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The Book Isn’t Always Better Than The Movie

Have you ever been involved in a conversation about a particular movie with a group of friends, when that one friend inevitably posits, “the book was better than the movie,” or “well, see, in the book…,” or, possibly the worst of all, “have you read the book”? If you’re an avid reader maybe you have read the book, but it’s more likely that you’ve only seen the movie and must therefore capitulate to the friend with the almighty book knowledge; but what’s the deal with that? Is the book always better than the movie? It seems like that’s always the case, but if you’ve read the title of this post then you know my possibly controversial stance on the issue. I’ll even agree that most of the time the book is better, but not always.

I recently picked up a book copy of The Prestige, Christopher Priest’s fantasy novel about two feuding magicians at the turn of the 20th century. The book was made into a film in 2006 by acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, and holds an 8.5/10 ranking on IMDb.com, as well as the prestigious (see what I did there?) honor of being “Certified Fresh” by RottenTomatoes.com. While in theaters, this movie went under the radar for me but when it was initially released on DVD I picked up a copy. It has since become one of my favorite movies, so when I decided to read the book I was hopeful that it would enrich my enjoyment of the film. However, the book emphasized different themes than the movie and had an altogether different tone and form of storytelling — this is not my complaint, but it is worth noting.

Ultimately, the book was less than the sum of its parts; it told its story mostly through the diaries of the two main characters. It’s an interesting approach but it separates two sides of the same events by sometimes more than a hundred pages and in some instances can invoke confused back-and-forth page flipping. The movie version of The Prestige excels by intertwining the viewpoints of both characters into a single narrative causing the “big reveal” at the end to be effectively shocking, whereas the book splits the “reveals” between the two characters in a segmented and less graceful fashion. The book is actually quite enjoyable and stylistically is written quite well, but in what seems a practically impossible task, it serves as a rough sketch of story and characters for the movie version to distill and refine into masterpiece.

Lest you think me a bibliophobe, I have to say that McCarthy’s The Road is a much better read than the movie is to watch. The film serves as a good facsimile but with so much of The Road’s substance being in the prose, the book easily overshadows the film version. To my original point however, Palahniuk has said that he thinks Fight Club was improved by David Fincher, and having read the book (once) and seen the film (several hundred times), I’m inclined to agree. And then sometimes, going back to Cormac McCarthy, you get a book like No Country For Old Men, adapted to film by the genius Coen brothers, and the book and film versions are both so good that they are virtually equals in their respective medium. You just have to know that films and books are both equally valid forms of art, and comparing them can sometimes be like comparing apples to oranges.

I say reject the notion that books always possess intellectual superiority over films, but know that there’s a good reason that mindset exists. So the next time that friend tells you “the book was better than the movie” know that it really depends on which book and movie, and consider that each is its own iteration of the same story.


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10 Minutes is all it Takes

The following is a sweet tale told to me by an employee. I wanted to share it with you all this Valentine’s Day, and encourage you to appreciate all of the wonderful moments that make up this thing we call life.

~Sticker Ball

“A gentleman approached me with a book in his hand. He looked to be about the same age as my father, late 60s, gray hair and a beard. The topic of the book in his hand was thousands of things to do on a date and how to romance a woman.

“I’m looking for Valentine movies, do you have those in a special place?” I asked him for specific titles and he thumbed through the book. “I’ve lost my page” and he fumbled some more. He didn’t have his glasses so I flipped through the index, turned to page 215 and 336. “I want to do something for her each day,” he said.

“These will be in lots of different places,” I said. Some were Comedy, some Drama, some Thriller. “Can you help me find them?” he asked. For a split second I thought about everything I needed to do. My job is busy; always busy. Mountains of books to price and shelve, sections to straighten. Always busy. I thought of all I needed to accomplish this work day, but only for a split second. “Of course” I said and walked to the movie section with him.

I don’t watch a lot of movies, but I had seen some of the ones on the list. I plucked these off the shelf first. I’m a fan of romantic comedies so I handed him a few. He carried the stack. As we walked, he told me his story.

“I was married for 39 years and my wife died.” I wasn’t expecting this, I assumed he was just a sweet man doing something lovely for his wife. “I’ve been dating a woman who lost her husband. I was blessed with a wonderful woman and now I’ve been blessed with another one. I want to do this right.”

His stack grew. I steered away from some of the suggestions on the list. “Ghost” with Patrick Swayze, “The Notebook.” He specifically asked about the “Notebook” because he had heard of it. I told him a little about it and said it might not be a good one. He agreed. I handed him the funny, the sweet. Things they would laugh over, not cry. “I still get pretty emotional,” he choked and cleared his throat. When we were done, he thanked me and gave me a hug. We were both a little blurry eyed.

It was less than 10 minutes of my life. 10 minutes that I could have gotten a lot of work done. I did in a way, as I sold him a big stack of movies. Not because I wanted him to spend money but because I wanted him to find what he was looking for. I wanted him to have something to share with his new love. Something “Nice for her each day” as he had said.

It is often a series of 10 minute moments that build us, change us, and make us better people. He did that for me.

In the few close relationships I’ve had, I try to show the person I’m with I love them daily. Not just on Valentine’s Day. I’ve rarely made a big deal out of this holiday and during times I’ve been single snarled at it and saw it as more salt in the wound of the fact that I was alone. It’s always been one of those seemingly commercial holidays that are worthy of eye-rolling. All the pink and red, the hearts and chocolate. I know that for some couples, this may be one of the only times a year they put forth the effort to show their partner they care.

Show the one you love that you love them daily folks. And yeah, I think now I will always make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day. This is the first year in many years I had even given it a thought and already had little ideas brewing in my head. We should all be lucky enough to spend 39 years (or more) with someone and if they leave us, lucky enough to find love again. I’ve been lucky enough to find it again and I will always be grateful.

Life and opinions can change in 10 minutes.”