Every year the annual Oscar broadcasts honors movies, but inadvertently it also honors books, because many movies find their inspiration in literature. This year was no exception. So as the 2016 Oscar buzz fades, we review some of the books behind two of this year’s Oscar nominated movies, as well as a book or three we think would make great movies (you are welcome Hollywood).
Brooklyn by Colm Toiban (2009) This film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is one of the rare examples of a movie that is as good as the book — though, at times, it is notably different. Brooklyn is a coming of age story about a girl, Eilis, who leaves Ireland post World War II to travel to New York for better prospects. She arrives alone, leaving behind her beloved sister, Rose, her mother and brothers. Brave, smart Eilis carves out a life for herself and even finds a beau in sweet Tony before tragedy calls her unexpectedly back to Ireland. Brooklyn is a complicated love story, one that also paints one of the most poignant pictures of homesickness and a rough transatlantic journey that we have ever read. It is definitely a book that will stay with the reader and generate plenty of discussion for lucky book groups that have yet to select it. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Room by Emma Donoghue (2010). There’s now way around it, the concept behind this novel sounds awfully depressing: a woman and her five year old son son are held captive in one room (the mother for seven years and the son since his birth). The mother, however, with her grit and creativity, makes the entire experience an adventure to preserve some semblance of her son’s childhood, as well as her own sanity. Somehow, the book leaves the reader feeling hopeful. Well-written, suspenseful and worth recommending to friends looking for a “good read”. The movie received four Oscar nods, including best picture, Actress in a Leading Role (SHE WON), Directing, and Adapted Screenplay. NOTE: Last reviewed on the Bookjam in October 2015 as a book we would (actually) reread if we had the time. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
And now a few that we think should become movies (and as an unintended bonus would help make the Oscar contenders a bit less white – a very good outcome in our vision).
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (2013) – This coming of age memoir shows what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black, and female in America. Ms. Ward begins with a two year period of time, shortly after she graduated college, during which five boys who she grew up with along the Mississippi Coast experienced violent deaths. (Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath also play a role in this drama.) Her prose illuminates these dead young men and the people who loved/still love them; it also exposes the people behind the statistics that almost one in ten young black men are in jail, and that murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of twenty-four. And while the material is difficult, the memoir is not; it is insightful, introspective, beautifully written, and important. At some point Ms. Ward states that the series of deaths is “a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.” We are glad she found her voice and told her story. And, we truly hope to see it on a big screen soon. ~ Lisa Christie
Vida by Patricia Engel (2010) – This collection of linked stories would make a great movie about lives lived between two countries — in this case, Colombia and the USA (mostly New Jersey and Miami). This book follows Sabina, a second generation Colombian American, as she navigates life — a life in which nothing truly terrible or amazing ever happens, but somehow makes a compelling read. Collectively, the stories outline a coming of age tale we can all relate to, whether from a recent immigrant family or not. This collection was Ms. Engel’s debut, and it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award and Young Lions Fiction Award; and a Best Book of the Year by NPR, among other awards. We hope those accolades will convince you to try it, and will encourage someone in Hollywood to bring it to the big screen. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
For those of you who prefer Romantic Comedies for your movie enjoyment, we reviewed this next book – Eight Hundred Grapes – as part of our 2015 end of summer reading picks. We thought it would be a good movie then, and we stand by that now. (Keeping with our theme of picks that would make films less white, we challenge the producers to cast Asians, Latinos, African Americans, Indians, Native Americans, or other ethnic groups in some of the roles or as directors, best boys, or grips or…) NOTE: Apparently we do pretty well when picking books that should also be movies, we just discovered that shortly after we posted our review, FOX optioned this book for film. Coincidence? We think not.
Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (2015) – The title refers to the number of grapes required to make a bottle of wine. The story revolves around a Sonoma, California vineyard and the family who has tended it for decades. The novel launches with the narrator, a successful LA lawyer with a lovely British architect for a fiance, sitting, inappropriately dressed, in her brothers’ bar after discovering there is more to her fiance than she believed. When she retreats to her family’s vineyard to think, she learns her fiance is not the only one with secrets. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie