Reality Hunger by David Shields (Vintage, $15). David, my teacher and friend, has made it his mission to deconstruct the novel as we know it. This book, which calls for a new way of thinking about fact and fiction, is a masterwork. Its content breaks down the expectations readers have while reading traditional narrative, while its form is a shining example of the new kind of narrative Shields endorses.
This Is Not a Novel by David Markson (Counterpoint, $15). The lists in this genre-bending book accumulate power through their juxtapositions. By the book's end, you feel in tune with a man's whole life and with a culture's literary heritage.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon, $21). This is one of those books that a young writer reads and then has to teach himself not to copy because its influence is so strong. It uses text as image, so that the graphic arrangement of the words mimics their content and the motif of the labyrinth lives both in the content and in the path a reader takes through the book.
Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno (Simon & Schuster, $37.50). Ostensibly a kind of oral biography of J.D. Salinger, Salinger is really an in-depth study of a man who tried desperately to hide (and in some ways didn't try to hide) behind his famous work. It is biography as collage, and provides great insight into Salinger's complex psyche.
Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson (Picador, $14). Johnson's masterfully written collection of stories is the bible for all MFA fiction students because of the way it develops a single character across its various short pieces. The protagonist's drug-addled brain allows the writing to ascend to the ecstatic.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, $15). Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece recounts the horrific 19th-century adventures of the scalp-hunting Glanton gang in language that reaches for the biblical. This is how Westerns should be done now: No white hat, black hat; no good cowboys and bad Indians. Here, everyone is as evil as pitch.
— Actor James Franco is about to publish his first novel, just weeks before the release of a film he directed — his third this year. Franco's movie, Sal, about actor Sal Mineo, debuts Nov. 1. His film As I Lay Dying, based on the acclaimed William Faulkner novel, is out this weekend. Franco's novel, Actors Anonymous, arrives on Oct. 15.