Watching What You Read

Here’s a question.

Is your literary taste the same as your taste in other forms of entertainment?

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen I recently threw in the towel on steampunk. The thing is, steam-powered machines, Victorian settings, and time travel are all AWESOME. But visually, when I’m reading it on the page, I just can’t make sense of it. A steampunk movie or TV show though? Yes, please.

Film-making and novel writing are two different art forms, and both excel in different areas. For me, I almost always prefer to read literary fiction and magical realism than to see their film and television equivalents. Other genres, specifically urban fantasy, high fantasy, and noir/detective stories, are personal favorites, but only when I’m watching them on screen. It’s not a stretch to say that novelists are more cerebral and film-makers are more visual, so I prefer to let the experts offer me the best interpretation of a story based on what matters most in that story. *Note: There are always exceptions on both sides.

So what about you? Any gamers out there love the new [insert popular video game here], but hate the high-octane movies that cater to you? Romance fans who roll your eyes at chick flicks? Members of the Sylvester Stallone Fan Club who can’t stand reading thrillers?

Tell me in the comments what you yawn your way through in one medium, but get completely absorbed by in another.

17 thoughts on “Watching What You Read

  1. I'm one of those romance readers who rolls their eyes at most chick flicks. I usually give them a try, but they tend to be shallow and cliche. Books and television shows do romance better because they get into it more deeply.


  2. I love this exploration.

    I'm all over the map with what I read and watch. Many times they jive, but there are a couple of exceptions. I love reading young adult lit, but am less likely to watch TV or movies geared to young adults. It may be the themes… a YA novel can focus on one major theme and weave in other characteristics of young adult experience within it, but there is something about a TV show, for example, where the “other characteristics” can become overwhelming for me (but great for the younger audience).

    The other exception for me is fantasy. The world-building aspect and imagery are always much stronger in my head than what is expressed on the screen. More often than not I am let down by the screen version of this genre.


  3. In MG and YA I love fantasy, adventure, sci-fi, anything truly weird. In adult novels, I like more realism, select sci-fi, and no high fantasy at all. I've tried, I just can't get into epic swords and sandals on paper. Magical realism and horror are fine, though.

    In movies, the smaller the lens the better. I love character studies, anything by Wes Anderson, the Cohen Brothers, etc.


  4. The one genre that does not transfer from the page to screen for me is suspense/thriller. The shining example of awful execution is THE FIRM. In the book I could almost feel the walls closing in on Mitch as he tried to carry out his secret mission. There was unbearable pressure from the mob, the FBI and his wife (not necessarily in that order) and it was all he could do to keep his cool. In the movie Tom Cruise gets chased around by the 'diabeetus' guy and then beats him up with his brief case. SPOILER ALERT.


  5. Great question.

    I love watching films of what I also love to read and write, such as romantic comedies and teen drama and contemporaries with a fantastical twist. But there are certain things I will only *watch*, such as military SF (like Independence Day), epic fantasy, epic historical (like Braveheart), Steampunk, Westerns, space opera… I'm sure there are more, but I'll stop there.


  6. I was just thinking about this the other day because I started reading ENDER'S GAME. I will watch a lot of sci fi, but I very, very rarely read it. It's only because of a book club I'm in that I thought to pick up ENDER'S GAME. Guess it's good to start with a classic, right?

    Same goes for fantasy-type stories (urban, elves or otherwise) — I'll watch it, but I don't really read it. And I don't mind a romantic comedy as long as it's not too stupid of a premise, but it would be a strange day if I said, “Yes, I think I'll read CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC next.”

    Still, there is some overlap. I like a good drama and I mostly read literary fiction. I like smart comedies, and I read Nick Hornby. I'm not sure why some things overlap and others don't, but luckily there's plenty to read and watch that I don't much worry about it.


  7. I definitely watch different things on TV than I read (or write.) I am much more interested in non-fiction in documentary form than book form. Almost all the TV shows I watch regularly are lighthearted comedies, but I am completely uninterested in books like that (or as like that as they can be). And like one of the commenters above, I tend to avoid shows about teens because they just don't interest me, but I read more YA than anything. I guess I just look for different things from the different mediums, although not consciously. Although I do watch and love Game of Thrones and also love it in book form, so there are always exceptions, I suppose.


