Information expands at an exponential rate. More books and films than a person can ever hope to enjoy have been created. I believe we have the special task in this chaotic world to find the works that truly speak to us, so that we may learn them deeply.
That’s why I’ve made it a priority to begin collecting those that have influenced my life to such a degree that they have become indispensable.
My personal canon will be a forever-unfinished project that reflects the stories and ideas that matter to me. That way I can revisit them at different points in my life to learn something new and deeper about the world, as well as myself.
I hope one or more of these items speak to you, too.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this novel has been described as the quintessential book on American politics. The prose is gorgeous; the story dramatic; and this is my favorite novel.
Different Seasons by Stephen King
From his prolific body of work, this book stands out not just as his best but among the best. It’s a collection of four novellas, including “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” (which inspired one of the best films ever made), “Apt Pupil” (which takes you places even the film didn’t dare go), and “The Body” (which became Stand by Me).
As a film buff, my list of favorites is too long to catalogue, but Casablanca, The Godfather, and Shawshank would be among the ranks. Rather, as a screenwriter and former film projectionist, I’d like to share two awesome videos. The first is on the history of how studios fought over the ideal aspect ratios. The second explores the origins of modern screenplays format. Both videos make these oddities a bit more understandable.
I have one Halloween tradition that I’ve engaged in every year since college, which is to listen to Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” about a Martian invasion of New Jersey.
The show is a wonderful bit of entertainment and a stellar example of classic fiction adapted for the auditory medium. What makes this program so compelling—especially for those who heard it live and reportedly fell victim to mass hysteria—is that Welles and the Mercury Theatre company blurred the lines between fact and fiction by making the story resemble an actual news transmission.
Radio is often taken for granted today because we consider the technology common. However, I encourage you to take an hour to listen to “The War of the Worlds” to remind yourself of the effectiveness of oral storytelling—our oldest and most powerful form of narrative.
Our imagination pictures the events in a visceral way much better than any visual medium could hope to achieve. This tool lends particularly well to the horror genre and the slow drip of suspense Welles expertly carries out.
Hope you enjoy. Happy Halloween.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
A memoir about his time in Paris in the 1920s, this book is a great insight into his writing process and his interactions with artistic luminaries of the time. Favorite quote:
I’ve seen you beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and pencil.
Speaking of Quotes
This one acts as a guiding/humbling force, spoken by Michelangelo when he was 87. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me:
Ancora imparo. (‘I am still learning.’)
I’m also fond of:
A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.
— Mark Twain
As well as this one, which is why I write:
Tell me a fact and I’ll learn.
Tell me a truth and I’ll believe.
Tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.
— Native American Proverb
Poetics by Aristotle
This classic text examines the elements of story and rules of drama. It’s required reading in film and theatre classes, but it’s conspicuously absent from fiction workshops. The language is thick at times, but if you’re a writer, this will become your primary reference.
Because it’s the Constitution. And because the clarity of thought and purpose this document communicates is so wholly impressive that I cannot suppress my amazement every time I read it. It even values authors.
Obviously, not a book. This music holds an important place in my heart and, as such, plays a role in my first novel. As one of my characters says of jazz enthusiasts: “We’re a small but strong group.”
If you’ve ever attended a show—hopefully in a small venue, where the atmosphere is concentrated to its purest form—the energy of the audience cheering on the musicians is contagious.
With the number of jazz stations dwindling, it’s important to keep America’s original art form thriving. Tune in to LA’s public radio station KJazz 88.1 FM when you get a chance, or listen on the web at jazzandblues.org.