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Book 12

  1. Pohl, Frederik — Gateway (278 pages)
  2. Clement, Hal — Mission of Gravity (193 pages)
  3. Benford, Gregory — Timescape (499 pages)
  4. O'Hare, Mick (editor) — Why Don't Penguins Feet Freeze? and 114 Other Questions (232 pages)
  5. Dos Passos, John — Number One (218 pages)
  6. Heller, Joseph — Catch-22 (457 pages)
  7. St. John of the Cross — Dark Night of the Soul (119 pages)
  8. Day, Dorothy — The Long Loneliness (286 pages)
  9. Allen, Ted, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley, and Jai Rodriguez — Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5's Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better, and Living Better (250 pages)
  10. Whittemore, Carroll E., ed. (William Duncan, illus.) — Symbols of the Church (59 pages)
  11. Hardy, Thomas — Jude the Obscure (507 pages)
  12. Lee, Harper — To Kill a Mockingbird (278 pages)

Page count: 3,376 of targeted 12,500.

There's nothing I can add to a discussion of this book. Thank you for selecting it for me. I knew nothing about it other than that it was a classic. It's unusual for me to crack a book open with such a clean slate. I was blown away. Ms. Lee's story was so imaginative and so well constructed.

I watched the movie a few minutes after I finished the book. I had heard the movie was great, too, and it is. But perhaps I should have waited more than a few minutes. In a direct comparison, the movie suffers. As is the nature of movie adaptations, only the bare essentials could be conveyed, as characters and plot elements were collapsed and combined. So much of the nuance and richness of detail was gone, especially from the children's relationship with their family and neighbors and from the courtroom scenes. It's still a powerful movie, but it's emotional punch is delivered through the acting. Most notable were Peck, who was the impeccable emodiment of Lee's Atticus, Duvall, whose brief appearance as Boo Radley was emotionally charged, and the young lady who was priceless as Scout.

I am reminded of the conversation I had last Sunday after the cricket match with my friend, an aspiring screenwriter, and of a discussion thread I read at Library Thing about movie adaptations of books. It seems there are countless examples of mediocre books being made into great movies and vice versa, but there don't seem to be too many examples of great movie adaptations of great books. The problem, as my friend pointed out, is that it's so easy, when condensing a novel into a two-hour movie, to make the wrong choices. One is far more likely to succeed adapting a short story—for example, "Brokeback Mountain," "The Green Mile," "Shawshank Redemption"—into a movie.

How many great movies were adapted from great books? Off the top of my head, I can think of: The Lord of the Rings (though I missed Tom Bombadil), To Kill a Mockingbird, Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now…I've been told 1984 qualifies, but I never read the book and couldn't stay awake for the movie. (A movie adaptation of Jude the Obscure, called Jude and starring Christopher Eccleston and Kate Winslet, was made in 1996, but I cannot find it online.) How many other examples can you think of? Not too many, I bet.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 10th, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC)
Does X-Men I, and Spider Man I count? I suppose not. But both the original movies and the comics are awesome.

I thought "The Quiet American" was very well done as a movie. "Great"? Possibly.

Kubrick did two great movie adaptions of two great books: "Lolita", and "A Clockwork Orange".

Dr. Zhivago. Both the book and the movie were "great" with an "incomprehensibly weighty" caveat. You have to not mind being depressed and confused to get through either :-).

And if you're a certain type of person, "Trainspotting" is the best *evah*.

Others movies that are great but I haven't read the book to verify that the book is also great (although I have heard that they are):

The Godfather
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Pride and Prejudice

Jun. 10th, 2007 06:39 pm (UTC)
I don't think X-Men or Spider Man count for the same reason Brokeback Mountain doesn't count. I agree the movies are awesome, but they weren't adapted from novels. It's probably easier to adapt a comic for the same reason it's easier to adapt a short story.

I forgot The Quiet American. It's one of my favorite books, and I agree that the recent movie adaptation (not the original made forty or so years ago) is great.

I haven't read the others you mention. I wasn't so impressed by A Clockwork Orange, and I've heard tell that the movie bears little resemblance to the book.

Of course, you know I hated Trainspotting (did you know McGregor turned down the role of Jude Fawley in Jude to film Trainspotting?), and the book looks unreadable, though I have yet to attempt it.

The Library Thing discussion I alluded to mentioned both The Godfather and Breakfast at Tiffany's as examples of great movies adapted from mediocre books. Austen is listed as an example of great books, great miniseries, and flawed movies. Dr. Zhivago is listed as a great book/movie combo. I haven't read any of these books or seen any of these movies, though.
Jun. 10th, 2007 07:56 pm (UTC)
I disagree that A Clockwork Orange the movie bears little resemblance to the book, and I'm curious as to what you've heard that suggests that. It's actually quite like the book, IMO.

I agree that <1984> is both a great book and a great movie. I wonder if you'd have found the movie less soporific if you'd read the book.

