It is easy to fetishize things that we imagine are on their way out. In the age of Comcast and America Online, books seem quaint, whimsical, imperiled and therefore virtuous. We assume that reading requires a formidable intellect. We forget that books were the television of previous years -- by which I mean they were the source of passive entertainment as well as occasional enlightenment, of social alienation as well as private joy, of idleness as well as inspiration. Books were a mixed bag, and they still are. Books could be used or misused, and they still can be.
Which is a better thing to do, to read a book or to watch TV? The stock answer, delivered rapidly because it's so freakin' obvious, is to read a book. Duh.
OK, but what if the book is a Danielle Steele piece o' excrement and the TV show is "Frontline"? Now you're inclined to change your answer, but these must certainly be exceptions to prove the rule, right?
Now for a hard one: Read "The Godfather," or watch "The Godfather"? OK, if you're not sure, let me give you my opinion as one who has done both: One is a mediocre pot-boiler that the author came up with as a way of making some quick money when his more literary fiction didn't sell. The other is a masterpiece of American cinema.
I'm a reader, and I love books. Yet, I have to admit that I'm also a fetishist about them sometimes. The look, the feel, and, oh god, the smell. A properly aged paperback has an aroma that reminds me of summer days when I'd try to linger inside in the shade at least and (if I got lucky) in the air conditioning at best before I would be kicked outside and told to, you know, play or something.