- Cinema Speculation – Quentin Tarantino
- Hollywood Babylon – Kenneth Anger
- Hiroshi Fujiwara: Fragment – Sarah Lerfel
- Recollections: An Autobiography – Viktor Frankl
- Insert Complicated Title Here – Virgil Abloh
- In America – Susan Sontag
- The Maltese Falcon: John Huston, Director – William Luhr, editor
- Cinema I: The Movement Image – Gilles Deleuze
- Cinema II: The Time-Image – Gilles Deleuze
- Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting –
- Talking About Japan-Q&A – Kodansha International Bilingual Books
- The Flame: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings – Leonard Cohen
- Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan – James Adelstein
- The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade – Pietra Rivoli
- Something Like an Autobiography – Akira Kurosawa
- Japanese Stories for Language Learners – Anne McNulty
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin – Kevin Eastman
- The City of Mist – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
- Take Ivy – Hajime Hasegawa & Toshiyuki Kurosu
- Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style – W. David Marx
- Assata: An Autobiography – Assata Shakur
- My Strugle – Karl Ove Knaausgard
- Style on the Street: From Tokyo and Beyond – Rei Shito
- Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers – James Andrew Miller
- Black Ivy: A Revolt in Style – Jason Jules
- Black Leopard, Red Wolf – Marlon James
- Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age – Dennis Duncan
- True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us – Danielle J Lindemann
- The Secret History – Donna Tartt
- 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami
- World Travel: An Irreverent Guide – Anthony Bourdain & Laurie Woolever (unfinished)
- The Girl in the Spider’s Web – David Lagercrantz
- Shogun – James Clavell
- Even a Hero Needs a Vacation Every Now and Then – August
- Everyone Knows You Shouldn’t Rescue Maidens in Alleyways – August
- Rare Swords are Only Good Until You Lose Them – August
- Greenlights – Matthew McConaughey
- Final Girls’ Support Group – Grady Hendrix
- My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
- Making Movies – Sidney Lumet
- The Howling – Gary Brandner
- The Howling II – Gary Brandner
- The Lady from the Black Lagoon – Mallory O’Meara
- Nightcrawling – Leila Mottley
One of my favorite things to write, back when I was consistent with the practice, was the monthly list of books I’d read. It’s more of a time commitment to write that out, requires more thought and analysis, and tends to be a longer post than anything else I put out.
And I haven’t done one in over a year.
The reasons are fairly simple. Most of the year was spent working long days. There were flights, and I did read on those. But at destination, read less than I should have. I did spend a good amount of time with tv and film, often to the detriment of reading time. I mean, there are only so many hours in the day. Though, you will spend time on what you prioritize.
This is a rough list for the year. Somewhat incomplete, but only by a little. Books purchased as gifts were left off, as well as some art books that got purchased for reference. There were also a few trips to used and indie bookshops that, try as I might, I just couldn’t recall all the books I picked up from there.
With all that said, let’s dive in.
I was loaned several books by someone who read more than I did last year, and may have me beat in that regard in general. She left the book, My Brilliant Friend, with me, as well as several others I have yet to dig into: Normal People by Sally Rooney, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. (Two notes on that latter book. One, she got tired of waiting for me to read it and took it back so that she could. Two, I ran into a young woman who was reading that book and asked her about it. She wasn’t so into it. That said, I’ll still try and add it to the reading list for 2023.)
And the first book I was loaned by her was The Secret History. I started reading that in or around January, finishing it on a flight down to Florida. The debut novel from The Goldfinch author Donna Tartt, the story weaves together mythology and a murder among the well-to-do students of a New England elite liberal arts college.
Published thirty years ago, it’s the story protagonist Richard Papen, a California son who has an overwhelming desire to flee the West. He attends Hampden College in Vermont as a scholarship student, joins a classics class with five others, taught by the eccentric Julian Morrow, and ends up embroiled in Greek-inspired intrigue. The author pulled heavily from The Bacchae by Euripides. Ever encroaching into a sort of madness, the six students move towards the murder (partially in response to covering up other crimes) of which only five will move beyond.
I was left with conflicting feelings, both enjoying the novel yet feeling dissatisfied with the resolution. Though, admittedly, I could think of no other way for the novel to resolve itself.
The murder itself is hardly a mystery, though the why of it is left vague until later in the novel. Now, twelve months after reading it, I don’t really recall if it’s an indictment of liberal thought or not. It was a smooth read, though, and probably something I’ll need to reread at some point in the future. That very thing was mentioned just weeks ago, when “Read with Jenna” had picked the novel to cover and sat down with Tartt in a Q & A.
