Books. Or as people in Hollywood call them: source material. Joking aside, some of our favorite books have become the best television shows and movies to be enjoyed by millions worldwide. To honor those stories, and our all-time favorite onscreen adaptations, we’ve compiled a list of books that can be read before or after your next blockbuster viewing. Prepare the popcorn and get ready for some nonstop entertainment.
Staff Picks: Our All-Time Favorite Book-to-Screen Adaptations
Kerry’s Pick: When it comes to non-horror Stephen King adaptations, you either fall into the Stand by Me or the Shawshank Redemption camp. For me, Stand by Me is the rare film adaptation that is both faithfully accurate and an iconic standalone movie with perfect casting. The story of four twelve-year-old boys setting out to find the body of a missing kid is one of both Stephen King’s and Rob Reiner’s masterpieces. It’s a moving tale with universal appeal, one that will stay with you long after you finish both novella and movie. Be prepared to shed a few tears, of course.
Emily’s Pick #1: This is a book where, once you read it, you’ll find yourself planning a trip to Italy—or at the very least, frantically searching for a screen adaptation so that you can see those gorgeous Sicilian descriptions come to life. In this memoir, we alternate between the past and present, following a young Tembi as she studies abroad in Sicily and falls in love with the Sicilian chef Saro. Then we jump ahead to the present-day Tembi, grieving her husband Saro’s death with their young daughter by her side. As they return to Sicily to bury Saro’s ashes, Tembi attempts to reconnect with her in-laws who, in the past, had halted any chance of uniting families due to their racism and bigotry. The adaptation takes a more linear approach to the storyline and, with Zoe Saldaña’s spectacular acting and mouthwatering foodie scenes, this is an A+ version that tells Tembi’s story with all the beauty and compassion that it deserves.
This Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick and New York Times bestseller is “a captivating story of love lost and found” (Kirkus Reviews) set in the lush Sicilian countryside, where one woman discovers the healing powers of food, family, and unexpected grace in her darkest hours.
It was love at first sight when actress Tembi met professional chef, Saro, on a street in Florence. There was just one problem: Saro’s traditional Sicilian family did not approve of his marrying a black American woman. However, the couple, heartbroken but undeterred, forged on. They built a happy life in Los Angeles, with fulfilling careers, deep friendships, and the love of their lives: a baby girl they adopted at birth. Eventually, they reconciled with Saro’s family just as he faced a formidable cancer that would consume all their dreams.
From Scratch chronicles three summers Tembi spends in Sicily with her daughter, Zoela, as she begins to piece together a life without her husband in his tiny hometown hamlet of farmers. Where once Tembi was estranged from Saro’s family, now she finds solace and nourishment—literally and spiritually—at her mother-in-law’s table. In the Sicilian countryside, she discovers the healing gifts of simple fresh food, the embrace of a close knit community, and timeless traditions and wisdom that light a path forward. All along the way she reflects on her and Saro’s romance—an incredible love story that leaps off the pages.
In Sicily, it is said that every story begins with a marriage or a death—in Tembi Locke’s case, it is both. “Locke’s raw and heartfelt memoir will uplift readers suffering from the loss of their own loved ones” (Publishers Weekly), but her story is also about love, finding a home, and chasing flavor as an act of remembrance. From Scratch is for anyone who has dared to reach for big love, fought for what mattered most, and those who needed a powerful reminder that life is...delicious.
Justin’s Pick: Fans of THE ORCHID THIEF who were expecting a faithful screen adaptation of Susan Orlean’s beautifully sculpted portrait of a horticulturist on the hunt for the rare ghost orchid were surely disappointed when they were greeted by not one, but two balding, sweaty, middle-aged Nicolas Cages. But so is life. 2002’s Adaptation took the idea of the traditional Hollywood book-to-screen adaptation—one that clings to the source material as if it’s the Holy Bible—and flipped it on its head. Director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman went a layer deeper, opting to center the film’s narrative on the fictional screenwriter embroiled in bringing Orlean’s nonfiction marvel to the silver screen. On the surface, it may sound needlessly subversive and meta, but Kaufman’s use of the book as a launching pad for musings about his own insecurities and shortcomings as a lover and creative strikes close to the bone. Adaptation’s impact lies in its ability to marry Orlean’s extreme gift and interest in illuminating human nature with Kaufman’s signature self-obsession and existential rumination. At the end of the day, who needs a faithful adaptation. This shoving of two seemingly dissimilar artists (Orlean and Kaufman) into one box, leaving them to spar for control of the movie, is infinitely more rewarding and inspired.
Dangerous obsession and greed meet in this wickedly funny modern classic, which follows an eccentric plant dealer as he attempts to poach the endangered ghost orchid from a Florida preserve and clone it for profit. This true crime book is actually a charming, passionate underdog story.
