Writer, Editor

Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader

I read the book after I watched the film. It has never happened before. Not because I think films are equivalent to books—they mostly aren’t—but because I haven’t always had the pleasure of sampling a work on both page and screen. When I read books, it is because I want to read them. When I watch films, it is because I want to watch them. Never because I want a dual media consumption. I watched and enjoyed the three Lord of the Rings films and the eight Harry Potter films, and both book series aren’t yet on my reading list. And while I have watched and admired Sam Mendes’ 2008 film Revolutionary Road, the 1961 novel it is based on, by Richard Yates and of the same name, isn’t yet on my list. On the other hand, most of the fiction I’ve read, a good number of them by Africans, have no film adaptations yet. But one case where I read the book and watched the film was Half of a Yellow Sun. I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2006 novel before watching Biyi Bandele’s 2013 adaptation.

Until this year, Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader sat where Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt sat: books I owned and hadn’t read but whose films I have watched. Todd Haynes’ 2015 film Carol, based on Highsmith’s 1952 novel, is my most beloved film. Stephen Dawdry’s 2008 film The Reader is one of the most emotionally exhausting I have loved, and it was during it, while pegged by Kate Winslet’s arresting performance, that I searched for Schlink’s 1995 novel. I read its synopsis and reviews. It interested me. But crucially, I loved its title: The Reader. Simple. Intriguing. Not what a writer drawn to the profound would predictably admire.

I finished Schlink’s The Reader almost three weeks ago, and feel this soothing balm on my chest. I had read an e-copy, I who am bored easily by books not in print, but unlike the many e-copies of books I’d begun, I did finish it. The sentences carry both history and conscience, a recourse to morality that often seemed nitpicky in its efforts to exhaust.


Image from Bookslovereviews.

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