Granted, literary adaptations aren't exclusively an autumnal phenomenon. So far this year, we've already seen successful book-to-movie translations like Shutter Island, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Winter's Bone.
Yet there's something about the chill returning to the air that sets movie industry minds wandering ever more noticeably to your library shelf. Maybe it's the whiff of award-season respectability that comes from successfully bringing a book to the big screen.
Of course, some of these adaptations arrive with a higher profile than others: People are already going to be clued in to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows being on the way. They might even know that there's an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's award-winning Never Let Me Go heading into limited release next week.
But if you like to prep your reading list so that you can stay one step ahead of the cinematic release schedule, here are some of the lesser-known books coming to your multiplex before year's end. (As always, release dates are subject to change.)
Film: The Town
Source material: Prince of Thieves
Author: Chuck Hogan
Book overview: In Boston's gritty Charlestown neighborhood, bank robber Doug becomes obsessed with the bank manager he and his crew took hostage while disguised. Author Hogan may not be as sharp as Dennis Lehane at the top of his game, but he proves tremendously effective at conveying a place frozen in time, and a protagonist whose attempt to break away may be doomed. A sharp, punchy piece of crime fiction.
Book grade: B+
Reason for optimism: Writer/director Ben Affleck showed with Gone Baby Gone that he can nail the working-class world of his native Boston.
Reason for concern: Affleck the leading man (in this case, Doug) generally isn't as disarmingly subtle as Affleck the filmmaker.
Scheduled release date: Sept. 17
The Hollywood pitch: "Mystic River meets Inside Man."
Film: Legend of the Guardians
Source material: Guardians of Ga'Hoole
Author: Kathryn Lasky
Book overview: In a land of owl kingdoms, one young orphaned owlet is caught in the battle between a mysterious evil and the legendary noble owls of Ga'Hoole. Lasky's basic narrative line is familiar epic-fantasy fodder, but the details are often unexpected. Unfortunately, those unique turns don't necessarily translate to a story that's genuinely engrossing.
Book grade: B-
Reason for optimism: Early trailers suggest breathtaking use of 3-D.
Reason for concern: Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) often seems more interested in visual dazzle than storytelling.
Scheduled release date: Sept. 24
The Hollywood pitch: "The Lord of the Rings meets The Incredible Journey."
Film: The Social Network
Source material: The Accidental Billionaires
Author: Ben Mezrich
Book overview: The phenomenon that is Facebook began in a Harvard dorm room; exactly how it began is the much-contested question. Mezrich explores the story of enigmatic computer whiz Mark Zuckerberg, and the friends and fellow students who felt that they were part of launching an enterprise that would make them all rich. By conveying his reporting as page-turning narrative non-fiction, the author crafts a character study as stylish as it is informative.
Book grade: B+
Reason for optimism: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button notwithstanding, David Fincher rocks.
Reason for concern: The ongoing dilemma of how to turn sitting in front of a computer screen into compelling drama.
Scheduled release date: Oct. 1
The Hollywood pitch: "Rashomon meets Hackers."
Film: It's Kind of a Funny Story
Source material: It's Kind of a Funny Story
Author: Ned Vizzini
Book overview: Academic and personal challenges send high-achieving Brooklyn 15-year-old Craig into a spiral of depression, leading to suicidal thoughts and a week-long stay in a psych ward. It's initially difficult getting inside Craig's head — he does seem like the whiny, privileged kid he's afraid people will perceive — but eventually Vizzini crafts an effective portrait of a despairing teen looking for a reason to live. The eccentric supporting characters often verge on overwhelming Craig's journey, yet never quite do.
Book grade: B
Reason for optimism: Writer/directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (Half Nelson, Sugar) have already made two terrific New York-set dramas.
Reason for concern: Will it effectively find balance between genuine depression and sanitized uplift?
Scheduled release date: Oct. 8
The Hollywood pitch: "The Breakfast Club meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
Film: Love and Other Drugs
Source material: Hard Sell
Author: Jamie Reidy
Book overview: Reidy's memoir recalls life as a mid-1990s sales rep for Pfizer, when Viagra became a pharmaceutical phenomenon. Despite the novel's double-entendre title, relatively little of the narrative deals specifically with the Viagra years. Mostly it's a self-deprecating warts-and-all story of a low-ambition guy able to scam the system for years, while also offering funny, startling insights about contemporary health care. If Reidy's immature hijinks don't get on your nerves, you'll find interesting tales of the people who really decide which medications you get.
Book grade: B.
Reason for optimism: Narrative requirements might tone down the bad-boy anecdotes.
Reason for concern: Maybe it's just me, but when I think "lighthearted," I don't think of director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai).
Scheduled release date: Nov. 24
The Hollywood pitch: "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell meets Up in the Air"