Oscars: What to Read Before Awards Night

10:00 AM 2/20/2016

by Jennifer Konerman

Five of this year's Oscars nominees started out as best-selling works of fiction. Find out which books to add to reading lists before the awards are handed out.

It’s certainly not uncommon for the Academy’s best picture nominees to start out as popular novels. In fact, the adapted screenplay category often serves as a reflection of some of the best movies of the year — with historical tomes or novels serving as creative starting points for award-winning filmmakers. 

This year is no different, with several of the best picture nominees starting out as fiction as far back as 60 years ago. The Martian was a best-selling novel long before it won best comedy at the Golden Globes – even though several fans on Twitter were convinced the story was based on a true story. Room began as a heartbreaking tale before actors Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay brought it to life. And countless others now sit on store displays of "staff picks" touting the movie version to lure in book lovers. 

Below are five of those books to get on your reading list before Oscars night. 

  • 'The Martian'

    Courtesy of Crown

    Andy Weir’s sci-fi tale of a man stranded on Mars actually started out as a passion project, with the computer programmer-turned-author posting one chapter at a time on his website. Before long, fans clamored for the story of astronaut/botanist Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon on-screen) and asked for an e-reader version, which Weir provided. He then made The Martian available on Amazon for 99 cents.

    Now, almost two years later, the film has grossed more than $227 million domestically and won Damon the Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy. Weir has since signed a six-figure book deal with Random House and has plans for a new sci-fi book coming out this year.

  • 'Room'

    Courtesy of Back Bay Books

    The 2010 novel, told through the perspective of a 5-year-old boy who is forced to live in a tiny space with his mother, has made an impressive showing at awards shows this year. Brie Larson took home a Golden Globe, a SAG Award and a Critics' Choice Award, and her co-star Jacob Tremblay won a Critics' Choice Award, as he charmed audiences at nearly every other awards show this season.

    Room, which author Emma Donoghue told THR is “not an easy sell,” enters Oscars season a best picture contender (along with three other nominations). “It's not an easy crowd-pleaser. It has aspects that frighten people," said Donoghue about her story of a mother and son held captive. Donoghue’s next book, The Wonder, is set to publish this fall. 

  • 'Carol' ('The Price of Salt')

    Courtesy of Dover Publications

    Carol, the film starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, has been decades in the making, with its original source (The Price of Salt) published in 1952 and its subsequent screenplay first making the rounds in 1997. The Price of Salt follows suburban housewife Carol (played by Blanchett) and shop girl Therese (played by Mara) who meet and begin a tenuous relationship. Author Patricia Highsmith wrote the lesbian love story under the pseudonym Claire Morgan after writing Strangers on a Train, a book that went on to become an Alfred Hitchcock hit. 

    A later mass-market version of the novel featured the tagline “The novel of a love society forbids” and made waves in the literary community as one of the only lesbian love stories that ended without a severe punishment for the lovers. Jill Dawson’s novel about Highsmith, The Crime Writer, will publish this summer. 

  • 'Brooklyn'

    Courtesy of Scribner

    Colm Toibin’s historical novel centers on Eilis Lacey (played by Saoirse Ronan) and her struggle between her roots (Ireland) and her newfound home (New York) in the 1950s. Brooklyn was a New York Times best-seller, appealing to young and old readers alike with its immigrant point of view and coming-of-age love story tied together, before it premiered at Sundance last year

    In this year's Oscar race, Nick Hornby received a nomination for best adapted screenplay on top of Brooklyn's best picture nomination and Ronan's best actress nom. Ronan told THR in December that the role especially spoke to her because it mirrored her own story. "I had no idea the relevance the story would take on for me," Ronan told THR about her role in Brooklyn. "It was the first time I've played someone whose emotional state was so similar to mine."

    Ronan's part was originally supposed to go to Rooney Mara, who is also nominated for an Oscar this year for her supporting role in Carol

  • 'The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge'

    Courtesy of Picador

    The Revenant, a film much more famous for Leonardo DiCaprio’s bear scene than its book beginnings, might finally be the actor’s chance for an Oscar. But before he and Tom Hardy entered the film’s 1800s wilderness, the story existed as the 2002 book The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke. 

    THR called the film a "bloody, bruising frontier epic" when it premiered in December 2015, billed as "based in part" on Punke's novel. The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, set in the mid-1800s, follows Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) who sets out on a mission of vengeance after being betrayed by his fellow trackers who were tasked with helping him after his vicious encounter with a grizzly bear.

    The Revenant now has the chance to win up to 11 Oscars come awards night, including a best directing nod for Alejandro G. Inarritu and the long-awaited best actor for DiCaprio. 

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