Can a TV tie-in change your reading?

I’ve just finished reading South Riding by Winifred Holtby. I loved it and raced through all 525 pages at breakneck speed. It was a reading group choice and wasn’t in stock at Waterstone’s when I went to buy it. The girl behind the counter placed an order for me but when it arrived it was the TV tie in cover.

I hate TV tie ins. This is partly snobbery. I don’t want people to assume I’m reading the book because I watched it on TV first. In this case I didn’t watch it at all. Though obviously I’d like to see it now. But I’m also a fan of celebrating cover art and TV tie ins are pretty derivative.

But there’s a third reason. Reading South Riding it was screamingly obvious to me that the character of Robert Carne should be played by David Morrissey. For those of you who may not have read it, Carne is an isolated man, driven by duty, haunted by past passions and with a history of violence, but striving to be a decent man and to uphold standards. To me, that says David Morrissey. But would I have thought that had David Morrissey not been pictured on the front cover of my book? There is now no way for me to find out. That picture has coloured how I saw the character.

Discussing this on Twitter, I find this has happened for others too. Two friends mention their copies of War and Peace with Anthony Hopkins on the front as Pierre.

Now, understand me, I’m not talking about watching the TV series and then reading the book. That will definitely make a difference to your reading. I’ve not yet read Wolf Hall or Bringing Up the Bodies but there’s no way I will get through them now without thinking of Mark Rylance. I found having watched the recent film version of Tinker Tailor to be invaluable in remembering who everyone was when I read the book. No, what I’m talking about here is only the book cover. Your perception of a character altered by your perception of the person portraying them on screen.

I’m so keen to avoid TV tie ins that this isn’t usually an issue for me. The only time I’ve read a TV tie in version before watching the programme was when Our Mutual Friend was about to be screened and I was desperate to read it before the series started. (You try racing through 900 pages of Dickens – it’s not easy.) As a teen who’d not read a lot of Dickens before I was incredibly grateful to the pictures to help me through the book.

So I guess my questions are: have you ever been affected by the cover of a book? Are TV tie ins, providing faces, helping readers get through colossal classics? Answers below please!

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