Movie: Mary Queen of Scots When it comes out: December 7 What the book is about: She was crowned Queen of Scotland at nine months of age, and Queen of France at sixteen years; at eighteen she ascended the throne that was her birthright and began ruling one of the most fractious courts in Europe, riven by religious conflict and personal lust for power. She rode out at the head of an army in both victory and defeat; saw her second husband assassinated, and married his murderer. At twenty-five she entered captivity at the hands of her rival queen, from which only death would release her.
Movie: Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle When it comes out: December 7 What the book is about: The collected stories of Mowgli, the fabled wild boy who was raised by wolves, taught by a panther, befriended by a bear and had many great adventures in and around the jungles of India.
Movie: Schindler’s List: Remastered When it comes out: December 7 What the book is about: In the shadow of Auschwitz, a flamboyant German industrialist grew into a living legend to the Jews of Cracow. He was a womanizer, a heavy drinker, and a bon viveur, but to them he became a savior. This is the extraordinary story of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to protect Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland and who was transformed by the war into a man with a mission, a compassionate angel of mercy.
Movie: Dumplin’ When it comes out: December 7 What the book is about: Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back. Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
Movie: Mortal Engines
When it comes out: December 14
What the book is about: “It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”
Welcome to a post-apocalyptic world where communities exist only as crews of giant, predatory vehicle-cities, criss-crossing the decimated landscapes of Earth.
Movie: The Mule When it comes out: December 14 What the book is about: A 90-year-old horticulturist and WWII veteran is caught transporting $3 million worth of cocaine through Michigan for a Mexican drug cartel.
Movie: Mary Poppins Returns When it comes out: December 19 What the book is about: Pulled down from the clouds at the end of a kite string, Mary Poppins is back. In Mary’s care, the Banks children meet the King of the Castle and the Dirty Rascal, visit the upside-down world of Mr. Turvy and his bride, Miss Topsy, and spend a breathless afternoon above the park, dangling from a clutch of balloons.
Movie: Bird Box When it comes out: December 21 What the book is about: Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from. Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?
Movie: Holmes & Watson When it comes out: December 25 What the book is about: “It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Sherlock Holmes, scourge of criminals everywhere, whether they be lurking in London’s foggy backstreets or plotting behind the walls of an idyllic country mansion, and his faithful colleague Dr Watson solve twelve breathtaking and perplexing mysteries.
The 1980’s was a decade built, in many ways, on contradictions. It was a decade defined by excess, unrest, moral outrage, and the rising tide of a new brand of political conservatism. It was “morning in America,” but also the waning days of the Cold War. There was rising wealth right alongside skyrocketing poverty. The soaring rhetoric of the Reagan Administration was sometimes at a sharp contrast to the lives of everyday citizens. This all, of course, left its mark on the literary world. The best books of the 1980’s ranged from disturbingly prescient dystopian horrors to heartrending sagas, escapist yarns, and everything in between. Here are a few of our picks for the best books to take you back to the 1980’s.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Following the overwhelming success of Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s iconic piece of dystopian fiction has once again proved its timelessness and unfortunate relevance. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.
The late 70’s to the mid-80’s were the golden age of Stephen King novels and while I was tempted to put Different Seasons in this spot (I’ll settle for sneaking in a mention), for my money, It will always be Stephen King at his very best. The novel has it all – the epic scope, the nostalgia, the carefully drawn characters, and plenty of scares.
The Color Purple
This 1983 Pulitzer Prize winner is an American classic. It is also a heartrending tale of pain, loss, and redemption. It is a difficult and emotionally exhausting read, but this decades-spanning saga is well worth the experience.
A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole
A Confederacy of Dunces was published eleven years after the suicide of John Kennedy Toole and earned the author a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. The farcical adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly climbed from cult classic to American classic for a reason.
The Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan’s moving exploration of cultural divides and familial bonds is as powerful today as when it was published in 1989 – perhaps more so. The Joy Luck Club is not only a moving examination of the immigrant experience, but also the bond, and inescapable tensions, between mothers and daughters.
Picking any single novel to call Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece is a tall order, and Blood Meridian is most certainly in the conversation. It’s stunning not simply for its brutality, but also for McCarthy’s startlingly simplistic yet evocative prose. Blood Meridian is, in many ways, a pure synthesis of McCarthy’s inimitable style.
