Top Ten Books that Shouldn’t Be Made Into Movies

Modlife, the Modcloth blog, recently posted a list of the Top 10 Books that Should Be Made Into Movies. Their list includes Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (#9), books by Dave Eggers and David Sedaris, Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (#3), Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (#2), the perennial favorite by Orson Scott Card (one of the books I “spot” most often), Ender’s Game.

I am not a huge fan of the books turned into movies genre, but I’ve certainly seen (and enjoyed) my fair share of films based on books. I’ve seen multiple versions of Alcott’s Little Women and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Persuasion;  I love the Anne of Green Gables series starring Megan Follows, and About a Boy, based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name. And yes, I’ve seen all the Harry Potter movies (enjoyed most of them, though nowhere near as much as I did the books), and The Lord of the Rings films. I’ve seen multiple Ms. Marples and many, many James Bonds.

Still, I’m glad many of my favorite books haven’t been made into films. Mostly I enjoy book-based movies, but only rarely do I feel like the films really live up to their written counterparts. And the more I love the book, the more difficult it is for the film to meet my expectations. My mother staunchly refuses to see most films based on books, at least books she’s read. For instance, she’s never seen any of the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings films, but she liked Julie and Julia, and last week she saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, neither of which she’s read. And I’m pretty sympathetic to her viewpoint…my problem is that when books turn into movies, curiosity gets the better of me, and I can hardly resist going to see them.

One unhappy fan's reaction to the film version of Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass." I'm fairly in accord with him. Photo: Cayusa

But there are some books that I hope won’t ever be made into films, so I won’t even be tempted to see them. Of course, if someone made an epically beautiful, masterpiece-in-it’s-own-right kind of film, that’d be great. But that type of book-to-movie transition is rare (To Kill a Mockingbird, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this month, does come to mind) and, I think, getting rarer. Luckily, a lot of my favorite books will likely never be made into films, because they’re books of poetry. Lives of poets are often turned into films (Bright Star, Sylvia, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and—forthcoming—Howl) but poetry collections themselves are rarely snapped up for their cinematic potential.

But I’m also a lover of novels, and there a great many that I see so clearly in my mind as they are that I hope I’ll never be tempted to see them in the cinema. So without further ado, here’s my Top Ten Books that Shouldn’t Be Made Into Movies.

1. A Wrinkle in Time. No movie, no matter how great, could beat Madeleine L’Engle reading this book aloud.

2. Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions or any of my other favorite Kurt Vonnegut books. I didn’t really like the movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (my dad did, though), and I can’t see Vonnegut’s work faring much better.

3. The Bell Jar. I can just see one of my favorite opening lines in literature (“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”) being done in a voice over as a camera pans down over Manhattan. Ugh.

4. To the Lighthouse. I watched Vanessa Redgrave’s Mrs. Dalloway in high school, and lines from it instantly because class jokes. I think (more so today than I did then) that the film has its merits. But the book is so much better…and To the Lighthouse is far more important to me than Mrs. Dalloway. I hope the film industry leaves well enough alone, and sticks to movies like The Hours (also based on a book, of course, by Michael Cunningham), which I enjoyed well enough, fake nose and all.

5. Catcher in the Rye. Salinger didn’t want it to be made into a film, and neither do I.

6. Ender’s Game. I understand why people might want this book to be a movie. But I don’t agree with them.

7. From the Mixed Up of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Another book from my youth, (I seem particularly attached to these!) From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler has given me a lifelong love of the Met. This is another book with an absolutely stellar audio version. And yes, I know there are several film versions made already (one starring Ingrid Bergman, another Lauren Bacall, who’d have guessed). I haven’t seen them. Apparently even I can resist some temptations.

8. The Sound and the Fury. The only book-to-film transition I can think of that would be similar to bringing Faulkner’s masterpiece to the silver screen is Oprah Winfrey’s film of Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. I actually think the film version Beloved has its merits (mostly related to Thandie Newton’s epically creepy, mesmerizing performance in the title role) but I’d like Hollywood to stay away from The Sound and the Fury. They can keep making movies of Macbeth though, if they’d like.

9. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I don’t know why I even care, but please, just no.

10. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Another book that I absolutely adore, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter also already has a movie version, starring Alan Arkin, which was nominated for several Academy and Golden Globe Awards in 1968. I’ll never see it. Even if I’m stuck on a 16 hour flight and it’s the only film showing.

Of my Top Ten, at least four already have film versions (making them slightly redundant entries, but I wanted to file my objections nonetheless) and at least three are slated for production (yes, it’s #9, and also #1 and #3). So clearly my opinion doesn’t hold much sway.

Which books would be on your list?

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2 thoughts on “Top Ten Books that Shouldn’t Be Made Into Movies

  1. Interesting that you include Hitchhiker’s.

    Hitchhiker’s was originally a radio series, then a series of books, then a TV series. Each of the three series has its variations, and the movie is no different. After watching the movie a second time, I decided that it, too, was an acceptable incarnation of the story and characters, abandoning some traditions and breaking some very interesting new ground.

  2. I didn’t know any of that! Though I’ve listened to the radio series and read the books, so I should have known at least that much. What is the TV series like?

    And I’ve actually noticed with other films where I’d read the book before seeing the movie, including the Harry Potter movies, I tend to enjoy them more the second time I see them. If I make it to a second time. Maybe it’s because the first time I unintentionally spend most of the screening making a mental list of all the things I liked better about the book, and the second time I’ve already done that and so am just able to watch the movie on it’s own.

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