Watching a movie based on a book you like can be a great way to supplement your reading. The director and the screenwriter, generally, are showing you their interpretation of the book, and while you may not always agree with that interpretation, the film will usually give you something to think (and talk!) about.

This year, Greta Gerwig's beautiful adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women earned four Academy Award nominations, including a (well-deserved) Best Picture nomination. But 2019 also brought several other noteworthy movies based on books that are worth checking out. For a change of pace, consider reading one of the books below with your book club and then screening the film.

Little Women

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

First published 1868. 546 pages

Alcott originally published Little Women in two volumes, the first in 1868 and the second in 1869. Its plot centers around four teenage sisters living in Massachusetts during the Civil War. The girls--Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March--are doing their best to get along without their father, who is serving as a military chaplain. The character of Jo, who has a talent for writing stories, is loosely based on Alcott herself.

Read at Project Gutenberg

The Gerwig film was released December 25, 2019 and received critical praise for the director's unique structuring of the plot, as well as her aesthetic vision. Little Women also received Academy Award nominations in the categories of Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress (for Saoirse Ronan's Jo), Best Supporting Actress (for Florence Pugh's Meg) and Best Score, and took home the award for Best Costume Design.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba

First published Oct 2009, 320 pages

In this inspiring memoir, 14-year-old William Kamkwamba recounts his family's struggle with hunger on their farm in a small village in Malawi (located in southeast Africa, just north of Mozambique). The enterprising teenager read up on the use of windmills to generate electricity and then built one out of scrap parts to power his own home and those of his neighbors.

More at BookBrowse

The book inspired the film of the same name, directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, the British-Nigerian actor best known for his role as Simon Winthrop in 12 Years a Slave. The movie premiered at Sundance in 2019 and is now streaming on Netflix. It has an 86% positive critics' rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Art of Racing in the Rain
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

First published 2008. 321 pages

This poignant tearjerker is narrated by a dog with the soul of a man who supports his owner, a would-be professional car racer, through a series of dark times. Demonstrating the strong link between humans and their four-legged best friends, this is a great choice for animal-loving book clubs.

Author's website

Directed by Simon Curtis and starring Milo Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfried (with Kevin Costner voicing the dog), the movie is available to rent or buy from Amazon Prime, iTunes, the Google Play Store, and YouTube. While the critics weren't impressed, The Art of Racing in the Rain has a 96% audience score from Rotten Tomatoes. It's a crowd-pleaser!

The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War
The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion by Marcia Mitchell and Thomas Mitchell

First published 2008. 210 pages

Marcia Mitchell's The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War tells the story of Katharine Gun, a British intelligence employee who leaked a memo in 2003 about an illegal U.S. spy operation planning to blackmail U.N. diplomats. She was subsequently arrested for violating the Official Secrets Act.

Publisher's website

The film version--called Official Secrets--directed by Gavin Hood and starring Keira Knightly as Katharine Gun premiered at Sundance in January 2019 and was released in the U.S. in August 2019, and in the U.K. in October. This one was well-reviewed by audiences and critics alike and you can rent or buy it on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, or YouTube.

Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

First published 1999. 311 pages

This National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel is a noir story about a detective with Tourette's Syndrome working the case of his mobster mentor's murder in Brooklyn. Actor Edward Norton acquired the book's film rights in 1999 and labored over the project for 20 years. He wrote the screenplay, directed, produced and stars in the movie, which premiered in theaters in November 2019.

Publisher's website

The film was reasonably well-reviewed by both critics and audiences, and you've certainly got to respect Norton's dedication to the task. While it's occasionally slow, Norton's Motherless Brooklyn is a stylistically sharp homage to the history of film noir. (While the book's setting is contemporary, Norton opted to place his version in the 1950s, which certainly amplifies the film's noir motif.) You can rent or buy this one on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play or YouTube.

Though it wasn't particularly well-received, the film version of Maria Semple's Where'd You Go Bernadette (starring Cate Blanchett) is also available to rent, as is director Mike Flanagan's excellent adaptation of Stephen King's Doctor Sleep.

by Lisa Butts

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