Summer Reading On Screen

One of the biggest motivators for bumping a book to the top of my reading queue is hearing that a film adaptation is in the works. I like being able to judge a movie on its own merits as well as evaluating it as an adaptation. Usually the effort is worth it, and I wind up loving the books, even if the movies turn out to be totally mediocre. (Everything is Illuminated and The Golden Compass fall into this camp.) Of course, it works the other way, too. Great movies pushed me to read Fight Club and High Fidelity and discover the other books by Chuck Palahniuk and Nick Hornby. (But then I have to read the edition of the book with the movie tie-in cover, and I’m always a little embarrassed to do that.) I guess that books and movies have a symbiotic relationship, as it’s not uncommon for one to lead its audience to the other. Which one do you like experiencing first: the book or movie?

This summer is no different from any other season when it comes to novels being plucked from bookstore shelves and transferred to the big screen. Here’s a look at some summer reading that you can also catch at your local cinema—and my predictions about whether or not you should pony up for a movie ticket.

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My Sister’s Keeper
Who did the book: Jodi Picoult (Mercy)
What it’s about: Anna, a young teenager, sues her parents for the rights to her own body, which her parents were planning on using as a donor to help Anna’s cancer-ridden older sister.
Who did the movie: Nick Cassavetes (Alpha Dog), with stars Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin.
Chances of it being a good adaptation: 50/50, which is actually the score the movie is currently rocking on Metacritic. The movie touches on a divisive issue, so your personal opinions will probably color your enjoyment of the movie.

I Love You, Beth Cooper
Who did the book: Larry Doyle (The Simpsons)
What it’s about: Denis Cooverman, a dorky valedictorian, declares his love for the school’s head cheerleader during his commencement speech, setting off one of those crazy, Dazed and Confused-style all-in-one-night chain of events.
Who did the movie: Chris Columbus (of the first two Harry Potter movies), with stars Paul Rust and Rockland native Hayden Panettiere.
Chances of it being a good adaptation: Unfortunately, from experience, I know this is slim-to-nil. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but Larry Doyle’s deadpan writing style—with his humorous asides—is most of the appeal. What sounds believable in his dispassionate descriptions looks wacky, broad, and cartoonish on screen.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Who did the book: J.K. Rowling (um, duh)
What it’s about: The ongoing adventures of Harry Potter and his quest to avenge his parents and banish evil in the wizarding world. Also: teen relationships and the wizard dating scene.
Who did the movie: David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), with stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.
Chances of it being a good adaptation: Depends on how married to the books you are. The novel is 652 pages. A lot is jettisoned for the movie. I like the sleek and streamlined plot, but others are probably howling that their favorite parts were cut.

Julie & Julia
Who did the book: Blogger Julie Powell
What it’s about: Lost soul Julie Powell tries to revive herself by cooking her way through all of the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook.
Who did the movie: Nora Ephron (Bewitched), with stars Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.
Chances of it being a good adaptation: Pretty good. The movie cuts between the lives of Julie Powell (Adams) and Julia Child (Streep), and I’m pretty sure the movie could succeed on these two actresses’ likeability alone. Also, maybe I’m just being snobby, but I think it’s probably easier to adapt a blog for the big screen since you don’t have to deal with subplots or flowery descriptive passages with writerly asides.

The Time Traveler’s Wife
Who did the book: Audrey Niffenegger (The Three Incestuous Sisters)
What it’s about: The romantic relationship between protagonists Henry and Clare gets rocky when Henry starts experiencing random, uncontrollable time travel.
Who did the movie: Robert Schwentke (Flightplan), with stars Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana.
Chances of it being a good adaptation: For a book that my personal anecdotal evidence suggests is universally beloved, the chances for the movie aren’t looking too good. The release has been long-delayed (usually a bad sign), and there were rumors of problems necessitating extensive re-shoots (which were also delayed because Eric Bana was bald for Star Trek). Also, the trailer—with its twinkly music—just looks cheesy.

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Taking Woodstock
Who did the book: Catskill motel owner Elliot Tiber (with Tom Monte)
What it’s about: Tiber’s memoir describes his role in Woodstock, which next month has its 40th anniversary.
Who did the movie: Westchester resident Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain), with stars Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch, and Jonathan Groff.
Chances of it being a good adaptation: I adore Martin and Lee, so I’d like to think this will turn out okay, but response from Cannes was less than enthusiastic.

Look out for some big adaptations in the fall/winter, including The Road, Where the Wild Things Are, Youth in Revolt, Precious (based on the novel Push), New Moon, The Lovely Bones, and maybe even An Invisible Sign of My Own. This is your warning to get started reading them, before the editions with the movie tie-in covers come out.

Time Traveler’s Wife photo by Alan Markfield. Julie & Julia © 2009 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT.

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