The Book is always Better

I’ve been watching the Game of Thrones. I read the series and I am eagerly awaiting the final book, like many fans. What do I think of the show? The book is better.

That’s what we readers always say, the book is better. Non-readers often accuse of us the worst sort of snobbery for always, and I do mean always, insisting the book is better. Is it really?

Book lovers have plenty of reasons to think the book is better. Books are typically longer, have a richer story in them, then the movie or show.

Though I am starting to wonder why that is. With the new trend towards turning books into shows rather than movies, you could tell the whole story. It might take awhile, but that just means more material to work with, right?

Another common reason given is our own imaginations. Reading triggers a dream-like state where we imagine the story playing out in our head. We can get fully immersed in this fantasy, at least good readers can. Movies engage our sight and sound. They, too, engage the imagination, but not in the same fully immersed way. At least that the theory.

Watching the Game of Thrones show triggered something of a revelation in me. There is another important reason why the book is better, and it’s paradoxically one of the problems with reading a book series, time and commitment. Books take a lot more time to read than a movie or even a season of TV.

The Game of Throne show runs ten episodes to a season, about an hour each. So to watch all five seasons (what’s available for rent or purchase right now) would take nearly fifty hours back to back. This chart from I09 estimates it would take twice that, nearly a hundred hours, to read the series. That’s based on an average reading speed.

As I’ve said, I’ve both read the series and I am currently on season five of the show. I will be watching the show and some major plot point will happen. My first thought is, “what? already?” And that’s when it hits me. One of the reasons the book is always better is because it takes longer. That means that by the time things happen in the book, we are already deeply invested.

The first moment that I saw this was when Theon Greyjoy meets Asha Greyjoy for the first time. In the book we already had quite a bit invested in Theon Greyjoy before that happened. It was a huge scene for him. In the show, I can’t say how non-readers reacted, but I felt it came too fast. He hadn’t been enough of a character in my mind at that point.

Which is why, all things being equal, the book will always be better. Books are more work. We have to make the time and emotional commitment to spend hours with these characters. We have to make more effort to get the words off the page and into our heads. So we start with a bigger investment. That means, for better or worse, the payout will be bigger, too. We will cheer, curse, love and hate those characters more.

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