Three Tips For Choosing A Book To Read Next

Well, I’m not sure if I’ve written about this before, but I thought that I’d talk about choosing books to read. After all, there are literally millions of books out there and it is impossible to read everything that has ever been written. So, if you’re reading regularly, then you have to be selective.

However, whilst I’ll probably talk a bit about buying books, I also want to write this guide in a way that will also be useful if you just want to choose a book from the ones you already own or from a library etc… too. Plus, this guide is mainly aimed at people who are new to reading novels – since, if you’re an experienced reader, then you probably either know most of this stuff already or have worked out your own methods of choosing what to read next.

1) Try it out: I’ll start with the most obvious way of choosing a book. In other words, reading the first few pages of a book to see if it is something that you want to read more of.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect way to judge whether a book is worth reading (after all, some books only really get good after a few chapters or once you’ve got used to the writer’s style, and some books are only good at specific times in your life) but it’s a good first test and there’s no shame in putting aside a book that you’ve read a little bit of and looking for another one instead, if you’re going to get more out of another book.

After a while, you’ll get a knack for this kind of thing. For example, the novel I’m reading at the moment (“The Afterblight Chronicles: Kill Or Cure” by Rebecca Levine) wasn’t my initial choice of what to read next after I’d finished reading Clive Barker’s “The Damnation Game“. Originally, I’d planned to read an urban fantasy novel with an interesting title and a really cool-looking cover but, after reading the first few pages of it, I realised that I wasn’t really in the mood for it at the moment. So, I set it aside and went for a post-apocalyptic thriller novel instead.

So, although it takes a bit of practice and getting to know yourself, the best way to choose what to read next is simply to read the first part of a book and see if you want to read more of it. This is the best, and perhaps only, way to test out a book (and better than things like cover art, reviews etc..) that you are thinking of reading next.

2) Set rules: One good way to choose what to read next is to set yourself rules. However, these need to be rules that have a good practical reason behind them (so you’ll actually follow them) and should be made with the goal of increasing your own enjoyment. Making rules for the sake of showing off or anything like that won’t last for long and will result in a lot of bad book choices too. So, your rules actually have to mean something to you.

For example, when I got back into reading regularly a little over a year ago, I started by binge-reading eight thriller novels by Clive Cussler. By the end of the eighth one, I was so used to this author’s stories, writing style etc… that reading his books had gone from being exciting fun to being a dreary chore. Likewise, after reading the six main novels in Jocelynn Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” series within about a month, I found myself wishing that I’d spread these books out a bit more so that I didn’t feel the intense sense of loss that I did when the series was over.

So, I set myself some rules -in addition to my long-standing “If you enjoy it, read it. If you don’t, then don’t” rule – to avoid these problems.

To avoid getting bored with any one author, I initially started with a rule that I’d read a book by another author to the one I’d just finished reading and then, to avoid reading amazing book series too quickly, I also added a rule that I wouldn’t read more than one or two books by any particular author in the space of a month.

So, yes, making some rules can be useful for choosing what to read next. But, as I said earlier, you need to have a good practical reason for these rules because – if you don’t – you’ll either end up ignoring them or they will ruin your enjoyment of reading.

3) Serendipity: If you read a lot, then you’ve probably got a chaotic collection of unread books, including a few that you’ve forgotten about. If you haven’t got one of these, then look for a library or either a website or physical shop that sells second-hand books. The goal here is just to explore a collection of books until something catches your interest.

Earlier, I mentioned looking at second-hand books and this is important because these tend to contain a much greater variety of authors, genres etc… than shops selling the latest bestsellers do. They’re also cheaper too, which is good for building a personal library on a budget. Looking for interesting random books is a bit more difficult if you’re looking for second-hand books online – but things like going through several layers of recommendations (eg: “People who liked this book also liked…”) on sites that include them can give you something vaguely similar to it.

