Let’s begin with Glenn Kenny, who recommends “two novels about both movies and movie love—or movie lust, or movie madness.” The first is Farran Smith Nehme’s Missing Reels, a debut we’ve mentioned a few times here over the past several weeks. Farran, known far and wide as the Self-Styled Siren, has been posting updates on the book and a schedule of upcoming appearances on up through January. The one to know about now if you’re in New York is the screening of Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937) that she’ll be introducing at the Museum of the Moving Image on Sunday.
Wherever you are, you can read excerpts from Missing Reels at The Evening Class and RogerEbert.com as well as a conversation sparked by the novel that Farran’s had with none other than fellow movie-loving southerner, Molly Haskell. “What makes Farran’s book particularly bracing is that, as romantic comedies go, it’s as tart as it is sweet, maybe even more so,” writes Glenn Kenny. “And while nobody as passionate as movies as Farran is would construct a narrative that argued some films are better off not being found, Missing Reels is pretty blunt in its acknowledgement that many Old Hollywood stories are pretty unpleasant ones, and that the people who lived them maybe have the right not to have those stories exhumed. I’m making the book sound like a Moral Tale or something right about now, so I should hasten to add that what it actually is, its considerable human wisdom aside, is a paragon of wit, a beautifully plotted story, and a romping good read.”
While Missing Reels is set in New York in the late 80s, the second novel Glenn’s recommending, Nicholas Rombes’s The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing, takes us to Wisconsin in the mid-90s. The book’s got its own tumblr, where you can watch trailers and follow links to excerpts at The Quietus and 3:AM Magazine, where editor Andrew Gallix writes that “Kafka directed by David Lynch doesn’t even come close. It is the most hauntingly original book I’ve read in a very long time.”
Glenn: “Rombes abjures conventional narrative in favor of stories within stories… or rather stories located at particular nodes and modes of narrative form: oral synopses, transcripts of notes, a ‘screenplay’ ‘treatment,’ and so on. And yet, from the periphery of the map this slim book conjures, a stabbingly vivid account of loss worms its way into the work, suggesting that the sought absolution of the novel’s title is less for Laing than it is for the book’s narrator. A rather remarkable effect.”
I want to mention another excellent piece by Glenn Kenny, this one for RogerEbert.com, “Shirley Clarke: Made in America,” as a sort of segue into a recent entry from the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody: “There’s no biography of Clarke yet, but there is a remarkable literary and intimate portrait of her in the memoir Life Itself!, from 2001, by her sister, the novelist and journalist Elaine Dundy, who died in 2008. (The book is unfortunately out of print.) Dundy led a tumultuous life, full of remarkable friends (including Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway, and Tennessee Williams) whom she considers in insightful detail, and full of love affairs (which she discusses frankly).”
For Vanity Fair, Bruce Handy talks with Richard Zoglin, whose new book, Hope: Entertainer of the Century, “is terrific—scrupulously researched, likely definitive, and as entertaining and as important (to an understanding of 20th- and 21st-century pop culture) as its subject once genuinely was.” In the New York Times, Janet Maslin finds Zoglin’s claim that Bob Hope “was the only important entertainer” in the 20th century way OTT, but this biography is nonetheless “a definitive version” of the life.
“For me, a good writer makes you want to re-watch movies you’ve seen a dozen times,” writes Peter Martin at Twitch. “That’s what Shawn Levy does with De Niro: A Life, a new biography that digs respectfully into the actor’s life and provides a fair and balanced context for a film career that began in the early 1960s.”
A couple of weeks ago, I noted that Michael McGriff and J.M. Tyree were discussing the origins of their new book, Our Secret Life in the Movies, for the Paris Review. Now Michael Lindgren‘s reviewed this fragmented narrative: “This beautiful, devastating little book is quite unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered, and if you grew up in a small town in the 1980s feeling even remotely marginal, it’s specifically engineered to break your heart.” The authors “have assembled a list of 39 obscure art-house films as the starting point for a collection of brief, jagged improvisations on their respective youths. The result is a double-barreled bildungsroman of gothic, middle-American squalor and ruin.”
The Austin Chronicle‘s posted a collection of short reviews and blurbs on new film books: Kimberley Jones on Anjelica Huston’s Watch Me: A Memoir and Mark Bailey’s Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling Through Hollywood History and Richard Whittaker on the late Bunny Yeager’s Bettie Page: Queen of Curves along with several honorable mentions.
Hilary Mantel, Rowan Williams, Grayson Perry, Alan Johnson, A.S. Byatt, Geoff Dyer, Alex Salmond, Kate Fox, William Boyd and Dave Eggers are among the writers who’ve each turned in a paragraph or so to the New Statesman on their “Books of the Year.” Meantime, at Flavorwire, Jonathon Sturgeon lists his “50 Best Independent Fiction and Poetry Books of 2014.”
Dan Gunn for the TLS on “Marguerite Duras at 100”: “Like Beckett, Duras had a feel for the marginal, the outcast, the damned or condemned, the prisoner of circumstance.”
Listening (148’59”). Patrick McGilligan, author of Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director, is in the Projection Booth, discussing In a Lonely Place (1950).