I’m still working my way through Sunnyside. I really like it, but reading time has been scarce this week. Apparently, I have to GRADE the things that I assign. Who knew? But my husband is out of town for the weekend so last night I snuggled up with a glass of wine and Charlie Chaplin.
The book is about the advent of movies in America and, as such, there’s a lot of interesting chatter about the power of film. Which is awesome, because I LOVE movies, particularly old movies. There’s a really beautiful discussion of a character’s first experiences with movies, about how much they touch him and how much better they are than books, and I actually put my nook down and said “huh.” (Because you can do those kinds of things when you’re by yourself and you’ve had some wine).
Besides the meta-moment of reading about how much more powerful movies are than books IN a book, I couldn’t help but wonder: Are movies more powerful than books? I’m a tremendous fan of both, but I’d never thought about their power comparatively.
So I spent some time on my run today thinking about that. Tallying the books that have touched me and comparing them to the movies that have touched me. Can a book make you laugh in the same way a movie can? Confederacy of Dunces and Eats, Shoots, and Leaves actually made an entire subway car full of people stare at me. Can a book make you cry the way a movie can? I defy anyone to read “Johnny died three days later…” or the end of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close without getting at least a little misty. Can a book transport you to new places? Sure can! I’ve never been to Spain, but The Sun Also Rises sure makes me feel like I am. What about movies? There’s something cathartic about sitting in a dark theatre with strangers experiencing something. Movies are a shared experience, while books rarely (if ever) are. Movies can be visually and emotionally appealing in a way that books, unless they are picture books, cannot (although Ryan is reading the new Steve Martin book and he might beg to differ).
So which is better? I’d like to pose a different question: why do we have to choose? I know true literature purists will say “there’s nothing like a book,” and dismiss the power of film and television, but I think the question is one that just isn’t necessary. It’s like asking which is better, painting or sculpture? Both books and movies make my life better. So does good TV. So does bad TV, but in a very different way.
Do you have a preference? Does one touch you more than the other?