Sara’s Pick: Now, anyone who’s read the book might be thinking that I might be a little off my rocker myself. Yes, there are some big plot differences in the book and the movie versions of this story, which is based on Susanna Kaysen's real-life stay in a mental hospital in the 1960s. However, I think a good adaptation goes deeper than just being authentic to the story beats of a work. What the Girl, Interrupted film gets right about the book is in accurately portraying mental illness and all its symptoms (including the distortion of time), the biting but endearing camaraderie of the patients, and questions of what it means to be sane or insane in the kind of world we live in. The performances in the film bring a lot of the warmth and danger of the characters to life, making them both sympathetic and antagonistic by the same pen stroke. A classic that must be read and watched to fully enjoy, Girl, Interrupted is as genuine a narrative of mental illness as it gets.
In 1967, Susanna Kaysen spent almost two years in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele—Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles—as for its progressive methods. With vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers, Kaysen's searing memoir gives us an up-close view of mental illness and the road to recovery.
Mackenzie’s Pick: Christmas is absolutely my favorite holiday of the year! There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book on a cold winter day, especially if that book holds the magic of the holiday season. Cue Richard Paul Evans’s THE NOEL DIARY, which is also now a Netflix movie starring the uber-talented Justin Hartley. The Noel Diary follows a bestselling romance author as he returns to his hometown for the holidays and discovers a mysterious diary written by someone named Noel. There’s everything you’d want in a feel-good holiday novel: drama, forgiveness, and a dusting of love! You’ll have a merry old time watching this beloved story come to life on the screen.
Now a Netflix film starring Justin Hartley!
In this holiday-themed novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Mistletoe Promise and The Walk, a man receives the best Christmas present he could ask for: the chance to rewrite the past.
Bestselling romance author Jacob Churcher hasn't been home for almost twenty years—not since his mentally ill mother kicked him out of the house when he was just sixteen. When a lawyer calls, days before Christmas, to inform him that his estranged mother has passed away and left her house to him, Jacob returns not just to settle the estate but to try and reconcile with the past and the pain and abuse he experienced as a child. Also, maybe cleaning out her house will be slightly less depressing than spending the holidays alone, watching re-runs of Christmas classics.
But as it turns out, the house holds more than just difficult memories, Jacob’s mother had become a hoarder and he must excavate through two decades worth of clutter. As Jacob digs through the detritus, like an archaeologist, he uncovers many puzzling items including a diary left by someone named Noel, a young woman he has no recollection of, who stayed with Jacob’s family during her pregnancy. That’s not the only echo from the past. Jacob has an unexpected visitor, Rachel, a woman looking for the mother who put her up for adoption thirty years before. United by their quest to make sense of the past and rewrite their futures, Jacob and Rachel begin a search for Noel. Along the way they find more than they possibly imagined, including grace, forgiveness and a chance at love.
Heather’s Pick #1: Bridgerton made quite an entrance when it debuted on Netflix in December 2020, winning millions of hearts (mine included) with its dazzling array of beautiful people in sumptuous period costumes twirling around glitzy ballrooms, in between romantic declarations and steamy love scenes. Adapted from a popular series of novels by Julia Quinn, the show appeals to existing historical romance fans and newcomers to the genre alike. If you’ve read the books that inspired the show and need something else to help pass the time until Colin and Penelope’s love story hits the screen in season 3, then check out INSIDE BRIDGERTON, the official behind-the-scenes book from Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers. It promises tons of insights into how the show gets made, plus glossy photos and commentary from the cast and crew.
The stunning, full-color, behind-the-scenes look at Shondaland’s hit series on Netflix.
Inside Bridgerton is the intimate behind-the-scenes story of the hit Shondaland series on Netflix. Shondaland executive producers Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers offer exclusive insights, and introduce you to the series writers, producers, directors, cast, crew, and talented creatives who brought Julia Quinn’s beloved novels to the screen. Full-color and beautifully designed, Inside Bridgerton is the official book about the show, and includes never-before-seen photographs, firsthand accounts on casting, insight into the decisions behind the costumes and sets, directors’ accounts on filming your favorite scenes, and more from the creative minds that launched a cultural phenomenon.
From the Introduction to Inside Bridgerton:
SHONDA: Shall we take everyone back to the beginning? Not to the 1800s, but to 2017 and that hotel room where I was sick, and needed something to read, and there happened to be a copy of The Duke & I by Julia Quinn, the first of the Bridgerton novels. I’m not someone who was into romance novels—I really didn’t even know much about the genre. But I picked it up, couldn’t put it down, and then immediately got my hands on the rest of them because they were a fabulous read. And then I passed them to you.
BETSY: I thought you were high. Or that you had hit your head in that hotel room while you had the flu. Romance novels? But you insisted that they would be a fabulous show and you have excellent taste. I was deeply skeptical because I hadn’t read a romance novel since I was a teen—I’d certainly never read a period romance novel.
