Would You Rather Read the Book or Watch the Film?

Woman Reading

Nowadays, when many good novels are turned into good films, it can be tricky to decide which to enjoy first, the book or the film based on it. Reading the book is an intimate experience that can challenge your mind and tickle your heart. But watching the film is often more convenient, especially if you don’t have much time. Not to mention that you get to see beautiful scenery and often a fine leg and some nudity as well.

Take The Reader or The English Patient or The Atonement or The Lord of the Rings or A Game of Thrones or some other story that has had the fortune of being made into a good, sometimes even acclaimed film.

What do you do? Read the book first and watch the film later? Watch the film and forget about the book? Or don’t watch the film at all, to prevent it from influencing the way you view the book?

Sunday I watched The Girl with a Pearl Earring. Last night I procured the book and began reading it. As I read, scenes from the film came back to me. Since the film wasn’t bad – nor Scarlett nor Colin displeasing to the eye –  this didn’t bother me.

But now I suppose the film has already influenced the way I approach the book, and some of the feelings it will trigger. The characters in the book, rather than being vague outlines in my mind, have acquired the physical characteristics of the actors.

In films the setting usually comes before the characters. In books it’s the other way around. It’s the train of thought that matters most in books, for me at least, and this cannot be recreated on the screen. Also, I prefer the slow characterization of books to the fast, visual one of films.

But then I must admit that some films based on books are so good that if I get to see them first, somehow I feel that I don’t have to read the book after. Fight Club or The Atonement, for example. In some cases, films can act as concise summaries of stories we don’t have time to read.

That said, I prefer to read the story first, and only after, if a good film is available (good based on reviews), watch it.

There are stories though that I fear I will profane if I watch the films based on them, stories like One Hundred Years of Solitude or The Little Prince.

But in the end I think that films can enrich the novels they are based on. Not all films, but those like the ones mentioned in the beginning, which are well made and remain faithful to the original story.

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What comes first for you, the book or the film?

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42 thoughts on “Would You Rather Read the Book or Watch the Film?

  1. Agreed that films can potentially enrich the books themselves…Atonement is an excellent example.

    I don’t really have a preference for the order. Many times I see a movie first, then find out it was based on a book. So I read the book and gain further insight, especially into the minds of the characters, where films just can’t compete.

  2. I saw the title of the post and went, “Book! Book! Book!” And then I read the article and thought, “I was supposed to write that in the comment section…”
    Anyway, for me, watching a movie before reading the book it is based on is next to taboo. I don’t like it, when I’m reading, that scenes from the movie (no matter how exceptional) pop-up in my head with every corresponding chapter. It just ruins the whole losing-oneself-among-the-pages-of-a-book concept for me.
    For example, when I wasn’t old enough to understand classics, I made the huge (HUGE) mistake of watching a movie based on ‘Gone With The Wind’ and then recently I picked up the book with the hope of enjoying it in my own colors… and I couldn’t get past page one because the images from the movie came flooding back. The book still sits prettily on my bookshelf, inviting me to read and every time I look at it, I sigh.
    That is what happens to me, the movie imprints itself on my mind.
    So to cut the long story short, I am never reading a book after watching the movie… or rather, never watching a movie before reading the book!

    1. I stumbled across your blog and found this topic interesting and thought I would share my own 2 cents; Up until quite recently I would have said that I always went to see/rented/streamed (which ever) a movie if I have read the book, contingent on my liking the book that is. The one exception to the was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There was such an explosion of interest in all of the books and then not 1 but 2 series of 3 movies each about the books that I jumped on the bandwagon and watched all the original movies, then I read the book. I was pleasantly surprised how the first book wrapped up as it differed from the book. Often that is not the case, the fact that the movie could stand on its own.

      Thanks for the question.

      Best,

      James – fellow blogger.

        1. I had only seen the subtitled Swedish films and afterwards felt there was no reason to see the remake with Daniel Craig. What was the point.I can say that I did REALLY enjoy the Swedish ones and have heard from one person who said that the remakes were worth the watch.

          Thanks for the reply.

    2. This comment is for Meghna.

      I feel that too sometimes.

      Which is why I won’t ever watch One Hundred Years of Solitude on screen, if they ever turn it into a (major) film.

      But do you ever feel the other way around? That reading the book enriches the film?

      1. Hi Vincent. I’m sorry for not having replied earlier. Was without internet for the past few days.
        Anyway, to answer your question.
        I don’t think that reading a book enriches the film. For me, like I said, I usually stay away from movies based on books. As a result, its hard for me to provide you with an accurate answer but knowing myself, I can safely say that it won’t happen in my case. It can work two ways: One, you may love the movie because you might think it did complete justice to the book and otherwise, it may upset you because it may ruin what you had imagined so well by pushing its scenes into your head.
        So I think it completely depends on both – the book and the movie! 🙂

        God! Why do I write so much?!

