The debate on which is better—books or movies—has been around since, well, since films became popular. If you want to win the argument, you need more than one or two reasons. Don’t worry—we have nine reasons why books are better.
Here are 9 reasons why books are better than the movie:
- Movies must adapt books to a larger audience.
- A movie is a filmmaker’s interpretation of a book.
- A film cannot have all the details of a book.
- You get to know what characters in a book are thinking.
- You are in control of the book.
- Books are portable.
- Reading gives you more enjoyment dollars.
- Books improve your vocabulary.
- We learned from books.
To win the argument, you might need to use all nine. Examples from books and movies will help you win the debate as well, and you will find plenty as you read.
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Movies appeal to a larger audience and must thus adapt to that audience. Unfortunately, in far too many situations, the screenplays are changed from the original book to please audiences and increase sales.
Even minor modifications (such as killing off or keeping a character alive) can affect the other characters or the plot. What might have seemed like a reasonable plot development in the book will now seem unbelievable. Likewise, a character’s rational action in a book can seem irrational in a movie.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an example of a movie changing for the audience. Although the time period of the movie was changed from the 1940s to the 1960s, that change is minor compared to what the film could not reveal in 1961. The movie ends with Holly Golightly falling in love with Paul, played by George Peppard, who has always loved her.
However, in the book, Paul would have loved Holly in a strictly platonic way because he is gay. If the movie were remade, that fact could be revealed, but not in 1961.
This adaptation changes not only how the movie ends but also changes Holly. It turns a spirited, independent woman into one who needs a man to turn her into a housewife. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a housewife or settling down with a man, but that movie would be made today, not in 1961.
Films are someone’s interpretation of a novel. When you watch a movie, you watch the screenplay writer and director’s interpretation of a book.
A book that was dramatically reinterpreted was David Morrell’s First Blood. In the novel, the main character, Rambo, is an unlikable Vietnam War soldier who murders numerous law enforcement officers as he hides in the wilderness. Eventually, he is killed.
In the movie version, Rambo remains a soldier who is running away from unscrupulous cops. However, instead of killing them, he turns into a heroic figure. He also survives for multiple sequels.
Walt Disney reinterpreted many movies to appeal to his audience. One of the most dramatic reinterpretations was Mary Poppins. As he frequently did with books, Disney made Travers’ book series cheerful and comic. In the books, Poppins and Bert do not have a romantic relationship. She is also vain and intimidating, nothing at all like the delightful Julie Andrews.
Every detail in a book cannot be put in a film. To turn a 400-page novel into a two-hour movie, the director must trim the plot, and characters have to be eliminated. As a result, you miss out on interesting minor characters and subplots you would read in a novel.
Novels have more details, and they aren’t just fluffy details to make a book longer.
- They reveal more.
- They allow you to get to know the settings and characters better.
- They give you a better understanding of the character’s motivations.
The Shining is an example of this. Based on a Stephen King novel, the movie leaves out several of the book’s memorable events. For example, scenes where an elevator, hedges, and a hosepipe come to life would have appeared ridiculous. Likewise, the dogman has almost completely vanished, replaced by a man in a bear suit who appears in one scene for only a few seconds.
Forrest Gump not only changes details from the book by Winston Groom, but the director focused only on the novel’s first 11 chapters. He also made other changes in the movie.
First, the novel’s Forrest Gump is nothing like Tom Hanks’ Forrest. The book’s Forrest cusses, smokes marijuana, and spends time in a mental hospital, jail, and even outer space. The film also leaves out several of the book’s more bizarre plot lines, such as an orangutan and Forrest’s unusual jobs— championship chess player, professional wrestler, and Chairman Mao’s unintentional savior.
A movie’s trimming of the details is like hearing someone else tell you about a concert or show they went to see. When they show you a few minutes of video they captured on their phone, you aren’t experiencing the concert but their description of the show. And now you wish you had gone to the concert.
It is easy to understand what is happening in the heads of the characters when reading a book. This really makes the character’s actions and motivations more logical. We know what they are thinking and how they justify their actions.
For example, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is narrated through Chief Bromden, who provides the reader with insights into his thinking. But the movie version reduces Bromden to a minor character.
The narrator of Robert Penn Warren’s book, All the King’s Men, Jack Burden, tells the story of Willie Stark, the governor of Louisiana. In the book, Burden gives us insight into his own back story and how he and Willie Stark become connected. But in the movie, Jack Burden becomes a minor character who tells us little about what he is thinking.
A book where the narrator is practically removed is The Book Thief. Markus Zusak’s novel is narrated by Death, who at the end ironically says, “I am haunted by humans.” Death makes an appearance in the movie, but Death’s perspective is told mainly through the cinematography.