And back to Hardy, I think Tess of the D'Urbervilles and the movie Tess (1979) are both great.
Jun. 10th, 2007 08:01 pm (UTC)
That's all I heard really, that Kubrick took so many liberties that the movie bore little resemblance to the book. I've never read the book, though.

Your speculation about 1984 is probably spot on. That I was a teenager when I attempted to watch the movie contributed as well.

I would very much like to read Tess. I didn't know there was a movie, but when I read it I will search for the movie as well. Thanks.
Jun. 10th, 2007 08:23 pm (UTC)
The big liberty that Kubrick took was completely eliminating Burgess's last chapter. By ending the story where he did, he does create a very different culmination and final "message" than Burgess. For most US readers though, the version of the book that they read didn't have that last chapter, and it was only republished in the US with Burgess's original ending long after the movie came out. Frankly, the movie creates a stronger impact by leaving this chapter out, so I think Kubrick made a good choice. I quite prefer it to Burgess's ending--which is really a boring ol' epilogue, that I found not at all satisfying and annoying too.

Otherwise, while there are some other changes as well, many, many of the scenes are quite like what's in the book, and I think the overall sense in those scenes (except one) is very similar to that in the book.

In any case, I think it's quite possible for both a book and a movied based on it to be great, even when there isn't a close resemblance between the two. In some cases, as you've suggested in your post, it is the attempt to create too close a resemblance that results in a not very good movie.

I do encourage you to see A Clockwork Orange some time. It's one of my all-time favorites.

Jun. 10th, 2007 08:28 pm (UTC)
That's very interesting. I wonder whose choice it was to omit the final chapter in US versions. Burgess' or the publisher's.

Anyway, I did watch the movie, in college, and didn't think much of it then. I had different tastes back then, though. I've never read the book but have been meaning to. I think when I read the book I'll give the movie another viewing.
Jun. 10th, 2007 08:58 pm (UTC)
Ah, I thought you meant you'd read the book but not the seen the movie.

My recollection is that it was the US publisher who omitted the final chapter (and wikipedia says so too), and while Burgess agreed to it, one gets the impression from what he writes in the introduction to later editions that include it, that he wasn't really happy about it.

That article also says that Kubrick wasn't aware of the existence of the final chapter until late in the filming of the movie, but I'd either not read that before or not recalled it. I'd assumed it was a very deliberate choice.

FYI, according to wikipedia "In the introduction of the 1996 edition of the novel, it is said that Kubrick found the end of the original edition too blandly optimistic and unrealistic."

I agree with that assessment. I won't say more, so as not too spoilerize it for it.
Jun. 10th, 2007 07:44 pm (UTC)
IMO, The World According to Garp

Jun. 10th, 2007 07:47 pm (UTC)
Never read it. Perhaps I should. I've seen it mentioned elsewhere as a candidate for great book and movie. I vaguely recall liking the movie, but I think I was too young to understand it.
Jun. 10th, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC)
I had great reservations about watching the movie because until then I'd never seen anyone make a great film based on a great book, plus I really, really found Robin Williams unappealing and couldn't imagine him as the main character.

I was convinced everything that gave the book its special feel would be completely lost in some dry plot-oriented movie-retelling, with an annoying twit as a main character to boot. Not so! The feel of the book came through in the movie, and it was the first time (and one of the few but not only times since) that I actually saw a Robin Williams performance that didn't make me twinge.
Jun. 11th, 2007 03:44 am (UTC)
When Robin Williams learned they were making Garp, he insisted on doing it because he so loved the book and because he had been a wrestler in college. But the producer (or director ?) had valid reservations after seeing Popeye, released shortly before. He insisted Williams had to prove he could play it absolutely straight, with none of the comic improvisations he does so well sotto voce. I guess he pulled it off, but he said the temptation to goof off was almost overwhelming at times.
Jun. 10th, 2007 09:37 pm (UTC)
"Jude" is a great, but heartbreaking, movie. I don't think I can watch it again, but I love Kate Winslet and she gives an amazing performance. When you say you can't find it online, do you mean "available for free download" or " on Netflix" (last I checked it was readily available on DVD, but ot could have gone out of print)
Jun. 10th, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC)
I can't afford to rent DVDs or go to the movies. I download DVD rips for free, using bit torrents. I was unable to find a torrent for Jude.
Jun. 10th, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC)
This doesn't count at all in your discussion, but I think of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. This makes sense in that it ought to be easier to make a good(great) movie out of a good(great) play, but there are still so many bad movie versions of great plays! That one's my classic example of how a movie can be very different from its original source material, and yet be equally great and also remain true to the spirit of the original, even if many of the specifics have changed. (The film script was written by Stoppard.)
Jun. 10th, 2007 09:53 pm (UTC)
Well, yes, I deliberately left plays out of the equation. I'd then have to list a bunch of Shakespeare. And Stoppard. And Rostand. Et cetera. And let's not forget Amadeus, both a great play and a great movie which differ significantly.
Jun. 10th, 2007 09:59 pm (UTC)
Aha, I have some candidates! I Capture the Castle. And The Last Unicorn. And The Princess Bride. Also, I think the movie version of Sense and Sensibility is wonderful, comparable in quality to the book. And I'd at least bring Virgin Suicides into the discussion.
Jun. 10th, 2007 10:03 pm (UTC)
I'm completely unfamiliar with the first two. I don't know if I'd call The Princess Bride a great book, though it was enjoyable. I've downloaded Virgin Suicides: should I read the book first? Eugenides, right?
Jun. 10th, 2007 10:26 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure which should come first. I watched the movie, then read the book to see if it would make any more sense. It didn't.

