Do You Need to Read the Book Before You See the Movie?


By Johanna Dickson, Digital Publicist


In early June my mother notified me via email that she needed to see The Fault in Our Stars when it came out. She works in a middle school library and often reads many of the popular books they lend to students. It took her no time at all to finish the book, and as much as she sobbed her way through it she loved it. She could not wait to see the movie. As I am her frequent movie date, she was alerting me that she wanted us to see the movie together. There was just one issue: I hadn’t yet read the book myself.

I fall firmly into the camp of those who believe you need to read the book before it arrives in theaters. According to a 2012 poll on Goodreads, I’m not alone. Of over 25,000 respondents, nearly 80% stated they read the book before the movie. To me, the book is the very essence of how the story was meant to be understood. When an author describes, in detail, characters and places, I enjoy being able to imagine what they look like for myself. There is also a little sadness in seeing what the author carefully crafted over a number of pages become a mere blip on the screen. And despite what Hollywood thinks, there are some books that just do not translate well to the big screen. Time constraints, casting choices, and the reliance on special effects can often damage what was a spectacular book.

The argument for not reading the book before the movie often rests on the idea that they should stand as two separate entities. It’s no easy task to adapt a novel, especially a beloved one, and a well-done movie should not be considered a failure if it is not the purest adaptation. A movie can take many liberties with the text it is based on and still be a great film. Some movies are even better than the books. The Graduate, The Godfather, and Mystic River are just a few of those movies.

There are times when my dedication to my position can ruin what is otherwise a great film. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo only about a week before I saw the Swedish version film. Every finite detail of Stieg Larsson’s incredibly detailed story was fresh in my mind. I knew the film would have to make a many changes to accommodate a long story to reasonable film length, but I disagreed with almost every one of them. I had only finished the first book and the film had added in details from the other books I had yet to tackle. Worse yet, I seemed to be the only one who noticed that the names of two characters were inexplicably switched. It had no relevance to the storyline and seemed like a sloppy move on the part of the screenwriter. The film received praise worldwide and launched the international career of its star bu the many inexplicable departures from the book ruined it for me.

So I bought a copy of The Fault in Our Stars from the Penguin truck at BEA. I read it in three days and saw the movie a week later. The movie was great, but like many before, I preferred the book.



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