I know it isn’t a popular thing to say but sometimes the movie is better than the book. At least in some aspect. Maybe it’s the kind of story that benefits from the visual aid. ThinkJurassic Park where we actually got to see (and hear) the dinosaurs!
Or maybe the movie streamlined a plot that at times can be plodding (we’ve all read those). Or, as is the case with Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, the movie gives one a better sense of the characters.
In intentionally ready Brooklyn before watching the Oscar-nominated film version expecting to fall completely in love with both. The book, however, kept me at a distance. As I wrote in my review, I felt like a spectator watching Eilis’s life like a bird high above only mildly interested in the events going on below. The movie and Saoirse Ronan’s captivating performance brought me into the story. Into her life. I won’t say that all of the changes made to the story for the film adaptation were for the better but feeling a connection with Eilis made it more enjoyable than the book.
No, that’s not a typo. I know there is some debate about whether it is better to read the book or see the film adaptation first. Frankly, I don’t care. I love movies just about as much as I love books. I discover a lot of my reading material through movies. Just check out my book lists on Goodreads.com; it is packed with books adapted into movies and plays. On rare occasions, a book’s adaption will put me off reading a book I was on the fence about. Not because the movie is necessarily bad but because it just didn’t interest me enough to read the book.
Like many readers, I enjoy the opportunity to use my imagination in picturing the characters and the settings based on the author’s descriptions and representations. And like most, I am usually (but not always) disappointed in the movie if I’ve read the book first. I often feel like I could have done a better job and kept all of the good bits in. My worst experience with a film adaptation was that of Corelli’s Mandolin. The novel is so wonderful and beautiful that I often skipped classes during college because I could not put it down. So when I heard that it was being adapted, I absolutely had to go see it. They cut out all of the best scenes and characters and changed the most moving moments completely. So, you know, your typical film hack job.
On the other hand, when I see the film first and like it (inspiring me to read the book), I typically enjoy both. That certainly proved true of two of my most recent reads.
When I found out that The Princess Bride began life as a novel – written by William Goldman who also wrote the brilliant screenplay – I knew I had to read it. But I was a little nervous going in.
Would I be disappointed?
Would it ruin the movie for me?
Could the book possibly be as funny as the hilarious and classic movie?
The characters you love (and love to hate!), that fabulously wicked sense of humor, and the edge-of-your-seat adventure. It’s all there. Only more so. I think that’s what I love about finding out a movie I enjoyed is based on a book. The book gives me more of the things I loved about the movie. And it’s at its best when the movie manages to capture the overall tone of the book like The Princess Bride does.
Before reading The Princess Bride, I finally – after looking at it sitting on my shelf for years – read Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. I just loved the film version. I mean, who doesn’t love a good underdog (or horse) story? I think I thought the non-fiction book would be dry and dull like a textbook. It was neither. Though there were many more differences between the book and the movie than with The Princess Bride, they shared the most important qualities. There is the connection of the Seabiscuit’s story to his historical era, the heart-stopping excitement of the race scenes, and the emotional connection to the characters, human and equine.
Tobey Maguire as Red Pollard in the film version.
The real John “Red” Pollard on Seabiscuit
The book, though, also has a lot of information (I learned so much about the sport of horse racing, a subject I didn’t even know I wanted to learn about) and several major changes and omissions were made in adapting it for the film. Does that mean that I like the movie any less? No, not really. What it means is that whenever I watch it from now on, I will be saying, “That’s not how it happened in the book!”
I love to travel; to see new sights, to learn about new places, to observe people from all over. I especially love a road trip. Since childhood, I’ve loved the sound of the highway passing under the speeding tires, the changing landscape as we passed through state after state on our way to Missouri or Florida or New York or Texas, and collecting rocks or flowers or brochures during a stop to stretch our legs. Road trips, more than flying (unless it is a very long flight), are a reader’s paradise. There was a time when I would pack at least three novels every time we set out on the road (three thick books or five thinner books – always paperback). Now, thanks to e-readers, I can take hundreds with me and save space in my luggage for souvenirs (or more books).
I know, I know – this is a controversial subject among bibliophiles. To e-read or not to e-read, that is the loaded question. I love books – the feel of them, the smell, the satisfying sound of turning pages as I disappear further into the world of my chosen novel. I really miss those things when I’m reading on my e-reader. But the electronic libraries have their pros too. The biggest one for me and the reason I got one in the first place is that I no longer have to pack five books for a 10-day vacation. And if I don’t like the book I’ve started and want to take a break, I have hundreds more to choose from (and millions more to download if I run out of reading material – Ha Ha). Plus, with the e-reader, the pages don’t shake when you’re on a particularly bumpy road (and being from Louisiana I know about bumpy roads!), I can adjust the font size to lessen eye strain, and change the page color to make nighttime reading easier and less aggravating to others trying to sleep.