  8. I've often thought if something was wrong with me, or if I'm just a walking contradiction because I'm not a fan of 'girly' movies, but when looking at my bookshelf there is more YA Romance than anything else. I guess I'd much rather watch something blow up then go and read the kissy lovey dovey stuff.


  9. I'm far less critical of what I watch compared to what I read. For instance, I'll watch Nicholas Sparks movies, like 'The Notbeook' but you'll never catch me reading the novel — unless it's a picture book, full of Rachel McAdams glamour shots.

    You cited great examples of source materials that are superior in their native environment: Fantasy and Steampunk both are far better left on the page and on the screen, respectively.

    When it comes to games, there has yet to be a film adaptation that does the industry justice. Interestingly enough, 2K Games is releasing a title this fall called 'Bioshock Infinite' that takes place within the Steampunk universe, and there's been some rumblings about movie options. Fingers crossed.


  10. I like to watch what I read. I like to see if the production companies can bring those books to life. Even if they end up being lackluster I still love them. Though there have been occasions where I'd rather watch the movie than read the books. Example: Harry Potter books 1 & 2. I watched the movies prior to reading the books and both books fell short for me.

    There are times when script writers can partially ruin a movie for me because they leave certain things out. My unfortunate example is Breaking Dawn. My favorite line is where Bella asks if drinking the blood will mess up her count because its human blood… yeah that wasn't in the movie. They also didn't mircowave it for her (which I doubt people want to see anyway).

    It could go either way. I still have yet to read Memoirs of a Geisha, but I think the book will fall short for me because it will lack the visual beauty of the places that the directors and photographers choose.


  11. I do not read what I watch or watch what I read.

    I love reading YA but I can't stand teenage TV shows. Probably because I see real teens all day and they're not 30+ year old actors who use words like “vapid”. 🙂 I love watching and writing urban fantasy, but there isn't much adult UF that I enjoy more than YA UF.

    Some of my favorite TV shows are Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Downton Abbey but I almost never read anything that isn't magical in some way, shape, or form.

    Great post!


  12. I think I prefer watching high fantasy to reading it. I do love reading it as well, but there's something nice about being shown the world-building of a story rather than slogging through dozens of pages on that word-building. Which, I suppose, makes me lazy, but if there's one thing I love in films it's elaborate sets and costumes, and that generally explains the world-building in a silent way you simply can't do in books.


  13. I definitely don't watch the same things I read. In very rare instances, like film adaptations of books, but for the most part, no.

    I love high-octane, on-the-edge-of-your-seat action movies with spectacular visuals. But I'd choke on a book like that. The pretty special effects are usually enough to distract me from a weak, contrived plot and characters, but on the written page, that doesn't exist.

    And on the opposite side of the same coin, a writer can convey so much more in terms of dialogue and character development, subtlety, subtext, that just doesn't come across on the screen unless you have the most amazing director and actors ever.


  14. I like watching fantasy (Neverending Story, anyone???) but I've always had trouble reading it…it's like I can't wrap my brain around it. Same with sci-fi. I guess it's easier for me to suspend disbelief when it's on the screen.

    I also love action flicks, but don't read a lot of the like. If there is a Sly Stallone Fan Club, sign me up!

    The one area across the board for me is YA Contemp – gimme teen angst in any form and I'm good!


  15. I think that makes tons of sense. I mean certain stories lend themselves better to the screen. Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings are both good (perhaps not perfect, but very good) examples of how Fantasy done well can make great film/TV.

    Otherwise I think it's largely a matter of taste. For example, I don't read a lot of hard sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, or dystopian novels (adult or YA), but I can generally get into those kinds of stories pretty easily on screen. Or, on the other hand, I can't really stand Horror TV or Movies (unless it's really drama disguised as Horror, like The Walking Dead) but I love books like Rotters, by Daniel Kraus, or The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith.

    Great question, Sarah!


  16. My favorite genre is urban fantasy, and it's what I write. However I rarely read urban fantasy because the prose is so often terrible. Or there's something else that sticks out at me, annoys me, something that has to do with me being a writer. I'm too aware of the business side.

    But there's no “business side” for me in anime or manga. The Japanese can rock the urban fantasy. I can't get enough.

    The difference for me is writing is what I do, so it's hard to get immersed in it unless I'm coming at it from a different angle. Like literary or memoir.


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