When compiling our list of essential books for filmmakers, I was reminded of a sentiment from an old college professor that I find to be not just clever, but also remarkably accurate:
“You can’t always tell if someone has gone to college or not, but you can tell if they read.”
Here is a collection of ten books that will help prime your creative faculties with inspiration and plenty of literary nutrition.
1. Stoner by John Williams
A beautiful story of a professor’s journey through life, literature and love. Stoner is a novel of an ordinary life, an examination of a quiet tragedy, the work of a great but little-known writer. A stunning novel on all levels, it is a must-read.
2. Perfume by Patrick Süskind
A beautiful novel by Patrick Süskind. It is absolutely extraordinary.Told with dazzling narrative brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity. One of Kurt Cobain’s favorites and one of our essential books for filmmakers.
3. Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.
The cult classic from 1964, Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel is a savage everyman’s portrayal of the underbelly of society in 1950’s Brooklyn. Selby brings out the dope addicts, hoodlums, prostitutes, workers, and thieves brawling in the back alleys of Brooklyn. Scorching, unrelenting, pulsing.
4. Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles
A gorgeous and masterful autobiographical novel by Eileen Myles. Volatility and the poetry of perspective delivered with honesty and breathtaking aplomb. Suffused with alcohol, drugs, and sex; evocative in its depictions of the hardscrabble realities of a young artist’s life.
5. Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller
Henry Miller’s account of travels in Greece. His most vibrant and cosmic book. A piece of literature that reminds one of the vitality of other cultures in a way that makes using a microwave for anything deeply embarrassing.
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6. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Italo Calvino’s dreamlike account of conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Kahn. Le Città Invisibli is like eating royal jelly with your eyes and mind.
7. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
A memoir by Maggie Nelson, surely one of the most incisive and clear-thinking writers alive today —to read this book is to take apart your own perspective and marvel at the light bouncing off the pieces in kaleidoscopes of crisp electricity.
8. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
A classic dead white man’s account of living the life of a writer and artist. It is sort of like eating at a restaurant with candlesticks on the tables and rough cloth napkins with poetry stained with gravy and drunken afternoon sunlight.
9. Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
A book to be avoided by the faint-of-heart. A favorite among those who distrust the general narrative of civilized existence while still depending on its poisons to continue to exist. Should be on every list of books for filmmakers.
10. The Easter Parade by Richard Yates
This novel by Richard Yates is eminently sad and very hard to put down. It is the kind of book that people who rarely read literature can be captivated by and a beautiful book for those who love to read and have fallen out of the habit to get off the phone and back into the ink.
Life is busy, reading is time-consuming, I know, I know. But I hope you’ll carve out some time to read any of these essential books for filmmakers, the return on investment is well worth it. For more inspiration, check out our article on Five Essential Habits for Filmmakers.