Page vs Screen: Who’s the Better Storyteller?

When I started my 2012 Reading Challenge in the spring, I thought that, somewhere along the way, I might dip my toe into the “eBook vs. printed book”  waters that are swirling around the blog-sphere these days. I read novels in both formats, and there are certain things that I like and don’t like about each one, but ultimately I decided that I wasn’t excited enough about the subject to blog about it. (We all know that I like using my exclamation marks!!!)

But once I looked back at I’ve read so far (and looked at what I’m reading now), I discovered that what I was excited about was the link between the page and screen. Of the four books I’ve already finished, three have been adapted into movies. And I’m currently reading The Paris Wife, which was described to me as “the book version of that new Woody Allen movie”.

So what’s the connection? Am I just drawn to particularly “cinematic” stories? Do good novels naturally lend themselves to being depicted on film? And how does experiencing a story in one medium impact how we feel about it in another? These are all really interesting questions to me (nerd alert!) and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about them for a while. I don’t have any definitive answers for you, but I do have ideas on what I think are some of the pros and cons:

Movies are a multi-sensory medium: I think Jane Austen writes dialogue that is wonderfully romantic and satisfying, but for me, Darcy’s final proposal to Elizabeth is made infinitely better when I can see Darcy’s face, framed by the warm golden light of the sunrise, and hear beautiful string music crescendo in the background. (I have Pride and Prejudice on in the background as I’m writing this, in case you couldn’t tell).

Books give you more creative control: My sister and I both love the Harry Potter series, but she refuses to see any of the movies. No matter how adorable an eleven year old Daniel Radcliffe might be, she’s convinced he won’t live up to the version of Harry that exists in her imagination … and she has a point. How could he? Besides which, she’s told me that she pronounces Hermione’s name a very specific way, and hearing other characters/actors saying it differently would just freak her out.

Movies offer a shared experience: We can certainly read something as part of a group and discuss it afterwards – this is in fact a popular cultural occurrence known as Book Club Night, or, if you’re me, My Entire University Career – and it can certainly be fun and rewarding. But the fact is that the actual reading is experienced alone. On the other hand, watching The Hunger Games in a sold out theatre and hearing the entire audience gasp out loud at one particular scene was thrilling, and strangely comforting, at the same time.

Books can be friends: Speaking of comforting … I find my favourite books to be comfortable and familiar in a way that my favourite movies aren’t. I’m much more likely to re-read Anne of Green Gables if I’ve had a bad day than I am to watch the dvd version. The book is just … cozier, somehow.

As you can see, we’ve got a tie. I suspect I could talk about this one for a while (I read a lot. Except for when I’m watching movies), but I’d much rather hear what you think! Would you rather watch a movie or curl up with a book? Why? Could you even choose one over the other? Would you even want to? Tell me all about it!

27 thoughts on “Page vs Screen: Who’s the Better Storyteller?

  1. I use to pronounce Hermione in a different way.. until I realized I got it all wrong when I watched the films.

    Personally, I will read a book before watching a film, IF it is a book i’m interested in. If it is not a book I’m interested it, I’ll just watch the film. If the film is epic, I’ll read the book after.

    • Hi Jeyna! Thanks for sharing – my sister will be glad to know she wasn’t the only one! Hard to pronounce or not, I have to say I’m liking this recent trend of strong, unique heroines with equally unique names (Katniss is another one that comes to mind). It can be quite inspiring! What are some of your favourite character names you’ve come across in books or movies?

      I tend to do the same thing as you, and read the book first…but sometimes a film sneaks in first. I swooned over Alan Rickman many times in Sense and Sensibility before I actually read the novel from start to finish.

      Thanks so much for stopping by! 🙂

  2. Great topic Amber! I ask myself the same question and agree especially with the first 3 points. The only one I would add is that film can be as intellectually stimulating as the viewer makes it. Some go to have the entertainment wash over them, while others go to deconstruct it over a glass of wine with friends later on. I personally love the immersive, escapist experience of film. In cinema, the film does the work, with reading I do the work (if that makes any sense).

    Speaking of which if you haven’t seen “The Master” it’s must see. The editing was terrible; it was too long, drawn out, depressing for my taste and lacking an arc. But, the acting is brilliantly nuanced (Amy Adams is oscar bait, I think Joaquin is just nuts in real life), the directing incredible and sound design plays a big role. You can’t not talk about it after you’ve seen it.

    Great post as usual.

    • What a great point Becca! Sometimes I just want my movies to be comfortable background noise (pretty much anything that plays on TBS would fall into this category for me) and sometimes, I want them to spark conversations. I love that one medium can provide two such different experiences like that!

      I haven’t seen The Master yet, but will definitely be adding it to my must see list after that review. I agree with you about Joaquin, I think all that talent comes with a side order of crazy, but I’m curious to see Amy in this type of role. Her character seems somewhat unsympathetic, and to me, she will always be Princess Giselle from Enchanted! So it could be fun to watch her play against type.

      Thank you for the lovely, insightful comment!

  3. speaking of unique heroines… where is Lauren Weisberger’s new book with a super cool main character name??!

    i always like reading the book first… and the original book, not the book that has been redone with the movie poster as the cover. we just found out i’m a popcorn snob at the movies.. am i also a book snob?!?

    • Good question! She needs to step up her game and come up with something a little more exciting than AnDREa.

