In the last couple of weeks I’ve had the chance to see some popular films, The Hunger Games and Sherlock Holmes, A Game Of Shadows. Fun stuff! In a couple of hours I was taken to different places than I would have ever imagined and saw some incredible movie effects that just can’t be replicated in a book.
Am I making an argument that the movie is better than the book? Eh gad! Wash my mouth out with soap! I am a writer, and I am supposed to think of books as the pinnacle of entertainment, personal development and the next best thing to sliced bread. How can I speak such blasphemy?
I can speak this way because movies can and do provide wonderful entertainment. The film making skills of Hollywood’s entertainment industry gets stronger all the time. Remember when the bullets from The Matrix and the arrow from Robin Hood were enough to have people talking about those special effects for weeks?
And there’s the key. If you read “novelty” where I put “special effects” in the last sentence, you can see that there’s nothing wrong in admiring the skills of movie-makers. I didn’t challenge the story lines, the character development or the personal growth brought on by subtle, moral investigations within the movies. I didn’t talk about the lasting value of having seen the latest entertaining film.
But books have to compete with movies, theatre, music and the ubiquitous television for my time. Even personal computers provide hours of “entertainment.” So are books so old-fashioned one should ignore them and go for the shiny, new technologies popping up with the frequency of tea party bumper stickers?
I say this emphatically because I believe in the long-lasting value of books and reading. When I typed in “benefits of reading” to my search engine this morning, there were 855 million responses. Page after page extolling the benefits – improved memory, reduced stress, better thinking skills, professional development. The list goes on and on. It doesn’t matter if you read fiction or non-fiction, light or heavy topics. The key is to read, read, read.
My question: is reading becoming the vegetable of your entertainment plate?
You know it’s good for you, but is it as much fun as having someone else do all the imagination work for you? Disney’s Imagineers would probably like that. I said at the beginning of this post that the movies I watched recently took me to places I could never have imagined. Hmm…
I read the first Hunger Games book. I didn’t care for the writing and had to keep telling myself that I was reading YA–young adult–and the simple plot was because adult fiction is where you find the intrigue of multiple plot lines and character development. In my mind’s eye I had pictured Catness differently, didn’t see the cornucopia the same way. No, I couldn’t have imagined those things the way the movie showed them. But I saw them in my own way, in my minds’s eye, and that is where my brain was engaged. I was actively participating in the book, while the movie assaulted my other senses.
I read (on the internet-guilt, guilt) that one in four adults in the U.S. read zero books a year. None! Zippo! Twenty-five percent of our adult population admits to this!
And of those who do read, the average amount of books they read a year is four. One book a quarter. And we trust this illiterate population to select our leaders, our senators, congressmen, and presidents? And we still want to claim a world leader position?
Perhaps we could get more people to vote, if we made exciting movies about going to the ballot box. But then we’d probably get into telling them who to vote for. Then elections would be forgone conclusions, based on how entertaining the candidates are, and how much money and film-making skills go into our political persuasions.
Remember Hitler’s Germany? He was a special orator who entertained and engaged the emotions of his listeners. He prepared the population to hate based on his speeches, and he eliminated his competition with book burnings.
I hope books always exist, so that thinkers will always be a great part of our society. And I hope writers will always aspire to engage not only our emotions, but our vision and thoughts with good words:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” –Charles Dickens.
Keep reading. Keep writing, my friend.