It’s already August and you haven’t even bent a corner on your required summer reading book. You probably don’t even know where it is right now. Maybe under that pizza box in the corner? Nevertheless, time is ticking by FAST now that you’re being bombarded with back-to-school ads on an hourly basis, reminding you that summer vacation is almost over.
Because we care about your future, we went ahead and organized a list of 20 summer reading books, gathered from schools across the country, that have also been made into movies. So instead of having a panic attack about how you’re going to read 300+ pages in two weeks, microwave yourself a bowl of popcorn and, literally, watch and learn.
“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
Your first instinct may be to reach for the more updated 1990 film version, but if you can get your hands on the original 1963 adaptation you’ll be much more prepared for the first day of school. It’s part of the Criterion Collection, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find. The 1990 film only really illustrates the general concept of the novel (that fear, hate and violence are inherent to the human condition). But, come on, it’s basically “The Hunger Games” so you’d actually enjoy reading its 208 pages.
“Emma” by Jane Austen
Austen is known for prefacing the writing of “Emma” with a quote describing the tale. “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” (Write that down!) The person she is describing is known to us ’90s kids as Cher Horowitz, the warmhearted yet superficial lead played by Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless.” Yes, the Beverly Hills high school comedy is based on a book written way back in 1815. Just for kicks, watch that movie first, and then go find the 1996 adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow for more accuracy.
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
Here’s an ideal situation where the movie is celebrated just as much as the book, so you can’t go wrong watching the 1940 adaptation directed by Darryl F. Zanuck (and it won’t be hard to find, either). However, it’s incredibly important to note the differences, as the film ends quite differently than the novel. After watching the flick you’ll want to spend five or 10 minutes researching the differences online. Spoiler: The book ends on a much darker note.
“Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut
I know there’s a movie for this one, but really you should just suck it up and power through the book. We’re talking about pages that have been banned, burned and challenged over the years. But since you’re not going to listen to me, after watching the 1972 film you should at least read the novel’s prologue and learn about the handful of characters they omitted from the flick.
“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green
By now you’ve probably heard about this tear-jerking little tale of a 16-year-old cancer patient named Hazel and the boy named Augustus who’s dead-set on winning her heart. If you do pick up this book, you probably won’t put it down for the next 32 hours or so, until the last line has been read (who needs sleep, anyway?). However, if you’re determined to avoid John Green’s 300-page prose, be sure to pick up a box of tissues and prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster of laughs, cries and screaming at the television. OK? OK.
“The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls
Okay, this one isn’t a film yet, but I wanted to include it on the list because it will be. The ever-fabulous Jennifer Lawrence is set to not only star in the flick, but produce it as well. The film will be based on the memoir of author Jeanette Walls’ unconventional and and deeply dysfunctional upbringing. If you have to read it this year, you should probably start rolling on those 288 pages. Maybe next year’s students will luck out with an Oscar-worthy cheat.
“The Princess Bride” by William Goldman
William Goldman, the author of “The Princess Bride,” was quoted as saying in his 1979 biography, “I’ve gotten more responses on The Princess Bride than on everything else I’ve done put together—all kinds of strange outpouring letters. Something in The Princess Bride affects people.” But, you probably know this already, because you did your due diligence and at least looked the book up on Wikipedia. Right? Good. Well you are in luck that Rob Reiner’s 1987 cult-classic film is actually very close to the book, with one little caveat. In the movie, the film is presented as a Grandfather reading a story to his sick grandson. That is not in the book. Don’t give yourself away on the first day of school by talking about how adorable they are.
“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan
The biggest problem with watching Wayne Wang’s “Joy Luck Club” is the inevitability that several scenes and chapters are cut from the original novel. However, author Amy Tan both co-wrote and produced the film adaptation, so it does keep in line very well. You’ll come out of the film with a general understanding of what the story is and its greater theme, but you’ll lack some of the finer details of each character’s tale.
“Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky
This classic coming-of-age tale is only a short 244-page read. It has spent considerable time atop the New York Times Bestseller’s list, and you really could read it in a weekend… but none of those details really interest you. Time is of the essence. The movie adaptation was written by the same author, so you’re going to get the full story. A key point you may want to bring to English class is missing in the movie, but since I don’t want to spoil it for you here, make sure you hit the internet to find “Charlie’s poem” afterwards.
