February 14, 2013

Reading vs watching television

When I think about the advantages of being immortal, one pro is always at the top of my list: endless time to read all the books and comics I want to read and watch all the movies and TV series I want to see. Sure I would try to make the world a better place in whatever small way I could, but mostly I wouldn't leave the giant library and/or home theater I'd have.

Seriously. The list of media I want to check out seems endless and because I have to strike a balance between working, writing, and working out (yeah, bottom of the priority list) I usually have to choose between reading or watching TV. I'm getting better at making room for both. Even though many would write off television as brainless and would recommend reading above it every time, I think both mediums can tell good stories and are worthy of my time.

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” - George R. R. Martin
I've been transported by books. I've escaped into them and spent entire nights in my bed or on the couch with only a book, a blanket, and a cozy beverage. And sometimes a cat. Okay, usually a cat. I've whiled away weekends burning through a series I couldn't bear to put down. When I was younger, I used to be able to read in the car (it makes me ill now) and I would take advantage of every minute. I was the little girl with her nose continually in a book.

Television series and movies have the same effect. Star Wars, Firefly, Deadwood, and Battlestar Galactica. All have swept me up in their complex worlds and relationships. If I like a show, I binge-watch it. I hand over hours to on-screen media just like I do with books and though it's not quite the same level of immersion, it's close.

Watching TV can be mindless. So can reading. It's all about your attitude and the material.

As an aspiring writer, you can learn from both too. Books, comics, and television all have fantastic, wonderfully written stories and they also have horribly woven tales that are painful to read or watch. I might absorb new vocabulary and styles through the written word more than hearing it, but television writers can be damn good. Reference the above list and add about a million more to it.

My point being, reading isn't automatically superior to watching television. I have a hard time deciding how to split my time between them and how to even give any time to either of them, It's easy to be lazy in my free time and catch up on sleep. But I know my unwatched DVDs and Blu-rays and unread books and comics will always be waiting for me and not knowing what happens in them is enough to keep me curious and plugging forward.

Do you read more or watch TV more? Which do you prefer?


  1. I'll admit it, I'm often superior about books over TV or movies. And it's not because I think the screen is bad, or because reading is supposedly better for you. Both tell stories in an equally good and compelling way. But I just love books more. Ever since I was a little kid, movies have scared me. Not just horror or suspense or monsters, but also weird things, embarrassing moments, awkward situations--you name it, I probably ran away from it. I would run upstairs to my bed and pull out a book. And though now, as a twenty-something, I've obviously changed, I still read way more than I watch, and I almost never marathon a show. Reading, to me, is a bit more magical in the experience.

    Thanks for bringing this up--it really made me think!

    1. Yes! I have a hard time watching awkward and embarrassing stuff on screen too. If it's something I've seen before I'll walk away during uncomfortable parts. :)

  2. Great topic, Amy! Personally, I love a Doctor Who, Star Trek, or Firefly marathon just as much as the next geeky girl, but I agree with Laura that I have a closer connection with reading. Reading for me is my escape. I love to learn new concepts, new vocab, new perspectives when reading. But reading also provides a safe harbor for me. When I am most stressed in my life, you can find me with my nose in a good sci-fi or fantasy book. I've been this way since I was little and reading books with a flashlight under the covers past my bedtime. If I'm ever stranded on an island, please, please, please let there be a library full of books there, too!

    1. I am with you in that if I get stuck on an island, I'd rather have books over TV shows or movies.

  3. I definitely watch tv/movies more than books, but it's something I'm trying to work on constantly. Part of the reason is that tv can be enjoyed with other people at the same time, but also because I know exactly how long it'll take me to get a story. With books, though, it depends on how much time I have, how interesting the story is, whether I'm tired, whether there are distractions, etc. I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows in one night, but it's taken me several months to get through I, Robot (and I'm still not finished). So not only do I know exactly how long it'll take me to get the whole story, I also know how many stories I can get in a specific amount of time. If I have six hours to kill and I can either watch three movies I've never seen before or read a couple chapters of a book I've never read, I'll choose the movies almost every time.

    Now, add video games to this discussion and it gets complicated even further. They have the benefits of both but also the negatives of both, and while some of them you can multitask during (I regularly talk with friends and listen to podcasts while playing Pokemon, for instance), many of them you can't - especially the ones closer to what one would call "literature" or "art".

    1. Part of my problem with not reading as many books as I like is that I just fall asleep. My free time usually happens after 9pm and I can stay awake easier with TV/movies for some reason.

      You make a good point about video games!

  4. You're right that both can bring different, wonderful things to the party (and can complement each other really well - stunning visuals on TV adapted from written stories, etc).

    I think I'm somewhat similar to Chad, above. love both, but I think I watch TV more than I read books. A quick 20-minute chapter of something is a quick, light and easy way to unwind for me, and I think I'm attracted to things that I can do a) easily, with my time and b) passively. Reading is much more active - I adore it when I can do it, but I struggle a lot with mental concentration/keeping my attention focused when reading. I have to be in the right zone, energised, not exhausted, not distracted, and it's the same reason I struggle with films also; it's hard to sit still and it becomes really uncomfortable if you force it.

    I've made a great new year's resolution though! My goal is to read at least one book a month, and it's going well so far, which is a nice little personal victory. It's funny because a goal like that is child's play to other people - my sister, on the other hand, devours books in days, can read for hours on end, and has a SF/Fantasy mental backlog that would make many jealous. I think I pulled the short straw in our gene pool, haha.

    1. I made a goal to try to read two books a month this year. It's helping me read more!

  5. I value reading above television when there are commercials involved. When I'm reading, I'm not constantly being sold something. I can engage in the stories for hours, whereas a commercial interrupts every few minutes.

    If it's a DVD of Battlestar or Community, then I value tv more than before, but still not as much as reading. I guess I'm on board with Stephen King when he said that to write, you need to read.

    1. I do agree with that sentiment from Stephen King!

  6. Rebecca: I've been setting reading goals for myself for a few years now and it helps a lot. I started out with quantity to get myself back in the habit, but now I do it to expand my horizons. This year I'm working on nonfiction, foreign authors, and authors I've never read before.

    Tom: ...unless you want to write tv, I'd wager; in which case, you should probably also watch a lot of tv.

  7. I love both books and television (plus anime). A great story is a great story no matter the medium. I can spend a lot of time reading A Song of Ice and Fire... or re-watching Babylon 5 and Firefly. Also, I really love music and soundtracks, and I miss them when reading! :D


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  10. I'd prefer reading, I guess. But nevertheless the main thing remains to be our precious time. Reading a book takes much more time than watching a movie... http://bigessaywriter.com/blog/books-vs-movies-what-is-more-suspenseful

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