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Movies vs. Books

I barely remember the last time I was in a movie theatre. It might have been when I went to see James Cameron’s Avatar (2009).

Although I pay monthly for my Netflix subscription, I also can’t remember the last time I actually watched a movie on that streaming service. I did binge watch a few of seasons of Lucifer, which was quite enjoyable, but even that excellent production couldn’t keep me engaged into Season 4.

I’ve pondered why I seem to have this aversion to watching movies. It seems to me that in large part, I begrudge the time it takes. As a committed hermit, I resist the travel time to go to and from the theatre. Also, it’s so very people-y out there!

At home, which is also my office, there’s always one or more projects calling for my attention. The idea of stepping away from my computer to sit on the sofa to watch a movie without interruption leaves me rather cold. It’s not that I haven’t seen a few productions advertised that catch my attention. I do glance at movie trailers fairly often. But when it comes to making the commitment to sit and watch a movie, there’s a barrier there.

Again, as a hermit, I have few active relationships with friends or companions with whom I might choose to spend time watching a movie. So the social aspect of movie watching is entirely lost on me.

I have an old friend in another city who is an avid movie watcher. He enjoys watching movies with friends, even if they’re not in the same room! I’ve watched him watch a movie with another friend on the phone and listened to the running conversation over the phone as they watch the movie together remotely. Seems extreme to me.

Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.
–Stephen King

Interestingly, I have no such aversion to reading an entire novel in one sitting. My Kindle account has more than 650 titles in it (both fiction and nonfiction). I certainly haven’t read all of them, but I have read quite a few novels; often from start to finish without a break. I suspect that the difference is that watching a movie is primarily a passive activity. Reading a novel engages the mind in an entirely different way.

Even the handful of movies I do love and have watched more than once (see last issue’s From The Heart for that short list) don’t engage me so completely as reading a novel. While watching a 90 minute movie sounds excruciating, I have been known to spend several hours reading without a break and truly hardly noticed the time passing.

The book is a film that takes place in the mind of the reader.
–Paulo Coelho

The mind of the reader is an infinite space, with an unlimited budget for sets and costumes and special effects, unfettered by the laws of physics or the economics of movie making. Most importantly, the rendering of books’ story lines is incredibly intimate. H. P. Lovecraft’s horrific novels were spell-binding and terrifying because the menace was largely only hinted at… a horror perceived out of the corner of your eye, that your imagination fleshed out in whatever presentation was most terrifying TO YOU.

I read a lot of erotica. I can assure you that the characters and events portrayed in those works are infinitely more arousing than any porn movie, because my imagination provides details that are better than any porn star could portray.

At the risk of belabouring the issue, I’d like to offer one last point. The passive consumption of movies, while entertaining, cannot compare to the active engagement that reading books provides. Reading books exercises the intellect and actually strengthens your imagination muscle. The more often and intensely you imagine, the stronger and more available becomes your imagination. In a world of rote and routine, this might be the most important reason to read at all.

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