We love when a book is so immersive, it plays like a movie in our imaginations as we read. We’re no longer curled in a corner of the couch or tucked in bed. Instead, we’re strolling on a street in Paris with the sun warming our backs or confronting a centuries-old vampire in a tomb beneath a crumbling church.
After we’ve devoured a beloved book — and perhaps read it a second (or third or twentieth) time — we inevitably start daydreaming about seeing it on the big screen.
With that in mind, we invited our followers to tell us about the books they’d most like to see adapted and who they envision playing their favorite characters. This request made some people understandably nervous. We received comments like this, ‘The trouble is, I’ve been burned by adaptations so many times; I’m afraid even typing a wish list will jinx things.’
And, ‘I wanted to say none because I really prefer a book over a movie. I think the movie takes away being able to imagine what things look like because in the movie, I’m presented with what someone else thinks things look like, and sometimes weird casting choices…’
But our intrepid readers soldiered on and shared their wish lists with us.
Here are the Most Requested adaptations, Honorable Mentions (with casting choices), and, for our completists out there, the Long List.
These are the titles that came up most often and with the most enthusiasm. It’s not surprising given their far-flung settings, compelling stories, and characters we wish we knew in real life.
The setting for this gorgeous novel is ideal for a big screen. The glamorous Hotel Metropol on Red Square is an Art Nouveau masterpiece, all stained glass windows, colorful mosaics, and gilded fixtures. Sadly, it’s also a prison for our hero Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who’s been exiled to a cramped attic room for the crime of being an aristocrat in 1922 Russia. Stripped of his life of privilege, the Count is the heart of a group of characters who weather the rise of communism, WWII, Stalinism, and more within the walls of the Metropol.
Arthur Less is a working writer who’s yet to pen a best-seller. He’s gay, almost 50, and his ex-lover is about to get married. There’s only one reasonable thing to do: take off on a trip around the world. Beginning in San Francisco, this novel takes our hero (and us) to Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Morocco, India, Japan, and back to the City by the Bay. Our hero, bless his heart, is no smooth operator. His escapades include falling in love and out of windows, weathering a desert sandstorm, and being judged by a group of precocious high school students, all while doubting himself and struggling to reconcile the fact that he is growing older. This is the stuff that big-screen adventures are made of. Not only would the visuals be breathtaking, but this novel is also an opportunity for Hollywood to tell an LGBTQ+ story that’s not about heartbreak or homophobia; it’s about the everyday joys and indignities we all face on the path to love. (In Mel’s imagination, Arthur Less can only be played by Eric Stoltz.)
The mystery at the heart of The Historian takes our heroes and heroines to pleasingly sunny and moody locales in Amsterdam, France, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Italy, including mountaintop monasteries, gilded churches, and pleasingly dusty libraries and archives. The characters! There are daring academics and vampire librarians, feisty young women and unforgettable elderly ladies with soft hearts and spines of steel. The quest across Europe for the truth about Vlad the Impaler is thrilling and deliciously Gothic — and it makes heroes of people who are devoted to knowledge and books. Those are our kind of people. (In Mel’s imagination, Paul must be played by Viggo Mortensen, Helen can only be Eva Green, and Turgut Bora will always be John Rhys-Davies.)
Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s version of Barcelona is a Gothic wonderland of shadowy alleys, misty graveyards, churches that echo with ghosts, and the magical, intimidating Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It’s a secret library where beloved and threatened books are shelved; its visitors allowed to take out one title, thus becoming the protector of that book to ensure its existence. This story is a time machine back to 1945 Barcelona, a city that’s still healing from its war wounds — and home to a young boy named Daniel, his good-natured family friend, a troubled author, and a mysterious book. When Daniel carefully pulls The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax from the shelf of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, he unknowingly sets in motion an adventure that will change the lives of everyone he knows. TBH, we’ll probably never see any of Zafón’s books as movies; the author said ‘What I don’t want is to spend years of my life remaking in other media something that for me is already in its definitive version.’ (However, Mel feels quite strongly that Viggo Mortensen could bring Julian Carax to life.)
Set on the mythical island of Aeaea, where Circe is exiled, and the Greek island of Crete, this adaptation would be a gorgeous virtual getaway to the Ionian Sea. And the story is as dramatic as the setting. In Homer’s Odysseus, Circe is a witch who’s handy with potions and turns men into pigs. Rather an unflattering and one-note portrait, no? In Madeline Miller’s 2018 novel, Circe comes into her own, a fully realized woman with powers and passion beyond even her expectations.
The fluorescent lights of a Tokyo convenience store might be an odd choice for a movie setting. But through the eyes of Keiko, our unusual heroine, the chime above the door, the rows of brightly-colored packaged food, and the programmed greetings of the clerks all take on an unexpected beauty. Keiko’s entire life revolves around the store where she’s worked for 18 years. When a new employee joins the staff, he explodes her ordered existence. Keiko is a gripping character, and the people who surround her — a devastatingly normal sister, snarky friends, ambitious co-workers — are equally compelling. In the right hands, this story (perfectly rendered in print) could be very moving on the screen.
