‘You live several lives while reading a book.’
- William Styron, American novelist
On the occasion of World Book Day on 23 April it was encouraging to see a spirited defense of books over movies at a recent school debate. The event was the culmination of Book Week being observed by the school. On display at the venue were colourful bookmarks made by the children, journals on the book or movie of their choice and even a book exhibition-cum-sale of children’s favourites.
Despite the prophets of doom sounding the death-knell of reading, here was a whole new generation that was hooked on books. ‘Books are portable,’ one said, ‘Can you cart your TV around?’ Another pointed out that books spur the reader’s imagination. In a movie the visualization is already done for you. The special effects which the Harry Potter movies incorporate, take the story beyond the scope (or intention) of the book.
Time was another factor which was debated. Movies have a limited timeframe of 2/3 hours. While going for a movie is an occasion to hang out with friends, it can never be compared to a 400-page novel.
In books there is more detailing of character. Whereas most movie-goers go to see the movie only for the actors, in a book it is the story which is the criterion. Reading exposes you to new words and improves one’s language and IQ.
The debate was so enthralling that at times I had to remind myself that I was on the jury – or else I would have rushed up on stage at Navy Children School (NCS), Dabolim and had my say!
Not all books have been visualized in movies. Both are independent genres and mediums with their own features. For me, a book offers amazing flexibility. You can read it on the train, at home after lunch, or while waiting for someone. Literature is always embedded in history and politics, says Catherine Belsey. Therefore a reading of a novel is always against the backdrop of its time. The discerning reader is always engaging with the text, searching for the multiple implications of a sentence, be it in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness -- a fable of imperialism -- or Saadat Hassan Manto’s short story, ‘Ten Rupees’-- the price for a girl in Bombay.
Poetry can never be translated into a movie, unless the prose itself is lyrical enough to be poetry like in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. Poetry takes the intensity of reading to its height. Most of Shakespeare’s plays have been made into movies, but give me the book any day -- preferably the handsome Arden edition with its elegant notes to quarry. World Book Day commemorates the birth as well as the death anniversary of Shakespeare on 23 April.
Today people spend too much time wading through the predictable pap of dailies which hoodwink you with manufactured news. Creative writing -- which is often an indictment of society -- is rarely published, let alone read. But that’s another story.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender St. Inez, Goa on 28 April 2013. Pix courtesy kirbymuseum.org. This blogpost notes the amazing absence of a doodle on the google search website today 23 April 2014 on the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth as well as death!