Essay: The Written Advantage

Regan Farnsworth, BFR Staff

Why even bother?

That’s a question perhaps worth asking of the written word. We have movies, we have television, we have videogames. Why go to the trouble of reading at all? It’s a lot more effort, with a lot less—well—production value.

Movies are single, big, events. Explosions (literal and figurative) and grandiosity galore. Television shows have continuity, length, and the potential for constant variation. Both are easy to consume – just sit and watch, some barely even ask that you listen. Video games ask more of you, but in return grant you agency.

Books ask that you sit down with minimal potential distractions – and for a lot of people that includes even being in a moving vehicle – and put forth a great deal of focus, for consumption you have no control over. There are no fancy graphics, big special effects, or surprise Christmas episodes. So I posit the question again:

Why even bother?

But books are not without their own merit, even in the face of our new age of technological supremacy, because all such media rob the consumer of the one thing books grant: imagination. A book challenges its reader to quite literally read between the lines – to fill in the blanks as they come – and in doing allow access to an infinity of variety.

I don’t mean to sound like a grandmother, futilely attempting to persuade her grandchild to put that blasted watchamacallit down and pick up a book for once. What I hope to express is that books were not step one of an evolution, and that they do not compete with movies, and TV, and video games. The reason movie adaptation of novels are infamous for infuriating the readers of said novels optimistic enough to go and see them is related to this same concept. Movies can’t do the same thing – they’re marketing towards a different audience entirely, because if they weren’t, that audience would have been happy to just read the book instead.

So, no, I’m not saying books are better than movies and you all need to get your heads out of your screens – I love screens. This is a blog post for crying out loud; you’re on a screen right now, probably with Netflix on another tab. And that’s okay. That’s fine. That’s great. Stories are stories! But know that the story is only so much the story, and all the rest is in the telling. What a book does is give its consumer creative freedom. Not agency in the action but agency in the understanding. Different stories grant different levels of this freedom, but all of it is more than you can ever attain when a TV show, movie, or video game is showing you precisely how they envision it, not how you do.

Perhaps this is all rather old news to anyone well-read enough to bother reading this blog post, but in that case perhaps it might help you articulate to your less literary-enthused contemporaries.

And if not, well, hey, would it have been any better if this were a vlog instead?

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