In the midst of putting together my list of six books to read and review for this summer’s classic film reading challenge, lady luck smiled upon me when I won a giveaway on Twitter from the wonderful women behind the Ticklish Business podcast. One of the hosts Kristen Lopez wrote the book for TCMs Running Press. Naturally, a book about various cinematic adaptations of classic novels was the perfect addition to this year’s summer reading challenge.
The title tells you all you really need to know about the book. But Have You Read The Book?: 52 Literary Gems That Inspired Our Favorite Films takes us on a journey of films made from 1931 to 2021 and literary works ranging from Shakespeare plays to mid-20th century dime novels to recent best-sellers. (Visit my Letterboxd list to see a full list of the 52 films covered in the book.)
Although each chapter isn’t more than four pages, we get a bevy of behind-the-scenes information and comparisons between the screen and book versions. Lopez isn’t fixated on minute details but instead uses her reviews to compare and contrast the major themes covered in each film adaptation. Whether you’ve seen the film or read the book dozens of times or haven’t at all, there is great information in each section that’ll make you want to read and watch the stories again or discover them for yourself.
My favorite part of reading the book was catching up on a diverse group of films. Before reading, I had seen roughly a third of the films in the book with many of them for one reason or another lingering on my watchlist. I initially took my time working through the book to cram in several movies—like Kiss Me Deadly and A Clockwork Orange— before reading that film’s chapter.
I didn’t quite manage to watch all 52 films but watched a lot of films I might not have if not for the book. And take it from someone who has read a few of the chapters without watching the movie or reading the source material; while spoilers are discussed, it never feels like a movie is ruined knowing its conclusion. Of course, you should probably watch something iconic as Pyscho before reading about it but I found many chapters more concerned with the themes of each adaptation rather than just the plot.
Like any great novel, illustrations add a splash of personality to the book.
I also really enjoyed the presentation of the book. Illustrations by Jyotirmayee Patra add distinction and flare to most of the chapters, whether a picturesque, full-page drawing of the book’s romantic leads or a small sketch of a famous souvenir from the film. Pop-up boxes share fun facts about the film’s production or list out other adaptations of the same source material without ever interrupting the flow of text.
Those interested in the book should know that despite its TCM label on the side, a large portion of the films covered are from modern adaptations. Only the first ten films were made before 1960 and half of the films covered were made after 1975.
Initially, But Have You Read the Book?‘s slant toward more modern films gave me pause when I first picked up the book but I quickly found myself equally immersed in both the blurbs on classic and modern films. It even put more recent movies on my radar that I hadn’t heard of and pushed me out of my comfort zone a little too.
If you go in expecting a book centered solely on the classic era you’ll be a little disappointed. If you know that going in though, you’ll end up like me: immersed at the crossroads of literature and cinema with a boatload of books to read and movies to watch.
And since Kristen teased a sequel, I thought it’d be fun to suggest five film adaptations that would be great if to include in a potential Volume 2:
- Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1920)
- The Scarlet Letter (1926)
- Gone With the Wind (1939)
- Touch of Evil (1958)
- The Mosquito Coast (1986)
This is my fifth of six reviews for the 2023 Classic Film Reading Challenge sponsored by Raquel Stecher of Out of the Past. Make sure to subscribe to my email list to get my final summer reading challenge review of All Quiet on the Western Front straight to your inbox: