The use of backdrops (translights, actually) was an intentional choice in the first miniseries. Styalistically, they wanted it to look theatrical.
Which was in itself the biggest, most fundamental mistake they made. Fortunately they learned from that and didn't repeat it.
As for reading the books, I'd recommend just sticking to the order they were published. Though after you're done with Frank's work, be prepared for a drastic (and it appears, accumulative) drop in quality.
Not that Brian and Kevin are BAD exactly, just lacing in subtlety. They have a tendency to spell out every single plot point, spending whole chapters describing what Frank would only imply in a sentence or two and yet leave you far more intrigued, satisfied and much less bored and vaguely patronised.