A library was once seen putting up a placard for its young readers. “Now that you’ve watched the movie, read the book,” it said. The reason was obvious. Asked to choose whether they would like to read a book or watch its film adaptation, teenagers seem to be divided. And, the war between books and e-books is adding to their confusion. Those who don’t want to be caught in this tussle simply satisfy themselves by reading the summaries online.
With Kindle gaining popularity among youngsters, many prefer it for the portability and easy access to countless titles the device offers. Talking about the perks Kindle offers, Mohana Bhowmik, a Class 11 student at Calcutta Girls’ High School says: “You can carry e-books anywhere and read them anytime. You can also get the meaning of any word from the inbuilt dictionary.”
On the other hand, retaining the “old school” mindset, there are students who prove that books still influence the mind, heart and soul of a section of youths. Although Amartya Chaudhuri, a Class 10 student at South Point High School, asserts that he fundamentally requires a book to be complete and unabridged, he points at a very gloomy reality. “What beats me is the tendency among my friends to watch a film first and then buy the book. Most of the films don’t even make us feel the emotions that bind characters together and the details hidden in the pages of a book,” he says.
Chandrima Biswas from Jadavpur University says “I would always choose a book over an e-book because of the romance you can have with a bookstore and the fact that people can leave personal marks in their books. A film adaptation does not always do justice to printed words and often leaves the audience with a half baked knowledge about the original manuscript.”
Sucharita De Munshi adds: “I expressly dislike e-books even though they appear to be functional and convenient. There’s something inexplicably authentic about reading a book held in your hands, turning its pages and seeing it grow yellow with time. You can’t smell the ‘pages’ of an e-book!”
Although preferring ‘PDF’ files to books is definitely a trend, the question of accessibility and affordability is also taken into account. Zaid Al Baset, professor of Sociology at St. Xavier’s College, takes an optimistic and practical approach to the use of books and e-books. “I don’t think e-books fundamentally change the way we experience reading and learning. If one is talking of fiction, then I feel that the jury is still out on the people choosing books over e-books. I don’t have a value judgment for people using the e-book format. It is cheaper, which makes it a good thing as a lot of people would otherwise be derived of the pleasure of reading.”
Another picture that comes to the fore is the tendency of taking a shortcut and ending up reading summaries. Whether educational institutions or the highly popular ‘online buddies’ and ‘last minute helpers’ Spark Notes or Cliff Notes are to be blamed or not is something to be decided yet. Signing her name in this team, Milanpreet Kaur, a Class 11 student, speaks her mind. “If I was given the option between reading a book or its summary, I would definitely go for the summary as I do not have the patience to go through an entire novel. Moreover, in my previous school we were encouraged to read summaries as they were less time-consuming. If it is a book of short stories, one might consider going through it but pursuing a full-length novel is really not my cup of tea.”
Vehemently disagreeing to this, Mohona says: “It is an insult to the book if you read its summary or watch the movie adaptation in order to judge it! It is akin to cheating on the book and is quite an outrageous thing to do.”
Partho Mukherji, professor of English at St. Xavier’s College talks about how times are such that “Students do not have the patience to let the seasonal pattern paint the canvas of life and hence rush with their colours and create unhealthy collages.”
“In the days of ‘instant’ coffee and life being measured with coffee spoons, summary reigns supreme. Lack of patience to pay attention over a personal stretch of time has led to the popularity of movies adapted from literature. In the process, the sense of the self becomes shallow not only among students but also elders as it is the dominant demeanour of our time,” Mukherji adds.
Many feel that these trends are a result of the restlessness and mechanical approach seen among students and can leave a permanent mark in their minds.
Rangeet Sengupta, professor of English at Khejuri College feels that young adults of the present generation are not reading less in comparison to their twentieth century counterparts.
“They have to read more and that too, at an increasing faster rate. Film adaptations and summaries may act as complements. It is not books whose ‘death’ we should be concerned with, but that of critical thinking,” he concludes.