7 Books That Inspired Oscar-Worthy Films to Read As Awards Season Picks Up Steam

Ah, the early January lull — the holidays are behind you, family has been visited, parties have been thrown, and shopping has been done. Combine that with chilly winter weather and it becomes the perfect time to catch up on your media consumption. With most of your favorite television shows on their midseason break, that leaves books and movies to fill your evenings. Which is good timing, because the Golden Globes have passed, the 2015 Spirit Award nominees have been announced, and the Academy Award nominations are not far behind.

If summer is blockbuster time, late fall to early winter is all Oscar bait; it's basically the the playoff season for movie buffs. As is the case in so many years, quite a few of this year’s most critically acclaimed films are based on books. If you are an “I always read the book first!” type (and it if you have clicked on this article you probably are), then you’re in luck. Here is my run-down of all the source material — from memoir to biography to novel — you need to read before seeing this year’s crop of Oscar nominee candidates.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

You’re probably already familiar with Cheryl Strayed’s unique voice from her Dear Sugar columns, but if you haven’t yet read Strayed’s memoir about her solo trek across the Pacific Crest trail, you’re in for a treat. Reese Witherspoon’s return to form performance as Strayed and the gorgeous, rugged terrain of the Pacific Northwest in all its glory are more than worth the price of admission for the film, but it is well worth reading a writer’s seminal story, especially when that writer has guided and influenced so many.

Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Mathematician, logician, and computer science pioneer Alan Turing was responsible for unlocking the German Enigma code, which was critical to the Allied war effort. Hodges's biography tells how the government that Turing served (and saved) quickly turned on him during the height of Cold War paranoia and intolerance, persecuting him for his homosexuality until his untimely death. Benedict Cumberbatch fans will surely want to see their man in action in The Imitation Game, but reading Hodges' book gives you a fuller picture of this tragic treatment of war hero and genius.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice is the heartbreaking, unflinching story of Alice Howland, a renowned linguist and Harvard cognitive psychology professor who develops early onset Alzheimer’s and struggles to maintain her job, her relationships with her husband and three grown children. Julianne Moore’s critically acclaimed performance in the adaptation of Still Alice is making the film a must-see, but the unique insights of the book result from Genova’s decision to tell the story in the first person, drawing readers in and forcing them to confront the world through Alice’s eyes as the devastating disease rapidly takes its toll.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

This biography — the source material for the Angelina Jolie-directed Unbroken — follows American hero Louis Zamperini, whose astounding survival story provides enough material for three films, never mind one. A former Olympic track runner, Zamperini worked as a bombardier during the second world war. When his aircraft crashed over the Pacific ocean, he and his crew mates were forced to fend off dehydration, starvation, and sharks for 47 days, only to be captured by the Japanese forces and imprisoned and tortured in an internment camp until the end of the war. The author of the blockbuster biography Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand is no stranger to telling a stirring, inspiring, heart pounding true story.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

At this point, it’s hard to imagine there is anyone left who would read Gone Girl that hasn’t already done so. However, if you’re an Oscar junkie who missed the the buzz during both the novel’s and film adaptation’s releases, be sure to check out Gone Girl now, if only to see if Rosamund Pike’s chilling, critically acclaimed performance as Amy Ellliot Dunne does justice to Amazing Amy created by Flynn on the page.

Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking

Jane Hawking's candid, compassionate memoir tells the story of her extraordinary marriage with Stephen Hawking as the couple weathered his soaring career and worsening motor neuron disease, along with the everyday challenges of building a home and raising a family. Critics are raving about The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as the Hawkings, but before seeing the film take the time to read Jane's story in her own words.

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Ostensibly the mystery of a missing gangster, Inherent Vice is really a twisted, sprawling, psychedelic journey through late-'60s Los Angeles, equal parts half-baked and hard-boiled. To really enjoy this trippy noir, you’ve got to let go of your desire to figure out whodunnit and just hang on for the ride, man. Read the book first, then watch the movie for the stellar performances of its top-notch ensemble cast (who will help you keep Pynchon's array of eccentric characters straight).