It’s hard to characterize Geek Love. It’s hard to even tell a reader what they’re in for when they crack it’s pages. Geek Love is, at base, a story of sideshow freaks – ones who have been bred by a married couple for their traveling carnival. But that is just the admittedly off-kilter framework for the story. Geek Love is really an audacious, imaginative, sometimes horrifying examination of the concepts of normalcy, beauty, and family. It’s also heartbreaking tour-de-force.
Rabbit Is Rich
The saga of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is arguably John Updike’s masterpiece – a sprawling, humorous, and tragic examination of life in the latter half of the 20th century told with Updike’s stunning prose precision and disarming, at times disturbing insight. Rabbit is Rich, the third in the series, is perhaps the best.
Lonesome Dove is arguably one of the finest western novels ever written. It is a brilliantly realized epic that became a cultural event following its miniseries adaptation in 1989. Set against the backdrop of the American Frontier giving way to progress, it is a fascinating examination of cultural shifts, friendship, and death.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved took home a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 and remains as startling, powerful, and haunting today as it was on its initial publication. The tale of a former slave unable to escape the ghosts of her past represents Toni Morrison at the height of her considerable skill, and is one of the finest novels in American literature.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
Douglas Adams is best known as the mind behind The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – in all its many, many forms – but there’s a lot to be said for the misadventures of Dirk Gently, he of the Holistic Detective Agency. It’s a subversive, silly, and deliriously witty read lifted by the crisp and absurd prose of Adams.
Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is not only one of the pre-eminent voices of Latin American literature, but one of the most important authors of the twentieth century. With Love in the Time of Cholera, the Nobel Laureate crafted a deeply nuanced portrait of love, death, aging, and the power of memory.
Movie: The Hate U Give When it comes out: October 5 What the book is about: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
The Old Man & the Gun (essay featured in The Devil and Sherlock Holmes) by David Grann
Movie: The Old Man & the Gun When it comes out: October 5 What the book is about: Each of the dozen stories in this collection reveals a hidden and often dangerous world and, like Into Thin Air and The Orchid Thief, pivots around the gravitational pull of obsession and the captivating personalities of those caught in its grip. There is the world’s foremost expert on Sherlock Holmes who is found dead in mysterious circumstances; an arson sleuth trying to prove that a man about to be executed is innocent, and sandhogs racing to complete the brutally dangerous job of building New York City’s water tunnels before the old system collapses. Throughout, Grann’s hypnotic accounts display the power-and often the willful perversity-of the human spirit.
Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar by Virginia Vallejo
Movie: Loving Pablo When it comes out: October 5 What the book is about: At 33, Virginia Vallejo was media elite. A renowned anchorwoman and socialite, and a model who appeared on magazine covers worldwide, Vallejo was the darling of Colombia’s most powerful politicians and billionaires. Meeting Pablo Escobar in 1983, and becoming his mistress for many years, she witnessed the rise of a drug empire that was characterized by Escobar’s far-reaching political corruption, his extraordinary wealth, and a network of violent crime that lasted until his death in 1993. In this highly personal and insightful story, Vallejo characterizes the duality of Escobar’s charm and charisma as a benefactor to the people of Colombia, and the repulsion of his criminal actions as a tyrannical terrorist and enemy of many world leaders.
First Man by James R. Hansen
Movie: First Man When it comes out: October 12 What the book is about: On July 20, 1969, the world stood still to watch thirty-eight-year-old American astronaut Neil A. Armstrong become the first person to step on the surface of another heavenly body. Perhaps no words in human history became better known than those few he uttered at that historic moment. In a penetrating exploration of American hero worship, Hansen addresses the complex legacy of the First Man, as an astronaut and an individual.
Break My Heart 1,000 Times by Daniel Waters
Movie: I Still See You
When it comes out: October 12
What the book is about: Living in the aftermath of the Event means that seeing the dead is now a part of life, but Veronica wishes that the ghosts would just move on. Instead, the ghosts aren’t disappearing-they’re gaining power. When Veronica and her friend, Kirk, decide to investigate why, they stumble upon a more sinister plot than they ever could have imagined.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Lee Israel
Movie: Can You Ever Forgive Me? When it comes out: October 19 What the book is about: Before turning to her life of crime—running a one-woman forgery business out of a phone booth in a Greenwich Village bar and even dodging the FBI—Lee Israel had a legitimate career as an author of biographies. Her first book on Tallulah Bankhead was a New York Times bestseller, and her second, on the late journalist and reporter Dorothy Kilgallen, made a splash in the headlines. But by 1990, almost broke and desperate to hang onto her Upper West Side studio, Lee made a bold and irreversible career change: inspired by a letter she’d received once from Katharine Hepburn, and armed with her considerable skills as a researcher and celebrity biographer, she began to forge letters in the voices of literary greats.
