The Book is Always Better

One of my favorite things to do is read to my kids. But you must know that I wasn’t always so enthused at the idea of cracking open a book after an exhausting day. In fact, I would try to slip in a short nursery rhyme, or some other brief booklet that got the job done, but didn’t prolong my own sweet slumber.

As they’ve grown from tantruming toddlers into increasingly curious little people, I’ve enjoyed introducing them to stories with defined themes, historical references, and colorful language. I’ve found myself beginning bedtime earlier so we can tackle chapter books before their little eyes get droopy.

We began with Captain Underpants, a series with enough potty humor to keep their attention and enough creative wit to keep mine. It was a fun gateway into story lines that peaked enough interest to keep them listening – to the language of books. (See my post How Captain Underpants Encouraged My Son to Read).

I recently introduced them to a book series called A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. These books take an ominously mysterious tone, following the unfortunate plight of three brave siblings. It was a popular series among my students when I was a middle school teacher, and wouldn’t you know it – Netflix picked it up, as tends to happen with most excellent literary works.

Read First, Watch Later

Naturally, the kids were excited to see the episodes, but I wouldn’t let them watch until we had read (or they had listened to) the book together first. At first, they understood this deal to be a kind of goal-setting exercise, and it has worked well all year.

When we finished the third book, Chloe asked me, “Mama, why do we have to read the books first before we watch the movie. Why can’t we just watch, because it’s just right there anyway, and we can just see it.”

She had a point, and while I would have otherwise applauded her observance of efficiency, there was something larger at stake. Oh so many reasons why, baby girl – but when I finally had to answer this question in 8-year-old language, this is what made the most sense to them:

Film Adaptations Are Not the Original

Although I love a good cinematic experience, a movie based on a book is just someone else’s interpretation of the story. It’s like playing the telephone game; the original intent and language gets changed or diluted by the next person’s worldview, and not to mention scrunching the storyline down to fit a 30-minute episode, or a 1.5 – 2 hour film and only keeping the parts that will sell to a visual audience.
The film industry, weather independent or backed by Hollywood has that money-making thing down to a science. It’s got to sell, so it is always subject to change. (Listen to our podcast with Robin Jones Gunn and learn how her book became a movie.) 

Appreciation for the Written Word

As a writer, I want my kids to experience the art of linguistic expression before the second-hand interpretation cuts it up. They need to read, hear, feel and see what language does in their minds before enjoying a purely visual interpretation. It’s like metal exercise, and young minds learn best when they experience the material with as many senses as possible. 
Only relying on the movie to get the jst of the story is taking the easy way out. (Don’t get me wrong, in high school we tried to find the movie version and CliffsNotes of the required reading we conveniently skipped out on in the summer… so it takes one to know one. See more in my previous post, How to Read a Book). 


Or in other words, delayed gratification. This is another way we try to teach them to do the hard work first, stop taking he quickest way out, and practice completing a longer process of soaking in the story the fundamental way before going straight to the movie. (See our previous post, I Need You to Struggle.)

…that’ll preach

 This concept got me thinking: if we rely this much on Hollywood to give us the best version of the original story, do we expect the same with our pastors to interpret the Bible? I mean really, there’s a sermon prepped for every week, and as long as we make it to the “show,” we’ll get the jst of the story. Yes, I know it’s in the book I have on my shelf at home, but pastor already did the homework for me. The work of Biblical interpretation – and he’s a man of God, right?

The original story is so much better. You may have an awesome teaching pastor, and those who are called to preach and shepherd the church have incredible gifts and responsibilities. But we are responsible for our own relationship with God, and I’m telling you, the book is always better than the movie – because it’s the author’s original words.

God used men as vessels to write His Word, all scripture is inspired by Him (2 Timothy 3:16). He has literally breathed life into the narrative of the 66 books we can collectively hold in our hands today, and although they may be read as separate stories, they all carry the same beautiful theme of salvation, grace, redemption and restoration.

God’s Story

The Bible is God’s story. It’s His Series of Unfortunate Events where He is the Creator, Redeemer, Savior, and Friend to the enemies that rejected Him – and because His Word is living and active in our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit, it has the power to pierce our hearts, bring us to our knees in awe and wonder, and gratefulness.

Why? Because the main character: the hero, the archetype, put Himself in the middle of the unfortunate choices of a fallen people, took their pain and suffering, and died in their place. (Phil. 2:5-11) Friends, that display of love is unfathomable to most, and that sacrificial storyline is now what some of the best narratives are modeled after.

Read the book first. Soak it in, let the words and the promises and the wisdom of the ages wash over you chapter by chapter. Get to know the main character, His heart, the history of His actions towards His people. Only then can we come to love and trust Him with our lives, as we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13), our lives being a living testimony of His saving grace. Not merely believing what we’re told, but experiencing it first hand, as the Author intended, and continues to teach us every day.

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