A recent item from Publishers Weekly documents the strange but productive symbiosis between Hollywood and the publishing industry, highlighted...

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A recent item from Publishers Weekly documents the strange but productive symbiosis between Hollywood and the publishing industry, highlighted by this year’s Oscar nominations. It’s not blockbuster books that inspired movies with best-picture nominations; it’s little-known works whose readership amounted to the population of a small Midwestern town before they were tapped for glory:

“Million Dollar Baby,” Oscar nominee for best picture, is based on a short story in F.X. Toole’s “Rope Burns,” (Ecco) which sold about 9,000 copies after it was published in 2000. “Sideways” (St. Martin’s Griffin) is based on a novel of the same name by Rex Pickett, which also sold in the four digits — until the movie came out.

“Finding Neverland” and “Ray,” also best-picture nominees, are not formal adaptations of books. But two books provided material, according to Publishers Weekly: “J.M. Barry and the Lost Boys” by Andrew Birkin (Yale University Press) and Ray Charles’ autobiography, “Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story,” co-written by David Ritz (Da Capo Press).

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Though this is the kind of publicity money can’t buy, the publisher of “Rope Burns” threw up his hands, figuratively speaking, about how to make lightning strike twice:

“… I read this on a train and never in a million years thought it would even be optioned,” Ecco Press publisher Dan Halpern told Publishers Weekly. “It proves once again that publishers don’t have a clue what they’re doing. We publish what we believe and if someone else loves it and the someone else is Clint Eastwood, great. More likely it’s going to be a reviewer in Des Moines.”

Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times book editor