Firing Point by Don Keith & George Wallace
Movie: Hunter Killer When it comes out: October 26 What the book is about: Below the polar ice cap, an American nuclear submarine moves quietly in the freezing water, tailing a new Russian sub. But the usual, unspoken game of hide-and-seek between opposing captains is ended when the Americans hear sounds of disaster and flooding, and the Russian sub sinks in a thousand feet of water. The American sub rushes to help, only to join its former quarry in the deep. The situation ignites tensions around the world. As both Washington and Moscow prepare for what may be the beginnings of World War III, the USS Toledo—led by young, untested Captain Joe Glass—heads to the location to give aid. He soon discovers that the incident was no accident. And the men behind it have yet to make their final move.
Barn Burning (short story featured in The Elephant Vanishes) by Haruki Murakami
Movie: Burning When it comes out: October 26 What the book is about: With the same deadpan mania and genius for dislocation that he brought to his internationally acclaimed novels A Wild Sheep Chase and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami makes this collection of stories a determined assault on the normal. A man sees his favorite elephant vanish into thin air; a newlywed couple suffers attacks of hunger that drive them to hold up a McDonald’s in the middle of the night; and a young woman discovers that she has become irresistible to a little green monster who burrows up through her backyard.
Netflix and chill with these certified fresh (according to Rotten Tomatoes) book-to-film adaptations.
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (2018)
Five years after the end of World War II, a young London-based writer travels to the Island of Guernsey to interview residents for a book she plans to write about their experiences during the war. Once there, she learns about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and the harrowing trials its members went through during the war.
In 1958 Germany, a teenage boy named Michael Berg has an affair with an older woman named Hanna Schmitz, who then mysteriously disappears. Decades later, Michael, now a lawyer, encounters Hanna in court. She is on trial for war crimes committed when she was a guard at a Nazi concentration camp.
Based On:The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, translated by Carol Brown Janeway
Starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008)
April and Frank Wheeler’s troubled marriage crumbles under the social constraints of their mid-1950s suburban existence.
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Kristen Stewart, Vince Vaughn, Zach Galifianakis
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
Father, widower, and small-town lawyer Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in 1932 Alabama. Meanwhile, his two children, Jem and Scout, become intrigued by their mysterious shut-in neighbor, Boo Radley.
Starring: Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Riley, Margot Robbie, Ruth Wilson
THE IMITATION GAME (2014)
British mathematical genius Alan Turing and a team of gifted mathematicians try to crack the German Enigma code to turn the tide of World War II. But when Alan is outed as a gay man, he is faced with imprisonment or chemical castration.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Allen Leech, Rory Kinnear
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING (2016)
A retired writer named Ben takes a six-week course to become a caregiver, then takes a job caring for Trevor, an eighteen-year-old with muscular dystrophy. Ben takes Trevor on a road trip to see the world’s deepest pit. Along the way, Trevor meets Dot, a kind girl he develops a crush on.
Longtime neighbors Addie Moore and Louis Waters have hardly spoken to each other the whole time they’ve lived side-by-side. But that changes when Addie reaches out and tries to make a connection, sparking a beautiful late-life romance.
Starring: Marco Leonardi, Lumi Cavazos, Regina Torné, Mario Iván Martínez
COLD MOUNTAIN (2003)
During the final days of the Civil War, Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, embarks on a dangerous journey back to Cold Mountain, North Carolina to reunite with his love, Ada. Meanwhile, Ada struggles to survive after her father dies, leaving her destitute.
Starring: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Charlie Hunnam, Eileen Atkins, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Donald Sutherland
OUT OF SIGHT (1998)
Career bank robber Jack Foley and U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco share a steamy moment of mutual attraction while stowed away in a trunk during Foley’s escape from a Florida prison. After the getaway, Sisco chases Foley and his pals to Detroit where they plan to steal a cache of uncut diamonds.