      It’s funny you mention book covers, because I will sometimes have snob-ish thoughts when I see people reading something that says, “Now a Major Motion Picture!” on the front too. Like, “Pfft, they’re only reading this because of Meryl Streep, they don’t REALLY care about Julia Child like I do …” But then I think, does it matter? Shouldn’t the important thing be that they decided to pick up the book at all?!?

      Very interesting … thanks so much for commenting tess 🙂

    • Thanks Anita! 🙂

      I know just what you mean about getting other people’s voices in my head. When I read Pride and Prejudice in the spring, I kept hearing Donald Sutherland’s voice for Mr. Bennet’s lines, whether I wanted to or not!

  4. Amb…GREAT post! I will always choose book over movie and in that order; I somehow take it in, feel it, see it, make the characters part of me more readily through the printed word than the film. I’m often torn about whether to see the film version at all – torn between maintaining my own version or turning myself over to the imagery created by someone else in the film. Only rarely does it match my expectations. I too think of books as friends, and the characters like people that I’ve met along the way. I should not be surprised that you mentioned Ann of Green Gables… 🙂

    Last night, I ended up in a conversation with some friends about the My Name is Memory book and thought of you, knowing you’d have some great thoughts to add to the convo!

    I only wish I had more time to read, I used to be able to devour a few books a I am lucky to get one under my belt in a month! xo

    • Bonnie! Your comments always make me smile, and today was no exception. I love that you said the characters become part of you – I feel exactly the same way about characters from my favourite books!

      I’m so happy that you were able to have a good conversation about My Name is Memory, that’s awesome.

      I can definitely relate to not having enough time for reading. I suppose that could be one of the areas where movies have the advantage, they lend themselves to multitasking a bit more. For example, ironing or doing dinner prep while watching a movie sounds doable, but handling a hot iron or sharp knives while reading?!? Sounds pretty risky to me!

      Thanks again for the lovely comment, my friend. xo.

  5. I’m definitely a book person, and as you note above, think of them as friends. Movies don’t leave me with the same sense of connection. When I read I can stop and marvel at a particular paragraph. I can write down a memorable line or share a thought with a friend. I enjoy movies – but when comparing them to a book, I almost feel like I’m being unfair to the cinematic genre..

    • That’s such a good point Mimi! Book quotes travel well, for lack of a better word, and can be shared easily, but capturing a line or particular scene from a movie would probably prove much harder, unless you have the gift of instant recall …

      … Or unless you’re my good friend David, whose parents owned a video store while he was growing up and who absorbed an astonishing number of movie quotes directly into his brain over the years. The words of Ben Stiller show up regularly in my inbox thanks to him! 🙂

  6. You seem to come up with such interesting topics…stuff I think about but never get to writing about…very unique and insightful.

    A pleasure to read. Good work!!! (Exclamation marks back at ya!)

    • Thank you so much! What a lovely thing to say. Sometimes it can be a bit nerve-wracking to hit “publish” and send my posts out into the world, but exclamation marks from commenters like you make it all worthwhile !!!

      Yes, those were added on purpose 🙂 Cheers!

  7. Movies are so much more efficient, but books have their place. Ender’s Game is one of the few books that has really grabbed me lately.

    • Ender’s Game … A Hunger Games/Battle Royale kind of story, no? Ender is at a specialized boarding school and training for battle … or … something? Am I even close? It sounds familiar … off to Google now …

      • Google says I forgot about the aliens. They’re training for battle against the aliens. So close!!

        Interestingly enough, this story is being adapted into a movie as well, due out sometime in 2013. Will have to make a point of reading the book before it comes out.

      • Correct. To give you a sense of how often I read entire books about fiction, I just realized I read this book seven years ago. Seven! But I read it twice more over the next two or three years because it captivated me. Perhaps it catered to a certain adolescent desire to be the “wonder child” but it was an awesome book. I’m very fearful of the movie. 🙂

        P.S. What’s the deal with this comment hiatus, girl? I have an Ingrid Bergman-related person that I’ll be posting about next week, but it’d be a shame not to have you along for the ride!

      • I remember, you’re more of an article guy, which is why I knew if you recommended this one, it must be good! And who says the desire to be the “wonder child” is adolescent? That’s basically my goal every day 🙂

        PS my hiatus over at FNB, you mean? I’m trying to make you miss me – did it work??? 🙂 Seriously, I didn’t want your other readers to feel like I was monopolizing the conversation. I was kind of doing that, for a while there. But you know I’ll definitely have something to say about an Ingrid Bergman-related person! Now I’m curious and want to know who it is …

  8. Pingback: Page vs. Screen: The Surround Sound Edition | words become superfluous

  9. Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, Tess D’Urberville, Great Gatsby ( I hope to get to see the latest movie staring Leo DiCaprio) an so on….I also used to read a lot when I was a teenager, but today not so much. I believe people don’t have so much time anymore to read and seeing a movie gets you more quick into the subject.

    • Hi Diana! You’re right, movies can be a great way to get to know classic literature if you don’t have the time or inclination to read the novel. I remember watching the movie version of Frankenstein, with Robert De Niro, in high school english class, and it was easier to appreciate than the novel, which was too melodramatic for me.

      Thanks for commenting!

  10. Pingback: Ever Present … | words become superfluous

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