The advantage of doing this, rather than following a set reading list or anything like that (although these can be useful), is that it forces you to choose on the basis of quality. When you’re looking through a collection of random books then things like an author’s fame, awards etc… matter less than whether the book you’re looking at right now has an intriguing opening chapter, a fascinating blurb etc…

But, the key word here is “random”. So, this tends to work best when your book collection consists of chaotic piles of books (rather than neat shelves) or when looking through the shelves of a second-hand bookshop/charity shop.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons To Read Older Novels

Well, I thought that I’d talk about some of the reasons to read slightly older books. This is mostly because, for most of my teenage years during the 2000s, I mostly read older and/or second-hand novels from the 1950s-1990s (in addition to the occasional 19th century/early 20th century novel or short story) and actually preferred them to modern books.

It also helped that, thanks to charity shops/second-hand bookshops, I was able to belatedly experience both the paperback horror boom of the 1980s and glimpse the golden age of sci-fi. These days, such books are unfortunately less common in these shops 😦

But, when I got back into reading regularly a year or so ago (after about 3-4 years of not reading much), I focused more on slightly more modern fiction. It was more readable, more fast-paced, more interesting in some ways etc… For a while, I actually preferred it to older fiction. But, every now and then, I’d find an interesting older novel or re-read one of the books I enjoyed when I was a teenager. And, since I’m doing this at the moment, I thought that I’d talk about some of the reasons to read older books.

1) They make you a better reader: When I started re-reading Clive Barker’s 1985 novel “The Damnation Game” a few days before writing this article, I was surprised at how formal and slow-paced the writing seemed to be. Then, I remembered reading this book for the first time when I was about nineteen or so. At the time, it had been just another ’80s horror novel – something I’d read for relaxation and enjoyment. I didn’t remember the writing being so elaborate or the pacing being so slow – it was just an “ordinary” older horror novel to me.

Of course, I read older books more frequently back then. So, I was more used to and well-practiced at reading this writing style. It was pretty much standard. I was, in short, a slightly better reader than I am today. Yes, some traces of this lingered in the vaguely formal writing style that I use for most of these blog articles ( I blame the many essays I wrote in school/college/university and discovering both Sherlock Holmes and H.P.Lovecraft at the age of seventeen for this. I actually find it easier/quicker to write non-fiction like this than to use a more informal style), but I was less used to this writing style than I was when I read older books more regularly.

Still, there are good reasons why modern books often use a more streamlined and fast-paced style. Not only is it even more relaxing and fun to read, but it also allows modern books to compete with the distractions of the internet, smartphones and other such things. Even so, reading older books still makes you a better reader – it’s kind of like a workout for your brain or something like that. Not only that, if you get used to reading older books (with their slightly slower and more complex narration), then modern books will seem even more thrillingly fast-paced by comparison too.

2) They’re a really interesting type of history: Older books, by their very nature, are dated. Sometimes, this can be a bad thing (eg: dated attitudes etc..) but sometimes it can be a good thing. In short, older novels are one of the most intriguing types of history out there. Not only are they a completely immersive glimpse into the past, almost like a type of time travel, but they often present a more “realistic” version of the past than stylised modern historical films, pop culture nostalgia etc… do.

After all, these books were the “modern literature” of their day. They were new once. They were written about the “present day” in the way that modern novels are. And this provides a much more complex, interesting, nuanced and unvarnished glimpse into the past than you might expect. Sure, you can sort of do this with other mediums – for example, watching the first series of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and various Beatles music videos will give you a highly stylised glimpse of the general “atmosphere” of 1960s Britain – but, because books force you to use your imagination, they are a bit more vivid and immersive.

Not only that, there’s also something cool about experiencing exactly the same type of entertainment as people in the past used to enjoy too. And, unless you’re reading a modern reprint, it’s also interesting to think that the book you’re reading right now is exactly the same book that someone twenty, thirty etc… years ago also enjoyed too.

3) They can surprise you: Although books are one of the oldest storytelling mediums out there, they can often be further ahead of their time than films, TV, videogames etc….

