Welcome to the Man Repeller Review of Books, inspired by our wild and well-attended Google spreadsheet, where we burrow into the virtual reading nook of our website and talk books. The format is bound to shapeshift, while the objective remains the same: to broaden the horizons of our reading queues and to consider books we might not have heard of otherwise by sharing both our recommendations and modes of discovery.
As you will soon find out, my recommendations this month point you in the direction of the closest cinema. This is for a convergence of personal reasons: a spell of serial television fatigue (why don’t I watch more movies? They’re a more compact and efficient experience! There are so many classics I haven’t seen and need to actively seek out beyond the usual streaming services!), the still-fresh grief over the closure of my two favorite New York theaters (the Paris and the Beekman), and my intrigue with journalist Jessica Pressler’s adaptation-friendly work. For the uninitiated, Hustlers is based on Pressler’s terrific reportage for New York Magazine, Shonda Rhimes is interpreting Pressler’s Anna Delvey masterpiece for Netflix, and now I’m left wondering if someone will option the rights to her incredible story on the class riot at Brooklyn’s oldest nursery school. And then there’s the near-universal question of whether I should let myself bask in my genre of choice (show biz lit, it seems) or make a concerted effort to dabble. I’ll have to hash that out next month, but in the meantime, below are a few titles I’d put in lights on my literary marquee.
The Final Word on Jia’s Book of Essays
Let’s dive in with a brisk follow-up on Trick Mirror. The tautness of this original essay collection transitions from loose to airtight, like a sealed bag of Doritos over the course of a cross-country flight, as Jia Tolentino excavates each compartment of her life (her experiences of literature, of religion, of Barre class, of drugs, of Greek life, of matrimony) for instances of self-delusion. Over the course of each piece, her arguments become so convincing you almost forget you can disagree with them. Standouts for me included “The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams,” which lays bare certain staples entrenched in our society and how these establishments’ negative ripple effects were inherent from the start, followed by a piece examining the author’s alma mater, the University of Virginia, that left my stomach turned for days, and a final zinger of an essay, “I Thee Dread,” which studies the unquestioning inheritance of antiquated marriage rituals, and which most aggressively chipped away at my own self-delusions in ways both illuminating and distressing.
Maybe this will make you want to buy the book; maybe it will make you want to run for the hills.
If you’ve closed the loop on Trick Mirror but haven’t sated your Tolentino fix, she wrote the introduction to a new Modern Library edition of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. If you’re interested only in dressing like the cover of Trick Mirror, I recommend my summer uniform of this platonic-ideal-of-yellow Entireworld sweater and this orange creamsicle of a neck scarf. Open to your suggestions re: the missing magenta flourish and the book jacket’s signature twinkle, a parallelogram of reflective glare.
And Now For Something Completely Different
Finally, a book no one has been hyping in the last decade. The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje entered my awareness when my grandfather pressed it into my palm while I was studying film at art school. Like any good student, I then waited six years to read it.
But you don’t need to treat this book like a bottle of wine—you can enjoy it now. Ondaatje, the Canadian-Sri Lankan writer maybe best known for authoring The English Patient, encountered film editor and sound designer Walter Murch when they worked together on the film adaptation of Ondaatje’s aforementioned novel. Intrigued by Murch’s approach to his craft (which has earned him three Academy Awards), Ondaatje then arranged a series of five conversations with Murch which would amount to this book, published in 2002. While the topic may read as niche, these interviews lift the scrim off of a fairly opaque, near-surgical vocation and reveal its commonalities with other disciplines, like writing prose—a point made evident when Murch and Ondaatje discuss how so many works of art are sculpted in their editing. This is then illustrated by an (astounding) diptych juxtaposing the first and last drafts of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem entitled “One Art.”
Read this book if you care to learn about: the early, scrappy days of filmmaking in Francis Ford Coppola’s and George Lucas’ inner circle; how saying certain consonants prompts us to blink and how film editors consider those blinks as cues to cut to the next shot; how a sophisticated editor places stirring music in a movie only after the emotion has been pent up and earned; the idea that film might one day have its own notational language in the same way western musical notation was developed long after music’s inception; how film editors’ dreams adopt the cadence of their work; or how Orson Welles began memos to editors working on his films’ post-production (passive aggressively, like: “I assume that the music now backing the opening sequence of the picture is temporary…”).
A Map for Those Who Lost the Plot
I spotted Screenplay by Syd Field, a bestselling instruction manual on the craft of screenwriting, on a bookshelf during my August vacation. Interrupting my scheduled queue in the spirit of spontaneity, I knew that this site-specific option would require me to finish it before my vacation’s end. I happened to include a photo of this book on the shelves of LA’s Skylight Books in last month’s Man Repeller Review of Books, so a degree of kismet attracted me to it.
Screenplay is a how-to book, and an irritatingly repetitive one at that, but it does successfully drill its tenets into you. I suggest it for any writer who is plot-phobic: this slim read will make plot feel exponentially more approachable whether or not your work is intended for the screen. With clear visual tables and charts illustrating what he considers an indestructible narrative arc structure, Field eases you into the hot tub of plot points and twists. I read the 1994 version which touts tips on how to write with a computer (which was, as I learned, a maddening, clunky process requiring much machinery and many a software update), though the book has since been updated in a sexier, colorblocked 2005 release.
A few more books are getting fast-tracked to the top of my list:
- Went from feeling ambivalent about reading How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell to being in desperate need of inhaling her wisdom posthaste. Same goes for Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener (a memoir from the heart of startup culture in San Francisco).
- A friend keeps sending me excerpts of Four Friends by William D. Cohan—it turns out this is a very good method to employ when you want someone to read a particular book.
- Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys has spent most of the summer on the New York Times bestseller list for a reason, and the enthusiasm for Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women is contagious.
- The novel Valerie by Swedish writer Sara Stridsberg was longlisted for this year’s Man Booker prize: It reimagines the life of Valerie Solanos, the radical feminist who attempted to assassinate Andy Warhol. Sounds polarizing and bleak and gripping.
- ….plus, the possibilities feel endless now that these heroic librarians are widening the offerings of the public domain: I’ve downloaded a bunch of Wharton, Brontë and Austen classics I missed.
- Should I read This Is Not A T-Shirt by Bobby Hundreds??? A most Salingerish cover.
Curious to hear about the highlights of your summer reading—please include recs below!
Graphic by Edith Young.
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