Book Better Than Movie

These are books that are better than the movies made from them.
It is a big challenge to take the complex, lengthy and often internal dialogue of a book and transform it into a short visual representation.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – It’s unfortunate that, having done a masterful job on The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson messed up The Hobbit (2012, 2013, 2014) by trying to turn this simple tale into an epic. Tolkien himself had revisited The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings but abandoned the rewrite, finding that trying to make Hobbit more like the Rings took away from the integrity of the story. I look forward to a remake that gets it right.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – This is great as an audiobook. It could have made a good movie, but instead The Golden Compass (2007) went very heavy into the church side of things, and basically didn’t do justice to the book.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – This is a good audiobook, read by the author. I don’t remember the 2007 movie that well, but it didn’t capture the book.

Ender’s War by Orson Scott Card – This is probably unfilmable as written, but nevertheless the core of the story is the practice battles that they fight, which the 2013 movie failed to capture.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – I don’t really remember much about the movie, but I recall the 2004 movie failed to capture the book.

Contact by Carl Sagan – Turned into a very USA religion versus science 1997 movie, which is not at all the nature of the book.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – I find the book better than both the original radio drama and the movie, because of Adams’ gift with written language. The humour of a line like “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” is hard to replicate in audio or film.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – I had a lot to say about the many ways in which the Ready Player One (2018) movie totally failed as an adaptation of the book.

Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – I like this as the Stephen Fry audiobook. The first two movies directed by Chris Columbus had a good visual sense of Hogwarts and the students, in particular the importance of the house colours and a special school with a uniform. The third movie by Alfonso Cuarón in 2004 tried to do some grand theme about time and lost all of the visual sense and the understanding of being away at a special school, trying to make it just ordinary kids.

But Still a Good Movie

The Princess Bride by William Goldman – This is an example of a book that takes full advantage of literary techniques, including a lot of author asides. It is a very funny book. It made a good movie, but the movie couldn’t capture all the complexity and technique of the book.

The Martian by Andy Weir – The book is funnier than the movie, and the book has the luxury of being very highly technical, which wouldn’t have been feasible in the movie. Still a good movie though.

Also see next post: Movie Better Than Book.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Plain Kate is a well-constructed, harrowing journey by American-Canadian Erin Bow, “author of young adult novels that will make you cry on the bus”.

I gave it 5/5 on LibraryThing.

To some extent the determination of the character and the difficulty of her journey reminded me vaguely of Lyra in The Golden Compass, although they are very different books.

Timeless by Armand Baltazar

I really like Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar. It is a kind of hybrid book: mostly text, but with some beautiful images. Unusually, the images are integral to the story – they advance the story, rather than just illustrating something in the text.

Here’s what I said in my review on LibraryThing:

In a story of a shattered world, beautiful art and wonderful ideas are seamlessly melded together.

An unusual book design in that the images themselves are narrative – they don’t illustrate events in the text, they tell new parts of the story.

I rated it 5/5.

four urbanist books

Jan Gehl spoke in Ottawa in 2010.

His book Cities for People is an excellent guide to understanding how humans experience the city and how to make good environments for people.

You can also watch Jan Gehl’s ideas in the documentary film The Human Scale.

Jeff Tumlin spoke in Ottawa in 2012, at the Planning Summit (which is now gone from the city’s website).

His book Sustainable Transportation Planning provides the context for understanding the current built environment and how to change it (it’s not just a planning manual, it’s a set of tools to help people work better with planners).

IMG_0640 - Version 2

Ken Greenberg spoke in Ottawa in 2011 as part of the Downtown Moves Public Lecture Program (which is now gone from the city’s website, but is available in the Internet Archive).

His book Walking Home frames the discussion as a journey from the suburbs we built back to the dense urban environments people are rediscovering, and that are best for humans.

W.H. Whyte has never spoken in Ottawa, because, well, he’s dead.

His book City, from 1988, is a fantastic exploration of how public space is actually used, and of how people actually experience the urban landscape.


W.H. Whyte, Jane Jacobs and Jan Gehl are all intensely scientific in their approach to the city: they observe, they measure.  This is quite different from the modernist and brutalist approach, which asserted and imposed.

