Back to the Source: From Movie to Book

Those who have come to the pond here for a while would know I’m a Book to Movie person. If I know a film adaptation is coming out, I’d want to read the book first, as I’m always intrigued by the adaptation process. Maybe it’s the transposition of one art form into another that so fascinates me. Yes, you can say it’s a kind of theme and variation type of work.

But there are also times when I’m so captivated by a movie that, after watching it, I want to read the book on which it’s based. Thanks to Wes Anderson, I’m now reading Stefan Zweig.

the-grand-budapest-hotel movie poster

Before watching The Grand Budapest Hotel last April, I had never heard of the Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer Stefan Zweig. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Zweig was one of the most famous and translated writers. And yes, here I am living under a Rock(ies), have never heard of the name until Wes Anderson’s confessional interviews, wherein he raved about how his (now) Oscar winning Budapest Hotel was influenced by the writings of Stefan Zweig. Also in the movie, there is the acknowledgement of Zweig as the source of inspiration as the film’s end credits begin to roll.

Here’s what’s interesting: Instead of adapting from one single work, Anderson created his Budapest Hotel sparked by the oeuvre of Zweig’s after he read his writings only a few years before. After watching the film, I’ve since read several of Zweig’s short stories, and a couple of novellas The Post Office Girl and Chess Story, and now continue to delve into more of his captivating, often bittersweet, stories. Watch for my article coming out in the April (Spring) issue of Shiny New Books on how Z inspired A.

So The Budapest is the most recent example of how a movie influences my reading. Over the years, there have been other ones. Here are some more:

12 Years A Slave (2013) – Steve McQueen’s artistic rendering of slavery may seem like a paradox, but acclaimed British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Solomon Northup is what spurred me to read the original memoir. Both are excellent works.

3:10 to Yuma (2007) – Have you ever read a Western short story? Western as in uh… cowboy, gunslingers. This is one of the few Western work I’ve ever read. The intriguing moral dilemma the movie depicts and its poignant ending had driven me to look for the short story by Elmore Leonard as soon as I left the theatre.

Bleak House (2005) – The BBC TV mini-series with Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther Summerson sealed the deal for me. The series also introduced me to the talented Carey Mulligan, her first role I believe. I turned to the 1,000 plus pages Dickens novel soon after the series finished. Because I’ve seen it first, it was a breezy read, almost.

Howards Ends (1992)  A cast with Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter and Vanessa Redgrave is not hard to move and entertain. And thanks to Merchant Ivory, the dynamic dual of producer/director, and their team writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, I devoured the humorous and equally entertaining E. M Forster novel after that.

Revolutionary Road (2008) – I was captivated by the movie at first. Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio had done a marvelous job in depicting the entrapment of suburban life. But only through reading Richard Yates’ book did I sense the even deeper psychological entanglement that I missed in the film.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) – I wrote in my book review, “This is one book that should be read after watching the film. Without visualizing what Jean-Dominique Bauby had gone through after his massive stroke, the reader simply could not empathize or appreciate enough of Bauby’s effort in ‘writing’ his memoir.” How? One blink at a time.

When Did You Last See Your Father (2007) – I watched the film twice at TIFF a few years back, Colin Firth as British writer Blake Morrison and Jim Broadbent as his overbearing and critical father dying of cancer. The life-long yearning of a son seeking his father’s approval is so sensitively portrayed. Reading Morrison’s memoir after only made me appreciate the film more.

How about you? Are there movies that have motivated you to go back to the source and read the book?


(CLICK ON the links in the titles to read my reviews.)

Published by


If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

27 thoughts on “Back to the Source: From Movie to Book”

  1. Bleak House — I know just the feeling! After seeing the more recent adaptation, I downloaded the audiobook and enjoyed the book while gardening. It is typically Dickens-long, but I find much less tedious than Little Dorrit 😉


  2. Thank you – a great post!

    I know about Zweig, but haven’t read any of his work – “the Grand Budapest -” is a fantastic film, but you describe it more as inspired by Zweig than adapted from, is that right?