I followed this up with 1Q84. During awards season last year, I saw Drive My Car at the Laemmle Theater in Glendale. Adapted from a short story by Murakami, it was a three-hour jaunt through rural Japan, dealing with themes of loss, love, betrayal, and acceptance, all under the …. of rehearsing and performing Chekov’s Uncle Vanya. So, since Murakami has been on the reading list for a while, I figured I’d start with 1Q84.
I wrote on this previously, but I’ll take a little time here. One interesting detail – 1Q84 describes a parallel universe version of Japan in 1984. The Japanese pronunciation of 1984 (一九八四) has a homonym for the number nine – “kyuu”, similar to the English pronunciation of Q. So in the Japanese, it’s still read as “1984”.
Anyway, 1Q84 is magical realism and urban fantasy, with two dueling protagonists each circling each other, and the reader wondering if they’ll ever come together.
It’s a daunting read. Clocking in at just under 1,000 pages, it took my several months to slog through. That isn’t to say the story wasn’t gripping, or the translation (done by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin) wasn’t well-done, or that I wasn’t invested in the characters. Rather, for me, I struggled with the pacing. That could be my biggest flaw as a reader – if the pacing lags at all, I have trouble maintaining my interest.
This typically happens with classics – I can think of reading Great Expectations, A Hundred Years of Solitude (which I love, looking back at it), and a number of others. The fault, of course, doesn’t lie with the author, but rather, with the reader. In this case, me.
1Q84 was written in three parts around the end of the first decade of this century. Murakami reminds me a bit of what Tarantino calls describes New Hollywood of the 60s and 70s, who rejected the system of Old Hollywood. “These new filmmakers had an anti-establishment perspective.”1 Murakami, when he was first published in 1979, was also routinely criticized by the authors of Japan, for not effectively fitting into the critical boxes that Japanese authors at the time were most likely to fit into. In this way, he broke new ground. His writing is sometimes described as “buttery”.
After coasting through Tartt and slogging through Murasaki, I started on a little bit of a book detox. Mostly I was watching tv shows or movies, or working, and didn’t read all that much. I started on Bourdain’s posthumously published World Travel, a library book, but I didn’t finish. Did read Girl in the Spider’s Web, though.
It followed up last year’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy I read during my COVID quarantine at Christmas. I loved the books, and I was sorry that the author died (which is also something that I want to look into more, as I understand it was a bit of a curious circumstance). So, I read the follow-up Spiderweb by Stieg Larsson’s friend and collaborator David Lagercrantz.
In my opinion, Spiderweb veers away a bit from what made the original trilogy so engrossing. Not that it’s a bad book by any means. It just doesn’t pack the punch the others did.
After some of the heftier reading, I delved into a quirky little fantasy series that was recommended to me – The Tipsy Pelican series. Fans of Japanese fiction will likely recognize the stock characters – on OP protagonist, former hero of the land, laying low in his tavern; a holy knight, on a quest and needing the help of none other than the most powerful hero in history; swordsmen and women; mystic weapons and spells; a lot of nonsense and thinly-veiled innuendo.
All in all, quite fun to read. I’ve actually been looking forward to the fourth book, as the recent reveal of what appears to be the primary antagonist will certainly create a clever climax.
Now a brief consideration of audiobooks, The Final Girls Support Group, and why true crime podcasts may be affecting the nation as a whole.
For starters, I got into audiobooks when I was in an office job that required something like an hour (or more, depending on traffic) commute to and from work. So, I’d check out audiobooks from the library and listen to them as I sat in traffic, lamenting life decisions up to that point. Okay, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but I did not like sitting in that traffic.
There are some really terrific audiobook performances out there. Some highlights I think are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, narrated by the author; Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception, also narrated by the author;
With that said about audiobooks, I started listening to The Final Girls Support Group while working a job at a theater where I was painting sets. It was over the course of two weekends, and I just happened to start listening on my first day.
For those of you unaware, a final girl is a horror movie trope whereby the lone female protagonist somehow manages not only to survive but defeats the villain – slasher, monster, whatever. In Hendrix’s world, all these final girls have basically experienced their horrors in the same timeline and are now sitting together in a therapy session to talk through their trauma. These girls are representative of characters from popular slasher movies: Silent Night, Deadly Night; Friday the 13th; Scream; Halloween; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Great. A clever workup of horror tropes, which author Grady Hendrix is fairly well known for. So, shortly into the book, one character gets murdered and another, who has been doomsday prepping since the last time she was attached, barricades herself in her room and hopes to wait it out. [Spoiler: it doesn’t work out that way.]
Now, I’m enjoying the listen, and as I work it makes the time by go. So quick, in fact, that night falls. And I’m still painting. Alone. In this theater, where the lights are on a timer.
