May 22, 2019

How TV complements your lifestyle

Recently I was browsing through a bookstore that I’ve been known to frequent from time to time, doing what I usually do when I’m in a bookstore: looking for television shows on DVD. To be clear, that’s not all I do in a bookstore; I look for books as well, and not just books about TV. However, considering people apparently don’t read much anymore, you’re apt to find all kinds of different things in bookstores nowadays, including jigsaw puzzles.

On this particular trip, I saw one puzzle that billed itself as a booklover’s puzzle, with various sayings and mottoes pronouncing the joy of reading. One of them, though, caught my attention. It said, “Kill Your TV.” Setting aside the fact that your television isn’t a living, breathing thing (Alexa notwithstanding), this seemed unduly harsh to me. I mean, I understand the sentiment behind it: there’s a natural tendency for people to look at television (or video games, or movies) as the enemy of reading, as if the whole thing was some type of zero-sum game, with us all being lulled into a form of somnambulism through the aphrodisiac of mindless viewing. (Of course, if we really were somnambulists, we wouldn’t be couch potatoes, but we’ll let that slide for awhile.) And I'll admit I've been tempted to impart destruction on my television a time or two hundred, but that usually has to do with the banality of what I'm watching, not the medium itself.

So I’ll grant you the possibility, but it seems to me that if you’re predisposed to sit on a comfy couch starring inertly at a lighted screen, whether it’s your TV, your laptop, your phone, or something else, then you’ve got a problem to begin with, one that has to do with neither television nor books. We used to call this “sloth,” which has since been replaced with “lazy bum,” but the point is the same; if you’re so inclined to begin with, you’re probably not going to pick up a volume of Aristophanes, or even Danielle Steele, just because someone tells you to turn off the electronics.

Setting up this false dichotomy, this zero-sum with television and books as polar ends of a magnet, is unfortunate for two reasons: first, because it reinforces this snobbish idea that television is for some reason not deserving of serious consideration as a creative form (something I'm constantly fighting against); and second, because both really serve the same purpose: to augment the quality of one’s life. As you probably know, when it comes to the number of hours of television I’ve watching in my lifetime—especially during my adolescence—I consider myself second to none. And yet I never saw television and books as competing for my attention. Often, after watching something on TV, I’d find myself, in the words of the old CBS campaign, wanting to “read more about it.” Over the years, I’ve stocked my shelves with volumes on subjects ranging from the Titanic to Howard Hughes to space exploration to politics, all because of something I saw on television. Likewise, I’ve found hours of pleasure watching programs that I sought out because of something I’d read, with the opportunity to learn more, to see for myself what the author had written about. (And of course it helps when one has the ability, as I do, to watch TV and read at the same time.)

The point is that reading and watching television exist as complimentary forms of media. They both provide the opportunity to be educated, entertained, and enlightened. That old aphorism I keep pulling out about how television can’t be all dessert applies to books as well; a steady diet of romance novels and cheap detective thrillers isn’t likely to do much more for you than constantly watching sitcoms and reality shows. True, it might make you a little more literate, or more than a little more if you’re reading Chandler or Hammett, but a discriminating lineup of television shows and books can work together to make you a more well-rounded person. You can learn about the history of ancient Greece, or learn how to build a sunroom for your house. You can read a biography of Mozart, or watch—and listen to—one of his operas. You can cheer for your team on the weekend, and during the week find out how that team’s owners are fleecing the public. Anthony Bourdain and Eugene Fodor may no longer be with us, but their works still have the ability to take us to other lands, and Carl Sagan can take us right out of the universe, in either medium. They can even encourage you to contemplation. (It’s true that there are a lot of bad things out there, both on television and in books, so you need to make sure your choices compliment your own personal code of ethics and morals, but you can say that about any form of entertainment or education.)

So, as someone with a foot in each camp, I urge book lovers to show television some love as well. It’s not an either-or proposition; we’re creatures of images as well as words. And as for those who keep throwing potshots at TV—well, that’s little more than being a couch potato of the mind. TV  


  1. TV does not compliment my lifestyle.
    It never has.
    Because TV doesn't care one way another about my lifestyle, and so cannot praise it.
    TV does, however, exist side-by-side with my lifestyle - thereby complementing it.
    With an e.
    Different word; check any dictionary.

    In Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novel Gambit, the opening scene shows Wolfe sitting at his fireplace, burning Webster's Third International Dictionary, one page at a time.
    When a prospective client asks him why he's doing that, Wolfe responds with a question:
    "Do you use the words infer and imply interchangeably?"
    The visitor answers 'no', and Wolfe responds:
    "This book says you may."
    I don't think I'm as far gone as Wolfe (or Stout) was, but sometimes I find myself getting there, sort of …

    Apologies for the testy tone.
    Mornings sometimes have that effect on me.

  2. I take it you haven't read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" lately, right?

  3. I noticed the same typo (compliment vs. complement) and was thinking of saying something when Mr. Doran took care of that first. I need to look up "infer" & "imply" to be sure I'm using them correctly. I know that such words like "decimate" and phrases like "begging the question" have been so misused from their original meanings that their new meanings seem to be officially accepted now.
    There is another typo of the same type near the beginning of paragraph 5, where "complimentary" should be "complementary".

    1. I seem to recall putting up a reply here, which for whatever reason didn't get through.
      Here it is again:

      Simplifying (maybe oversimplifying);
      The speaker/writer implies (makes an implication).
      The listener/reader infers (draws an inference).

      Got that?
      It was very important to Nero Wolfe …

    2. Obviously, if this is all that you all have to discuss, I must not be making these essays challenging enough to maintain your interest. I promise you that will change this week.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!