Why Reading Will Always Beat Watching

Why Reading Will Always Beat Watching

In my last post I discussed true numbers about reading in America- who is reading books today, what format they prefer to use for reading, their likely ages and incomes, etc. Today I would like to list the reasons why reading a story is better than watching it on a screen, and why reading as a leisure activity will never die. At the end I think you’ll agree- reading a story beats watching it every time!

First, let’s talk about some of the more obvious benefits:

  • There are no commercials when you read a book. You will never turn the page of a physical book and have to sit through thirty seconds of an ad for the latest and greatest hair spray or a cure for arthritis
  • Books are portable. A lot of them will fit neatly into your purse, so you can take one on a bus, sit with it on the beach, or read it on your lunch break at work. It works just fine when you’re in the bathroom., or when you’re waiting for a dish to finish cooking in the kitchen. You can even read while you’re relaxing in a long, hot both (just not on your e-reader, please!)
  • No power source is needed for old fashioned paperback books! They never need to be recharged or have batteries replaced, and they’re always ready when you are
  • You’re not as likely to mindlessly scarf down junk food while you’re reading, unlike when you’re watching a show. After all, you have to keep at least one hand free to turn the pages! (Although there’s nothing wrong with nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate while you’re reading!)

But I think the greatest advantage reading  a story has over watching it is the way reading engages a person’s imagination. Consider, for example, the following sentences:

The young boy walked sadly next to the white picket fence that led down to the apple orchard, his shoes scuffing the dirt into the air. He did not look up until he heard a yelp and saw a white blur running towards him. With a sudden laugh of relief he leaned down and threw his arms around the dog, receiving a series of licks on his face in return.

When you read that sentence, how did you picture the boy in your mind? How old was he? What color hair did he have, and how was he dressed? In my mind he was seven or eight years old, with dark hair, wearing a red and white checked shirt with jeans, but your mental image was probably completely different. How high was the white picket fence, and how far did it go? Did the boy have to walk a long way? What kind of dog came to meet him?

If you watched that same scene on a screen somewhere, all of that information would be supplied, but since you read it your mind had to fill in the details. Reading makes your brain really work.

The work that your brain has to do when reading creates a bunch of other benefits:

  • It forces the reader to pay attention. Your brain has to use the cues it is given in order to fill in the blanks
  • It increases vocabulary. There are many ways a character can speak in words on a page, but only one way on screen
  • It increases a person’s sense of empathy. Since reading is such an immersive experience the reader learns to see events from another person’s point of view
  • It reduces stress, even more than taking a walk or listening to music. Reading an engaging story is the ultimate relaxant!
  • Reading a paperback (not an ebook) just before bed helps you fall asleep faster and sleep better. And if you fall asleep in the middle of a page, there’s nothing to worry about. The book will be there waiting for you when you wake up, right where you left off!
  • There’s no time limit on reading a book, so the reader can linger in the fictional world and become fully engrossed in the story. The book will not end at the bottom or top of the hour the way a TV show does.
  • Reading daily can delay the onset of cognitive decay in elderly people. Studies have shown that it can even slow down the progress of dementia or Alzheimer’s

And to all of these good things I can add one more: there is no good writing without good reading. Reading is the engine that fuels the writer’s brain. As Stephen King famously said, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of- no shortcut.”

Of course we all know Jane Austen’s opinion of books: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than a book!”

For all of these reasons, I think reading as a leisure activity will never die. Every so often we may be seduced by the ease of clicking a button and watching our favorite characters come to life, and there’s nothing wrong with a good movie adaptation of a wonderful book. But in our hearts we know: reading will always be better than watching.

11 Responses to Why Reading Will Always Beat Watching

  1. People who rely on movies and tv adaptations are really missing out as I cannot think of an instance where the adaptation was better than the book. I can think of many instances where I have been disappointed that important details or some of my favorite moments from a book was left out.

  2. I love going back to read the book after I’ve seen a movie I liked. Amazing how many scenes they left out or how the story was changed. Visa versa can be said since I remember finding a book called “The Vow” on a sale table and picked it up for $5 Later I found the movie and was really disappointed at how much they changed the original story. I love being able to carry around a book or kindle and pick up on a story in the oddest places, like the line at the grocery store or even a red light. Ha Ha. Seriously, I love words whether in books or music. Thanks for your post.