Starring: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen
RED DRAGON (2002)
Will Graham, a retired FBI agent with a gift for understanding disturbed minds, tracks down a brutal serial killer known as “The Tooth Fairy” with the help of imprisoned forensic psychiatrist—and world’s greatest human flesh cook—Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Embeth Davidtz
JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Billionaire philanthropist John Hammond and a team of genetic scientists have created a wildlife park full of cloned dinosaurs. When a power failure knocks out the park’s security system, a small group of visitors there to preview the exhibits before opening day are faced with a hoard of toothy reptiles and one very pissed-off t-rex.
Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard S. Castellano, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001)
A hodgepodge fellowship comprised of four hobbits, two humans, a dwarf, an elf, and a wizard embark on an epic quest to destroy the Ring of Power in the fires of Mount Doom in order to stop the Dark Lord Sauron from taking over Middle-earth with his force of evil orcs.
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis, Sala Baker
THE LITTLE PRINCE (2015)
A little girl whose mother has a strict plan for her life that includes no time for leisure befriends her elderly retired aviator neighbor who tells her the story of a little prince he once met from a faraway planet.
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Paul Giamatti
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)
A shallow and self-centered prince is cursed by a witch to transform into a beast for the rest of his life unless he can make a woman love him before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose. Belle, a bookish girl ahead of her time, saves her father from the clutches of the beast by offering to remain a prisoner in his stead.
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Hattie Morahan
A young anthropomorphic bear with an unusual affinity for marmalade migrates from the wild Peruvian jungle to modern-day London. Lost and alone at Paddington Station, he meets the Brown family, who kindly offer to let him stay with them.
Based On:Paddington by Michael Bond, illustrated by R. W. Alley
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Peter Capaldi, Nicole Kidman
TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE (2018)
Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song Covey keeps love letters she’s written to all the boys she’s ever loved in a hatbox gifted to her by her late mother. One day, Lara finds her hatbox missing and it quickly becomes apparent that someone has mailed the letters to their not-so-intended recipients.
Starring: Mark Williams, Sorcha Cusack, Nancy Carroll, Alex Price
ALIAS GRACE (2017)
Grace Marks is a convicted murderess, having participated in the gruesome slaying of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. Fifteen years into serving a life sentence in Kingston Penitentiary, an alienist named Simon Jordan takes an interest in Grace’s case and begins a series of interviews intended to suss out the motivation behind her crime. But Dr. Jordan’s interest soon grows beyond the detached professional persona he tries so desperately to maintain and it becomes clear that the facts of the case may not align with what truly happened.
Starring: Sarah Gadon, Edward Holcroft, Kerr Logan, Anna Paquin, Paul Gross
ANNE WITH AN “E” (2017- )
Anne Shirley, an eleven-year-old orphan girl, is adopted by brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert and goes to live with them on picturesque Prince Edward Island. There she meets an eclectic cast of characters, including the rambunctious Gilbert Blythe, busybody neighbor Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and kindred spirit Diana Barry. Facing prejudice because of her parentless status, Anne struggles to be accepted and chases her dreams.
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith, K. Todd Freeman
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2013- )
Middle-class WASP Piper Kerman is sentenced to eighteen months in Litchfield Penitentiary after being convicted of smuggling drugs for her ex-girlfriend, Alex Vause. There she copes with the daily hardships and injustices of prison life and meets an eclectic cast of fellow inmates. Things take an interesting turn when Alex is also sent to Litchfield.
Starring: Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips, Cassidy Freeman, Adam Barley, Louanne Stephens, Bailey Chase, A Martinez, Zahn McClarnon
BATES MOTEL (2013-2017)
Norma Bates and her teenage son, Norman, buy a motel after Norman’s father dies. Shortly thereafter, the former owner of the motel breaks in and sexually assaults Norma. Norman knocks him unconscious and Norma stabs him to death. From this point, the series traces Norman’s complicated relationship with his mother and the unraveling of his fragile psyche.
