Should I Read Call Me by Your Name Before I See the Movie?

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Photo: Sony Picture Classics

We’re about a month out from the November 23 release of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name starring a dancing Armie Hammer and former rapper Timothée Chalamet falling in love in a small town in northern Italy, and already the hot takes have begun. So if you’re feeling left out, we want to redirect your attention instead to the book. Yes, the book! The original novel by André Aciman, from 2007, is a stirring tale of love, lust, and body fluids. It’s gay canon! And you now have plenty of time to go to a bookstore, purchase a copy (or download it on your Kindle or, better yet, listen to the audiobook), open a bottle of Montepulciano, curl up on the couch, and read it.

And we’ll be there with you at every page. We’re inaugurating a new regular book club, in which your Vulture writers E. Alex Jung and Hunter Harris plan to read, swoon, weep, and discuss the text each week until the movie’s release. Our reading schedule looks a little like this: Each Wednesday — November 8, November 15, and November 22 — we’ll have a conversation and discussion post about the book’s sections (there are four, but we’re combining the middle two sections), so you’ll be done with the book right before the premiere. Come be a part of our emotional journey, and we’ll do our best to respond in the comments and on Twitter. Your assignment, should you choose to accept: Read part one by November 8 so you can follow along with us.

But already, you may be asking: Should you even read the book before you see the movie? Now this, dear reader, really gets to the heart of the problem. We ourselves agonized over whether we should have revisited the source material before we saw the film at an early screening, but the damage was done and we couldn’t say no to Armie Hammer’s voice. But maybe we can help you decide for yourself, so in the spirit of our new book club, we’re going to talk about it (spoiler free!).

Alex: Hunter, I’m so glad that we’ve found a work-sanctioned outlet for our love of Call Me by Your Name, the book. I loved this book when I first read it. It was a couple of years after it first came out, and my then-boyfriend, my first Real Relationship, recommended it to me. I remember taking the book out of his stack at the Columbia dorms (he was a grad student), and the cover of the guy, presumably Oliver, with head bowed at the edge of a pool, obviously spoke to my gay self. We were stupid in love and he said that this was a stupid-in-love book. For me, it’s one of those books indelibly fixed in time and place, just like the narrative itself. When did you first read it?

Hunter: I think our colleague Kyle’s piece from Sundance first put the movie on my radar. I’ve always liked Armie, and I absolutely adored Luca Guadagnino’s last movie, A Bigger Splash. I wish I could unfurl some great story about an ex-lover passing it along to me, but I was just interested in the movie and I heard the book was great, too. I read it the last weekend in August, which I remember very specifically because it’s a distinctly summer book: Elio and Oliver fall in love in summer, and they’re kind of dreading its inevitable end.

Alex: I think once news of the film trickled out of Sundance, every gay book club in New York City put it on their lists (if they hadn’t read it already), and every party in Fire Island had some variation on peaches and cream. Once the trailer hit, it was like a bottle of poppers broke open on the floor at the Pavillion on a Saturday night. Were you happy with the casting?

Hunter: Absolutely. By the time I read it, the trailer had come out, and I’m not sure the casting could be better. They have such ferocious chemistry in the movie, of course, but as individuals Armie seems like a natural Oliver — insanely beautiful, aloof, clever — and Timothée seemed like the ideal Elio. He wears that obsessive adolescent longing and confusion so well. (If you haven’t watched Miss Stevens on Netflix, I recommend it.) Did Elio and Oliver look different in your mind?

Alex: No, I agree, the casting is excellent. Armie has the insouciance and thighs and hair that make him an object of obsession par excellence. But when I think about book characters I think of them less as physical beings and more as feelings. (Although this iconic photo of a shirtless Paul Newman is probably what my Oliver would look like.) Which brings us to the question at hand, which is whether you should read the book before you watch the movie. I was literally crying as I reread the book on the subway en route to the screening, so when I watched the movie, I think I was emotionally spent. There’s something so immediate about the text. I was transported into idyllic northern Italy, into the early ’80s, and into the lives of Elio and Oliver and their heady, desperate romance (and let’s face it, probably my own), and it’s hard for me to separate the book and the movie. I’m having a real Sliding Doors moment thinking about what my life would have been like if I had seen the movie without the book so freshly in my mind. I think, maybe, I wish I hadn’t.

Hunter: When I started the book, I had this great, idealistic plan to read it early enough so that it would kind of fade in my memory by the time I saw the movie at the NYFF screening. How wrong I was! I didn’t expect to be so totally taken with the book; by the time I saw the movie, I could only obsess over the little differences: the throwaway lines I was absolutely certain needed to remain intact, the minor plot changes, the absence of this or that character. I like the movie a lot, but I adore the book. I’m still trying to keep them separate in my mind as two distinct works. But if I had to choose, I’m happy I read the book first. Even if it robs me of fully enjoying the movie, it’s just so spectacular.

Alex: It really is, which is why I would still recommend reading the book first, too. I would just say to make sure you finish it before opening weekend so you can create enough distance between yourself and the text. Also, unlike me, you should try to remember that movies are not books.

Hunter: So, every week until Call Me by Your Name opens in theaters, we’ll take a break from our usual jobs — revealing interviews and blatant thirst — to meet here and talk about the novel. Expect much in-depth discussion about that infamous peach scene. By the time we get to part three, I can’t promise that my responses won’t just devolve into blubbering, tear-stained silences, but è la vita. Later!

Should I Read Call Me by Your Name Before I See the Movie?