  3. Nicely written and observed blog. Yes, I agree with you and the others that a book should be read first. I don’t even watch films soon after a first viewing. A book of the movie seems even more pointless.

    Either another viewing of the movie or reading the book would need a couple of years break to forgot quite a bit of the contents and plot.

  4. Sometimes I have read the book, like Kings Salem Lot, I liked it and then saw the movie and did not like it. Sometimes vica versa and then again versa vica. All in all a different experience.

  5. i think for me, it’s mostly mindless intuition… or what is available.

    i’m not a bookworm, at least my personal definition of it. just an occasional book-lover, which means if i find a book i really like i’ll read it again and again even if i got other popular books on my shelf. one of my faves before was “the time traveler’s wife”. never heard of it, never read a review, just saw it in a bookstore, with an international something award, and i read the back and thought, hmm something for a change. but at the same time i had the feeling i would like it. i watched the movie later and i thought it just couldn’t get the essence of the book.

    i got a copy of an LOTR book before when it first got real popular but somehow i couldn’t get past the first pages. much later, i got hold of the three-part DVD and somehow felt i will like it, particularly at that season of time. so i watched and it moved me.

    i remember being moved by some nicholas sparks in college, particularly “the notebook” and “message in a bottle”. around the same time “a walk to remember” movie came out, and i watched without having read the novel yet. i liked it generally, mostly ’cause of the music, teen stars and stuff, and general romance, but it was years later when i watched it again that it got to me. point is, maybe sometimes, it also depends on season.

    i read “the devil wears prada” and really enjoyed all the descriptions and general narration. i watched the movie and i’ve kind of forgotten it… i think it also didn’t capture the essence of the book. but then i guess that’s why they call it “based on…”

    if i really liked a book, like “the peaceful warrior” or “bridget jones diary”, i always want to watch the movie version. sometimes i also put stuff in my “i want to read/watch” list because i saw it recommended by a person who i sorta connected with in some other likes/favorites. but i guess no two persons have exactly the same set of likes/favorites, not even 10%.

    well my bottomline is, sometimes the author is just more talented than the combination of director-scriptwriter-cinematographer-actors, or vice versa.

    1. Wow! You’ve just left the longest comment on this blog.

      I really appreciate you took the time to write it.

      It’s interesting what you say about The Time Traveller’s Wife. I thought the film was okay. Haven’t read the book though,

      You will receive two invisible gifts for your nice comment!

  6. I, like you, prefer to read the book before watching the movie. I like to have my own idea of the characters, setting, etc. before watching another’s idea of it. Plus, who doesn’t like to complain about how the movie got things wrong? 😉

  7. The only time I’ve seen a movie that’s better than the book is in the case of The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. The only reason for that is because the book itself was terrible. As an author, though, I do fantasize about seeing my characters on the big screen someday. 😉

  8. Having read all the Harry Potter books first, I think the movies are terrible. Some of the actors don’t match the descriptions I created for them and many pivotal scenes and characters are left out of the movies. Because of this I find it difficult discussing the series with people who have only seen the movies. I understand it’s nearly impossible to cram a 500+ page book into a 2 hour movie without leaving out some major details, but I wouldn’t mind a 10 hour movie that used the book as a script.

  9. Generally speaking, I prefer the book over the movie. You get more detail in the book. However, that’s not the case for LOTR. I read the LOTR trilogy years ago. It was rough going. The text is dense and there’s lots of ancillary songs, poems, etc. I much prefer the movies. I can only take so much artistry/allegory/made up epics in a text.

  10. I always try to read the book first. I find that if the movie sucks after reading the book, I’ve only invested a couple of hours into it. However if it’s the other way around, sometimes I can read for days before giving up…

  11. I’d definitely read the book and then watch the film. There’s something about reading a book without seeing the film that makes it your own, your imagination can create the scenery and the characters as you interpret them. If you see the film first then you have all of those images engraved into your mind before you even open the page. I really struggle to get through a book if I’ve seen the film as well, I think it’s because I know what’s going to happen. Whereas if I’ve read the book I get excited to see how the film makers interpret it and to see how they transform it from paper to picture.x

  12. I’d rather read a book first. The problem with that is that sometimes your expectations about the film are so high (because you read the book before) that when the film is not what you expected, well, it’s pretty sad. I hate when don’t see parts of the book in the films… Every detail counts so I’d rather ten thousand times more to read the book and create those scenes than be disappointed at a film…

  13. Generally, book first. The movie would usually be someone’s interpretation of the book and I’d rather have the chance to make my own conclusion first or be touched by the book before the movie.

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