Reel Good Reads: From Print to Film

Sylvia Nasar

A dramatic and moving biography of a mathematical genius whose brilliant career was cut short by schizophrenia, and who, after three decades of devastating mental illness, miraculously recovered and was honored with a Nobel Prize.

The 2001 film, directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, and Jennifer Connelly was a huge success, receiving four Academy Awards in 2002 including Best Picture.

Warner Home Video

The true story of how Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered the White House involvement in the Watergate break in. Based on their Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting which was later set down as a book.

Rumer Godden

"In this 1939 psychological drama, English and Irish nuns work to establish a convent in a unused palace, high in the Himalayas. The nuns are to doomed to failure because their own repressed memories and desires make them unable to connect with the Indian people and their culture. They seem to be overwhelmed by the sensuality of their surroundings. The novel was made into an excellent film in 1947 starring Deborah Kerr as the Mother Superior. The nuns leaving the mountaintop palace seemed to many film-goers of the time to be an allegory for the failure of the British Raj."

Helen Fielding

Hilarious chronicle of the life of a 30-something woman who wants to lose weight, stop smoking, develop inner poise, and form a functional relationship with a responsible adult.

Renee Zellweger shines in the 2001 film adaptation, also starring Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.

Frank W. Abagnale, Jr.

Frank Abagnale pretended to be an airline pilot, an attorney, a professor, and a physician, among others, and conned a lot of people out of a lot of money. Hard to believe one person could get away with so much for so long in real life! His story is so compelling that it became a major feature film.
Also available in large print.

Joanne Harris

In a tiny French town where little has changed in the past century, newcomer Vianne Rocher arrives with her exquisite chocolate shop which immediately begins to play havoc with the villagers' Lenten vows. Each box of the bonbons comes with a free gift - Vianne's uncanny perceptions of its buyer's discontents and a clever cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parishioners no longer care as they abandon themselves to temptation with unforeseen results.

Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, and Johnny Depp star in this box office hit, released in 2000.

Maeve Binchy

Set in Ireland, this is the story of three girls who were friends when growing up and are reunited in college. The central figure is Benny, a big girl with big dreams, who sets her cap for the brightest and handsomest boy on campus.

The 1995 film adaptation stars Chris O'Donnell, Colin Firth, Minnie Driver.

Rebecca Wells

When Siddalee Walker, oldest daughter of Vivi Abbott Walker, Ya-Ya extraordinaire, is interviewed in the New York Times about a hit play she's directed, her mother gets described as a "tap-dancing child abuser." Enraged, Vivi disowns Sidda. Devastated, Sidda begs forgiveness, and postpones her upcoming wedding. All looks bleak until the Ya-Yas step in and convince Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of their girlhood mementos, called "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood."

Check out the film starring Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, and Ashley Judd.

Philip K. Dick
Rick Deckard prowls the steel-and-microchip jungle of 21st-century Los Angeles. He's a 'blade runner' stalking genetically made criminal replicants. His assignment: kill them. Their crime: wanting to be human. Basis of the film Blade Runner.

Frank Herbert

Follows the adventures of Paul Atreides, the son of a betrayed duke given up for dead on a treacherous desert planet and adopted by its fierce, nomadic people, who help him unravel his most unexpected destiny.

On Film: people either love or hate David's Lynch's film version of Dune. But one thing you shouldn't miss is Kyle MacLachlan's performance as Paul Atreides. Having read the book first makes enjoying the movie easier.

John Bayley

Iris Murdoch's husband guides us through the contemporary writer's early life, her brilliant career, and her battle with Alzheimer's disease. This is truly a poignant love story as well as a biography of a remarkable woman. This book was also made into a film starring Judi Dench and Kate Winslet.

William Lishman

"... this heartwarming story tells of William Lishman, a reclusive sculptor, who adopted a gaggle of geese, flew with them in an ultralight glider, and actually taught them to migrate--earning himself the nickname 'Father Goose.'"

Later, his book was made into the movie Fly Away Home, starring Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin.

