But Have You Read the Book? TCM library looks at 52 films adapted from books

Review by C.J. Bunce

We ask the question all the time:  Was the book better than the movie?  This week Turner Classic Movies/TCM and Running Press continue their long-running master class in cinema with the latest volume of the TCM Film Library.  This time writer Kristen Lopez compares 52 movies with the books they were based on.  The result is But Have You Read the Book? 52 Literary Gems that Inspired Our Favorite Films, a 240-page hardcover volume that may give you some new movie–or reading–ideas, available now here at Amazon.  I’ve discussed before at borg comparisons between Jaws the movie and Jaws the novel here (the movie is much better than Benchley’s novel), between The Thin Man the movie and Hammett’s original novel here (it’s a draw, both are brilliant), between Dr. No the movie and Dr. No the novel here (the movie is a faithful adaptation of Fleming’s novel), and between Jurassic Park the novel and Jurassic Park the movie here (Crichton’s novel wins).  Those novels and their adaptations and more are covered in But Have You Read the Book? and although Lopez doesn’t weigh which version of each is better, she identifies differences that may prompt you to look to the other medium if you liked the first you’ve watched or read.

From Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ 1782 Les Liaisons dangereuses to Jane Austen’s Emma in 1815, to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1821 novel Frankenstein, to several 21st century books and their adaptations, readers will get a feel for a wide range of genres and eras.  The analysis includes novels considered true classics, like Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lord of the Rings, and Emma.  It also covers genre works, like lots of horror, including The Haunting, Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Shining, science fiction, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Blade Runner, Children of Men, and Dune, and even a Western: True Grit.

Lopez provides useful tidbits, like noting when multiple adaptations of a book exist.  She features a single movie for the chapter’s focus, such as Clueless as best reflecting Austen’s Emma.  The differences that make the movie so memorable may be surprising to you.  Looking at directors, Hitchcock, Hawks, Scorsese, Kubrick, Spielberg, Fincher, and the Coen Brothers get multiple movies on the list, and as for authors you’ll not find a single repeat.

Interesting books that didn’t make the cut include The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Vertigo (I compared the book and film here), The Amityville Horror, and Twilight–each a popular book which saw a corresponding large following for the film adaptation.  Lopez offers a really good range of women authors, too, although they only make up less than a third of the writers covered–fifteen in all.

It’s always fun to learn a movie you’ve seen was first a novel, and readers may find some surprises here.  Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one surprising choice, as is Passing, based on a 1929 novel, and If Beale Street Could Talk, based on a 1974 novel.  The book does not include any images of book covers or photo frames from the films, but does have some evocative stylized art from Katie Benezra.

It’s an interesting trip across cinema history, and you won’t find much controversy here.  TCM’s But Have You Read the Book? will be another solid addition to your film library.  Order it now here at Amazon, just out from Running Press.

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