books: Hardbound to Hollywood 

Before you hit the theaters or crack a book this summer, read this guide.

"About a Boy" by Nick Hornby (Riverhead Books, $12.95). The film version of Nick Hornby's follow-up novel to "High Fidelity" (also made into a film) stars Hugh Grant. Grant does a good job as Will, the novel's protagonist, who lives the irresponsible life of a playboy. While the film is as enjoyable as its predecessor, it's unable to capture the subtleties of Hornby's wit. What is wry and sardonic in the book comes across as slapstick in the movie. Recommendation: Read the Book

"The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" by Rebecca Wells (Harper Perennial, $14). The hardest thing to put up on the silver screen is sentiment. Hollywood loves to try to make films sentimental but is more successful in making them schmaltzy. Wells' touching novel has fallen into this category with the overacting yuk-yuks of Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd. What made the book good in the first place was the likeability of all the characters. What makes the movie so incredibly bad is that none of the characters in it are remotely endearing. Recommendation: Read the Book

"The Bourne Identity" by Robert Ludlum (Bantam Books, $7.99). The problem with spy novels is that they are all the same. The problem with Robert Ludlum's spy novels is that they are all the same and are very, very slow to develop. Matt Damon plays the amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne in the film version of the first of Ludlum's seemingly endless Bourne series. The film does what the novel never does: makes Ludlum's protagonist actually interesting. The movie is smart and fast-moving without reverting to your basic shoot 'em up mentality. Recommendation: Watch the Movie

"The Sum of All Fears" by Tom Clancy (Berkley Publishing Group, $7.99). Tom Clancy suffers from the same problem as Robert Ludlum: As far as his novels are concerned, they're all too similar. While Clancy is able to pull off a more suspenseful read than Ludlum, Clancy slows down all of his novels so they include the most painstaking minutiae of technology and political details. In the film, Ben Affleck plays Jack Ryan, the protagonist of more than five Clancy novels, as he tries to thwart a plot to explode a nuclear bomb at the Super Bowl. The movie, unlike the book, is able to move through its paces without meaningless technophile digressions, and like "The Bourne Identity," stays intelligent instead of reverting into a dumb action flick. Recommendation: Watch the Movie

"Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick (Pantheon Books, $12.95). Philip K. Dick was the master of the science fiction paranoia novel. Thus, it would be interesting to see his reaction to Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg using his short story as another vehicle to rake in millions of dollars. The movie does a good job of painting a portrait of a futuristic world but lacks the humanistic elements of Dick's story. Additionally, Spielberg's job seems to include a heavy-handed sense of morality in each of his films. Dick's fiction, however, seemed to use this immorality as a tool to engage the reader not to teach them an empty lesson.

Recommendation: Read the Book S


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