Hayden Herrera

This engrossing biography of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo reveals a woman of extreme magnetism and originality, an artist whose sensual vibrancy came straight from her own experiences: her childhood near Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution; a devastating accident at age eighteen that left her crippled and unable to bear children; her tempestuous marriage to muralist Diego Rivera and intermittent love affairs with men as diverse as Isamu Noguchi and Leon Trotsky; her association with the Communist Party; her absorption in Mexican folklore and culture; and her dramatic love of spectacle.

On Film:
Salma Hayek delivers one of the best performances of her career in Frida, a vividly imaginative film based on Herrera's biography of the fascinating Frida Kahlo.

Jeff Shaara

"...Jeff Shaara traces the lives, passions, and careers of the great military leaders from the first gathering clouds of the Civil War. Here is Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, a hopelessly by-the-book military instructor and devout Christian who becomes the greatest commander of the Civil War; Winfield Scott Hancock, a captain of quartermasters who quickly establishes himself as one of the finest leaders of the Union army; Joshua Chamberlain, who gives up his promising academic career and goes on to become one of the most heroic soldiers in American history; and Robert E. Lee, never believing until too late that a civil war would ever truly come to pass."

 

On Film:
Historical fiction doesn't get any closer to home than this! The Gods and Generals movie is a must see for locals.

Andre Dubus III

An émigré Iranian colonel has spent most of his savings trying to enhance his daughter's chances of a good marriage. Once she is married, he spends the remaining funds on a house at an auction, unwittingly putting himself and his family in the middle of a legal tussle with the house's former owner. What begins as a legal struggle turns into a personal confrontation, with tragic results. 

Terry McMillan

Stella Payne, a 42-year-old divorced investment analyst, takes a vacation in Jamaica where she meets a Jamaican man half her age. Through this relationship, she soon realizes that she must confront her hopes and fears about love and about life and the way she lives it.

On Film:
Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs, and Whoopi Goldberg star in this 1998 film adaptation. If you can't make it to the islands yourself, check out this movie for breathtaking Jamaican scenery with some self-discovery on the side.

Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

Take an in-depth look at the life of Jackson Pollock, one of the most influential and controversial artists of the twentieth century.

On Film:
Pollock, the 2000 film based on Naifeh and Smith's biography, stars Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden. Ed Harris delivers one of the best performances of his life and Harden's portrayal of Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner, earned her the 2001 Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. For more on Jackson Pollock, be sure to watch the documentary Jackson Pollock: Love and Death on Long Island.

John Berendt

Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty, early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares.
Available on audio as well as in a movie version starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack.

John Berendt

Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty, early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares.

On Film:
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a must see. Against the back drop of this charming southern city, great performances by Kevin Spacey and John Cusack bring Berendt's fascinating story to life.

Paul Theroux

Rebelling against the horrors of modern American existence, a father moves his family to the remote jungle of Honduras to make a better life. Things start to go wrong, and the father, unable to admit he is wrong or that he might need help, brings tragedy upon his family.
Also available as a downloadable audio book and as a film, starring Harrison Ford.

Virginia Woolf

"Mrs. Dalloway chronicles a June day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway–-a day that is taken up with running minor errands in preparation for a party and that is punctuated, toward the end, by the suicide of a young man she has never met. In giving an apparently ordinary day such immense resonance and significance–-infusing it with the elemental conflict between death and life–-Virginia Woolf triumphantly discovers her distinctive style as a novelist. Originally published in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway is Woolf’s first complete rendering of what she described as the 'luminous envelope' of consciousness: a dazzling display of the mind’s inside as it plays over the brilliant surface and darker depths of reality."

Henri Charriere

This is the true story of Henri Charriere (better known as "Papillon" or "the butterfly"), a prisoner so determined to escape the notorious Devil's Island, he attempted it multiple times until he reached old age.

 

On Film:
Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Jory, Don Gordon and Anthony Zerbe star in the 1973 film.

Jane Austen

In early nineteenth-century England, a spirited young woman copes with the suit of a snobbish gentleman as well as the romantic entanglements of her four sisters.

