With new shows like Girlboss and 13 Reasons Why trending on Netflix, as well as a new season of Orange Is The New Black starting up next month, it looks like we’re entering into a golden age of book-to-TV adaptations. Thanks to forums like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, the opportunities are endless when it comes to bringing books to life—short story compilations can be told in standard half-hour sitcoms, massive novels can be full seasons with hour-long episodes, the in-betweens can be mini-series. And, as we’ve seen from the current programming, the end of a novel does not necessarily mean the end of a TV series. There’s always stories to tell within the larger story itself, lending to as many seasons as needed.
That being said, here are a few of my personal favorite books that I’d love to see get the Netflix treatment:
1. The Importance Of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK: The Importance Of Being Earnest is about a carefree young man named John Worthing, who invents a fictitious brother named “Ernest.” John travels to London as Ernest to visit his friend, Algernon Moncrieff, who has a cousin named Gwendolen Fairfax, with whom John is deeply in love. Fortunately for John, Gwendolen loves him too—unfortunately, it’s not John she loves, but instead Ernest. Meanwhile, Algernon makes a trip to John’s country home also under the name Ernest and falls in love with John’s ward Cecily—and let’s just say, chaos ensues.
WHY IT SHOULD BE NETFLIXED: Is this not the kind of crazy mix-ups that sitcoms are made of? The action could certainly play out over a number of half-hour episodes. When it comes to TV adaptations of books, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is no stranger to the small screen, in addition to two film adaptations, five opera and musical takes and three radio versions, the play has also been on television thrice—once in 1957, again 1964 and another in 1974. I think it’s officially been long enough that it can make its debut on television once more. While it may only be a one-season show (though, who knows, maybe more!), I think it would have the humor and absurdity akin to other Netflix-only sitcoms, like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Lady Dynamite.
2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK: Eight people, all strangers to each other, are invited to Indian Island, off the English coast under dubious and differing circumstances. When they arrive on the island, the guests are greeted by the butler and housekeeper, who report that the host, someone named Mr. Owen, will not arrive until the next day. That evening, all the guests gather in the drawing room to listen to a recorded voice that accuses each of them of a specific murder committed in the past and never uncovered. The guests realize that none of them, including the servants, knows “Mr. Owen,” which suggests that they were brought here according to someone’s strange plan. That night, one of the guests chokes on poisoned whiskey and dies. After this, more and more of the ten—including the servants—are killed, whittling down to the last person, the murderer.
WHY IT SHOULD BE NETFLIXED: …Seriously, who wouldn’t want to watch this? Thanks to an abundance of true crime podcasts and mini-series, murder mysteries are hotter than ever. And there’s none more classic than Agatha Christie’s 1943 novel And Then There Were None. Sure, there have been numerous film and stage adaptations (as well as horror films like The Invitation bearing a striking resemblance to the plot), and even a 2015 BBC miniseries, but it could totally be updated as a full crime series for Netflix. Each episode can do a full-depth look at each of the guests, maybe even from their individual points of view. It’s a perfect formula for a mystery series that I, for one, would be hooked on.
3. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK: Haunted is a novel consisting of twenty-three short stories. In true Palahniuk fashion, the dominant motifs in all of the stories are sexual deviance, sexual identity, social distastefulness, desperation and existentialism. Many consider the book to be a satire of reality television, but according to Palahniuk, the novel is actually about “the battle for credibility” that has resulted from the ease with which one can publish through the use of modern technology. In similar fashion to And Then There Were None, the main story centers on a group of seventeen people who have decided to participate in a secret writers’ retreat. The next day, Mr. Whittier, the retreat’s organizer, his assistant Mrs. Clark and the seventeen guests are driven to an abandoned theater. Whittier locks all of them inside the theater, telling them they have three months to each write a magnum opus before he will allow them to leave. In the meantime, they will have enough food and water to survive. The characters live under harmless conditions at first. However, the group (not including Whittier or Clark) eventually decide that they could make a better story of their own suffering inside the theater, and thereby become rich after the public discovers their fate. They then begin to individually sabotage the food and utilities provided to them… and things only get crazier from there.
WHY IT SHOULD BE NETFLIXED: Does this not scream for a dark series adaptation a la Black Mirror? Between the overall framework and the individual tales of desperation and paranoia, this show would be a hit. Plus, Palahniuk’s had many of his works turned into highly-acclaimed movies (um, hello, Fight Club?) so I’m confident it could be handled well.
4. American Housewife by Helen Ellis
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK: Since I’m on a kick of short story compilations and TV shows focusing on individual characters, I might as well keep the theme going with my next choice: American Housewife by Helen Ellis. American Housewife is a collection of stories about conventional, if ruthless, housewives, features a rigged reality television show, a unique book club initiation ritual and the fitting room of a legendary lingerie shop.
WHY IT SHOULD BE NETFLIXED: The stories are often hilarious (usually hilariously dark) and where the book ends I think more stories can be created—I was practically begging for more when I finished reading. It would be a perfect dramedy with hour-long episodes. Think Desperate Housewives meets Nurse Jackie. Heck, one of the stories in the book features Mario Batali and John Lithgow—can this PLEASE be a reality?!
5. Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK: The story centers around the unique tenants of a Brooklyn brownstone, all crippled in various ways—be it spirit, mind, body and heart—run by a landlord named Edith who is slowly losing her grip on reality as her mind deteriorates with age. Faced with eviction by Edith’s son, Owen, the tenants must find in one another what the world has not yet offered or has taken from them: family, respite and love.
