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February 13, 2008



I read Hunt for Red October well after watching the movie, and had a couple of false starts because by then I had also seen Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan and for a time I had trouble getting my own mental image of the character for the book. After I got that sorted out, I enjoyed the book immensely. I also read the Princess Bride book after I had seen the movie, and though they were distinct, I loved that they had the same spirit. I think that a good adaptation depends on the movie produces understanding the book well enough that they are able to capture the central point of the book in the new format.

Joe Andersen

Almost invariably I prefer what ever I encountered first - usually the book. One exception was Kevin Costner's/David Brin's "The Postman" - I thought both were really good, but quite distinct stories.

I think the issue is that books are written to be read and movies are written to be watched, and these are more different processes than we imagine. So a "faithful" rendition of a book as a movie falls flat, as does the novelization of a movie.

A careful adaptation either way should be able to work (cf lord of the rings) whereas a sloppy one is painful, and may often require reading the books to understand the film (eg Harry Potter)

Diana Raabe

I make it a point to read the book before seeing the movie, and can't think of an instance when I've done it in the reverse order.

It's rare that the movie lives up to the book, and even more rare that it is any better.

Sean Chercover

"To Kill A Mockingbird" is, I think, both a perfect book and a perfect movie. I saw the movie first, but I don't think it would've made any difference if I'd read the book first. They are both that good. Horton Foote did an amazing job adapting Harper Lee's book. If I had to choose, I'd pick the book, but that's not to take anything away from the movie.

I saw the movie "Marathon Man" first, then read the book (both screenplay and book written by William Goldman). Again, I enjoyed both immensely. Perhaps the movie slightly more, but if I'd read the book first, I suspect I'd prefer the book. The movie just made its emotional impact first, so I'm more wedded to it.

I saw JAWS before I read the book. In my opinion, the movie is far superior to the book.

I saw "To Have And Have Not" before I read the book. As much as I enjoy the movie, the book is far superior.

That's enough from me. I'll sit back and read the views of others now.

Thanks for the great blog, Steve.


Many years ago my husband gave me a copy of Dr. Zhivago. As my first experience with Russian novels, I couldn't seem to keep straight the names, 3 each, of the huge cast of characters. After seeing the movie I went back to the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had Omar Sharif and company firmly attached to their roles in my head and had no trouble finishing the book.


I agree somewhat with Joe Anderson's comment, in that I will almost always enjoy both the movie AND the book--so long as I see the movie first. If I read the book first I am invariably disappointed in the movie, but if I see the movie first it merely whets my appetite. The first book I read that was inspired by seeing the movie first was "Anne of Green Gables" when I was about 9. Both the book and the movie remain on my top 10 lists.

David Green

For Whom The Bell Tolls, the original movie with Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, which came out in late 1930's. Movie stays pretty close to Hemingway's book, and a very young Ms.Bergman and Mr. Cooper as the heroic American adventurer. Another Hemingway book made into a great movie is The Old Man And The Sea, which came out in the early '60's and starred Spencer Tracy. My favorite movie version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is the TV version which may have been produced by Hallmark and starred George C. Scott as Mr. Scrooge. I think George was playing himself a bit in this one, just as in Patton! Thanks Steve!


I've only seen the movie first once, and that was Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. The movie was brilliant and the book seemed a bit overdone. Because it was trimmed down to its bare story, the movie adaption was stronger and more appealing.


A few years ago (and long overdue) I pledged to read all the Pulitzer Prize winning novels, partly for pleasure, but partly to see what made them great. Upon obtaining the list, I was somewhat dismayed to see that most have been made into movies I'd already seen. It's been hard for me to work up the enthusiasm to read the book when I feel like I know the story from having seen the movie. Still, books can do things that movies, no matter how wonderful, cannot, and vice versa. Just as there are marvelous movie lines, there is the exquisitely turned phrase. We are lucky to have both available to us. Might as well take advantage.

Having seen 'To Kill a Mockingbird' dozens of times, I launched into the book tentatively. Well, of course, as most previous thread posters have said, the book is fabulous in its own right and deeply rewarding. That encouraged me to 'post-movie' read more than I have and reading this 'boovie' blog has enhanced that desire further. So many posters spoke of different experiences between book and movie, I realize I may not know the author's version of story from having seen the movie, and certainly haven’t felt his pen. My ‘to read’ pile grows.


I HATE to see a movie after I have read the book. It is so disappointing because I am expecting to see certain elements, favorite scenes, or critical passages only to find them left out or altered to fit the movie’s time line.

If I do see the movie first and then read the book, the book becomes a richer experience for me because my imagination can place the movie characters into the book.

Still, in all fairness to boovies, The Lord of the Ring series was done very well and it was nice to have real-life images to place with my favorite characters – even if some of them didn’t quite fit my imagination.

Preference? I would rather read the book.

Shari Myers

More often than not, I read the book, then see the movie, but there have been a few exceptions. I watched "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Anatomy of a Murder" while in junior high, then went foraging through my parents' bookshelves to find and read each one. In both cases, book and movie stood on their own merits, and I re-read and re-watch them often.

