Taking a big cue from the over-achieving Aaron Swarz, I decided to post my favorite books from 2007. It would be nice to read 52 books a year, but I fell short with 37, possibly due to directing and producing a movie.
What follows is an unranked list of books I loved. I hope this list doesn’t out me as a philistine; while I read some literature in 2007 (Flaubert, Dante, Henry Miller, Gabriel Garcia Marquez*, Jorge Amado) these literati did not ring my bells enough to make the all important Stokes’ 2007 list.
The Hero With 1,000 Faces – Joseph Campbell
Reread. Myth as social-psychoanalysis. The advent of the monomyth. And the belief that denial of the ego and realization of the whole is the central enlightenment of all religions. A must read.
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
GREAT!!! The first half is sensational; halfway through the story seems to resolve and loses some momentum…plus the cleverness of the dialog and description seems to fall off a tad. Still, the opening half is absolutely pitch perfect and carries the whole story; an amazing novel.
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris
Wonderful; possibly his best – the story about SinterKlausen is laugh out loud funny.
Blink of an Eye – Walter Murch
The legendary editor. Very readable book on film theory. A central idea is that for an audience, editing is blinking. Understanding when humans tend to blink helps inform what will feel natural in timing your edits.
One of the most under appreciated areas of “movie magic” is good editing. The best editing is often invisible. Poor editing reminds you that you are watching film, and pulls you out of the story.
From Reel to Deal – Dov S-S Simens
Wow, what a great book, and written from an incredibly likable voice. Really a tremendous source of great information about independent film.
The Areas of My Expertise – John Hodgeman
Every few pages I stop and think, “how did he think of that?” I’m glad for this book’s success.
Antigone – Sophocles
Some great, great, Shakespeare-level speeches; particularly from Antigone and Haimon. Not sure it would translate well to modern theater without major revision – but it’s a pleasure to read. Here’s a taste: “Leave me alone with my hopeless scheme; I’m ready to suffer for it and to die. Let me. No suffering could be so terrible as to die for nothing.” Boo-yah!
Trouble is my Business / Finger Man / Goldfish / Red Wind – Raymond Chandler
Great, Great, Great, Great.
The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
The last scene is remarkably good, particularly when he finally has it out with the treacherous femme-fatale. This is enjoyable writing, the height of craft.
Medieval Europe; A Short History – C. Warren Hollister
Basically making the point that the middle ages weren’t the “dark ages” but a continual evolution from the ancient to the modern, giving rise to legal, constitutional, nationalistic, scientific, architectural, and technological innovations.
No Country For Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
The first 2/3rds are brilliant; witty characters with wonderfully colloquial dialog. The last 3rd of the book is the long, moralistic ramblings of an old man.
I found the tone of the movie to be remarkably faithful to the book. However, because the movie obeyed classic three act structure, and kept the denouement short and sweet, the film ending felt more satisfying than the novel.
Farewell, My Lovely – Raymond Chandler
Just Great, Great, Great. It’s just incredible writing, regardless of genre. As poetically beautiful as Proust or Shakespeare.
World War Z – Max Brooks
Really wonderful. It captured my imagination – how to stave off a Zombie attack. It’s so realistic and stunningly well-researched. I agree with the author’s politics. Perhaps best of all, it successfully tells a compelling story while abandoning classic structure. Really great literature.
Harpo Speaks! – Harpo Marx
Amazing autobiography. A reminder of how to live and how to be and an amazing snapshot of American history. Probably the most important book I read all year.
Screenplays I liked
*Bim-Bam-Baby Screenplay by Jeremy Catalino
A strong lead character with funny lines.
*The Bucketlist Screenplay by Justin Zackham
A powerful story about death and the meaning of life.
*Flamers – Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor – aka “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”
This script’s concept and structure are great. There are almost no jokes on the page, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The characters and situations completely drive the story, creating all the textbook required tension. They are forced down this path – every step seems inexorable. The pages turn themselves on the strength of the story and its conflicts.
Good Will Hunting – Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
Read the original screenplay; it’s very good. There are many extra scenes not in the movie and probably not necessary; however every scene is a great scene – with a clever beginning, middle, and end. Some great dramatic writing.
It continues to be a great mystery in Hollywood how these guys wrote one script, won the Academy Award for best screenplay, and then never wrote again. How is this even possible? I’ve heard rumors around town about the writing credits on this movie… What is the explanation?
*Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “100 Years of Solitude” or “Love in the Time of Cholera” are among my absolute favorites. But this year I read “Autumn of the Patriarch.” It was intriguing because each sentence lasts forty pages and switches POV multiple times. But it may be an example of experimentation sacrificing story rather than supporting it.