Right around the time the protagonist feels like she’s getting chased, the lights everywhere but on stage go off. Now, I love the horror genre. I go to popular Halloween events and wander their haunted houses, and it doesn’t bother me because you can see it coming. You can see where the designer wants you to look, and kind of know where the actors are going to hop out.
But there’s still a deep, primal sense of self-preservation that can be tapped into through frightening, and that night I could not get out of there fast enough! Sensical? Absolutely not. But was I ready to go?
Before moving on, Final Girls does a nice turnaround at the end, and I really think Hendrix deserves a lot of credit. This is a man that loves horror and uses the genre really effectively to tell a very human story. Of his, I’ve also read My Best Friend’s Exorcism; Horrorstör; and We Sold Our Souls.
This brings me to true crime podcasts. I want to guess that those also serve to hit that primal part of ourselves. And if we’re listening to that kind of thing regularly, I believe we’re apt to see the world as a more terrifying place than it is. Just a small supposition on my part, after happily escaping a darkened theater after sundown.
As more of an upper, I also listened to McConaughey’s Greenlights, a sort of memoir/journal/random thoughts of the universe book. Loved it. Read by the author, so you can probably already hear his voice. He speaks of childhood, early years as an actor, making firm decisions, and motorcycling in Europe. Which, after listening to, makes me really want to try it.
Shogun was another audiobook, and one I wanted to get done before the FX show comes out. Looks like no problem, as the delays on that production have been numerous, going back to 2020 to when the pandemic first started. The story of English ship pilot John Blackthorne, stranded with the few surviving members of his crew on the island nation of Japan, where Portuguese merchants and Catholic priests want him killed, and the warlord Toranaga devises to use him, and his western knowledge, to his own ends.
There was an earlier television adaptation starring Richard Chamberlain, released in 1980, and the book was the first in Clavell’s Asian Saga, of which there are five others, spanning nearly 400 years.
On par with my interest in Japan, it was a solid book and a good audio performance. As you can imagine, I am looking forward to the FX show when it premieres, not yet scheduled for release.
This probably takes me to My Brilliant Friend. First in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, it’s the story of lifelong friends Elena and Lila. This was a book lent to me, and was among the favorites of the one who had me read it. So, I was fairly excited to get into this book.
It took me a bit, though. Again, it comes down to pacing. Here again was a novel, written in a foreign language (Italian), and translated to the English. I don’t think that necessarily affects pacing, but it is a curious similarity. The two girls are both uncommonly driven, each with unique talents, and seemingly competing with each other. Though Elena acts as the protagonist, so it’s difficult to fathom Lila’s mind. So much so that she does come across as a mystery through much of the novel.
Its introduction grabs you, because an older Elena receives a call from Lila’s frantic adult son, and is told that his mother is missing. Disappeared. This stirs Elena to remember childhood, their friendship, and how Lila had said that if she could, she would do just that.
Thinking about it now, the novel does make me smile. It’s enjoyable, and not even very long. It just took me longer to read than it probably should have.
A few left, and that takes me to the end of the year. I brought that book with me to Hawaii, where I was working on a show for six weeks. After finishing Ferrante, I dove into this book called The Lady from the Black Lagoon.
Now, I’m something of a monster movie aficionado. Growing up, I loved the Universal classics, and couldn’t wait for Halloween to watch them air on tv. While The Wolf Man was my all-time favorite, I had a soft spot for Creature since it was filmed in my home state of Florida, as well as at the stages of Universal.
Did I know that a woman named Milicent Patrick was one of the creature designers on the film? I did not. Most people don’t. She was also summarily dismissed from Hollywood history. However, Mallory O’Meara discovered her legacy and sought to bring it to light using a little detective work.
Patrick was an actress, author, makeup artist and creature designer, and the author documents her search for the life of a rather amazing woman, in a time when much of the Hollywood system catered the men.
A couple short fiction reads followed, The Howling and Howling II – werewolf books both made into movies that I had seen previously. And, lastly, Nightcrawling, a fictionalized account of a very real case where police in Oakland, CA are accused of soliciting prostitutes, one who happens to be underage.
In Mottley’s novel, the protagonist is that underage prostitute, who falls into life accidentally and decides to maintain it to care for her and a young boy, just a neighbor, that she feels highly protective of. It’s a story of family, both found and that we’re born into, power dynamics, and the decisions we make to protect and survive. This one will stay with me. I finished it on my second-to-last flight of the year, and I was tempted to go back and read it again immediately.
And that’s it. A year of reading. The books I purchased that sit unread will (maybe) see their spines cracked this year. Going forward, I intend to do this monthly. Now, already into February, I really won’t have much to report for last month. Work has started back, on my filming days are roughly twelve hours Monday through Friday. What time I have on the weekends tends to be eaten up.
But I have a great reading list to fall into, and there is still a lot of time left in this year.
- Tarantino, Cinema Speculation