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Upcoming On-Screen Book Adaptations


Books are making for some really good TV these days - "Game Of Thrones," of course. But there's also "Big Little Lies," "The Handmaid's Tale." But we've got even more adaptations coming to your living room. Books editor Barrie Hardymon is here to get you ready and prepare your nightstand in advance. Heya, Barrie.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what's coming up that you're really excited about?

HARDYMON: Well, the one that's really kind of keeping me up at night because I just - I'm so excited if they get this right - is Amazon has taken on "The Underground Railroad," which was this - I think, indisputably, the best book of 2016. It won the Pulitzer, the National - I mean, there was, like, no award it didn't win. To see this one go to screen is going to be so cool because it's this odd piece of - it's both historical fiction, but it's science fiction, too. If you haven't read it, it's the story of this young slave named Cora who escapes via the Underground Railroad. But in the book, the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad. So it's surreal and weird and grand and horrifying. And it would have to be handled very, very gently on the screen. And here's the great news. Barry Jenkins from "Moonlight" fame has signed on not only to direct it but to write the piece. So I think that one has real...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Amazing team behind it.

HARDYMON: Yeah, real potential.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. What else are we waiting for?

HARDYMON: So the next one that I'm real excited for - and I think you're also going to be psyched about - is HBO and the state Italian broadcaster are going to do the Elena Ferrante novel.


HARDYMON: I don't know how to say those novels without making that noise. But the first season of this will be just the first book, "My Brilliant Friend." It's, as you know - but for those of you that have an entire season of beach reading ahead of you, I'll tell you it's the story of the very complicated relationship of these two girls, Lila and Elena. And it's set in a very violent and colorful Naples neighborhood in postwar years. And the thing that's going to be so great about this, I think, is that they're really casting it from Naples. And Elena Ferrante, who is famously reclusive, is going to be very, very involved. She's giving lots of notes on it. So that has, like, really great potential.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are, I think, three other quite well-known authors who are going to have some adaptations coming up - women.

HARDYMON: Yes, lots of ladies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lots of ladies.

HARDYMON: Indeed - beyond Elena Ferrante. The BBC is going to do an adaptation of the Cormoran Strike novels, which are by Robert Galbraith, the famous woman J.K. Rowling. That is his alias for these. And the books are really, really good if you guys are looking for a good mystery over the summer. They have absolutely nothing to do with Harry Potter. These are not cozy books. Cormoran Strike is the - is, like, a military policeman. And he's got a sidekick. Each of the books, the murders sort of get successively a little grosser to my taste.

Speaking of mysteries, if you are a gone girl - if that's your jam for the mysteries, "Sharp Objects" by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote "Gone Girl," is coming up on HBO. This is going to be a weird one, I think, and could be really - has a lot of potential for a mini-series because, again, it's a very, very strangely engineered book. So I think it has a lot of potential to have a really creative adaptation. And then the last thing that I think was in the works, I believe, before "The Handmaid's Tale" is an adaptation of another Margaret Atwood book called "Alias Grace."


HARDYMON: This one is a piece of historical fiction about a house maid and an Irish immigrant in Canada - it's actually a true story - who is convicted of these two murders. Did she do it? Did she not? Who knows? I assume that Sarah Polley, who is writing it, will have her own take on it. And it should be pretty cool.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's going on which...

HARDYMON: That will be on Netflix. And I think that is probably the next one up. These - the other ones I've been talking about are just really mere spots in the eyes. So you have a lot of time to get reading.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What makes a good adaptation for you, though? I mean, what is it that makes it good?

HARDYMON: So for me - and I don't know if this is a common feeling - but I actually really, really like it when the director or writer has the courage to go off-book. So one of the things - you know, "Game Of Thrones" is the obvious example - but also, you know, with "Handmaid's Tale." You know, to take something that I really, really love and say, I'm going to take this world, and I'm going to go beyond it I think is kind of marvelous. And I particularly like it because when I love something, I don't really want to see the perfect cover band of it. You know, I don't want to see the perfect "Underground Railroad." I want to see Barry Jenkins's "Underground Railroad." I love to imagine what Cora might look like. But I also want to see what someone else's vision of Cora is because, that way, there is this amplification of a work of art that I adore.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Anything coming up that you think people should read regardless of whether or not they watch the series?

HARDYMON: OK. Yeah. So here - there is one thing, which is that, in the last couple of weeks, there was a lot of talk about a new series that HBO is coming out with the "Game Of Thrones" creators called "Confederate." But what didn't get a lot of play that week is that HBO is also developing Nnedi Okorafor's novel "Who Fears Death" with George R.R. Martin as the executive producer.


HARDYMON: Now, she, I think, is criminally underread. She's like an Ursula Le Guin - Nigerian, afro-futurist science fiction. It is so complex. And this novel is sort of about - it has all of these sort of traditional African themes. But it takes them forward in this way, in this, like, extremely highly technological way that is just really, really marvelous. So I would read "Who Fears Death." If you have young people in your life, I would go ahead and read "Akata Witch," which is the beginning of this YA series. And I believe you were going to interview her for the sequel to that. So Nnedi Okorafor - no matter what happens to the series, get your hands on her books. And if you are a person who could develop them into more TV, more movies, please do because she is marvelous.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. There you go. Thanks so much, Barrie Hardymon. She is WEEKEND EDITION's books editor.

HARDYMON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Barrie Hardymon is the Senior Editor at NPR's Weekend Edition, and the lead editor for books. You can hear her on the radio talking everything from Middlemarch to middle grade novels, and she's also a frequent panelist on NPR's podcasts It's Been A Minute and Pop Culture Happy Hour. She went to Juilliard to study viola, ended up a cashier at the Strand, and finally got a degree from Johns Hopkins' Writing Seminars which qualified her solely for work in public radio. She lives and reads in Washington, DC.