2013 was the year that long-form television really started to cut into my reading time in a big way. I offer as evidence: I only read 36 books this year, the fewest number in over 30 years. On the other hand, I enjoyed a lot of really excellent, compelling stories; those stories just came in the form of TV drama rather than via the printed page. I watched Game of Thrones, The White Queen, Broadchurch, Downton Abbey, all of Doctor Who (since 2005), and am now halfway through the 2004-2009 Battlestar Galactica series. That’s over 150 hours of television and most of that time would have otherwise been spent reading.
I am a bit alarmed at how much more compelling these shows can be than whatever book I am currently reading. When offered a choice, I’ll usually choose the TV show (except before bed, because who can sleep after running from the Cylons?). I feel a bit like an addict. When denied my daily fix (episode) I get twitchy, preoccupied with finding a time to watch, and hostile to those blocking my access. While watching, I engage in behavior that is out of character, such as the other day when I screamed “Just fucking shoot her, Sharon!” at the television (insert shocked faces of my teenaged children here).
I am especially drawn to shows that combine intricate mythologies with human drama, such as Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, and Battlestar Galactica. I like how dark all these stories are, how angst-filled, and how ambiguous. All of these shows feature top-notch writing, complex characters, and moral dilemmas. They ask questions about trust, about fear, and about redemption. I love keeping track of the dozens of characters and multiseason plots, but most of all I love the complicated characters at the heart of these shows: Arya Stark, the Doctor, Admiral Adama and Starbuck. I love them as much as I love Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall/Bring up the Bodies), Ursula Todd (Life After Life), and Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), to name a few of my recent fictional obsessions. I haven’t quite come to terms with what all this means to my identity as a reader, though some of my friends who have been TV fans for longer than I have urge me not to overthink it.
Since this post is also meant to wrap up my year in reading, I’ll end by listing my favorite books of 2013: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. Of these four, only Life After Life would make it into a list of my lifetime favorites, but that is okay. It was still a great year for stories, no matter what form they took.