Skip to main content

Should Books Be Adapted?


This is going to be a post you'll either whole-heartedly agree with or completely disagree with because that's how movie/TV adaptions of books work. You either love them or you wish they were never even imagined. We love the idea of them most of all. We all want to see the books we love on the screen, and, from what I've seen, we regret wishing for it in the end a lot of the time.
Movie and book adaptions are so tedious because some stories aren't made to be relayed through a screen. Books are so full of emotional subtext that's hidden in tiny details and in the voice and precise words spelled out on the page. There's so much more to a book than what you can portray on a running film of actual video even with voice overs. There are deep internal ramblings that make characters who they are that are hard to put on a screen because there are only so many tools to get internal during a movie.
Also, there are books that play out like movies in your head or make you feel like you're living in the world. Books hold power for different reasons, some of which lend better to movies than others. But no book is created to eventually become a movie, or it shouldn't be. If it was meant to be a movie, it would come out as a screenplay.
And, yet, adaptions are one of the biggest segments of movies that exist. Whether a book lends itself to adaption or not, if it sells well, it will probably be a movie. It's usually a rushed movie that's made to capitalize on the audience that has fallen in love with the book. They know that we'll all show up at the theater to watch it because we're all in book hangover world, and we just want more of that content we fell for. We want another chance to revisit the characters and places and emotions in a new way. Some of these adaptions are well thought through, involve the author, and are meticulously crafted. I'm glad that some of them exist, but so many of them are rushed, awkwardly spliced, and divorced from some of the subtext that makes the books soar. Book adaptions are an extremely delicate, and they're so rarely treated with that sense of care.
But here's the thing. No matter how much detail and movie magic you throw at a project, you can never touch book magic. The thing about a book is that it's intensely personal in the sense that you're forced to bring yourself, your emotions, and your life experience to fill it out. All you're given to work with is a packet of dead trees with black ink and 26 letters, and, somehow, we all have a collective experience with these created people and worlds. Yet, it's still highly individual. Nobody sees the same thing when they read a book. Nobody experiences it exactly the same way. It's why books evoke such strong opinions of love and hate. It's also always supposed to be completely your own. Only you have the nuances of your characters and the smell of this room or that person in your head, so, of course, even the best adaption isn't going to be exactly what you want. They aren't going to lift the world out of your head and throw it on a screen.
And that's probably my biggest problem with adaptions. Not the disappointment of them not being what you wanted, but how they shatter the book magic. Whether you watch them before or after you read the book, the book magic doesn't work anymore. I think I most starkly noticed this with Divergent. I walked into the living room while my dad was watching the movie right before I finished reading the last book, and the second I saw the actors, it was over for me. My version of the characters and my world was shattered, and I barely cared about the end of the book (though I did cry) because I felt robbed of the genuine, unique connection I had to the series. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but it's flavored my opinions on every adaption since. And then there's examples like the Hunger Games where I read the book after the movies came out, and, even though I'd never seen the movies, they were always Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lawerence in my mind. I'd seen the movie posters and the commercials, and I never got the chance to create my own world. I never cared much about those books, and a lot less than with Divergent, and I have to wonder if all the expectations have something to do with it. Like I've never read Harry Potter cause I don't get what the point is. It's so saturated in our culture, I already know all the big twists and turns and what it means to be a Hufflepuff or a Ravenclaw, so why would I read, or for that matter, watch, a story I already know in a world that already fully exists.
This isn't to say that movies are a bad medium or that books are superior. I'm just saying that they are two very different experiences and formats that have different strengths. And books' strengths are movie's weaknesses and vice versa. I believe that movies should be used for stories told from a strong prospective where you see it in one direction. You're experiencing it as an observer, and you need a story that derives power from the degree of separations and the use of different angles and the intensity of a performance. Movies serve a different purpose, and, when you shoehorn a book into that role, you often end up with a flattened version of the original book because you're getting one person's interpretation of a story you've already made your own, and it doesn't come with the emotional attachment you've grown with in the story.
For me, most of them range from inoffensive to "I can't even look at the book I used to love anymore", so, more often than not, my heart sinks when I hear a book I love is getting adapted. I'd rather watch an original story if I'm watching a movie or a show. I think, given time and a sincere attachment, they can be good, but it's still nerve-racking.
Thinking about positives, the only adaption I found that truly shown and stood on its own was Looking For Alaska, because I think that series hit at the right time with the right consideration of what the book is at its core. It obviously had an insane budget. Someone combed every detail from the set to the costumes to the incredible soundtrack. But, here's the thing, that book is well over ten years old. It's had a long lifetime as a book, and the only thing they were actively capitalizing on was John Green's, at this point, well established, name. It was spearheaded by two people who had been working to get it made forever. They'd taken on the story as their own and sat with it in a similar way John had done originally. They took it to a place where they'd have space not only to keep everything but add to it and make it their own. That adaption worked because they made it its own thing. You didn't have to have any love for the book to get a ton out of the show. They used a lot of the book's existing dialogue. They understood that they were doing a deeply internal story at a limited distance. It carried an awareness most lack because so many YA adaptions are considered decently cheap rom-coms for teen girls who are generally viewed as uncritical. The way Looking For Alaska was approached felt like a Euphoria. It felt designed and marketed to be sold as its own thing.
That's the framing I would like to see as we adapt going forward. If you're going to use an existing property, writers and directors need to let go of the fear of truly telling their own story within that world. More than anything, I want a piece of art where I can feel every bit of pain and emotion and joy that the creators either brought to it or felt in the process.
And that's what so many adaptions are missing.

