I make music and I make movies, so I tend to like books about those topics. Also, I like hard-boiled crime fiction and absurd literary fiction, which are sometimes the same thing.
Chester Himes's novel is best known as source material for one of the first '70s blaxploitation films. It's also as twistedly funny as it is tough and thrilling. The mysterious arrival of a giant bale of cotton on the streets of Harlem is far from the strangest thing detectives Grave Digger and Coffin Ed will encounter as they investigate a daring daytime heist.
Lydia Davis's often very short stories are not like anything else. Straightforward but elusive. Otherworldly but everyday. Poetic but journalistic. The included story "What You Learn About the Baby," with its deadpan catalog of advice for new mothers, is strangely sweet and one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing.
From the author of CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS comes another tragicomic tale of Czechoslovakia during World War II. The rise and fall of a hotel waiter who never lets any sort of conscience interfere with his ambition.
Georges Simenon's gift for writing economical crime stories that somehow ride the line between hardboiled terseness and deadpan whimsy is really on display in this short novel. Inspector Maigret is assigned to a superficially banal murder investigation that gets twistier and harder to solve with each new discovery.
Jan Wahl was a good personal friend, in addition to being a great author of children's stories. This story, one of his last, concerns a hunter who discovers a new respect and reverence for nature that causes him to make a change. The book is beautifully illustrated too.
Although best known for his crime novels set in Harlem, this collection focuses on the broader literary side of Chester Himes. Included are slice-of-life stories, portraying a bygone era of Black Los Angeles, vignettes of prison life, as well as later, more experimental fiction that Himes wrote after he gave up the U.S. for France.
My favorite filmmaking memoir, from the director of pulpy masterpieces like FIXED BAYONETS!, SHOCK CORRIDOR, and PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET. This tale of combat both in the trenches and within the Hollywood studio system is as unsentimental as Fuller's films, but I still got choked up at the end.
A great entry in the 33 1/3 series, covering Elvis Presley's late-'60s comeback. Well-researched and engagingly written, and I'm not just saying that because I know the guy who wrote it.
Chester Himes's Harlem is sometimes mean, sometimes scary, sometimes colorful, sometimes funny, and quite often surreal. COTTON COMES TO HARLEM is one of the best books featuring his detective duo Grave Digger and Coffin Ed.
A great non-fiction book for children about film star and renowned inventor (!!) Hedy Lamarr. Beautifully illustrated, this is a delightfully offbeat choice for little burgeoning scientists and future film fanatics.