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.
Joan Armatrading's songcraft is so impeccable that it can be easy to focus on the gorgeous melodies and miss the words. This book, which includes the lyrics to classic songs like "Love and Affection" and "Drop the Pilot," highlights Armatrading's clever but unpretentious use of language. If you know these songs, it's hard not to hear them replay in your mind as you read. But the words certainly stand on their own.
An entrancing bilingual volume from the masterful Uruguayan poet Idea Vilariño. This collection of brief and enigmatic love poems is soaked in ache, at once beautiful and startling.
Untranslated into English for over 70 years, this classic locked-room mystery introduces Japan’s scruffy, stammering Sherlock: Kosuke Kindaichi. Don’t mind that unkempt nest of hair; it houses one of the best analytical minds in crime-solving. A couple is murdered on their wedding night in a bizarre fashion that suggests the killer was a fan of detective novels. Perfect for hardcore fans of the genre and curious newcomers alike.
A cozy French policier for a chilly winter night. Chief Inspector Maigret is supposed to be investigating a string of robberies, but instead the veteran detective can’t stop looking into the brutal killing of a good-natured burglar he had known. This entry in the decades-spanning Maigret series shows off Georges Simenon’s effortless knack for sharp writing and memorable characters in the framework of a cop procedural.
A wham-bam bullet train of a book that updates the Raymond Chandler–style L.A. detective story with idiosyncratic verve. Happy "Hank" Doll is more Doc Sportello than Philip Marlowe, with a varied assortment of pharmaceuticals fueling his investigation, as he tries to make sense of an old friend’s murder. Jonathan Ames’s narration is tinged with humor and horror, making for a wild ride through some familiar Angel City locales.
Are you serious about trivia AND you have a great sense of humor? You're going to need this collection of high-difficulty quizzes from David Quantick, an Emmy Award–winning writer on Veep and idiosyncratic novelist of some note. Test yourself or use these quizzes to make trivia rounds that will delight your friends (or inspire them to plot your murder). It includes multiple Christmas quizzes!
Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White (African American Intellectual History) (Paperback)
A sharp and stimulating examination of American blues music as something at once earthy and wildly mythological. The devil would sell his soul to Robert Johnson to give this book a read.
Well does it?
Fletch is back on movie screens, with Jon Hamm playing intrepid, smartass reporter Irwin Fletcher. The new flick is based on this book, the second in the series. Fletch discovers his new sublet comes with its own naked, dead body. The local police detective would love it if Fletch would just confess to the murder and close the case but Fletch would prefer not to. A perfect follow-up to the breezy intrigue of the first book.
A great look into the late-'60s comeback, where Elvis tried to shed the patina of Hollywood phoniness and reconnect with the kind of music he loved. This small volume offers a nice blend of biographical sketch, cultural analysis, and a deep dive into Elvis's recording sessions with producer Chips Moman.
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. Inspiring for filmmakers and creative people in general!
Mel Brooks has a sharp, conversational style that makes this memoir feel like you're just at a corner deli listening to him reminisce over old times (even more so if you get the audiobook from Libro.fm -- plug plug). From a destitute Brooklyn childhood to World War II to Sid Caesar's writers room to big screen success and ultimately to Broadway, Mel serves as a charming tour guide through his 90-plus years on this planet.
Another mosaic of character studies presented in wildly different literary styles from Jennifer Egan. The setting is a near-future where anyone's memories and past feelings are accessible through a social media database where you can "own your unconscious" -- or spy on someone else's. It's a spin-off/sequel to A Visit to the Goon Squad, but it's not absolutely essential to read that book first -- I haven't yet and was still utterly engrossed in these overlapping vignettes.
Talk about toxic masculinity! Hoo doggies! Pulp maestro Jim Thompson delivers a disturbing character study of a psychotic small town deputy that is arguably his dingy masterpiece.
Mark Russell transforms the classic cartoon sitcom into an existential satire that's both bitterly funny and surprisingly sweet. My favorite characters are the vacuum cleaner and the bowling ball who have serious discussions about their lot in life while shut up in the Flintstones' closet.
The only novel from the queen of romantic comedy movies. It's based on her doomed marriage to reporter Carl Bernstein, so it's less cozy than it is tart. But there are a lot of laughs in here.
This collection of short stories is as sharply observed as a classic indie flick, with flavorful dialogue and characters whose flaws are too relatable for comfort.
An eye-opening blend of cinema history and cultural critique. Pulitzer Prize nominee Wil Haygood highlights the careers of African American filmmakers and stars who are both canonized and unsung, while also tracking the evolving images of Black characters in American films over the past century.
A fascinating and funny retelling of how one of the best ’90s movies about the ’70s got made. (I think Matthew McConaughey was in it.) Alright, alright, alright!
A newly reprinted ’70s classic from comedian and activist Dick Gregory. Gregory looks at many of the long-held myths that (white and rich) historians have used to prop up the narrative of America and then sets them straight. It’s more factual than funny, but Gregory has a rhetorical style steeped in the skeptical, satirical voice he honed on stage.
One of the best recent entries in the long-running 33 1/3 music series. The book touches on the early days of the tribute album boom and how it dovetailed with Leonard Cohen’s waning career in the ’80s. The trailblazing I’m Your Fan album inspired Jeff Buckley and inadvertently led to the cultural supersaturation of the song “Hallelujah.”
Stephen King might be best known for his epic-length novels, but he's always been good at delivering strange, moody, and haunting little stories. This first collection is still his best batch of the short stuff.
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.
Possibly out of print. Email or call to check availability and price.
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.
Possibly out of print. Email or call to check availability and price.
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.