Jesse Peretz: TOP TEN BOOKS

Before taking his place in the film world, Massachusetts-born Jesse Peretz got his start in music; Peretz co-founded the Lemonheads, an Alternative rock band with roots in punk, in 1986—though he quit before their breakout album, It’s a Shame About Ray, hit the radio. Still, Peretz remained in its orbit by picking up a camera and working as the band photographer, and seemingly found his place comfortably behind the lens. After documenting the Lemonheads, Peretz moved into directing commercials and music videos, including for the Foo Fighters, before a foray into film solidified his path (American Splendor and Our Idiot Brother,) and TV (including episodes of HBO’s Girls). “People dedicate themselves to being in a rock band and then it dries up. They have everyone kissing their butt, picking them up in limos. And then in two years, nobody [cares] anymore,” he told the LA Times in 1998 when First Love, Last Rites, his first feature, debuted. His most recent project, Juliet, Naked, was a movie adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel starring Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd.

Below are Jesse Peretz’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.


American Pastoral

Philip Roth
I read this novel, about a man’s seemingly blessed life unravelling as his child self-destructs, in the first few months after my daughter was born. Feeling my love for her as I read about another parent losing his daughter made it all the more intense.
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Notes of a Native Son

James Baldwin
I had been thinking of this book of essays since I saw the Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro last year, and dipped back into it recently—I hadn’t read it since high school. Back then, it hit me hard. I realized there was a counter-narrative to all the history I had been taught, and I learned that lesson through Baldwin’s beautiful anger.
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James Joyce
I go back to “Dubliners,” every few years to re-experience Joyce’s gorgeous use of the English language. These stories were one of the first things I read that made me understand the power of words (and punctuation)!
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The Child in Time

Ian McEwan
McEwan’s razor-sharp descriptions of human emotion always hit me hard, and I find this to be the most haunting and heartbreaking of his books. A father looks up in the grocery store and realizes his four-year-old missing; the search for her destroys his marriage and his life. I’m a huge fan of McEwan’s—my first feature was based on his short story “First Love, Last Rites,”—but this is the one that stays with me.
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Written on the Body

Jeanette Winterson
This book is so intimate and intricate, I can feel Winterson in every word: her almost-reckless belief in romantic love, and her clear-eyed details of the heartbreak that follows.
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The Fifth Child

Doris Lessing
I’m fascinated by the premise of Lessing’s horror story where the threat to survival is not external but literally inside the body and home of the protagonist. The moral quandary of raising a dangerous child is not one many of us will ever confront, but the painful struggle of this family is impossible to look away from.
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The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion
A meticulous and raw portrait of mourning and grief that takes us through the year after the death of Didion’s husband, as well the accident, illness, and eventual death of her daughter soon afterward. I cried so many times reading this.
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Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates has helped me understand some of the insanity of our time, and the challenging complexities of a journey to better society. His uncompromising clarity should be required reading, especially for white people.
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Please Kill Me

Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil
A totally joyful history of punk rock told in an unflinching, self-incriminating and ultimately punk rock way. It embraced all that punk is—even the stupid stuff. It filled me with a lot of exciting nostalgia for things I didn’t even experience.
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Metropolitan Life

Fran Lebowitz
I read this 28 years ago, when I first I moved to New York City. I’d wanted to live here since I was five years old and the book confirmed every dream I had about what life could be like if you surrounded yourself with the right people. I laughed out loud reading this more than almost anything else I can remember.
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