Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1946) - Eric Hodgins, William Steig
The novel that inspired the 1948 film with Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas. As you might guess, the film eclipses the novel. The novel is still a pleasant enough read and William Steig's witty illustrations are pretty well worth the price of admission all by themselves. But the film is the essential, so perfectly cast is it. You won't regret reading the book, but neither will you regret just watching the movie again instead.
Madame Doubtfire (1987) - Anne Fine
The book inspired the Robin Williams film, of course, but is quite different. It isn't a long book, at less than 200 pages, but it's more serious and more realistic than the frantic and silly film. It's also set in England, rather than the US. Williams and, to a lesser degree, Sally Field, make the film as great as it is. Without them, the holes in the plot are more obvious. One appreciates the more legitimate emotion here, but the movie is still the way to go for this story.
About a Boy (1998) - Nick Hornby
It was the film version of this novel that introduced me to the acerbic, cynical, tender and romantic worldview of Nick Hornby and, years later, I've never looked back; he's one of Britain's finest living writers, able to cut through the preciousness to find a beating human heart, able to be sentimental without being maudlin, hopeful without being silly, sarcastic without being mean and honest without being vulgar. The movie version of this novel, which features Hugh Grant's one truly great film performance and a winning juvenile performance from Nicholas Hoult, now all grown up and turned blue for the X-Men movies, is a great flick. But the novel eclipses it completely. It has everything the film has and more; the sense of time and place is stronger, the emotion deeper, the characters even more finely drawn than in the film. If you've not yet experienced Hornby's masterful writing, this is a fantastic place to start.
Extreme Measures (1991) – Michael Palmer
I am not a huge aficionado of the medical thriller genre, but, in a pinch, I’ll take Michael Palmer over the more successful and popular Robin Cook any day of the week. This is probably Palmer’s most famous novel, mainly because it inspired a fairly successful film starring Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman. The film version bears little resemblance to the novel, however, basically taking the title and little else. But the book plays on the average person’s fear of medicine; a group of powerful doctors have formed a secret society called Caduceus and, when it benefits the group’s research into experimental cures, they are not above lying to patients and treating patients in a way that actively harms them or puts them at risk. The book is a genre piece and nothing more; don’t go here looking for great literature. But it’s entertaining and a brisk pace keeps the book moving along nicely.
Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children (1999) – Jonathan Kellerman
Before he became a thriller author, Kellerman was a specialist in child psychology and he returns to that well in this non-fiction volume, which looks at violence among the young; he explores some possible causes and factors and also deals with the proper response of a society to violent youth. Kellerman has written a book you will probably not entirely agree with, but he’s also written an interesting perspective on the issue. Kellerman is creating villains here that might fit into his novels and you will be excused for finding his views frighteningly jaundiced, not to say downright cynical. I suppose this is best read as part of a conversation, but it’s short, brisk and has none of the typical stylistic problems of books of its type. There’s not much new here, but the tone is refreshing and it’s easily understandable by the layperson and is thus kind of a good introduction to sociological writing, which is often pretty obtuse and esoteric.