Am I wasting my time reading the Game of Thrones Books?
April 20, 2014 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Usually if a movie is based on a book I like to read the book first if it sounds interesting. But, I've watched every single episode of Game of Thrones to date twice. Now I just started reading the first book and while it does go into more detail I'm not sure if I'm wasting my time by reading the books. I could for example be experiencing something completely new to me. Reading the Hunger Games books only took a weekend but the GOT books are a way bigger time investment. Then again I can take huge breaks from the book and still have an idea what's going on because I watched the show. What do you guys think? Should I continue to read the books? Or should I just stick with the show?

I have no intention of reading ahead of the show I love it that much to not spoil it for myself
posted by mamamia88 to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Now I just started reading the first book and while it does go into more detail I'm not sure if I'm wasting my time by reading the books. I could for example be experiencing something completely new to me.

"I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different."
-Kurt Vonnegut
posted by Benjy at 12:22 PM on April 20, 2014 [48 favorites]

Definitely read the books. It's not just the additional scenes, it's the background and clues to the endgame. Like, by the end of the first book you should be able to put together a pretty solid theory as to Jon Snow's parentage (the clues are in the show, too, but Ned's internal thoughts add so much more) and thus start to get excited about what his eventual role might be.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:23 PM on April 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

In general, the books do have a lot more detail and depth of background than the show has time to go into; for example, the books have led to a ton of fan theorizing about exactly who Jon Snow's mother is, which just hasn't been as big an issue in the show.

But, as you note, they're a huge time investment and, well, valar morghullis - if you'd rather spend your limited reading-time on something totally new to you, go right ahead. I'm a big fan of both book and show, and while I love the extra history and detail in the books, I won't pretend for a minute that they're masterpieces of tightly-written wordsmithing. I will note that the divergence between book events and show events increases dramatically after the first season/book, which may increase the books' usefulness to you if you like that, or make them less relevant if you don't.

Short version: If you're enjoying the books a whole lot, keep reading.

If you're not... no need to bother. There are a lot of fantastic books in the world that nobody has time to read - don't feel bad about trying to experience more of them.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:24 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I read the first book, but I love the show so much and found them so duplicative that I decided GoT would be the rare situation where I prefer the screen version over the paper version. I haven't read any further than the first book but am current on the show.

Rules are meant to be broken!
posted by samthemander at 12:27 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

You should read them if you enjoy them, imo. If you do not enjoy reading them: stop.

From memory their main value is as a counterblast to mid 90s extruded fantasy product, they're competent but not fantastic books in their own right. Plus: no ending.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:29 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could also try listening to the audiobooks during your commute, exercise sessions, while cleaning house, etc. That way you can enjoy the books without investing much extra time beyond your current day-to-day activities.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:34 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you enjoy the books? Would you read them if the show didn't exist? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, keep going. But I think the show stands well enough on its own that the books aren't necessary. (And this is probably kind of cheating, but when I need more detail I just look at the wiki.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:55 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The show is inevitably going to fall far short of the books. I haven't read them, but my friends who have are at once amazed at the show's mostly successful rendition of the books's core and frustrated by the show because it has cut so very much out.

GRRM is apparently the sort that likes to nuke a scene with detail, and that does turn off some readers. You have to judge the books on their own merits.

If you're worried about reading behind, well, everyone is-- the show's pace is in some danger of surpassing the book releases. Hopefully they will conclude together, as book 6 is apparently in the offing. But as to whether you're wasting your time, well, don't read the books for the sake of enjoying the show-- you already know that's possible without the books. Read them for the sake of enjoying books.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:15 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nobody can tell you how much you like reading the books, or if you would like something else better. You have to bear that burden on your own.

You're kind of setting yourself up for a tough time restraining yourself from reading ahead. I don't follow the show, but I am not sure if they will closely adhere to the geographic splits and story-ordering in the latter (and not yet finished) books, which would make it tough to do in parallel avoiding spoilers.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:16 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe not exactly what you're asking, but in my opinion, there are some downsides to the books that are mitigated somewhat in the show. I personally felt that the books had more misogyny and pedophilia that felt somewhat gratuitous and were hard for me to deal with. The show cuts out or alters quite a bit of that. An improvement, to me anyway.
posted by quincunx at 1:26 PM on April 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's pretty straightforward. If you are enjoying the books keep reading them. If you are not enjoying the books stop reading them.
posted by Justinian at 1:27 PM on April 20, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm one of those (apparently rare) people who likes to watch the movie first because I love how the book inevitably gives you such a richer understanding and appreciation for the setting, backstory, and characters. So I say, sure, why not, as long as you find it enjoyable.

