Reading Versus Watching: An Introduction

Is there a difference between what we read and what we watch? If so, what difference? For instance, in public perception, there seems to be a trend towards seeing television and movies as entertainment and books as information. Of course, there are exceptions, say The DaVinci Code on one hand and An Inconvenient Truth on the other. However, according to the statistics, a successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies while a successful non-fiction book sells 7,500 copies, and it seems, at least anecdotally, that the most popular and talked about books in the United States are non-fiction, and informational non-fiction, like Guns, Germs and Steel or Freakanomics.

Now, this column isn't about fiction versus nonfiction. But the divide I perceive in public perception makes me curious as to what differences there are in what I read versus what I watch. After all, though many people don't read, we all watch television and movies. Even people who don't watch television regularly are known to rent or buy DVD's of "The Sopranos" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or whatever. Yet traditional wisdom tells us that novels are better than movies and television, and if the other media are more popular then it's only because they're easier to absorb (watching is easier than reading). But traditional wisdom has been challenged of late, and maybe television and movies really are delivering the goods these days.

This column is called Reading Versus Watching, and in it I'm going to talk about what I've been reading and what I've been watching and compare the two. This is both meant as a measure of my own tastes, and a measure of the two mediums in general, using my taste as a kind of barometer. (Yes, I think television and movies are basically the same medium, a topic to be expanded on at a later date.) Naturally, this isn't a scientific study, but rather a way of creating a dialog about what we watch and what we read and how they relate or don't relate to each other, which is something that I think is very interesting.

Expect the first Reading Versus Watching column in one week.