My friend Gayle just presented our decades-old book group with a list of books we read that became movies. Our ability to choose movie-worthy books is uncanny. I will not be surprised if our most recent choice--Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen--appears on a movie screen. It has all the right elements--intrigue, romance, and a colorful setting.
People ask me "Which one was better, the book or the movie?" Sometimes the two can't be compared--the resemblance of the Wicked musical to the book was the difference between immersed entertainment and worrisome effort. The Harry Potter movies liven the books with great acting, scenery, and special effects, and although I'm surprised when the way I imagined scenes or characters differs from those of the director, I love the movies. The Other Boleyn Girl, The Horse Whisperer, and Under the Tuscan Sun were relatively dissembled when put into the film medium, and although the authors became richer by ticket sales, the transformation of their words onto the screen weakened their good work. The love stories told in The Notebook and The Bridges of Madison County became richer under the glow of photography and attractive actors; contrary to popular opinion, those books, as well as Tuesdays with Morrie, are marginally well-written.
Approximately thirty of the books we've read for book group have been made into movies. I haven't figured out if we pick good books or popular books or the books we choose just lend themselves well to film. Books like Snow Falling on Cedars and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil are chosen because someone read a positive review or it was highly recommended, or our group loved the way the writer put words together. I like to think we know good writing and good writing is rewarded by becoming mass produced, but that would be naive. I don't like to admit it, but it turns out that the books we read are those everyone else reads as well. Despite my classical literature education and the how intimately I'm affected by the words of Shakespeare and Wordsworth, I choose to be influenced by popular culture. It's pretty stimulating.