I love the show, but find reading the books a richer and more rewarding experience. The characters have a depth that can only be alluded to in the show, and many of the plot elements are so much more satisfying when you have all of the backstory.

I actually kind of wish I hadn't read all the books first because having done so can make watching the show a frustrating experience, even though the show is excellent on its own merits.

On the other hand, I know some people who found the books a slog and prefer to just watch the show. So I say, read the books for as long as they are enjoyable, and no longer.
posted by lunasol at 2:01 PM on April 20, 2014

I love the first three books. I don't know that they are the Greatest!Fantasy!EVER! but the first three books are definitely good reading.

JMO and YMMV, but I think the quality starts going downhill with Feast for Crows (though I enjoy the Jaime and Sansa chapters). A Dance with Dragons is a hot mess. It's about 80% filler. And the best of the character arcs is so chock-full of torture porn that it is painful to read. Again, JMO and YMMV, but I hated Dance. (Now I just read fanfic, and I don't have my heart set on the next books being published any time soon.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:03 PM on April 20, 2014 [10 favorites]

P.S.: I keep wishing that GRRM had aged the kids up to at least the ages they are on the show. I love Dany and Sansa, but some of their chapters made me squirm because of the sexual situations these GIRL CHILDREN were put into. (Dany starts out the books at 13 and Sansa at 11.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:06 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you like the books, you should read them. Books are always more in-depth and often different from the movies and television shows made from them.

But I will say I quit those books halfway into the second one and read all the Wikipedia summaries instead and never looked back.
posted by something something at 2:14 PM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

For my money, unless you really enjoy reading about a whole lot of people roaming the woods endlessly and almost, but not quite, managing to run into the people they most need to meet, while randomly getting raped and/or killed or having bits hacked off of them... you can give the first several books a miss.

Plus, the "is anyone going to do something about the ICE ZOMBIES!?" sense of WTF is much stronger in the books than in the show. I found the books so frustrating I stopped reading long before the show began, and I still think of the time I spent on them as hours of my life I'll never get back.

The advantage of the TV show is that it edits GRRM masterfully. It gives you everything you need in order to understand the story. Unless you're just a diehard purist and will hate yourself for not knowing every tiny detail that didn't make it into the show, you don't need to read the books.

(I say this as a person who values great writing and who always, always reads the books first.)
posted by kythuen at 2:23 PM on April 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

I vote to read them!

I watched all the episodes (Seasons 1 - 3) before I started reading the books. The books have so much more subtlety and context. I think you'll pick up more on some of their motivations and yearnings, even having watched the episodes twice.
posted by mibo at 3:08 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would read them. Book One is very similar to the show version, but after that there's some divergence. You'll definitely find things in the books that aren't in the shows, and vice versa. The books give much more background, as mibo says. If you're interested in puzzling out what's going to happen next, the books are great - so much prophecy, symbolism, unreliable narration and fake-outs.

You can always stop reading if you don't enjoy them (though, a warning: the show isn't tracking the books exactly - some characters are ahead of where they are in the books; others have much less screen time in the shows than in the books at this point, a few have more. And some characters have been written out, changed significantly, or combined).

I love Dany and Sansa, but some of their chapters made me squirm because of the sexual situations these GIRL CHILDREN were put into. (Dany starts out the books at 13 and Sansa at 11.)

As an aside, I mentally cope with this by pretending that years on Westeros are longer than on Earth, and mentally aging everyone (it applies also to Rickon and Bran, who are insanely mature for small children in the books).
posted by Pink Frost at 3:21 PM on April 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

People who really like the books think they're great, some of the best stuff ever written. Other people think they're enjoyable but not especially remarkable. I have read them all and don't regret doing so. I think the show will be better remembered than the books in the end, but who knows. There is better stuff to do with your time if you don't really love the books.
posted by skewed at 3:24 PM on April 20, 2014

I'm rereading all the books now. The show has given me some great visuals, although they do change the way some people look. I had a hard time imagining the size of the wall until the show.

