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Is Reading a Book Better Than Watching a Movie?

Is Reading a Book Better Than Watching a Movie?

There are different ways to consume information, get entertained, relax, etc. Most avenues provide knowledge, entertainment, or a sense of calm.

But they seldom do it all at once for the recipient, and sometimes people’s interpretation or perception of things determine whether a particular activity was fun, enlightening, or calm-restoring.  

Reading a book, for instance, can be enriching. It also affords a sense of calm. But how entertaining it may or may not depend on the content and how big a fan of reading the person is.

On the other hand, movies are made to entertain their audience. Some feature films could also help you learn a thing or two and relieve your mental stress.

Both reading and watching movies are popular activities, pastimes, pursuits, or whatever you want to call them. But some people swear by either of the two and even look down upon the other.

But why? Is it because reading a book is better than watching a movie? Is the perception that films do not fully encapsulate what books intend to communicate accurate?

Or do movies accomplish what books do and do so entertainingly?

If you want the answers to these questions, kindly read on.

Books and Movies: A Comparison

A woman is reading book and a man is watching tv

Not everybody loves to read books, but those who do can vouch for the written text’s ability to relax the reader and offer loads of information.

For most people, books are repositories of knowledge. And depending on the kind of book you read, that’s undoubtedly true.

Movies, like books, are also visual media but of a different breed. Unlike its more staid counterpart, movies are flashy. People watch movies to chill and get entertained.

Many people don’t read books because they find wading through the written text boring, tedious, or sleep-inducing. These people, however, can sit through a movie without flinching.

For a book to earn the “entertaining” tag, it truly has to be enjoyable. On the other hand, a movie can afford to slack intermittently.

That’s because books require active reader participation. Therefore, it risks losing the reader’s attention and interest if it fails to be engaging a bit or in phases. Even the keenest readers can shut a book midway and not come back to it later.

But because movies require their audience to sit and watch, people rarely walk out of a cinema theater halfway. Even when watching a movie at home, they are likely to feel compelled to finish the whole thing.

But Why Compare Books to Movies?

Two girls are reading book and watching TV

The primary reason is movies take a lot of inspiration from written text. No film goes on the floor without a properly written script.

Some movies are solely based on a book, serving as the film’s bonafide script.

The movie director may add a few things here and there and cut out a few elements from the book to make the movie a lot more palatable to the cinema-goer. Also, not everything from the book can be replicated on celluloid.

But those constraints of transferring a story from a book to a movie have not impeded many filmmakers, as the list of films based on a book is pretty long.

Is Reading a Book Better Than Watching a Movie?

A woman is reading book and watching tv at the same time

Yes, reading a book is better than watching a movie based on it, but it also depends on who you ask.  

If you were to put the question to an avid book reader, their response would be in the affirmative. However, if you ask a movie buff, they’ll balk at the thought that books are superior—mainly because they don’t read.  

Regardless, here are a few objective reasons why books are superior to movies:

Wholesome and Unhindered

A book can pack in a lot more information than a movie. From a pure content standpoint, a standard-length film cannot cover everything in a book.

The movie will have to be made in multiple parts to achieve that. Even then, not everything can be conveyed through a film. And it’s not just the limited runtime of movies. Certain things are better left to print media.

And because there’s so much a book can say, it’s easier for the consumer to connect or identify with the story’s characters.

In movies, however, how well the viewer connects with the protagonist depends on the screen time the part gets, how well-written the character arc is, and the particular actor’s performance.

A woman is reading book

Reading is Enriching

Reading is a great way to learn things. Movies don’t intend to educate their patrons. But there’s no dearth of films trying to send a message or two across.

Also, reading imparts essential virtues like patience and observance. Most readers have a rich vocabulary and develop good memory power as books force them to imagine things.

The movie audience is passive. There’s pretty much nothing left to the imagination. Films don’t induce reasoning. A few movies like Inception make people think, but those are rarities.

According to this 2013 psychological study on the impact television viewing has on the brain, TVs impeded kids’ cognitive, emotional, and physical development.

On the other hand, even the most straightforward books nudge the reader to conceive imagery of flowers blooming, the rain, huge mountains, etc., in their thoughts.

Movies May Not Do Justice

Most movies don’t replicate what’s in the book because it’s just not feasible.

Even the ones that do an exemplary job, like The Shawshank Redemption, the Stephen King novella on which the movie was based, offers much more information on the subject.

Also, the director or production house could add a few extra elements to the movie for commercial and other reasons.

Suppose the added elements benefit the movie, great. But if they don’t, it can ruin the narrative and hurt the movie’s prospects at the box office. People who’ve read the book the film is based on will particularly feel irked.  

Generally, if you like a movie based on a novel, you’d like the source material better.

A person is reading a book

Reasons Why Movies are Better Than Books

But not everything’s doomed with movies. There are reasons people skip the book and watch the film it inspired instead.

Movies are Succinct

Reading a book takes time. And if you’re a newbie, reading can feel like putting in the effort.

Movies, on the other hand, get wrapped up within a couple of hours. And because you’re just sitting on the couch chilling, they don’t feel like work at all.

Although movies don’t tell the entire story, they provide more than a gist. And for many people, that’s all they want.  

Films Have a Visual Appeal

There are a lot more people who feel bored reading a book than watching a movie. Movies can bore you out too, but less likely than reading a book.

