Stalled in Nostalgia

"Why Read the Book When You Can See the Movie?": The Death of Reading

Last year during Thanksgiving, I was sitting at the dinner table at my grandma’s house, devouring yet another slice of bread and butter while she catered to the endless sea of Italian relatives, when I overheard a conversation between my great uncle and a young boy, who was poking away at colorful dots on the screen of his Kindle Fire.

“A Kindle Fire, eh?” said my (not actually Canadian) uncle. “What books do you have on there?”

Without averting his eyes from the screen, the child, who could not have been more than 13, responded: “Please. I don’t read books on here.”

My heart shrank three sizes that day, reaching a point achieved only once before when Harry Potter ended. The reason why was not so much that I was upset at the misuse of technology (go ahead, wear your Xbox 360 as a hat, I don’t care) but rather at the emphasis placed on “books,” as if the mere suggestion of reading was a personal insult to his character. When did this become the case? When did reading turn from a sign of intelligence and creativity into a chore, a burden, or even a source of embarrassment?

While I can’t blame this problem on the media entirely, I also can’t say all forms of entertainment are harmless. Take the book-to-movie trend, for example. As a general rule, people like books not because of how well an author can describe a red wheelbarrow but because of what the description means, the deeper message that lies beneath the story. But when a book so jam-packed with meaning like The Great Gatsby hits the big screen and you cannot dissect every sentence with your English teacher to understand that the green light is not JUST a green light, the story becomes merely a collection of scenes, void of the thought-provoking and personal nature that makes reading so unique. Books are for the mind; movies are for the eyes.

And yet, as we breed a generation of movie-goers who opt to take the film route because “why read the book when you can just wait for the movie,” we wonder why Jersey Shore and its counterparts that lack substance, that lack meaning, continue to grow in popularity. Kids now don’t want you to read about orange people that live in some alternate universe where work means dating everyone in your house at once while spouting profanity at every given opportunity. They want you to provide the visuals. They want you to hand it to them on a platter and feed it to them like servants feed grapes to Gods. Imagination is too much effort.

I’m not saying cinema and television are the works of the Devil. Without them, we would not have Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Matt Damon or any of the other blond-haired, blue-eyed demi-God celebrities. (If they didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have anyone to plaster pictures of all over my walls so movies are kind of essential to my whole being.) All I’m saying is that kids should not want to only watch movies simply because it requires less brainpower. When that happens, you start finding Facebook profiles that say “I dun reedzz” under the book section and “Charlie Sheen” under “inspirational people.” Kids should be excited to get a new novel for Christmas/Hannukah/Christmakah or crack open the newest book in their favorite series (if they even have a favorite series to begin with). I don’t just want them to read. I want them to want to read. Is that so much to ask?

Perhaps I’m part of a dying breed, one who values books over movies and would rather not watch her favorite characters trickle through the book-to-movie-to-video-game cycle until they are transformed into nothing more than pixels on a screen. But perhaps not. Maybe this lull in reading is a momentary lapse of judgement on humanity’s part, a side effect of the booming age of technology that attracts us like bugs to a flame or like swag to Will Smith. Maybe kids will get tired of pricey movie remakes or empty television shows and get back to the simple pleasures like the smell of a freshly purchased book or the midnight premiere of a story about wizards. Maybe someday, kids will even read books on Kindle Fires. We can only hope that reading will make a comeback in the future.

May the odds be ever in our favor.

Image via Shutterstock

  • Liz Craig

    Amen! I am also in the collective who read a great book, and are then overjoyed by its great movie counterpart- see Hunger Games- or let down and left devastated by them – see The Lovely Bones…(I don’t like to talk about that if I can avoid it)
    I also love being introduced to a great book by a movie! If a movies I love has come from a book, chances are I will read i – ie The Help.
    I think the two mediums can work well together and compliment each other, but I’m with you on wonder of books! I recycle EVERYTHING to make up for my love of books, I know Kindles will help save the trees but I just love books. Love love love. I hope the art of reading doesn’t fade, nothing will ever top being in that midnight queue for Harry Potter. Ever.

    • Aimee Louise Pow

      Ditto! I love books and while I see the place of the Kindle – I nearly cried when my 10-year-old niece was given one. How will she ever grow to love books if she only reads virtual ones!? Anyways, the movie remake of my favourite book (The Time Traveller’s Wife) was so poor that I am still depressed about it. But The Hunger Games film introduced me to a series I hadn’t heard of and really enjoyed reading so there we go :)

  • Konstanza Torrealba

    Completely true!
    I must say that I love movies, but at the same time I can not avoid feeling disappointed every time I see the film adaptation of a book. Just the books are 100% better, I wish everyone could feel the excitement of reading a good story, impossible to see in a movie.

  • Becky Hope

    I definitely agree with the sentiment of this article. It breaks my heart and hurts my bibliophilic soul to think that reading is not as valued as it once was. In our twitter, google culture we want instant gratification and instant entertainment, thus people’s attention span is about 7 seconds, and reading takes more than that. Reading takes investment, getting lost in a book: but it is so magical and transformative. I am who I am because of the books that formed me, and I want everyone else in this world to have the same experience.

    With all that said, I do want to make a defense for film. It’s true, you will never get the experience of reading a book when you see the film adaptation, this is because it is a different medium. There is no possible way to put every last scene, every emotion, every theme into a 2.5 hour film. But that does not make film a thoughtless medium. If something is adapted well the deeper themes can be told with great poignancy and symbolism within the film. Film is a medium that can be very thought-provoking. Unfortunately, we have come to take film as a passive experience, so we go to the movies and sit like zombies to be told a story and told what to think.

    What is my point in all this? We need a change in the way we think, the way we experience things…to be a culture that reads! I want everyone to run to the store for their favorite Gaiman or newest series, I want to hear what people are reading. But I also want to come out of a film and hear someone ask “what did you think of that? What did that film say?” because there is value in that too.

  • Lauren Fletcher

    I schooled a friend in this the other day with the Beautiful Creatures Series and posted the conversation on Tumblr. One of the Authors actually reblogged it. I was totally chuffed.
    I tend read books first, although I will admit there have been some Movies made from books that I have seen first. However with these ones I normally didn’t know about the book first so after seeing the movie I go hunt down the book.

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