Think back to your high school English class. You spend a month slowly plodding through a dense book that is filled with language you barely understand, lengthy descriptions of settings, and metaphors that fly right over your head. Perhaps it’s Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, or maybe it’s Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Despite your best effort to find enjoyment in the experience, the book feels like work. Every night on top of your math and science homework, you have to muster up the energy to get through another 20 pages of a book you can’t really wrap your head around. But there is salvation—the prize at the end of the journey. That beautiful week where your English class becomes a movie theater and you get to spend 5 glorious days watching that book you struggled through in easy to swallow half-hour increments. Does it help you appreciate the book more? Maybe. Does it help you write a better essay for class? Almost certainly. But does the film help or hurt the experience of the book? That is the question that’s up for debate.
This month, in order to try to answer that question, the The Not So Book Club Book Club decided to tackle books that were all made into movies. Two of the books’ movies had not been released yet, while one had already dominated a past awards season. All 3 books however, sported new book covers that mirrored their movie posters and included stickers that proudly declared “Now a feature film!”
To help address the issue at hand, I decided to power read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, and immediately follow it with the movie. I wanted the book to be so fresh in my mind that I’d be able to spot the differences faster than I would in a child’s Highlights magazine. I read for 2 days straight, finishing the book at 6PM and jumped right into the film at 6:30.
And right off the bat, I was struck by how frustrated I was by the changes in the film. The settings didn’t fit the landscapes my mind painted, the characters’ accents weren’t as drawn out as I expected from the southern heat, and the music felt too playful to be properly setting up the tension that would saturate the story. Even more so, I was bothered by the fact that subtlety fell by the wayside…hard. Instead of having the audience swim around the innermost thoughts of the 3 main characters, each and every motive had to be spelled out loud and clear. I found myself shouting things like “Skeeter would have never done this out in the open!” and “Minny wouldn’t have looked that worried! She was tougher than that!” My frustration mounted so high that the second the credits started to roll, I took to the Internet to feel the affirmation of fellow angry viewers. However, I was met with mainly positive reviews. People loved it and gushed about how it deserved all the accolades it received. So why did I take it so personally?
A few days after I watched the movie, I shared my thoughts with one of my close friends. She reminded me that despite her immense love of the Harry Potter series, she refused to watch the films. She went on to say, “Harry and his friends have been with me throughout all of my formative years. They have been like a family to me, and I just know I am not ready to watch my character family be portrayed in someone else’s vision.” And I think that was the thing that got me so hot and bothered about the movie watching experience— it was someone else’s vision.
When we read, our mind meets the author halfway. The author gives us the words to construct the scenery and situations, but our own imaginations fill in the rest of the blanks. It’s because of this personal effort we feel so attached to what we read. We concoct our own perfect vision of the book, making it almost impossible for any two individuals see that same exact thing.
We also feel deeply attached to the characters. We read their deepest thoughts and feelings, and in doing so they become a part of us. When we see it acted out, we lose something. We lose a bit of that attachment because we become a viewer instead of a participant.
Now that’s not to say these movies cannot be spectacular. They’re just another person’s view of the story, and despite how close it may be to your own, it will never be the exact picture your mind painted when you read the book.
So do movies help or hurt the reading experience? I think the answer is neither. It just shows us a different interpretation of the story we read and allows us to see someone else’s vision. And despite what people say, I think it’s impossible to say if the book is always better than the film, because it’s comparing apples to oranges— two great individual things that share similarities, but can never fully act as a substitute for the other.
A Note from your NSBCBC ringleader:
I truly hope you have been enjoying the experience of reading with me as much as I have enjoyed this experience with you! Together we have become a strong community of readers and I look forward to us growing in the months to come.
Make sure to check back next Tuesday to see what March’s NSBCBC reads are going to be and make sure to spread the word about the Not So Book Club Book Club! The more people we have participating, the better the experience will be. Post your thoughts on our facebook wall (https://www.facebook.com/nsbcbc), instagram your reading experience using the #nsbcbc hashtag, and follow us on Twitter at @notsobookclub.
And most importantly, enjoy your reading experience!
Tons of love!