That’s because there’s just so much happening. Books with imagery tend to offset the downsides of reading plain text, but they don’t come anywhere near the visual extravaganza a movie puts out.

Unlike books, movies don’t expect you to conjure images in your head. They show them to you instead. And more often than not, what you see on the big screen is better than what you could have conceived.

A woman watching a movie on smartphone

Movies are For the Masses

Movies have a mass appeal—books not so much. Although books are all around us, they are still considered niche.

You would find a person who has never read a single book in their life, outside of reading in school and university.

But you are almost sure not to stumble upon a guy or gal who hasn’t watched at least one movie in their lives.

They may not have been to the theaters but would have watched a movie on TV at least.

Movies are democratizing that way.

Watching a Movie is a Social Activity

Although book-reading can be done in groups, or one person can read a book aloud to a group of listeners, the activity is not as intuitive and immersive as watching a movie in a theater or a living room with friends and family.

Since books transport the reader to an imaginary world, the likelihood of becoming anti-social or developing an affinity for personal space or alone time is more significant with reading.

A woman watching a movie on her tablet

The Brain Can Relax

Watching TV doesn’t demand a focused and determined brain. If tired and looking to relax, most people would pick watching a movie than reading a book. The laidback approach you can afford to take with film helps.  

Reading is an intellectual pursuit, even if reading a comic. Even the most voracious readers cannot read a book for hours at a stretch. And very few people can complete a book in one sitting.

But due to the “lowbrow” essence of cinema, watching movies back to back is entirely plausible—even if the film is based on a book or a true story.

In fact, watching a documentary is easier than reading a book.

Is Audiobook Better Than Reading?

A woman enjoys audiobook

No, an audiobook is not better or even on par with reading because listening is a passive exercise, just like watching.

But the good thing about audiobooks is that they eliminate the visuals, inducing imagination or activating the thalamus and neocortex regions of the brain.

The following are aspects in which audiobooks trail book-reading:

Audiobooks are Not as Intuitive

Most readers go back and reread sentences to understand or reregister critical points. It’s just how most people read. But in an audiobook, the narration goes on, regardless of whether the listener keeps up.

Also, a lot of people read books to improve their vocabulary.

When they encounter a new word while reading, they stop, look it up in a dictionary, and proceed. With audiobooks, it isn’t very easy.

Although you can pause and play or go back to the last part and start again, it isn’t as simple and intuitive as with a book.

Also, it’s impossible to be fully attentive when reading or listening. You can zone out or have wavering thoughts.

If that happens when reading, it’s easy to go back and start again. But it isn’t easy to jump back to the point you zoned out at when listening to an audiobook.

Books and headphone

Reduced Comprehension

In 2010, a study was conducted among students to determine which activity led to increased comprehension: reading or listening.

The students were divided into two groups. One group was made to listen to a lesson podcast. The other group was made to read the lesson. What transpired later was quite fascinating.

The reading group scored high on the test. The podcast listeners performed much worse, with their average scores being 28% lower than the reading group.

If the reading group had to be graded an A, the listening group would get a D. That’s how large the comprehension gap was between the two.

But there are a few things to consider.  

Listening to audiobooks or podcasts is relatively new. The act of reading has been around for a very long time.

Perhaps the novelty of podcasting caught the students off guard. With more listening sessions, their ability to grasp information through only audio may get better.

Although humans have been listening to other people talk for centuries, there was a visual element to that, or video accompanied the audio.

With the video aspect cut out, a lot more effort is needed to listen with an active mind and not develop wavering thoughts.

Structural Issues

There’s only so much you can convey through audio. A handful of emotions, brief pauses, etc., are possible through the spoken word.

But how do you emphasize specific aspects of the audiobook without actually not saying it?

Authors can emphasize specific points in books by bolding them or putting them in a box.

Also, an audiobook listener cannot underline texts or highlight bits of critical information to revisit later as they can do in a book.

Opened book and headphone

FAQS

Is E-Reading the Same as Reading a Traditional Book?

A man reading book on kindle

If you’re reading a book on an E Ink display, like this Kindle Paperwhite, it’s pretty much akin to reading an actual book. Not to mention, e-readers condense hundreds (if not thousands) of books in one device.  

If you’re reading your digital book on a smartphone or an iPad instead, it’s not the same as reading a book.

The display’s bright light can damage the eyes, particularly when reading off the screen in a low-lit environment. An e-reader doesn’t pose those concerns as it mimics the look and feel of an actual book and gets nowhere as bright as digital displays.

Also, you can do much more than just read on your smartphone or tablet. And that aspect of the device can be distracting, making it laborious to continue reading a book.

Even if you actively choose not to switch between apps, the random notifications that pop up will seek your attention. Such distractions are rare or non-existent with e-books because they’re meant for reading only.

Conclusion

Book and a quote board

The book and movie comparison comes up only if the two are interrelated. If a movie is not based on a book and is an entirely fresh thought, the need to compare it to a book doesn’t arise.

Even comparing it to a book of a similar genre would be incorrect because the two are very different mediums.

But if an already published book inspires the movie, the match-up is justified and often warranted. And, in that battle, the book always wins purely because of its format.

A book cannot be confined to a specified length or thickness, but a movie has to stick to a particular timeframe. Moreover, there are so many other things, as mentioned above, that work against a film.

Possibly, the only way for a motion picture to do complete justice to a book would be through a web series. But then the fans of the Game of Thrones book would disagree.

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