Summer Movie Reading List

A still from Deepa Mehta's Midnight's Children
Does this beautiful summer weather make you want to lie down on the beach with a good book? I know I do! Every year I like to read up on all the upcoming film adaptations, and summer usually provides the best time to do so. This year has been a bit of a crash course on reading for me, since I’m finally getting to crack the spines on some books that piled up while I was finishing my thesis. 2012 has already seen a slew of good page-to-screen efforts, too, with films like Cosmopolis, The Hunger Games, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among the list of movies with tie-in-editions at your local bookstore. If you have kept on top of your reading, however, and are looking for some good summer movie reads, here are 10 books whose pages you should flip through before they get a makeover at your local movie house. There are five that I've read and recommend and five that we can read together:

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie


First on anybody’s list of page-to-screen adaptations should be Midnight’s Children. This Booker-Prize winning novel is simply one of the best novels ever written. (It also won the “Booker of Bookers” in 1993 and then was named the Best Booker in 2008, dubbing it the best prizewinner ever to come out of the Commonwealth.) Midnight’s Children might also be one of the most difficult and most demanding reads you’ll ever encounter, so it’s best to start soon. It’s worth the attention, though, for Rushdie’s novel is an immaculately crafted piece of prose that transposes the history of India through one magical allegory. At the heart of the story is Saleem Sinai (played by Satya Bhabha in the film), who is born at the exact moment that the clock notes India’s independence and, hence, forever has his fate intertwined with that of the nation. The film Midnight’s Children comes thanks to the imaginative mind of Canadian director Deepa Mehta (Water) who seems like the perfect choice to realise the magical realism of Rushdie’s writing. Midnight’s Children is scheduled for release on October 26th in Canada, so ye best get start turning the pages! Read fast because this film will surely be appearing on the fall festival circuit. 

Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson


Rust and Bone is an excellent collection of short form Can Lit. The stories of Rust and Bone walk on the darker side of life. They explore the damaged minds of star athletes and performers as they are knocked from the top of their game and the peak of their talent. The title story is a gripping page-turner about a champion boxer who must crush all twenty-seven bones of his hand with a ‘life or death’ punch. Likewise, “Rocket Ride” tells of a killer whale trainer at Marine Land who thrives on the thrill of performing before the crowd, only to have his talent ripped from him in a tragic accident. The film adaptation by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) looks to be an amalgam of several of these short stories. Marion Cotillard stars as Stéphanie, the rider of the fateful whale, along with Matthias Schoenaerts as Ali, the man who befriends Stéphanie after the accident. Rust and Bone opened to rave reviews at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (example), and it’s no surprise when one considers the source material. Davidson’s stories are masterfully crafted: they burrow deep into the psyches of his wounded characters and tell their stories in jagged, hard-hitting prose. Davidson’s short stories are unflinching in their detail and unrelenting in their payoff. It’s as if he brought a gun to a knife-fight with Alice Munro. Rust and Bone opens in limited release on November 16.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy


Up next on my reading list (once I track down a smelly well-worn copy at a used bookstore, of course) is Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I’ll admit, I’ve never been brave enough to tackle a Tolstoy novel – have you seen the size of War and Peace? – and, clocking in at almost 900 pages, Anna provides a good summer project. The real reason that I’m excited to read this novel is that the film is directed by Joe Wright, whose adaptation of Ian McEwan’s Atonement is one of the key films that piqued within me a serious interest in page-to-screen endeavours. Even more exciting is how Anna marks Wright’s third collaboration with Keira Knightley, who looks perfectly at home in the extravagant period costumes of the film. The trailer for Anna Karenina was recently released and the film looks like a beautiful, dreamy swoon. And how much do you enjoy the sight of Keira batting that fan? Could she be a major player in this year’s Best Actress race?

Life of Pi by Yann Martel


Here’s another “must-read.” Life of Pi has captured the hearts of readers everywhere since it debuted in 2001. Like Midnight’s Children, Pi can only be described as “magical.” Perhaps even more than the Salman Rushdie novel does Life of Pi conjure impressive feats of imagination; additionally, this novel by Canadian author Yann Martel is a fairly easily read – I’ve even heard of it appearing on a syllabus for a children’s lit class – but the speed and ease with which one turns the pages is more proof of the novel’s ability to enchant, rather than its simplicity. When I first heard that Life of Pi was being adapted into a film, I thought that only an animated tale could capture properly the character and tone of the story. Animation also provides a much easier form to tell the story of a young boy who is stranded on a lifeboat with a host of zoo animals including a large tiger named Richard Parker. (Where’s Tallulah Bankhead when you need her?) Instead, Ang Lee’s adaptation of Life of Pi, written by David Magee (Finding Neverland), takes a truly visionary and, I think, daring approach to the story by mixing live action and CGI. Footage of the film prompted a flurry of rave responses at CinemaCon a while back, but, oddly enough, I haven’t heard a peep about the scenes that are supposedly playing on some 3D-screenings of Prometheus. Life of Pi opens November 21, 2012. 
Doesn't Richard Parker look impressive?!

