Now that the Winter Olympics have concluded–and can I say bravo to Sochi on that epic celebration of Russian literature in the closing ceremony?–it’s time to turn our attention to the 86th Academy Awards. The lights! The dazzle! The pageantry! And, most importantly, the books that made so many of these movies possible from the start.This year’s nominations stem from a bunch of great reads, and we’ve listed the majority of them, along with their respective book titles, below. Read the book and see the movie (or switch the order, if you so prefer). Lights, camera, action! 12 Years a Slave (Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Directing, etc.) — 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northrop. Solomon Northup was a free-born African American who lived between 1808 and around 1863. Twelve Years a Slave is Northrup’s memoir (as told to and edited by David Wilson) of his experience being kidnapped and sold into slavery for twelve years in Louisiana before regaining his freedom. Northrop’s book was a bestseller when it was first published (just a year after Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin) but then slumped into a a century of obscurity before it was “re-discovered” in the early 1960s. The movie 12 Years a Slave is not the first film adaptation of the book, though: in 1984, Solomon Northrup’s Odyssey (later released as Half Slave, Half Free) was aired on PBS.
The Wolf of Wall Street (Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Directing, etc.) — The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort. Having not read this one myself, I will pass the baton to Publishers Weekly: “Belfort, who founded one of the first and largest chop shop brokerage firms in 1987, was banned from the securities business for life by 1994, and later went to jail for fraud and money-laundering, delivers a memoir that reads like fiction. It covers his decade of success with straightforward accounts of how he worked with managers of obscure companies to acquire large amounts of stock with minimal public disclosure, then pumped up the price and sold it, so he and the insiders made large profits while public investors usually lost.” And a follow-up from Kirkus Reviews: “Entertaining as pulp fiction, real as a federal indictment […] a hell of a read.”
The Book Thief (Music – Original Score) — The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Book Thief has been a must-read since its publication in 2006. Narrated by death, it tells the story of Liesel, a foster child in 1939 Nazi Germany. She discovers an insatiable love of reading that she shares with her foster father, her neighbours, and the Jewish man hiding in her basement. Though categorized as a teen book, it has become an international bestseller with readers of all ages and has spent over 375 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It is one of those books that gets passed from reader to reader and has become a staple for book clubs nationwide. Zusak was recently awarded the 2014 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contribution in writing for young adults. Even if you don’t see the movie, this book is a wonderful choice.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects) — The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien. Well this one seems pretty obvious, don’t you think?
Captain Phillips (Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, etc.) — A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephen Talty. In A Captain’s Duty, Captain Richard Philips tells the story of the hijacking of the container ship MV Maersk Alabama and his experience as a hostage to Somali pirates before he was rescued. Tom Hanks’ acting in the role of Captain Phillips was, as is typical for Hanks, fantastic. While the film focuses mainly on Phillips’ experience, the book alternates between his ordeal and the experiences of his family in Vermont as they faced a different kind of emotional turmoil. A Captain’s Duty received starred reviews from both Booklist and Publishers Weekly.
Inside Llewyn Davis (Cinematography, Sound Mixing) — The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir by Dave Van Ronk. The Seattle Times says this book is “[a] delightful, keenly-observed, cantankerous autobiography…which, if you love ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ you owe it to yourself to read.” In it Van Ronk, one of the founding individuals of the 1960s folk music revival, gives a firsthand account of his experiences and encounters with soon-to-be famous Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and more. According to the New York Review of Books blog, Inside Llewyn Davis “extensively mines Van Ronk’s remarkable posthumous memoirThe Mayor of MacDougal Street (seamlessly compiled from interviews by Elijah Wald; Da Capo, 2005) for scenes, anecdotes, and details of background, and its protagonist, Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) sings songs closely associated with Van Ronk.”
The Great Gatsby (Costume Design) — The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Whether you loved or hated the film–and it was definitely a dividing movie–almost everyone can agree that the novel by Fitzgerald is one of the all-time best American classics. If you haven’t read it yet, now is as good a time as any.
Saving Mr. Banks (Music – Original Score) — Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers. Okay, so it’s not based on Mary Poppins so much as the woman who wrote it and Walt Disney’s determination to bring it to cinematic life, but I still think it belongs on this list. Another title that might be of interest is Mary Poppins She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers by Valerie Lawson. Booklist says: “It turns out there was a lot of the difficult Travers in Poppins. […] This meticulously researched but overlong biography may help restore a diminished literary reputation, but its unsparing portrait of an exceedingly unsympathetic human being will win Travers no new posthumous friends.” Biography fans ought to appreciate this one, especially those who were annoyed with the inaccuracies portrayed in the film (as charming as it was).
Room on the Broom (Short Film – Animated) — Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson; illustrated by Axel Scheffler. This short is based on the classic picture book created by the same duo who wrote and illustrated another bestselling kids’ favorite, The Gruffalo. Learn more here about the animated short, the original book, and a new game app that’s available.
Philomena (Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role, Writing – Adapted Screenplay, etc.) — Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, & a Fifty-Year Search by Martin Sixsmith. Philomena tells the true story, as told by journalist Sixsmith, of a pregnant teenager in 1952 who was sent to a convent and forced to give up her son for adoption. Five decades later she decides to find him and, unbeknownst to her, he attempts to find her as well, though they are now an ocean apart. Dame Judi Dench, who is nominated for a best actress award in this film, writes, “The extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman […] Philomena’s tale is special. […] It reveals a remarkable human being with astonishing fortitude and a truly humbling willingness to forgive. […] I hope Philomena’s heroic search and her courage in allowing her story to be told will bring comfort to all who have suffered a similar fate.” (Dench has written the foreword to the newest edition of the book that is now available.)
Lone Survivor (Sound Editing, Sound Mixing) —Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. Lone Survivor is a non-fiction account of Luttrell’s experience in Afghanistan under Operation Red Wing in which he and other Navy SEALs were to observe a local village and capture or kill a Taliban leader. An encounter with local residents, however, turns their mission treacherously violent as they find themselves surrounded and greatly outnumbered by Taliban warriors. Film rights were obtained in 2007, the same year that the book was released. According to The Washington Post, “If you’re looking for a true story that showcases both American heroism and Afghani humanity, [this] may be the book for you.”
Blue Jasmine (Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Writing – Original Screenplay) — This drama, written and directed by Woody Allen, tells the story of a fall from wealth to poverty by a Manhattan Socialite. Though not specifically based on a book (note the nomination for best original screenplay), it has been heavily compared to Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire. Some critics believe Allen was directly inspired by the play, citing similar plot and characters, though not all critics agree. Regardless, the two leading ladies in Allen’s film have previously been associated with Williams’ play, and a comparison of the two would certainly bring about a lively conversation about comparative art.
August: Osage County (Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role) — August: Osage County by Tracy Letts. This play, an American black-comedy drama, premiered in Chicago in 2007 and then received Pulitzer Prize in 2008. It focuses on the strong-willed and disjointed women of the Weston family who reunite after a family crisis in their hometown of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The film adaptation features a star-studded cast (including Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, both with Oscar nods for their roles). The play itself is three hours long while the film is just around two hours. According to our own used book buyer, Brad Craft, “If you want to experience the full disfunction of this family, you owe it to yourself to read the play. A lot more drinking, drugs, and fighting–all of the fun.”
As always, happy reading! (And watching.)