If you’re one of those folks who has seen dozens of book-to-movie adaptations but never actually read the original texts, I’m tempted to shame you (just a tiny bit) here. But let’s face it: we’ve all done it. The list of movies I’ve seen without having first read the books they were adapted from isn’t long — but it isn’t exactly short either. (The Book Thief, The Godfather, The Silver Linings Playbook, The Silence of the Lambs, No Country For Old Men… and a few others here and there.) But, in general, I always try to read a book before the story plays out across the silver screen. As a book lover, more often than not, I find that the books are just better — the characters more complex, the plot more fully developed, the story taking its time to unfold in a way that is more sustained than 125 minutes in a cold theater with a sticky floor allows.
But just because you’ve already seen a film adaptation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t circle back and read the book too — you should! (Note all the reasons above.) Check out these 11 books you should read if you’ve already seen the movie.
1. ‘Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race’ by Margot Lee Shetterly
Released last December, the film Hidden Figures was nominated for three Oscars and won, among other honors, a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance. Based on the book published just a few months earlier, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film tells the story of NASA’s first black female mathematicians — nicknamed “human computers” — whose calculations were essential to some of America's greatest advancements in space exploration. While the film was amazing, the book is perfect for any history buff who wants the whole story.
2. ‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers
Because you can never get enough Emma Watson (amirite?) you’ve already seen The Circle, which premiered on Friday, April 28, and featured Tom Hanks as Hermione’s (I mean Watson’s) co-star. Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel, The Circle, takes readers (and viewers) behind the scenes of one of the world’s most powerful tech companies, where secrets, privacy, and “unplugging” are not only things of the past, they’re considered suspect. And while some of the twists and turns might not be quite as unexpected, since you’ve already seen them in film, Dave Eggers is a master of the written word, so you should definitely still check out the novel.
3. ‘The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan’ by Kim Barker
The fact that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which premiered in March of 2016 and starred the amazing Tina Fey, was inspired by a memoir definitely came as a surprise to me too. And believe it or not, foreign correspondent Kim Barker really is as good natured, self-deprecating, hilarious, and irreverent as the film adaptation of her book, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, makes her out to be. Which is kind of amazing, since she’s one of the longest-serving correspondents in Afghanistan and Pakistan — two decidedly unamusing locales. Definitely check it out.
4. ‘Forrest Gump’ by Winston Groom
An oldie, but goodie, this is another film that I had no idea began as a book until long after seeing the film Forrest Gump for the first time. Of note is the fact that in the book, written by Winston Groom and first published in 1986, Forrest becomes an astronaut and goes to outer space, where he meets an ape named Sue. Fast friends, the two crash in the jungle and are taken hostage by cannibals. (Really.) That alone should make you want to read the novel — but it’s definitely not the only difference worth checking out.
5. ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower was Stephen Chbosky’s debut novel — so the fact that it was later made into a movie is a testament to the writer’s storytelling ability. Published in 1999 and premiering as film starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller in 2012, The Perks of Being a Wallflower tells the sad, endearing, and totally relatable coming-of-age story of socially awkward high school freshman Charlie and his two new, mentor-like friends, Sam and Patrick. The novel is told through letters Charlie writes about his life to an unknown recipient.
6. ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot
Written by Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks premiered as an HBO film on April 22, and tells the true story of one of the most important and transforming medical discoveries in history: that of HeLa cells. HeLa cells proved vital in developing the polio vaccine, cancer research, virus research, the lasting effects of the atom bomb, the development of in vitro fertilization, cloning, gene mapping, and more — and they came from a woman who never gave permission for her cells to be used, and who would never know the difference she made in medical history. The film stars Oprah Winfrey, Rose Byrne, and many others — and while I’d give the film a solid three-and-a-half stars, the book is without a doubt a five.
7. ‘The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story’ by Diane Ackerman
Released to theaters in March, and published as a novel in 2007, The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman is another adaptation for which the film was fine and the book was wonderful. Set in 1939 Poland, Antonina Żabiński (played by Jessica Chastain) and her husband are in charge of the Warsaw Zoo when the Nazis invade Poland, taking over everything, including the zoo. The two begin to work for the Resistance, putting their own lives in danger to save others.
8. ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins
This psychological thriller had film-goers obsessed and book lovers even more — but if you haven’t had a chance to dive into The Girl on the Train in print form, it’s worth the read (even if the twists and turns won’t be quite as shocking as they were the first time around.) Paula Hawkins’ main character, Rachel (played by Emily Blunt in the 2016 adaptation) is recovering from a bad marriage, losing herself in the imagined lives of a couple whose balcony she passes on her daily commute. In the midst of becoming consumed by their morning routine, Rachel witness what she thinks might have been a crime — and finds herself diving headfirst (and uninvited) into the lives of the people she’s been watching from a distance.
9. ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel
This is one of the few novels for which I felt the film adaptation was just as good as the book itself (or, at any rate, as close as possible for this book lover.) Originally published in 2001 and brought to screen in a 2012 movie starring Suraj Sharma, The Life of Pi takes readers through the experiences of a shipwrecked boy stranded in a lifeboat with an angry tiger. The film won four Academy Awards and tons of other honors, and the novel won the 2002 Man Booker Prize, in addition to several other international book awards.
10. ‘American Pastoral’ by Philip Roth
Philip Roth’s American Pastoral was first published in 1997, but didn’t make its way to the silver screen until last year, in a crime drama starring Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, and Dakota Fanning — yet somehow, the story of civic and domestic order upended irreversibly seems as relevant as ever. The story introduces readers to Seymour Swede Levov, by all accounts a typical American father and husband, whose teenage daughter Merry commits an act of political terrorism that will challenge everything Swede ever thought about his country and his life. And yeah, in true fashion, the book is better.
11. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen
I know, I know — we all love Matthew Macfadyen (a lot.) But honestly, if you’ve seen Pride and Prejudice on screen (either the 1940 or the 2005 adaptation) and haven’t read Jane Austen’s classic novel yet, it’s time to turn in your library card, my friend. Published in 1813, Austen’s lessons about life and love, marriage and family, social expectations and living your truth, are just as important now as they were back then. And as one of the most popular novels in English literature, do you really want to keep passing this one up?