Sunday Reading: Adaptations – The New Yorker

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In 1998, the novelist Michael Cunningham published a short story in The New Yorker about a woman living in postwar Los Angeles who feels dissatisfied with her incomplete marriage. On the day of her husband’s birthday, she peruses Virginia Woolf’s novel “Mrs. Dalloway” and starts reflecting on the trajectory of her own life. “A Room at the Normandy” is an excerpt from Cunningham’s novel “The Hours,” which won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film, in 2002, starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman. The short story follows the protagonist as she comes to terms with a lingering sense of restlessness and discontent. “She might, at this moment, be nothing but a floating intelligence,” Cunningham writes, “not even a brain inside a skull, just a presence that perceives, as a ghost might.” The tale is an arresting depiction of a woman who feels inconsequential within not only her marriage but her very existence.
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This week, we’re bringing you a selection of short stories and nonfiction from the magazine that have been adapted into films. In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Milan Kundera explores the complex relationships between a womanizer and several couples in Europe during the late sixties and seventies. In “Push,” which was adapted into the movie “Precious,” in 2009, Sapphire writes about the troubled life of a young pregnant girl from Harlem. (“ ‘PRECIOUS!’ That’s my mother calling me. I don’t say nothin’. She been staring at my stomach. I know what’s coming. I keep washing dishes.”) In “Brokeback Mountain,” Annie Proulx presents an extraordinary love story between two cowboys in the Wyoming wilderness. (“During the day Ennis looked across a great gulf and sometimes saw Jack, a small dot moving across a high meadow, as an insect moves across a tablecloth; Jack, in his dark camp, saw Ennis as night fire, a red spark on the huge black mass of mountain.”) In “Orchid Fever,” which became “Adaptation,” Susan Orlean profiles a wily horticulturalist obsessed with rare orchids. In “Gogol,” which was adapted into a novel and then the film “The Namesake,” Jhumpa Lahiri describes the poignant relationship between Indian immigrant parents and their son. Finally, in “The Lost City of Z,” David Grann traces a remarkable expedition to discover a hidden city in the Amazon rain forest. Movies have always drawn on journalism and fiction for inspiration; many films and books have their roots in The New Yorker. We hope that you enjoy these pieces that ultimately went on to inspire new works of art.
—Erin Overbey, archive editor
“Everybody call me Precious.”
“In another world, Laura might have spent her whole life reading. But this is the new world, the rescued world—there’s not much room for idleness.”
“They never talked about the sex, let it happen, at first only in the tent at night, then in the full daylight.”
“He remained annoyed with himself until he realized that not knowing what he wanted was actually quite natural.”
“He hates that his name is both absurd and obscure, that it has nothing to do with who he is, that it is neither Indian nor American but, of all things, Russian.”
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