Note: Rescued this blog post from 2013, seemed about time to post it.

bandes dessinées and graphic novels

While Japanese manga and anime are known in North America, it seems to me that French bandes dessinées are not. Which is unfortunate, because these large-format graphic novels are often extraordinarily beautiful, in addition to having interesting stories. That being said, this is not some ideal literature – it often suffers from problems of racism and sexism.

As starting points, I recommend:

Ninn par Jean-Michel DARLOT et Johan PILET – 1. La Ligne Noire, 2. Les Grands Lointains

Le voyage Extraordinaire par Denis-Pierre FILIPPI et Silvio CAMBONI – Tome 1, 2, 4, 5. Tome 6 à paraître le 13 juin 2018.
sauf Tome 3

Unfortunately, Tome 3 has some remarkably sexist scenes and I can’t recommend it.

Les mondes cachés par Denis-Pierre FILIPPI et Silvio CAMBONI – 1. L’Arbre-Forêt, 2. La Confrérie secrète

You can find out more about bandes dessinées at

In Canada, if you can’t find them from your regular retailer, you can often find them from Quebec retailers, e.g.:

Note that in France bandes dessinées are not just one particular genre or for one particular age group, so make sure you check the book before you give it to someone to read. For example Les aigles de Rome par Enrico MARINI is a very visceral story set in ancient Rome, and includes shall we say graphic intimacy.

There is a Canadian graphic novel series that I like a lot:

Three Thieves by Scott Chantler – 1. Tower of Treasure, 2. The Sign of the Black Rock, 3. The Captive Prince, 4. The King’s Dragon, 5. Pirates of the Silver Coast, 6. The Dark Island, 7. The Iron Hand (series is complete)

And from the rest of the world, there are a few others:

Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi – books 1 through 7 – book 8 is scheduled to be released September 25, 2018
It’s a wild mix of genres, and quite a complicated story. It is very popular. The closest equivalent I can think of in text is Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian series, although those are for an older audience and much darker with elements of horror mixed in with the rest of the jumble of genres.

Mighty Jack & Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke are good.

Dream Jumper by Greg Grunberg and Lucas Turnbloom – 1. Nightmare Escape is good, unfortunately 2. Curse of the Harvester is not.

5 Worlds by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller and Boya Sun – Book 1 The Sand Warrior is good. Book 2 The Cobalt Prince is scheduled to be released May 8, 2018.

I quite like Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, it’s funny and sad.

Critiques of Ready Player One

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
– John Adams

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.
– Daniel Patrick Moynihan (attributed)

And at last our rules have reached stability, and we regard them now with the virtuous pride of men who have persisted in a great undertaking and arrived at precision after much tribulation.
– H.G. Wells, Little Wars

Singing the strong light works of engineers,

The earth to be spann’d, connected by net-work,
The people to become brothers and sisters,
The races, neighbors, to marry and be given in marriage,
The oceans to be cross’d, the distant brought near,
The lands to be welded together.
– Walt Whitman, Passage to India

I had thought we were past the distinctions between high culture and low culture, that we were past exclusionary fandom, that we were able to celebrate a diversity of cultural experiences. But then I read the reviews of Ready Player One and it was clear that we are still back in 1980s high school.

I have never read a review of a Western where the critic first needed to declare, in no uncertain terms, that he was not a cowboy, nor have I read a review of The French Connection that felt it necessary to critique car culture before mentioning the car chase. But somehow critics seem to feel the need to state that they are definitely not geeks or fans of video games when reviewing Ready Player One. It’s as if they’re all I-r0k, loudly proclaiming “If I didn’t spend so much time offline, getting laid…” Is this some high school clique thing all over again? The theatre club in one corner of the cafeteria looking down on the D&D club? Because you know, pretending to be someone else on a stage is totally different than pretending to be someone else in a game.

Or the reviews are full of praise about how Spielberg removed all the yucky geekiness from the book. Yeah, I know, I like Midsummer Night’s Dream, but only if the director takes out all that weird magic stuff.

If you think I’m exaggerating:

  • The Outline – ‘Ready Player One’ is a terrible book and it will be a terrible movie
  • Vox – Ready Player One is a truly awful book. I’m really looking forward to the movie.
  • (I could go on for many lines, but you get the idea.)

