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Adaptation dichotomy

For our office book club this month (category: thrillers), I read, not a random suspenseful mystery pulled out of a hat, but the book adaptation of a very popular television show. I have not seen said show (though I’ve heard great things), so even though I thought it was a bit weird to have such a detailed and faithfully recounted literary version, I went along with it, because why not.

In the end, the book was fine—I enjoyed it enough, but it was forgettable in the way some books are. I’m still interested in watching the show, but I guess, now that I know how it ends, it won’t be as fun. It got me thinking, though, about book adaptations in general.

Why is it so much more natural for a book to be turned into a very good (or at least entertaining) TV show or film, but not the other way around? You could say, I guess, that the wealth of material in a book can be expanded, cut, intensified, used as inspiration for a spin etc. But then, if there’s less material, say, in a 100 minute movie, isn’t that a writer’s job to add the depth and extra detail to make it a good book, too? If readers are allowed to be outraged by a less than stellar film adaptation, while those that have not read the source material look blithely on, wouldn’t avid movie buffs allowed to do the same if they went on to read the book?

Maybe. But I just don’t see it happening as much. And I don’t see readers getting excited about literary versions of their favorite movies or TV shows the way they would about their cherished books getting a shot at the silver screen.

I remember as a kid reading scads of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Alex Mack books, but that was only because I wasn’t allowed to watch any channels other than PBS for quite some time. The only way I could know about these super cool characters was to read about them. I’m sure the books themselves lacked something found in the TV shows and I can say with relative certainty that the writing quality was not quite up to par with other books I was reading at the time. Still, I loved them. But I don’t think the genre (can we call it a genre?) of book adaptations would really spark my interest at all any more—no matter how much I loved a show.

There’s a difference in the way one connects to a character on screen and on the page. Some things are better seen, some are better read. What about you? Agree? Disagree? If you’re in the latter camp, what are some good book adaptations you’ve read?

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