You control the speed at which you take in the story. In a movie, the director decides the pace of the story and how long you’ll be watching. In a book, you’re in control.
- You can spend an afternoon reading, stay up way too late, or read a few pages every day.
- You can stop and think about scenes or characters for a few minutes or a few days.
Yes, you can stop the movie if you’re at home, but how often do we binge-watch a movie because the screen is so addicting?
You don’t need an entertainment center or movie theater to enjoy a book. No matter where you are, all you really need is the book. Books allow you to enter the world and meet the people the author created, whether you’re at the airport, at home on a quiet Sunday, or relaxing on the beach.
Just think of some of the great places to read:
- The beach is a perfect location to spread out on a towel and read. But, of course, it also doesn’t hurt that a sandy reading spot has the background murmur of soothing waves. Just remember to apply plenty of sunscreen.
- Tea, coffee, pastries, and peaceful background music are all likely to be available at your local café. Some even have mini free libraries where you can read if you don’t have a book.
- Sitting on a bench at a park or lying on a blanket on the grass is a great place to read. Enjoy your book to soothing nature sounds punctuated occasionally by a crying baby.
- Reading in a swinging hammock is a unique experience. You’re bound to have a good time turning the pages while gently rocking back and forth.
Reading a book requires more time than watching a movie. Of course, some could say that being time-consuming isn’t a benefit, but in a cost-to-delight ratio, I’d much rather have my enjoyment last longer than one or two hours.
In 2021 the average price for a hardback was $26.56, while a paperback cost $17.11. These figures are what libraries pay, and they always pay full price. However, sites about self-publishing a book list similar suggested prices, so even if a new book costs less in a store, it won’t be that much less.
The average for movie tickets was $9.19. Add popcorn and a soda, and you’re looking at $12 to $15 a movie. Since most people see a movie with someone else, the average price for two people is between 20 and 30 dollars.
The length of movies averages around 110 minutes. Roughly calculated, this means a single moviegoer pays between $5 and $7.50 per hour for a movie ($10 to $15 if you’re paying for two people).
Calculating time spent on a book is a bit more complicated. First, we typically don’t read a novel in one sitting. Second, page numbers can be misleading because page size and fonts play a role in that. Word count, however, is a more accurate measure.
Most books are between 250-300 words per page, which means a 400-page book should have at least 100,000 words. Reading speed varies greatly, but the average is generally considered to be 200 words per minute. This comes out to 500 minutes, or 8.3 hours, per 100,000-word book.
As you can see, you will get to spend four times as many hours enjoying your book for the same price.
Your vocabulary will improve through reading far more than movies. This is because films must limit the vocabulary. A moviegoer cannot stop the film and determine the meaning of a word through context as a reader can.
More importantly, books give you a better mental workout. To stay healthy, you should keep your brain active and engaged. Neuroscientists have proven that reading demands more of your brain than the visual and speech processing required to watch a movie.
Books do more than improve your vocabulary and improve your thinking skills. Other studies show that they:
- Relieve stress: Researchers found that reading lowers stress better than taking a walk, listening to music, or having a cup of coffee.
- Improve your sleep: Yes, we sometimes stay up too late reading, but it’s easier to train your brain to associate a book with sleep instead of electronic devices such as televisions that give off disruptive blue light.
Simply put, reading modifies how our brains work. It will give you more information, let you become better at detecting patterns, and make you a more empathetic person.
Because we learned from books, we have a certain nostalgia for them, especially when we first learned how to read. However, we enjoyed story time not just because we didn’t have to do schoolwork. Instead, we discovered how words could spark our curiosity.
We all have a favorite childhood book, whether it be one by Dr. Seuss (how can Hollywood ruin his books?), the Amelia Bedelia series, or the Flat Stanley series. On the other hand, maybe we enjoyed a classic like Old Yeller, Charlotte’s Web, or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
The stories about Americans’ lack of reading make the headlines, but the truth is that in 2021, over 75% of Americans reported reading at least one book in the previous year. In 2017, 26% of Americans did not see a single movie in a theater.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t watch a movie, but it does suggest that we shouldn’t trust the headlines that no one reads books. So if you get into this debate about books versus movies and none of those reasons win the argument, maybe the bottom line of who reads and who sees movies will.
- School Library Journal: SLJ Average Book Prices 2021
- McZell: How Much Producing a Book Costs
- 24/7 Wall Street: This Is the Price of a Movie Ticket
- Towards Data Science: Are New Movies Longer Than They Were
- Oprah: How Reading Can Improve Your Memory
- Pew Research: Who Doesn’t Read Books in America
- Movie Guide: Who Goes to the Movies
- The Telegraph: Reading Can Help Reduce Stress