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Sorry, book snobs, you’ve come to the wrong place

Watching a good, emotionally honest show, like Michaela Coel's "I May Destroy You," can be a visceral, challenging experience.Laura Radford/HBO

Q. We are sitting by the fire reading. Turn the tube off, friends!


A. It’s not a question, but since you felt motivated to post the comment in my article on TV shows to watch during the cold snap, I feel motivated to respond. I’m addressing you here, but also the many others who feel similarly compelled to go into a Globe TV story to remind readers that they can turn to books instead, that TV is inferior to books.

By the way, in the comments to that same cold-snap story, someone else posted a list of specific books — including “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Robinson Crusoe” — because most people read a TV story in the Globe in order to find a good novel. The Books section? Why would you want to go there?


I mean, I get it. Reading is a good thing, and I fully support those who spend time doing it. I read novels, and I like the way it relaxes me, expands my mind, and triggers my imagination. “The Grapes of Wrath”? Thumbs up. But I’m not a snob about it. I like TV, too. They are not at odds in my world. It’s always amusing and simultaneously exhausting for me when I encounter people who feel they need to make it clear that they never have time to watch TV.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Looking at TV as a wasteland is a pretty dated point of view. I’m not suggesting that everything on TV right now is excellent, of course, just as everything at the bookstores isn’t a masterpiece. But if you know where to look — and that’s a big part of my job, helping people who are looking for good shows — then you can find a lot of intelligent storytelling on “the tube,” to use your outmoded phrase. You can find sharp dialogue written by masters of the art. You can find shows that ask you to use your brain, to ponder questions, to put yourself in someone else’s position. You can find foreign-language series more easily than ever, and they often provide fascinating insights into cultural differences.


Yes, watching TV is generally a more passive activity than reading. So is listening to an audio book. But it’s less and less passive as TV writing gets better and more ambitious. Watching a good, emotionally honest show — HBO’s “I May Destroy You,” for example, or Hulu’s “The Patient” — can be a visceral, challenging experience, one that imprints on you and endures in your memory and your imagination. It can raise questions about human nature and human behavior, dig into contradictions, and make you think about the meaning of morality. Sure, if you watch junk, it’s not at all profound; but the same goes when you read junk.

One last thing I appreciate about TV is that you can share it with others without having to join a book group. I often run into people who’ve just seen the same show I’ve been watching, and the conversations about it can be entertaining, and, sometimes, revelatory. OK, then, I’m done now, at least until the next time I need to vent.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.