Alex Ross Perry (Her Smell, Listen Up Philip)
Over a decade ago, I decided that towards the beginning of each summer I would read a book so massive and long that you’d be forgiven for never getting around to it. I figured that if I did this every year for the rest of my life, none would be overlooked. My criteria is only that the book be at least 600 pages and a little bit daunting. I also try to read about one-third of it by the end of Memorial Day weekend. Here are three highlights from my self-enforced program.
You Bright and Risen Angels by William T. Vollmann
Vollmann is of course as well-known as any of the Pynchon descendents of post-modernist labyrinthian American fiction, but like many such authors, he is more widely known than actually read. His debut novel depicts radical- ism on the fringes of a very scummy San Francisco that takes the representative form of insects, literally. It’s dense and impenetrable, but also funny, political, and wild, easier to read and harder to put down than you’d think.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt/Theodore Rex/Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Technically this is three books, each between 700 and 800 pages, but it is and should be read as one. The narrative of Roosevelt ought to be as familiar as that of Washington or Lincoln, and these books portray a clear narrative of how America, and New York, shaped its identity at the dawn of the 20th Century in ways that explain much of the world as it now is. The amount of times I found myself saying “I cannot believe I did not know that” is incalculable, and the insight Roosevelt’s life provides into The Way We Live Today is surprisingly resonant.
Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker
This is a little bit of a cheat, since I read it over Christmas. But regardless, this 700-page saga of Irish immigrants in Civil War-era New York and the Draft Riots is both compelling and fascinating. This is one of those shocking things that played a major role in history that, for whatever reason, is largely unknown in terms of basic historical narratives.
Ted Fendt (Classical Period)
Gerhard Friedl: Ein Arbeitsbuch (ed. Volker Pantenburg)
Some nine years in the making, and a very accurate portrayal of working with people on a film. Friedl is one of the most important Austrian filmmakers and is sadly gone too soon. The book includes all of his published film criticism, interviews with his cameraman and other collaborators, e-mails with Werner Dütsch, and treatments, proposals, and scripts for his films and unmade projects. Only available in German.
Fendt also recommends:
The Lament of the Linnet by Anna Maria Ortese
Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann
Marie-Louise Khondji (founder, Le Cinéma Club)
Tiens Ferme Ta Couronne (Hold Fast Your Crown) by Yannick Haenel
A great novel about a French writer who spends his days drinking vodka and watching Heaven’s Gate, obsessing about finding Michael Cimino and convincing him to read his first screenplay, The Great Melville.
Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick
Wonderful memoirs about a relationship between mother and daughter that cuts back and forth from Gornick’s childhood in the Bronx in the 1940s to a conversation between the two as they walk the streets of New York in the 1980s. This could make a beautiful movie.
Picture by Lillian Ross
It’s fun to revisit this classic. The New Yorker writer Lillian Ross was granted complete access to follow the making of John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage from pre-production through release. It’s beautifully written — a great account of moviemaking and the studio machine in its glorious days that still resonates today.
Continue for more summer reading recommendations.