Movies are Making It Hard for Me to Recommend Books

I sell books for a living.  And I love it.  I love that I always have an excuse to spend way too much time reading in my free time.  I love getting to see other people discover a great book for the first time.  And I love recommending books to people.  But there is something I am getting incredibly tired of hearing: “Oh, I saw the movie of this one.”

While some movie adaptations make really rocket book sales (hello, Me Before You), it makes other books impossible to sell, especially once the movie has been out for a while.  And every time I recommend a great book and I hear “I saw the movie,” I want to scream.  Yes, you may have seen the movie, but the book is a completely different experience.  Movies always change things and reading a book and watching a movie are completely different experiences.  And it seems that movies, while broadening a book to a new audience, is also killing those very books they are adapting.

Here’s an example: Atonement by Ian McEwan.

Even searching to find this picture, I had to week through tons of pictures of the movie poster and many websites devoted to the movie before I found anything talking about the book.

Atonement is honestly one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.  McEwan’s prose is some of the best I have ever read, reminding me a lot of Jane Austen.  In 2007 it was made into a film starring Keira Knightly and James McAvoy. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards.  While the movie is great, I was sad to see that it was mostly visual.  A lot of what happened we learned through silent scenes in which the visuals and Oscar-winning music explained what was happening.  Dialogue in parts of the film was incredibly minimal or didn’t exist at all.  There are many parts of the book that I filled in because the movie never said them.  Suddenly, the language that I had loved so much was gone.  The movie is good but it is a completely different experience from the book.  While the plots line up, I didn’t think of them as all that similar.  And so I want people to read the book.  I want them to experience this amazing piece of art but they won’t because they have already seen the film.  I have had customers explain the kind of book they are looking for (“a modern classic,” “something with beautiful prose,” for example) and have very excitedly handed them this book, thinking that I have nailed it.  But they have no interest.  Because they saw the movie.  It has become impossible for me to sell this book.  And I have honestly stopped actively trying.  Because I can’t face the disappointment.  Every once and I while I will try again just to face the same result.

I guess this is all to say that, even if you have seen the movie, you should still read the book.  The order doesn’t matter.  Support the authors that have created your favorite stories by reading their books.  Round out your movie experience by seeing what part of the world the movie didn’t show.  A two-hour movie cannot possibly show everything that was written in the book.  By deciding not to read something just because you have seen the movie, you are creating a void in your literary life.  And that makes me sad.

A couple of other books that movies were made of that are still amazing and you should still read them:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (The movie, while written by Goldman, is VASTLY different from the book.  The book is a completely unique experience.  I’m not going to explain it any more.  JUST READ IT.)

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Trooper (This book is great and oh so goofy. While Trooper also wrote the movie for this one, he made some important character changes.  This is just a fun read that will make you laugh and make you cry and it should not be overlooked.)

(There are tons of other books that are amazing that were made into movies but these are the ones that I find myself trying hard to sell yet failing 99% of the time.)

So please.  Do me a favor.  Find a movie you like that was based on a book and pick up the book.  Or read one of the ones I have listed here!  If anything, it will round out your experience of the movie and allow you to say thing like “Well, the movie changed [insert changes here]” and then you can sound super cool and literary.  If anything, you will find entertainment for a period of time.

Woo books!