A long-established dichotomy is that of book vs film, page vs screen, literature vs cinema. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been urged “wait until you’ve read the book before seeing the film” with the threat that I’d “ruin it” for myself if I did otherwise.
I’ve never really stopped to consider whether this has been true in my experience, and to collect my thoughts about this topic. As readers, I’m sure this will be a relatable issue, and hopefully you enjoy this discussion piece!
I think my automatic response to this question is that yes, you should probably read the book first if you are invested in getting the material as directly as possible. I suppose this doesn’t necessarily promote the idea that film is secondary to literature, and I do think that in some cases it makes sense to follow that approach.
There have definitely been times when I’ve held off watching a film because my interest initially lay in reading the book. In some cases, this has lead to me never doing either, largely due to my ever growing tbr pile and unfortunate tendency to get put off whatever my next read is if I decide on it too far in advance. Nevertheless, if I’ve heard good reviews about a book and I really like the concept, I’d try to avoid the film until I got chance to read it.
All of that generally works on the presumption that the film won’t be as good as the book, or at least that it will weaken the reading experience. I do think the latter is true; one of the best parts of reading is getting to imagine everything for yourself, and a film kind of spoils that. I don’t actually think it matters whether the film is better or worse than the book, because I’ve come away from books feeling like the film actually made vast improvements (Bridget Jones’s Diary I’m looking at you).
There are also some films that, despite the fact that they’re adaptations of books, I’m really only interested in the cinematic form. Certain genres are not my favourite to read (action and sci-fi are probably the best examples of this), but I really enjoy watching them. Even if the book is very hyped up or a classic, I’d much rather have an enjoyable watching experience than struggle through a book that’s going to leave me feeling bored and dissatisfied.
I also think it’s important to acknowledge that films are a far more accessible medium of entertainment, and that it’s okay to prefer film. There’s a lot of intellectual snobbery that surrounds the ‘book vs film’ debate, which does very little to address the problem that for some people, reading is not a pleasurable, or in some cases possible, experience. Just as audiobooks have helped widen the accessibility of texts, films bring the concepts and ideas in literature to people more easily.
All in all, I think my opinion is that the divide between book and film should be seen as a far more nuanced relationship than simply competitors. It’s okay to say that certain books should be enjoyed as texts before they are watched as films, but I do think we need to be more careful about how we express these views. In my opinion, it’s better for people to access things in the way that’s best for them, rather than shame people into having a subpar experience of something.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!