Jo Talks Books: Do You Always Have To Read The Book Before Watching The Movie?

Hi everyone! Please don’t shudder away or starting throwing things at me through your laptop after reading the title of this post, I swear it’s not as controversial as it might seem. You might have seen my Top Ten Tuesday post this week about Films that I’ve watched without having read the book and I’d actually planned on doing this post first because it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently and I thought it might make quite an interesting discussion since it’s something that the book community seems to have quite strong feelings about.

I understand the standpoint of “you should read the book before watching the film” for film adaptations of books. The book is usually better, and reading it before seeing the film gives you an understanding of the world & characters before going in, plus you can complain about all the things that the film got wrong.

But, and hear me out here: I don’t actually think it’s a requirement to go into a book to film adaptation having read the book. I’ve done both, I’ve watched films when I’ve already read the book & I’ve watched films and read the book after (I’ve also watched films with no intention of ever reading the book). I get why some book lovers insist that reading the book first is what you should do, consuming the story in the format it was originally conceived, but I think there are certain advantages (and disadvantages also) to doing it the other way around.

For one thing, one of the most common complaints of book lovers is that the film isn’t as good as the book. If you haven’t already read the book first, then you are going into it with fresh eyes, you’re less likely to be disappointed and you’ll probably enjoy it more because you won’t spend the entire film looking for your favourite scenes from the books which aren’t there. It’s the same reason why as a history student I tend to enjoy historical films more when I’m not as familiar with the time period, because I’m not constantly looking for inaccuracies!

Also, there are actually a lot more films based on books that you would think, and it’s not always obvious. For instance, Shrek was originally a book! I doubt many people went out and picked up the graphic novel by William Stieg before they went to see that film though. Mean Girls, was originally based on a self-help book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, Pitch Perfect was also based on a non-fiction book, Pitch Perfect: The Quest For Collegiate Acapella Glory. Legally Blonde was based on a novel of the same name by Amanda Brown. The Parent Trap was based on a German children’s book called Lisa & Lottie. The point is, there are millions of books out there, many of which are made into films and it’s not going to be possible to always read the book before you see the film. I can think of many films I’ve watched without actually knowing they were based on books before hand (the above being just a few examples) and I enjoyed them, so “read the book before the film” doesn’t always have to be a hard and fast rule.

For me as well, I have very different tastes in books and films. Things that I might like in a book, I might not necessarily want in a film, or vice versa. This particularly goes for romance, I love romantic comedies, but am not a big fan of romance novels, so I’ve watched a lot of films and TV shows that were based on books which I would never have read. Outlander, for instance, as I talked about in my Top Ten Tuesday post, I love as a show, but would hate as a book because I would hate that much romance in a book. The Devil Wears Prada is one of my favourite films, would I ever have picked up the book? Nope. If I hadn’t watched those things without having read the book first, I probably would never have seen them because I would know that the books weren’t for me.

I also think that it can be a good idea to watch the TV show/film first if you aren’t entirely sure about the book and want to make up your mind whether you’d like it or not. I watched The Hate U Give film when I couldn’t get into the book, because I really wanted to experience the story and see what everyone was talking about, and I enjoyed it, so will now probably want to try the book again. I wasn’t sure whether the Game of Thrones books were for me, but my friends love the show, so I tried it, loved it and now I might try the books (on audio, there is no way I’m going for books that long in physical format). Films can be a great way of testing the water for books you’re not necessarily sure about, it’s not as big of a time commitment, so if it sucks then you’ve only wasted an hour or two of your time as opposed to a day or two (or much longer if you’re a slow reader like me).

Some films you’re probably actually going better in blind, especially if they have major twists because if you know what’s going to happen then the twists don’t land as well. If you’re watching a film based on a murder mystery and you already know who the murderer is, will the film be as much fun as if you spent the entire thing working out who the killer was? Personally, I don’t think so. A good example for me of something like this was when I went to see Gone Girl, it was a great film and stuck really closely to the book, but because I’d already read the book, I wasn’t as surprised as I would have been by some of the plot developments because I knew what was going to happen.

I also feel like if you can’t understand the film without having read the book, then the film is doing something wrong. Obviously when you release a film based on a book, if it’s a popular book, you have to expect that a lot of the audience is going to be fans of the book. However, one of the best things about books being made into films is that it allows them to reach an audience of people who might not necessarily be the most avid readers, and who might then decide that they want to try the book. If the film is totally confusing and only really comprehensible for people who have read the book, then you’ll alienate some of your audience. I’ll admit that I personally, whilst I usually have the intention of reading the book later, tend not to read the book if I’ve seen the film first but that’s more a reflection on the state of my TBR pile than anything else.

