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Some Books That Feel Like Films

Collage of some books that feel like films

“It was himself that he was attempting to define as he worked on his study. It was himself that he was slowing shaping, it was himself that he was putting into a kind of order, it was himself that he was making possible.”

― John Williams, Stoner

In this article, I’ll be talking about some books that feel like films. I think it’s such an interesting way of engaging with stories, of imagining them as films. And the visual world of all these books is so vividly descriptive.

And when you look all these stories, most of them are classics, from a cinematic perspective, align them with the way filmmakers portray characters and themes and life itself, you are able to construct such varied ways of reading.

So here’s my attempt to try to make sense of some of them... hoping that they make sense to you too.

Starting with… 

1. Stoner by John Williams

Stoner - John Williams book cover

William Stoner, the protagonist, is such a complex and introspective character. The quiet intensity of the narrative is so deeply character-driven.

And his solitude, his academic life, the university, and the atmosphere surrounding him, how the seasons change and affect the way the story unravels, feels very cinematic.

Also, this book has a literary perspective in the sense that it evokes that distinct feeling of belongingness that a reader feels when reading.

So capturing that alongside his seemingly ordinary life – I can think of films like Anomalisa,

The Tree of Life,

or even any one of Yasujiro Ozu’s (my 'Good Morning' film review) films.

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte book cover

I know there have been many adaptations of this book, but I had imagined Wuthering Heights completely differently, in my head, as I was reading it.

Just the eerie atmosphere of the story and the haunting and Gothic elements, the gloomy landscapes, and mysterious architecture, all so vividly described, made me think of films like Jane Campion’s The Piano

or even Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence.

Something tragic, psychological, and bleak would match the tone perfectly.

3. Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

The Hungry Tide book cover Amitav Ghosh

Hungry Tide feels is a very picturesque story. Because it’s set in the Sundarbans and emphasizes on the impact of climate change, it sort of blends a documentary-style narrative with fictional storytelling.

The story infuses magical realism, folklore, and myth with the characters’ experiences. So there’s something very cinematic about the story.

Even though I read this book years ago, I still remember feeling so comforted by his writing. It’s deeply intimate, even at times it reads like an adventure story, and it brings together portraits of a culture, its traditions, and ecology.

It’s difficult to imagine a film that has already been made that could replicate this story but, again, a film like Life of Pi,

Inarritu’s Babel – which takes place in a Moroccan desert would be a good visual match for the story.

4. The Sea The Sea by Iris Murdoch

Water and the Sea symbolize the emotional and psychological landscapes of the protagonist, Charles Arrowby. Again, deeply character-driven, the sea serves as a metaphor for the introspective and unpredictable journey of his life and relationships. 

And because Iris Murdoch uses the first-person narrative, it makes the story even more intense and intimate.

This kind of a relationship between nature and character is best portrayed in the film Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It’s isolated, the vastness of the coastal setting and the complex characters fit perfectly with the way that Iris Murdoch explores the complexities of human relationships against the ebb and flow of the sea.

As a character study, I could also imagine a film like Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite – with this one, I’m sure the story can feel a bit more bizarre than contemplative, but that’s always fun to watch.

Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse if you want the story to be more haunting and gritty.

Inarritu’s Birdman, Micheal Keaton as Charles Arrowby would be so entertaining to watch.

5. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco   

The Name of the Rose reads like a detective story that also very intricately blends in historical and philosophical elements.

There are plenty of symbols and events to unpack here. So the best way, I found, to even begin to make sense of the story is by imagining it, just like a film.

When I was reading the book, I had no idea that it had been adapted into a film. So, in my mind, I kept imagining the story from varying cinematic perspectives.

How would a director like David Lynch, for example, re-create this story?

Of course, David Lynch would infuse a very bizarre and graphic perspective into the historical setting, but wouldn’t that be a treat for the eyes and senses because David Lynch’s films are so powerful both visually and musically?

And solely from the perspective of being a thematically religious story, Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal comes to mind. This is a weird film, but also so memorable in a way that not a lot of films are.

The book focuses on themes of faith, religion, death, and the search for meaning. And the film mirrors a lot of that, while also challenging you, the viewer, to peel back the layers and sit with the film.


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