Reading Journal (July 15): Movies of Books

I have never been a huge movie person, especially movies of books that I loved. Lately, however, I’m learning to appreciate them.

A few weeks ago, I started the mini-series for The Forsyte Saga, which I read in May and June. It was completely inaccurate as compared to the book I read. Complete scenes were added that weren’t in the book; characters said things that seemed to me to be out of character to me. And yet, as I watched I realized that this was someone else interpretation of the book. By itself, it would be okay. (I stopped watching after a few hours. I couldn’t take the full 20 hours.) Of course, I do think that there are frustrating interpretations, like Possession, which just came across as shallow and ridiculous when squeezed into a two-hour frame (“Oh yes,” I kept telling my husband. “The book is so much better!!”) Some books are just not meant to be movies, I believe.

I likewise was frustrated when I started watching the Masterpiece Theater version of Jane Eyre. Now, in the end, I decided I liked it, but I was frustrated in the beginning, mainly because it took away the feel that I got from the book. There was no narrator leading us through Jane’s life and telling us “Reader, I married him.” There was no sense of the beautiful language, because it was told through moving pictures. A picture is not always a thousand words, because the feel of the words can’t be captured! And yet, it told the essence of the story. By the end, I was glad there was a movie representation of a story that I find romantic. Some movies capture the feel, and other movies capture the story. Both can be fun.

I guess I prefer the complete retellings of books: take the essence of the story and mix it up a bit in a new setting. I watched Clueless this week (which counts for the Everything Austen Challenge). Watching Clueless is fun because it’s a retelling of Emma. I’ve not read Emma yet, but I know the story from watching the movie (I know, cheating once again!).I don’t particularly love Clueless, but seeing how the classic story is retold is always fun. And The Matrix, which I also saw this week, is a (admittedly, very loose) “retelling” of Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave if you look at it closely. Now, that was a lot of fun!

I also went for some non-fiction documentaries in the past week. You may see a few “Chicago” books on my lists below; I’ve been on a Chicago kick, so I enjoyed watching a great documentary about Chicago history; it’s a lot easier to watch movies about history than read books, sometimes. I’d highly recommend it. It was called Chicago: City of the Century, was produced by PBS, and was three DVDs/six hours long; it was based on a 700-page book by Donald Miller.

What kinds of movies of books do you like to watch?

Finished Reading

You’ll note that I abandoned a few books lately. I also finally finished The Arabian Nights. The end seemed to peter out and it was rather disappointing; in fact, I want to read the Arabian Nights II just so I can read some of the familiar stories like Aladdin and Ali Baba.  I gave up on the companion; see notes below. I bolded the items I finished completely.

Finished or Abandoned Since Last Wednesday

  • Lost Chicago by David Lowe (250 pages; nonfiction/coffee table book). FINISHED! I read most of it and browsed through the pictures. I skimmed in places.
  • The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893: A Photographic Record by Stanley Appelbaum (108 pages; nonfiction) ABANDONED. I decided to watch a documentary about the issues instead of reading this in full. Even the documentary got boring.
  • Chicago’s Classical Architecture: The Legacy of the White City (Images of America series) by David Stone (128 pages; nonfiction) ABONDONED. I looked at the pictures but the text didn’t seem overly helpful. It showed pictures of random buildings of classical architecture, telling when each was built.
  • A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg (310 pages; nonfiction/memoir). FINISHED! Oh, this was so good. I can’t wait to share it with you.
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (audiobook, on 2 of 13 discs, about 16 ½ hours; nonfiction). ABANDONED. The narration of this audiobook was a bit too dry to keep my attention: I kept finding my mind wandering. I’ll try the physical book in a few weeks.
  • The Arabian Nights translated by Husain Haddawy (425 pages; fiction). FINISHED! Read in May, June, and July.
  • The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin (160 read of 292 pages; nonfiction). ABANDONED. I read a good portion of this, but it just kept getting more and more boring to me. I’m not sure why. I enjoy books that talk about books, but this one seemed to be talking a lot about other books that I’ve never heard of, and that just didn’t interest me. I skimmed the rest for interesting tidbits, but I didn’t really read past 160 or so.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (750 pages; children’s fiction) FINISHED! Began in June. Reread. It moved quickly after the first 300 pages, but the beginning seemed very slow.
  • Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman (150 pages; children’s nonfiction). FINISHED! Reread for my book club. Just as interesting the second time.

Currently Reading

I’m trying to get my reading down a reasonable number of “in progress” books, such as a book with my son, an audiobook, and a novel and/or nonfiction option. I’d like to finish a book within a reasonable time frame! The problem is I keep checking out so many good books from the library, I want to get to them all. Still, the list I have below feels more reasonable than past weeks, especially considering I’m going to chose among them and send some back unread.

My Books

  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (135 read of 160 pages; children’s fiction) I’m making steady progress with my son.

Old Library Loot

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

  • The John Cheever Audio Collection (audiobook, on 4 of 6 discs, about 6 ½ hours; fiction/short stories).  My current audiobook
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (5 pages read of 350 pages; fiction). My “mystery” selection for my library summer reading program. I read the author’s note and part of the introduction and I’m so excited to read more!
  • Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer (425 pages; fiction). One option for the “romance” selection for my library summer reading program. Not yet begun, and I’m not eager to read this book. I may read the YA selection (under New Library Loot) instead.