It also comes down to your preferred medium for consuming art. Some people like films or TV shows better than books. Does it mean that you love the story any less if you consume it in a medium different to the one it was originally? I don’t think so, I think you can still love something even if you’ve only seen the film or TV series, and it doesn’t make you any less of a fan than those who read the book first.

There are also logistical reasons for watching a film first, if you want to see a film in the cinema, it tends to have a much shorter shelf life than a book, they’re only in cinemas for a short amount of time (a few weeks, several months if they’re really popular) and if you’re desperate to avoid spoilers, it might be better to just go see the film first, since people tend to talk more about film spoilers than book spoilers on social media (assuming that you are not big into Book Twitter). You might not want to wait till you get to the book on your massive TBR before getting to see the film, or like me, you might be a slow reader and not able to get through the book before the film comes out.

So there we go, those are some of my thoughts on the whole book or film first debate, ultimately it all comes down to what you prefer and I don’t think that one way is better than the other, I think you can have an enjoyable experience whether you read the book or watch the film first.

How about you? Have you ever watched the film/TV show of a book before reading it? Have you ever watched a film with no intention of reading the book? Have you ever watched a film not knowing it was based on a book? Let me know in the comments!

I will probably have another Jo Talks post for you guys up before the end of the month, but I’m not quite sure what that will be yet, I have a few ideas kicking around and we’ll see which one I end up going with. In the meantime, I’ve been tagged in a Spring book tag and it looked like fun so I’ll probably put that up either tomorrow or Monday.


10 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: Do You Always Have To Read The Book Before Watching The Movie?

  1. Miss Jennifer Walne 12/05/2019 / 2:05 pm

    This is all very true! Me personally, I watched the film “The Golden Compass” before reading ‘His Dark Materials’ by Philip Pullman and immediately knew that the books were so much better than anything the film had done. But you’re right- it also depends on which form of art we like to consume. I had forgotten there was a book of The Devil Wears Prada, and I’ve seen the film so many times that I’m not sure I would even like the book now! And I watched Game of Thrones first and then read the book series after, but am now a fierce book loyalist in that instance, but also I don’t look down on people that prefer watching rather than reading. Great post!

    • iloveheartlandx 15/05/2019 / 2:41 pm

      Thanks! I actually haven’t read His Dark Materials, but I have heard that the film was pretty terrible. Yeah exactly, I love books so that tends to be the form I like to consume things in first, but there are many people who prefer TV/movies and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting consume a story that way. Oh I don’t think I’d ever read the book of The Devil Wears Prada, but I do love the film. Oh really? I’ve only watched Game of Thrones, I haven’t read the books but that’s interesting to hear. Yeah I think there can be a tendency for a level of snobbery amongst book lovers about people who prefer watching, which I’ve never really got because so many of us seem to really enjoy TV and movies as well!

  2. madhatterreadskarachi 12/05/2019 / 11:12 pm

    I agree! I wasn’t watching Game of Thrones because I hadn’t read the books but my friends pretty much pushed me to it and after watching it I realized it’s something I wouldn’t like to read.

    • iloveheartlandx 15/05/2019 / 2:37 pm

      Yeah exactly, you can watch something and enjoy it but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll enjoy the book.

  3. kozbisa 13/05/2019 / 11:32 pm

    I am odd in that, I will watch an adaptation without having read the book, but once I see the adaptation, I will not go back and read the book. I feel like anything of major importance in the book was included in the movie. What’s the point?

    • iloveheartlandx 15/05/2019 / 2:36 pm

      I get that, I have gone back to read the book a couple of times after having first seen the film, but by and large I usually don’t.

  4. Laura 14/05/2019 / 9:03 pm

    I generally prefer to read the book first, but if there’s an adaptation coming out of a book I’ve been sort of interested to read, but not overly excited about then I’d be happy to check out the film/TV adaptation first. I probably won’t end up reading the book though then, as I find it harder to read a book knowing what’s going to happen than knowing what’s going to happen in a film. Maybe because with a film I’m still interested to see how they will adapt it?
    Great post! 🙂

    • iloveheartlandx 15/05/2019 / 2:25 pm

      Thanks! I get that, I do seem to be less likely to read a book if I’ve seen it’s adaptation first and I think you’re right, if you read it first you get to see how they adapt it whereas if you’ve already watched it, then you know the story, so there’s no mystery.

  5. Leah Wong 15/05/2019 / 2:41 am

    I don’t always read the book before watching the movie, but if the book catches my interest, 🙂

    • iloveheartlandx 15/05/2019 / 2:09 pm

      Yeah I will read the book first if it’s something I’m interested in, but if I’m not that bothered then I don’t really mind watching the movie first.

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