Books before movies – the ultimate discussion


Hollywood has recently released many films that fall under the category of book adaptations. But, when it comes to college students, chances are they will see the movie before reading its inspiration. And they may never actually get around to reading it because when it comes to reading for college students, it is more often than not textbooks followed by assigned readings. If students have time after that, it may go to reading the instructions for the whatever test they need to study for.

Given those restraints, it may be difficult for students to find time to do either.

Phillip Nel, distinguished professor of English, said a movie could be a commercial for a book if the movie is done well, but that’s not actually the point of the movie.

“It could command attention for the original story,” Nel said. “But, I don’t think that is the intention of the project. A film represents a considerable financial investment of the producers.”

In essence, producers are more likely to invest in movies based on books that they think will have an audience, rather than movies based on books they like. Producers are paying for the movie to be well-made and watchable, not to necessarily translate every scene from every page.

“Inevitably, you have the question about how faithful the movie is to the book,” Nel said. “I don’t think that you can say that a movie is faithful to the book. For the movie to be good, I think it has to not be. It has to look at the intended effect that Tolkien, Rowling or Stan Lee was aiming for. Ultimately, a book and a movie are different mediums. In books, you have to explain things and movies can explain or show ideas in many different ways.”

What people read doesn’t have to be what we see. If the book has a narrator, the movie could possibly hire Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones, or it could be like “Star Wars and have the text crawl across the screen. Alternatively, there are limited ways to communicate ideas in print. This could be another reason movies get more attention than books.

Librarians at Hale Library, however, make a different case for student leisure reading.

“For an academic library, our leisure reading section is of a medium to large size,” said Diana Farmer, associate professor and Hale librarian in charge of student leisure reading. “Hale Library is an academic library. The bulk of our materials are research and reference related. The most use we have in the student leisure section is class related. Students coming in to read for fun is a small part of that.”

It may be small, but Casey Hoeve, assistant professor and Hale Librarian in charge of the humanities, said it is common for them to have to turn students away.

“We get people asking for new fiction, audio books, manga and graphic novels,” Hoeve said. “We try and get the better known titles, but we can’t get everything published. We usually have to refer them to the public library when they ask for things like that.”

The picture so far is that movies are not inherently better than books, just more prominent. When “12 Years A Slave” won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars this year, director Steve McQueen and his crew thanked Solomon Northup for telling his story. Often, when movies that are adapted from a book win awards, those who wrote the books are not thanked publicly on a large-scale televised event. One might wonder why the Pulitzers is not included in the awards season.

“On a few movies, I’ve read the novel (before seeing the movie), but not for all of them,” John Whittamore, Manhattan resident, said.

When asked if it was because of the fact that movies tend to be less time consuming than their book counterparts, he said that was not the case.

“When you are watching TV, you see ads for movies,” Whittamore said. “You never see ads for books. And since I don’t have a routine of going to the book store, my number one way of hearing about new books or if they are good is word of mouth.”