Read vs Watch – Leave us our printed words.

I love reading. Often more than I love people. Frequent visitors to my blog or those who follow me on Twitter may gauge this by by how often I go on and on about the good books I have read and how much I love them.

The problem with this in a society filled with people who expect instant gratification and instant information with minimal effort – is that a joy that was once shared by millions of people and was the only way in which stories could be passed on and revealed – has now been transformed into another medium. That of film.

But do films and novels give you the same satisfaction? The same information? The same benefits? The answer to that question is a loudly resounding and resonating no. Even when they are based on the same story.

Why? Because with film you are given a version of events, rather than fabricating your own. You are not allowed to come to your own conclusions, but rather given someone elses. In a movie you are told what to think and how to feel and how to envision the characters. In a novel, they are (almost) as much your creation as they are the authors. They live in your head and share the same significances any of your friends or acquaintances do. That’s part of the reason I love reading so much. That’s part of the reason it’s so bitter-sweet when you’re thumbing the last page of the novel. You know their story is partly ending with you.

Turning the pages to a novel is like entering an entirely different world. One in which your first world pains don’t matter. One in which you become deeply entrenched in the story – re-reading sentences that change your life and your perception on it. Just how John Greens ‘The Fault in our stars‘ left me sobbing and with an entirely different idea of what is important, and normal.

One of the only movies I have ever seen that has stayed true to its novel form is ‘The Help.’ A feat that was not easily achieved, but rather ensured through the persistence of the author – Kathryn Stockett – to make sure the film rights were passed on to someone who would stay true to the story. In this case, her best friend.

Other renditions of my favourite books the likes of Time Travellers Wife and Eat Pray Love were heartbreaking to watch. Marring favourite phrases, making favourite characters hateful and plots confusing. Film critic Flossie Topping partially agrees, arguing that it is lazy to make book adaptations for the screen, and that original screenplays are always better.

It’s not entirely the film makers faults of course. Apart from the argument that it is not what we read and therefore not what we expect to watch… The fact that an entire story spanning hundreds of pages and delved into with as much depth as the author wishes to and can muster, must be condensed into an easy to digest one hour and thirty minute film is a task I would not envy.

This is worsened by the thirst for money which makes all these films need to conform to Hollywood standards. Tears, drama and big, big stories. Even if that isn’t the purpose behind the novel. Perhaps what Hollywood should realise is that if the book is a bestseller – it’s pretty obvious we like it that way.

That is not to say that change isn’t good. “Change is the only constant.” But some things should be left sacred, and pure. Technology and the advancement of society have taken so much away. Leave us our printed words.


“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them”. – Mark Twain

“A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend.”

“What you read when you don’t have to determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

“A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.” – Edward P. Morgan


7 thoughts on “Read vs Watch – Leave us our printed words.

  1. i am agreeing here. i personally prefer reading over watching, especially if we are talking about movie adaptations of books. they always come up short, understandably limited by the medium wherein they operate. they have to condense all of the events in the novels in two hours, more or less. but i would also like to view it in this more positive manner: by “adapting” certain novels into films, they recreate the plot, reinvent it, open it to further readings and interrogations for the audience. in that sense, at least for me, i think films expand the horizon by which readers can make sense of the events in the novel. of course i am operating from the post-structuralist idea that we can treat everything as text; everything can be read — from fashion, films, architecture, interior design. etc. but I’ll end with this: nothing beats reading because it is closer to the gut, more real, more tangible; films, they are distant, almost virtual. 🙂

  2. Got torn in all different directions reading this, because picking between film and literature is like making me choose between my two children. I find it hard to say I am more passionate about either one. I think there is a perception among some that film is inherently lazy, but really, that’s only BAD film. And that is particularly of adaptations. Hollywood is suffering from blood loss in the same way the written page is: unorginality and the demon of The Franchise are diseases that has permeated and crippled both mediums. All of it coupled with your note on instant gratification, we are forced to endure things like Transformers II or Adam Sandler movies, while at the same time given Twilight or The Da Vinci Code – some of the worst garbage ever put to paper – and yet those are two of the most bestselling ‘novels’ – and later ‘movies’ – of this century. It is true that original screenplays are genuinely (and generally) better. As a screenwriter AND a writer AND an actress, my devotion does, at the end of the day, belong to the written word. The good parts of all these careers all come down to the same thing: words, whether it’s writing your own or interpreting someone else’s. Films can inspire and trigger and move and crush and delight an audience just as much as a book can, but unfortunately books are going out of fashion, and movies are getting shitter and shitter by the second. I have so many friends who, under the “favorite books” section on their Facebooks, say “dont read lol” or “I HATE READING” and it just depresses the shit out of me. I grew up with Long John Silver and Jo March and Mary Lennox and the Artful Dodger all wafting up from the pages like a perfume. I fell in love with my books. I pity people who miss out on that, but I also become angry with them (which might be my own weakness). There is somehow this stigma attached that says, “reading isn’t cool,” and just, what the fuck. That mentality is everything that is wrong with our generation. And it’s true that movies “do the work” for you, but the vision finally put to screen can sometimes be just as extraordinary as the one in your head. “Atonement,” “Cold Mountain” and “The Constant Gardener” are three examples of films I felt equaled or surpassed their literary counterparts, at the hands of incredibly talented directors who did not compromise on their vision of the original material. Anyway lol I’m rambling again and none of this probably makes sense because I literally just woke up, but love this article. Keep reading and keep writing. xxx