For example, Dashiell Hammett’s 1929/30 novel “The Maltese Falcon” feels much more “modern” than films of the time. Even Mickey Spillane’s 1947 novel “I, The Jury“, a pulp novel that has otherwise aged terribly, is written in a surprisingly fast-paced style that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in a modern thriller novel.

Then there’s the way that Shirley Jackson’s 1959 horror novel “The Haunting Of Hill House” includes humour, a group of “misfit” main characters etc… in a way that is at least vaguely reminiscent of modern horror films.

Then, there is science fiction. Whether it is the way that Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyberpunk novel “Snow Crash” reminded me a lot of mid-late 1990s sci-fi films like “Ghost In The Shell” or “The Matrix”, the way that William Gibson’s 1996 cyberpunk novel “Idoru” almost seems to be a novel about the modern internet or even how Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” is a satire of the 1960s that was written in the 1930s, it is absolutely amazing when you find an old novel that is eerily ahead of it’s time 🙂

4) You don’t have to read “classics”: One of the most off-putting things about older books is the whole idea of “classics”. You know, the boring old novels that you were forced to read when you were in school. Most older novels aren’t like this!

Seriously, reading older novels doesn’t mean having to trudge through “the classics”. Yes, some 19th and 20th century “classics” are actually really good books (and are well worth reading for fun), but one of the cool things about old books is that there are so many of them – most of which end up being forgotten. In other words, you can find some absolutely brilliant hidden gems if you are willing to look.

Of course, this was a lot easier a decade or two ago, when lots of mid-late 20th century literature was easily available in charity shops and second-hand shops. Yes, finding and buying books is ten times quicker and easier using the internet, but it lacks what made shopping for older books in the 2000s so interesting – serendipity. The fact that you don’t know in advance what old books will be on a shop shelf and end up accidentally discovering all sorts of great authors, amazing novels etc… because of this.

I mean, my interest in 1980s horror fiction (which reignited my love of reading when I was a teenager) was sparked because I happened to find an old Shaun Hutson novel on a market stall when I was about thirteen. I hadn’t expected to find it there, but I did. So, yes, finding hidden gems was a lot easier a decade or two ago than it is now, but there are a lot of hidden gems out there if you read older fiction.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Why Movie Novelisations Exist

Well, I thought that I’d talk about movie novelisations again, since I happen to be reading one at the time of writing. I am, of course, talking about Neal Barrett Jr’s 1996 novelisation of a gloriously cheesy late-night B-movie called “Barb Wire”. Although I’ll probably review the novel tomorrow (when I’ve finished reading it), what I’ve read so far is better than I’d expected. And this made me think about why movie novelisations exist.

Of course, the original reason for movie novelisations was that they allowed people to enjoy a film at home before VHS, DVD etc… were invented. After all, up until about the 1980s or so, once a film left the cinemas, it was pretty much gone (unless it was re-released, shown in a cinema club, shown on TV etc..). So, movie novelisations were what existed before home video did. Yet, although they unfortunately aren’t as common as they were in the past, they still exist these days. Why?

Well, there are probably several reasons. The first is, as shown by the novelisation of “Barb Wire”, they can be better than the film. Although I only have vague memories of watching the film on TV during the early-mid 2000s, it was a rather cheesy – and somewhat sleazy – “so bad that it’s good” mid-budget action movie. Of course, since the novelisation can’t rely on special effects or celebrity (after all, it just uses words), it actually has to focus more on the characters and the story.

In other words, film novelisations have to rely on substance rather than style. The characters have to be good characters, everything has to be described well, the story has to be an actual story etc… In other words, film novelisations tend to feel a lot more well-made and consistent than films can sometimes do. After all, a good film novelisation still has to work as a novel. It has to be something that, theoretically, someone who has never seen the film can still enjoy.