On Film:
The 1995 BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth, is a must see for Austen fans and hopeless romantics. This adaptation is five hours long, but every minute is great. (Also available on VHS.) For black & white film buffs, check out the 1940 film version with Laurence Olivier and Maureen O'Sullivan. The screenplay for this film was written by Brave New World author Aldous Huxley. Finally, Bridget Jones's Diary puts a modern spin on Austen's classic.

Daphne du Maurier

A young woman weds a wealthy widower and goes to live in his palatial Cornish estate. Her good fortune turns nightmarish, however, when she finds herself haunted by the spector of Rebecca, her husband's first wife.

On Film:
Rebecca is a true classic, as is Alfred Hitchcock's spine-tingling 1940 movie adaptation, featuring a darkly handsome Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter and a fresh-faced Joan Fontaine as the young Mrs. de Winter. This classic movie is a must see! For an updated look at Rebecca check out this 1997 release starring Charles Dance, Emilia Fox, Diana Rigg, Faye Dunaway, Geraldine James. This movie adaptation is recommended for true Rebecca fanatics only-- it's almost three hours long!

Homer H. Hickam, Jr.

Looking back after a distinguished NASA career, Hickam shares the story of his youth in a coal mining town.

 

On Film:
Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Chris Owen, and Laura Dern star in October Sky, the movie adaptation of Rocket Boys.

Laura Hillenbrand

A loser horse and a down-on-his-luck jockey join forces to take on the best equine athletes of Depression-era America. Hillenbrand's book has been made into a Hollywood film, starring Toby Maguire. The book is also available on audio.

H. Rider Haggard
"A runaway bestseller on its publication in 1887, H. Rider Haggard’s She is a Victorian thrill ride of a novel, featuring a lost African kingdom ruled by a mysterious, implacable queen; ferocious wildlife and yawning abysses; and an eerie love story that spans two thousand years. She has bewitched readers from Freud and Jung to C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien... ."
Anne Tyler

The narrow, orderly life of a travel guidebooks author is hilariously disrupted by his estranged wife and an eccentric dog trainer

On Film:
The film adaptation of Tyler's novel was originally released in 1988 and stars William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Geena Davis.

C. S. Forester

First published in 1935, The African Queen is the story of Charlie Allnut & Rose Sayer, a disheveled trader & an English spinster missionary, who are thrown together when World War I reaches the heart of the African jungle. Fighting time, heat, malaria, & bullets, they escape on a rickety steamboat, where they fall in love & hatch an outrageous military plan of their own. The story was immortalized in the 1951 film starring Katharine Hepburn & Humphrey Bogart.

Alice Walker

Winner of the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, this unforgettable portrait of a young black girl, her friends, family, and lovers is rich with passion, pain, inspiration, and an indomitable love of life.

On Film:
Be sure to check out the powerful 1985 movie version, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, and Whoopie Goldberg.

Roddy Doyle

This funky, rude, unpretentious first novel traces the short, funny, and furious career of a group of working-class Irish kids who form a band, The Commitments. Their mission: to bring soul to Dublin!

On Film:
Watch the popular film adaptation. Music from the film is available on CD: The Commitments: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and The Commitments Volume 2.

Michael Ondaatje

"With ravishing beauty and unsettling intelligence, Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Hana, the exhausted nurse; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burned man who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal, and rescue illuminates this book like flashes of heat lightning."

Also available on audio and as an Academy Award-winning video.

John Grisham

Mitchell Y. McDeere has worked hard to get where he is: third in his class at Harvard Law. Aggressively recruited by all the top firms, and initially headed for Wall Street, Mitch surprised everyone by joining Bendini, Lambert and Locke, a very private, very rich tax firm in Memphis.

On Film:
The 1996 film, starring Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, is a great companion to Grisham's thrilling novel. You can also check out The Pelican Brief and A Time to Kill.

Stephen King

At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, killers as depraved as the psychopathic "Billy the Kid" Wharton and the possessed Eduard Delacroix await death strapped in "Old Sparky". Here guards as decent as Paul Edgecombe and as sadistic as Percy Wetmore watch over them. But good or evil, innocent or guilty, none have ever seen the brutal likes of the new prisoner, John Coffey, sentenced to death for raping and murdering two young girls. Is Coffey a devil in human form? Or is he a far, far different kind of being?

