National Read A Book Day: the best books that have been adapted into film and TV this year

·7-min read
 (Nick Wall/Netflix)
(Nick Wall/Netflix)

It’s National Read A Book Day – a day dedicated to celebrating the exquisite activity that is reading. Although TV, film and the internet have swallowed hours of people’s free time, incredibly – happily – reading is still a popular pastime: In 2021, 212 million books were sold in the UK alone. And as far as buying habits go, this has to be one of Britain’s best.

Now that the weather has officially turned, the school summer holidays are over and it’s all feeling discernably like autumn... (and only six days into September, sigh)... that urge of getting a book, curling up and hunkering down for the evening is resurfacing.

Sometimes, with so many books to choose from, selecting your next volume can be a tricky task. However we have a solution: this year there have been dozens of series and films all based on novels, so if you enjoyed watching (or didn’t, in fact) why not go back and read the original? Here’s our selection of the films and series this year that were based on books that you may want to read.

Persuasion

This Netflix adaption of Jane Austen’s Persuasion was generally panned despite having Dakota Johnson playing Anne Elliot and celebrated theatre director Carrie Cracknell behind the camera. Critics shared the same condemnation: the novel had been ‘Fleabagged’, and they hated it. The Standard, for example, found it “a bizarre misreading of the source material, one which undoes everything that makes this novel so special”.

However, this means that if you too found the film a little frivolous, you may in fact adore the book. And if you loved the film’s premise, or indeed enjoyed the film, there is a huge chance that you will enjoy Austen’s 1817 original even more. Just a warning: it’s a little less silly.

Where The Crawdads Sing

Where The Crawdads Sing was released in July and had Daisy Edgar-Jones in the leading role. This remake was also widely panned, with The Standard calling it a “gloopy, grating mess.” It was based on the 2018 novel by Delia Owens and tells the story of a girl called Kya who grows up in an isolated area of North Carolina and gets embroiled in a murder investigation. The novel topped The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers list for more than 130 weeks throughout 2019 and 2020. So definitely one worth reading – if only to keep up.

However, something to bear in mind is that the novel has whipped up some controversy of its own: Owens was reportedly wanted for questioning  as a potential witness regarding the death of an African poacher back in 1995, a case which was deemed to have some similarities to her story. Owens has strongly denied any involvement in the incident. Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg has been reporting on Owen as far back as 2010.

Death on the Nile

Who doesn’t love an Agatha Christie remake? Especially when the big bucks get piled on and suddenly you have Kenneth Branagh as Poirot and a cast that includes Russell Brand, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie and Emma Mackey plus Ridley Scott producing. Well, actually quite a lot of people didn’t love it, and the mystery of why Branagh’s Poirot moustache was quite that gargantuan was never solved.

But even if you saw the film and now know whodunnit, it’s always worth revisiting one of Christie’s most famous novels – a fun and fast read.

Pachinko

This Apple TV show is based on the 2017 best-selling historical fiction novel of the same name by Korean-American author Min Jin Lee. Pachinko was a 2017 finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction and tells the story of Korean immigrants living in Japan from 1910 up to the modern day.

Gigantic and ambitious, it was a major undertaking for creator Soo Hugh to turn it into a TV show, but somehow it went well. The series received critical acclaim including earning an Emmy Award nomination. Both are worth reading and watching.

Anatomy of a Scandal

This Netflix series starred Sienna Miller and Rupert Friend as husband and wife who are caught in the middle of a political scandal when he, an MP, is accused of raping a younger colleague. Naomi Scott played the accuser and Michelle Dockery played the QC for the prosecution. The show “feels like it could have been ripped from the headlines,” said The Standard.

The series is based on Sarah Vaughan’s 2018 novel of the same name which was Longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2019. So if you can stomach another Parliament drama in addition to the one playing out on the news, it may be well worth diving into Vaughan’s book.

Conversations With Friends

This Hulu and BBC adaptation was based on Sally Rooney’s novel of the same name. It didn’t quite manage to reach the heady heights of its original source but wasn’t entirely shot down either. The Standard explained that it was a “watered down version of Sally Rooney’s exhilarating debut.”

Rooney’s 2017 novel was nominated for the 2018 Dylan Thomas Prize and the 2018 Folio Prize and made the author famous. So absolutely worth reading whether you enjoyed the TV series, didn’t enjoy the series or haven’t had the opportunity to see it yet.

Under the Banner of Heaven

This seven-episode series had everything going for it: It starred Andrew Garfield and Daisy Edgar-Jones, was written by Academy Award-winner Dustin Lance Black and was based on the true-crime bestseller by Jon Krakauer. But it was met with a mixed response.

Why not try, then, the original? Krakauer’s 2003 nonfiction novel recounted the tale of a 1984 double murder case where divine revelation was given as the cause. Krakauer’s book also works as an investigation of Morman church the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

House of the Dragon

Admittedly, going back and reading George R. R. Martin’s work isn’t for everyone. The 73-year-old author, who wrote the novels that inspired Game of Thrones and HBO’s new spin-off series House of the Dragon, is known for the violent and sexually explicit content of his books. After all, the graphic stuff was toned down for television, and there were still some scenes that were tough – to put it mildly – to watch.

However, his epic fantasy novels, which are called A Song of Ice and Fire, have sold as many as 90 million copies and been translated into 47 languages. Meaning that if you are enjoying House of the Dragon, perhaps it might be worth getting deeper into the history and backstory by reading the books.

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Amazon’s blockbuster series was finally released over the weekend. It was years in the making, is likely to cost Amazon as much as $1 billion when it is finished and was released just two weeks after House of the Dragon – talk about pressure.

For book lovers, the new series has created a fantastic opportunity to get reacquainted with J. R. R. Tolkien. There are the old favourites, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but there’s also Tolkien’s other Middle-age canon, which is now getting more attention (while the series itself is not directly based on any one of his works, its storylines have been inspired by events that are documented in the 100-page appendices). So what about taking on The Silmarillion, a five-part anthology of the lore and legend of Middle-earth and Tolkien’s universe, Eä?

Emily

Emily is a forthcoming biographical drama about Emily Brontë starring Emma Mackey. It has been written and directed by actress Frances O’Connor and will be released in October. So while, admittedly, the film isn’t based on a particular book itself, it will be depicting the life of one of Britain’s most accomplished writers – and it is always a good idea to read some Brontë.

Best known for her novel Wuthering Heights, Emily also wrote searing Gothic poetry: “Often rebuked, yet always back returning / To those first feelings that were born with me,” she wrote in 1850. “What have those lonely mountains worth revealing? / More glory and more grief than I can tell: / The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling / Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.” Getting lost in her poetry is a wonderful way to spend an hour or two on National Read A Book Day.