Do Plot Spoilers Really Matter? – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about plot spoilers today (so expect a couple in this article). This is mostly because I was introduced to the novel I’m currently reading (“A Canticle For Liebowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr.) by a really interesting “Extra Sci Fi” Youtube video which pretty much spells out every major plot point and theme of the novel. Yet, despite these major plot spoilers – or rather because of them – I actually tracked down a copy of the novel and started reading it.

But why would I want to read a novel when I already know how it is going to end? Well, in the case of this book, it is more about the journey than the destination. I was so intrigued by the descriptions of the setting and the general concept of the book that I wanted to learn more about it, to see it “in action”, so to speak. Yet, with some other types of story, I’d probably find too many plot spoilers to be incredibly annoying.

In short, plot spoilers tend to matter more when there are twists or mysteries in a story. The whole point of – say – a detective novel or a thriller – is to uncover a mystery, to be astonished by new information and to follow every unpredictable direction that the plot might take. This is also why these novels tend to be a little less re-readable than novels in other genres. Because their stories rely so heavily on the reader not knowing things, they tend to lose some of their impact if you already know what will happen.

Yet, even then, a certain level of spoilers can actually make these stories more interesting – provided that the spoiler raises more questions than it answers (and therefore deepens the mystery).

For example, I binge-read a copy of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” about eleven years ago, purely because someone pointed out that it is a detective novel that ends with all of the main characters dying. I thought “how is this even possible?” and was curious enough to read the whole book in a single night.

Because I’d heard a major plot “spoiler”, but didn’t have any information about how or why it happened, I wanted to find out more. Without this intriguing spoiler, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about reading this brilliantly creepy mystery novel.

But, going back to what I was saying earlier, spoilers are at their very best when they are for stories that aren’t entirely about the plot. In other words, novels with intriguing settings, interesting ideas/concepts, an interesting writing style, fascinating characters or unusual subject matter. These are stories where a mere description of what happens doesn’t really do justice to the actual experience of reading the novel for yourself. Here, a spoiler gives you an intriguing idea of what to expect and then says “Go on, find out more”.

In other words, the more creative a story is, the less that spoilers matter.

When a story is more about the journey than the destination, then spoilers act more like a “teaser” trailer than some kind of horrible, mean-spirited thing that drains all of the joy from the story. They give you a hint of what kind of things to expect and then make you actually want to see it for yourself.

So, yes, spoilers aren’t always a bad thing. Yes, major spoilers should often be avoided in the detective and thriller genres, but – with many other genres – they can actually make a story more interesting, especially if it is a rather creative one. Still, it’s usually polite to include some kind of warning before spoiling a story, since I’m sure that my views on the subject aren’t shared by everyone.

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Sorry for the short, rambling article – but I hope it was interesting 🙂

Four More Reasons To Read Older Novels

Well, although one of the things I’ve discovered since I got back into reading regularly a year or two ago is that modern novels are better than I’d expected, I thought that I’d talk about some of the reasons to read older novels today.

This is mostly because this was what really got me interested in reading during my teenage years in the 2000s was finding lots of older novels in second-hand bookshops and charity shops. Whether it was the gruesome 1980s horror novels, the 1940s-1980s dystopian novels and the “edgy” 1960s-90s literary novels that first showed me that books could be cool, the 1950s/60s science fiction I enjoyed in my mid-late teens or even a phase I went through when I was about seventeen where I read lots of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft, I read quite a few older novels back then.

But, having read much more of a mixture of older and modern novels over the past year or two, I can compare the two in a bit more detail than I could when I was younger. And, yes, although modern novels do have some advantages over older ones, I thought that I’d look at some of the good things about slightly older novels.

1) Complexity, atmosphere and detail: Books are the literal opposite to computer games in this regard. If you want a computer game with ultra-realistic HD graphics and lots of detail, then you choose the most modern one you can find – and just hope that your machine meets the sky-high system requirements. But, if you want the literary equivalent of this, then it is usually worth reading an older book. You’ll need to be a slightly more experienced or skilled reader, but it is well worth it if you are.

