Thursday, October 20, 2011

Turning Tradition on its Head: Nikki Heat and Read it 1st

Heat Rises by Richard Castle
Hyperion, 2011

Sometimes it scares me that Hollywood seems to be out of original ideas. I mean, how many TV shows and movies each year are based on books or short stories? It seems to me like that number is rapidly growing. As a librarian-in-training, someone who works in the education field, certified English teacher, and, in general, a person who just loves books, I am a staunch believer that whenever possible, you should read the book first. Time and again, we’ve seen that while some film adaptations can be extraordinary (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc.), they still often don’t quite measure up to everything that the book was able to be.

This is why I’m a huge fan of a relatively new website simply called Read it 1st. While it’s not by any means a new idea, this brain-child of Hank Green and Nerdfighteria is very straight forward – here people can make the pledge to read the book before they watch the movie and can sign up to get newsletters letting them know what stories coming soon to a theater near you may actually already be available at your local bookstore. The pledge, sign-up, and a copy of the first (and so far, only) newsletter are all that make up the website now, but I sincerely hope to see this grow in the future.

However, there are always exceptions to the rules. Anyone who has ever had to try to spell correctly in the English language knows this (oh, that pesky “I before e except after c!”). Nikki Heat can fall into this category, though it doesn’t necessarily have to. But first, some explanation is necessary.

Now in its fourth season, ABC’s hit show Castle follows mystery writer Richard Castle, a “consultant” with the NYPD who hangs around so he can follow the brilliant Detective Kate Beckett as research for his latest series of novels. And so Nikki Heat was born, a character who bares many similarities to her “real life” counterpart. In a completely brilliant marketing move, ABC decided to make the series a reality. So what we have is a real book series being written by a fictional author based on “real life” fictional people. It’s all very Meta, but trust me when I say that it works.

Here in lies the dilemma, however. The books often contain Easter eggs that relate back to the series. Non-viewers may miss out on some of the jokes or those “hey, the characters had that same conversation last season!” moments. Also, I find myself hearing and seeing the TV characters I’ve come to know and love in my head as I’m reading (it’s obvious who from the show is who in the books). So to read or to watch first? That is the question.

My answer? Either way works. I’m not usually one for mystery novels, but the show and these books have opened me up to a genre I probably would have continued to overlook. On their own, Heat Wave, Naked Heat, and Heat Rises (which came out just last month) are great mysteries. I love the style of the writer and there are plenty of plot twists to keep me interested without feeling blindsided. These books aren’t the hardboiled detective stories of old, and that’s why I like them. They’re contemporary, fresh, and like playful brain candy. And, since I watch the show (it did come first), I get those occasional Ah-Ha moments that people will get to have if they read first, then see the show.

The long and the short of it to me as that books and media don’t have to always be butting heads. So often they actually complement each other. Read it 1st shows us that books can inspire great film and that it can be thrilling to see some of our favorite characters brought to life. Likewise, Castle/Nikki Heat has been able to get huge numbers of TV viewers to turn off the tube and pick up a book or two or three. The moral is clear to me: Never underestimate the power of a good story.

Richard Castle's Website
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