I’ve always been a big believer in reading books before seeing the movie or TV adaptations. But lately, I’ve been wondering if that’s necessarily the best approach.
For sure, I don’t enjoy a book nearly as much if I’ve already seen the movie/TV version. But the same can be said for the opposite, and I’m debating whether there are times when reading (or rereading) first doesn’t make sense.
In my case, the issue comes down to enjoyment. How much do I want to really savor the viewing experience for its own sake?
What I find is that when I’ve read the book first, especially if I’ve read it immediately before watching the movie/TV version, is that I spend the entire time watching with a little running commentary going on in the back of my head. I’m so distracted by noticing and cataloguing all the differences from the book that it’s hard to just sit and back and enjoy it for what it is. And at the same time, reading first is like intentionally giving myself spoilers, so the viewing experiences tends to lack the punch it might pack if I’d watched it as something completely fresh and new.
Two examples from last year:
One — I fell in love with Poldark on PBS. (The show, not specifically the character, although… damn. Check out my Poldark love here.) Poldark was completely new to me, and after watching the first episode, I was burning with impatience to know more. So, I dashed right out (or actually, dashed right to Amazon) and got myself the first two books in the series, which correspond to the TV show’s first season. I gobbled up the books and then watched the remaining episodes… and while I loved the books, I missed the sense of suspense that was now missing as I watched. Even worse, the big, dramatic, emotionally intense moments from the show’s finale were flat for me. I could tell that they were very well done, but the emotional impact was missing, because I’d already experienced the feels while reading the book.
Okay, second example: OUTLANDER. I think I’ve given a hint or two (or a thousand) about how much I love everything Outlander. So, season one last year — I obviously love the TV show madly and deeply. As the season progressed, I decided to read along. That is, I started the book from the beginning and read as far as I guessed each week’s episode would cover. Definitely not my first time through the book — it was more like my 4th or 5th. Still, I decided I wanted to have it all fresh in my mind so I could pick up all the little nuances that are straight from the book.
And as an approach, it wasn’t bad. I had a strong appreciation for how much dialogue was word-for-word from the source material, which is especially gratifying when it’s some of the most swoonworthy Jamie-isms. On the flip side, though, rereading right before watching made me hyper-aware of every little deviation, every little omission. And that wasn’t always a good thing.
I ended up watching each episode several times each week. The first time through, I couldn’t shut down the mental gymnastics involved in comparing the book and the show. My little internal calculator was busy tracking every change or every point of staying completely true to the book. I still enjoyed the show, but with distractions. By the second viewing, I could let go of all that. Now that I knew the content, I could sit back and just enjoy it for itself. And by a third time through, it was just a chance to soak up the atmosphere, notice themes and cinematography, and the overall artistry of each episode.
So, here’s where the dilemma comes into play. Season two is fast approaching (TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY), and I haven’t quite decided what to do about it.
I’ve read the source material, Dragonfly in Amber, more than once — but it’s been a couple of years since I last read it. I’m trying to decide whether to read along with the episodes, or just watch the show on its own, perhaps going back to the book for reference afterward. Either approach has its pros and cons, and I’m still up in the air about which path I’ll end up following.
So, share your thoughts and experiences please! Do you watch (or re-watch) before viewing, and how do you think it affects your experience? Are there times when you wish you hadn’t read the book first (or recently)? I’d love to hear some opinions!