Summer is a good season for reading, with all that time on the beach and being stuck in traffic on the way to the beach. But your book selection does not have to only be easy beach reading. A far better option is to get an early jump on the fall movie season by reading the source material for all the literary adaptations coming out in the Serious Movie months. That way you can be the smug person who says "Well, that's not how it happens in the book..." all autumn long! Think of this as a summer reading list that will prepare you for the prestige fare of autumn.
The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort
Who doesn't want to read more about the disasters of financial wheeling and dealing? Martin Scorsese's high-profile adaptation, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is based on a memoir by Jordan Belfort, a formerly hard-partying, lavish-living stockbroker who was convicted of massive securities fraud in the late '90s. His having been a "white collar" crime, Belfort only served two years and has since become a motivational speaker and author. Oh, and Leonardo DiCaprio is playing him in the movie. So there's some injustice there that could rankle, this sense that he's being rewarded for his $200 million fraud, but that doesn't change the fact that Belfort's book could be a fascinating glimpse into the high-stakes, morally dubious world that, some ten years after Belfort's crimes, kinda ruined the global economy. And if you really like the book, there's a sequel called Catching the Wolf of Wall Street. Spend your summer learning all about awful people working in finance! What could be better? In theaters Nov. 15
August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
OK, so this is technically a play, but you are allowed to read a play as a book (we do it with Shakespeare all the time, after all). Tracy Letts's brilliant, Pulitzer-winning family drama is getting the star-studded Oscar-bait treatment this fall, with none other than Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in the two leads, so you should probably acquaint yourself with the original in preparation for saying "Ugh, Julia Roberts was completely miscast" or "Meryl Streep's accent was amazing!" as you walk out of the theater. Obviously, the best thing would be to see a production of the play, but if that's not happening near you (there are a few scattered regional productions every year since the show closed on Broadway in 2009) at least reading the play will give you a sense of how it's supposed to be done. Plus, it's just really terrific writing, knotty and operatic and full of delicious, biting turns of phrase. Letts, who just won a Tony for acting in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is quite the talent. One you should be familiar with. And there's no better way to get to know his work then spending an afternoon with the wild Westons of Oklahoma. In theaters Nov. 8
The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel
George Clooney directed himself, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, and others in the World War II drama Monuments Men, based on Robert M. Edsel's fast-paced historical narrative about the daring exploits of six men who traveled around Europe during the height of World War II, seeking out precious works of art so they wouldn't fall into Nazi hands. These men were curators and art historians, not trained spies, yet they managed to save a plethora of important pieces of Western culture. Monuments Men sounds like a fascinating true-life yarn, and actually reading about it will help deepen your appreciation of the movie. Because the movie is going to be good, right? It has to be good. It's a big December prestige release, directed by George Clooney and starring a bunch of Oscar winners. (And Bill Murray!) So read the book and nod your head sagely as the end credits roll, telling your companions, "He really got it right. He really did." Your friends will be very impressed. In theaters Dec. 18
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
In 1853, a man named Solomon Northrup published this account of the twelve years he spent in slavery in Louisiana. Though born a free man in New York, Northrup was kidnapped and sold to a plantation owner, who put him in charge of disciplining other slaves. This is tough stuff to read about for sure, but nonetheless a valuable and in-depth personal account of the darkest chapter in American history, a primary source document that's proven historically enlightening for a century and a half of study. Shame director Steve McQueen has adapted the book into a film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northrup, along with McQueen mainstay Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, and little Quvenzhané Wallis, appearing on the big screen for the first time since she made a splash in Beasts of the Southern Wild. It's bound to be one of the highlights of the season. In theaters Dec. 27
Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
Jason Reitman has adapted Joyce Maynard's 2009 novel into a film starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Tobey Maguire, one that's sure to make a big Oscar push for all involved when it opens on Christmas Day. The story concerns a 13-year-old boy and his mother who become entangled with a mysterious man who hitches a ride. He, of course, turns out to be a murderer who's just escaped from prison. The suspenseful setup eventually turns into something of a coming-of-age story, as the boy and his mother form a strange bond with the escapee, who becomes a father figure for the boy (and a romantic partner for the mother). Maynard is a lovely writer and received strong reviews for Labor Day, so this could be the perfect thing to read, both unsettling and oddly touching, while you vacation with your own relatively normal (well, we hope anyway) family. In theaters Dec. 25
Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell with Partick Robinson
A nonfiction account of a Navy SEAL mission gone terribly wrong, Lone Survivor was written by Marcus Luttrell, the only of four SEALs to survive a 2005 clash with the Taliban. The book, which also chronicles Luttrell's path to becoming a SEAL, is getting something of the action movie treatment by Peter Berg this November, though its release date would seem to suggest that it will be a more serious film than, say, Battleship. Still, probably better to have read the actual thing before heading off into Berg's world of pumped-up action and Taylor Kitsch glowering. Everyone is now well aware of the exploits of the famous SEAL Team 6, so here is your chance to learn about another elite group of commandos. There's a political element to the book that might chafe some, what with its strong conservative bent and criticism of the liberal media, but at the core is an exciting and tragic first-hand account of the war in Afghanistan. In theaters Nov. 15
The Requisite Y.A. Stuff
All right, enough with all the gloomy warfare and family strife. It's time for some teen adventure. There are three big Y.A. adaptations coming out this fall, so you should probably spend your down time boning up. The first is The Seventh Son, based on The Spook's Apprentice, the kick-off to a British fantasy series about so-called Spooks fighting against demons, witches, and other dark magic. You'll only have to read the first book for now, but if the movie (Oct. 18), which stars Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, and dreamy son of Narnia Ben Barnes, does well, there are, um, eleven other books to go, with a thirteenth on the way. Then it's time for Ender's Game, a sci-fi space actioner based on the book by Orson Scott Card. Fans seem pretty excited about the movie (Nov. 1), which stars Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford, though others are wary of Scott Card's troubling social politics, which tend to seep into his books. Decide for yourself, I suppose. And then lastly there's Catching Fire, the second film in the Hunger Games franchise (Nov. 22). If you haven't already, you'll need to reed two books to be caught up for the film. But they're worth it; scary and wildly entertaining as they are. Sure, kids killing kids isn't the cheeriest of beachtime reads, but it's OK, it's all make believe. It's for kids, after all.