I actually find that Sansa's snottiness is a lot to easier to understand when you realize she is the age in the book, not on the show. There's a reason she comes across as such a petulant little girl...she is one, she's barely a teenager.

It's not like these kids were going on to college or something and they're being promised in marriage at young age is preventing that. The boys were being trained to manage their father's lands and bannermen, as well as how to fight battles. The girls were trained to grow up and marry highborn men - which they would do when they were like 14, which is what girls did in the times he is generally referencing historically.

I like Arya a lot in the books. And the whole Jamie and Brienne thing is one of the better story arcs and character development I've read in a while. It was incredibly well written, IMHO.

And as someone upthread said, the whole whitewalkers thing is a MUCH bigger deal in the books. I kinda like that. I don't think the show really gives it enough time.

The show does start pulling from books out of order after the first season, so you're going to read ahead some parts anyways. It really makes absolutely no difference, at least to me.
posted by McSockerson The Great at 3:39 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's reasonably easy to pick a few characters / plot lines that you like, and skim over (large) parts of the book that ... get tiresome. And you can always go back and re-read those if you find that you need to.

In one of the middle books, GRRM spends a couple hundred pages filling in the backstory of the Martells, and I've never felt compelled to read that in detail.
posted by Dashy at 3:52 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read the first book before watching the first season.

I liked the book. But I loved the first season of the show.

So, I've decided to skip the books and let the show tell me the story -- if anything my enjoyment of Seasons 2 and 3 was elevated a little by not having had "spoiled" myself for the major events that happened.

I'm usually a "the books are always better" snob, but this seems to be the exception.

If you're enjoying reading the books, then go ahead and do so, but if you find "something completely new" to you that you enjoy more, I wouldn't feel bad about leaving ASOIAF on the shelf.
posted by sparklemotion at 4:42 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my experience of reading the first three books, there is not a ton in there that isn't handled competently -- if not better than the books -- in the series. I think we get a longer and more comprehensive view in the books, by virtue of them being total doorstops, but I think that only affects readers vs nonreaders in superficial ways. For instance Robert Baratheon comes off as more of a drunken buffoon in the series, in my opinion.

I personally think the series does a better job of telling Martin's story than the books do.
posted by Sara C. at 5:34 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't give any clues about how widely read you are and what genres you are into. I'll just assume here, for the sake of argument, that you are into SciFi and Fantasy. There are lots of curated lists out there of the best sci-fi and fantasy. Many of the books on these lists are placeholders for entire series, or a prolific author, so looking at a "top 100" list might represent more like 300-500 pretty great books. If you are looking through one of these lists and not seeing very many familiar authors or titles, then my advice would be to move on and experience new things. GRRM will still be there for you when you come back, and (if we are all very lucky) will have produced one more volume in the series by then. If you have read a bunch of these already, then I would tell you that you could do much, much worse than slogging through the series. Me, I like the GoT books quite a bit and have read all of them at least twice.
posted by BlueTongueLizard at 5:48 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I loved the books, the first time through. I still liked them a lot on the re-read for book 5.

I like the show a whole much.

That said,

Read Joe Abercrombie's "First Law" trilogy. They're a lot shorter, and you haven't already watched the show.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:13 PM on April 20, 2014

I started with the books after having watched the first season, and I suspect I will not finish the first book, let alone the series. You'll be in good company if that happens to you.

On the plus side, the books are so hefty I could probably hollow out Game of Thrones and hide a good sized bottle of gin in it, so there's that. Nothing's a waste in the end, really.
posted by Jilder at 5:17 AM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you enjoy the characters and the setting and the stories, I say read them. I binge-read all five in about three weeks after getting hooked on the show, and now I'm re-reading them more carefully.

I have found that there is a nice alchemy between the show and the books where each enhances the enjoyment of the other in different ways.

If you're actually enjoying the books, then that is reward enough.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:56 AM on April 21, 2014

I gave up on the books. So much ladies and lords and families, etc. etc.... So little action.

For me, at least.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:52 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I guess I'm alone in enjoying the books and not really getting on with the show? [ducks]

I didn't realise that the series wasn't finished until I got to the end of the last book though and I was DISTRAUGHT. Haven't felt so cheated in a long time....
posted by Mr Ed at 10:03 AM on April 22, 2014

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