    • Perhaps we should also factor in the fact that our surroundings sort of condition us to lean towards watching rather than reading. Given the advent of this “visual age,” “digital age” what-have-you, Twitter and Ipads and all those things, the youth today, including the young adults, are being drawn to this hyped phenomenon. What I am saying is that we should not just blame these people for preferring movies over books. It’s a two-way thing, 🙂

  3. Although I agree with the sentiment, I have to say my experience differs wildly from what you’re stating here. Films that tell you what to think are BAD films, it’s not the definition of an entire medium, in my opinion. The best films are open ended and present boths sides of any any argument or theme, much like some of the best novels. But some of the best books will deliberately and openly state a conclusion to their theme, leaving you with very little room to manoeuvre.

    Other than that, Hollywood is a business and a business that survives on giving people what they want. I don’t think they’d work if their mindset was on feeding people the opposite. It just so happens that many people are willing to shell out money to see books adapted into films. Some of them even do a good job. Fight Club?

    Technology is one thing, but it’s uses are limited to the repeated patterns of human behaviour. One good thing I can say in it’s favour is… the time it takes me to get my hands on an e-book is significantly shorter than before.

    Thanks for the blog entry.

  4. A great piece! Here’s my take..

    books or films, which is more satisfying? Its an unfair question in a way because objectively judging a story as represented in the opposing mediums of literature and movies is impossible. Depending on which one you consume first, your perspective on the latter will be distorted by the yardstick which is created by the first. There are many books that I have read that have a corresponding movie. ‘The Sicilian’ by Mario Puzo was a book I loved when I was younger. It had the Mafia life that I first came across in the godfather and the characters felt as real as flesh and blood. By the end of the book it was real anger I felt at the betrayal and real sadness I felt for the tragedy. That level of emotional attachment was not there when I watched the movie and I felt that the actors on screen did not measure up to pictures I carried in my head.

    Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre, a great spy thriller set to the backdrop of the struggle between so called Palestinian terrorsists and Israel’s secret service. Another really good book that didn’t translate well when turned into a film for me.

    ‘There will be blood’ and ‘The departed’ are two of my favourite movies, made great I feel by the dialogue delivered through amazing acting. I expect that they are also fine books but would the films have struck a cord with me so deeply had I read the words on a page first. Books are dear to me, they usually leave a deeper footprint than the films I have seen but I will always give a good film the time of day.

    The mediums of expression are many: I have read graphic novels that have moved me (V is for Vendetta, Watchmen), I have watched emotional cartoons ( Disney’s ‘Up’, ‘Full Metal Alchemist’) and I have sat through inspiring documentaries (HBO’s Koran by heart, Bobby Fischer against the world). There is a tendency to put books on a pedestal, above all other forms of information. The truth is that style and content does not discriminate when it manifests in great art. I am simply glad any time I have the fortune to come across good art that carries a good message.

  5. This blog is quintessentially subjective and takes as a given that each individual will process information in the some way. I can cite many examples where film has taken the material of a novel and made it much more “alive” and “immediate” than print–The Royal Shakespeare’s
    “Nicholas Nickelby” comes to mind as does the superb 1951 adaptation of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” starring Alastair Simm. Brando brought Vito Corleone to life more powerfully than Mario Puzo drew him in the novel and John Casale’s “Fredo” was far better portrayed on film than in the novel.

    Finally, perhaps if Mark Twain could have seen “All About Eve”, “Citizen Kane”, or “To Kill A Mockingbird” he might have had a different attitudee towards film than you suggest by the quote attributed to him.

  6. Pingback: The Perks of Being a Wallflower | Film Review | moorizZLA Says

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