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TV Bites – Books: The Original TV

By Neena Louise

Snap_2011.03.15-23.10.18_001_thumbI was on the phone with my sister one evening, lamenting the lack of watchable television. As we both went through the hundreds of channels available to us, we just kept saying "nah…nah" to everything that was on. Frustrated, I finally said "Oh, screw it. I’ll read instead. There are always books," to which she replied, "Yeah. Books: The original TV". I laughed, but then started thinking: she’s absolutely right.

Anyone who has ever lost themselves in a book knows exactly what I mean. You imagine what the characters look like, the scenery, the smells, etc. You become engrossed in the story and can’t wait to discover what happens next. I suspect that’s why books are always better than their movie or TV versions. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a movie or TV version of a favored book and been disappointed in how they looked. The characters looked nothing like what had been described nor what I had envisioned. Or the scenery was all wrong. Or the tone and atmosphere were all wrong. And the smells – you can just forget about those. Even if a character in a movie or TV show describes the smell, it can’t be properly imagined without the written description from a book. Curiously, even seeing the movie or TV version of a book doesn’t change the reading experience. When I re-read the book, I still see, hear and smell it the same way as when I read it the first time.

There has been much complaining from both authors and publishers that television is ruining the written word. That is absolute nonsense. I think it has more to do with how one is raised than "laziness", as that has-been hack Stephen King once proclaimed while whining about his declining book sales (hey, Steve-O, did you ever think it might be because you haven’t written anything worth reading in decades??). I come from a family of bookworms, and I thank my parents for instilling the love of reading in me at a very young age. No matter how many bookshelves were built or bought, there never seemed to be enough room for the books in our house. As books gave up jockeying for position on the ever-shrinking real estate of the triple-stacked shelves, they began multiplying in the corners. Stuffing themselves in closets. Taking refuge under furniture. Our house was like the roach motel for books: they came in, but never left.

And, yet, the television was never off while I was growing up. We ate meals in front of it. We would have discussions while it was on. We were less picky about what to watch (though that was probably because we didn’t have cable and there wasn’t much to watch in the first place). The biggest difference between then and now was, we didn’t pop in a movie, watch something on the Internet nor order something from On Demand when there was "nothing" on. We simply grabbed something to read in order to entertain ourselves – sometimes right in front of the ever-blaring TV. I look around at my own book-laden house and wonder how those that claim TV is responsible for the decline in reading came up with that absurd idea. I am an admitted TV addict. My television is only off when I’m sleeping (sometimes not even then), yet I still read. A lot. I often (nay, usually) have reading material sitting on the coffee table, ready to be picked up when the program I’m watching goes to commercial. Sometimes, I become engrossed in it and ignore the impotently murmuring television altogether.

To those that keep blaming television for kids that don’t read, have you ever thought of reading to them? Some of my fondest memories are of my mother sitting on my bed with a few of my friends gathered around as she read to us. We were all fully capable of reading on our own by that age, but it was still nice to be read to. Some of those friends – decades later – told me how much they enjoyed it, since their parents never read to them. And, to this day, I can’t get to sleep unless I read something first. Yes, people lead busy, hectic lives, but it doesn’t take long to grab a book, sit with your kids and read them a story. You’ll be doing them a favor, and the payoff will be huge. That doesn’t mean you have to turn off the television, video games, computers and smart phones, however. I’m a living example that it’s possible to love television and reading. And often, to love both at the same time.

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