Modern novels are often written in an efficient and readable way that is designed to grab the reader’s attention and to compete with the distractions of the internet, smartphones, boxsets etc… This isn’t an entirely bad thing, but it means that they can often have slightly less linguistic or descriptive detail than older novels do. They often have shorter sentences, slightly simpler vocabulary, more informal narration etc…

On the other hand, even “low brow” horror and thriller novels from the 1970s-90s will often use more sophisticated/formal vocabulary, sentence structures etc… than you might expect. People had less distractions back then and they read more books, so there was more of an incentive for writers to show off a bit more and to really use the written word to its fullest extent.

Yes, this means that older novels can be a little slower to read and that you might have to work out the meaning of some unfamiliar words from their context (or just look them up online). But, not only does this result in a much richer and more “high definiton” story (with more atmosphere, precision, depth, character etc…), but it will also help you to expand your vocabulary, increase your attention span and help you become more adept at reading complex texts.

2) Cost and serendipity: Yes, some older books (even relatively recent ones) can go out of print and become ridiculously expensive. However, this isn’t the case with most older books. If you are looking to build a personal library on a budget, then many paperback novels from even just a few years ago can be found incredibly cheaply second-hand. Likewise, if you want to go back even further, then many out-of-copyright 19th century/early 20th century novels can often be found in inexpensive “classics” editions or as free e-books.

[Edit: The original draft of this article, prepared several months ago, included a passage about finding interesting random books in second-hand bookshops. But, given current events, visiting physical shops isn’t something that I can recommend at the moment.]

So, being willing to read older novels can broaden your horizons, surprise you and allow you to build up a “to read” pile at a fraction of the cost.

3) Time travel: I’ve mentioned this in previous articles, but it’s worth repeating. Another cool thing about older novels is that they allow you to directly step into the past in a way that things like modern historical fiction, historical dramas etc… won’t allow you to do. After all, when you read an older novel, you are not only reading something written in the past but you are also reading exactly the same thing that people in the past read for entertainment. In other words, your experience of reading an older novel will be at least slightly similar to that of someone from the time it was published.

Although this will sometimes show you how backwards and narrow-minded the past can be, it’ll also help you to see the past in a more “realistic” way too. And the past can often seem more “modern” than the stylised nostalgia or re-creations that you’ll see in the media these days might lead you to believe. Older novels weren’t written with the thought “in 20-50 years time, people will think this is retro“, they were written to entertain people at the time they were written. So, they will depict everything and everyone in a more “realistic” way than you might expect if you’ve only seen modern TV shows, movies etc… set in the past.

This is kind of hard to describe well, but it not only gives you a more accurate look at (and understanding of) the past but – thanks to the immersive nature of books – it can feel like you are actually travelling back in time too. It’s really cool 🙂

4) Books mattered more: One of the cool things about older books is that books used to matter to everyone more in the past than they do today. They were read more, they were respected more and they were more popular. Not only does this mean that older books will usually be edited/proof-read to a higher standard, but it also means that they have a level of intensity and gravitas that you don’t always find in more modern novels.

People read more in the past than they do now, and older books will often reflect the fact that books mattered more. They weren’t some obscure hobby or trendy “sophisticated” activity – they were ordinary everyday entertainment. Which, of course, is still the best way to read and view books.

For good example of how books mattered more in the past, look at articles about the reactions to the Armed Service Edition novels that were issued to US troops during WW2, look at the sheer level of importance the Lady Chatterley Trial had in 1960s Britain (because book censorship affected a lot more readers back then) or look at how 19th century readers reacted when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle “killed” Sherlock Holmes. Books mattered to people more in the past.

And you can often see this in older books. Whether it is 1980s British horror novels that tried to out-shock each other because horror fans read them as an alternative to the heavily-censored films in cinemas at the time. Whether it is how 1970s-90s literary novels will sometimes try to be a bit edgier or more controversial, because people read and discussed books more (and books were respected enough that calling for book censorship was rightly seen as an evil or totalitarian thing to do). Whether it is how older dystopian novels will almost always use the dystopian setting as a way of making a point about something – rather than just as a dramatic backdrop – because they were writing for a much larger audience who thought about what they read etc…

Even the cover art is usually better in older books, because it had to be dramatic in order to stand out. Without the internet to help potential readers find books and because people could only buy physical books (to read in public, to leave lying around at home etc…), cover art had to be cooler and more artistic in the past – because it mattered more.

