Good Minds Suggest—Jess Walter's Favorite Books About Hollywood

June, 2012

Jess Walter In Jess Walter's latest novel, Beautiful Ruins, a young starlet intoxicates provincial Italian innkeeper Pasquale Tursi for life. Walter's novel begins in 1962 during the heyday of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton—a scamp who plays a part in the ingenue's distress—and soon takes the reader 50 years forward to the present day when an aging Tursi travels to Hollywood in search of his lost love. Walter's previous novels include a black comedy about the economic crisis, The Financial Lives of the Poets, and an exploration of the post-9/11 climate, The Zero. The eclectic novelist shares his top five books about the flashy glitz and desperate hustle of moviemaking.

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
"Still the best novel about Hollywood: a dark, hypnotic allegory in which a bunch of outcasts live in sun-washed squalor miles beneath their ambitions and dreams. Tod Hackett is a set painter whose friends (including a cowboy actor living in the woods) are as thin and phony as the facades that he paints. As West said of his own writing, 'There is nothing to root for in my work, and what is even worse, no rooters.'"


The White Album by Joan Didion
"Didion's Hollywood novel Play It as It Lays is also great, but this book of essays captures the paranoid, washed-out feel of 'the last extant stable society' better than anything I've ever read. Janis Joplin stops by; Sammy Davis Jr. has a benefit; an actress pleads 'to be known;' an agent matter-of-factly shows a client's check for $4.85 million. It's a land of blank looks and blank checks and dull unreality."


The Kid Stays in the Picture by Robert Evans
"It's a classic of self-aggrandizement and name-dropping ('Kissinger was on the phone'), but this studio executive's memoir is also addictive and, at times, brilliant—though maybe not intentionally so. It's like having a conversation with Evans. Over drinks at the Hamlet. Or the Bistro. In short bursts of noirish prose. 'My ole lady, we've split. Feel like I'm on the street.'"


Making Movies by Sidney Lumet
"Serious, artistic, even humble, Lumet's book isn't a memoir so much as a primer on how a director approaches his job—and not just any director, but the man responsible for 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Verdict. From Chapter 2, 'Is the Writer Necessary,' this is still true: 'There are two kinds of scenes, the Pet The Dog scene and the Kick The Dog scenes. The studio always wants the Pet The Dog scenes so everyone can tell who the hero is.'"


Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
"This novel doesn't even go to Hollywood but instead takes place entirely at a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving football game during the Iraq War. But the movie producer on hand to convince an Iraq War hero that Hilary Swank should play him in the film version of his squad's story is so expertly drawn, so subtle and convincing, that it's my favorite recent depiction of Hollywood."



Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Hollywood Novels



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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Connie (new)

Connie Brown "What Makes Sammy Run?" Budd Schulberg. Terrific. Read it many years ago, but still remember that I couldn't put it down. A reader may want to turn away, but can't.


message 2: by Dean (new)

Dean Anything by William Goldman, esp. "Adventures in the Screen Trade."


message 3: by Carl (new)

Carl Rollyson The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald's novel would be on my list. But skip the movie, or treasure it for the few good scenes, including one with Dana Andrews, in one of his last roles as a fading director, especially poingnant since Andrews himself was just beginning to succumb to dementia.


message 4: by Michael (new)

Michael Katz "Three Balconies" by Bruce Jay Friedman, "Monster" by John Gregory Dunne, "Bambi vs Godzilla" by David Mamet, "Get Shorty" by Elmore Leonard...


message 5: by Carl (new)

Carl Rollyson I forgot about Monster. I'd read anything by John Gregory Dunne about Hollywood. I liked his novel, Playland.


message 6: by Sara (new)

Sara Anything by Bruce Wagner.


message 7: by Dallas (new)

Dallas How about Raymond Chandler? Hollywood is the setting if not always the subject. Also, there's a new noir e-book out about a Hollywood Cab Driver in the 1970s if anyone's looking for a good quick read. "Cindy's Eyes" by James Rudolph.


message 8: by John (new)

John Luiz Billy Taylor's novel "Based on the Movie" offers a very funny take on moviemaking, from the perspective of a key grip who "really wants to direct."


message 9: by Helen (new)

Helen I am going through a Andrew Taylor stage. Wh didn't I know him before? Loved "Anthony of Ghosts" Starting to love historical thrillers. anyone can recommend great ones, I welcome.


message 10: by Joseph (new)

Joseph Flynn The Deal by Peter Lefcourt.


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