I saw "The Horse Whisperer" with a friend who kept telling me the movie was very different from the book, so of course, I had to read the book, which I much-preferred to the movie. After being thoroughly disappointed with the movie version of "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", I picked up the book and was enthralled.

For me, the true test of a successful movie based on a book I've read is whether or not the director truly "gets" the essence of the story and the actors find a way to embody its characters. It doesn't matter if something is taken away from or added to the story, as long as it doesn't unnecessarily distill or worse, overembellish.


I have two instances that I want to share regarding reading a book after first seeing the movie. When I was 11 my sister took me to the great 1920's movie house in my hometown to see a revival showing of Gone With the Wind. After that I read the book, and re-read the book at least once a year, every year until I was about 25. I loved the movie, but the richness of detail in the novel really captivated me. The second instance I wanted to share is Forrest Gump. I loved the movie, and even though I enjoyed reading the book later, I prefer the movie. I think Robert Zemeckis eliminated the most far-fetched storylines, which wouldn't have worked as well on screen. The wonderful performances by the cast help too. Thanks for the great blog Steve!

Al S.

I read "Stiletto" by Harold Robbins years after seeing the movie. I found the movie in this case was better than the book. The action was easier to follow and had movement. In both cases I found myself hoping that Count Cardinali would not meet his just rewards. Believe it or not, seeing the movie first did not diminish my enjoyment of the book. So many years (about 15) had passed that I still wished for Cardinali to escape his demise. I enjoyed both, but the movie just a bit more!

V.Levy-Los Angeles

Yes! The one that comes first to mind is "Out of Africa" by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). The Academy Award winning movie was released in 1985, based on three of Dinesen's books, 'Out of Africa' (published in 1937), 'Shadows on the Grass' (published in 1961); and 'Letters from Africa, 1914-1931' (published in 1981 after her death in 1962). The sweeping story of Dinesen's time in Africa was so beautifully shot, and so descriptive of the cultural and social mores of that time and place, that, after seeing the movie, I rushed right out to buy the book, amazed that I had never heard of this author before!

Dinesen was Danish, and I read her books in the translated English, which is most surely how the producers of this movie came to know of her work. The scholar who compiled her letters 20 years after her death gave rise to a new look at her works from 1937 and 1961.

But for reading, the material was very slow going, and I was disappointed. Having seen the movie, I came to realize that it indeed takes extraordinary creative vision and passion to bring a book to movie form, and that the way "Out of Africa" looked on screen was in large part due to the nature of filmed entertainment, to the amazing transformation by actors into characters, and in the intensely important role of a screenwriter in the adaptation of descriptions and action into dialog and screen story. Isak Dinesen's written works were from her heart and her experience, but the movie was by far the better relation of it!

In the specific case of "Out of Africa", I would have to say that my enjoyment of Dinesen's book was somewhat diminished by having seen the feature film first -- perhaps mostly because I had an expectation of a re-creation in word of what I had seen on screen -- I had yet to develop my own appreciation of the film development process!.

Unlike "the classics" of literature, that by their very composition demand our imagination create the characters and action as we read them, "Out of Africa's" substance and characters were an assemblage of Dinesen's writings....and as such, required a broader "reading" of the original materials to match the scope of the movie.

I had written to you previously about the pleasure and delight I have found in your "Well-Read Life" blog entries.....keep up the fantastic work!

Eve (Richardson? I'm uncertain you want entire names, or 'real' names at all)

So different are the media, comparison is difficult. I prefer reading before seeing, and if a book deeply affects me I often pass up the movie: Something resists giving up imagination's version in favor of that of director, actors, producer. Mistake: Silence of the Lambs I read, planned not to see because the book's imagery filtered through my imagination was too strong to bear another interpretation. It happened I couldn't avoid it, found it well done (with eyes most often closed).

But there's The Great Gatsby, which I've read (first, long before the boovie's birth) and seen countless times, unfailingly enthralled.

Out of Africa is among my favorite boovies, yet I wouldn't enjoy the book: Personal history, per se, doesn't make good fiction.

If I use in fiction a 'real' event (who knows what's real, in that sense?), it's but a jumping-off place: characters take over without a by-your-leave.

Most sincerely, thank you for Well-Read Life. I appreciated your occasional essays on the Levenger site; this is wonderful!

Chris Geyer

I didn't respond to the first prompt - but I'll just say here that when I say the original "Dune" movie, it was the single most disappointing film from a book I have ever seen, even to this date. I devoured the original "Dune" series - the original novel the most, but then the trilogy, and then, after the movie, the remaining books from the original six. I loved the books, and don't think they should ever be a movie. Much as I can't imagine anyone ever successfully making a movie of "Atlas Shrugged."

I saw "The Firm" before reading the book, and stopped reading the books of the remaining Grisham novels that were made into books because it changed so much. Though I was told that Grisham learned from that and started writing his novels with the screen in mind.

I saw "The Wizard of Oz" long before I read the book. Same with "Gone With the Wind." And "The Hunt for Red October." In each of these cases I came to appreciate the film for the way it preserved the central theme of the novel while omitting a great percentage of the details from the book.

