Playing on a Small Screen Near You (But You Can Read it, Too)

As a reference librarian with a theatre background, I love to see written material come to life, whether onstage or onscreen, but I have always ascribed to the notion that you should “read it before you see it.” Employing one’s imagination to flesh out the scenes and characters on the page is something we have all been encouraged to do since childhood. I firmly believe that reading the source material before seeing another’s vision onscreen enriches the viewing experience by fleshing out character backstories that may have been omitted – stories that may help us understand a character’s motivations or reactions.

Although it might be frustrating to see an adaptation that omits a beloved character or scene (I am thinking about the absence of Tom Bombadil in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, or the origin story of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs in The Prisoner of Azkaban) or casts the wrong actor in a pivotal role (here’s looking at you, Ben Affleck in Gone Girl) there are often elements that take the written material to a new and wonderful place – heart-wrenching performances by talented actors, amazing costume designs we could never entirely envision in our mind’s eye, beautifully shot sets and scenes that all meld together to create an adaptation that elevates the source material, turning it into something both entertaining and true. Above all, a great adaptation can reveal insights into the source material that the reader may never have envisioned.

 We often think of books being adapted into movies, but there has been a recent insurgence of great books being adapted for television and what a treat to see these characters on our TV sets week after week, reimagined and larger than life. Some of these shows stick to the original material, but others have created new stories for characters long after they have been put to rest on the page. For your edification, I am sharing a list of five books in the MORE catalog that I strongly encourage you to read before (or after) you see the show.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Perrotta’s novel focuses on the disappearance of millions of people in an event dubbed the Sudden Departure and the pain and sorrow inflicted upon those left behind. The television series, currently in its third and final season on HBO, mostly sticks to the book during its first season (with minor character alterations) but viewers are treated to a continuation of the main characters’ stories in the second and third seasons, with multiple new characters and storylines thanks to the startling visions of the book’s author and the show’s creator, Damon Lindelof (perhaps more well-known for his work on the television series Lost).

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I have, to date, read everything Ms. Moriarty has written, and I consider this whodunit to be tops in her growing list of works. Focusing on a privileged group of parents whose children are all entering kindergarten at a top-notch school in Australia, it tactfully blends humor with serious issues like domestic violence and bullying. At the top of the story, the reader is informed that one of the parents is dead after a disturbing incident at the school’s annual Trivia Night. The rest of the story unfolds in flashbacks and eyewitness interviews from the evening of the incident. The book was recently adapted by David E. Kelley and Liane Moriarty as a seven-episode mini-series on HBO, and there are rumors that Moriarty will return to write a continuation of the series.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

My favorite orphan from childhood is being brought back to life by a new series on Netflix. I was initially a naysayer of this new iteration, swearing it off because of my allegiance to Megan Fellows’ performance as Anne in the 1985 mini-series and feeling quite firmly in my belief that no one could ever surpass Richard Farnsworth’s performance as Matthew Cuthbert. However, I have recently read a few interviews with the new adaptation’s director and the young actor playing Anne that have changed my mind. Each of them point out that the original mini-series never truly delved into Anne’s sadness that was so palpable and affecting in the books, so I will soon be bracing myself to accept, and maybe fall in love with, a new generation of actors outside Avonlea.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

This harrowing science fiction classic, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963, imagines a world where the Allied Powers lost WWII and Japan and Nazi Germany occupy the United States. This alternate history has been reimagined as an extremely dark and thought-provoking Amazon Original television series that will return for Season 3 later this year.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

One of my most favorite people in the world was a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, and were he alive today, I believe that he would be particularly fond of the most recent incarnation of that famous detective and his sidekick as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Sherlock purists may decry my love of this updated version, but after finishing The Complete Sherlock Holmes, (all 1,418 pages of it), I will firmly defend my belief that the show truly encompasses the spirit of the original novels and stories.

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