The New York Times tries to do a balanced review, but then has a line like this:

I, for one, didn’t quite understand why, given the global reach of the Oasis, all the relevant players were so conveniently clustered in Ohio. (If anyone wants to explain, please find me on Twitter so I can mute you.)

Can you imagine this is some other context? In a review of Jerry Maguire? “I for one, don’t quite understand what a touchdown is. (If anyone wants to explain, please find me on Twitter so I can mute you.)”

Because that’s where we still are apparently. We’re still in a world where the New York Times can have entire sections about games with invented rules, called Sports and Finance, but no section about video games, even though video games are a $36 billion industry.

“Get a life!” said William Shatner infamously in his 1986 Saturday Night Live skit. Over 30 years later, we get the spectacle of critics bringing all their insightful expertise and analysis together to say… Get a life. Quite the progress we’ve made.

Oh but it’s ok, if you’re dismissing those people, the ones with the weird obsessions.

Can you imagine the New York Times reviewing a performance of Das Rheingold and talking about the magic silver bracelet? Repeatedly? Can you imagine the outraged erudite letters?

But the New York Times has no problem reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy and talking about “the blue rock”. Um, it’s not blue, it’s purple. I know that doesn’t matter to you, New York Times, but it matters in the context of the movie. There are six infinity stones, they have different colours with different powers, Marvel just spent literally a decade and well over a billion dollars building up to a movie about them. But hey, who cares about rules and facts.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that the invented rules and resulting facts of sports and your other favoured cultures are important, and the invented rules and facts of video games and comic book movies aren’t.

But we all know how this goes, The Onion explained it long ago: Walking Sports Database Scorns Walking Sci-Fi Database.

Put on a Star Trek uniform and go to an event where you pretend to understand people up on a stage talking in Klingon? Weird.
Put on a tuxedo and go to an event where you pretend to understand people up on a stage singing in Italian? Totally normal. Opera! High culture!

Opera which is all about ridiculous and often magical turns of events. Which uses absurd spectacle to take you to the highs and lows of human emotion. Which is totally different from a comic book movie, which uses absurd spectacle to… well you get the idea.

SCENA I                               SCENE I
Figaro con una misura in mano e       Figaro has a measuring-stick in hand 
Susanna allo specchio che si sta      and Susanna stands in front of the mirror, 
mettendo un capellino ornato di       trying on a hat decorated with 
fiori                                 flowers.
N. 1 Duettino                         No. 1 Duet
FIGARO:                               FIGARO:
[misurando]                           [measuring] 
Cinque ... dieci ... venti ...        Five ...  ten ...  twenty ...  
trenta ... trentasei ... quarantatre. thirty ...  thirty-six ...  forty-three.

Yes, opera, featuring… counting. In Italian!

Anyway, Anna Russell can do a much better job of the absurdities of opera than I can.

Is Ready Player One an amazing book? No. I will readily admit it is a book about horrible people. But lots of books (and movies, and opera, and theatre) are about horrible people, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist, or that they aren’t entertaining.

Please don’t dismiss entire genres. There are people who like those genres. You’re dismissing actual people, or worse saying they shouldn’t even exist. And don’t try to take some lonely kid sitting in front of a computer in 1986 and try to paint him as some symbol of 2018’s online trolls or misogynists or whatever current cultural problems you want to critique.

I’m not going to write sports reviews or opera reviews; I don’t know anything about sports and opera. But if you like them, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong. Who am I to tell you how to experience culture?

Brandon (Justin Long) and his friends in Galaxy Quest? They’re just having fun. Just because it’s not your idea of fun, doesn’t mean that you should just dismiss them.

I did find some reviews that I could identify with:

It’s fair to be critical of something within its own context. That can be useful. Does it follow its own rules? Does it fit in its own genre? io9 did a critical review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen that is a kind of masterpiece. There is lots to critique out there, there are lots of terrible movies. But just because a movie or a book is in a genre doesn’t mean you get to automatically dismiss it. Terminator 2 is a powerful movie about nuclear war. Wall-E is a powerful movie about loneliness. Science fiction, fantasy, gaming… they can all bring real insights. And they can also just be fun.

The point being, this is all just invented rules for our entertainment. Enjoy what you enjoy.  Bridge the arts and technology, connect genres. Have empathy. Be inclusive.

xkcd 1480: Super Bowl