Reading vs. Watching

Ever since the late 1920’s, when talking pictures were invented, a common phrase has been, “I liked the book better.” It’s kind of an intellectual statement, and generally the only people who say it are those who want to brag about how many books they’ve read.

I read a lot, but I don’t read a lot of novels.  Normally I only read two or three novels a year.  But I read a lot of factual information, and I always have.  When I was 11 years old, my favorite book was “The Complete Handbook of Baseball 1976”.  That book was never made into a movie, but it played out on television nearly every day for six months.  The next year “The Complete Handbook of Baseball 1977” did the same thing.

Probably my favorite book of all time is “Ball Four”, written by baseball player Jim Bouton in 1970 about his 1969 season, which was spent between the expansion Seattle Pilots, the minor league Vancouver Mounties and the Houston Astros.  “Ball Four” was never made into a movie.  But it was made into a television sitcom in 1976, and I can definitely say that I liked the book better than the TV show.  As Jim Bouton himself said about the sitcom, “We were trying to make something like ‘M*A*S*H’ set in a locker room, and what we made was more like ‘Gilligan’s Island’ in baseball suits.”

Books have the advantage over movies in that they can describe situations in greater detail and give considerably more background information.  But movies have the advantage of being shorter and a better place to take a date.  Also, music can make a big difference in the quality or emotion of a movie, but music makes no difference at all to a book.

Sometimes the movie is better than the book.  Buzzfeed.com came up with a list of examples.  Here are 20 of them in chronological order:

Psycho, 1960

The Graduate, 1967

A Clockwork Orange, 1971

The Godfather, 1972

Jaws, 1975

The Shining, 1980

Stand By Me, 1986

The Princess Bride, 1987

Die Hard, 1988

The Silence of the Lambs, 1991

Forrest Gump, 1994

The Shawshank Redemption, 1994

Starship Troopers, 1997

Fight Club, 1999

The Lord of the Rings, 2001-2003

The Notebook, 2004

The Devil Wears Prada, 2006

No Country for Old Men, 2007

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 2009

Fifty Shades of Grey, 2015

Of these twenty examples, I’ve seen 17 of the movies and read three of the books.  Of the three books I’ve read, I’ve seen each of the movies made from them.  So that leaves three for which I’ve neither seen the movie nor read the book.

I’ve never seen nor read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and don’t expect to do so.  It just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing I’d enjoy.  I haven’t seen nor read “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” because it was a children’s book and children’s movie that both came out when I was already an adult.  I haven’t seen “Starship Troopers” yet, but one day I probably will.  The fact that I haven’t taken two hours out of the past 19 years to see it makes no difference.  It’s on the list.  I’ll get to it.  But I won’t read the book.

The three books I’ve read from the list of examples are “The Godfather”, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand By Me”, and two of those weren’t even complete books.  “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand By Me” both started life as Stephen King novellas published with other stories as “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body”.  Both movies, as far as I’m concerned, were about equal to the Stephen King stories.  And although “The Godfather” is a great movie, I’m glad I read the book before I saw it, because the book explains a lot more about the relationships between the various characters.

I’ve been told it’s sacrilege that I never read “The Lord of the Rings”.  I’ve also been told it’s sacrilege that I didn’t particularly like any of the three movies made from it and actually fell asleep in the theatre watching two of them.  I never read “The Hobbit” either.  Some people adore middle-earth-type fantasy and science fiction.  I never have.  To me it’s always been interesting enough to try to figure out the real world, which I also haven’t yet.

One of my favorite movies is “Field of Dreams”.  A few years before that movie came out I read the book upon which it’s based, “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella.  Both stories are good and only partly remind me of each other.  In the book, the character James Earl Jones plays in the movie, Terrence Mann, is actually author J.D. Salinger.  And although Ray Kinsella is the main character, he’s never been estranged from his father, which is a central plot point of the movie.  Instead it’s his brother who requires a reconciliation, but the character of the brother didn’t make it into the movie.

Here’s my short list of movies that were better than the book:

All the President’s Men, 1976

M*A*S*H, 1970

The Firm, 1993

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 2001

Les Miserables, 2012

The Dead Zone, 1983

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975

Love Story, 1970

Christine, 1983

The Buccaneer, 1958

I don’t blame you if you think this isn’t a very good list.  I don’t think so, either.  But to make it better, I’d have to read about two-thousand more books.  And I pay for way too many movie channels to waste time doing that.

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