Experiment With a “Based On”
Readers are living through a golden age of series and movies based on books. Productions such as “Game of Thrones,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Hunger Games,” and “Harry Potter” are arguably more popular on screen than page. Me, I like to have it both ways — as long as I can read before watching. (This is mostly so I can tell the person sitting next to me, “THAT didn’t happen in the book.”) There’s a deep satisfaction in experiencing a beloved tale in another medium. For me, it doesn’t work in reverse: if I see the adaptation first, I usually will not be reading the book. “Orange is the New Black” is one exception, something I read after watching the first season on Netflix. To be fair, the show was more inspired by the book and not a faithful retelling.
Now, for the first time, I’m watching something while simultaneously reading the book it’s based upon: Philip Roth’s alternate history, “The Plot Against America,” now a series on HBO. So far I’ve been staying ahead in my reading, as I wouldn’t want to see any spoilers. And for once, I can’t say “this didn’t happen in the book” because I honestly don’t know — maybe a dubious plot point is something that will take place later in the book. That’s already occurred once, when a character went to a theater in the series and talked to his friend, the projectionist. I triumphantly told my husband, “this isn’t in the book!” as we watched, only to be introduced to the new character and setting in the next chapter of the novel.
The experiment isn’t over yet, but I’m not sure that this viewing whilst reading is for me; it offends my innate desire for order. I recently had the gratifying experience of watching “My Brilliant Friend,” the HBO series based on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I tore through the quartet a few years ago, my loyalties bouncing back and forth between Lenù and Lila, the two best friends who are at odds as often as they are in one another’s corner. I absolutely loved their story, and watching it on screen is almost like rereading. There are a couple more book-inspired series I’d like to watch, but this undertaking has reinforced my preference to read first.
Do you prefer to read a book before you watch its adaptation? What are your favorites? The most disappointing ones?