    Next week I’m going to see “Wild”, and in this case I have read the book. In fact; I love it! I’m bringing a friend who hasn’t read the story, and really hoping neither of us will be disappointed.


    1. Sigrun,

      Exactly! That’s what’s so fascinating, that Wes Anderson’s idea for the movie, even the characters, colours and setting, are inspired by Zweig’s works. The Grand Budapest Hotel is not an adaptation of one single work. The story is Anderson’s own of course, and the whimsical elements too, for Zweig’s stories are quite sad really, considering the Europe he had so enjoyed and thrived on, was engulfed by Nazism that he had to escape, and ultimately, take his own life together with his wife. Sad ending to his own story.

      Wild is an interesting film, I have the book but for some reasons, after seeing the movie did not give me enough drive to read the book. Hope you’ll enjoy the movie with your friend. 😉


    1. D,

      You can LIKE it right here… or feel free to link this post on your own FB page. Myself or Ripple are not on FB, have been inactive for years now. 😉


  3. That was such an amazing film, and it caused me to wonder about the source material, whether it had the same whimsical humor as Wes Anderson.
    For some reason, I almost always go from book to film, and not the other way round. Maybe I need to change that habit!


    1. linnet,

      You must read Stefan Zweig. His descriptions are colourful and insights into his characters sharp and poignant, not as whimsical or comedic as Wes Anderson had crafted his film. But after reading several Zweig’s works, I can understand how they have influenced the director in his visualizing the times, setting, and characters. Zweig is more psychological and much sadder.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Linnet, I’m still trying to find a word to describe his style, but no, I have to fall into the pool of clichés: original and riveting. Not comedic but not too serious either. Colorful, perceptive. Here, try this short story as a starter: “Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman.” From The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig, Pushkin Press.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Can you believe it? There are two films that have inspired me to go back to the book. When I was checking Paddington out of the library and confessed I’d never heard of the little fellow until I saw the film, the librarians at the desk gave me the kind of look paleontologists might reserve for a very rare specimen.

    The other is “Giant.” After I watched the film for research purposes, I bought a copy of Edna Ferber’s book — which still is unopened on the shelf. But, one of these days!


    1. Linda,

      I’m glad the movie Paddington had introduced you to the adorable Bear. I can see Winnie the Pooh definitely is more famous in N. America than Paddington. Here I’d like to digress a bit… I feel in the U.S. there are less European/British influence in general than Canada, or than my childhood place of HK (which is obvious, as a former British colony). And speaking for myself, a former ‘colonial’, I had the chance of experiencing some of British influences, like e.g. other than Paddington, there were children adventure book series by Enid Blyton, The Secret Seven and The Famous Five (quite like your Hardy Boys here). Or, have you ever tried Marmite on your toast, or, on Jacob’s soda crackers (from the tin)? Or condensed milk in your tea? Or drink Ovaltine? Of course, from Paddington, you have marmalade but my fave is English apricot jam. 😉


  5. Many times I’ve gone back and read a book again after seeing the film, but very rarely have I gone to a book for the first time afterward. There are a few exceptions, but the only one I can think of involved one of Alice Munro’s short stories.

    I loved the Merchant Ivory films… And E. M. Forster.

    I was fascinated by “A Passage to India” (who doesn’t love David Lean?) and watched that film several times. It led me to “Howards End” and I spent time in one of the Hart House library/reading rooms reading that one but didn’t finish it before seeing the film.

    I’ve thought about reading “Wild”, but never got to it and I’m looking forward to seeing the film. It is very unlikely I’ll read the book once I do!


