It’s rare that movies spring, fully formed, straight from the imagination of the writers and directors who are often credited with them. You know where those talented people get many of their ideas from? Books. Maybe you didn’t know that Stand By Me was originally a short story by Stephen King called “The Body,” or that Mean Girls was based on a self-help book.
Right now, Inherent Vice is in theaters, and it’s a huge deal not just because it’s a Paul Thomas Anderson movie (although, yes), but because no one has ever adapted a Thomas Pynchon novel for the big screen before. It’s particularly exciting to go to a movie and see what a director did with a book that you’ve already read: how the characters differ from what you pictured and what looks exactly as you imagined. But you’ve heard this before and I’m sure you’ll agree: The book is almost always better. But it’s up to you to make an informed decision. So consider reading the following books before you pay $12 for the big screen version.
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Movie Release: March 20
Roth’s dystopian Divergent series is a huge hit, both on the page and in theaters. It’s an action-packed and detail-oriented story about a post-apocalyptic world in which people are divided by virtues. But there is major world-building that happens in the books that has to be quickly summed up at the beginning of each movie. Significant details are overlooked. Also, there are some major, MAJOR developments down the line that might get spoiled for you if you don’t read the books first (I had the ending of Allegiant spoiled before I read it). Between blogs and interviews and all the press that accompanies these YA adaptations, secrets are not well-kept. Better to let the plot twists take you by surprise than have them ruined for you while browsing MTV.
The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks
Movie Release: April 1
In almost every Sparks book I’ve read, something is missing from the book-to-screen adaptation. The Last Song explores things from multiple characters’ points of view, whereas the movie is only from Ronnie’s perspective. A Walk to Remember is more modern than the book (Landon’s father provides financial support rather than leaving penny jars all over town). The Longest Ride is bound to leave out something about the two couples, one older and one younger, at the heart of its story. Since it’s pretty much a given that Sparks’ books make it to the big screen, in a way it’s as if he is deliberately giving his readers a little extra.
Paper Towns by John Green
Movie Release: June 5
Paper Towns tells the story of Quentin Jacobsen and his from-afar love, Margo Roth Spiegelman. One night she becomes more than a fantasy, at which point Quentin learns that she might not be the girl he thought she was. Now, I mean, a John Green book-to-screen adaptation WITH the author as executive producer? This is a no-brainer. But even with the author working on the movie, I still think it’s worth it to read the book first because compromises always have to be made.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Movie Release (Victor Frankenstein): October 2
When I heard Daniel Radcliffe was going to be playing Igor (and that the movie was going to be told from Igor’s perspective), I put the date in my calendar. Who can resist a modern retelling of Frankenstein with a not-so-traditional protagonist? But modern retellings are generally unorthodox (see Romeo + Juliet). It’ll be really interesting to see where the creators take liberties. Being familiar with the source material actually let’s you see which aspects of the story are truly timeless, and which can benefit from a Jay Z song or something.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Movie Release (Mockingjay – Part 2): November 20
In an unsurprising (if annoying) turn of events, Collins’ final book in the Hunger Games trilogy was split into two parts. That’s because studios like to milk franchises for all they’re worth (see also: Twilight). So if you watched the first part and thought, “Gee, that seemed to end in the middle of the story,” that’s because it did. Thankfully, the book is already out, and it includes both parts of Mockingjay. Fans know that something very BIG this way comes, and it makes the book a page-turner. Can’t wait until November for the second part? No problem: the full story is waiting for you in your local bookstore/library.
BONUS: BEFORE YOU RENT
Just in case you haven’t seen these movies that have been out a while, consider reading the book versions first.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I find it difficult to imagine a more tragic YA story than that of two cancer patients falling in love. Break out the tissues for The Fault in Our Stars. While the film is a fantastic translation, I’m going to stand by the tried-and-true argument: Gus will forever be Ansel Elgort and Hazel will always be Shailene Woodley if you don’t read the book first. Also, the book allows you to really get inside Hazel’s head, and see the world the way she does, feel what she feels, which voiceovers just can’t compensate for.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is written from the perspective of Charlie through letters to a friend (“Dear Friend”). As you read the novel, it becomes clear that Charlie may, in fact, be writing to you, the reader. He talks about all the little things that add up to the big things, and how he trudges through his first year of high school as the odd man out (and how, because of this, he ends up meeting some incredibly beautiful people). Stephen Chbosky actually directed the film, which is so incredibly rare and wonderful. That said, some parts of the book still didn’t make it into the film. Without spoiling, I’ll say there is one storyline involving Charlie’s sister that did not make it to the screen and which I really wish had.
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
My Sister’s Keeper is this totally beautiful story about a sister who was born in order to be able to donate essential tissues/marrow for her older sister, who has cancer. This choice encourages questions like: Was Anna born only to heal Kate, or did her parents really want her also? Should Anna feel guilt if she wishes to stop donating for Kate? Without giving anything away for people who haven’t yet read the book, the ending is different in the movie. I fully agree with Picoult that the book’s ending is better, both for the story and for the message the story perpetuates.
Anyway, if you don’t believe me, ask yourself this: Did you ever wish you’d watched Harry Potter before you read it? We didn’t think so.