September Books

Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina

Over the past few days, tributes to the late Jean-Luc Godard have appeared from writers as varied as critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, musician Richard Hell, and film director Víctor Erice. Artforum has republished Manny Farber’s 1968 essay, which famously ends with the line, “In short, no other filmmaker has so consistently made me feel like a stupid ass.” But Farber’s synapse-popper of a piece, which touches on every feature Godard had made up to that point, is, of course, anything but stupid.

Verso Books has posted two new essays addressing Godard’s relationship to the written word. Revisiting that fecund period that Farber wrote about, the 1960s, Jared Marcel Pollen proposes that “Godard was attempting to achieve on the screen something that he believed only novels had the ability to do: to assimilate all styles, all voices, and all cultural materials, much as Joyce had done fifty years earlier. As Susan Sontag noted, rather than look to literature to adopt the conventions of plot, narrative, and characterization, as the cinema had attempted since the silent era, Godard found a way to incorporate the heavy ideation and undramatized intellection that had always been easily assimilable into novels and into films only extraneously.”

When he heard that Godard had died last week, Andrew Key turned to Histoire(s) du cinéma, the eight-part audiovisual essay that Godard worked on from 1988 to 1998. For Key, Godard’s “engagements with literary history at points feel as significant as his relationship to film history, and his erudition is imposing.” It’s especially in the later films, from the 1980s on, that “literature becomes a barricade against the disappointments of the course of the twentieth century.”


For the London Review of Books, Gayle Lazda writes about reading her way through the eight volumes of Dirk Bogarde’s memoirs. It’s a story that begins with a countryside sighting of Virginia Woolf and winds its way through a world war, dozens of film sets, and the loss of the partner he lived with for nearly fifty years. Bogarde “never came out publicly,” writes Lazda, “or privately: in an Arena documentary made shortly after his death, his sister Elizabeth said: ‘I knew what I could ask him, and I knew what I couldn’t ask him.’”

Michael K. Williams was about to complete Scenes from My Life: A Memoir with Jon Sternfeld when he died of a drug overdose just over a year ago. In an excerpt up at Vulture, Williams writes about creating the character of Omar, the openly gay thief who steals from drug dealers in The Wire. Matt Zoller Seitz highlights a key passage in his brief introduction: “Omar is sensitive and vulnerable and he loves with his heart on his sleeve. You can say what you want to him—it rolls right off—but don’t you dare mess with his people. He loves absolutely, fearlessly, with his entire being.”

The Guardian is running another excerpt in which Williams writes about his activism on behalf of criminal justice reform: “There’s nothing like getting invited to the White House to make you feel like an impostor.” Eventually, though, Williams realized that he “had agency, a voice, a life experience that mattered.”


Wellesnet is sampling reviews of Big Red, the latest novel from the prolific and award-winning writer Jerome Charyn. It’s the story of Rusty, “an actress who couldn’t act, a dancer who couldn’t dance, a singer who couldn’t sing.” When she lands a job in the publicity department of Columbia Pictures, studio head Harry Cohn sends to her to keep an eye on one his prized assets, Rita Hayworth—and of course, her husband, too, Orson Welles. “I have a funny feeling that the music of my language—my own whiplash of words—comes as much from images on the screen as from the narrative thrust and the melodies of Ulysses, To the Lighthouse, or Moby-Dick,” writes Charyn at Literary Hub.

Retrospective, Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s eighth novel, barely fictionalizes the lives of film director Sergio Cabrera (Time Out, Ilona Arrives With the Rain, The Strategy of the Snail); his father, Fausto, a famous television actor in Colombia; and his mother and sister. The story takes us from the Spanish Civil War to more deadly fighting in Colombia and Beijing, where the Cabreras throw themselves with gusto into Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Disillusionment ensues. “Retrospective is a dogged and conscientious account,” writes Melissa Harrison in the Guardian. “While undoubtedly an achievement in its ordering of history, is Retrospective a novel? Not in my book. A memoir-by-proxy? Yes, perhaps.”

Following last month’s first round of reviews of Michael Mann’s Heat 2—cowritten with Meg Gardiner—Adam Nayman’s has appeared in the Nation. “Half long-gestating passion project, half proof of concept for a future blockbuster, it’s a book that exists solely because its author has willed it,” writes Nayman. “What’s good in the book is pretty much the same as in Mann’s movies: long, clean dramatic arcs; an unerring sense of narrative convergence; the layering of vivid, documentary details (makes, models, and brand names) over hoary page-turning tropes . . . The problems arise when Mann doesn’t just evoke his older work but shamelessly copies it.”

Writing in the Guardian about The Twilight World, Werner Herzog’s novel based on the real-life Japanese soldier who carried on fighting the Second World War on a small island in the Philippines for three decades, Rob Doyle notes that “it’s impossible not to hear Herzog’s famous voice ringing charismatically in the inner ear (just as that of Quentin Tarantino resounded unmistakably in his recent novelization Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). If a less celebrated figure than Herzog presented their editor with a book this slight, they’d probably be sent back to their desk to imagine their way deeper into the psychic jungle.”

The State of Things

Reviewing Erich Schwartzel’s Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy for the New Yorker, Jane Hu notes that it “reads like a cautionary tale for American corporations seduced by the lure of the Chinese market,” which is now the largest in the world. “In Schwartzel’s telling, billion-dollar business decisions take on the erotic charge of romantic courtship, and turn on the thrill of a cat-and-mouse chase.” Hu pulls a quote from the book: “China wants to use the movies to brand itself to the world, and it learned how to do so from the best.”

Back in July, we took an early look at The Wrath to Come: Gone with the Wind and the Lies America Tells, in which Sarah Churchwell traces a line from the 1936 novel and the 1939 adaptation to the insurrectionists waving the Confederate flag as they stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Historian Adam Hochschild comments on Churchwell’s arguments in the New Statesman, and in the Prospect, Diane Roberts writes: “Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara are much beloved characters. They are also, as Churchwell says, ‘homicidal white supremacists with profoundly fascistic worldviews.’”


A new spruced-up edition of Ashley Clark’s Facing Blackness: Media and Minstrelsy in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled is on the way with “a fresh-for-2022 foreword,” full color images, and a few revisions of the main text. Sofia Coppola: Interviews, edited by Amy N. Monaghan, is due in February, and preorders are forty percent off through this coming Monday.

Meantime, Literary Hub’s Emily Temple has put together her sixth annual fall preview, taking her usual unique approach. “I read through a total of twenty-five lists from twenty-two outlets, which collectively recommended 354 different books,” she writes. “I then collated the results to figure out which books were most recommended across the literary universe this season.” Celeste Ng’s forthcoming novel, Our Missing Hearts, “as you’ll see, blows every other book out of the water.”

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