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Classic Adaptation

Read a book that is an adaptation, retelling, or spin-off of a classic. 

June 1, 2021

Whether you cherish the classics or left them behind in high school, you’ll find something to love in this list of modern adaptations, retellings-with-a-twist, and spinoffs of beloved side characters.

This list is part of the 2021 Adult Summer Reading program.

The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding
Based on Moby Dick

Chad Harbach

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big-league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

By the Book

By the Book
Based on Persuasion

Julia Sonneborn

Anne Corey is about to get schooled. An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiance—shows up as the college’s new president.

Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

Caroline: Little House Revisited

Caroline: Little House Revisited
Based on Little House on the Prairie

Sarah Miller

In the frigid days of February, 1870, Caroline Ingalls, her husband Charles, and their little girls, Mary and Laura, leave the familiar comforts of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and head west to settle in a beautiful, unpredictable land full of promise and peril—the Kansas Indian Territory. The pioneer life is a hard one, especially for a pregnant woman with no friends or kin to turn to for comfort or help. The burden of work must be shouldered alone, sickness tended without the aid of doctors, and babies birthed without the accustomed hands of mothers or sisters.

But Caroline’s world is also full of tender joys. In adapting to this strange new place and transforming a rough log house built by Charles into a home, Caroline must draw on untapped wells of strength she does not know she possesses.

The Chosen and the Beautiful

The Chosen and the Beautiful
Based on The Great Gatsby

Nghi Vo

Immigrant. Socialite. Magician. Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer and Asian, a Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

Circe

Circe
Based on the Odyssey

Madeline Miller

Follows Circe, the banished witch daughter of Helios, as she hones her powers and interacts with famous mythological beings before a conflict with one of the most vengeful Olympians forces her to choose between the worlds of the gods and mortals.

Eligible

Eligible
Based on Pride and Prejudice

Curtis Sittenfeld

Returning with her sister, Jane, to their Ohio hometown when their father falls ill, New York magazine editor Lizzy Bennett confronts challenges in the form of her younger sisters’ football fangirl antics, a creepy cousin’s unwanted attentions and the infuriating standoffish manners of a handsome neurosurgeon.

The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair
Based on Jane Eyre

Jasper Fforde

In a world where you can actually get lost (literally) in literature, Thursday Next, a notorious Special Operative in literary detection, races against time to stop the world’s Third Most Wanted criminal from kidnapping characters, including Jane Eyre, from works of literature, forcing her to dive into the pages of a novel to stop literary homicide, in a wildly imaginative, mesmerizing thriller.

Frankissstein: A Love Story

Frankissstein: a Love Story
Based on Frankenstein

Jeanette Winterson

In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI and carrying out some experiments of his own in a vast underground network of tunnels.

Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with his mom again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere. Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryogenics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life. What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet?

Hausfrau

Hausfrau
Based on Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary

Jill Alexander Essbaum

Anna Benz, an American woman in her thirties, lives in comfort and affluence with her Swiss banker husband and their three young children in a picture-perfect suburb of Zurich. Despite the tranquility and order of her domestic existence, Anna is falling apart inside. Isolated in a foreign country and a faltering marriage, Anna begins three adventures to restart her life: Jungian analysis, German language classes, and a series of extramarital affairs whose consequences she cannot foretell.

Hausfrau is a daring novel about marriage, fidelity, morality, and most especially, self: how we create ourselves and how we lose our selves and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves

The Hours

The Hours
Based on Mrs. Dalloway

Michael Cunningham

In The Hours, Michael Cunningham, widely praised as one of the most gifted writers of his generation, draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair.

The narrative of Woolf’s last days before her suicide early in World War II counterpoints the fictional stories of Samuel, a famous poet whose life has been shadowed by his talented and troubled mother, and his lifelong friend Clarissa, who strives to forge a balanced and rewarding life in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family.

Jane Steele

Jane Steele
Based on Jane Eyre

Lyndsay Faye

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her.

After years of hiding from the law, Jane discovers her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess. Jane takes the position incognito, and falls in love with the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars. Can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?

Juliet

Juliet
Based on Romeo and Juliet

Anne Fortier

Twenty-five-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her entire estate to Julie’s twin sister.

Julie is bequeathed next to nothing, just a passport, a key, and a secret—that her real name is Giulietta Tolomei, a descendant of the Tolomeis and the Salembenis, the real families that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—and that the “Curse upon both your houses,” is alive and well, 600 years later.

Macbeth

Macbeth
Based on Macbeth

Jo Nesbo

Set in the 1970s in a run-down, industrial town, a police force struggles to shed an incessant drug problem. Duncan, the chief of police, is idealistic and visionary, a dream to the townspeople, but a nightmare for criminals. The drug trade is ruled by two drug lords, one of whom, a master of manipulation named Hecate, has connections with the highest in power, and plans to use them to get his way.

