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Movie or Book -- Which is Better?

Considering I'm a writer and books are how I earn my living, I might be a tad biased here. However, if my publisher sold the rights of one of my titles to a movie producer, I'd be on the edge of my seat waiting to see the cinematic adaptation. And I'd want my name in BIG letters in the credits.

For our purposes here though, we're going to attempt to assess both sides of this question fairly. Hey, I coached the school debating club when I was teaching -- I know how to look at an issue objectively.

So let's give this a shot.

Most everyone goes to the movies on occasion or watches them on television -- even bibliophiles. Why? There are a few reasons. We all like stories. We all need the occasional diversion. We all like to be entertained.

So why do people choose to read? Because they like stories. They want to escape from their own lives for a while. They want to be entertained.

Sound familiar? Okay. So far it's a draw.

Watching movies is easy. You look and listen, and that's pretty much it. You don't have to work at imagining anything. You don't have to deduce anything. It's all done for you. All the visuals are there, the setting, the characters, and the progression of the plot. The actors carry out the action. The camera provides the viewer with hints at what to look for, and the background music indicates the mood of each scene. If it's a sitcom, there might even be a laugh track to alert you to the funny bits. So a movie is basically a guided tour through a story.

But a book? Not so much. Firstly, you have to be able to read. You have to be able to lift words off paper and translate them into a picture in your mind. And you have to be able to do that quickly enough so that the images flow -- and become a movie in your head. You have to cast the characters and imagine the setting. You have to pick up nuances, spot foreshadowing, weave in backstory, and extrapolate meaning from obtuse dialogue and obscure scenes.

Sounds like a lot of work. Watching movies is definitely less labour-intensive than reading -- and playing tennis, and sewing a dress, and making beef wellington, and playing the piano ...

I'm sure you get the point.

So what can reading a novel provide that watching a movie can't?

Ironically, the very things that make reading more work also make it more rewarding. You get to choose the characters -- what they look like, how they speak, their body language and visual expressions. Movie producers don't always make the same choices viewers would make. But readers never get it wrong, because they are the producers. The nature of everything in the story is within their control. Likewise it is fun to figure out where the plot is going, spot the "aha" moment and pick up on subtle clues without guidance.

If we're talking about novels turned into movies (which we are), some make the change better than others. Generally speaking, plot driven novels lend themselves well to a movie format. (eg. the Harry Potter books). Movies can make action scenes very exciting, in fact, often more exciting than the reader of the novel can. But when it comes to character-driven novels, movies too often fall short. The motion picture format is not suited to portraying intense internal conflict, and as a result, the whole point of the novel is lost. What's even worse though is when the movie makes changes to the original story in order to make it more suitable for the movie format. It may omit pivotal scenes, invent others, and/or change the storyline to fit its needs. A non-reading move-goer would have no reason to object to the changes, but someone who'd read the book would likely feel betrayed.

One of the advantages novels have over movies is the facility to take them in at leisure. Normally, readers consume a novel over a period of days or weeks. This allows them time to digest and consider what they are reading. As a result, the novel acquires depth, kind of like the flavours of a soup left to simmer. A movie may be paused (if viewed at home) so that the watcher can visit the bathroom or load up on snacks from the kitchen, but the whole story is done and dusted in a few hours and the viewer is on to something else. The movie never gets a chance to make it out of short-term memory. On the flip side, a person can watch the same movie again in a couple of months and it will be like seeing it for the first time. If you own the DVD, it's cheap entertainment.

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It's a matter of preference. I almost always prefer the book. I will watch a movie adapted from a novel, but only if I haven't read the book. Roots by Alex Haley and Shogun by James Clavell are both novels I read after seeing the movie versions. Truth be told, I enjoyed both the movies and the novels very much. But, unless I do so unwittingly, I won't watch a movie made from a book I've read. If it's a book I've adored (eg. -- Sophie;s Choice) I will absolutely not watch the movie. I'm too afraid of being disappointed and having my memory of the novel tarnished. In that respect, I'm an ostritch.

What about you?

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Rosemary Rigsby
Rosemary Rigsby
Jun 15

Reading is my first love, maybe because it is a solitary experience, and like you said, I can produce it however I please. I go to movie houses if somebody takes me there, and I watch movies at home, DVD or television if my husband finds something he wants to watch, or I watch with my grandchildren. Then it becomes a shared experience, an opportunity to laugh or cry together, and possibly something for later discussion. So, although I often discuss books with others who have read them, the discussion often revolves around our perceptions of the characters, their motivations, etc., and the differences in what we 'got out of it.' Yet with a book, my own immersion and mind…

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kristin5141
Jun 15
Replying to

You bring up a really good point, Rosemary. Movies definitely inspire a greater exchange of interpretations and observations than books generally do. Thanks for sharing. 😊

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Diana Stevan
Diana Stevan
Jun 14

I love both, but you've noted the reasons books are such a treat. I'm not sure which I prefer. But like you, I tend to be disappointed in the movie adaptation of any book I've read. Like Where the Crawdads Sing was better read than seen. However, there are exceptions, like Gone with the Wind, and Pride and Prejudice. Good post!

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kristin5141
Jun 14
Replying to

I'm glad you told me that about Where the Crawdads Sing. I adored the book and read it because I'd seen the trailer for the movie and was intrigued. I definitely will not see the movie. Thanks, Diana. 😊

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