On Film:
A stellar cast including Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sam Rockwell, and Harry Dean Stanton makes this 1999 movie a must see.

Michael Cunningham

On a gray suburban London morning in 1923, Virginia Woolf awakens from a dream that will soon lead to Mrs. Dalloway. In the present, on a beautiful June day in Greenwich Village, 52-year-old Clarissa Vaughan is planning a party for her oldest love, a poet dying of AIDS. And in Los Angeles in 1949, Laura Brown, pregnant and unsettled, does her best to prepare for her husband's birthday, but can't seem to stop reading Woolf. In 1999, Cunningham was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for this novel.

On Film:
Nicole Kidman won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in the 2002 film adaptation of Cunningham's novel. Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore also star in this movie.

Jean Marsh

Two genteel sisters in 1920s London, finding that they are suddenly destitute, defy societal norms by seeking work. They build a fashionable dressmaking business against the backdrop of a ritzy, jazzy, high society London.  Also available as a BBC production.

Paul Scott
The first volume in Paul Scott's historical tour-de-force, the Raj Quartet, opens in 1942 as the British fear both Japanese invasion and Indian demands for self-rule. In the Mayapore gardens, Daphne Manners, daughter of the provincial governor, leaves her Indian lover, who will soon be arrested for her alleged rape.
Amy Tan

In 1949 four Chinese women drawn together by the shadow of their past begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and 'say' stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club.

On Film:
Originally released in 1993,this film adaptation is full of vibrant characters.

Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

Albert, Duke of York began to see speech therapist Lionel Logue in a desperate bid to cure his lifelong stammer. Little did the two men know that this unlikely friendship would ultimately save the House of Windsor from collapse. The amiable Logue gave the shy young Duke the skills and the confidence to stand and deliver before a crowd. And when his elder brother, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry for love, 'Bertie' was able to assume the reins of power as King George VI.

The Oscar-winning movie of the same title is available on DVD, and the book is also available on audio.

Susan Orlean

John Laroche is a renegade plant dealer and sharply handsome guy, in spite of the fact that he is missing his front teeth and has the posture of al dente spaghetti. In 1994, Laroche and three Seminole Indians were arrested with rare orchids they had stolen from a wild swamp in south Florida that is filled with some of the world's most extraordinary plants and trees. Laroche had planned to clone the orchids and then sell them for a small fortune to impassioned collectors. After he was caught in the act, Laroche set off one of the oddest legal controversies in recent memory, which brought together environmentalists, Native American activists, and devoted orchid collectors. The result is a true tale that is strange, compelling, and hilarious.
Later made into the movie, Adaptation, starring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep.

Sebastian Junger

It was the storm of the century, boasting waves over one hundred feet high--a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it "the perfect storm."  When it struck in October 1991, there was virtually no warning. "She's comin' on, boys, and she's comin' on strong", radioed Captain Billy Tyne of the Andrea Gail off the coast of Nova Scotia, and soon afterward the boat and its crew of six disappeared without a trace. In a narrative taut with the fury of the elements, Sebastian Junger takes us deep into the heart of the storm, depicting with vivid detail the courage, terror, and awe that surface in such a gale. Also available on audio.

On Film:
The Andrea Gail's struggle with a ferocious Northeastern storm is brought to life in the 2000 movie adaptation of Junger's book, starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Diane Lane.

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is a gifted animal scientist who has designed one third of all the livestock-handling facilities in the United States. She also lectures widely on autism because she is autistic--a woman who thinks, feels, and experiences the world in ways that are incomprehensible to the rest of us. In this unprecedented book, Grandin writes from the dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person. She tells us how she managed to breach the boundaries of autism to function in the outside world. What emerges is the document of an extraordinary human being, one who gracefully bridges the gulf between her condition and our own while shedding light on our common identity. Other titles by Dr. Grandin are Emergence: Labeled Autistic and Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Her life story has also been made into an award-winning film starring Claire Danes.