Senft: Are books glorified paperweights?

"No I haven't read that one yet… I'll just wait until the movie comes out." Have you ever heard or used this phrase? I know that I have. And hey, it contains an element of truth - if a book is any good, they are going to turn it into a movie.

I have actually read many of the books that have made the leap to the silver screen in recent years, and the general opinion I have, with a few exceptions, is that it just isn't the same. As corny as it sounds, reading a book is an escape, an adventure of sorts. As a reader, you can picture the characters any way you like, pronounce their names however you see fit, and see their innermost thoughts and feelings as if you were inside their heads. Obviously this same liberty does not translate to a movie screen. If a book is more than two hundred pages long, some plot will inevitably be lost or changed, and the actors' appearances will no doubt change the way you picture those characters were you to pick up the book again. And, of course, you only get what the characters actually say, rather than an omniscient narration, the result of which is annoying explanatory dialogue, and lots of it.

And yet, Hollywood continues to do it. Slowly but surely, they are taking away the need to pick up a book and - gasp! - use your brain and your imagination, because if you wait long enough they'll do the work for you. So we troop to the theater, pay a ridiculous amount of money for a ticket and greasy food we don't need, and watch beautifully written stories get mutilated.

I blame it on the fast pace of modern American culture. For someone who works at a stressful job all day, comes home to a family he or she is supporting, pays the bills, cooks dinner, and runs the kids to extracurricular activities, reading a book at the end of the day probably comes in second to collapsing on the couch and sinking into televised oblivion. Reading takes concentration and time, two things that Americans seriously lack after completing all the tasks that are necessary in their lives. We demand too much, we expect too much, and live in a constant state of stress and malcontent. Perhaps a ride down the river with Huck Finn or a day in the Shire with Frodo Baggins would do most of us some good.

I fear the day that books, hard copies you can hold in your hand, become extinct. It has already begun, with the rise of books on tape and CD, and the new availability of some texts online. Next thing you know, authors will become scriptwriters, and the beauty of the written word is reduced to a bunch of idle dialogue squeezed into a 120 minute time frame. I hope that day doesn't come while I'm around. Just in case, I'm stockpiling books in my closet.

Amanda Senft is a sophomore English major who urges you to read Harry Potter before watching it.