Starring: Jenny Agutter, Laura Main, Venessa Redgrave, Stephen McGann, Judy Parfitt, Helen George, Cliff Parisi
NORTH & SOUTH (2004)
A young middle-class southerner named Margaret Hale comes face-to-face with the brutality of poverty and the industrial revolution when her family moves to the Northern cotton mill town of Milton in the mid-18th century. There she meets John Thornton, a brusque mill owner whose manners and seeming indifference to his worker’s suffering offends her finer sensibilities.
Movie: Sierra Burgess Is a Loser When it comes out: September 7 What the book is about: This is Edmond Rostand’s immortal play in which chivalry and wit, bravery and love are forever captured in the timeless spirit of romance. Set in Louis XIII’s reign, it is the moving and exciting drama of one of the finest swordsmen in France, gallant soldier, brilliant wit, tragic poet-lover with the face of a clown. Rostand’s extraordinary lyric powers gave birth to a universal hero–Cyrano de Bergerac–and ensured his own reputation as author of one of the best-loved plays in the literature of the stage.
Movie: A Simple Favor When it comes out: September 14 What the book is about: It starts with a simple favor—an ordinary kindness mothers do for one another. When her best friend, Emily, asks Stephanie to pick up her son Nicky after school, she happily says yes. Nicky and her son, Miles, are classmates and best friends, and the five-year-olds love being together—just like she and Emily. A widow and stay-at-home mommy blogger living in woodsy suburban Connecticut, Stephanie was lonely until she met Emily, a sophisticated PR executive whose job in Manhattan demands so much of her time. But then Emily doesn’t come back.
Movie: Unbroken: Path to Redemption When it comes out: September 14 What the book is about: On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
Movie: The Land of Steady Habits When it comes out: September 14 What the book is about: Anders Hill, entering his early sixties and seemingly ensconced in the “land of steady habits” — a nickname for the affluent, morally strict hamlets of Connecticut that dot his commuter rail line — abandons his career and family for a new condo and a new life. Stripped of the comforts of his previous identity, Anders turns up at a holiday party full of his ex-wife’s friends and is surprised to find that the very world he rejected may be the one he needs.
Movie: The Children Act
When it comes out: September 14
What the book is about: Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts. But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife. Throwing herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses, her attempts to resolve the issues of her personal and professional life may strain her to the breaking point.
Movie: Bel Canto When it comes out: September 14 What the book is about: In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. Alas, in the opening sequence, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.
Movie: The House with a Clock in the Walls When it comes out: September 21 What the book is about: Orphaned Lewis Barnavelt comes to live with his Uncle Jonathan and quickly learns that both his uncle and his next-door neighbor are witches on a quest to discover the terrifying clock ticking within the walls of Jonathan’s house. Can the three of them save the world from certain destruction?
Movie: The Sisters Brothers When it comes out: September 21 What the book is about: Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living – and whom he does it for.
Movie: Nappily Ever After When it comes out: September 21 What the book is about: Venus Johnston has a great job, a beautiful home, and a loving live-in boyfriend named Clint, who happens to be a drop-dead gorgeous doctor. She also has a weekly beauty-parlor date with Tina, who keeps Venus’s long, processed hair slick and straight. But when Clint–who’s been reluctant to commit over the past four years–brings home a puppy instead of an engagement ring, Venus decides to give it all up. She trades in her long hair for a dramatically short, natural cut and sends Clint packing.
Colette by … Okay, it’s not actually a book but a biographical drama about a French novelist
Movie: Colette When it comes out: September 21 What the book it is about: Colette was a French novelist whose writing career spanned from the end of WWI through the mid-1950s. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. Her best known work, the novella Gigi (1944), was the basis for the film and Lerner and Loewe stage production of the same name. She was also a mime, an actress, and a journalist.
Movie: Little Women When it comes out: September 28 What the book is about: Generations of readers young and old, male and female, have fallen in love with the March sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s most popular and enduring novel, Little Women. Here are talented tomboy and author-to-be Jo, tragically frail Beth, beautiful Meg, and romantic, spoiled Amy, united in their devotion to each other and their struggles to survive in New England during the Civil War.
Evoking one artistic discipline while using an entirely different one is no easy task. Yet for as long as moving pictures have captivated audiences, they’ve also captivated a certain group of writers, who’ve viewed the existence of cinema as an implicit challenge. Namely, how does one capture the essence of a film using only words on a page?
