The top 10 books to read before the film adaptations hit screens

From classic tales to new thrillers there is plenty to catch your eye in 2019

Books to read before watching the movies
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

For some people, there's nothing quite like the vaguely musty smell of a store-bought book. For others, why would you read when you can just watch? Whatever your preference for digesting stories, Hollywood has been bridging the gap by taking inspiration from bookshelves for years – and 2019 will be no different.

Last year gave us chart-­topping adaptations including Crazy Rich Asians and First Man, but the next 12 months will welcome even more hotly anticipated, star-studded takes on bookstore favourites.

Here, we identify our top picks to add to your must-read, and must-watch, lists for the year ahead.

'Where’d You Go, Bernadette'

Maria Semple was a screenwriter on cult comedy Arrested Development before turning author, and her flair for witty dialogue shines through in her second novel. Told through the eyes of 15-year-old Bee, the tale follows the disappearance of her agoraphobic architect mother, Bernadette, and it spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list.

Written as a series of emails, documents and letters, each one helps piece together the teen's hunt for her family's brilliantly eccentric ­matriarch, with biting humour and a learned emotional tenderness. With Cate Blanchett playing the titular role, the cast for the big-screen ­adaptation also features Kristen Wiig, Laurence Fishburne and Billy Crudup, with Golden Globe-winning director Richard Linklater behind the lens.

'The Rhythm Section'

Thriller fans will find much to like in this adaptation of Mark Burnell's debut novel, a tale of revenge and a hunt for ­justice. Stephanie Patrick, played by Blake Lively on the silver screen, learns the plane crash that claimed her family was not an accident, and embarks on a quest to uncover those behind the crime by posing as an assassin.

The first of four in a series focused around Patrick, The Rhythm Section is a rousing narrative that is not only action-packed, but explores a woman's rediscovery and reclamation of her ­identity – all while playing a part. Also starring Jude Law and ­Sterling K Brown, the film is set to be released this year, after ­production was halted for ­several months when Gossip Girl actress Lively was injured in an on-set stunt.

'Little Women'

Can you improve upon the ­Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst 1994 classic, ­arguably the most memorable ­adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel? That's the task facing Greta ­Gerwig, the actor-director behind the fifth feature-length film of the ­coming-of-age story. The ­Ladybird star has enlisted names such as Emma ­Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep and Laura Dern for the ­December 2019 movie, which will reinterpret the story of the four March sisters as they deal with issues of love and loss in the journey to adulthood.

The original novel was ­published in two volumes, and was based loosely on Alcott's own childhood with her three siblings. While Alcott did not find much joy writing the story – she famously didn't want to do it – generations of readers have adored Little Women since its publication. 

'The Woman in the Window'

Did you love Amy Adams in the HBO adaptation of ­Gillian ­Flynn's unsettling Sharp Objects? Then you're likely to enjoy the actress in this thriller, modelled on AJ Finn's debut novel. Enchanted star Adams will play Dr Anna Fox, a reclusive child psychologist who witnesses a crime as she spies on her neighbours.

Touted as 2018's version of Gone Girl, The Woman in the Window lived up to the hype, with a page-turning ending few saw coming. With more than two million copies sold, the ­psychological ­whodunnit ­became the first debut novel in 12 years to enter the New York Times bestseller list at number one. The adaptation also stars Gary ­Oldman and ­Julianne Moore, with Atonement and Darkest Hour ­director Joe Wright at the helm.

'The Goldfinch'

Clinching the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Donna Tartt's epic third novel charts the story of 13-year-old Theodore Decker, who steals a 17th-­century painting from an art museum in the wake of a bombing. Left orphaned by the attack, the boy is welcomed into a wealthy New York ­family, before the narrative jumps eight years to explore how the experience continues to affect him into adulthood.

Praised by Pulitzer judges as "a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart," the labour of love was 11 years in the making for Tartt, who rose to literary fame with her 1992 debut The Secret History. Nicole Kidman, Ansel Elgort and Luke Wilson will all take on starring roles in John Crowley's movie adaptation, which is to be released in the autumn. 

'Good Omens'

This isn’t a film per se, but Amazon Prime and the BBC’s six-part series has garnered so much pre-emptive praise that it’s worth a mention. Based on Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett’s ­collaborative 1990 apocalyptic fantasy novel, Michael Sheen and David Tennant will take on the roles of an angel and a demon, forced to work together to save the world. John Hamm, Jack Whitehall and Nick Offerman will also make appearances in the TV version, with the script penned by Gaiman.

The writing duo had planned to adapt their comedy novel for years, with Pratchett arranging for a posthumous letter to be sent to Gaiman, urging him to see the project through without him.

'The Aftermath'

Set in Germany in 1946, this emotionally-charged tale follows Rachel Morgan (Keira Knightley) as she journeys to Hamburg to reunite with her British colonel husband (Jason Clarke), a man entrusted with rebuilding the war-torn city. Unexpectedly sharing a home with a German widower ­(Alexander Skarsgard) and his daughter, mistrust turns into passion in this drama, based on Rhidian Brook's 2013 book of the same name. This isn't the first adaptation of the writer's work, ashis first novel, Somerset Maugham Award-winning The Testimony Of Taliesin Jones, was turned into a 2002 film starring ­Jonathan Pryce. 

'The Good Liar'

When Hollywood veterans Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren are at the core of a film, it's safe to expect plenty of stellar acting – with this adaptation of Nicolas Searle's con-artist tale also likely to include a ­multitude of plot twists and turns. The Lord of the Rings star will take on the role of an ageing conman, who turns his devious attention to a wealthy widow, brought to life by The Queen's Mirren. ­Searle's ­biography says he worked in intelligence before turning to writing, creating an air of mystery that only further lends itself to the taut tale. 

'The Knife of Never Letting Go'

Named Chaos Walking for the silver screen – after the trilogy from which it is taken – this dystopian tale is set in a world where all living creatures can read each other's minds. Tom Holland plays Todd, the last boy in a male-only settlement who believes that women have been wiped out by a virus. However, upon ­meeting a girl named Viola (Daisy Ridley), the two are forced to embark on a high-risk adventure in this adaption of ­Patrick Ness's 2008 young-adult novel, ­described as "terrifying, ­exhilarating and heartbreaking" by the Sunday Telegraph. 


Based on CS Forester's 1955 The Good Shepherd, this war film follows naval commander Ernest Krause on a ­hazardous mission across the North Atlantic, with a fleet of Allied ships under his control and German U-boats on his tail. Blending a nuanced ­depiction of a man's inner turmoil with cat-and-mouse action, the novel is one of the most ­acclaimed sea-faring stories of its time. With Elisabeth Shue, Karl Glusman and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo among the cast, Tom Hanks will take on the lead role, as well as writing and production credits.


Read more:

For authors of popular novels, is it worth it to write a sequel? 

How do film studios react when they know they’ve made a dud?