More on This...
Looking For Alaska on Hulu

Links of Interest:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Books I'm Looking Forward To: April

Everything feels extremely uncertain right now, and authors are rightfully concerned about their books that are debuting in the coming months. Right now, Amazon is delaying book shipments, bookstores are being forced to close, and libraries are not providing in person services. While none of that this good news, it doesn't mean that books will be forgotten during this time. If anything, we need books and the arts in general more than ever. We've all turned to Netflix and reading and music to take our minds off of the situation, and these artists need our support too.
Luckily, there are tons of ways to do this. While authors aren't getting to hold traditional book launches, many are transitioning them to places like Instagram Live, so make sure you follow the authors you love on social media. Continuing on the social media theme, it's now more important than ever to talk about the books you enjoy online and leave reviews on Goodreads and Amazon to spread the word.
Anoth…

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of Missing Out by Kate McGovern 
Overview: Astrid has a form of brain cancer called astrocytoma that causes a star shaped tumor to form near her brainstem. Though she was in remission, two years later, the cancer comes back, and Astrid becomes convinced that she won't beat the disease. She starts to pursue options that will allow her to have a life in the future, namely, cryopreservation. After essentially freezing her body, she hopes to wake up when there's a cure for her cancer so she can rejoin the world and see some of the milestones she fears missing.
On the road trip to tour the Arizona facility, though, Astrid makes other realizations about her life and eventual death that alters how she sees her original plan. Overall: 4 

Characters: 4 Astrid is relatable. She has a touch of dry, witty humor that makes her relatable. She loves her friends and family deeply, but she also has a conviction to follow what feels best for her. I appreciated how she always tried to stay ho…

Soooo... The World Is More Than a Little Scary

I'm not sure what exactly I want to say with this post. It feels like there's nothing left to say in a way. Over the last few days, the United States has come to realize just how serious COVID-19 is. It's a reality that people in Europe and Asia grasped long before most Americans. I think that we're all starting to realize just how much our lives are fundamentally changing. How long this will actually impact us.
I've seen a lot of different reactions on Twitter. Understandably, there's a lot of heartbreak over lost vacations, concerts, and book tours. A lot of us were using things like this to keep motivated. It's entirely understandable why these choices have been made, but it doesn't make it any less hard. So, I guess what I wanted to say first is don't feel bad for feeling bad. Yes, there are people losing much more from this, and we should be doing everything we can to help them through this time, but beating yourself up for being disappointed …

Guest Post Claire Bartlett: Unpacking Fairytales

This week I want to welcome author Claire Bartlett to the blog to talk about the fascinating history of fairy tales throughout culture and how they play a role in her new book, The Winter Duke (out March 3). I've been a huge fan of fairy tales my entire life (I even wrote a giant paper on the Brothers Grimm for a school project once), so it was so much fun to read about the history of a couple tales that Claire uncovered in her research. If you missed the last time Claire was on the blog to promote her debut, you can find that post here.


