Read It Before You See It
From “Catch-22” to “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” to “It Chapter 2,” books have inspired many of this year’s new movies and television shows. One of the most recent releases, “The Goldfinch,” is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt, though the film adaptation hasn’t fared as well with critics as the original.
There are more to come this fall and through the end of the year, as a star-studded version of “Little Women” and a sequel to Stephen King’s “The Shining” head to screens. But there’s still nothing quite like getting immersed in a book. Here are nine notable ones you can read before they come to your TV, streaming devices and movie theater.
A 24-year-old architecture student named Ike Jerome, a.k.a. Vikar, arrives in Hollywood sporting a tattoo of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift circa-“A Place in the Sun” on the back of his shaven head. It’s 1969, and the film industry is in upheaval as younger, rebellious filmmakers are overtaking the establishment. “I’m in the movie capital of the world,” says Vikar, “and nobody knows anything about movies.”
When Steve Erickson’s book came out in 2007, our reviewer called Vikar “the troubled, visionary hero of the fascinating piece of phantasmagoric Hollywood homage that is ‘Zeroville.’” James Franco (“The Deuce”) directs and stars in the film version as Vikar, with Megan Fox, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jacki Weaver and Craig Robinson rounding out the cast. In its own turn of Hollywood disruption, the movie’s release was delayed five years because its original distributor filed for bankruptcy.
Release date: Sept. 20
Before his book “The Fault in Our Stars” sold 23 million copies and spawned a hit movie starring Shailene Woodley, John Green wrote “Looking for Alaska,” a semi-autobiographical novel inspired by his time in boarding school. The book centers on Miles Halter, a reserved student fascinated with famous last words and an enigmatic girl, Alaska Young. It won praise from organizations like the American Library Association and School Library Journal but was met with controversy in some school districts for its references to sex, drugs and alcohol.
After initial attempts to turn it into a movie, “Looking for Alaska” is now coming to Hulu as an eight-episode series starring Charlie Plummer and Kristine Froseth. It was developed by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who previously worked on the series “The O.C.” and “Gossip Girl.”
Release date: Oct. 18 (Hulu)
[ See more of this fall’s TV and movies lineup. ]
Published in 1986 and 1987, the graphic novel series “Watchmen” portrays an alternate reality in which superheroes are battling existential demons and the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon’s presidency took different turns.
In a 2005 review, Dave Itzkoff called “Watchmen” prescient, writing: “The symmetry between current events and the conclusion of its story, concerning a villain who believes he can stave off real war by distracting the populace with a trumped-up one, and an act of mass murder perpetrated in the heart of New York City, is almost too fearful to bear.”
“Watchmen” has been rendered onscreen before, in a 2009 film adaptation directed by Zack Snyder that garnered mixed reviews. The Times’s co-chief film critic A.O. Scott described it as “more curiosity than provocation, an artifact of a faded world brought to zombie half-life by the cinematic technology of the present.”
Now HBO is taking a crack at it as a TV show. The showrunner, Damon Lindelof, posted a letter on Instagram to “Watchmen” fans, calling the series a “remix” rather than a direct adaptation of Alan Moore’s work and calling himself “a true fan, too.” In the letter, Lindelof says viewers can expect new characters, different perspectives and a new setting in present-day Oklahoma.
Release date: Oct. 20 (HBO)
When “Mrs. Fletcher” was published in 2017, our reviewer called it “the sweetest and most charming novel about pornography addiction and the harrowing issues of sexual consent that you will probably ever read.”
Written by Tom Perrotta, the author of “The Leftovers,” “Mrs. Fletcher” is a coming-of-age story for both Eve Fletcher and her son Brendan. He heads off to college, and she, home alone and suddenly free, embarks on an erotic reawakening, signing up for a “Gender and Society” class, diving into niche pornography and engaging in drunken hookups. Brendan, too, begins to face his own sexual troubles.
“What I became very conscious of was that there are these two levels of discourse about sex, this high-minded academic discourse, which is about re-evaluating gender, challenging the patriarchy,” Perrotta said in a Times interview the year the book came out. “And underneath it is this porn thing, which is full of old stereotypes; weird, racially charged fantasies; women objectified down to a single body part.”
Kathryn Hahn (“Transparent,” “I Love Dick”) plays the title character in seven half-hour episodes developed by Perrotta, who also wrote HBO’s adaptation of “The Leftovers.”
Release date: Oct. 27 (HBO)
The 2004 nonfiction book “I Heard You Paint Houses” traces the life of Frank Sheeran, a labor union official who, over years of recorded interviews with the book’s author Charles Brandt, admitted to murdering Jimmy Hoffa and more than two dozen other people. (“Painting houses” is code for killing.)