Secondly, film novelisations tend to have more depth than their source material – which is good for fans of the film. Since films are a visual medium that can only show time in a linear fashion (eg: one second of film takes exactly one second), they can often only show the surface of a story. The written word, on the other hand, can do things like showing people’s thoughts, showing backstory, describing things in detail etc… Which result in a deeper and richer story when films are adapted to the page.

Not only that, the events of a 90-120 minute film probably won’t fill that many pages when translated directly to the page. So, an author will usually have to add extra stuff in order to write something longer than a novella. Although this can sometimes just result in filler content, it usually means that stuff from the film is more well-explained, there are interesting extra scenes, there’s more detailed backstory, there’s more characterisation etc… Which all result in a much deeper and more satisfying experience when compared to the film. So, fans of a film will usually get even more out of it by reading the novelisation.

Thirdly, film novelisations are a safe bet. Although books are unfortunately less popular than they were even two decades ago (thanks to smartphones, social media etc..), publishers and readers alike choose film novelisations for one simple reason. You know what you are getting. If a publisher wants a book that will sell, then choosing a popular film will make people interested. If a reader just wants to relax with a book or choose one quickly, then one based on a familiar film is usually a fairly good choice.

Fourthly, novelisations can be great for authors too. I mean, I can think of a few authors (eg: S.D.Perry, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Diane Carey etc..) who specialise in writing novelisations and spin-off novels. They usually have a fairly prolific body of work, regular publication etc… And they are good at writing these types of stories. So, if an author knows what they are doing, then they can have a fairly good writing career with novelisations.

Fifthly, they are good for reading and literature in general. Yes, they might not be the kind of “high brow” or “literary” fiction that people talk about when they lament the fact that people don’t read as much these days as they used to. But, they are a brilliant gateway into reading for people who might not otherwise choose to pick up a book. Because they tell a familiar story and are written to be entertaining, they’re more likely to tempt someone into reading a book (and, if they like it, maybe reading others) than a traditional novel.

Likewise, spin-off novels can do this too. When I was going through one of my “not reading much” phases in 2011/12, I ended up binge-watching various series of “Star Trek” on DVD. When I ran out of episodes, I vaguely remembered that there were spin-off novels. I ended up reading a few of these and really enjoyed them. In fact, when I got back into reading regularly a year or so ago, I was initially reluctant to read any “Star Trek” books because I considered them to be “what I read when I’m not reading”. Yet, I still ended up reading them occasionally again for the simple reason that they are just enjoyable, relaxing books.

So, in this age where books are less popular than they once were, novelisations and spin-off novels are absolutely great for showing people how much fun reading can be and for getting people to actually pick up a book.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Old Fiction Vs Historical Fiction

Well, I ended up thinking about the differences between old fiction (written decades or centuries ago) and historical fiction (written in the present day, but set in the past) after both reading an interesting horror novel from the 1950s and finding this intriguing Youtube channel filled with old film footage from the 19th and early-mid 20th century.

One of the advantages of old fiction is immersion. Simply put, it is quite literally a direct window into the past and this can be quite surprising. For example, the “realistic” settings of a 1980s horror novel like Shaun Hutson’s “Breeding Ground” are a lot more understated and, well, believable than the stylised depictions of the 1980s you might see in a more modern historical novel, film etc…

Because writers in the past didn’t need to create a “historical” setting (because everyone back then already knew what the world looked like), you can get a much more vivid, detailed and unvarnished glimpse into the past when you read old novels. Not only that, you also get to see how people back then really thought about the world and how they saw the world.

Reading fiction from the past allows you to quite literally step back in time and see the past in a totally different way. After all, people back then read these novels for entertainment in the way that we watch TV shows, play computer games etc… these days. So, you are quite literally enjoying yourself in exactly the same way as someone many decades ago did. After all, although older novels might be reprinted, the basic technology behind them (eg: words on paper) hasn’t changed since they were first printed.

