Serious bibliophiles will grit their teeth at the thought of ever watching the movie before reading the book, and most of the time I’m right there with them. Films don’t tend to have the charm and subtlety of books; they sometimes skip the best bits; they don’t allow your imagination to run wild. Watching a film is just never going to be the same as reading a whole world crafted solely from words.
But does that mean we always have to read the book first? This week, the film Dark Places is hitting theaters. It’s based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, author of the magnificently creepy bestseller Gone Girl. Her earlier novel Dark Places had managed to slip under the radar, but it’s just as eerie and sinister. A story this gripping deserves to be enjoyed on the big screen, and if we all need to read the novel first, we might end up stuck waiting for the DVD. So is it OK, just this once, to watch the movie before reading the book? I say yes—and here’s why.
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Films are short-lived, and when the credits roll at the end of a great film, it can be bittersweet. So it’s a serious treat when you can then dive into a book, and fill in all the gaps and backstories of characters you only had two hours to fall in love with.
When reading a novel, I love hearing the voices play out in my mind—and I know I’m not the only one who struggles to perfect the accents of my favorite characters. (A show of hands: who read Harry Potter with a terrible British accent? There’s no shame in it; even us Brits weren’t sure how to pronounce Hermione.) Watching the film first gives you an idea of how the characters would sound, so when you’re reading, you can act out all the dramatic conversations in your head and just know that you’ve got them spot on.
Finally, books like Dark Places can sometimes be really complicated. Unless you’re some kind of Sherlock Holmes-ian mastermind, it can be tricky to follow all the twists and turns the first time around. Watching the movie gives you an overview of what’s going to happen, so that when it comes to reading the book, you can pick up on all the subtle hints and clever clues the author is dropping—and feel like a genius when you understand every surprise twist.
No matter how hooked you are on the written word, it is sometimes OK to watch a movie before you’ve gotten around to picking up the book. So if you haven’t read the fantastic Dark Places just yet, don’t worry—it will still be waiting for you when you come out of the theater, and you may just find your reading experience is even more enjoyable because you waited. After all, everyone knows you should always save the best until last.