Books on TV

A conversation I had the other day made me realize how oddly TV and movies portray readers. It’s pretty rare for a person to like books or be shown reading, and a person who likes books is treated almost like an alien species.

It’s an alien species with superpowers, though, because the person who likes books knows just about everything and can often read in multiple languages. There is no middle ground. You either don’t read at all and groan when asked to help with research to stop the latest threat or you love books, know everything, and can read anything. There’s nobody who’s like, “Do I have to help with the research now? They’re about to reveal the murderer in this mystery novel I’m reading.” Pure pleasure reading seldom exists. It’s almost all highbrow reference books or classics. Only the occasional SF/F-loving nerd reads anything just for fun.

And there’s just one book-lover per group. I’ve found that in real life, people tend to hang out with other people who have things in common. Most of my friends are big readers. We may all read different stuff, but we do all read and value books. I guess on these TV shows, these groups are brought together by a common goal. They have to team up to fight evil and might not have become friends if not for that, so maybe that explains the person whose life is books hanging out with people whose attitude is “ew, books.”

That makes me want to write an evil-fighting team that’s all people who like books, but they have different areas of expertise because they read different things.

I find it interesting seeing how one of pop culture’s big book lovers, Belle from the Disney Beauty and the Beast, is portrayed. In the cartoon version, and to some extent the Broadway version, she loves to read, but I don’t think she’s necessarily meant to be a super intellectual. Her favorite book seems to be a romance novel. She is the only reader in town, apparently, which is odd because there’s a bookstore in town that lends books to Belle. I’m not sure how a shop that lends books to its one customer manages to stay in business. In the live-action version, there’s no bookstore, just a local priest who has a shelf of books he’s willing to share. Belle reads Shakespeare in addition to that romance novel, and she seems to do some research and tinkering. When they used Belle on TV’s Once Upon a Time, she became the designated Loves to Read and Therefore Knows Everything character who can translate almost any language and is the go-to person in the group for research (that show’s version of Willow, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Oddly, there’s later a character on the show who’s an author, and yet I don’t think we ever see him reading anything. I don’t know any authors who never read.

Of course, sitting and reading is hardly the stuff of exciting drama, and fighting evil does mean less time to read, but there are ways to show that someone likes to read. They may carry a book around or have books on the nightstand or coffee table at home. They might be reading at the beginning of a scene when another character shows up and interrupts them. They might be reading in the background while other characters do stuff in the foreground. They might be in a bookstore or library when they get an urgent message and have to rush off to fight evil.

I think it’s different in books, which tend to be written by book people, so the characters are more likely to also be readers, and authors weave in mentions of books. Maybe TV writers are less likely to read, so they don’t get how it works.

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