Novel adaptations soothe trying times

T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock once famously stated that he had "measured out (his) life with coffee spoons." In these parlous times, however, I've found myself measuring out my life by limited streaming series.

Normally, all I do is read, but it's been difficult lately. At least, it's been difficult to concentrate on the type of fiction I normally read - that is, realistic fiction about everyday people in everyday settings having everyday problems. Honestly, that kind of writing feels rather quaint and outdated amid global pandemics and coup attempts. What can be considered "everyday" or realistic these days?

I know I can't be the only book nerd out here, rendered incapable of reading my usual fare due to stress. It's maddening. I've been feeling displaced from myself, completely out of sorts. So last summer, I wrote a novel about a woman who felt displaced from her life. It helped a bit. It's still far more fun to lose yourself reading a novel than writing one, but beggars can't be chosers, and these are strange days.

For those of us suffering from reading-withdrawal, streaming services offer a plethora of filmed adaptations of some favorite books. Now, in fairness, I am solidly in the camp of The Book Is Always Superior To The Movie - with the notable exception of "The Godfather," which really is a godawful novel transformed into a beautiful film. But even when movies don't live up to our expectations from the characters and situations we loved on the page, it's still a lot of fun to see how directors re-imagine and cast their adaptations.

The streaming mini-series format is perfect for interpretations of longer novels. Among the many brilliant books I watched were Hillary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" (PBS), Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Kitteridge" (HBO) and Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" (Hulu). Also, though not a miniseries, I recently watched On Demand an utterly delightful unconventional reimagining of "David Copperfield."

There are loads more; I'm just scratching the surface here. You can't swing a cat these days without hitting three or four novels transformed into a limited series. And not simply "the classics," either, but contemporary fiction as well. It's not nearly as fun as reading, but it's still a hoot.

Despite my handicapped attention span for conventional novels, I've found I actually can still read science fiction and fantasy novels. This came as manna from heaven in the weeks leading up to the election in November, when my stress levels were hitting a peak. I calmed myself with fantastical scenarios and monstrous creatures. It was a well-earned respite from the burden of the Everyday. I know I'll return soon to my once-normal mode of reading, but in the meantime, a new limited series of Stephen King's "The Stand" is currently streaming on CBS All-Access. Care to join me and watch a good book?

- Susan O'Byrne of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].