Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Book Was Better

I have a small confession to make, although many who know me probably already know this about me.

I'm a terrible reader.

Growing up through most of my life, I had a tendency to skim my reading assignments and find ways to make it seem like I had done the reading. I was clever enough to find holes in the system that allowed me to get out of doing the reading while still doing well enough on tests and papers to skate by with B's and C's. That's not to say I NEVER did the reading. Occasionally books would just click with me and I would actually be able to devour them passionately. But more often than not, I bullshitted my way through English and Lit.

I am not proud of this, but it's true. I WISH that I had forced myself to read the things I didn't enjoy because I still can't get myself to read the things I DO enjoy, simply because I'm just not good at sitting down and reading.

I have ADD and I also grew up mostly watching TV and movies. That's not to say I had trouble learning how to read. Actually, I learned how to read faster than a lot of the kids I knew. I just never really cared much for it.

There's a line in the film version of "Matilda" that was spoken by one of the EVIL PARENTS that, as a kid, I secretly identified with: "There's nothin' you can get from a book that you can't get from a television faster."

It's really the main reason I never became a good reader. Deep in my mind I wonder, "Why should I bother spending all of my free time for an entire week reading a story that I could watch in a couple hours?"

Obviously, there are plenty of things that keep the novel relevant when compared to visual media. The fact that you can enjoy it at your own pace, the idea that every reader experiences it differently, and the very personal nature of it. But I'm not one who likes to go at my own pace... I like to be led rather than lead. I don't want to have "my own" version of a story... I want the version the author has. And I don't always want to experience a story on a personal level... I like to share narrative experiences with friends (I often hate watching movies alone).

The biggest problem of all, however, is just that it's hard for me to stay engrossed in a book. Because my mind tends to wander, I might read entire pages of material and not actually take any of it in. A book is something I can't enjoy passively, so unless something about it just sucks me right in, my apathy will eventually take over and I'll put the book down indefinitely.

That's not to say I don't enjoy reading. I can't say I've ever had a case where I've read a book -- even when I had to force myself to do so -- and absolutely hated the experience. OK, well, maybe with "My Antonia". With that exception, every time I've actually finished a book, no matter how painful or time-consuming it was, I always felt proud of the accomplishment. Of all forms of media, reading is (to me at least) the most rewarding.

Sadly, however, I'm not easily motivated by long-term rewards gained by short-term suffering. I'm a procrastinator and that's something I'll likely never change.

The ironic thing is that I love to write. I love words and language. It's just that reading a book is so damn hard for me to do.

There are always exceptions, however. For whatever reason, the "Harry Potter" books were always easy for me to read. With the exception of a great deal of the first book, I always felt really invested in the story. I credit this to two things: 1) The characters often felt either very genuine and relatable, or just seemed like cool people. 2) The over-emphasis of dialogue.

A lot of people criticize J.K. Rowling for her dependence on dialogue and her overall weak prose. She put more information about the plot and the situation in the dialogue than she did in the rest of it. Honestly, a lot of the time she might as well have been writing a screenplay.

But for me, this was perfect. It gave me an anchor. It carried me through the story. It kept me interested. I always wanted to know how each character reacted to each situation and how their reaction would influence other reactions. Or I would want to see how a certain thing played out so that I could see how a certain character would react. It plays out more like a TV show or a movie.

Many writers spend more time carefully choosing their words to craft a particular image in the reader's mind and requires a great deal of patience and presence of mind. It's like painting. The "Harry Potter" books typically don't, and that's probably one reason I had a much easier time reading them, and it's also probably one reason they were so popular.

I'm not a completely lost cause, though. I've found that I can manage to digest a book through audio-books, since I can enjoy that passively. Last year, I listened to audio-books and podcasts every time I was in the car. Unfortunately, lately I've been back on a music kick and spend more time listening to the radio these days, so I'm back to basically never enjoying a book, but hopefully I'll move back to audio-books at some point.

It kinda sucks, but I don't really mind. I really enjoy TV, movies, comic books, and video games and I barely have enough time for all those things.

Still, whenever I enjoy something like "Game of Thrones" and my friends tell me I should read the books rather than wait for the next season to come out, I pretty much know I never will. I'm sure they're amazing books and I know I would love to read them, and I genuinely WANT to read them. But I know I never would. I know that trying would be a futile effort and I also know that the next season is just a few months away. It's the same thing when I know that there's a movie adaptation of a book coming out. Even if the adaptation is terrible, I'll be more likely to see it than read the original source material. Maybe if I get back into audio-books I'll listen to the "Game of Thrones" novels, but honestly, I kind of like going into the TV show blind.

I won't argue with the fact that more often than not, the book is better. But that's just who I am. I'm lazy and impatient. I'll microwave some Easy-Mac before boiling proper mac 'n cheese in a pot. I'll go to fast food rather than go to a restaurant. I'll watch the DVD rather than read the vastly superior book.