Clive James has just spoken for many, wondering aloud why he is "wasting" so much time binge-watching box sets of television dramas such as The West Wing and Game of Thrones. In James's case, the plaint is heightened by the fact that it is only by the grace of a new experimental drug keeping his leukaemia at bay that he has time to waste at all.
But is it being wasted?
These days, when television is good, it is very, very good. Eleanor Catton, author of the 2013 Booker Prize-winning The Luminaries, said that she had been strongly influenced by long-form box-set dramas "because the emotional arcs and changes that you can follow are just so much more like a novel, and so many shows recently have done as much as film can do to show the interior world".
The heart instinctively rebels - no! Only novels are novels! Only reading can be as good as reading! - but the head must accept the truth. The multi-disc box set, with its forensic examination of the human condition, is increasingly our answer to the Victorian triple-decker novel.
The story of that terminally ill chemistry teacher turned drug manufacturer Walter White (in the modern morality tale that is Breaking Bad) is explored in as much depth and with as much nuance and unflagging devotion to character and consistent psychology as you would hope to find in any good, maybe even in any great, novel.
Game of Thrones is a study in power relations and corruption. The Sopranos was a dissection of conscience, played out through a collection of New Jersey mobsters; Orange Is the New Black gathers an ensemble cast without a single weak link to play out the law of unintended consequences among a collection of inmates in a women's prison; and The Wire - well, The Wire was everything.
Like novels, box sets require an investment of time, attention and emotional energy. They are complex and subtle enough to repay rewatching - in the same way that good books repay re-reading. Also, some of them star Sean Bean in bearskins and leather, which is a plus even the greatest bookworm cannot deny. And they do it through brilliant, compelling storytelling.
In an age in which novels seem to have almost literally lost the plot, this willingness to provide a clear, well-paced narrative is a rare attraction. I have never thrown a box set at the wall. Who among us can say the same of The Goldfinch? A Little Life? A Franzen?
The way we consume television these days also brings us closer to the process of reading, rather than watching. With the advent of Netflix, Amazon Prime, iPlayer and all the forms of TV on demand, programmes have become unshackled from time and - thanks to the proliferation of handheld and portable devices on which they can be played - space too. We consume them at the time, in the place and in the amounts that suit us. In other words, we immerse ourselves in them as we do in books.
Now we are in something of a virtuous circle. Writers and producers know that they have an attentive audience who will no longer lose the thread of a plot during a week's wait for the next episode. They are alert to, and appreciative of, proper character development - inconsistencies will not be softened by intervening days. Intelligent, sweeping narratives can replace meaningless and unlikely rat-a-tat plot points.
Writers must "write up" to this newly awakened audience, and they are. At the same time, the new methods of consumption are giving new life to older series that delivered the same quality, but without quite the rewards they deserved. You may already admire Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Homicide: Life on the Streets (the first TV outing by The Wire's David Simon), or NYPD Blue, but to see them compressed, to see the acuity and consistency of each body of work entire over a couple of evenings, will transmute admiration into awe.
So fear not, Clive James. You are - as you have been throughout a long and illustrious career - in the vanguard of cultural change and new ways of pondering the human psyche. It is, of course, still true that there are lots of books which are much better than lots of TV. But the gap between the greats is narrower than ever, and closing all the time. Plus - Sean Bean in bearskins and leather.
Rochester, Darcy - you all need to up your game.
- The Daily Telegraph