How to survive that book-to-movie matinee

Every time a big book becomes a big movie (see recently: Divergent, Catching Fire, and The Hobbit), my library’s holds list becomes full of people who want to read the book, and my library becomes full of people upset that we don’t have the book because they have to read it before they can go see the movie. But I have a secret that I share with them, and now with you, that helps make them happier in the short- and long-term:

You should watch the movie first.

I know, I know, it seems like blasphemy, especially coming from a librarian, but I have seen a lot of movies based on books, and 95 percent of the time? The book is better. (The other 5 percent? Movies like the amazing Stardust.) Why rush to read a book so good they made a movie out of it just to get to the theater and be disappointed? Watch the movie, be entertained, and then grab the book later, after the library’s holds list is shorter and you’ve probably forgotten most of the movie, and enjoy it at your own pace.

“But I have to read the book first because I won’t know what’s going on!” Movies are, generally speaking, made to appeal to the widest possible audience. Movie studios know that there are going to be people in the theater who have read the book seventeen times since breakfast and are dressed up in custom-made costumes, and also people who got to the theater at 7:45 and this was the only movie playing and they said, eh, okay, why not? You are probably somewhere in between these extremes, and so you should be fine. There are notable exceptions (e.g. all of the Harry Potter movies except Prisoner of Azkaban), but even those are going to at least be fun to watch, and hey, you’ll pick up the rest of the story when you read the book later!

“But I know they’re going to change a lot to make this 800-page book into a three-hour movie and I want to know the right story going in!” Do you? Do you really? The movie studio is going to cut out or change or add characters and plotlines and change people’s eye colors or skin colors and you’re going to know each and every time what they’ve done “wrong”. Would you rather come out of the movie thinking, “Man, that would have been great if only they hadn’t CUT OUT MY FAVORITE TERTIARY CHARACTER, those jerks”, or finish the book thinking, “Man, that tertiary character was really awesome, I hope she comes back in the sequel!”?

“But what about that crazy twist? You’ll ruin the crazy twist if you see the movie first!” Well, sure, but you’ll ruin it for the movie if you read the book first, so. There’s no getting away from the book-to-movie with the crazy twist. But personally, when I read a book with a crazy twist, I have a hankering to go back and read the book again later to see if the twist was really crazy, or if I should have seen it coming the whole time. If you already know that the twist is coming, you can save yourself that second set of reading hours for another book!

“But I already read the book when it came out five years ago! I can’t unread it now!” An unfortunate truth. You can’t go around not reading books because they might someday be made into movies or you’re just never going to read any books. But you also don’t want to be the girl watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in the theater and staring baffledly at your best friend who is loving the movie while you’re thinking, “Wait, did that even happen in the book? I don’t remember that happening. And why are we leaving this scene, we can’t be done yet, I don’t understand what’s going on!” (Not that I speak from experience.) You’re going to have to exercise judgment, here — if you think it’s going to be one of those blockbuster movies that hits the high points at the expense of explaining what’s going on, it might be best to re-read it before going (see: HBP) and just remember that the movie is not going to be as good. Otherwise, I recommend attempting to forget the story entirely so that you can watch the movie as a movie, whether by hypnosis or by waiting for the movie to show up on Netflix in a few months.

If you find yourself consistently disappointed with film adaptations after you’ve gone to all the trouble of reading the book, try the Watch It First technique for a few movies and see how quickly your movie-going life changes!

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