The Unreality Reading List (Based on Movies You Love)

While I’ve certainly seen my fair share of film and television, my true love is the written word. I’ve worked in bookstores for the past six years, interviewed some really cool authors (shameless plug), and had a chance to read a lot of really compelling work. I totally understand how daunting it can be to pick out something to read. With visual media, we can watch trailers and base our interest on the actors/directors previous work – with books, you’re getting into a more lengthy commitment with little more to go on then a recommendation or a blurb on the back cover.

Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.

Below is a list of five books, each paired with several films I feel share common themes, plots or settings. If you liked any of the movies listed below, it’s definitely worth giving the books associated with them a shot. We’ve got everything from explorations through the Amazon to cannibals in World War 2. In fact, I’m fairly certain all five books mentioned below have already been optioned into movies, so if you read them now you can have the privilege of being the pretentious doushnozzle who insists the book was better in a year or two!

If you liked The 25th Hour and Inglorious Basterds, try reading City of Thieves.

Chances are you know who David Benioff is, even if the name is unfamiliar. Benioff wrote the novel The 25th Hour, which was adapted by Spike Lee into an incredibly underrated but moving film about a drug dealer’s last day before turning himself in to serve a ten-year prison sentence. More recently, Benioff has risen to prominence as the showrunner of this thing called Game of Thrones. He has also written the majority of the episodes (based off the novels by George R.R. Martin, also worth reading).

City of Thieves is set in Lennigrad during World War 2. A teenager named Lev Beniov (a loose representation of Benioff’s actual grandfather) is caught looting the corpse of a German paratrooper. To avoid being sentenced to death, he is paired-up with a deserter named Koyla and they are charged with finding a dozen eggs for Colonel Grechko’s daughter’s wedding. The only problem is that they are in a war-torn country with no food at all, where everyone is an enemy and no laws are honored.

What makes this novel so remarkable is that Benioff manages to subject the reader to the very worst, inhuman aspects of war while also revealing Koyla to be a hilariously egotistical ladies man who will get some at any and all costs. In this sense it reminds me of Inglorious Basterds, which has the Tarantino trademarks of extreme violence, compelling dialogue and trace moments of true humor. If you want to read a novel that will isn’t very long, full of action and perhaps a few twists, you can’t do better than City of Thieves.

If you liked Moneyball and The Dead Poet’s Society, try reading The Art of Fielding.

Baseball movies are a genre unto themselves. There are classics (Bad News Bears, Field of Dreams) and duds (For the Love of the Game, The Rookie). A movie like Moneyball is somewhat outside the classification of a baseball movie – it’s certainly about baseball, following the Oakland Athletics through their 2002 season. But in many ways, it’s a character study about Billy Beane, General Manager of the A’s. Certain moments in the film are punctuated with “baseball moments,” but the payoff of the movie isn’t a win or loss but rather the journey Beane takes in figuring out who he is and what he wants.

Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is very similar to Moneyball in this respect. The novel follows a college kid named Henry Skrimshander, recruited to play shortstop for the Westish Harpooners. He is seemingly infallible at his position, and ties the college record for most games without an error before an errant throw changes everything. A lot of the novel takes place on a baseball diamond, but just as a non-fan could enjoy Moneyball, no knowledge or interest in the sport is necessary to read The Art of Fielding. In fact, Henry is only one of five main characters in the book.

Another lead, Westish College President Guert Affenlight, is a man whose career was started on a love of literature. I think to The Dead Poet’s Society because the Robin Williams character and President Affenlight share some characteristics, mainly their relationships to students and passion for words. Even though this book is just over 500 pages, you definitely don’t need to be any kind of scholar to dig in. The novel reads quickly, and is one the best representations of the college experience I’ve ever come across.

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  1. +1 for Y: The Last Man.

    I’d argue that Brian K. Vaughan is the best writer in the comic industry(For as much as I love Walking Dead and Invincible, Kirkman has spread himself thin with his other work)

    The Runaways(First two arcs)
    Pride of Baghdad
    Ex Machina
    Y:The Last Man

    Are 4 essential comics of the last 10 years. Throw in the fact he wrote a bunch of episodes of Lost, and we have ourselves a geek’s demi-god.

  2. With visual media, we can watch trailers and base our interest on the actors/directors previous work – with books, you’re getting into a more lengthy commitment with little more to go on then a recommendation or a blurb on the back cover.

    You absolutely nailed why I don’t read more often.

    Thanks for this, I look forward to more.

  3. @Andy
    I spend about 2-3 hours a month trying to find what I want to read next. I stick to pretty much just two genre’s, Sci-Fi(the non-schlocky kind) and Historical Fiction(this genre is so under-appreciated). Finding credible reviews is very difficult as generally people only review it if they either A.Really like it or B.Really hate it. I’ve never reviewed a book I thought was a 2 or 3 star..

    There isn’t anything more satisfying than discovering a good book and finishing it. I get an almost hipster sense of euphoria in those cases, except without the pretentious douchieness and really tight pants.

    (Want a awesome book series to read? Bernard Cornwell’s Uthred series)

    It’s incredibly badass.

  4. Great article! I love the idea of recommending books based on people’s move tastes!

    Also, it’s true that lately I am having trouble committing to reading books since movies are easier to commit to because of the difference between the time it takes to watch a movie and to read a book.

    p.s. Y: The Last Man is the first graphic novel I read that really got me started into reading a bunch of comics.

  5. I think it’s a difficult proposition — recommending books based on film likes — but you’ve done a solid job. I read anywhere between 2 to 6 books a month, and I have the dangdest time trying to recommend titles to folks b/c I read across the board … from sci fi to mysteries … from history to quantum physics … I just get in a mood for something different, and I pick it up. Just finished THE TIME MACHINE last night, so now I’m looking for something new.

  6. I liked Lost City of Z, although my only problem with it is that the climax of the story (the author’s phone conversation with his son) is a little too schmaltzy for me. It’s so direct that it doesn’t even let the reader formulate that realization on their own. None of the Indy films are what I would call “deep” with how they portray Indy realizing what’s really important at the end of the story, but they don’t spell it out for the viewer, either.

    Another book I would consider close to the more intellectual themes of the Indy films (i.e. ancient documents/travel/searching for hidden objects & knowledge) would be “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova. Young girl travels around Europe searching for documents/books that allow her to hunt down Count Dracula. Not really any two-fisted action to be seen, but I enjoyed it.

  7. Very good list. Interesting concept, very well-thought out.
    I haven’t read all of the books mentioned, but based on the ones I have read, and what I know of the others, you hit the nail on the head.
    I have to second the vote for David Benioff. “City of Thieves” is great, as is “The 25th Hour” (which doesn’t play out exactly like the movie, so even if you’ve seen that it’s worth reading).
    I also have to heap praise on “Y the Last Man.” One of my favorite stories, in any medium, of all-time. Possibly my favorite graphic novel of all-time (“Locke & Key” is the other contender). Things like “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns” may have made me realize comics could be literary, but “Y” was the first comic to make an emotional impact.
    Just started “The Art of Fielding” over the weekend. Very good so far.
    Lastly, thanks for including “The Lost City of Z.” I remember thinking it looked interesting when it came out, but had forgotten about it until now. I’ll definitely look into it next.

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