I've often engaged in the age-old debate over the merits of literary adaptation. Which is better, the book or the movie? (akin to the equally inconclusive, which came first: the chicken or the egg?).
I most often side with the book as it is the book that inspires the movie to both recreate and reimagine a story that is (hopefully) worthy of being retold. An excellent book may become an excellent movie, but ultimately it is the film that must be selective when condensing the material, sacrificing character development and plot lines to trim the source material to a more manageable form. It is perhaps the television medium that is most suited for long form adaptation, although this medium has its own limitations, mainly in episodic structure and budget and time constraints.
Regardless of your opinion on the book vs. movie debate, here's a debate that you might not have heard before: reading vs. listening.
Shortly after seeing the adaptation of the first book in Philip Pullman's controversial His Dark Materials series, The Golden Compass (2007), I was chatting with a friend who was halfway through listening to the second book, The Subtle Knife, on his media player. He was expressing an interest in seeing the film but was concerned at the possibility of being disappointed with an adaptation that wasn't up to par with the books he was reading. It was here that another rather irate friend joined in on the conversation. She hadn't read the books or seen the movie, but she was very angry with our friend's use of the word reading when referring to a book on tape.
"You didn't read the book," she insisted, "you listened to it. It's not the same thing."
Although I hadn't thought about distinguishing reading a book from listening to that same book on tape, the differences in the experience of the text are indisputable. Even when the book on tape is unabridged and read word for word by a single narrator, the way you engage the material is fundamentally altered.
While reading, you are absorbed in the words and multitasking becomes virtually impossible. You see the words with your eyes, you engage with the layout of the text, consciously or subconsciously acknowledging the paragraph breaks, the emphasis on certain words. You can pace yourself, reading quickly or slowly, skimming ahead or back-tracking to re-read particularly eloquent or difficult passages.
Not only do you not have the freedom to determine the pacing while listening to a book, back-tracking or skimming ahead is more difficult to time accurately. You can't just flip back a page, you have to rewind to the precise moment or you're forced to re-listen to passages you didn't want to hear again. The choices made by narrators or voice actors cast in the roles of the characters limits the reader who may have heard them speak differently in her head. Most significantly, many people who choose to listen to books do so because they don't have the time to read. They listen as they drive, they listen as they do laundry or cook dinner, they listen as they are distracted from engaging exclusively in the text.
I've never listened to a book before, I enjoy the act of reading too much to find any reason to listen instead. Although I will acknowledge one benefit of listening. While reading has made me an excellent speller, I often find myself committing a faux pas when I mispronounce a name or a word newly added to my ever-expanding vocabulary. If only I had listened to the words instead.