Book To Film To Book

EclipseDebates rage about whether film adaptations of books ever cut the mustard (most people argue no), but perhaps the less-acknowledged, less-celebrated upside to any silver-screen translation is that it sends us rushing back to the book.

I’m going to fess up upfront that I was one of those dedicated fans who turned out for the midnight release of the film version of Eclipse, the third book in Stephenie Meyer’s runaway bestselling quadrilogy. And I’m going to admit that I was more than a little excited about it. Had I had time in the preceding days, I would have both re-watched the first two films and—and here’s the most important bit—re-read the first three books. Sadly, my clients and their deadlines weren’t quite so understanding, so instead I turned up to the cinema cold.

It’s been a while since I’ve read the books (I read them twice—but even the second time was a while ago now), and my memory was a little hazy. I knew that Eclipse was my favourite of the three, that it involved Victoria creating an army of newborns to chop suey Bella, and that within its pages the Edward-Bella-Jacob love-triangle really hit its straps. But could I recall specific lines of dialogue or guffaw-worthy paragraphs of clunky prose that somehow didn’t put me off reading it? No.

The joy I felt effectively rediscovering the book through the film on Wednesday night was nothing short of immense. Yes, I spent half the film admiring Taylor Lautner’s upper body (although, for the record, I think he’s less buff in this latest instalment than he was in New Moon). Yes, I laughed out loud at the girly run he does when picks up Bella to carry her across the field in a test to mask her scent with his own wolf one. I laughed even louder at the tongue-in-cheek ‘Doesn’t he own a shirt’ and ‘We both know I’m hotter’ lines that we know the actors would have had trouble delivering with a straight face.

But I also spent half the film comparing and marvelling and making mental notes to—yep—go back and check how the condensed film handled the story arcs and key scenes compared with the lengthier book. And I was unashamedly euphoric as I left the cinema at 2am and was determined to go home and stay up reading Eclipse again—that would invariably have led me to re-read Breaking Dawn too because you can’t leave yourself hanging.

The Twilight quadrilogy might not be your series of choice, but the example extends to all other books. A film adaptation either reminds us of, and reignites, our love for previously read books and sends us back to rediscover the minutiae, the scenes, and the excitement that a necessarily-condensed film cannot deliver but may complement. Personally, I’m ok with any film adaptation, because the book to film journey leads us back to the book. If we’re lucky, it might include some spectacular eye candy visuals that we can recall while envisaging the characters during re-reading, such as Lautner’s impeccable abs.

We Can Eat Too Much Sugar

The Girl With The Dragon TattooCall it airport fiction, call it mass market fiction, or call it trash, the reading equivalent of quick-fix, craving-inducing simple carbohydrates are something we all secretly or not-so-secretly love. You know the ones. The Dan Brown bestsellers and the books that need not be named by the Mormon mom turned author that have tweens and adults alike aflutter.

But before you pooh pooh such ‘lowbrow’ reading matter that’s the literary likeness of riding the sugar high, please consider that, as with simple carbohydrates, which have been blamed for all manner of societal and waist-measurement evils, such reading matter not only has its place in our reading diet, it can do us some good.

We can eat too much sugar, but we can never consume too many books. Any reading is good reading, be it reading the sides of cereal boxes, determining epic fails on signs (those are a whole other blog in themselves), conquering such tomes as Ulysses, or devouring page-turners such as Twilight and The Da Vinci Code.

Because we all know what happens with simple carbohydrates. We eat them. We eat them fast. They make us high and happy. Then they’re burnt up by our bodies (ok, or stored, but let’s not go there) and leave us hungering for more.

It’s the hungering for more is where the door opens for us to consume some more substantial books and to continue to expand our reading tastes. Seriously. Why do we always make each other feel as though our reading habits must be something like a cross between eating only wholemeal and raw health foods (which are fine, but never as tasty) and taking medicine?

Hands up who did further research into the Illuminati and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper off the back of Dan Brown’s breakout bestseller? Hands up who ventured into unfamiliar reading territory to explore vampires and werewolves courtesy of Twilight? And hands up who is, like me, now firmly entrenched in Team Edward, although almost willing to have a foot in both camps based purely on the extraordinariness of Taylor Lautner’s abdominal muscles that were flexed at every available opportunity in the film adaptation of New Moon?

We’ve all been on crazy, carbohydrate-free diets and we know that they make us unhappy. We also know they end in a massive carbohydrate binge. The question is why we can’t use carbohydrates as part of—or a door to opening ourselves up to—a balanced literary diet? Because here’s the thing. I finally read the first book in the mass market series that has arguably stepped up to fill the post-Brown, post-Meyer void: Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

I found it less than ordinary. And that’s actually a good thing.

The book (and indeed the Millennium trilogy) has been a runaway bestseller, with relative non-readers around the world picking it up, enjoying it, and recommending it to others. The funny thing is, the book is slow. Interminably slow. I’m a voracious reader and I struggled with the first 300-odd pages of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I mean, sheesh, for a journalist who would have spent his life abiding by the inverted pyramid—or the rule that all the important information must be up front to draw readers in—Larsson completely inverted the inverted pyramid.

I think I could have skipped the first half of the book and been no worse off for it. I skimmed half the details about the Vanger family, which Larsson made far too large, with the various members blurring into similarity meh-ness. And the Lisbeth Salander character, the girl who sports the title’s tattoo, was unnecessarily (and boringly) difficult (I actually groaned when she stormed off for being complimented on having a photographic memory, then returned to the house when she was invited back in a pointless, irrelevant scene designed to demonstrate her different-ness). She’s a pale, caricatured character when you compare her with a strong, troubled, but interesting female such as Lucy Farinelli from Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series.

Yet in spite of these flaws, people—and, in my experience, most surprisingly non-readers—are enjoying The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and recommending it to others. Which is an excellent. If they are prepared to read through the 300-odd pages that should have been cut and put up with characters that either don’t enhance the narrative or that simply don’t quite work, they’re prepared to take a step up from simple carbohydrates to some more complex ones.

Indeed, rather than pooh poohing people’s enjoyment of white bread-like reads, we should be celebrating and encouraging their starting-somewhere simple carbohydrate-book diet.