Every true book lover lives by a simple mantra: "the book is better than the movie." But what about the TV show? Now that we're firmly in the golden age of scripted television, we're actually seeing quite a few excellent TV adaptations of our favorite books. Shows like The Handmaid's Tale, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and American Gods have brought even the most "un-filmable" books to the small screen... and most book-lovers seem to actually be OK with it. It makes sense, too: television as a format leaves more time for world building and character development than with a feature film. But even the glossiest TV productions can still fall short of their literary namesakes. Here are a few books that are still much better than the TV show.
Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that all of these TV shows are bad, or that you're a bad book-lover for watching them. Some of these TV shows are great. They are just, in my objective and unimpeachable opinion, not quite as great as the books they're adapting. Or so entirely different from the books they're based on that they're hardly an adaptation anymore at all (and yeah, also some of them are pretty bad).
So here are a few books to check out, even if you don't love their TV counterpart:
1'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery
Look, if you're digging Netflix's Anne with an E, don't let me stop you. It's a beautifully shot, well acted, gritty take on a book that... maybe didn't need a gritty take? The original Anne of Green Gables is the delightful story of an orphan girl finding a new home for herself at Green Gables and getting into scrapes, like eating chocolate cordials or dying her hair green. Cute! The Netflix adaptation is the brutally real story of an orphan girl dealing with her past trauma and suffering verbal abuse, with a few moments of levity. Less cute.
2'A Wizard of Earthsea' by Ursula K. Le Guin
You know that something's gone terribly wrong when the author of the book series has to write an op-ed about how the TV show wrecked her books. The Earthsea Cycle is widely beloved as one of the few major fantasy series that isn't a vaguely Tolkien-esque version of medieval Europe. Not only was the TV plot altered into a "a generic McMagic movie," but Le Guin's diverse cast of characters was almost entirely whitewashed. I guess we can be grateful that this was just a mini-series, and ended before it could ruin Earthsea any further.
3'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' by Douglas Adams
Yes, there was a Hitchhiker's TV show in the '80s and no, it doesn't quite do justice to the hilariously brilliant books. You'd think that a TV series would have a lot of time to devote to all of the details of Adams' wacky, improbable universe. But actually watching the show, you start to realize that his books really do work best as books (or radio plays). The two-headed president of the galaxy looks a lot less fake in your own imagination.
4'The Witches of Eastwick' by John Updike
John Updike is not exactly famous for his nuanced portrayal of women — but his novel The Witches of Eastwick was still lightyears ahead of Eastwick, the glossy TV adaptation. The novel is biting, filthy, and somewhat upsetting. The TV show is trying its darndest to be Desperate Housewives with witches. Also, it's filmed on the Stars Hollow set from Gilmore Girls, which just reminds us how much we'd rather be watching Gilmore Girls.
5'Dracula' by Bram Stoker
Do you even remember the Dracula TV series? It's entirely possibly that NBC's Dracula just faded into the general background static of vampire TV shows in your brain. This show wasn't bad so much as... entirely unrelated to Bram Stoker's novel. In this version Dracula is not in Transylvania, he's pretending to be an American entrepreneur who's bringing wireless electricity to London. At least he's still a vampire, I guess?
6'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley
Speaking of Gothic novels, remember that part of Frankenstein where it was a police procedural? No? Well that's weird, because The Frankenstein Chronicles decided that Frankenstein should really be all about a police inspector trying to catch a serial killer (or rather, serial re-animator) who might be Dr. Frankenstein. Again, not necessarily a bad show just... a very specific angle to take on the source material.
7'A Series of Unfortunate Events' by Lemony Snicket
I actually loved the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events—but at the end of the day, I still have to stick up for the books. The show looks great, the actors do great work (that baby steals every scene), and I don't even hate the weird new extra spy thriller plot line. But... the books are just so excellent, and a lot of Snicket's meta jokes only work on the page. So, with all due respect to Netflix, I've got to demand that everyone read all thirteen books as soon as humanly possible.
8'A Dance with Dragons' by George R.R. Martin
OK, before you go flinging your laptop out the window in disgust, let me explain: I think the Game of Thrones series does a great job adapting the first few books. It's when we get to book five territory that things start to get a little hairy. There are still a lot of great things to say about the show (just look how pretty everyone is!), and I'm glad that they cut so many characters and plot lines, otherwise the show would be roughly ten thousand hours longs. But the show also managed to slash several major female characters, add a ton of extra violence towards women, and really downplay the whole plot arc where Dany's white savior complex ruins the global economy. Not cool, guys.