The Screen Before the Page

Okay everyone, I must come before you to admit a grievous sin. I willfully and knowingly watched a screen adaptation of a famous book before reading the source material. May the Book Lord forgive me. In this case, I am talking about the Emmy-Winning series The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s sci-fi dystopian novel that, for some reason, really picked up in popularity in November of 2016, along with many other classic sci-fi dystopia books, like 1984, Brave New World and similar books. Huh, go figure.

I’ve actually read those other two books, and with the sudden uptake in interest in this particular genre, I decided I should eventually read The Handmaid’s Tale too. Then I saw the book would be adapted into a TV series and figured, oh better get a definite leap on that one then, so I can read it before I watch it. Of course, I probably have upwards of fifty books or so still on my to-read list that I “definitely have to read, asap” because of a film or TV adaptation. It’s really not fair at this point. I’d say Hollywood needs to find some original material, but I’ve seen what happens when they try to do that and I’ll just say no thank you.

Anyway, I figured I would just wait to pick up the book if I heard the series was any good. I had plenty of other books to get on reading, and decided not to make Tale my top priority. Then, it turns out the series was very good. Great, now I had the pressure of reading something before tackling a series I also have to watch because it’s turning into it’s own critically acclaimed, award-winning entity.

Then, one day, I got access to a Hulu account, and it was right there, looking at me, judging me from the “Top Shows” queue. Elisabeth Moss’s stupid talented face stared at me from underneath that big white bonnet. Before I knew it, someone had clicked on the show and I accidentally watched the first two episodes. I meant to just check out the first one, honestly.

Then I proved I was willfully sinning by watching as many episodes as I could cram into an evening until I finished the series. I really enjoyed it, and was glad I did watch it by the end, but still. Watching movie/series before I read the book, what was I thinking? You know what’s worse? I still haven’t read the book! Gaaaaah! What am I doing to my bookworm reputation?!

Now, observant readers might remenber that I also only read Game of Thrones after I watched the series, or the seasons that were out by then anyhow. That is true, but even the show and series’s staunchest fans will admit the books are so thick that they shouldn’t necessarily be required reading for any fan.The Handmaid’s Tale is, by contrast, a single and relatively slender book that is ridiculously easy to get your hands on, what with the rise of popularity in dystopian classics. I guess I just have to call it guys, right now. I’m… I’m a bad person, an irredeemable moral reprobate.

Except hold on, that’s exactly what those big bad patriarchal Gilead dudes in Tale would want me to do, blame myself, feel terrible and seek penance. Look guys, the truth is there’s just a whole lot of content; books, shows, movies, you name it, that everyone is made to feel like they have to read. That definitely puts a lot of pressure on anyone trying to remain “in the know.” I was partially motivated to read and/or watch Handmaid’s Tale because I love me some quality sci-fi, but even more so I was pushed by the book’s sudden resurgence in popularity.

So what, am I just blaming everyone else for my Cardinal Book Sin? Well, as much as that technique usually works for me, no I am not, not completely. I think I also put too much pressure on myself sometimes, that bookworms in general do when it comes to this subject. We can’t always read everything first. I mean, should we even want to. We talk about movies ruining the book a lot, but what about when you haven’t read the book, so the movie can’t ruin it for you? If you’re brave enough to pick up a book that a movie you didn’t like was based off of, isn’t it likely that whatever you find will be better than that trainwreck of a film you watched? From my own experience, I gotta say the statistics point to yes. What’s more, with high quality adaptations like The Handmaid’s Tale or Game of Thrones, you’ll often end up getting even more of a great thing.

So maybe watching the movie or show first like some filthy plebeian isn’t the worst thing I could do as a bookworm. Thinking about and flipping the situation around, it could really provide a nice change of perspective.


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