So, one cool thing about older novels is that they show you what books were like when everyone cared about them and read them a bit more.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

Three More Reasons Why Reading Is Better Than Gaming

So, a couple of nights before writing this article, I was watching random gaming videos on Youtube and found myself feeling nostalgic for the days when I played more computer games. By contrast, the novel I’d planned to read just felt kind of “drab” and “ordinary” compared to all of the cool fan culture that surrounds gaming.

[Edit: This article was originally prepared before I got a slightly more modern refurbished computer, which can actually play some modern “AA” and indie games. So, whilst I no longer have the same anger about modern system requirements as I did when I wrote this article (and have slightly toned down these parts before publication), the point probably still stands.]

But, although there are a lot of good things to be said about gaming, I thought that I’d argue the case for books today. In particular, why they can be better than games. I’ve probably talked about this before, but I felt like revisiting the subject. Even so, apologies if I repeat myself during this article:

1) Single-player, offline fun: These days, games seem to be drifting more and more towards online multiplayer, which is great if you’re a highly social person who also likes the length and times of your gaming sessions to be dictated by other players. If you aren’t, then it isn’t so great.

Likewise, there seems to be more and more of a requirement for games to be constantly online. Whether it is modern internet-connected consoles, constant “updates”, DRM requirements for some games (which can also be used to exclude users of classic computers), greedy things like micro-transactions or even the dreaded “software as a service” rental model, games are moving online. Even if you’ve got a good internet connection, then this is still an extra thing to rely on, an extra thing to go wrong and/or an extra thing to get in the way.

Books have none of these problems. By their very nature, they are a solitudinous form of entertainment that can be enjoyed at the reader’s own pace. Likewise, because they are made of paper, they don’t need an internet connection either. In other words, they’re more like the classic games of the 1990s in this respect 🙂

2) System requirements: I’ve talked about this many times before, but it is worth repeating. Books don’t have system requirements 🙂

Yes, an older or more linguistically-complex book might take longer to read. But, if you can read, then you can read it. You might have to look up unfamiliar words or make a guess from the context they are used in. You might not understand literally everything about a “difficult” book. But, if you can read, then you can read pretty much anything.

Now, compare this to computer games. They have system requirements.

If you want to participate in current gaming culture or if you just want to play an interesting-looking new game that you’ve heard about, then you’d better have splashed out on a powerful modern computer before you even think about playing it.

In other words, games have a load of extra barriers to entry that books don’t. The greatest irony of all is that, unlike games, modern books will often be written in a more “readable” way than older books are. They are something that is actually easier to pick up and read.

Likewise, if you can’t afford a new book, then it will usually either be in libraries (although, with the current UK government, maybe not), come down in price over time and/or eventually appear on the second-hand market. By contrast, unless you only want to play older games (which are often better) then you’d better be able to splash out hundreds or thousands on the “right” kind of computer before you even buy the game.

3) Variation: This is less of an issue these days, thanks to the awesome popularity of indie games (even if they often have ridiculous system requirements, despite their “retro” graphics), but one of the main reasons why there is such a popular fan culture around games is because there aren’t that many major games.

After all, “AAA” games cost millions and require hundreds of skilled workers to make. As such, not only are there less of them but they will often be aimed for the largest and most “popular” audience too.

In other words, games are a bit like Hollywood movies. If you happen to like what is “popular” at the moment, then you are in heaven. If not then, although there might be indie games for you, expect to feel a bit left behind.

Books, on the other hand, have a lot more variation. Pretty much any genre or type of story you can think of is covered. If you want a Lovecraftian parody of “Scooby Doo”, a thriller about zombie vampires in a rural village in the 1980s, a hilarious time travel based sci-fi series, a murder mystery set in Tudor-era Hampshire, a “film noir” where the detective is a vampire etc.. Then books have got you covered 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