MELISSA BLOCK, host:
When writer Lizzie Skurnick missed seeing the movie "Jaws" as a girl, she was disappointed to miss out on all the gory action. But then she snagged a copy of the steamy paperback by Peter Benchley and found she was way more interested in cataloging the dirty words than whether they'd catch that killer shark. So she's here to talk about "Jaws" for our series "My Guilty Pleasure," in which writers tell us about the books they're embarrassed to love.
LIZZIE SKURNICK: You're supposed to feel guilty when you secretly like the movie of a book better than the book itself, but in the case of "Jaws," a book I read and re-read long before I was allowed to see the film, I'm far more embarrassed to admit I prefer the novel. Because while "Jaws" the movie is a bone-chilling update on "Moby Dick," "Jaws" the novel is more like "Peyton Place" by the sea. Everyone swears like a sailor, and the hunt for the shark comes a very distant second to a bunch of hot summer trysts.
Take Police Chief Martin Brody, the likable family man played by Roy Scheider in the movie. He's haunted by all the deaths he could have prevented. But in the book, he's also a frustrated cuckold whose unsatisfied wife is noodling around with a handsome ichthyologist.
In the film, a chattery Richard Dreyfuss gets to live. But in the book, suavely seductive Matt Hooper gets eaten alive. And since you've seen exactly what he did to Brody's wife in a hotel a few chapters earlier, you know he totally deserves it.
I'm also secretly addicted to Benchley's skill with the well-placed obscenity. Sure, now we're used to a few R-rated bombs dropped in prime time. But even 35 years ago, Benchley would have put your average episode of "The Sopranos" to shame. I've never seen profanity so exquisitely arranged or so frequently flung out, like ladlefuls of bloody chum.
The filthiest tongue of all belongs to salty sea dog Quint, who's not only an expert on the hunt but a true master of the filthy riposte. His frequent eruptions fill me with a naughty thrill, especially the line he lets loose with when he sees a full frontal of the shark. Hint: It's not, we're gonna need a bigger boat.
I finally saw the movie version of "Jaws," and I have to give it to Spielberg: It worked. I'm still scared to wade out past my knees. But I'm perfectly happy to sit on the shore and crack open the paperback. Unlike the scary scenes in the movie, when you get to the good parts of this book, you don't have to cover your eyes.
BLOCK: Lizzie Skurnick is the author of "Shelf Discovery: A Memoir of Teen Reading." You'll find more "My Guilty Pleasures" at the new npr.org.
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