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After serving in World War II, Sheeran began working for the crime boss Russell Bufalino, rising to prominence and being named a top mob figure by then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani. The book focuses on Hoffa’s hit, but it also includes information on the highly publicized murders of “Crazy Joe” and President John F. Kennedy, with Sheeran’s tale “admirably free of self-pity and self-aggrandizement,” said our reviewer. “Without getting all Oprah about it, he admits he was an alcoholic and a lousy father.”
“The Irishman” is the movie adaptation coming to Netflix, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro as Sheeran, Al Pacino as Hoffa, and Joe Pesci as Bufalino. Scorsese’s collaboration with Netflix puts him “in the crossfire of the so-called streaming wars,” The Times reported, though it is expected to be a contender at next year’s Academy Awards.
Release date: Nov. 1 (limited release); Nov. 27 (streaming)
The 1999 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, “Motherless Brooklyn” follows Lionel Essrog, a loner with Tourette’s syndrome. When his boss, who owns a detective agency and limo service, is stabbed to death, Lionel and three other men band together to unravel what happened.
At first glance a standard crime story, the novel is “a more piercing tale of investigation, one revealing how the mind drives on its own ‘wheels within wheels,’” wrote our reviewer. The success of the story is in its emotional impact, heightened by Lionel’s tics and taking us into “the mind’s dense thicket, a place where words split and twine in an ever-deepening tangle.”
The film adaptation, set in the 1950s instead of the ’90s, is Edward Norton’s second directorial project. Norton (“Birdman,” “Fight Club”) read the book the year it came out and began developing it in the early 2000s. He co-stars with Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Willem Dafoe and Alec Baldwin.
Release date: Nov. 1
In 1977, Stephen King’s book “The Shining” introduced soon-to-be terrified readers to the young Dan Torrance and the haunted Overlook Hotel. It wasn’t until 2013 that the novelist published his follow-up, “Doctor Sleep,” in which Dan is working in a local hospice, using his paranormal gift to comfort the dying.
As his life becomes intertwined with an even more powerful 12-year-old, and Dan’s demons resurface, “King’s inventiveness and skill show no signs of slacking,” Margaret Atwood wrote in her review of the book, citing his mastery in guiding us through the underworld and his position “right at the center of an American literary taproot.”
King famously disliked Stanley Kubrick’s version of “The Shining,” and he later adapted the book into a six-hour miniseries of his own. The sequel, directed by Mike Flanagan and starring Ewan McGregor, will follow Kubrick’s story line, from the preservation of the Overlook to the re-creation of Dan’s flashbacks.
Release date: Nov. 8
Yes, it was a book before it was a musical. “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” T.S. Eliot’s playful collection of poems on feline psychology, is what the long-running Broadway show is based on.
Many of the poem titles are the cats’ delightful names, from “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer” to “Mr. Mistoffelees.” Eliot included these poems in letters to entertain his godchildren and signed them “Old Possum.” Though the collection was not without its problems (an aversion to Chinese people, for example), its cultural impact has been lasting. The collection was published in 1939 with Eliot’s own illustrations; new ones were commissioned in 1940; and music was composed for six poems and recorded in 1954.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical premiered in London in 1981 and on Broadway in 1982. This year, the “Les Misérables” director Tom Hooper uses “digital fur technology” in the buzzy movie version that includes Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Idris Elba and more. The divisive trailer, released this summer, shows the tribe of cats, known as the Jellicles, deciding which cat will go up to the Heaviside Layer, which is not in Eliot’s original collection.
Release date: Dec. 20
Originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” remains a classic. It’s been adapted for film seven times — two of them silent films — with the eighth coming out on Christmas Day. Loosely based on Alcott and her three sisters, the novel follows Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March from childhood to womanhood. The book was an immediate success and was followed by two sequels.
“Who’s afraid of Louisa May Alcott?” wrote Brigid Brophy in The New York Times Book Review in 1965. “I’m afraid of her in a quite straightforward way — because she makes me cry.” Often referenced as the quintessential depiction of the American home, Alcott’s book addresses themes of domesticity, love and individual identity.
This time around, it is directed by Greta Gerwig, the filmmaker behind the Oscar-nominated “Lady Bird,” who reunites with the “Lady Bird” star Saoirse Ronan, who plays Jo. Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen play Meg, Amy and Beth, respectively, and they are joined onscreen by Meryl Streep, Laura Dern and Timothée Chalamet.
Release date: Dec. 25
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