On the other hand, whilst the technology hasn’t changed, the English language has. This is one of the main advantages of modern historical fiction. In short, historical fiction is aimed at a mainstream contemporary audience, so it’ll be written in a way that is more accessible to modern readers. Usually the writing style will keep some historical flavour, but the narration will be a bit more streamlined and a bit less formal than older novels.

Yes, old-school formal narration adds atmosphere to a story but, if you’re just looking for a book to relax with, then modern historical fiction tends to be more readable. But, although older novels might sound “highbrow” these days, it’s important to remember that novels are usually written for the average reader at the time they were published. They were designed for ordinary people (who read more back then and were also used to slightly more formal language, slower pacing etc..) to enjoy. So, don’t let a novel’s age put you off. Older novels can sometimes be more readable than you might think.

Plus, modern historical fiction will often be more realistic than older fiction in some ways. Whilst older fiction gives the reader a direct glimpse into the past, it also had to contend with things like censorship (for example, most of the “grittiness” in Dashiell Hammett’s excellent 1929/30 novel “The Maltese Falcon” is implied rather than shown). So, modern historical fiction can often show things that may not have been considered “publishable” in the past.

Modern historical fiction also looks at the past from a more modern perspective too. Whilst this can result in a much more interesting variety of characters, more gripping drama and stuff like that, it can also suffer from the author underestimating the reader’s intelligence. In other words, some modern historical novels can have a tendency to lecture the reader about social ills that the reader already knows are bad. Then again, older novels can sometimes (but not always) include awkward or narrow-minded moments that haven’t aged well and are a bit cringe-worthy to read today. So, both things can be annoying in different ways.

On the other hand, older novels often tend to have more interesting cover art. Since many older novels were published before the internet was popular, having an eye-catching and dramatic cover that would stand out on bookshop shelves was even more important than ever. Likewise, before photo editing became something that people could do easily with computer programs, there was more incentive for publishers to use traditional paintings for their cover art. So, older novels just generally look better. Here are some examples of 1980s sci-fi/fantasy/horror novel cover art to show you what I mean:

Here are some examples of painted cover art from the 1980s. I wish this type of cover art was still standard these days.

Another advantage of older novels is their brevity. Because longer books were more difficult or expensive to publish in the past, older novels often tend to be a bit shorter and to the point. Yes, the formal writing styles used in the past mean that older novels will often take longer to read, but it is so refreshing to see novels that can tell a full, detailed story in just 200-300 pages 🙂 On the downside, this brevity is sometimes achieved by just reducing the size of the print.

On the other hand, one cool thing about modern historical fiction (and TV shows etc..) is that they can give vividness and life to the past in a way that older things might struggle with. After all, when watching the grainy greyscale footage on the Youtube channel I mentioned earlier, my mind instantly started “filling in the gaps” with things that I remembered from modern historical novels, TV shows etc… So, modern historical fiction can make the past seem a lot more vivid and alive.

Of course, the most interesting type of history-based fiction is historical fiction that was written in the past. This is often an interesting middle-ground between the two things and not only does it give us a glimpse of how people used to think about the past but, due to it’s historical setting, it bizarrely tends to age better than older fiction set in the “present day” of when it was written.

So yes, older and historical fiction both have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. In short, if you want something readable, gripping and vivid, then read modern historical fiction. But, if you want something a bit more complex that also gives you a direct window into the past, then take a look at older fiction.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Why Are Thriller Novels So Long?

Well, since I seem to be going through a phase of reading thriller novels, I thought that I’d look at one thing that these novels seem to have in common – their length. Lee Child’s “A Wanted Man” is 524 pages long, Tess Gerritsen’s “The Sinner” is 416 pages long and the novel I’m currently reading, “Origin” by Dan Brown, is 538 pages in length.

Long thriller novels are hardly a new thing, with – for example – Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy novels from the 1970s-90s often being fairly weighty tomes. But, if you go back to the precursors to the modern thriller genre – early 20th century British adventure novels like John Buchan’s “The Thirty-Nine Steps“, Sapper’s “Bulldog Drummond” etc… and hardboiled US crime novels by authors like Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett, brevity seemed to be the order of the day.

