Storytelling Media: Are Books Superior?

I love books.

This is something of a statement of the obvious. I mean, I write books. Of course I love them. I love to read them, too. So obviously, they are superior, right?

A simple Google search will bring back dozens of results telling you why books are superior to television and video games. The topmost of these results will explain that books are better from a neurological standpoint—that is to say, books are actually better for your physical brain development than electronic storytelling media. Still more of these articles decry the e-book and argue that reading from a screen, while still better than watching TV or playing a game, is not as good for you as holding a physical paper book in your hand. You can find dozens of articles stating how the “blue light” from your computer, television, and phone is addictive and detrimental to your mental health. Some go so far as to claim that the high suicide rates among teens are due to too much screen time and social media and not enough books. Given that I have known several brilliant minds who read like it’s going out of style, yet suffer from intense depression, I think this last claim is a bit much.

Nevertheless, the brain research that has taken place seems to indicate that books are healthier for us. In the brief twenty minutes I spent reading articles, I learned that reading books increases critical thinking skills, can boost mood, can be relaxing, and can improve sleep cycles, among other things. This is good news for people in the book industry, because it means we will always have some person in a white lab coat backing us.

All of this is fascinating; however, I am not here today to ask the question of whether reading is healthier for you. I am here to ask this: are books the superior form of storytelling media? I love books, and I write books, but I also love TV shows and video games, especially if the video game has a good plot behind it. I think that too often, the validity of electronic storytelling media is dismissed as something “for the lower-minded masses.” However, at one point, popular fiction was regarded the same way, and the play was considered the elitist form of storytelling.

I would like to argue, regardless of the neurological health factors, that television and even video games can be just as valid a form of storytelling as books. Are there a lot of crappy TV shows and video games with bad storytelling? Absolutely. However, there are just as many books with crappy storytelling. When you think about it, though, a movie is little more than a filmed play, and plays get no revilement in the literary community. So why the hatred for film and television? Fortunately, thanks to Citizen Kane, film has gotten a fair shot at being considered valid. Really, only TV shows and video games are being treated with disdain these days.

I think that TV shows can be a superior form of storytelling to film, due to longer running times and the opportunity for gradual character development. Currently, the TV show I am obsessing over is Attack on Titan, which, by the way, is not for everyone—it can be disturbing, gross, and depressing at times. A lot of the time, actually. But I love it because the storytelling is so concise, the characters are all well developed, and the animation is breathtaking. I have watched many TV shows which do a similarly excellent job of character development and plot development.

“But watching television is lazy!” some people cry.

Not if the story is well-written. Not if the writers hold back information and make you do mental gymnastics trying to figure out what is coming next. Watching television can be a very active experience, requiring as much emotional investment and participation in the story as reading a book. Now, watching Spongebob? Yeah. That is lazy. But a great deal of the programming out there is not. The market demand for intellectually stimulating shows has increased, and the market is slowly but surely delivering to that demand.

Video games have an even worse reputation than TV shows. But I have played a few games whose storytelling is just as riveting as reading a book. The advantage here is that you as the player are an active participant in the story—and don’t try to tell me that the reader of a book is not also an active participant in the story they are reading, albeit in a different way. Video games are seen as the ultimate form of laziness, something only geeks and losers who live in their parents’ basement partake in. Again, it all comes down to whether or not the story is well written. Are there trash video games? Of course there are. But there are also trash books. Many of the best video games have a run time as long as it takes to read a book, giving you a chance to become intimately familiar with the characters of the narrative and to become invested in them.

So, are books a superior form of storytelling? Are they the creme de la creme of all storytelling media? Well, I think that books are the most immersive form of storytelling. Your whole mind becomes engaged in the story in a way that does not happen with other storytelling media—including plays, for the record. I have said on multiple occasions, though not on this blog, that watching film or television is seeing a story in 180 degrees, while reading is seeing a story in 360 degrees. I think that in a book you can get to know the characters in a way that you cannot in other media. Being a writer and an avid reader, I would like to say that yes, books are probably the best form of storytelling.

However, just because books are the most engaging form of storytelling does not diminish the truly wonderful storytelling capability of other media. I do not believe that we should limit ourselves to any one medium as “the only true way to enjoy a story.” We should vary our exposure to storytelling in all varieties of media, and examine the advantages and disadvantages of each. By comparing and contrasting, we increase our critical thinking skills on top of getting to enjoy some truly delightful stories along the way.

What do you think? Do you think that books are the best form of storytelling, or do you see them as equal with other media? Sound off in the comments.

Check out my novel Charybda, the story of Nivin, a blind girl who discovers she can see the swirling lights that make up portals to another world. How does she know that they are called Charybda? How can she explain the young man who emerges from one? Read the first chapter here or learn more here.

What are your thoughts?