    1. Michelle,

      Was it the movie Away From Her? Sarah Polley’s Oscar nom. adapted screenplay from Munro’s story The Bear Came Over the Mountain’? Also, if my memory serves me correctly, do you remember where we first met in the blogging world? It has something to do with our discussion of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel movie adaptation. 😉


      1. That’s the one! I love Alice Munro and Polley did a sensational job.

        We did talk about “the Stone Angel” way back. The topic was paintings and movie scenes. A scene in “The Stone Angel” movie mirrored an Edward Hopper painting! I loved “The Stone Angel” in both mediums. I read it a few times over nearly 20 years before the movie. The first time being in high school where it was required. Of the many books I read in high school it was the “Stone Angel” and “Who Has Seen the Wind” that stuck and I read again as an adult. Both Prairie stories… how interesting?


        1. Didn’t we all have to read Margaret Laurence in school? I read The Stone Angel in a Can Lit course at University. And yes, paintings and cinematography — that’s another idea for a post. BTW, have you seen The Brit film Mr. Turner? You must see that one!


  6. The Howard’s End and Room with a View movies definitely prompted me to tread the books. Also the movie Out of Africa made me go straight to Isaac Dinsen’s story. It was wonderful to be able to see those panoramic views of the plains from the film in my head as I read.


    1. Yes, I love the EMF books and films, or rather, the other way round as the films that sparked my interest in the author. As for Out of Africa, I was going to read Dinesen’s novel just a few months ago after I read an article on her and thus spurred my interest again. Loved that film, actually saw it again on the big screen in a theatre just last year when they showed it again, all the wonderful old movies.


  7. Wonderful post, and good for you, searching out Zweig. I actually tried to do the same while we were on the road last week. Went to the most amazing used bookstore ever and thought they might have him. The owner said they had but their various copies of Zweig’s work had been snatched up. I’m not surprised. Still on the list.

    Following the discussion about Alice Munro, we recently saw Away from Her and I went back to re-read “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” its source. As we drove through Canada, Rick was pointing out areas mentioned. He’s a big Munro fan and even tried to bike ride from Lansing to her community in Canada last fall but the rain messed that trip up and it’s on next year’s schedule. But at the bookstore we visited above, he bought a collection of her short stories called “Runaway,” which I started reading aloud on the VERY long ride home!

    I’ve gone back to source material a few times — one being Isak Dinisen (as mentioend above) and Vera Brittain’s “Testament of Youth,” along with some Dickens and a few others. I love how you can see what Anderson was thinking about by reading the stories and finding how they might have inspired him.

    Oh, and one time soon I’ll have to tel you about the owl… I was thinking of you!


    1. Jeanie,

      I’m so glad to ‘discover’ Stefan Zweig from Wes Anderson’s film. He is now one of my fave writers, if not right on top. You don’t have to go to 2nd hand book stores to look for him. Pushkin Press has been publishing him in the past, and recently due to the success of the film, has reprinted some major titles, and even compile a short story collection in a handsome hard cover. Further, you know Wes Anderson has selected some of Zweig’s writings into his own book, published by Pushkin, The Society of the Crossed Keys. I’ve ordered it online and waiting for it to arrive, hopefully in time for me to read, for I have a deadline for the article that will come out in April on Shiny New Books on how Z inspired A. I’ve just finished The Post-Office Girl and am now reading Beware of Pity. Fascinating work!


  8. I must admit to not relating books to movies Arti.. I’m not a huge movie goer preferring English and foreign movies mostly, just recently saw ‘What we did on our Holiday and ‘The Second Best Marigold Hotel’.. Loved ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Wes Anderson has a brilliantly weird and wonderful way of approaching things. I almost never re-read a book, too many out there to get through 🙂


    1. Grace,

      The Second Marigold is very enjoyable. I liked it a lot. As for books and movies, you know, many films are based on books, you’ll be surprised. Here at Ripples, I’d like to focus on the adaptation of literary works into films, or here in this post, vice versa. Watch for my book to movie list. I try to post the latest news I can get hold of about upcoming adaptations. You’re welcome to check them out. Again, thanks for stopping by Ripples. I try to click on your name but the link doesn’t seem to work. Would appreciate if you check that so I can visit you. 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s