When you think about Wes Anderson’s movies, what are the characteristics that he signs his movies with? It’s easy to think of the visual features — the limited color palettes, retro twee-meets-geek costuming, use of models, signature slow-motion walking shots. Perhaps the more subtle elements of his films is what we recognize later: the ensemble cast, the fast-paced dialogue, caper adventure sequences, themes of grief and loss mixed in with comedy, familial dysfunction, unusual friendships, moments of fabulism, all wrapped inside a dreamy self-contained world.
These are the kind of stories I think we all want to read sometimes. When I watch a Wes Anderson movie, I expect to cry a little, to laugh a bit, and to think about the film for a while afterwards. The same goes for the books on this list. There are sad-happy stories, and happy-sad stories with families and friendships, and eccentric characters, and passages that you will have to read a few times just so you can think about them later. Who knows, maybe there’s a Wes Anderson adaptation of one of these books on the horizon?
Nearly all of Fredrik Backman’s works would fit neatly on this list; consider them unofficial picks.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
The Elegance of the Hedgehog was the book that inspired this list. Charming yet melancholy, intimate and funny, this French novel remains one of my favorites. Set in a Paris apartment building, this novel is seen through the eyes of cranky old Renée, the concierge. Paloma, a solemn 12-year-old, shares Renée’s sophisticated interests. Finding friendship, Renée and Paloma ponder life together.
Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
Step into this sweet story about Sentaro, a man with a criminal past, and Tokue, an elderly disabled woman. When Sentaro puts out a help wanted ad for his dorayaki shop, he doesn’t expect Tokue, her amazing sweet bean paste, or her kind wisdom. While relatively straightforward, this is the type of book that leaves you thinking about it for a long while afterwards.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston (May 5)
Just trust me on this one, okay? If you’ve seen Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from with this ensemble YA romcom. The teens of Willowgrove Academy are bored, they’re messy, and they’re committed to the aesthetic. Plaid skirts and blazers in May in the Alabama humidity is enough to push anyone into a heist drama for funsies. When Shara kisses Chloe right before graduation and vanishes, Chloe turns to the others Shara left behind for help. McQuiston’s southern upbringing, like Wes Anderson’s, adds a distinctive perspective to their work.
What Do People Do All Day By Richard Scarry
If Wes Anderson were to adapt another beloved children’s book world into a stop-motion film, I would hope it would be Richard Scarry’s. The colorful artwork, quirky anthropomorphic animals, and abundant source material make Scarry’s work a prime candidate for adaptation. I’m particularly fond of all the oddly-shaped vehicles that are too small to safely seat all their occupants. Please Wes, make a movie about Lowly Worm and all the busy, polite animal-people doing their busy, polite animal-people things!
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Like the Whitman brothers in The Darjeeling Limited, the Shergill sisters have reunited after the death of a parent, in search of something. Rajini, Jezmeen, and Shirina embark on a trip to India to carry out their mother’s final wishes and last rites. Through squabbling and seeking, the sisters’ trip is revelatory about their relationships and lives, and their place in contemporary society.
The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
This novel in short stories feels like a fairytale and an old family story, with bits of local legends thrown in a candy-colored blender. Exactly the kind of fable anthology that Wes Anderson films are sometimes made of. Follow the bumpy roads of Portugal, as Tomás makes an amazing discovery that must be shared with the world. Years later, a pathologist dedicated to Agatha Christie finds the aftermath of Tomás’s work, the mystery getting murkier. Another half century later, we meet a Canadian tasked with caring for an unusual companion as he makes his way to his ancestral home. This quiet and tender novel has something different to say each time it’s opened.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
You want complicated family dynamics, quippy observations, surrealist old world opulence? Look no further than the Crazy Rich Asians series. Kwan uses footnotes throughout the series to provide snark, information, and additional dialogue. Similarly, Wes Anderson’s films frequently feature the use of parentheticals and title cards. The world of the extended Young family is extravagant, bordering on parody. Kwan keeps the Youngs endearing with snappy dialogue and hilariously awkward moments.
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Another novel in short stories, this book explores boyhood through one year in Jason Taylor’s life in muddy Black Swan Green. There’s the political playground games, mild summertime trespassing, gossip and hysteria, and all the firsts. Intimate and profound, this book feels like a slightly more sullen cousin to Moonrise Kingdom.
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
This vibrant, hilarious, and witchy sports comedy is a bit out of Wes Anderson’s usual realm, but I can imagine it, and it is glorious. The girls of the 1989 Danvers High field hockey team decide to call upon their Salem Witch ancestors, Emilio Estevez, and some improvised magic to secure their victory for the season. Told in a third person point of view, readers get access to the teams’ version of the story. Inanimate objects are hilariously personified, there’s a few history lessons sprinkled in, and the characters are delightfully realistic. Tone down the ’80s neons into pastel, and this book already has its sports witch aesthetic set.
Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
After his ex-wife reveals a painful secret, Jónas decides that there is nothing left for him. He finds his way to a village in an unnamed war torn country and takes a room at the dilapidated Hotel Silence. After making repairs to his room, Jónas becomes the go-to repair guy. Villagers ask Jónas for help as they rebuild their lives. Melancholic and reflective, this novel is ultimately hopeful as Jónas finds his place in the world again.
What books do you think fit into the Wes Anderson world? I can’t wait to see what’s next for one of my favorite directors! In the meantime, check out our movies archive for more bookish film inspiration!