WHAT ARE YOU READING?
I read lot of books. I also watch a lot of series (sometimes repetitively). And that got me to thinking. So instead of a book this month, I’ve come up with a question.
Question of the month:
Why is it likely that quite a few of the millions of people who have seen every adaptation of Pride and Prejudice have never actually opened the novel?
Obviously, one answer would be that many people don’t like to read. They might flick through a magazine in the doctor’s waiting room, or read the assurances that everything they’re eating is natural and full of goodness on the back of the cereal box, but they’re not going to pick up a book. They’d rather see a film in Quechua without subtitles than read a book. If they had to choose a book to take with them when they’re marooned on a desert island they’d choose the complete boxset of Game of Thrones. I don’t personally understand not loving reading, but I accept it just as I accept the fact that some people like okra. Takes all sorts.
Other people do read books from time to time. It was what they used to do on bus or train rides before the mobile phone became an alternative reality. But for these people, despite feeling quite friendly towards books, given the choice between two DVDs and a seven-hundred-page novel, the DVDs are going to win.
My theory is that this is because reading a book isn’t a spectator sport. You’re involved; you have to do some of the creation – visualise the people and the setting, pay attention to details and nuances, bring your own experience and ideas into play. Get involved. Watching a film or series is a much more passive activity. The work has all been done for you. You just have to do is sit back and relax. You can see exactly where the characters are, exactly what they look like, exactly what they’re wearing. A car chase on screen is not the same as eight pages describing a dinner party. Your mind can wander while you’re watching a film, you can make comments, cut your toenails (assuming you’re watching the film at home, of course). You can get up and fetch yourself a soda or a bag of crisps, come back and usually pick up the thread fairly quickly. But you can’t skip twenty pages in most novels and expect to know what’s happening.
But here’s the thing. Films and books are different, even if they’re telling the same story. They’re structured differently, they work differently, they do different things. Since there’s usually no narrative voice in a film, just images and dialogue, a movie can do what a novel takes pages to do in a three-second shot. But can’t spread out and meander, can’t achieve the same depth and resonance. Very often, an extremely good book makes a pretty poor movie or TV series. And, conversely, a not-that-great or mediocre novel or series of novels can be turned into one of the best films or boxsets you’ve ever seen.
Which makes it a very good thing that in the twenty-first century we have both.