Keep Calm and Read the Book First


Guest blogger Sally Curran lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband and two little boys. She’s doing best to share her love of reading with them, as evidenced by the stacks of books on and under the coffee table.

My mom loves the musical “Les Miserables.” She knows all the words to all the songs, she can tell you that Jean Valjean’s prisoner number is 24601, and she feels Fantine’s pain. Until recently, though, she had never realized that it was Eponine with whom Cosette had grown up with under the so-called care of the Thenardiers. This connection made her love the story even more. Had she read the book (and she is admittedly a big reader), this key relationship would have been apparent to her long ago.

Books inherently allow for descriptions of finite details that movies simply can’t convey. Casting and time constraints mean the background stories that connect the dots in other parts of the tale are lost. “The Hunger Games” was a good movie, but origin of the mockingbird pin and its significance to the games are far more poignant in the book than Katniss simply purchasing it in the movie. It is these small details that really take storytelling to a higher plane.

Stream of consciousness passages that really let you into the mind of a character are difficult to translate into film. Take, for example, Margaret in Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. So much of that book deals with what she’s feeling at a particularly awkward time of life. The book speaks volumes to so many of its readers. A movie version of this coming-of-age tale would simply be awkward. I read a lot, and I’m excited whenever I hear that a book I thoroughly enjoyed is being made into a movie. The few times I’ve seen a movie before reading the book I’ve been disappointed, which is why it’s my policy to always read the book before watching the movie.keep-calm-and-read-the-book-before-the-movie-3

It drove my husband nuts as I worked my way through the Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander books. I refused to watch the movies with him until I’d read the corresponding book. And even though the Swedish versions of these movies do very closely follow the books, as we watched the movies, there were details I filled in for him that made the tales make more sense.

So, even if I movie version of a book is garnering critical acclaim, take the time to read the book first. The background and details that make a story truly shine are often lost in the translation to film. And knowing these details will make your shower performances of “Les Mis” all the more powerful.

Agree? Disagree? Share your examples of favorite books-to-film that you love, or love to hate.

4 Responses

  1. My husband is a “read the book first” aficionado too and both my kids were terrified, TERRIFIED I TELL YOU, that he wouldn’t finish the Hunger Games Trilogy in time for the movie premier. Fortunately for all, he did and they loved the movie. Reading the books ahead gave us all the ability to talk about the nuances that got lost to the change in medium. For me, it’s nice to see the translation from book to film and how my view lines up with the filmmakers.

    Great post!

  2. You make a good point about comparing your view with the filmmaker’s. I never would have pictured Lenny Kravitz in that role.

  3. I hate reading the book first. If i see the movie version first i’m not disappointed in how they ruined the book! Prime example: The Horse Whisperer. Love the book; like the movie (except the ending).

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