Here at Early Bird Books, we love all kinds of readers. As long as you’re a book person, we can be friends. And we don’t want you to miss any of the important details that make great stories great—on screen or page by page.
Glancing down at the list below, you’ll recognize the titles of some big blockbusters and some hotly anticipated upcoming releases. These movies and TV shows have been and will be the talk of your office water cooler (or Slack chat). And they all have one thing in common: they’re based on great books. No wonder they’re so popular!
But when it comes to movies and TV shows based on books, what’s on the screen is only half the story. The books themselves are required reading for anyone who wants to get the most out of the Oscar-winning movies or popular TV shows they inspired.
Pro Tip: You can catch up on major plot points, characters, and themes of these narratives any time with smart summaries.
Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly
Hidden Figures was one of 2016’s most successful and acclaimed films: it took home three Oscars and two Golden Globes, and it grossed more than any of its fellow Best Picture nominees. The film was instrumental in undoing the erasure of the important contributions made by African-American women in the early days of the space race. But the conversion to film cost the story in terms of accuracy–it features composite characters and a few moments of movie magic. For a complete and accurate picture of these brilliant women and the challenges they faced, Margot Lee Shetterly’s original book remains the essential work. Released the same year as the film it inspired, Hidden Figures gets the facts right and covers the contributions of hundreds of real women–including those who were left out or combined into composite characters for the sake of the movie’s runtime. Of course, the book stretches on for hundreds of pages to fit all of this information. Busy readers looking to get the same complete and accurate story in a much quicker dose will find the Worth Books summary essential.
Reading time: 12.26 hours
Summary: 1 hour
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
HBO’s film adaptation of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is as much about a book as it is an adaptation of one. The film version will star Oprah Winfrey as Henrietta Lacks’ daughter and Rose Byrne as Rebecca Sloot, the author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Through flashbacks, HBO’s film will also cover the story that Sloot told so powerfully in her 2010 nonfiction book: how Henrietta Lacks, a black woman with cervical cancer, died at 31 years old but lives on to this day through her cells. Lacks’ cells are immortal, meaning that they continue to proliferate. They’ve been used in a wide variety of scientific experiments, changing the lives of countless people.
Rebecca Skloot’s original book is already a popular topic of discussion among tuned-in readers, so you’ll definitely want to catch up by reading the book or the Worth Books summary before the HBO film debuts. Skloot’s incredible book touched on everything from race relations to medical science–but it’s all but certain that not all aspects of Skloot’s book will make it to the screen in HBO’s adaptation, so reading or re-reading Skloot’s book or the comprehensive Worth Books summary is a must for dedicated viewers.
Reading time: 12.7 hours
Summary: 1 hour
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale is a striking and important dystopian story that explores gender, religion, and government control. Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction masterpiece is getting new life this year as a Hulu original series, but it was already regarded as one of the most essential science fiction novels ever written. Its themes of feminism, individualism, and the related powers of religion and the state remain as relevant as they were way back in 1985, when the book was first published. Set in a dystopian theocracy in what was once New England, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a handmaid, a woman kept solely for reproductive purposes in a society where women are brutally oppressed. No matter how popular the Hulu series becomes, the power and themes of the original novel will be central to any discussion of The Handmaid’s Tale. If you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale (or haven’t done so in years), it’s worth brushing up on the text by reading a summary before you start the Hulu series.
Reading time: 10.36 hours
Summary: 1 hour
Photo: Elijah Flores