But what about the ever-draining battery? That’s what chargers are for. Before a road trip a few years ago, I purchased a car adapter for my e-reader and now I never have to stop reading unless it’s my turn to drive or I just want to take in the passing scenery.
Of course, there are times when you just can’t drive and you have to take an airplane. Simple. Bring a book for the flight. Or buy one at the airport. When you’re finished with it, just leave it for someone else to enjoy or find a second-hand bookstore or library that takes used books.
E-readers definitely have their purposes – I also like to use mine when I’m on the treadmill or stationary bike because it doesn’t shake or flop like the pages of a book – but I do miss my precious books when I’m away. The first thing I did after unpacking when I returned from my last trip was to grab my next book off the shelf and inhale that singular ink and paper scent. Divine.
Reading, in my opinion, is a very personal activity. Sure you can form book clubs to discuss the books you read, write blogs about books and reading, write reviews of those books on social media, and share your love with family, friends, and strangers, telling them about books that they absolutely must read because you just loved it. As Edmund Wilson is quoted as saying, “No two persons ever read the same book”. So even though your book club is discussing the same book as they sip their wine, each person has taken from the book what they need or what they saw between the lines based on the experiences of their own life. And more simply, everyone likes what they like and more often than not, that cannot be changed. There are always books that somehow transcend our usual prejudices about genre and subject matter but even the most generally well-received book just cannot appeal to everyone.
Even though I gave A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin’s phenomenally popular A Song of Ice and Fireseries just two stars on Goodreads.com, I’m not saying it isn’t good. On the contrary, I admit that is well-written and often quite captivating. But personally, I’m not a fan of political drama, which A Game of Thrones often is in the guise of a gritty fantasy. More than that, though, I found that the graphic violence and, at times, the rough language made me rather uncomfortable. (Does that sound strange coming from someone who counts Lonesome Dove among her favorite novels? [Now there’s a book that really took me by surprise when I fell in love with it]) A Game of Thrones is far more graphic and harsh than anything I’ve ever read.
It is difficult to admit that I decided long before I finished reading this first book in the series that I would not be continuing with the series. I just don’t think I could endure more of the extremely violent imagery, and pointless, political undercutting (it is too much like watching the nightly news during this election year!) for however long the series lasts. Unfortunately, Martin wrote some very intriguing endings to the storylines that left me just a little curious about what happens next. I’m ashamed to say, though, that if my curiosity gets the best of me, I’ll probably watch the TV show. That way I can fast forward through the violence or read something I enjoy more while it plays.
There was one aspect of A Game of Thrones I really enjoyed. Well, there were a few things such as the strong female characters, and the biting wit of Tyrion Lannister. But my favorite thing was how, in this word that he’s created, Martin included living creatures that we can recognize, fantastic creatures, and extinct creatures.
“Such animals as you have never seen, striped horses, great spotted things with necks as long as stilts, hairy mouse-pigs as big as cows, stinging manticores, tigers that carry their cubs in a pouch, terrible walking lizards with scythes for claws. Syrio Forel has seen these things.”
Zebras and giraffes, manticores, Tasmanian tigers, Komodo dragons?
And I mean, who other than a natural historian or a natural history enthusiast like myself even knows that an animal called an aurochs even existed? So yeah, in a way, A Game of Thrones appealed to the nerd in me.
It’s that time again. Time to make promises to yourself that you probably won’t even keep through January. I’ve made the usual resolution to get in better shape because while round is a shape, squishy isn’t. I’ve also vowed to be more organized with my finances. And because I know I will likely fail at those resolutions, I’ve made a few reading resolutions that will be a little easier to keep.
My first reading resolution of 2016 will be to finish A Game of Thrones, the first installment in George R. R. Martin’s phenomenally popular A Song of Ice and Fire series. I won’t resolve to read the rest of the series but that’s a subject for another post. Secondly, I’ve set my 2016 Reading Challenge on Goodreads.com at 30 books despite the fact that I’ve read more than that in each of the last four years. This year I want to read books I really enjoy and I want to feel like I can take the time to savor them. On top of which I would like to focus on my own writing this year and unfortunately you can’t read and write at the same time. At least I can’t.
Lastly, for the past couple of years, I’ve toyed with the idea of taking one of those reading challenges you see online but I always lose track by the summer. However, I found a very doable, twelve-book challenge on ModernMrsDarcy.com (gotta love the name!). I like it because, with only 12 challenges (one for each month), it leaves room for plenty of just-for-fun reading. Which is my favorite kind.
Devoted readers and aspiring readers: this list is for you if you love to read (or want to read more) but don’t believe reading is a competitive sport. If you need structure in choosing your books but don’t want to be pinned down. If you want to stretch a bit instead of forever reading the