Gates: TV can’t entirely eclipse books


Matt Gates, Columnist

Between rushing to finish readings for the upcoming week and knowing they have to wait five more days to enjoy another weekend, Northwestern students are likely to encounter the Sunday night blues. But for those of us who count ourselves among the many fans of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” this quarter’s Sunday nights might be a little more enjoyable. The April 12 premiere of Season 5 of HBO’s most popular show of all time, which is based on the book series, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” by Medill alumnus George R.R. Martin, drew a whopping 8 million viewers.

HBO manages to churn out another season of the hit show each year while Martin has a reputation for writing extremely slowly and has not announced a release date for “The Winds of Winter,” the sixth book in the series. This has resulted in speculation that the timeframe of the show will eventually eclipse the book, which the show’s producers confirmed in March. Fans of the novels, some of whom have been invested in the characters since before most of the NU student body could read, will find the ending of Martin’s story spoiled on screen before they can read his final novel.

While there are pragmatic reasons the story will likely reach its conclusion on screen before it does so in print, the greater interest my generation shows in the television show over the novels reflects the greater trend that reading for pleasure seems to be a dying — or at least a declining — pastime. The fact that the five books Martin has released so far total 5,216 pages may dissuade many readers. But the fact that the show already consists of almost 40 hours of material does not keep many of us from staying caught up or with shows that have much more content like “How I Met Your Mother.”

Despite the relatively greater interest shown in TV and movies, reading for pleasure should be valued for its many benefits. In one of the first classes I took at NU, a course on reading and writing in Spanish, the professor asked us how many of us had read a book we were not assigned by a professor recently. Many of us had not. My professor followed up his first question by asking how many of us thought that books would die in favor of TV and movies. My class did not think so, arguing that books could offer more details, a longer story and other benefits. After a long while, we ultimately agreed that the key element movies failed to offer was an explanation of the character’s thought process. No TV show or movie can lay out the thoughts of characters in the way a book can. Although HBO’s “Thrones” can offer modern special effects and quality acting, it cannot allow the point of view narration present in the different chapters of each novel. It can depict dragons in superb quality but cannot provide viewers with the experience of following the thoughts of the characters as they interact with them.

Reading might even have cognitive benefits. A study in the journal Neurology suggested reading improves one’s memory, and, according to research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may even result in a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Obtaining information through reading is beneficial for numerous reasons and is a worthwhile hobby, even in the digital age.

Many experts believe Americans read far less than they once did, and — accurately or not — some point to younger people as especially not likely to read. Even if we find out who takes the Iron Throne in front of a TV instead of a book, reading has something to offer that TV does not.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].