“Animal Farm” by George Orwell
There are a few options to check out if you haven’t even bent a page of the dystopian novel. “Animal Farm” was first made into an animated feature that was funded by the U.S. Government in 1954. (If you haven’t done your research, the book is basically Orwell’s personal/political attack against Stalin and Russian Communism.) Unfortunately, there are some alterations to the original ending and the overall message of the book. (Because, you know, the Cold War was going on and the U.S. government wanted to make sure we all really disliked Stalin.) Another adaptation was made in 1999, but it’s so loosely based on the novel that you’re better off skipping it. Your saving grace would be to find the BBC Radio version, dramatized by George Orwell himself and broadcast in January 2013.
“Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis
“Moneyball” follows the story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics’ successful bid to mathematically create a winning baseball team full of undervalued players while coping with a significant disadvantage in revenue. You may be familiar with the 2011 Academy Award-nominated film of a similar title, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. It turns out, the film is mostly accurate to the novel, with only a couple of historical alterations. The most notable change was in the representation of Oakland A’s manager Art Howe (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who appeared more stubborn in the film than his true-to-life personality.
“The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd
This coming-of-age novel, set during in the year of the Civil Rights Act, comes in at a staggering 344 pages — which is kind of a big summer reading project. I have good new and bad news… Good news: It was adapted into a film in 2008 starring Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah. Bad news: There are several changes from the original novel. If you don’t know them, you’ll definitely be in trouble. The biggest changes are how Lily’s mother comes to pass and basically everything involving Zach. Make sure you hit those cliff notes after the flick!
“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel
Yann Martel’s fantasy is a read is all about the perception of reality, and Ang Lee’s film of the same name expertly covers that central theme. There are few differences between the book and the novel, but the central message and storyline remain intact. Enjoy this Oscar winner before the school year starts. You don’t have a lot of time, and the film is over 2 hours long!
“The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis
You might have a bit of a problem here, guys. Although Sandra Bullock’s performance in “The Blind Side” was beyond perfect, the film only focuses on half the story in the book. There’s all this stuff about the evolution of offensive football strategies involving the left tackle. It’s a nice segue into Michael Oher’s story, but there is very little of that mentioned in the film. Maybe if you’re a big football buff you picked up on some of it? It’s 352 pages … so … bye now!
“Water For Elephants” by Sara Gruen
This dramatic love story takes place mostly in flashback, wherein an elderly man, Jacob Jankowski, tells the tale of his life with the circus. It was published in 2006 and then quickly turned around into a feature film starring everyone’s favorite actor, Robert Pattinson, and the lovable Reese Witherspoon. The movie stays mostly true to the novel, however, they removed a character and switched up the circumstances under which Jacob is telling his story. Read the first few pages, the last few pages and do a little research on Uncle Al.
“The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lihiri
The general consensus around “The Namesake” is an echo that you’ll come to understand and feel the characters much more in the novel than in the film. But, really, doesn’t that conclusion apply to nearly every adaptation in cinematic history? That said, it’s still an beautiful tale about discovering one’s self and the values of culture and family.
“Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream” by H.G. Bissinger
There are so many spins based on this non-fiction story following the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team in Texas. Unfortunately, none of them quite tell the story how it really is. The 2004 Peter Berg film changed up many of the names, numbers and player positions, in addition to altering how the season played out. The film later spawned a TV series that spanned 5 seasons; but, if you don’t have to read through the 357 pages, you certainly don’t have the time to binge watch the show.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
If you were assigned to read this classic novel over the summer, you’ll probably be in for a first-day-of-school treat to the 1962 film. Harper Lee quite possibly adored the movie more than her own written words. The black and white feature still maintains an impressive 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so if you’re not put-off by the lack of color, you’ll probably enjoy this revered piece of art.
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Phillip K. Dick
This dystopian piece of science fiction is probably better-known to its audience as the “Blade Runner” series. It was adapted for film in 1982 at the hand of director Ridley Scott. Unfortunately, the film shares few similarities to the novel, with the exception of the base story. It follows a bounty hunter who is charged with hunting and killing advanced rogue androids who are posing as humans, and explores the concept of empathy as a wholly human trait. The novel is fairly short, so my expert recommendation would be to enjoy both, very quickly.
“The Chosen” by Chaim Potok
This 1967 period piece follows two teenagers of conflicting Jewish faiths and the balance of their friendship through major historical events including the death of President Roosevelt, the end of World War II and the Holocaust, and the creation of the state of Israel. The 1981 film adaptation was well received by critics and is largely faithful to the original text. However, there are a few differences. There is a hospital scene that, although significant in the novel, is cut down to a single scene in the film. Additionally, the film is much more liberal in depicting social and romantic interactions between men and women. The novel shies away from any romantic notions, focusing the boys’ attention on religion and politics.