New Library Loot

  • The Doors by Margaret Atwood (120 pages, plus audio disc; poetry). For the Martel-Harper Challenge. Not yet begun.
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (345 pages; YA fiction). Another “romance” selection for my library summer reading program. I’ll choose between the two. Not yet begun.
  • Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams (290 pages; nonfiction). Checked out because I want to learn about Jane Addams (and turn-of-the-century Chicago). Not yet begun.
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (375 pages; fiction). One “fantasy” selection for my library summer reading program. I’ll choose between this one and Uglies, which is on hold for me and should come in today or tomorrow. Not yet begun.
  • The Complete English Poems of John Donne (510 pages; poetry). I’m already second-guessing this book; I probably won’t read much or any of this. I wanted to review Donne’s Holy Sonnets, but this volume is overwhelming and unappealing, so I may find a different volume for my study. Not yet begun.
  • TAGALOG: A Complete Course for Beginners by Living Language (15 lessons, audio and booklet; nonfiction/languages). Please don’t laugh at my ambition. My husband is fluent in Tagalog and my brother is marrying a woman from the Philippines next month. Wouldn’t it be nice to know some words? Not yet begun.

Fabulous Finds



  • The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad by Harrison Salisbury. After reading a fictional story dealing with the siege, I’m interested in the facts.


  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Fizzy Thoughts, along with about 100 other people.
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Matt reviewed this and that reminded me that I haven’t read it since high school. Add it to my Summer Lovin’ Challenge list?
  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. SmallWorld Reads like this one.
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Sophisticated Dorkiness loved this one, plus it’s a romance, so I might read it for my summer reading program. (see above)
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Reviewed by Jason at 5-Squared.
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Bibliofreak found this LOL hilarious.
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I loved reading this when I was in high school. Banquet of Books’ review reminded me of how memorable I found it. Time for a reread?
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Fifty Books Project’s Nihil says James Patterson could learn something about crafting complex, believable plots, and almost anyone could benefit from Collins’ tight, frequently witty prose.” I have wanted to read this all month and now I’m determined to get to it soon!
  • A Mercy by Toni Morrison. Sara at Fresh Ink Books’s review reminded me that while I was really excited to read this last year, I still never have!
  • Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe. Heather at Age 30+ liked this book a lot. I liked Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, so I’m looking forward to reading this one someday too.

I also added a number of Chicago books to my lists, fiction and nonfiction. I’ll discuss them in my Chicago post.

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. Ooh, a choice between The Eyre Affair and Uglies? Tough!

    I loved that particular movie version of Jane Eyre. Not the same as the book, of course, but I thought the actors did well. I would have really liked to see the gypsy-woman seen accurately depicted, though.

  2. I’ve never read any of Atwood’s poetry, I’ll look out for your review.

    The Eyre Affair is good but I was disappointed with the third book in the series (I didn’t read the second).

    I did one of my exams on John Donne’s The Holy Sonnets. This is a good anthology (not all John Donne though): The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse: 1509-1659

  3. I, personally, really like watching movies from books. Sometimes I watch the movie first, sometimes the book and vice-versa. Most movies disappoint because they lose the main theme of the book, but there are a couple that I like. For example, “Blade Runner” is based on Philip Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is really good. Also, “The Kite Runner’ was a good adaptation. My favorite is “Atonement”, I actually like the movie better than the book. Anyway, my two cents on books & movies.

    I have a book of John Donne’s poetry and my favorite is “For Whom the Bell Tolls” probably one of his more famous pieces…but not exactly “easy” reading.

  4. I would be picking The Eyre Affair, but that is because I am a total Jasper Fforde fan girl, and haven’t read any Scott Westerfield at all yet

  5. Thanks for the great blog. If you are interested in learning more about Jane Addams and the history of Chicago, you might also enjoy my biography of Addams (which covers the first half of her life — a traces how she became the person who wrote Twenty Years at Hull House:

    Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy.

  6. Amanda, I may end up reading both. We’ll see. As for the movie of Jane Eyre, like I said, I liked it better by the end. I too would have liked to see the Gypsy scene as it was in the book, though. Big disappointment.

    DamnedConjoror, I may have to go with a slimmer selection of Donne. This one is overwhelming! I’m looking forward to Atwood’s poetry too!

  7. Marg, I’m quite torn between the two. I think I”ll read the first twenty pages of each and see which keeps me going. But then again, maybe I”ll end up reading both!!

    Louise W. Knight, Thanks for the visit! I’ve just started and I’m intrigued, so I may need to check out your book. Thanks!

  8. This week, among books I am looking forward to read include The Eyre Affair which you also mentioned. I actually picked up the second and third of the series at a bookstore and am now waiting for the owners to pick up a cheaper copy of the original (I bought the second and third ones used).

    I always like your take on movies, even though I don’t always agree. 🙂 This time, though, I do agree with you on The Matrix, and I was interested in The Forsyte Saga as a miniseries, but now will avoid, thanks to your recommendation. I have too many other movies in my Netflix queue.

  9. I always felt that gypsy scene would be difficult to carry off in a film adaptation — so I can understand why they didn’t touch it! I love that version too, though.

  10. unfinishedperson, The Forsyte series is just nothing like the book. By itself it’s interesting. I just got tired of it since I had just spent two months reading the book. As for the movies, I guess my point was there are lots of ways to approach them!

    estelle, yeah, in retrospect I liked it more. I guess I figure if a book can’t be acted out (like the gypsy scene) it shouldn’t be a movie! But I guess I just need to remember that there are different ways to approach a movie, and sometimes it may just be completely different, someone else’s interpretation…

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