We are huge nonfiction fans here at Mechanics’ Institute Library, and we are thrilled that TV and film producers have chosen to adapt several recent bestsellers, such as Nomadland, Dopesick, Maid, and others. Watching true stories migrate to film and TV is high excitement indeed. Even better, the library has all these titles and more waiting to be explored by our members.
If you happened to read Dopesick before viewing the riveting new television series by the same name, you'll know that Beth Macy's 2018 book is a great example of how award-winning nonfiction can be even more compelling as a dramatization. A long-time journalist, Macy drew upon 30 years of reporting from Southwest Virginia communities for her book about OxyContin, a highly addictive painkiller. Dopesick won the LA Times Book Prize for Science and Technology and was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize and the Carnegie Medal. Actor and writer Danny Strong adapted Dopesick into the television series that was released earlier this month on HULU.
While some directors may take creative license with real-life stories, we think minor blurring of the line between fact and fiction enhances the storytelling. A prime example of this is Netflix's new series Maid, based on Stephanie Land's quiet memoir by the same name. Maid chronicles the author's years as a single mother working as a lowly-paid domestic worker for wealthy employers, contrasting the privileges of the upper-middle class to the realities of the overworked laborers supporting them.
Other books, such as Nomadland by Jessica Bruder, contain stories so powerful, they nearly jump off the page and project their intensity on screen. Bruder's 2017 bestseller about older Americans living nomadic lives in search of seasonal employment was adapted into a film by the same name in 2021. Nomadland garnered a bounty of awards, including Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress.
Some nonfiction titles are so cinematic they beg to be dramatized, such as the recent theatrical release of The Last Duel, based on the 2004 book by Eric Jager. Set in medieval France, The Last Duel is a gripping, true story of a trial by combat pitting a knight against a squire accused of violating the knight's beautiful young wife. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film stars Adam Driver, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
Speaking of French history, we eagerly await Starz' upcoming series entitled The Serpent Queen, based on Leonie Frieda's Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France. The television series follows Catherine de Medici, who marries into the French court as an orphaned teenager expected to bring a generous dowry and produce heirs, only to discover that her husband is in love with an older woman and she cannot conceive children. With any luck, the TV series will align with Frieda's book in portraying Catherine de Medici as a woman who did what she had to do to survive.
Still another class of nonfiction tells important stories of unsung heroes. For instance, Judy Batalion's The Light of Days: the untold story of women resistance fighters in Hitler's ghettos is a resounding history of the brave Jewish women who fought the German invaders during World War II. Batalion, a child of Holocaust survivors, is working with Amblin Pictures to adapt her 2021 book into a film..
Also in development and due out soon is the first season of Apple TV's Five Days at Memorial, based on Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial: life and death in a storm-ravaged hospital. The author, a physician and reporter, provides a landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Readers of Fink's 2013 work will be drawn into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos -- page-turning nonfiction at its finest.