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Here’s another big 3D extravaganza to add to the literary canon! Seriously, I bet half the faculty in your local English department hit the roof when they heard that Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the classic novel was being done with the latest in cinematic excess. In some ways, the swanky and unnecessary visuals could honour the legacy of F. Scott Fitzgerald (a screening of Midnight in Paris yields a fun nod to his indulgences during the roaring twenties), but at a whopping 127 million dollars, this production will surely be either one of the year’s biggest hits or one of its most notorious disasters. I’ll keep my hopes up for the former since I’m finally starting to warm up to the crazy mind of Baz Luhrmann (I promise I’ll reconsider Moulin Rouge! one day) and his frenetic razzle-dazzle will likely provide a unique way of capturing Gatsby’s gay parties. Also, Gatsby looks like it has the novel cast to perfection with Leonardo DiCaprio as the enigmatic aristocratic Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as the waif-ish Daisy, and Tobey Maguire as the narrating voyeur Nick. Gatsby has some of the year’s strangest casting, too, since it features everyone from Animal Kingdom’s Joel Edgerton, to funny girl Isla Fisher, to Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan. We’re definitely a long ways away from the Gatsby of Robert Redford and Mia Farrow!

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick


Silver Linings will be duking it out with Life of Pi at the box office come November 21st, so make sure you have both books read by then so that you can decide which to see first. (My money’s on Life of Pi.) Silver Linings Playbook marks the first adaptation by director David O’Russell, but it seems right up his alley. In addition to making big hits like The Fighter and Three Kings, O’Russell was noticed for quirky dysfunctional family comedies like Flirting with Disaster and I (Heart) Huckabees. Silver Linings Playbook offers a comedic story of a man named Pat who winds up in a mental institution after he insists that his life is a movie written by God. Once Pat gets out of the nuthouse, though, things start to get stranger as he tries to reconnect with his family. The film stars Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Stiles, and Jacki Weaver, so let’s hope Pat’s movie has a happy ending!

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook

Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt


A little true-crime always makes for a good read, especially when the drama surrounding the story climaxed only last summer. Devil’s Knot tells of a bizarre case in Memphis for which three teenagers were charged with the murders of three young children. The teens, known as the “West Memphis Three,” were charged in a procedure that Leveritt likens to the Salem Witch trials: she argues that the teens were found guilty less through circumstantial evidence and more through a fear of Wicca and Satanic cult rituals that was sparked by a rumor that was related to the circumstances of a victim’s death. The film Devil’s Knot could be grisly, but one can assume that the real meat of the story will be the effect that the crimes have on the community. The film is by Atom Egoyan, who showed a steady hand at trauma with his adaptation of Russell Banks’s The Sweet Hereafter. An impressive cast of Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, and Amy Ryan, among others, joins Egoyan as he makes a rare step away from Canada into a US production. This strange but true thriller seems like a good film for him to make a comeback, though, after being relatively quiet the past few years. Devil’s Knot will be released in 2013.

Under the Skin by Michel Faber


I’ve only heard of this film recently, and I don’t know why I didn’t sooner. It sounds like a very exciting project: Scarlett Johansson stars as Laura, an extraterrestrial who is travelling across Scotland in disguise. The strange sci-fi premise could yield good stuff from director Jonathan Glazer, whose highly underrated film Birth (2004) provoked all sorts of deep ideas. (And if you haven’t seen his 2001 film Sexy Beast, you should add it to your summer “to do” list, too.) Under the Skin marks author Michel Faber as a pretty hot commodity for page-to-screen Brit pics, since his 2002 novel The Crimson Petal and the White was recently made into a BBC mini-series starring Romola Garai, Chris O’Dowd, and Gillian Anderson. Hopefully this film will gain some attention on the fall festival circuit!
Under the Skin

The Double by José Saramago


This is one book that you can take your time reading. The film, retitled An Enemy, doesn’t hit theatres until 2013. In the meantime, however, you can savour the fun, comma-laden prose of the late José Saramago. The Double might not be among his strongest novels, but it’s still good: he’s my favourite author and I assure you that minor Saramago is still better than most. This story offers another of Saramago’s thoughtful character studies: a lonely man rents a video and sees himself in a cameo performance. He drives himself to the point of madness as he plows through a stack of videos in order to learn more about his doppelganger. It’s a hunt that could easily be solved with a trip to IMDb, but naturally, it’s thrillingly delicious thanks to the philosophical ramblings of Mr. Saramago. I’m particularly excited about this one because Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) is helming the film, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini and Cosmopolis star Sarah Gadon. As with the 2008 Saramago adaptation Blindness, An Enemy looks to be another high-profile and internationally-oriented Canadian co-production. Fingers crossed that this film lives up to its potential! (I’m sure it will.)
Jake Gyllenhaal on the set of An Enemy

What Maisie Knew by Henry James


Blindness star Julianne Moore makes the list, too, for her upcoming role in the adaptation of Henry James’s What Maisie Knew. I have yet to read Maisie: I thought it was in an old James anthology I had from English 369, but alas, not. Maisie sees a young girl caught in the centre of her parents’ nasty divorce, and the story gets an injection of relevancy by having the action set in contemporary New York City where the divorce rate is roughly 50%. The film looks like it offers a great part for Moore as Maisie’s mother, especially since the trailer offers some clips that evoke Moore’s heartbreaking turn as Amber Waves, the troubled mother/porn star of Boogie Nights. The film is directed by the team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who made the riveting family thriller The Deep End starring Tilda Swinton, if one needs another reason to be excited. Alexander Skarsgård and Steve Coogan co-star.

Have you read any of these books?
 If so, what do you think the prospects are for their adaptations?
Or do you have anything else to add to the reading list?