Some writers have opted to make the process of filmmaking their subject. Others have borrowed aspects of cinematic language and conveyed them onto the page, while others have incorporated the parallel structure of screenplays within their prose. When done well, this evocation creates a work that tells a compelling story and creates a kind of phantom film along the way. Here is a look at several books that blend fiction and film in unexpected ways.
A Short Film About Disappointment
Joshua Mattson’s novel A Short Film About Disappointment is absolutely saturated with the cinematic. It’s told through a series of movie reviews, but it also chronicles its narrator’s attempt to make a film himself. Throw in some glimpses of a harsh near-future society and a title that alludes to the works of Krzysztof Kieślowski, and the result is a singular blend of the literary and the filmic.
In Haruki Murakami’s fiction, nearly anything can happen: characters vanish, the borders between worlds dissolve, realism abruptly becomes anything but. In telling the surreal narrative in his short novel After Dark, Murakami utilizes an abundance of cinematic language, heightening the sense of voyeurism and mysterious presences that abounds in the book.
House of Leaves
Mark Z. Danielewski
Among the many things that Mark Z. Danielewski’s cult novel House of Leaves can be said to be about is the act of storytelling – and much of the book focuses on a nonexistent documentary about a house whose properties defy all known laws of physics. It’s from that contrast between the knowable and the deeply unknown that narrative tension arises – along with a growing sense of horror that’s sustained throughout the book.
Sergio de la Pava
Sergio de la Pava’s sprawling novel Lost Empress occasionally shifts into a format that echoes the style of a screenplay. It’s a knowing nod to another medium in a book whose plot combines two tried-and-true cinematic storylines – a heist narrative and an underdog sports story – en route to reaching deeper conclusions about the criminal justice system, incarceration, and class in America.
At the heart of Gemma Files’s novel Experimental Film is, well, an experimental film with roots in the early days of the medium. But for all that this novel abounds with lived-in details of the indie film world, that’s only one facet of its greater focus on storytelling – and the nightmarish effects that certain stories can have on those who hear them.
The Making of Zombie Wars
The way that a film can evolve from its inception to its final cut is frequently fascinating – and in his novel The Making of Zombie Wars, Aleksandar Hemon turns the creative process into a running theme. The frustrated screenwriter hero of the novel is constantly coming up with ideas and revising them; the way that this dovetails with his life in Chicago makes for a host of uneasy parallels throughout the book.
Madness Is Better Than Defeat
Ned Beauman’s Madness is Better Than Defeat is a novel about journeys into the mysterious, unlikely adventurers, and long-lost secrets coming to light. It’s the stuff of pulp adventure, which helps explain why part of the novel is centered around an ill-fated filmmaking expedition lost in the jungle for years. Structurally, Beauman uses film as a kind of meta-narrative device, leading towards a resonant conclusion.
Catherynne M. Valente
In telling the story of an alternate history wherein the solar system was colonized a century ago and the development of certain filmmaking techniques occured on a very different scale, Catherynne M. Valente evokes a golden age of cinema that never was. Valente also uses the presence of filmmaking to create numerous layers to her narrative, making for a boldly plotted work of fiction.
The Dead Fish Museum
The stories in Charles D’Ambrosio’s fantastic collection The Dead Fish Museum abound with allusions to the cinematic, from the frustrations of a screenwriter to the most mundane of tasks on an adult film set. In telling these stories, D’Ambrosio rarely goes to the places one would expect when blending film and prose; the results are often revelatory.
Movie: The Yellow Birds When it comes out: June 15 What the book is about: “The war tried to kill us in the spring,” begins this breathtaking account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger.
Movie: Eating Animals When it comes out: June 15 What the book is about: Faced with the prospect of being unable to explain why we eat some animals and not others, Foer set out to explore the origins of many eating traditions and the fictions involved with creating them. Traveling to the darkest corners of our dining habits, Foer raises the unspoken question behind every fish we eat, every chicken we fry, and every burger we grill.
Movie: The Catcher Was a Spy When it comes out: June 22 What the book is about: The only Major League ballplayer whose baseball card is on display at the headquarters of the CIA, Moe Berg has the singular distinction of having both a 15-year career as a catcher for such teams as the New York Robins and the Chicago White Sox and that of a spy for the OSS during World War II. Here, Dawidoff provides “a careful and sympathetic biography” (Chicago Sun-Times) of this enigmatic man.