8 Books To Read Before You See The Movies This Fall

The newest crop of blockbusters is headed our way -- and there's just enough time left to catch up on the literary originals.
Courtesy of Back Bay Books
Freedom is almost as terrifying as captivity in this story of a mother and son who've been locked away in a shed for years by an abusive man. Emma Donoghue adapted her own 2010 novel, which bodes well for the film (debuting October 16). But the reason to read the book first is the character of 5-year-old Jack, who escapes the shed only to surface in an everyday world that feels, to him, like a bizarre foreign planet. In the novel, that strangeness is embedded in the prose: His quirky sense of language and confusion about the simplest descriptions of reality (he's not quite sure what a pasture is, for instance) make his ordeal all the more heartbreaking—and unforgettable.
Courtesy of Scribner
A period setting, a hint of romance, a Nick Hornby script—what more could a moviegoer ask for? The film adaptation of Colm Tóibín's 2009 novel (coming out November 4) follows young Eilis on her voyage from Ireland to New York in the 1950s, and the inevitable blend of romance and tragedy that ensues. Watch it for a painterly vision of what today's hipster hub looked like a half-century ago. But read the novel in advance to witness a writer masterfully portray a young woman's life—so sensitively that when her world turns upside down, you'll find yourself changed in the process.
The 33
Courtesy of Scribner
On October 13, 2010, the world gasped, sobbed and cheered as nearly three dozen men were rescued after being trapped in a Chilean mine for 69 days. This riveting episode is dramatized in The 33, starring Antonio Banderas and based on Héctor Tobar’s deeply researched 2014 book. The result? Edge-of-your-theater-seat tension. (The film hits theaters November 13). That said, Tobar is such a superb storyteller that even though you know the ending of the story, you won't be able to put this book down. Further, his account explores each man involved in such detail—from the lives of their families above-ground to the faith (and scarce rations) that sustain them below—that you'll feel desperate to save them, not just because they are at the bottom of a mine but because they are people you know well and care about.
The Danish Girl
Courtesy of Penguin Books
The best option for trans men and women in Europe in the 1920s and 30s was a life of quiet shame. The worst? Lobotomy. David Ebershoff's elegant and sensuous 2000 novel fictionalizes the life of Einar Wegener, a Danish artist who pushed back against those grim expectations to become Lili, one of the first women who underwent sex-reassignment surgery. Eddie Redmayne, who's playing Lili in the November 27 film version, has already inspired talk about a second Best Actor Oscar nomination. But the book gives almost equal time to Einar's wife, Greta, and their remarkable and complex love story.
Courtesy of Scholastic Paperbacks
Capitol or bust! The Hunger Games juggernaut has been leading up to this climactic battle of wills between totalitarian President Snow and telegenic backwoods savior Katniss. The previous films have been relentless over-the-top experiences, from the game machination to Effie's hairdos. Crowds will swarm the cineplexes on its debut November 20. But as Suzanne Collins' epic blasts its way to its conclusion, it's worth reading (or rereading) the final novel in the series to meet a quieter and more conflicted Katniss.
Courtesy of W.W. Norton
Girl meets girl; girl loses girl; girl nearly wrecks her life to win girl back. That's the basic plot of Carol, which stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as Carol and Therese, two women who fall hard for each other in 1950s New York but have to keep their love a secret. The acting in the November 20 film is bound to end up with award nominations. But remember: Same-sex romance was a provocative topic when Patricia Highsmith wrote the original novel using a pseudonym. The same deliciously noirish storytelling that made her Ripley books classics is just as compelling in this one: "She wished the tunnel might cave in and kill them both," a smitten Therese thinks, "that their bodies might be dragged out together."
Beasts of No Nation
Courtesy of Harper Perennial
The tragic legacy of African child soldiers—revenge killings, drugs, senseless massacres—comes to life in this saga starring Idris Elba, who plays the leader of a band of child soldiers. The directing of the movie—by True Detective's Cary Joji Fukunaga is sure to be brilliant—and devastating. But the beautiful, brutal original novel by Nigerian-American writer Iweala is given its power by its young narrator, Agu. Though Agu endures—and sometimes commits—terrible crimes, it's his voice that bonds you to him and his struggle to make sense of the world.
In the Heart of The Sea
Courtesy of Penguin
If you read Moby Dick wishing Herman Melville would cut to the chase, well, here's the chase: Nathaniel Philbrick's 2000 National Book Award-winning book tells the story of the crew of the Essex, whose perilous 1820 journey inspired the climactic chapters of the novel. Ron Howard has turned the book into a seafaring epic starring a stone-face and muscular Chris Hemsworth—which may be as irresistible as a holiday movie without the aliens or spacecraft gets (look for it December 11). Philbrick, however, manages both to capture the drama of the ill-fated Essex and to reveal the peculiar—and slightly insane—culture of Nantucket whalers that inspired such wild journeys in the first place.

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