The Book Is Always Better

The arrival of a blockbuster film is the perfect occasion to spend some time with friends. And while there is little opportunity to comment on the movie as it unfolds, lively discussion is sure to follow soon after exiting the theater.

We speculate wildly about the meaning of events in the film and ask each other all kinds of questions, including, “who was your favorite character?” and, “what did you think of the ending?” But no matter the direction of the conversation, someone will inevitably make the comment, “the book was better.”

The insignificance and idiocy of such a statement is only exceeded by its preposterousness and pretentiousness, for the idea that a story told in film could somehow surpass the original literature is as unlikely as it is unreasonable.

The first reason why this statement sucks is that it says more about the person making the statement than the film or book. The kind of person who says, “the book is better,” is someone who is so insecure that they need to let other people know that they read. And in addition to making sure that everyone knows they’re literate, they compound the comment by implying that they are part of a special club with the right to judge the film from a higher vantage. By stating that the book is superior to the movie, they imply that those who enjoyed the movie are naive and uninformed.

Another frustrating thing about this comment is not that it isn’t true, it’s that it can’t be not true – the book is always better. There’s a number of reasons why this is the case, first among them being that the movie only exists because the book is awesome. Think about it: of course the book is great, why else would they make a movie about it? And even if by some miracle the book and movie are similar in greatness, the book always wins out because it’s longer, and thus more elaborate and detailed, and the book came first, so it carries a certain nostalgia that makes it more attractive.

The third reason why this statement should never be uttered is that it compares two forms of media which are fundamentally very different. While literature and film can be aimed at the same objective, like telling a story, they go about it in completely different ways. Books don’t have special effects or actors, but they also aren’t limited by concrete incarnations of scenery or characters. By contrast, movies don’t have detailed, poetic descriptions, but they can use breathtaking visuals and powerful music.

Comparing a book to a film is like comparing a picture to a song, a bed to a couch, a river to an ocean, a dessert to an appetizer or a guitar to a piano. They can sometimes be used to achieve similar goals, but they go about it in very different ways.

Stop telling people that the book is better.