This unusual, fantastical immigrant story feels quite timely, and its setting in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City could not be more evocative. The two main characters? Magical. Chava is a female golem, created in Poland to be the companion of a man who never makes it to the New World. Ahmad is an Egyptian Jinni who’s been trapped in a copper flask he finds tricky to escape. When the two meet, they seem to form a bond that will endure the ages — until fate intervenes. With swoon-worthy romance and big adventure, this story is made for a lush, big-screen adaptation, or a miniseries that includes its sequel The Hidden Palace. (Mel is ready to see Eva Green give life to Chava and for Viggo Mortensen to bring fiery intensity to Ahmad.)
Somehow this novel set in a post-pandemic world is both elegant and life-affirming, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect for it to make the leap from page to screen. In this fictional-but-feels-too-real United States, an acting troupe travels around the Great Lakes region, performing Shakespeare and keeping art (and beauty) alive in a world that’s been devastated by the ‘Georgia Flu.’ There’s gorgeous woods-and-water scenery, the oddly comforting shelter of an airport, a graphic novel that plays a crucial role in the plot, and so many feelings.
Good news: Station Eleven is being adapted for a miniseries that will premiere on HBO Max and the cast has been announced.
We can only hope that if this enchanting story is ever adapted, it opens with a black screen showing only the first words of the novel, The circus arrives without warning, before slowly panning over Le Cirque des Rêves, a black-and-white circus with dazzling lights and an energy that’s equal parts seduction and peril. While the special effects would surely be dazzling — ice garden, anyone? — we’re just as excited about the character possibilities. This sweeping story is populated by an ensemble cast of magicians, acrobats, seers, dancers, and other irresistible creatures. Give us a 2 1/2-hour movie, or an enormous, Lord of the Rings-style trilogy, or a 12-episode series… or all of them. We’ll take them all.
Meh news: A movie adaptation of The Night Circus seems to be mired in development difficulties.
But SSoP supporter Aingeal shared the cast she had in her imagination while reading the novel:
(Mel would like it known that, much as she loves Michael Sheen, the only appropriate actor to play the man in the grey suit is Viggo Mortensen, and Eva Green should, naturally, be cast as Tante Padva.)
These titles were mentioned less frequently but with infectious enthusiasm and imaginative casting ideas.
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende: ‘With Marion Cotillard as Roser.’ — Lu
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume: ‘If Saoirse Ronan could time travel, I would cast her as Cornelia.’ — Jessica D.
Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker: ‘Chris Pine would do a fine job.’ — Melinda
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart & Carson Ellis: ‘There is one side character named Ronda that I picture as Lupita Nyong’o.’ — Houston
We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker: ‘Bradley Cooper should portray Walk, and why not a reunion of A Star is Born cast with Lady Gaga as Star and Sam Elliott as Hal. I’m sure there is an up-and-coming actress that would play Duchess, the 13-year-old, self-proclaimed Outlaw. I loved this book. I’m still thinking of the settings along Northern California coast and Montana.’ — Jayne
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman: ‘I can picture so many great actresses playing Nellie, like Carey Mulligan, Amy Adams, Rachel McAdams, or Emily Blunt. And I see Lily James playing Elizabeth.’ — Pamela G.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: ‘Quentin Tarantino should direct, and if we can go back in time and get Winona Ryder to play a 17-year-old Harrowhark, that would be perfect. No clue who should play Gideon, but someone badass. Gideon is described as having huge biceps, so maybe Gina Carano?’ — Casey M.
The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny: ‘As a movie series, but only with younger Timothy Dalton as Prince Corwin.’ — Nina
Ireland: A Novel by Frank Delaney: ‘This movie would be a beautiful way to see Ireland. Perhaps Liam Neeson as the Storyteller. That would be grand! — Lynn H.
The Resisters by Gish Jen: I don’t know much about stars to cast, but I can picture everything. Since the baseball was played under the radar, it was probably pretty low-tech. I’m thinking baseball diamonds like Field of Dreams. The school would be a full-on, old-time campus, and everything would be surrounded by water. Gwen could be played by Awkwafina, and Aunt Nettie would sound like the robot on Lost in Space.’ — Michelle W.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern: I kept picturing John Boyega as Zachary.’ — Tasha S.
Celine by Peter Heller: This needs to be made into a series! And I nominate Kristin Scott Thomas to play the lead.’ — Susie J.
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan: ‘I think that would be a fascinating film — creating the watery world, the coracles, the boats, and the little bits of land. It could be visually amazing!’ — Kate G.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore: ‘Set in Philly, so atmospheric. I’m thinking the movie could feel along the lines of Mystic River if done right with appropriate casting. FYI: I think Mystic River is one of the best book-to-movie adaptations ever made. That’s my benchmark for quality in this genre.’ — Amy B. (An adaptation may be coming.)
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix: ‘The Charleston setting + regular moms + ’90s nostalgia + vampires = creepy perfection! I’ve already cast Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey for two of the book club members.’ — Katie B. (An adaptation may be coming.]
The Black House by Peter May: ‘Gorgeous and rough scenery on the Isle of Lewis/Outer Hebrides, and a gripping story with lots of tension and intensity. Great thriller with such a strong sense of place!’ — Stefanie S. (Mel says that Finn is a perfect role for Viggo Mortensen.)
Here are the rest of the books our Strong Sense of Place friends would love to see adapted. Perhaps you’ll find a new favorite on this list. (Surely, there will be appropriate roles for Viggo Mortensen and Eva Green amongst these titles.)
Top image courtesy of Chris Murray/Unsplash.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is © 2022 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.