Recs 8/8/2021: Top (and Bottom) Book-to-TV Adaptations

What are the best and worst book to TV shows?

This week’s column is a consideration of television adaptations of books. While I express admiration for many book-to-TV efforts, I also float a theory that the very very best TV shows will always by originally conceived efforts.

Essentially, my belief is that always being at least a little beholden to a work originally conceived for a different medium is a hindrance to achieving the ne plus ultra of the second medium. A book adaptation for TV may help create a higher floor for quality, but it also installs a ceiling that’s at least somewhat below the absolute peak possiblity.

Here’s where I give a behind the scenes look to newsletter subscribers and admit that my own taste violates my thesis about the broader world. In the article, I use the broad consensus of so-called “best” shows (The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Seinfeld, The Wire, to try to demonstrate that adaptations rank somewhat down the list, but two of my personal Mount Rushmore of television shows selection are actually adapted from books.

My Personal (emphasis on the personal) TV Mount Rushmore:

Breaking Bad
The Wire
Friday Night Lights

Deadwood is adapted from a historical novel by Pete Dexter, though the HBO series created by David Milch uses only the characters, background and some incidents as fodder for the show. The novel is recognizable as dealing with the same material as the show, but by and large they are separate entities.

Friday Night Lights is adapted from a Buzz Bissinger book, which was also made into a movie, and essentially only makes use of only the milieu of the book, high school football in Texas, as a jumping off point. In a way, even though these are both adaptations, they reinforce my main thesis, that the best and most interesting work results when the creators have maximum freedom to realize their visions. Neither of these shows appears to be bound at all by the original books.

So what say you? What are your favorite book-to-TV adaptations? What ones were great disappointments?

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Reading Companion of the Week

Fiona recently passed on to the ethereal plane, but she was always waiting on the couch for a good session of reading and cuddling.

Send a picture of your favorite reading companion to, and I’ll share it in this space.


All links to books on these posts go to The Biblioracle Recommends bookshop at Affiliate income for purchases through the bookshop goes to Open Books in Chicago. Up to $122.65 for the year that will be going to Open Books.

If you’d like to see every book I’ve recommended in this space this year, check out my list of 2021 Recommendations at the bookshop.

As always, recommendations are open for business

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1. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
2. When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
3. Dopesick by Beth Macy
4. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson 
5. The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone

Marcy T. - Naperville, IL

I think Marcy will enjoy a good, old-fashioned saga, These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881- 1901.

1.  Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi 
2. Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee
3. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
4. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
5. In Arcadia by Ben Okri

Marina S. - Wooster, OH

For Marina, since she wasn’t shy about grabbing E. M. Forster, I’m going to dip into the classics bin myself for Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie.

1. Confessions on the 7:45 by Lisa Unger
2. Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi
3. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila
4. Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen
5. Pretty Things by Janelle Brown

Deb A. - Libertyville, IL

This book made a huge splash when it was published a decade or so ago, but I don’t hear it mentioned much anymore. Just the kind of title I like to keep circulating, so it’s The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker for Deb.

Have a good week,

(The Biblioracle)