I watched the series finale of Jessica Jones the other day, and it was as satisfying as any series finale I’ve ever seen. After three seasons of angst and despair, our hero had come to terms with her demons and was ready to take on the world. It would be nice to see what happens next, but that might be redundant: The story of her triumph over those demons was complete.
A day later in another venue (my car versus my living room), I finished listening to the audiobook of Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. After 135 chapters and an epilogue, Ishmael’s journey also was complete. And in a third venue (my favorite blue chair by the window), I am slightly more than halfway through a book called Fractured Stars by Lindsay Buroker.
The three experiences are similar, in terms of an investment of time.
Jessica Jones: Season 3 was 12-13 hours long. Moby-Dick was about 21 hours. Fractured Stars is shorter, but will still have taken quite a few hours by the time I finish it.
Binge-watching, in other words, is starting to infringe on time that in a previous lifetime might have been spent with a good novel. Now that we’re able to view it all at once if we wish, one season of a TV show takes about as much time to digest as the average novel.
This is where I might go on a rant about how much healthier it is to read a good book, but I’m not in any mood to spit into the wind today. And frankly, Jessica Jones was as satisfying a story as many of my favorite novels, so I’m not going there either. I’m just pointing out the similar time investment.
I will say this: I feel a lot closer to Mr. Melville and Ms. Buroker for experiencing their books than I do to Melissa Rosenberg, the show runner for Jessica Jones. The novel writers shared their personal vision in their own words, opening up the sea and outer space inside my head behind my eyes. Rosenberg led a group of hundreds of collaborators and showed me a story that may have started as her personal vision but was refined through the contributions of actors, cinematographers, and a whole slew of other people adding their seasoning to the mix. One way brings a story inside my head, another way sets the story before my eyes.
Both are valid ways to tell a story; one is a lot simpler than the other but demands a greater personal investment from me, not in terms of time but in imagination. I have been to sea on the Pequod and to unknown worlds with the Star Surfer – not as literally as I have been in the office of Alias Investigations, but in some ways more vividly because I had to help create them myself.
I had way too much fun watching Jessica Jones’ journey to criticize that experience. I just hope people always understand the power of words to do the work that otherwise require hundreds of collaborators. Reading is a miraculous experience and worth the endeavor. Never let it go.