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Your Oscars Reading List: the Books behind the 2016 Nominees

By Richard Wells • February 22, 2016

This year the Academy Awards have plundered the library for extraordinary source material. The film makers have found writers who have been practicing their craft for years, plucked real gems out of their bodies of work, and are debuting one first time novelist.

Michael Punke, author of the sure-to-be classic The Revenant, is a non-fiction writer with a novelist's eye. The Revenant is a first novel but he developed his chops with Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917 and Last Stand: George Bird Ginnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West.

Even the best mines are dangerous, and like the Chilean miners whose stories are told in Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that set Them Free, the miners in Butte, Montana represented in Fire and Brimstone? were working in relatively safe conditions when a fire broke out in the main shaft, raged for three days, and of the 400 trapped men, 164 died. Michael Punke writes of those harrowing days, as well as the social history of a time when copper was king, miners were organizing, and much of the wealth of the nation was below ground and extracted in the worst conditions imaginable.

a tale of the real west, and what's happened to it Last Stand? is a tale of the real west, and what's happened to it. At one time there were 30 million buffalo roaming the plains. Today there are about 4,000, and there would be fewer were it not for the work of Brooklyn born George Bird Grinnell. George was a buffalo hunter whose spiritual awakening resulted in his becoming one of our first environmentalists. Last Stand? is his story and it includes a cast of mythic villains and heroes like George Armstrong Custer, Teddy Roosevelt, James Audubon, and Buffalo Bill Cody.

Speaking of Brooklyn, Coim Toibin, the prolific author of the novel has been developing his craft for years, all the while being feted with prizes, awards, and an honorary doctorate for his contributions to contemporary Irish literature. His novel, The Master, a fictional life of Henry James was shortlisted for The Booker, and was the Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year, as well as one of the New York Times Ten Most Notable Books for 2004. Another Booker short-lister was The Testament of Mary, in which the mother of God reflects upon her life. Between 1990 and 2014 Mr. Toibin published ten novels, the latest of which, Nora Webster, has been called ??a perfect work of fiction,? by the LA Times.

2016 is the year of the Irish in Hollywood, what with Mr. Toibin, and the talented Emma Donoghue author of Room. Ms. Donoghue has eight novels, five short story collections, and five stage plays to her credit. 13 revisionist fairy tales that ? will mesmerize sophisticated teenagers and adults Her first book, Stir-Fry is the coming of age story of a young lesbian at college, and her latest, Kissing The Witch contains 13 revisionist fairy tales that Publisher's Weekly says will mesmerize sophisticated teenagers and adults. Take a look at this author's whole catalog, and I'm sure you'll find something to strike your fancy.

Our last author is a new-comer with a brilliant start to what should be a long career. Andy Wier, author of The Martian is also represented in the short story anthology Press Start to Play, a collection that explores the intersection of video games and science fiction.

Check these out from previous Oscar years:

The Godfather ? everybody's favorite mob family
One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest ? everybody's favorite mean nurse
To Kill A Mockingbird ? everybody's favorite lawyer
Gone With the Wind ? everybody's favorite cad

Or click here for a list of novels that made it to the Oscars.

Read more by Richard Wells

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