SHONDA: Totally—you read the ones of the 1980s, when everyone wore huge shoulder pads and diamonds.
BETSY: Right. So there’s some continuity here because these guys were wearing diamonds, too.
SHONDA: Fair—but as far as a period romance, I mean, if it wasn’t Jane Austen, I didn’t really know about it. I’m not going to diss Jane Austen because I’m not an idiot…
BETSY: She might get upset.
SHONDA: She might roll over in her grave. But Julia Quinn’s novels were just so much juicier than Austen, and they’re written by someone who was far less confined and less proper. After all, Julia is a modern woman, not stuck in the constraints of the age.
BETSY: Without a doubt. And I never knew that the ton existed: Austen wrote about a pastoral society where everyone is in relatively drab clothes and spent a lot of time in chapels and churches.
SHONDA: Totally. And they recycled their dresses more.
BETSY: Meanwhile, this was an amazing world of luxury and excess. And she had this crazy device of a gossip columnist, pulling the strings, which was such a cool concept. Julia Quinn created an entirely new, glamorous, bright world that you had actually never seen before.
Heather’s Pick #2: Amazon Prime’s The Summer I Turned Pretty TV show had a lot to live up to, because its source material, Jenny Han’s trilogy of novels by the same name, is a pretty perfect YA romance. Happily, Han is also the creator of the show, and the first season turned out to be downright magical, giving fans everything we love about the books (like the Conrad/Belly/Jeremiah love triangle) and more (like richer stories for all the other characters in Belly’s orbit). So, as I patiently wait for the second season of this excellent coming-of-age TV series, I’ll be rereading IT’S NOT SUMMER WITHOUT YOU (book 2) and trying to predict which scenes will make it onto the screen next. Just as it does in the books, Isabel “Belly” Conklin’s story reminds you that there are no easy answers when it comes to matters of the heart, and I cannot wait for more of this adaptation.
Soon to be a streaming series in Summer 2022!
Belly has an unforgettable summer in this stunning start to the Summer I Turned Pretty series from the New York Times bestselling author of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han.
Some summers are just destined to be pretty.
Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer—they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one wonderful and terrible summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along.
Emily’s Pick #2: The Magicians is one of my favorite TV shows, so of course it’s also one of my all-time favorite adaptations. I watched the show before reading the books and fell so in love with the over-the-top characters as they navigated a gamut of conflicts—induced musical numbers, alternate timelines, regal fantasy-world rules—to graduate through the classes of Brakebills. I needed to read the books just to stay in that world a bit longer and, even though the characters in the books are a bit moodier and more pretentious than the show, I still loved waiting in anticipation as my favorite moments of dark humor and epic scenes unfolded.
With influences ranging from The Chronicles of Narnia to Harry Potter to A Game of Thrones, Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy is an enthralling, diabolically crafted coming-of-age tale about magic practiced in the real world—where good and evil aren’t black and white and power comes at a terrible price. Dig into this series now before the Syfy adaptation hits the small screen next year.
Jordyn's Pick: When I heard Mike Flanagan was adapting THE MIDNIGHT CLUB for TV I immediately put the premiere date in my calendar because I loved the book, but also because Mike Flanagan really is the new master of horror. His adaptations, The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor are favorites of mine, and I couldn’t wait to add this to my roster of scary shows to watch. And truly, Mike Flanagan doesn’t miss. The Midnight Club is a haunting story about a hospice for teens living out the rest of their lives with people in the same situation. They form a club and meet at midnight to tell stories, and vow that the first of them to die will return to give them a sign that there’s something that comes after. I won’t spoil the rest of it, but I will say that this show is so beautifully made, with nuance and humor and good spirits in the face of a depressing setting. I do love reading a scary book and giving myself the heebie-jeebies, but the jump scares in the first episode alone make this an exciting adaptation and the rest of the season is well worth it.
Now an original Netflix series!
From the author of The Wicked Heart and The Immortal comes a beautiful and haunting novel about a group of five terminally ill teenagers whose midnight stories become their reality.
Rotterham Home was a hospice for young people—a place where teenagers with terminal illnesses went to die. Nobody who checked in ever checked out. It was a place of pain and sorrow, but also, remarkably, a place of humor and adventure.
Every night at twelve, a group of young guys and girls at the hospice came together to tell stories. They called themselves the Midnight Club, and their stories could be true or false, inspiring or depressing, or somewhere in-between.
One night, in the middle of a particularly scary story, the teenagers make a secret pact with each other, which says, “The first one who dies will do whatever he or she can do to contact us from beyond the grave, to give us proof that there is life after death.”
Then one of them does die...
Photo credit: iStock / Tero Vesalainen