So, why are thriller novels so long? Well, I’ve got a few theories.

The first is the idea of “value for money”, that a larger book means that the reader gets more “bang for their buck”. And, although longer thriller novels often focus on quality as well as quantity, there seems to be more of an emphasis on quantity these days. In the past, this was probably because of how these novels were seen as “airport novels” – long stories intended to pass long journeys. These days, of course, they also have to compete with both physical and digital TV boxsets.

You can even see this trend in cinemas with, for example, films that would have been lean and efficient 90 minute things in the 1980s/90s often bloating to two hours or more these days. If even something like a superhero movie can regularly pass the two-hour mark these days, then it shows that length is popular.

Secondly, thriller novels might be slightly longer in order to compensate for their pacing. Modern thriller novels are usually written in the kind of fast-paced, ultra gripping way that allows the reader to blaze through the story at the kind of speed that other genres can only dream of. Because the reader will be reading more quickly, the book will seem shorter than it actually is. And, since we live in an age where “short” seems to equal “bad”, this is a way of making sure that the reader has what they consider to be a “full-length” experience, even though a 400-500 page modern thriller might only take them as long to read as a 200-350 page novel in another genre.

Thirdly, longer thriller novels allow for more complex plots, multiple plot threads and other features of the modern thriller genre. For example, Tess Gerritsen’s “The Sinner” contains at least two or three sub-plots in addition to the main plot – which itself consists of the detective solving more than one murder case. Lee Child’s “A Wanted Man” starts with two plot threads and also includes an intricately-orchestrated series of plot twists too.

In addition to making thriller stories more gripping, all of these more modern techniques are also useful in making a thriller novel stand out from the crowd. After all, there are only so many variations on “the main character saves the world” or ” the detective solves a crime” that writers can use. So, thriller novels need to make these familiar old tropes interesting – and this is usually done through things like more complex plots, multiple story threads etc… which all add length to the story when compared to the more streamlined stories of older thrillers, adventure novels etc…

Fourthly, changes in publishing probably have something to do with it too. One of the reasons why older novels were often shorter was because it was apparently difficult or expensive to print longer novels back then. Add to this the fact that novels were sometimes printed in magazines and/or had to contend with things like WW2-era paper rationing and shorter novels tended to be preferable in the past.

Of course, with modern printing techniques, it is a lot easier for long novels to be printed cheaply. Likewise, the popularisation of e-books over the past decade or two has meant that length has become less of an issue for publishers. E-books don’t take up expensive shelf space in shops and they also avoid the “oh god, I’ll never finish that!” reaction that people can often get when seeing a particularly hefty novel in a bookshop.

Finally, following on from this, attitudes towards typesetting have changed. In other words, font sizes are often larger these days – so there are fewer words on each page. Back when I was a teenager, I remember finding and reading an old second-hand 1970s edition of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”. It seemed like a substantial, but not ultra-long, novel that was maybe three centimetres thick. Then, sometime later, I happened to see a more “modern” early-mid 2000s reprint of it. This book, telling exactly the same story as the one I’d read, was at least a couple of centimetres thicker due to the print not being the kind of microscopic 10-point font used in the 1970s edition.

Add to this the fact that thriller novels are often first published in hardback, which often has a lower page count due to the larger pages, and it’s easy to see why the average modern paperback thriller novel tends to be a little bit on the bulky side of things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Some Thoughts About Film Adaptations Of Novels – A Ramble

As regular readers of this site know, I tend to prepare these articles quite far in advance. So, very early this year, I was surprised to read that there is a modern US film adaptation of an “edgy” 1990s horror novel I’d reviewed quite a few months earlier called “Piercing” by Ryu Murakami.

