Better than the book?

Is anyone watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix? It’s a series based off of Jay Asher’s young adult novel of the same name about 17-year-old Hannah Baker who leaves cassette tapes for the people she feels are complicit in her suicide. The Netflix series is very well done, and is reaching a lot of fans, particularly a whole crop of people who never read the book (including my husband). There’s been some controversy in the depiction of suicide, but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead, I want to discuss literary adaptations, specifically for television.

How often do people bemoan films not being as good as the books? All the time. The major outlier, in my opinion, being Brokeback Mountain. The film is far superior to the novella its based on. Anyway, movies don’t offer adequate time for rich character development, and certainly never at the expense of interesting plot twists. But, TV… ah, that’s where things can get interesting.

Television series give books a healthy dose of time. A thirteen episode season, as in 13 Reasons Why, allows the writers to explore heavy themes and characterization in greater detail. It’s been ten years since I read the book, so bear with me, but the story is only told through Clay’s first-person narrative. But in the TV series, the audience is privy to the aftermath of Hannah’s death, through peripheral characters, including her grieving parents who must grapple with the mystery that is their daughter (How did they not suspect she was so unhappy?) and the 13 people, who contribute to Hannah’s suicide. While Jay Asher is an incredible writer, the TV series becomes something more layered and nuanced than the book. Also, the show provides for a more suspenseful, almost noir-like tone, which, again, I don’t recall in the book. Eventually, the book and the series become two of a piece, and they’re not really the same.

There are lots of other examples of successful TV literary adaptations. Gossip Girl. The Vampire Diaries. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, although the books are excellent. But we don’t get the sexual chemistry between Phryne and Jack in the books that we do in the show.

I just found out my favorite book series, The Raven Boys, will be adapted for television and I am so excited. I’m grateful though, that a pilot is being made, and not a film. A movie would just ruin it.

What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy TV adaptations of books?

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Author: Kimberly G. Giarratano

I'm a YA author. And mom of 3. I'm also tired. Very, very tired.

8 thoughts on “Better than the book?”

  1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I don’t remember the series, but the TV show inserted some sexual tension that was completely unnecessary and really ruined the show. And while I loved the first couple seasons of “Longmire,” it’s become a little too “soap opera” for me. But we enjoyed “Lemony Snicket” and we’ve like most of the Poirot shows.

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  2. I rarely know if something is both book and TV/movie. But one thing actors can often do much better than the written word is nuance. A look. A vocal tic. A slight gesture. Whenever I see something really effective, I try to think how I would describe that in a book. Very hard sometimes. In the same way it’s easier to have a lot of introspection on the page. Pros and cons to both mediums.

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  3. I’m with you that TV adaptations are especially interesting. That said, I don’t watch much TV anymore, just because there are too many books tempting my free time. This sounds intriguing enough that I might have to check it out!

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  4. Some of the Poirot and Miss Marple adaptations are better than the book. Sadly, some are not. I wasn’t thrilled with the Jim Chee adapatations, partly because I couldn’t wrap my head around Wes Studi as Leaphorn. He wasn’t what I had envisioned. But I was happy with Adam Beach.

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  5. I tend to like a book more that the movie or TV series. When I read a book, the author provides the framework and structure for the story and my “imagination” fills in the tiny details and nuances. That makes reading the story uniquely my experience, different from the experience of anyone else who reads the same book. With TV and movies, the story belongs to the author, the scriptwriter, the director, the actors, the production crew and the list goes on. There is very little about that experience that is really mine to develop. Of course, a movie is BIG, and loud, and consuming, and all encompassing, but there is not really a lot that is my personal experience.
    I love movies and TV, but fortunately, they are not all based on books, or even books I want to read.

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  6. I love watching movie/TV adaptations for books I’ve read! It’s so fun to see another interpretation and nothing is ever quite how I imagined it! I started watching 13 Reasons Why, too, but the book was so sad that I needed to take a break. Big Little Lies and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks are other ones I’m currently watching 🙂

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  7. First, your reference to 13 REASONS WHY. I heard about it first last Friday at a fundraiser for the Shaka Franklin Foundation. Shaka was started when a young, popular, high school football player committed suicide. There’s more to that story, but that’s for another day. The keynote speaker mentioned 13 REASONS in his remarks. First I’d ever heard of it. Then over the weekend I flashed past an email from Rotten Tomatoes… 13 REASONS was featured as good TV. And now your post. LoML and I might have to get Netflix!

    Finally, I read the HUNGER GAMES books with my granddaughters. Then we went to see the movie based on the first book. While I think it was well done, there’s no way they could’ve gotten everything from the book into the time allowed for a reasonable movie. Bottom line? Books rule!

    As far as television… I’m trying to like Amazon Prime’s BOSCH series. I think mostly I do but to be honest, Micky Haller was always my favorite Michael Connelly character.

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