WHY IT SHOULD BE NETFLIXED: I won’t say much more (mainly because I’ve not yet finished reading the book myself!), but I dare you to find a better modern day novel that lends itself perfectly to a TV adaptation than Kathleen Alcott’s Infinite Home. The characters are all varied and interesting with back-stories you just beg to find out. There are interweaving tales and love stories. There are moments of humor leading into moments of heartbreak. Like my previous options, this is another show that can focus on each of the characters’ lives and back stories and how they intertwine, akin to Orange is the New Black.
6. The Girls by Emma Cline
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK: If you heard anything about new books in the past year, you’ve probably heard many people singing the praises of Emma Cline’s The Girls. And they’re not wrong, it’s an amazing, enthralling read. The Girls re-imagines the world of Charles Manson’s female followers. A teenager, Evie Boyd, in 1960s Northern California, is mesmerized by an older girl, Suzanne, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic and thrilling—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.
WHY IT SHOULD BE NETFLIXED: There are already rumblings about a movie being made based on the novel, with producer Scott Rudin (The Truman Show, The Grand Budapest Hotel) at the helm, but this book could totally be a Netflix mini-series, done as a docufiction, similar to Your Name Here or The Trap, in the style of Making a Murderer.
7. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK: What exactly is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole about, you ask? Well, I’ll leave that to actor Nick Offerman to explain: “A corpulent young fop, who lives with his mother, gets into a car accident, during which his pyloric valve closes up. He then continues to expel this gas in various forms all over the French Quarter, until he consumes a quantity of hot dogs. Then he dresses in a pirate outfit, wrestles some strippers and a bird, and runs into a girl and they live happily ever after.”
WHY IT SHOULD BE NETFLIXED: A Confederacy of Dunces has never been made into a feature film or TV series—but not for a lack of trying. In 1982, Harold Ramis was slated to write and direct an adaptation, starring John Belushi and Richard Pryor, unfortunately Belushi’s death prevented this. Later, the same fate beheld versions with John Candy and Chris Farley, as well as an adaptation directed by John Waters, starring Divine. Not all possible versions failed because of tragedy, however. At one point in time John Goodman was lined up to play the title character, followed by potential versions starring Will Ferrell and later Zach Galifianakis. Mysterious circumstances always prevent the film from being made, leading many to believe that it’s a “cursed” title to produce. However, a stage version did see fruition. In November, 2015, Huntington Theatre Company debuted a stage version of A Confederacy of Dunces written by Jeffrey Hatcher, starring Nick Offerman. The stage show opened to rave reviews and set a record as the company’s highest-grossing production. Maybe a film version is never meant to be—so a Netflix-exclusive recorded version of the play would be the best way to go.
8. Slapstick (or Lonesome No More) by Kurt Vonnegut
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK: Slapstick is written in the form of an autobiography of the main character, Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, who lives in the ruins of the Empire State Building. Dr. Swain is an unattractive man whose ugliness, along with that of his twin sister Eliza, led their parents to cut them off from modern society. The siblings came to realize that, when in close physical contact, they form a powerful and creative intelligence. Through reading and philosophizing together, the two were able to combat the feelings of loneliness and isolation that would otherwise have ruined their childhood. The siblings create a plan to end loneliness in America through vast extended families. Under the plan, all citizens would be provided with new middle names, made of the name of a random natural object paired with a random number between 1 and 20. Everyone with the same name would be cousins, and everyone with the same name and number would be siblings. Eliza is eventually sent to a mental institution, but Wilbur is sent to a prep school and eventually goes to Harvard University where he earns a doctorate and later, thanks to his slogan, “Lonesome No More!,” wins the election to become President just as Western civilization is nearing collapse.
WHY IT SHOULD BE NETFLIXED: Hmm… an unattractive man with little understanding of politics and absurd plans with a catchy slogan becomes president and insanity commences—why does this sound so familiar? While Slapstick is a science fiction novel that depicted Vonnegut’s personal views of loneliness, a series based on the novel could stand to become a political TV series, in the same vein as Veep or House of Cards—and in today’s bizarre state of political events, it wouldn’t be that far of a stretch.
9. Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK: The story takes place in the fictional Wayside School. The school is 30 stories tall, due to a construction error, with one classroom on each floor. However, there is no 19th floor. The story is about Mrs. Jewls’s class on the 30th floor. I fell in love with this book because of the sheer absurdity and hilarity of the stories. It starts off with a teacher named Mrs. Gorf, who turns disruptive students into apples. Other wacky stories include a student who falls out the window while sleeping in class, another who can make 378 works of art in one hour, another who can only read upside down and many more humorous tales.
WHY IT SHOULD BE NETFLIXED: I’ve been unfair in the audiences for my choices, all have skewed older, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for original children’s programming on Netflix, too. While Wayside did previously have a TV adaptation that aired for two seasons on Nickelodeon from 2007 – 2008. However, it received criticism for how much it differed from its source material in the Wayside School books. I think it’s time we give Sideways Stories the proper treatment it deserves with an animated series that more closely mirrors the fun and absurdity of its source material.
10. Dubliners by James Joyce
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK: Like many of the others on this list, James Joyce’s Dubliners is a collection of short stories that all feature different characters and each depict a slice of life in Dublin, Ireland. Every story features a character experiencing a life-changing self understanding or illumination, some being more major than others. The first few stories in the collection are narrated by child protagonists, and as the stories continue, they deal with the lives and concerns of progressively older people.
WHY IT SHOULD BE NETFLIXED: I would be remiss to create a list like this without mentioning my main man, JJ. I briefly entertained the idea of a Ulysses Netflix adaptation but, let’s be honest, it’s damn near impossible to pin that mammoth novel down into a coherent film or series. And I wouldn’t even tempt trying it with Finnegan’s Wake. Dubliners, however, would make for a perfect anthology TV series, like Skins or Fargo.
These are just a few of the novels, plays and short stories I’d like to see come to live on the small screen. Which books do you think would make for great Netflix series?
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