Some time ago now, during a riot in London, it was reported that in one area every shop had been picked clean by rioters except—the bookstore. That one had been left untouched. I can’t imagine the same to be true of the video store.
It’s a familiar refrain and sometimes even I get tired of hearing it. But it does often seem that our society’s values are a little skewed. Sports often appear to be valued over education, infotainment over actual news, and—yes—movies and TV over books and literacy. I generally find that when I’m reaching for an example to illustrate some important point about writing, that a reference to a “movie” often works best. The books I want to use as illustrations will work only for a subset of people. The movie will work for nearly everyone. In fact, I sometimes feel as if I watch most TV and movies just so I’ll have something to talk about with other people and to use as examples in my classes.
Along a similar vein, I’ve had dozens of folks over the years find out that I’m a writer and immediately recommend that I 1) write for the movies, 2) read screenplays as a way to improve my writing, 3) read a book about screen writing, or 4) all of the above. This is in spite of the fact that I, 1) don’t really find movies very interesting, 2) personally find screenplays the most boring thing to read outside of technical manuals, 3) don’t ever want my written prose to sound like it came from a movie, and 4) it just plain irritates me.
Now, I have nothing against folks who like movies. I like plenty of them myself. I also think that writers can learn something from studying every form of writing, including screenwriting, and there are movies that contain great dialogue, although I generally find them strongest at the “one liner” verbalizations. But what irritates me about people making the “movie” suggestions to me is that these folks seem clearly to value movies more than books. It almost seems they are saying, “well yes, write your little novels until you develop the professional skills to write for the important markets, TV and the movies.” Frankly, most TV and movie writing isn’t very good, and that which is good generally comes originally from books, as with the Harry Potter movies and Game of Thrones.
I’ll admit that I probably sometimes overstate the case against movies, but that’s because hardly anyone else seems to question the “movies are just worth more than books” vibe that we live with in our society. I question it. If my TV/video system was gone when I woke up tomorrow, my life would go on almost exactly as it did before. When Lana is not home, our TV is off 99% of the time. But if I woke up and all my books were gone, I’d be devastated and would probably head for the nearest bookstore immediately to start replenishing my shelves.
For me, and for always, books are where it's at.