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Some Books Should Never Be Made into Movies Part I

According to novelist Russell Banks, Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in 1968. Over the next four decades writers of all stripes, including Banks and Coppola himself, would attempt to make Kerouac’s beloved novel a screenplay. Now, finally, a film version of On the Road is on its way to a theatre near you in 2012 and fans of the books are, naturally, skeptical at best.

The simplest explanation for that skepticism – of all skepticism to any book “adapted” to the big screen – comes down to a problem of imagination. Film, as Banks explained when in Toronto for the International Festival of Authors, is not interactive like novel reading. Reading fiction requires us to actively conjure up the visuals that would otherwise remain flat on the page. When we are so lucky (or wise?) to get to the books before they become movies, we conjure up our very own pictures of Voldemort and Hermoine in our minds, see unique versions each and every one of us of what On the Road’s Sal Paradise and the legendary Dean Moriarity should look like. And even though these mental visuals are rarely as clear as actual photographs, even if these images are often, in fact, quite vague, we know it for definite that they don’t look like that specific actor Hollywood has cast to play the part.

On that argument alone, any novel will frustrate when made for screen. I’d argue, though, that some books, in particular, should never be (or in the unfortunate case of those novels already adapted, should never have been) made into movies.

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