Books coming to the screen that might work for your book club

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8 Upcoming Literary Adaptations to Read With Your Book Club This Fall

Stay ahead of the pop culture curve by reading these books with your book club before their adaptations hit the big (or small) screen this fall.

By Kathryn J. Schaub

Reviewed by Mary Garcia

The next few months are chock-full of literary adaptations coming to theaters and streaming services as projects filmed both before and during the pandemic finally start to get 2021 release dates. Read the following books with your book club to ensure your group is ready to discuss the next viral reading sensation while it’s still trending and before the pop culture moment moves on.

One of Us is Lying, October, Peacock

https://www.youtube.com/embed/TWVMBfMpFiU?feature=oembedSource: Peacock

If you’ve ever thought “The Breakfast Club but make it murder mystery and add a dash of Gossip Girl,” then oh do we have the book (and show!) for you. One of Us is Lying centers on five high school students who get stuck together in detention, but rather than breaking down shallow stereotypes as they come together with the common goal of ruining the killjoy principal’s day, one of them ends up dead. The victim, Simon, is the school’s resident gossipmonger and poised to post juicy revelations that will expose each of his four fellow detainees: Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, and Cooper. With them all pinpointed as prime suspects in his murder, the question then becomes, whose secret was worth killing for?

The first three episodes of this YA-thriller have already hit Peacock, with three episodes coming out each week for the next two weeks, giving you and your book club more than enough time to devour this mystery before the finale airs on October 21.

The Last Duel, October 15, theaters

https://www.youtube.com/embed/_neyKOWX9z0?feature=oembedSource: 20th Century Studios

A compelling account of the last (officially recognized) duel in France’s history, The Last Duel is a complex political thriller full of twists and turns (and yes, some pretty ridiculous hair). When Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) accuses her husband’s (Matt Damon) friend, squire, and rival (Adam Driver) of rape, a duel is sanctioned to determine the truth. Although not yet clear what changes director Ridley Scott may have made when adapting Eric Jager’s 2004 novel for the screen, both book and movie are sure to spark intense discussion in almost any book club (for instance, on a scale of 1 to Ben Platt’s Dear Evan Hansen wig, just how terrible is the medieval mullet and bleach blonde bowl cut).

Passing, October 29, Netflix

https://www.youtube.com/embed/trwq3CNCMkU?feature=oembedSource: Netflix

Nella Larsen’s Passing is one of the most important novels in the American literary canon, just as vital to understanding the US in the 20s as Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Named for the term that describes when members of marginalized ethnicities hide their identity in order to be perceived as white, the book chronicles two mixed-race childhood best friends, Clare (Ruth Negga) and Irene (Tessa Thompson), who reunite in adulthood and confront their own as well as each other’s choices with tragic results.

This long-overdue adaptation is already getting plenty of love from critics and early award-season buzz. The short book is a good match for book clubs ready to unpack difficult conversations around race, class, gender, and sexuality both in the context of the roaring twenties and today.

Ragdoll, November 11, AMC+

https://www.youtube.com/embed/X7HaV7IOpu8?feature=oembedSource: AMC

Those with sensitive stomachs beware, this one is gruesome. Based on the first book in Daniel Cole’s Fawkes and Baxter series, Ragdoll follows investigators Nathan Rose, Emily Baxter, and Lake Edmunds (the last of whom is played by Lucy Hale) as they investigate a serial killer who dismembers six victims and then stitches them together into something that resembles a human ragdoll. The killer targets Rose (who in the book is named William Fawkes), forcing him to reconcile a dark past as he tries to find the link between himself and the other would-be victims before it’s too late.

While this doesn’t seem to be the most faithful adaptation on this list, both the book and the show are a great pick for book clubs that can’t get enough of murder mysteries with contemporary noir twists (plus, if nothing else, the necessity of some of the book-to-screen changes will be sure to spark some passionate debates).

Wheel of Time, November 19, Amazon Prime

https://www.youtube.com/embed/3Fus4Xb_TLg?feature=oembedSource: Prime Video

Still searching for the show that will fill the Game-of-Thrones-sized hole in your TV schedule (or maybe just wipe away the memory of that disastrous final season)? Look no further than Amazon’s upcoming Wheel of Time adaptation, which is based on a bestselling series oft-revered as one of the greatest high fantasy sagas ever written. Originally published in 1990 by Robert Jordon, the last few books in the series were finished by Brandon Sanderson after Jordon’s death in 2007.

The story takes place in both Earth’s distant past as well as its future, exploring the idea of a cyclical timeline in which events repeat during different periods in history. The first season of amazon’s adaptation will focus on the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, in which an all-female magical organization called the Aes Sedai are racing against the villainous Dark One in search of a reincarnated messiah figure (the Dragon Reborn) who is fated to either save or doom humanity. Fans have been hotly anticipating this adaptation for decades now and it’s sure to generate plenty of buzz when it lands on Amazon Prime later this year (oh, and did we mention it stars the always pitch-perfect Rosamund Pike?!).

House of Gucci, November 24, theaters

https://www.youtube.com/embed/pGi3Bgn7U5U?feature=oembedSource: MGM

From the now iconic photo of Lady Gaga and co-star Adam Driver on set to “Father, Son, House of Gucci” at the end of the latest trailer, House of Gucci is the literary adaptation that has already launched a thousand memes. Based on a 2000 work of nonfiction by Sara Gay Forden, it details the behind-the-scenes struggles that lead to the Gucci family losing control of their fashion empire and the sensationalized murder of the last family member to run Gucci, Maurizio (Driver), orchestrated by his wife, Patrizia (Gaga).

If the past few months of press around this movie have been any indication, House of Gucci will be an internet sensation from the moment it’s released. Whether your book club’s members love a good true-crime thriller or just crave the rush of staying ahead of the pop culture curve, don’t hesitate to make this book your pre-Thanksgiving read.

Nightmare Alley, December 17, theaters

https://www.youtube.com/embed/k-qVV8zyVmI?feature=oembedSource: Searchlight Pictures

The master of fantastically horrific and horrifically fantastic cinema, Guillermo del Toro is back with a movie sure to draw a crowd when it hits theaters this December. Based on a 1946 book by William Lindsay Gresham, the story follows Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a carny, and Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchette), a psychiatrist, as they team up to swindle wealthy carnival-goers. The ensemble cast is absolutely stacked, with fan favorites like Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Richard Jenkins, David Strathairn, Michael Shannon, Mary Steenburgen, and so many more. Whether you’re a huge fan of del Toro’s oeuvre, love a good period piece set at a carnival, or can’t get enough of any kind of psychological thriller, this movie is sure to wow. Get ahead of the buzz by reading the novel before the movie is released in theaters.

Station Eleven, December, HBO Max

Warning: this one will hit close to home, for well . . . basically everyone. Why? Based on Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel of the same name, Station Eleven is a timely read about the struggle to survive (and find meaning in) a global pandemic that leads to civilization’s collapse. It flashes back and forth in time, showing life before the pandemic, the initial moments the flu-like illness first hits, as well as 20 years later as a nomadic acting troupe crisscrosses the great lakes.

It’s not all doom and gloom, with showrunner Patrick Sommerville describing it as a “post-apocalyptic story about joy.” Expect some changes between book and movie as some roles have been expanded or shifted to better fit the narrative arch of a limited series. If you pick this for your book club, wow with this fascinating tidbit of trivia: the show was actually on a short hiatus after filming the first few episodes when art and reality collided in March of 2020.

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