For so long, we’ve heard about the foretold “death of books”. Books as a medium have indeed seen a decline in readership for a long time, but last year there was a strange rebound. According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks the books that readers are buying, found that paper book sales went up by about 2.4% last year. It’s not much, but it is a sign that books are not on the out. I’ve been around for a little while, and I’ve noticed that plenty of people still like to read. So why is that? Why in this age of fast-moving television and movies would people take the time to read a novel? Well let’s take a look at some ways books are different from movies and television.
Books allow you to set your own pace
A book can be read over a substantial period of time. Some people take months to read just one book, and that’s perfectly fine. Comparatively, movies and television are very tightly paced. This is especially true of television shows, which are edited and modified to fit a rigid time slot. I know this format very well since I work at a television station helping to produce the morning news broadcast. We often have to deal with timing issues, taking out stories or adding them in, adjusting the times for the weather segments and so on, all in an effort to make things seamless and ensure that we end at the proper time. Movies have a little more leeway in this regard, generally clocking in at around ninety minutes to three hours. There will often be deleted scenes, but scenes are usually pulled out for creative reasons more than timing.
Books are not subject to that same strictness. I’ve read books over a thousand pages long, and books that are barely over a hundred. And that’s the beauty of it. You can embark on a long journey and take your time. Or, you can decide to speed read and get right through it. You aren’t held back by a certain time frame, and it’s much easier to put a book down in the middle and come back to it than it is with a movie or television show.
Books are a more intimate experience
This is not to say that when you get invested in a character in a television show or movie it’s a superficial attachment. I’ve seen people bawl their eyes out over fictional characters in television shows before (just ask anyone who’s watched Futurama about the dog episode and you’ll understand). What I mean is that compared to television shows and movies, reading a book is more of an experience on the personal level. In a book, it often feels like the author is speaking directly to you, setting things up directly for you. Things are constructed so that your mind paints an image of the world the author is describing.
With movies and television, you don’t get that personal element. The world is constructed for you through the lens of a camera. The people in them are more like actors on a stage, having rehearsed the scenes plenty of times before filming. You get one concrete image of things before you, whereas with a book people have many different interpretations of how a place or character looks, even though they’re all reading the same descriptions.
This is not to say that movies and television are artificial and therefore bad. Everything is artificial when you get right down to it. Books just require a great deal more personal investment on the part of the reader. Television shows and movies can be absorbed simply through watching. Another way to put it is that television and movies are a passive experience whereas reading is an active one.
Books are good for you
Some people might not like to hear it because they find reading boring, but yes reading is good for you. It enhances your comprehension skills and oftentimes requires you to engage your brain on an intellectual level. And I’m specifically talking about reading paper books, not e-books. There have actually been studies into the differences between e-book reading (such as using a Kindle or so on) and physical book reading, and they found that with e-books the digital back-lit screen actually degrades the experience. Reading text on an electronic screen affords far more opportunities for distraction and the reader doesn’t comprehend the text as well as they would with a physical book. In one of the studies, eye tracking software showed that physical books are read line for line.
Television shows and movies don’t have those same benefits, which is probably part of the reason they’re often referred to as “hollow” entertainment. They’re very enjoyable, sure, but like I said they don’t require a great deal of engagement from your brain most of the time. In fact, the only other entertainment medium that has these kind of positive effects happens to be video games. Playing video games tends to improve things like reflexes, memory, reasoning, hand-eye coordination, sight, and problem-solving among other things. It’s sort of funny isn’t it? Books are one of the most highly regarded forms of entertainment and video games are one of the lowest. And yet, both of them have been proven to have positive effects on your general well-being.
By no means am I trying to discourage people from watching television or movies. They’re both very entertaining and can be incredibly thoughtful as well. But the fact of the matter is that compared to books, they are “hollow” entertainment. They don’t improve your life in any significant way. They’re just time wasters.
Reading books is a very special experience that I wish more people would put some time into. I’ve heard a lot of people say “oh I don’t have the time to read a book”. But that’s nonsense. Books are actually far easier to fit time in for reading as compared to a television show or a movie. Most people would never pause a movie or episode of a TV show halfway through and just come back to it a few days later. They tend to go through the entire thing in one sitting. And that’s what they’re designed for. They’re specifically crafted to be viewed all in one sitting. It’s better that way. You get to fully comprehend the movie, whereas if you come back to it some days later chances are you will have forgotten certain details from your previous viewing.
Books however, are easier to remember details about because they require that personal engagement on your part. It certainly takes more effort to read a book, but I would argue that it’s worth it.
But in the end it’s all for personal pleasure. You just can’t beat a good story right?
Well that’s all I have for you this time. Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.