I always wanted to write a fairy tale retelling, and it only makes sense to me now that I'd combine fairy tale, history and fantasy to create The Winter Duke. Fairy tales have long been intertwined with history, and in fact it's now estimated that fairy tale tropes go back thousands of years, being retold and reworked to fit audiences. Many of them were somewhat cemented in the public mind after being written down by the Grimms, among oth…

What If It's Us

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (448 pages)
Overview: Ben and Arthur meet at the post office during a flashmob. Well, Arthur followed Ben into the post office because he thought he was and, and, just as they started talking, in true form with Arthur's New York fantasy, a flash mob erupted. When the boys and split up, Arthur loses his chance at connecting with Ben, but when he can't stop thinking about him, he explores ways to reconnect even in a city of a million empty faces like New York. Even if they can find each other, with Arthur going back to Georgia at the end of the summer, will it even be worth it? Overall: 4/5

Characters: 4.5 I'm not sure what to say about the characters. I liked them enough, but I didn't feel any real attachment to any of them. I liked the cast of friends, but they all lacked a certain weight that would give them a stronger sense of reality. My favorite relationship in the book was the friendship between Dylan and Ben.…

Top Reads of 2018

This year's best of 2018 list has tons of new categories to fit all of the amazing books I read this year. I've had the chance to read so many advanced books and recent releases, so most of what I read were books that came out in 2018. I mostly choose contemporary, so I've started with my favorite debut as well as the best books in other genres I've ventured into. After that, I have smaller categories in the contemporary genre. I hope you find new books to love and give to your friends and family for the holidays. If you're interested in learning more about the books on the list, click their titles to go to my reviews. Let me know if these are some of your favorites in the comments, and tell me your favorite books!
Best In Genre Top Debut
Nothing Left To Burn by Heather Ezell Nothing Left To Burn gave me the craziest book hangover. I was so immersed in the story, and I couldn't stop reading to do anything that I actually needed to be doing. There is a toxic relat…

Nice Try, Jane Sinner

Nice Try, Jane Sinner Lianne Oelke (420 pages)
Overview: Jane wants to forget the past. Forget the high school that expelled her. Forget the people that watched her fall from grace. Forget her family who thinks that prayer is the answer to everything. Facing community college at Elbow River as a last resort graduation option, she signs up to be on House of Orange, a new web reality show, to solve her housing problem. Though she knows to expect the unexpected, House of Orange and its inhabitants test Jane in ways she never imagined. Maybe the year won't be as bad as she imagined. Overall: 5

Characters: 5 I LOVE Jane. There are very few main characters I can say that I appreciated more. Her sarcasm, dry humor, and outlook on life echoed my own thoughts, and I loved how she was so introspective. It is fascinating to listen to Jane work through her own thoughts and recognize her behaviors as masks for other feelings. I also thought that Oelke did a wonderful job with her depiction of Ja…

Starry Eyes

Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett (417 pages)
Overview: Glamping should not include getting stranded in the middle of the woods with your ex-best friend. But life doesn't always go as it's supposed to. When Zorie agrees to go with her friend Regan and her crew on a summer camping trip, she doesn't know Lennon will be there, and she's certainly not expecting the group to abandon the two of them in the middle of the California wilderness, forced to complete a multi day track back to civilization. It turns out, though, that an adventure in the woods might be just what they need. Overall: 4.5

Characters: 5 I thought that all of the characters, including the adults, were given dimension. I loved the parental dynamic between Lennon and his moms as well as Zorie's relationship with her step mom who never considered Zorie less than her own daughter.
Lennon and Zorie are also awesome characters. Zorie has to battle her intense anxiety and relinquish control while she's stuck in…

March 2020: A Month In Review

Congratulations everyone! We have made it to the last day of the longest month any of us have ever experienced. We've all been through a lot in the last couple weeks. Everyone's world looks totally different now than it did in that first week, and that's really hard to process. We're not only dealing with the weight of living through a global pandemic, but it's also uncertain how long our lives will be on lockdown. The only thing that is clear is that social isolation is the only way that we'll get through this any time soon. Regardless of what your official local guidelines are, please follow self isolation protocols and only go outside for the most essential needs if you are not a required worker. This is a global group project, and the only way to get results is for everyone to strictly adhere to the guidelines. Do it for your health, your future, your grandparents health, your parents, health care workers, or anyone you love.
While I know we all want a lit…