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Richard Schickel's 5 favorite books
The esteemed film critic recommends essays by David Foster Wallace, a Henry James bio, and the requisite "Hollywood novel"
Unsurprisingly, the film critic Richard Schickel also has emphatic opinions when it comes to recommending books.
Unsurprisingly, the film critic Richard Schickel also has emphatic opinions when it comes to recommending books.
2010 Patricia Williams
C

onsider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace (Back Bay, $15). The essay is my favorite form, and this collection, which features a masterly piece on dictionaries as well as a report on a porn convention in Las Vegas, is profoundly funny, obsessively detailed, and full of quirky wisdom. The vote on Wallace as a novelist is still out, I think, but I’m betting he will achieve immortality as one of the great reflective writers of our times.

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes (Vintage, $16). Based on the true story of how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle rescued an Anglo-Indian barrister falsely accused of a heinous crime, Barnes’s novel is a study both of marvelously contrasting characters and of turn-of-the-century English society. It’s a massive book that reads with the addictive quickness of a detective story, which it partly is. Barnes is one of our deftest and most appealing writers.

New Grub Street by George Gissing (Pomona, $12). Gissing was among the most prolific of the minor Victorians, and this is his masterpiece: A richly detailed account of the rise of the modern literary world—at times sentimental and romantic, yet also hard-nosed and full of characters both slippery and idealistic. More than a century later, any writer will recognize himself, his peers—and his agents—among those struggling to survive as a new, modernist, anti-genteel world is born.

Henry James by Leon Edel (out of print). This one-volume distillation of Edel’s massive five-volume biography is a great stand-alone work. I’m not myself a Jamesian. But Edel, with his conversational style and lightly worn erudition, enlists one’s sympathy for this seemingly frosty figure in a way that helps us see a sedentary heroism in his great career.

What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg (Vintage, $16). I guess a movie guy must include a Hollywood novel among his choices. It’s hard to do, since most of them are so awful. But Schulberg’s book, the rags-to-riches tale of screenwriter Sammy Glick, remains an unpretentious, persistent delight. It’s hard for a novel to be both lovable and mordant, but Schulberg’s manages with authentic panache.

Richard Schickel's new book — his 37th — is Conversations With Scorsese. A film critic for more than 45 years, Schickel is also the director-writer-producer of many TV documentaries, mostly about the movies

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