Although I haven’t seen the full film at the time of writing, the trailer (which is probably “not safe for work”, hence the lack of a link) seems to have kept the disturbing premise of the novel and even seems to have kept a lot of the novel’s grim farce and unsettling psychological drama too. Yet, even though it looked like a good adaptation, I found myself reluctant to put the full film on my “to watch” list. This, of course, made me think about film adaptations of novels.

One of the strengths of the written word is that it makes the reader use their imagination. A novel is a personal experience. Every reader’s memory of a story – the compressed collection of images, moods and impressions that lingers long after the final page has been read – will be different. So, one of the problems that film adaptations can have is that they will inevitably be different from this. After all, cinema is a mass medium where everyone sees the one identical interpretation of a story.

This, incidientally, is why I refuse to watch some film adaptations – like “The Beach” or any of the “Jack Reacher” films – since I’m worried that they will overwrite my amazing memories of the novels they are based on. Yet, when I saw the film adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s excellent “Shutter Island” several months after reading the book, I found it to be a really good distillation of how I imagined the book – with the only problem being that I already knew the ending (which I won’t spoil here. You need to read or see it for yourself).

However, all of this also extends to everything surrounding a novel. Because novels are things that the reader has to co-create using their imagination, they are strongly linked to the time and place that they were read and to the imagination of the reader at that point in their life.

This is probably one of the reasons why I’m reluctant to watch the adaptation of “Piercing” since, although I only read the novel a few months earlier, I chose to read it as a way of feeling nostalgic for a time – about a decade earlier – when I read several other books by the author. Of course, even the best film can never quite capture that exact feeling of personal nostalgia.

On the flip side, reading a novel after seeing the film adaptation is actually a rather fun experience. In addition to being able to gain a deeper insight into the surface-level drama of what you’ve seen on screen, the fact that you will probably imagine the characters in the same way that you saw them on screen makes the process of reading feel a little bit more concrete. This is kind of hard to describe, but it’s strangely relaxing to read a story where you already know what the characters look like – it’s like part of your work as a reader has already been done for you.

Another difference between film adaptations and novels is how they are made. Novels are created by one author, the product of a single imagination given the freedom to be as unique, quirky and creative as possible. On the other hand, films are a team effort that cost millions to make. As such, there’s much more of an incentive for a film to have mass appeal or, at the very least, a wider appeal than the original novel. In principle, this is a good thing, but it can often end up losing or changing what made the original novel so interesting to read.

However, the best film adaptations actually use this to their advantage. For example, the 1980s cinematic masterpiece “Blade Runner” is both visually and stylistically different to the excellent novel that it is based on. These changes allow for a lot of amazing creativity that works really well on screen, whilst still keeping many of the core elements of the story.

And, this thing about the core elements of the story is probably one of the most important things about film adaptations. For example, although it would have been cool to see a cinematic version of the gritty late-night 1990s Toyko setting of Murakami’s “Piercing”, one of the surprising things about the trailer for the film adaptation is how well it seems to transplant the atmosphere, themes etc… of the story into what I presume is modern America. Yet, the trailer still seems to be very clearly based on the novel. If a story can jump from one time and place to another and still retain a lot of what made it so dramatic, then it is a good story.

So, in this sense, I can see why people often view a film adaptation of a novel as the ultimate form of praise. If a novel can survive the adaptation process and still result in a compelling film, then the underlying story is a good one. If all of the author’s uniqueness can be removed and lots of details changed, and it still results in something recognisable or compelling then this is a testament to the author’s skill.

But, at the same time, there’s something a little bit disturbing about seeing film adaptations as the ultimate literary award. Anyone who has read a lot of novels will probably find amazing ones that they feel deserve the full adaptation treatment and deserve to become a part of popular culture, yet never get adapted.

If adaptation was the ultimate award, then there would be a lot more novel adaptations in the cinemas. Yet, all of your favourite un-adapted novels still remain as brilliant as ever. They still remain things that linger in your imagination. Things that you judge all novels you read afterwards in comparison to. Things that make you want to write stories that are even half as good. Things that quite literally become part of your memories of a particular time in your life.

