A Book Buyer Complains About Books-to-Movies

In which I lament the inability to buy movie books during movie season.

You know book-movies, don’t you? Yes, I’m sure you do. Most people don’t care much for them, and neither do I. But if there’s one thing I detest about book-to-movie conversions, it’s that every single time (and I kid you not about this) one such conversion is made, the cover of that particular book changes. And that happens like clockwork, doesn’t it? The publishers will decide – one month before the movie release date – that it would be best to switch the existing book cover into a bloody movie poster. Or a still from the movie. And then suddenly you see your favourite bookstore plastered over with these hideously moviedified books, all covered with a messy porridge of actors and faces and backdrops that can only come from a studio-sponsored photoshop, and it’s all crass and horrible and you wonder at the state of taste in the publishing industry.

What’s worse is that the original book covers are often works of art in their own right. Don’t believe me? Alright. Take Atonement then, by Ian McEwan.

Atonement after the movie

That first one was better, wasn’t it? And when the movie came out I hopped over to the nearest bookstore to find the book, but I came back empty handed. I did not want Keira Knightly’s face on my bookshelf, hot as she was; if I did, she would pop up in my head the instant I sat down to read … and the idea of having my reading experience shaped by a hot girl on the cover; no sir, not my cup of tea.

I have by now lost count of the number of times I have stopped myself from buying a book … because of a movie cover. I own a movie-cover version of The Kite Runner, and a movie-cover version of The Lord of the Flies (think: half naked boy holding spear looking at second half-naked boy on a leafy set that can double as the backdrop to Gilligan’s Island … hell, I should sell the thing as a novelty item on eBay) and they are by far the two most despised covers in my collection. They stick out like sore thumbs. I bought another copy of The Lord of the Flies, and I now keep the second one in a storage drawer, far from prying friends and curious relatives.

Oh and The Kite Runner? That one sits buried under the casing of my external hard disc drive. I think it makes a fine shock dampener.

This is a quirk, sure, just as even the best of us have quirks. But it is a quirk with a reason: I want my books to be as perfect as they can possibly be, and in this day and age where we consume most of our text on the Internet, the book is the last remaining proof that there still is care in this world, and good taste. It is the final bastion of loving typography, and new-paper-smell, and tight binding, and I want my books to be beautiful things I can own, and when I’m done I want to pass them on – to my kids, perhaps, or to friends and family (and yes, by gum – I WILL get them to read).

Just – imagine now, would you? You’re old, and the movie stars of today have passed on the way of Marilyn Monroe and James Mason, and one day you give your kid a movie-copy of Atonement along with all the other books in your collection. And your kid asks: “Who’s that?”

I fear for my book collection. I really do.

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  • http://clarekrmiller.digitalnovelists.com Clare K. R. Miller

    Ooh, I hate that too! I’ve definitely avoided buying books in the past because of the movie-version covers, though I can’t think of which off the top of my head. I’m glad I bought Atonement before it became a movie (though I feel compelled to point out that my cover isn’t the same as yours–similar feel, but a different image).

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Glad to hear that I’m not the only one with such a compulsion =) I must add, though: I particularly loathe ‘based on the blockbuster movie’ type novels (often that of superhero films) … they don’t turn out well.

  • lilimist

    Heh, having reluctantly purchased a copy of Criena Rohan’s lovely and impossibly hard to find The Delinquents with the film tie-in pic on the cover I can totally relate to what you’re saying here. Because, yes, when I think of a half-Malaysian girl, Kylie Minogue is totally the first chick who springs to mind *eyeroll* Beautiful book, horrendous film. Perhaps investing in some of that funky patterned/coloured contact wrapping or DIY cover art might be the answer? ;)

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    DIY cover art seems to be a rather good idea … if I were so gifted an artist. But then again, I suppose you can’t go wrong with white leather and some nice type =)

  • XMalice

    I despise this.

  • http://frohergeist.stumbleupon.com/ Frohergeist

    CLEARLY should have been titled “In Which Books Are Judged By Their Covers”. DROPPED THE BALL ON THIS ONE

  • Kris


    But do we not all judge our books by the cover to some degree? Each of my favorite books was once unknown; often the first copy was picked up because the cover art caught my attention. Not to say that I loved or loathed any given book for that reason…but an eye-catching cover is part of what will intrigue a new reader.

    Perhaps that is the point of putting famous faces on books that have been made into movies: the off chance that someone will pick it up, read, and fall in love.