I've been in graduate school for the past six years, so I've probably seen movies that came from books I don't know I haven't read yet. But so far? I like to appreciate the differences that come from understanding the two mediums.

Big Daddy

I lean toward the "book first" side of things. It requires discipline and use of ones own imagination. Movies seem to simply spoon feed us great literature.

I must disagree with a previous post from David about The Neverending Story. I was captivated by it at age 12. My grandmother gave me the original German/English translation for my birthday. It was the biggest book I had read at that time. I have since read it(same copy)aloud to my children. The illustrations are profound and as far as it being "over done", I really feel like that was the point. Hence, the "neverending" theme. The movie corroded my imagination of a little fat boy hiding in the attic of a school house. And it simply destroyed my visions of the luck dragon. It also regretfully did not encompass even a third of the book. (prt II was just as bad) It was, in my opinion, a very poor job. But, you know what they say about opinions.

EMR in Georgia

Thank you, Steve, for this unique gift, which typifies your philosophy regarding Levenger. By way of post script to my earlier comments on boovies (and I'm grateful to you for creating words, as do I; 'boovies' merits an invitation to OED, at the least), may I add an experience a bit atilt from our subject, yet relative? Hearing, from countless people whose taste I trust and share, that (the book) Bridges of Madison County was badly written, I forewent it: Always I've good reading waiting, so I'd never miss it. When the boovie appeared I gave it not a thought. But the very friends and colleagues who'd criticized everything about the book now praised and urged me to see the boovie. I did, and was so engaged I returned for a second seeing. An oddity, perhaps, and I don't at all know the work of this writer. But an example of process at its best: From less-than-fine clay, artists created a work that transcends its parts. Thank you for Well-Read Life in both its forms. Only you. Only Levenger.

Becky M.

I read Gone With The Wind after seeing the movie - saw the movie when I was in grade school and it was a big "television event" when it was on. Didn't read the book until I was in college - or maybe just after I graduated. I pictured all the same characters from the movie (Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable et al.) but loved the book so much more - I felt I got to "see", or at least get a better understanding of the sides and aspects of the characters that don't appear on screen. Not to take away from amazing film performances, but it's just different than crawling inside a character's head - and not as deep.

I saw Christine when I was in high school and hadn't read any Stephen King. A friend said, "Oh, the book is WAY better," so I tried it out. She was right - and I think it was better for the same reason as stated above. Getting inside the heads of characters enriches the story so much more.

stephen blaufuss

Steve, I first read a book called "The Ravens" by Christopher Robbins. It was about forward air combat observers in Vietnam. I was so impressed with his writing, I started to look for his first book called, "Air America." Before I found the book, the movie "Air America" came out. The movie was a bit disappointing, but then I bought Mr. Robbin's book for which the movie was named. The book was head and shoulders better than the movie.
If I see a movie based on a book and I like the movie, I am more apt to read the book, figuring it has more details and character development than Hollywood's version.


When Forrest Gump came out, I was a huge fan of the movie. I was unaware that there was also a book. But when a friend of mine let me borrow the book, I couldn't put it down. The book was much more engaging than the movie. Forrest had so many more life experiences that didn't make it into the movie which I think would have enhanced the film. Overall, I enjoyed the book much more than the movie, but I still love the movie.


John Le Carré said once in an interview that seeing one's books turned into movies is like seeing one's oxen turned into bouillon cubes.

Speaking of John Le Carré - not sure if it qualifies as a boovie because it was on a small screen rather than a large screen - but watching Alec Guinness portray George Smiley in the BBC series "Smiley's People" led me to the books. And let me tell you, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is one terrific book. Even knowing what happens in the end, I can still re-read it today and savor the plot and characterization. And I'm not usually a spy-fiction kind of person.

Unfortunately, Le Carré couldn't picture his own version of Smiley after watching the series himself. He could only see Guinness, so he stopped writing books about Smiley. Now, I love Alec Guinness, but all in all, I'd rather have had more George Smiley BOOKS.


I always read the book before I see the movie... I like to get my own images/impressions first.

Something that I have done is listen to an audiobook then read the text myself. I find the jasper fforde series about Thursday Next to be funny, entertaining reads, but the audios flow easier - especially when he uses the "footnote-phone" device (conversations that occur between a character that is in the scene and another that is someplace else and appear at the bottom of a page and can last for several pages!). He is a clever man who obviously loves language and writing and has a peculiar view of the world around him.

S A Walker (Essay Walker) 'cause I write.

Recently saw the movie "Jumpers". Was impressed with the moral/ethical side of the story, which I believe most of the movie audience completely missed.

However, the movie was done well enough that I drove, literally, from the theatre to Barnes & Noble and bought all of the books in the series. Damn good thing it was Saturday. I spent all night reading two of the books and went to bed on Sunday around noon.

Generally speaking, I have fairly low expectations of movies compared to the books from which they were adapted.

The worst adaptation I've ever seen was Heinlein's "Starship Troopers".

The one I'd love to see is Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress".

The best adaptation I've seen was Herman Raucher's (sp?) "Summer of '42" with Jennifer O'Neal. It stayed on the billboard for over 80-weeks in Sydney Australia.



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