10 Books To Read Before You See The Movies This Summer

12 Jun

We all love a few hours at the movie theater, but there’s just no substitute for curling up with a few hundred pages of printed magic.

By Mark Athitakis

  • 1

    Far from the Madding Crowd

    By Thomas Hardy
    448 pages; Vintage Classics

    Our kind of Victorian romance, this story combines old-fashioned courtship with a decidedly independent-minded heroine. The latest version of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel, starring Carey Mulligan, is the third feature-length treatment of the classic. As in the book, Mulligan’s Bathsheba must choose between three fetching suitors who liven up the screen as much as the period costumes and sharp banter. Yet the novel version of Madding has more room to explore the complicated love trapezoid and all its romantic complications. And even the finest cinematography will have trouble matching Hardy’s rhapsodies on the English countryside, where the morning mist casts “a fulsome yet magnificent silvery veil, full of light from the sun.”

  • 2

    Heroic Measures

    By Jill Ciment
    208 pages; Vintage Contemporaries

    Based on Jill Ciment’s 2009 novel and retitled 5 Flights Up for the screen stars Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton as a couple in their twilight years contemplating a move from their longtime (and rapidly gentrifying) Brooklyn neighborhood. It’s rare to see older (not to mention interracial) couples in movies at all, let alone treated respectfully and tenderly. But Ciment’s original, in which the two are East Villagers remembering the political ferment of the 1970s, wasn’t just a love story or a nostalgic tale about neighborhoods; it was a laugh-out-loud comic novel about the absurdities of New York real estate in which the couple’s dachshund gets her own chance to narrate.

  • 3

    Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

    By Jesse Andrews
    330 pages; Harry N. Abrams

    This June-release adaptation of Jesse Andrews’ YA novel was a Sundance Film Festival favorite this year due its poignant story of two obsessive movie fans who reach out to Rachel, a classmate with leukemia. A movie about movies is a slam-dunk for film geeks who’ll love the spoofs of cult classics like Midnight Cowboy, A Clockwork Orange and Peeping Tom. But the fun — and pathos — of the original novel is Greg’s candid, freewheeling voice, which snaps off lines like, “Let’s just say that it would explain a lot of things if there were a fungus eating my brain.”

  • 4

    A Slight Trick of the Mind

    By Mitch Cullin
    272 pages; Anchor

    In the film version of Mitch Cullin’s riveting novel — titled Mr. Holmes for its July release — Ian McKellen plays Sherlock in old age, working on one last case while wrestling with an increasingly uncooperative memory. McKellen is inspired casting for a film about a brilliant, stylish sleuth who refuses to let time get the best of him. Return to the print original, however, for a story that smartly explores the subtle and intricate ways our minds work — or, more to the point, don’t. The added bonus: While Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories were narrated by Holmes’ assistant, Watson, here the revered sleuth himself gets the last word, mocking the way those classic tales “pander to popular tastes.”

  • 5

    Dark Places

    By Gillian Flynn
    368 pages; Broadway Books

    This adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2009 novel, out August 7, promises to put Charlize Theron back on Oscar’s radar for the first time in a decade: She plays Libby, who’s reckoning with the murder of her family 30 years ago and now uncertain whether she rightly condemned her brother for the crime. Go to the novel to watch Gillian Flynn hone the craft that made her follow-up, Gone Girl, such a smash. She masters whodunit suspense and a wild-twist ending while exploring the creepy satanic cults that were all over the news back in the ’80s. Dark. Riveting. Unputdownable.

  • 6

    Paper Towns

    By John Green
    336 pages; Speak

    The second big-screen treatment of a John Green novel (following last year’s The Fault in Our Stars) hits theaters July 24 and concerns a certain high-school senior named Margo, who intentionally disappears in order to torment those who wounded her. Like Fault, Paper Towns blends teenage hijinks (for example: swaddling a car in plastic wrap) with some grown-up lessons. But from its irresistible first sentence — “The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle,” Paper Towns shows why Green earned his teen-whisperer reputation, capturing the way suburbia breeds frustration in kids with the go-for-broke optimism that inspires them to bust free.

  • 7

    Madame Bovary

    By Gustave Flaubert, Lydia Davis (Editor, Translator, Introduction)
    352 pages; Penguin Classics

    This lavish treatment of Gustave Flaubert’s classic, out June 12, stars Mia Wasikowska as Emma, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage and pursuing a string of affairs. Wasikowska, who’s played an innocent girl in Alice in Wonderland and suicidal teen in In Treatment, is a fine fit for Emma’s powerful clash of lust, intelligence and moral questioning. But how can you skip the book that all but invented the modern novel? Flaubert scandalized France when Madame Bovary appeared in 1857; and even if its sexuality seems tame now, the way Flaubert wove himself into the mind of a frustrated, thwarted middle-class woman will always remain revolutionary.

  • 8

    Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself<

    By David Lipsky
    352 pages; Broadway Books

    The July release of The End of the Tour follows Rolling Stone journalist Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg) on the road with the late, brilliant novelist David Foster Wallace (played by Jason Segel) as he tours the country behind his now-legendary 1995 novel Infinite Jest. The best road movies have plenty of witty banter; and, in this case, a chatty journalist alongside the brightest mind of his generation is bound to combine buddy bonding with some unforgettable dialogue. But the fun of Although of Course, largely a transcript of Lipsky’s days’ worth of conversation with Wallace, is that it’s all over the place. An uncorked Wallace riffs on everything from Friends to experimental literature to why he has an Alanis Morissette poster in his house — ideas you want read, then immediately go back and reread, before leaping to the next.

  • 9

    Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil

    By Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill
    417 pages; PublicAffairs

    Charismatic and rakish, Johnny Depp is an inspired casting choice to play Whitey Bulger — the South Boston mobster who ruled the city for decades — in the September release of Black Mass. But the way Bulger ruled has to be read to be believed — he managed a network that included hit men, an FBI agent who willfully turned a blind eye to his misdeeds and his own brother, who headed the Massachusetts Senate while Whitey claimed power. The book’s cast of characters lists more than 50 gangsters, cops and FBI agents, and Black Mass weaves an intricate web to show how each played a role in Bulger’s unlikely role as Beantown’s biggest underground power broker.

  • 10

    Every Secret Thing

    By Laura Lippman
    448 pages; William Morrow Paperbacks

    The thriller Every Secret Thing revolves around two teenage girls and the abduction and murder of a baby seven years earlier. Starring Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks and Dakota Fanning, the movie casts more female leads than your average thriller (thank you!) and Laura Lippman, whose 2003 novel inspired the film, has deserved a big-screen treatment of her work for years. But the film was shot in New York, robbing the story of Lippman’s beloved Baltimore and her rich local details about everything from race relations to hairstyles. Let’s not overlook the scary pleasures of her prose, either. “There was something menacing in the very fineness of his bones,” she writes, “as if a bigger boy had been boiled down until all that remained was this concentrated bit of rage and bile.”

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