Feature

David Mamet's 6 favorite books with amazing dialogue

The acclaimed playwright recommends works by Alfred Henry Lewis, George V. Higgins, and more

David Mamet's new book, Chicago, is his first crime novel and a return to the 1920s gangland of his screenplay for The Untouchables. Below, the acclaimed playwright, screenwriter, and director lists the novels he turns to for the pleasure of their dialogue.

Outlaws by George V. Higgins (Vintage, $10 as an e-book).

Great dialogue — in novels, drama, on the street corner, or at the barbershop — adheres to our consciousness and shapes our understanding of the world. If you appreciate great dialogue, read some of George Higgins' novels. He was a 1970s state and federal prosecutor before he became a Homeric chronicler-inventor of the language of the cops, crooks, and shysters of Boston.

True Grit by Charles Portis (Overlook, $16).

The dialogue in True Grit is exquisite. Portis was inspired, I believe, by the work of Andy Adams (1859–1935), an actual cowpuncher, who wrote the best fiction of the frontier. Read Adams' The Log of a Cowboy and A Texas Matchmaker, both novels of the trail drive, for a visit to Reconstruction Texas.

Wolfville by Alfred Henry Lewis (Free at Gutenberg.org).

Lewis' Wolfville series also must have inspired the great Mr. Portis. Wolfville is a fictional trail town, peopled by gunfighters, gamblers, cowmen, and whores. If you like to laugh, you will love these books.

The Complete Works of Ernest Bramah (Delphi, $2 as an e-book).

For pure delight, I recommend Bramah's Kai Lung series, a Victorian treasure. Bramah invented a sage-scoundrel story-teller, Kai Lung, whose method of circumlocution spawned the Victorian phenomenon of Kai Lung Clubs. There, folks would assemble and speak in Bramah's pseudo-Chinese patter.

Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian (Norton, $17).

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield (Bantam, $17).

Finally, for dialogue (or anything else for that matter), one cannot top the perfection of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin books and the historical-military romances of Steven Pressfield, which are just flat-out delightful. Consider the character of the Assyrian sutler who attaches himself to the Spartans en route to Thermopylae in Pressfield's Gates of Fire. He prefaces his utterances with an Ionian-accented "Weck up to thees!" — meaning "Wake up to this!" — to my taste, the literary equivalent of a chocolate truffle. I once asked Mr. Pressfield how he became so knowledgeable about the procedures and dialogue of the armies of antiquity, and he said that he'd put himself in their shoes and just made it up.

Recommended

The daily gossip: May 16, 2022
Jason Momoa.
Daily gossip

The daily gossip: May 16, 2022

Watch Wynonna Judd and Brandi Carlile sing 'The Rose' at Naomi Judd memorial
Wynonna Judd, Brandi Carlile
Some Say Love...

Watch Wynonna Judd and Brandi Carlile sing 'The Rose' at Naomi Judd memorial

Dan Chaon's 6 favorite newly released books
Dan Chaon.
Feature

Dan Chaon's 6 favorite newly released books

The daily gossip: May 13, 2022
Marc Anthony and Nadia Ferreira.
Daily gossip

The daily gossip: May 13, 2022

Most Popular

Russia's failed Ukraine river crossing has pro-Russia war bloggers griping
Failed Russian river crossing
Losing faith

Russia's failed Ukraine river crossing has pro-Russia war bloggers griping

Why 'the Russian army just isn't very good'
Vladimir Putin.
Briefing

Why 'the Russian army just isn't very good'

Watch Wynonna Judd and Brandi Carlile sing 'The Rose' at Naomi Judd memorial
Wynonna Judd, Brandi Carlile
Some Say Love...

Watch Wynonna Judd and Brandi Carlile sing 'The Rose' at Naomi Judd memorial