This story is over 5 years old.

A Few Impressions

Here's What James Franco Has Been Reading

Every free moment of his last year has been filled with books.

Image by Gerard Weber

For the past year or so I’ve been preparing for my oral exams in English literature at Yale. Through all that time, it seemed like every free moment was filled with reading.

Ask Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg if, between jokes on The Interview, I was reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition” and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket—a Moby Dick–like story about a castaway. Ask them if I was reading Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, and his autobiography, which details the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, including his line attacking slavery that didn’t make the cut. (“[King George] is determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold,” he wrote. The sentence was axed from the final draft, plunging the country into 80 years of conflict over slavery.)


I was also reading Lawrence Wright’s excellent books on 9/11 and Scientology—The Looming Tower, and Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, respectively—although those two were less for the exam and more because I was damn interested.

Ask my dresser, friend, and artist David Page if I wasn’t reading every minute backstage on Broadway. I was going through Nabokov’s Pale Fire; Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith; media theory like James Gleick’s The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood and Remediation: Understanding New Media by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin; and the new media bible—Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. (His The Medium is the Massage is much more fun.)

Ask Wim Wenders if I wasn’t reading every free second in Montreal. I read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and The Long Goodbye as well as the Marquis De Sade’s horrific 120 Days of Sodom (which was profoundly reinterpreted by Pier Pasolini in his film Saló and undoubtedly a model for Bret Easton Ellis’s excellent American Psycho—just look at the little section at the end of De Sade, and you’ll see where Bret might have gotten the idea for that horrible vagina-tunneling rat. Or maybe dark minds just think alike.)

Ask the lovely Kate Hudson if I didn’t read to her from Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas and brushed up on the gossipy (but still informative) Hollywood textbooks by Peter Biskind like Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood; the follow-up, Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film; and Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America.


OK, none of those were on the exam. I just read a lot. But here are some of my favorites from the list.

American Lit Between the Revolution and the Civil War

1. Washington Irving: The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819)

2. Ralph Emerson: Selected Essays (1841/1844)

3. Francis Parkman: The Oregon Trail (1843)

4. Frederick Douglas: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas (1845)

5. Herman Melville: Typee (1846)

6. Herman Melville: Omoo (1847)

7. Herman Melville: Moby-Dick (1851)

8. Herman Melville: "Bartleby the Scrivener" (1853)

9. Henry David Throreau: Walden (1854)

10. Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass (1855)

11. Abraham Lincoln: Speeches (1856)

12. Harriet Ann Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

13. Solomon Northup: Twelve Years a Slave

American Lit, 1865 – 1945

14. William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury (1929)

15. William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying (1930)

16. William Faulkner: Light in August (1932)

17. William Faulkner: Absalom, Absalom (1936)

18. William Faulkner: The Hamlet (1940)

19. John Steinbeck: The Pastures of Heaven (1932)

20. John Steinbeck: The Red Pony (1933)

21. John Steinbeck: Tortilla Flat (1935)

22. John Steinbeck: In Dubious Battle (1936)

23. John Steinbeck: Of Mice & Men (book) (1937)

24. John Steinbeck: Of Mice & Men (Play) (1937)

25. John Steinbeck: Long Valley (1938)

26. John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

27. John Steinbeck: Cannery Row (1942)


28. James M. Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)

American Lit, Post 1945

29. Patricia Highsmith: Strangers on a Train (1950)

30. Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)

31. Vladimir Nabokov: Speak, Memory (1951)

32. Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita (1955)

33. John Steinbeck: East of Eden (1952)

34. Anthony Hecht: Selected Poems (1954)

35. Flannery O’Connor: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (1955)

36. Allen Ginsberg: Howl (1956) and Kaddish (1961)

37. Jack Kerouac: On the Road (1957) and The Dharma Bums (1958)

38. Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and In Cold Blood (1965)

39. Robert Lowell: Life Studies (1959)

40. Richard Yates: Revolutionary Road (1961)

41. Ernest Hemingway: A Moveable Feast (1964)

42. Jerzy Kosinski: The Painted Bird (1965)

43. Cormac McCarthy: Child of God (1973)

44. Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian (1985)

45. Stephen King: It (1986)

46. C.K. Williams: Tar (1983)

47. Stephen Dobyns: Black Dog, Red Dog (1984)

48. Don DeLillo: White Noise (1985)

49. Tony Hoagland: Donkey Gospel (1988)

50. Raymond Carver: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1989)

51. Frank Bidart: Under the Western Night (1990)

52. Denis Johnson: Jesus Son (1992)

53. David Foster Wallace: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (1997)

54. Mark Z. Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)

55. David Markson: This is Not a Novel (2001)

56. Junot Diaz: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)


57. Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)

Some Media Theory Stuff

58. Siegfried Kracauer: Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality and Theory of Film: Basic Concepts & Test of Physical Existence

59. Christian Metz: Film Language

60. Justin Wyatt: High Concept

61. Andre Bazin: What Is Cinema?

62. Clayton Christensen: America's Corporate Art

63. E.M Forester: Aspects of the Novel

64. Erich Auerbach: Mimesis

65. Ian Watt: The Rise of the Novel

66. Lev Manovich: Language of New Media

67. Wendy Chun: Control and Freedom

68. Henry Jenkins: Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide

69. Steven Shaviro: Post Cinematic Affect

70. Tom Bissell: Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

And Some Hollywood Novels

71. Rupert Hughes: Souls for Sale (1921)

72. Harry Leon Wilson: Merton of the Movies (1922)

73. Horace McCoy: They Shoot Horses Don't They? (1935)

74. Horace McCoy: I Should Have Stayed Home (1938)

75. Nathaniel West: The Day of the Locust (1939)

76. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Love of the Last Tycoon (1940)

77. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Pat Hobby Stories (1967)

78. Gore Vidal: Myra Breckinridge (1968)

79. Budd Schulberg: What Makes Sammy Run (1941)

80. Dorothy Hughes: In a Lonely Place (1947)

81. Clifford Odets: The Big Knife (play) (1949)

82. Robert Bloch: Psycho (1959)

83. Tom Dardis: Some Time in the Sun: The Hollywood Years of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Nathaniel West, Aldous Huxley, and James Agee (1976)


84. Michael Tolkin: The Player (1988)

85. Charles Bukowski: Hollywood (1989)

86. Richard Fine: West of Eden: Writers in Hollywood, 1928-1940 (1993)

87. Elmore Leonard: Get Shorty (1995)

88. Bruce Chipman: Into America's Dream­ Dump: A Postmodern Study of the Hollywood Novel (1999)

89. John Parris Springer: Hollywood Fictions: The Dream Factory in American Popular Literature (2000)

90. Sam Staggs: Close­up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream (2003)

91. Steve Erickson Zeroville (2007)

92. Peter L. Winkler: Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of A Hollywood Rebel (2011)

93. Jess Walter: Beautiful Ruins (2012)

94. Greg Sestero: The Disaster Artist (2013)