to stay with. Having an adaptation allows me some training wheels and I get deeper into it than I would on the page.
In such instances, I do, in fact, prefer the film to the book. Again, it brings me a question to answer the question with: ‘Which book-to-movie are we talking about here?’
So at the end of it all, it’s hard for me to align myself staunchly with either side of the debate. It’s hard to deny that from the perspective of monetary investment, I get more back from a $15 paperback than I do from the average $13 Friday night movie. To that end, I can certainly understand why many think nothing of investing $80 in a video game.
Sure, books are often better than the films they inspire due to the nature of the two formats…but that’s not an absolute. Anyone who’s ever read “Children of Men” and then watched what Cuaron adapted it into would see an example of this.
Even when it comes to some of my very favorites, the choice is hard. Would I rather watch HIGH FIDELITY or read Nick Hornby’s novel? Would I rather read Mary Shelley or watch Boris Karloff bring her monster to life? I don’t know…how much time do I have?
Like so many things I examine, I think the trick to it all is balance. One should never be afraid of the depth, texture, and expanse any story is afforded on the printed page. But to deny those qualities exploration in another media just because “I’d rather be reading” could well be denying one’s self a portal into a story they otherwise might not explore.
So would I rather read than sit and watch? Sometimes yes, but it can be just as much fun slipping in the bookmark from time to time and watching the story come to life.