So, yes, film adaptations of books are complicated things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Reasons Why Spin-Off Novels Are So Awesome

Well, I thought that I’d talk about original spin-off novels based on movies, TV shows, games etc… today. This is mostly because I seem to be going through a bit more of a phase of reading this genre than usual recently. I’ve probably talked about this topic before, but it seemed like it was worth revisiting given how overlooked this genre often is.

So, why are spin-off novels so awesome?

1) Extra stuff: One of the coolest things about spin-off novels is that they are like extra (non-canonical) TV show episodes, film sequels/prequels etc… that can focus on characters, story elements etc.. that were overlooked in the original source material. Not only that, they also have absolutely no budgetary limitations whatsoever too.

For example, many of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” spin-off novels I’ve read will include the kind of settings, special effects, depth of storytelling etc… that wouldn’t have been practical in an “ordinary” episode of the TV show.

Likewise, although the film sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” appeared in cinemas in 2017, readers have had sequels available since the mid-1990s, thanks to a series of spin-off novels by K. W. Jeter. I’m currently re-reading the first one of these (“Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human”) and it reminded me of how, when I first read it in 2008, it was so awesome to actually have a sequel at a time when film companies had no interest in making one.

So, yes, spin-off novels provide a lot of extra stuff. Not only that, since multiple authors often write spin-offs for the same series, these novels tend to appear more often or in a larger quantity than the actual source material.

For example, although some of them can get a bit formulaic, there are far more “Aliens” spin-off novels than actual films in the franchise (which only get made every couple of years at the very most).

2) They’re made for fans: One of the cool things about spin-off novels is that, because they cost a lot less to produce, there’s less incentive for things to be diluted for a mainstream audience.

After all, if a studio is spending millions on a film, then they’re going to want to make sure it appeals to the widest possible audience. If they’re just spending thousands commissioning a spin-off novel, then there’s more incentive to appeal to fans.

This often results in spin-off novels being more of a satisfying experience to read than you might expect. For example, the mid-1990s “Blade Runner” spin-off novel I’m reading at the moment not only includes a clever twist on a continuity error in the original film but it also includes a few elements from the 1960s novel that the original film was based on. It’s the kind of sequel that is made for people who are massive fans of the original film.

So, yes, if you’re a fan of something, then spin-off novels can often be a more intense, geeky and satisfying experience than their actual source material.

3) Innovation and creativity: Although spin-off novels have to have official approval, the fact that they are written by a single author (rather than designed/made by a large team) and usually aren’t seen as canonical often results in a lot more innovation and creativity than you might expect.

Yes, this isn’t always the case, but it can be really cool to see. For example, even though I mentioned that some of the “Aliens” spin-off novels are a bit formulaic, one surprisingly creative example is probably Robert Sheckley’s “Alien Harvest” – which is a surprisingly light-hearted, quirky and vaguely cyberpunk heist thriller set in the “Aliens” universe.

Likewise, although all but two of the novels in S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” series are direct novelisations of the source material rather than new spin-off novels, the first four books contain a totally new long-running sub-plot (revolving around a character called Trent) that isn’t present in the original games. Not only that, the sub-plot itself is also resolved in a really dramatic way in the spin-off novel “Resident Evil: Underworld” (which I really need to re-read) too.

So, yes, spin-off novels can sometimes include a lot of extra creativity that isn’t present in the source material.

4) Quality control: In the past, I’ve seen spin-off novels likened to fan fiction. Whilst these novels probably are “fan fiction” in the technical sense of the word, the fact that they are often published in paperback with official approval usually means that they are a cut above what you’d normally expect to find on the internet. They have editors, quality checks, consistency checks etc…

In short, they often allow readers to experience all of the benefits of fan fiction (eg: new stories in a familiar “world”) but without any of the downsides that you might encounter if you go looking for random fan fiction on the internet.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