Marilla of Green Gables

Marilla of Green Gables
Based on Anne of Green Gables

Sarah McCoy

Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife. In Avonlea, a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island, life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city. Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities.

Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness; Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition, jeopardizing all she cherishes. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables.

Meg and Jo

Meg and Jo
Based on Little Women

Virginia Kantra

The March sisters—reliable Meg, independent Jo, stylish Amy and shy Beth—have grown up to pursue their separate dreams. When Jo followed her ambitions to New York City, she never thought her career in journalism would come crashing down, leaving her struggling to stay afloat in a gig economy as a prep cook-slash-secret food blogger. Meg appears to have the life she always planned—the handsome husband, the adorable toddlers, the house in a charming subdivision.

But sometimes getting everything you ever wanted isn’t all it’s cracked up to be… When their mother’s illness forces the sisters home to North Carolina for the holidays, they’ll rediscover what really matters. One thing’s for sure—they’ll need the strength of family and the power of sisterhood to remake their lives and reimagine their dreams

Nutshell

Nutshell
Based on Hamlet

Ian McEwan

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She’s still in the marital home—a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse—but John’s not here. Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy’s womb. Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad
Based on the Odyssey

Margaret Atwood

Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan war, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and—curiously—twelve of her maids.

In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged Maids, asking: “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?” In Atwood’s dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing.

Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors

Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors
Based on Pride and Prejudice

Sonali Dev

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family, who have achieved power by making their own nonnegotiable rules: never trust an outsider, never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations, and never, ever defy your family. Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat her old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and who place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer him, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life. As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts.

Shylock is My Name

Shylock is My Name
Based on The Merchant of Venice

Howard Jacobson

Winter, a cemetery, Shylock. In this provocative and profound interpretation of The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. With characteristic irony, Jacobson presents Shylock as a man of incisive wit and passion, concerned still with questions of identity, parenthood, anti-Semitism and revenge.

The Smash-Up

The Smash-Up
Based on Ethan Frome

Ali Benjamin

Life for Ethan and Zo used to be simple. Ethan co-founded a lucrative media start-up, and Zo was well on her way to becoming a successful filmmaker. Then they moved to a rural community for a little more tranquility—or so they thought. When newfound political activism transforms Zo into a barely recognizable ball of outrage and #MeToo allegations rock his old firm, Ethan finds himself a misfit in his own life.

Enter a houseguest who is young, fun, and not at all concerned with the real world, and Ethan is abruptly forced to question everything: his past, his future, his marriage, and what he values most.

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles
Based on the Iliad

Madeline Miller

Patroclus, an awkward young prince, follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate. Set during the Trojan War.

A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres
Based on King Lear

Jane Smiley

Larry Cook, a proud and exacting farmer, whose family has lived on this land for four generations, unexpectedly decides to retire and turn over his valuable holdings to his three daughters. For Ginny and Rose, who live on the farm with their husbands, the gift makes sense—a reward for years of hard work, a challenge to make the farm even more successful. But the youngest, Caroline, a Des Moines lawyer, flatly rejects the idea, and in anger her father cuts her out—setting off an explosive series of events that will leave none of them unchanged.

When She Woke

When She Woke
Based on The Scarlet Letter

Hillary Jordan

Hannah Payne awakens to a nightmare. She is lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home. She is now a convicted criminal, and her skin color has been genetically altered. Her crime, according to the State of Texas: the murder of her unborn child, whose father she refuses to name. Her color: red. The color of newly shed blood.

In Hannah’s America, sometime in the future, faith, love, and sexuality have fallen prey to politics. Convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated, but “chromed,” forced to appear in a new and sinister form of reality TV, and released back into the population. Stigmatized in a hostile world, they must survive the best they can. Until her arrest, Hannah had devoted her life to church and family. In seeking a path to safety, she is forced to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes the personal.

The Winters

The Winters
Based on Rebecca

Lisa Gabriele

After a whirlwind romance, a young woman returns to the opulent, secluded Long Island mansion of her new fiance, Max Winter—a wealthy politician and recent widower—and a life of luxury she’s never known. But all is not as it appears at the Asherley estate. The house is steeped in the memory of Max’s beautiful first wife Rebekah, who haunts the young woman’s imagination and feeds her uncertainties, while his very alive teenage daughter Dani makes her life a living hell.

She soon realizes there is no clear place for her in this twisted little family: Max and Dani circle each other like cats, a dynamic that both repels and fascinates her, and he harbors political ambitions with which he will allow no woman—alive or dead—to interfere. As the soon-to-be second Mrs. Winter grows more in love with Max, and more afraid of Dani, she is drawn deeper into the family’s dark secrets—the kind of secrets that could kill her, too.