I'd try to argue with you about Princess Bride, but that kind of discussion is often pretty fruitless. How one defines "great" is a highly contentious topic in literature, part of the hi/lo culture, elitist/pop culture, Dead White Men Canon/Academy Canon/Traditional Canon/New Academy Canon/Feminist Canon/Multicultural Canon debate, etc. People both in and particularly outside the ivory tower often respond to this with "Okay, sure, but, you know what I mean, it's what people usually mean when they say 'great'" -- i.e. usually the "Traditional" Canon + Personal & Nostalgic Favorites, which is highly problematic and pretty much the reason the whole debate began. If I accept that definition of "great," it usually kicks out every single one of my favorite/most important books ever written, since I'm a children's literature person. (Except Alice in Wonderland, the sole exception.) Many people would challenge you, for instance, for trying to include Lord of the Rings in your list of "greats" because, y'know, it's fantasy, so of course it's fun and all, but not real literature. (And of course I hear this all the time. Children's lit is starting to be taken seriously within academia, but is almost never taken seriously out of it, and in fact is often used as an example of how educational standards are declining today, because people are actually "studying" things written for kids! Shock and horror and tsk!)

Anyway, it's kind of a hot-button issue, and when individuals take up the debate it can take hours/weeks/years to cover its many aspects. The short version is, whatever canon of "great" you come up with, there are a large group of people who will look at you and think you're an idiot or a philistine because of things you've included, and any time you try to offer a definition of "great," it will wriggle and squirm and show you a dozen exceptions to every version, until you throw up your arms in disgust.

I'm disqualified from trying to claim whether or not Princess Bride is great because I have nostalgic fondness for it and thus am unable to look at it with an unbiased eye. This is true enough... Except that I'm not sure there really is any such thing. Anyway, I'm not trying to accuse you of dismissing PB offhand because it's fantasy; obviously that's not one of your particular blind spots. I don't know what yours are -- or what mine are, even. But I spend a lot of time trying to figure it out.

This whole ramble is not at all meant to be a lecture, nor am I suggesting that you haven't already heard a lot of it -- so definitely don't read it in that kind of tone. It's just one of the many going-round-in-circles personal debates I carry around in my head that tends to spill out when my thoughts tip that way. I don't know the answers!
Jun. 16th, 2007 09:53 am (UTC)
Alas, I'm nowhere near as thorough when determining if something is great. I hadn't given it much thought, but I think more goes into it than whether I liked it or not: there has to be some quality to it that transcends mere popularity, some sense of … hell, I don't know! ;) I guess I'll unabashedly co-opt the Supreme Court's definition of obscenity: "I know it when I see it."

By the way, I don't subscribe to the idea that fantasy, sci-fi, or children's lit is not real literature, but you knew that. The idea is absurd. :) Anyone who dismissed TLofR only because it's fantasy would also have to dismiss a whole lot of established "greats" by Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, Shelley, Goethe, Marquez, Dickens, et al.
Jun. 10th, 2007 11:54 pm (UTC)
I always try very hard to see the movie before reading the book. If I know a movie is in the works, I don't read the book. If they make a movie of a book I've enjoyed in the past, I wait until after I see it to re-read it. With LOTR, it was about perfect...we had just finished re-reading the books to each other when we heard the movie was happening, so we had 3+ years to let the books mist over a bit.

A friend of mine recently dated a man (briefly) who doesn't read. When she hassled him about it, he said that if it's a book he would like, they'll make a movie of it eventually and books always ruin the movies. Which, in a twisted way, is true. If you see the movie and then read the book, the odds of enjoying both go way up.

I would nominated The Hunt for Red October as a better-than-mediocre movie adapted from a better-than-mediocre book. Not sure I'd go as far as "great" for either of them, but I was very impressed with how they managed to put something on screen that did feel like the book, or at least the most plot-like 10% of it.
Jun. 11th, 2007 12:06 am (UTC)
I think we've had this discussion before: we have reverse preferences, as I always prefer to read the book first. In my case, it's an issue of time commitment. I can sit through two hours of knowing more-or-less what's going to happen a lot more easily than I can a week or two, to the point where I may simply choose to forego the reading, because of the amount of time it will require, if I've already seen the movie. This is less the case when the story isn't plot-driven, but how many non–plot-driven stories are made into movies?

In the better-than-mediocre category, I would have to toss in Shopgirl. Both the book and the movie were good, but I don't think I could call either great.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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