    While I happen to agree that seeing a movie poster where my cover belongs is irritating, I also say that anything that gets a book picked up and read cannot be all bad.

  • http://www.blog.tylerbell.net Tyler

    my sentiments exactly… when I buy a book I refuse to buy the movie cover version. In fact, nowadays I’m prone to some searching to find older hardback versions; great cover art and usually very cheap.

  • http://dennisraines.com Dennis

    Hah- me too! I hate that… sometimes I’ll look for an older printing, so I won’t get that damn movie poster cover. The only thing more vile is a book based on a movie.

  • shawn walsh

    In the same vein, I hate it when publishers release a new edition of earlier books (especially in a series) with all new “flash” cover – this happens especially with Sci Fi and fantasy series, now that the genre is popular again, so here I have 5 out of 6 in a series all with the original pictorial covers and the last one is in a new “adult” cover.

  • http://www.castor-und-pollux.de Matthias

    Oh it’s the same mess over here in Germany. It doesn’t get me annoyed that often because I usually read classics but when it happens it hits even harder. You know “The Reader” by Bernhard Schlink? I wanted to buy it since it was on my list for a long time but then there was this huge sticker on the cover “Now in cinemas”. I got very angry.
    Since that day I boycott this kind of books.

  • Brett

    It took me absolutely forever to find a copy of I, Robot without Will Smith’s face on the cover. Hate it.

  • G.

    I strongly agree. Even if I liked the movie (rarely, it does happen), I like the book to be a separate entity. And to those who said that the post was about judging books by their covers, it seemed more to me to be about judging the covers of books.

  • Cindy

    I completely agree. I search forever to find the Lord of the Rings trilogy with no movie referenced covers. However I have yet to find a solution to buying books with the “Now a major television show!” label on them i.e. Dresden Files or Southern Vampire Chronicles….

  • Nc

    It’s especially annoying when you’re collecting a series of books, and then they change the covers, so that the new movie-books doesn’t fit with the old ones…

  • http://raeonix.blogspot.com/ Tiffany

    I have this same peeve! If I go to the bookstore and find that an original cover copy isn’t available, I would prefer to wait a few weeks, go home and order it online second-hand through AbeBooks.com. I also refuse to watch a movie before I’ve read the book so I’ve not seen a lot of movies these days.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Second-hand bookstores are a good idea I haven’t thought of. But I’ve just come up with another one: I borrow the book from a library, watch the movie, and if I really like it (the book, not the movie) I’ll wait for the movie fad to pass and buy a copy when the cover’s not all mangled-up anymore.

    How’s that, for starters? ;-)

  • Chubbles

    Finally! Someone who understands me! *huggles*

  • tom

    The only book I have with a movie cover is the Lord of the Rings boxset. I bought it without realising, I didn’t even know there was a movie coming out. I still think it looks nice though because it’s essentially just the title on a black background; they haven’t thrown too much of the movie on there.

  • Christopher T

    I couldn’t buy I Am Legend because it had Will Smith on it!! And I really wanted a copy!

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James


    Well, one option is to wait a bit for the movie hype to die down. Another option is to buy the book online.

  • AFish

    I concur wholeheartedly
    only so recently did I refuse to purchase a copy of Defiance because of the movie poster cover.
    Also, thank you for your marvelous appreciation of the book binding, smell, and type. Every time I go to a book store and see a kindle or the nook or whatever it is, I die a little on the inside.

  • http://www.walkingoncinders.com Ben Atkinson

    I particularly hated the Atonement film cover, as the original was so much more a piece of artwork which gives no intention of the characters. It’s as you said, I would prefer to discover a picture of the characters on my own. Thankfully I have stayed away from this when designing my own cover.

  • Igor

    Thank you for bringing it up. It has been on my mind since I bought McEwan’s Atonement and Enduring Love. It is extremely annoying.

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  • T.

    I was introduced to LOTR through a magazine article (anyone remember EXPLORE Magazine?). Saw ads for the movies, but read the books first. Love the books, still haven’t seen the movies. I own two sets of the trilogy, and on the one with the “movie-based cover,” I used black marker on the actor’s pictures.  :) Pretty? No. But at least Frodo still looks like Frodo in my mind, not like an actor.

    Kudos to Novelr; I’m writing a report on the E-reader industry, and this site was very helpful!

  • http://imlostinbooks.blogspot.com/ Becca

    So true. I have the movie tie-in edition of Atonement and it’s not as pretty. I try not to get the tie-in versions. Especially if the original cover is gorgeous.