Are John Green’s Books Better Read than Watched?

(And by John I mean his books, obviously!)

Having just seen the first Paper Towns trailer – below – it’s an idea I can’t shake off. Now that the second adaptation is in the can, and the third – Looking for Alaska – ever likely, I can’t help but wondering if Green’s stories are better suited to writing, rather than visual storytelling.

Last year, The Fault in Our Stars came out to much acclaim – it pretty much stormed the box office, grossing over 25 times its budget at the box office, and it did pretty well with the critics, too. It’s a no-brainer that they’ll make more movies, but all I can remember is the slightly empty feeling I had watching two of my favourite (and flawed) characters on the screen.


I love John Green’s books because he has this super-awesome writing style which fuses first-person narratives with incredibly insightful themes and imagery. His prose is literally bursting at the reams with symbolism and metaphor (just think of Gus’ cigarette, which is one of the most explicit), which, most of the time, is beautiful and emotionally powerful.

The problem is, you just can’t replicate that on screen. You can reference it, but you can never truly replicate it. It’s one of the things I love about reading; the shades of symbolism, metaphor, themes; nuances of meaning that you can choose to ignore or to indulge in, references to poets and writers and quotations that reveal all the more about the characters in the novel.


When I watched The Fault in Our Stars I was moved; yes. But I wasn’t moved to the same extent as when I read the book (this is what happened: in the final few chapters I was weeping so much that my mother actually came in and asked what was wrong. I told her it was the book. She said “It’s only a book”. IT’S NEVER ONLY A BOOK). In my opinion, the best scene was the Anne Frank house scene – it was emotionally overpowering, brilliantly timed. Sadly that’s not the climax of the story, even if it felt like it in the film. I watched the remainder of the film slightly dazed, bored. Which isn’t great. I’m not saying the filmmakers did a bad job – they didn’t; it was technically accomplished. I just wonder if John Green’s books are almost doomed to fail on the screen – emotionally,  if nothing else. It’s his prose that make his stories what they are and sadly, that just isn’t translatable.

I guess we’ll have to wait until Paper Towns comes out to find out.

About Rhys

Rhys is a 19 year old with roots in the UK and Germany. Aside from reading and blogging, he also produces theatre, loves Kate Bush and hopes to pursue a career in publishing. His reviews have been widely quoted in books such as Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines Quartet, Catherine Bruton’s Pop!, James Treadwell’s Advent and Anarchy and he has presented at such events as Book Expo America.

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What did you think about Are John Green’s Books Better Read than Watched??

  1. Fionnuala March 20, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    I agree with your sentiment – it’s one of those instances where a book you desperately want to see on film, becomes a film, but it just doesn’t hold the same feeling that made the book work so well. The adaptation was very faithful to the book, and it’s not a bad movie at that, but to me it just felt as though people were playing at a lesser version if the book and it felt really strange watching it all on screen.

  2. Sydney March 28, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    I’m extremely torn about things like this, and John Green is a tad controversial for me. I read Looking For Alaska years ago and LOVED it. For a long time I claimed it was one of my favorite books. I remember loving The Fault In Our Stars, too, but neither of the books proved memorable later on.

    I cried buckets during the TFiOS movie. My mom had cancer, and I think watching Hazel and Gus both struggle with it on-screen hit home more than the book had, which I read before my mom was diagnosed. I’ve considered going back to read TFiOS since the movie to see if it impacts me more, but I just haven’t had the time.

    The Paper Towns trailer really didn’t impress me as much as I was hoping, and I’m not sure how I feel about the movie. I’ll definitely be picking up the book before its release because the trailer didn’t give me much to go on. I’m really excited for Looking For Alaska, though. That was a story I can’t wait to see on-screen.

    • Rhys March 28, 2015 at 7:36 pm

      I read Looking for Alaska first too and loved it, but I’m not sure I’d want to see it on screen.

      As for Paper Towns – you should definitely read it. It’s probably the best story fort he big screen from Green’s writing, because it’s roadtrippy and revenge-pranky so it’s got that going for it. But I dunno. The trailer makes it look so slick and IT SHOULDN’T LOOK SLICK!

  3. Sarah L September 14, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    I agree. I always find it so disappointing when the film just doesn’t live up to the book.

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