Werner Herzog on Reading.


Yes, I went and did it. I hated on TV. Well, to be fair it was Werner Herzog who hated on tv in favor of reading. And he is no stranger to the controversial comment.

But in this case, I think he has a point.

When I read, I feel like I am diving into a world I couldn’t access outside of a book. I feel like I’m stepping through a door. Granted, there are people out there who we now know can’t picture things in their mind while reading the way I do. But the fact remains, for me I see more of the world inside a book that I would if I never read.

TV is different.

And, let’s be honest-I do watch TV. I was so upset when I found out that next season is that last Downton Abbey will have that my boss came in my office and asked me who died. I just said, “Downton.” It’s the ringtone on my phone. No, that’s not a joke.

And don’t even get me started on how I feel about how long they make us wait between Sherlock seasons.

But the purpose of TV is to escape.

I want to leave my world and go somewhere else when I watch. I want to drop my identity completely. When I read, I feel like I’m still there, as me, but wandering along inside the world of the book. When I finish, I wander around inside the story for a while, but it’s less jarring than the end of an episode or leaving a theater and blinking in the daylight. I didn’t realize this until I found this quotation. Thanks, Werner!

What is the difference between watching a story and reading it for you? We did start to talk about the difference between listening to a book and reading it a bit- more to come there- but I’d be curious about how people balance reading and watching TV and movies.

Have you lost the world, or do you own it? Or do you think Werner Herzog’s reading theory is total crap? Discuss…

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Further Exploring

  • Deanna - Great topic. I think reading a book allows more use of the imagination. You use your senses to think about how the scene looks and feels and smells when you read a book. The possibilities are broader, even with detailed descriptions in the book. When you watch a movie, you become limited to the movie director’s interpretation of the setting. Yes, movies have some cool visual effects, but imagination can have some pretty cool effects too. Once I read a book I am usually disappointed in the movie. If I see the movie first, I can’t get those visuals out of my head, and thus am limited in my ideas of the setting. I prefer books!ReplyCancel

    • caroline - I am the same way, Deanna. It’s very rare that a movie lives up to what I pictured in my head when reading. I think there are only two movies- Room with a View and Enchanted April- that succeed. A funny example of this is that I am still sad, no matter how well Daniel Radcliffe played the part, that I can’t quite recall my very different version of Harry Potter’s face that I had in my mind before the movie. I think he looks more like the German illustrator’s version. Glad to know you’re with me!ReplyCancel

  • Deanna - This was great dinner conversation. My husband disagreed. He liked multiple versions of Fiddler on the Roof in various theatre production and TV and felt each version took him in slightly different directions . He feels both book and visual have their strengths and weaknesses. My son prefers video, as he thinks it helps keep his attention in a TV or movie version. He saw Hector and the Pursuit of Happiness as a film, which then inspired him to read it. Same with Princess Bride. He thought the book would have been too slow, but since he had the visual images, he was more interested in the thoughts and plot when he finally read the book. Is this perhaps a gender difference or a generational difference?ReplyCancel

    • caroline - Interesting…I am glad to hear there was debate! And I did assume that generational elements would play in. I will have to discuss with the teenager and report back…

      I didn’t know Hector and the Pursuit of Happiness was a film… that book was quite sweet. Now I’m curious about the film, so I’ll investigate that one- thanks for the tip!

      In terms of gender, I don’t know if that’s it. My partner is a man and a big reader and neither of us seem to be able to motivate to watch TV when we start reading during the evening, even when we plan on watching a show. So I think it’s those who read for pleasure vs those who read because they should.

      Let’s keep this conversation going!ReplyCancel

  • Claire - I have to agree that I bring more of me to reading, and tend to check myself out of the door when I’m watching tv or a film. There are exceptions. Mad Men I read like a book. I’ve just watched the Amy documentary and I was totally present for that too. Something to do with quality? What’s interesting is that I’m not really able to add visuals when I read and I’m happy to be absorbed in the world of words, but it means I will tend to favour excellent tv or film over a book because it gives me the added visuals I lack when I read.ReplyCancel

    • caroline - Interesting… I’ve been wondering about that Amy documentary- I’d like to see it. Glad to hear it was engaging. I agree that quality adds something to the experience of shows or movies I watch. I rarely want to watch zone-out level programming anymore. And how fascinating about not bringing pictures to reading. I wonder if that is part of thinking as a poet? I would imagine words are a different sort of object when working with them that way. I tend to think of them as a portal into another world and love to escape through them, but I am a fiction person. Good creative non-fiction can work that way, too. Essays are the ones I tend to pay the most attention to language for its own sake- The Empathy Exams was a great one for that, and a lot of Rebecca Solnit.ReplyCancel