Bruce Wagner: TOP TEN BOOKS


A deeply funny, deeply compassionate writer, Wagner’s trenchant exposes of Hollywood’s narcissism and hubris are simultaneously preposterous and profound. “Hollywood is a laboratory for need and vanity,” he has said. “The knives are always out, and I’m often holding them.” A finalist for the 2006 PEN/Faulkner Award, he has published ten novels, including Force Majeure, Still Holding, and The Chrysanthemum Palace, and written numerous screenplays including Maps to the Stars for David Cronenberg, who compares Wagner to James Joyce, saying, “Hollywood is his Dublin.”

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


How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

Pierre Bayard
Its bathroom-reading title belies this astonishing, hilarious analysis of reading, memory, shame and the everyday fraud of shared experience — the illusion of consensus that is the glue of our conversational social contract. Written by a drolly self-effacing French professor of literature.
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Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift
Has anyone ever even read it? (Cf. the above!) Savage truths about the human condition are laid out in hyper-realistic, logical prose; after the first page one knows one’s in the methodical hands of a master assassin-surgeon. It comforts, even if at the end, the operation is a success but the patient (it is us) has died.
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Voices From Chernobyl

Svetlana Alexievich
The nonfiction Nobelist’s oral history of the aftermath of the disaster is among the handful of books I’ve read that were so heartbreaking, so bleak, so poetic, that I couldn’t stomach more than a few pages at a time. It’s literally radioactive and really did a number on me. Read at your own peril.
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The Thief's Journal

Jean Genet
A book that imprinted me at a young age more than almost any other. (Patti Smith’s lifelong fixation has nearly ruined him for me but I’ll get over it.) He uses a terse footnote on page one — as a 13-year-old reader, startling and altering my idea of the possibilities of Literature itself – that in its power illumines David Foster Wallace’s Footnote Forest as moronic/masturbatory.
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Naked Hollywood: Weegee In Los Angeles

Richard Meyer
I can’t overrate the radical beauty and revolutionary vision of these portraits. He was the first to focus on the psycho-idolatrous fans in the crowds at premieres, instead of the celebrities. Weegee the man, in words and image, is like a ham-handed rube and a carnival barker; it’s like watching an oaf sit down to play a perfect, mordant Bach chorale. What can I say?
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Selected Poetry

Thomas Hardy
When his estranged wife Emma died, she became Hardy’s muse, which irritated his new wife to no end. At 72, he became the magisterial, full-fledged poet he always thought himself to be. The Emma poems are elegiac, restrained, transcendent. He was buried in Poet’s Corner; his heart was removed and buried with the dead spouse.
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Keep The River On Your Right

Tobias Schneebaum
I was 16 when I read this and it sure had a hold on me. Schneebaum hitch-hiked from New York to Peru then walked stone naked into the jungle. I’d always wanted to throw everything away and vanish; he did it in the most gonzo, hallucinatory fashion. I adored him for it and still do. A book that challenged and changed me.
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The Girl With The Golden Eyes

Honore Balzac
(Thank God it wasn’t a dragon tattoo.) This volume contains the gorgeous, 1,001 Nights-like castrati story Sarrasine, the one that inspired Roland Barthes’ S/Z. A great introduction to le Maitre.
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A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments

Roland Barthes
And speaking of which… (Jeffrey Eugenides nearly ruined him for me - cf. The Marriage Plot - but I’ll get over it.) What has become some sort of bullshit semiotic touchstone for asshole academics is in fact terrifying, pathetically human: he’s like a tender mathematician — perhaps more like Primo Levi — dissecting the holocaust that is Love.
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The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory Of Jack Kerouac

Joyce Johnson
I was shocked at the truths and magnificence of this biography; I didn’t think she (or anyone) had it in her. Throw all the Beats away: only the misunderstood colossus - Kerouac – remains. Who’s really read him, anyway? It’s all about that buffoon Cassady, and idiotic fanboy quotes… “the only ones for me are the mad ones” – yuck. Read the above for the real Weegee/Whitman ecstatic-horrific experience of genius, alcoholism, fame and the merciful, merciless Spirit that rules us.
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