    • I will say that a well-done movie adaptation can add to the enjoyment of a book. But it has to be well done. For example, in the 1995 P&P, one of the earliest scenes has dialog between Elizabeth and Jane that explains why it’s so important for one of them to marry a really rich man. That scene didn’t happen in the book, of course, but it was an inspired addition to the book. I daresay that movie made many people pick up the novel and read it for the first time.

      But most of the time the book is much, much better than the movie! (I’m looking at you, A Wrinkle In Time!!!)

  3. Delightful post, Elaine. I agree completely. Back in the day, I think my age was less than 10, there was a crop of old trees near our house and I remember climbing one of them for this perfect fork that created this marvelous shade and my very own fairy bower. Of course there was a book with me. We didn’t get a TV until I was older.

    I hate it when I see a movie first and then read the book and see what the directors/producer omitted or added. I also hate it when I read the story first and see the movie later and discover what the d/p have omitted or added. Dang! There is no win/win situation. Time and money constraints create all manner of problems. Then you have where they miss-cast a character and you’re wondering… what were they thinking? They never match what I created in my own head. The scene is completely different. The camera moves so quickly that I completely miss the atmosphere of the environment around the characters.

    Of course, there is rejoicing when they find a perfect match for your favorite character. I won’t go into the Colin Firth vs Matthew Macfadyen controversy. I keep telling myself… leave it alone… walk away… you will lose friends if you speak of this. Sometimes those time constraints cause problems in pacing and scenes are omitted or combined… I remember watching S&S with Emma Thompson before I read the book. I was shocked that they completely left out the scene where Willoughby came to see Marianne when she was ill. I came to that part in the book and my jaw dropped when he arrived at the house. What-the-heck? There is no happy medium.

    I enjoy reading and finally bought an e-reader when I retired. Actually, some of the larger books were becoming harder to hold as I got older. I like the light of the reading device so I can read in the dark or reduced light. Then there is the problem with batteries staying charged. Like recently we had a power outage. Last time that happened… I was reading a paperback with a flashlight balanced on my shoulder. This time when we were without power… again, I had a Craftsman headlamp. Let me tell you, that sucker worked like a charm. I may have looked funny with the thing on my head but I was able to finish my book.

    When we are watching TV it is too easy to zone out. Then you are jerked from the story for those commercials… you are reprogramming your brain to operate in short 15-20 minute bursts. I noticed it with kids. Ask any teacher, that has been teaching for any number of years, how teaching styles have changed to adapt to shorter bursts in instruction because that was all the kids could manage to attend or concentrate on. They have programmed themselves with social media for instant and quick sources of information. Their concentration does not last long and they want to be entertained. Back in the day, we could entertain ourselves. You rarely, if ever, heard… I’m bored. Thanks for the fun post.

    • It sounds like you and I had similar childhoods, J.W.! I lived on a small farm north of Seattle until I was 12, and there were plenty of places outside to hunker down with a good book. In those days it was usually anything by Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle. Later I moved to Spokane and my bedroom became my favorite place to read. That little room saw all the battles of middle earth take place as Frodo tried desperately to destroy the One Ring before it destroyed him. I had severe ADHD but books could hold my attention for hours at a time.

  4. Totally totally agree!! I love reading and I get pictures in my mind just like you said! I think we should have more hours in the day for it too!lol It is my escape to another world for a !little while especially in my lunch break at work!

    • How many times has an avid reader been so caught up in a book that they totally lost track of time, location, and the rest of the world altogether? For me one of the first times it happened was reading the ending of Pride and Prejudice! I stayed up WAY too late on that one! No regrets, though!

  5. I agree, one-hundred percent! And I would add that good books have the power to influence us in a way that TV shows and movies can’t. I remember a book I read when I was eight years old and the lesson it taught my younger self, but it’s a lesson I still think about today. Over the years so many other books did the same. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    • Thanks Nancy! I think one reason books stick with us more than movies or TV shows is because of how much they engage our mind. Reading a story brings a person into it much more than just watching it (although I am guilty of enjoying a good movie as much as anyone!).

  6. I agree, Elaine, that reading is important and beneficial. I love reading a good book. However, there are not enough hours in the day. If we had 48 hour days, it might help, and I could do even more reading, particularly P&P variations. Thank you for the interesting post. 🙂

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