Cloud Atlas

Most Unfilmable Books: Readers Pick the Winner

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas seemed impossible to adapt to the silver screen, but here it is. We asked readers what other impossible book they’d turn into a movie. David Foster Wallace tops the list.

Warner Bros.

And the winner is: Infinite Jest!

David Foster Wallace’s hysterical record of our anxious generation features a Québécois separatist group called the Wheelchair Assassins, years that are subsidized by corporate sponsors (Year of the Whopper, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment), a hazardous-waste dump that covers the Northeastern U.S. called the "Great Concavity," and, finally, a film so entertaining that anyone who watches it dies.

Here are the runners-up:

Ulysses by James JoyceHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiBlood Meridian by Cormac McCarthyOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García MárquezGravity’s Rainbow by Thomas PynchonA Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy TooleUnderworld by Don DeLillo

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s visionary 2004 novel, is another novel that has been called unfilmable. Its six separate plots spin and swirl for your postmodern attention, and they drift from the 1850s to postapocalyptic times. (Here is our primer for dummies.) The task is formidable, if only that six independent locations and sets would be needed, not to mention an academy of casts and a liberal running time to cram all that plot in. Three directors (Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski) ended up spending about $100 million to produce the nearly three-hour-long movie. (And film critic David Ansen said in his Newsweek piece that it failed.)

Some notable picks:

2666 by Roberto BolañoAgainst the Day by Thomas PynchonAt Swim-Two-Birds by Brian O'Nolan (as Flann O'Brien)Gilead by Marilynne RobinsonWinter's Tale by Mark HelprinThe Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, although, of course, in 1971 the brilliant Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini already turned it into one of the greatest cinematic achievements in history. It's a must-see.The Night Inspector by Frederick BuschThe Recognitions by William GaddisThe Sleepwalkers by Hermann BrochV by Thomas PynchonRoom by Emma Donoghue

Let’s hope word gets to directors like David Lynch and Claire Denis.