Category Archives: Recommended Reading

Recommended: Spring 23 Edition

Here are some of the films and books I consumed over the last months.


Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)

Set in a 14th century monastery in Northern Italy, Eco’s claustrophobic mystery encompasses semiotics, apocryphal religious texts, and insights into the Church’s efforts to purge itself of heresy.

The Luminaries (Elizabeth Catton)

Despite its 800 page length, this historical novel reads quick. Set in 1860s New Zealand’s gold camps, it concerns a death, a disappearance, and a bequest.

I Celebrate Myself (Bill Morgan)

I learned more than I wanted to about Allen Ginsberg in this fine-tuned biography, though the insights about his poetry, particularly Howl, are invaluable.

Appointment in Samarra (John O’Hara)

A small town bourgeois’s complete self-destruction. Ernest Hemmingway and Dorothy Parker were fans.

Arthurian Romances (Chretien de Troyes)

The basis of Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. Here are the roots of Romance.

The Horseman on the Roof (Jean Giono)

A  young Piedmontese hussar navigates the post-Napoleonic South of France during a cholera outbreak. Existentialist!

The White Company (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Doyle considered this Late Medieval-set story his best novel.

The Passenger (Cormac McCarthy)

Probably McCarthy’s penultimate book. Not as scorching as Blood Meridian, yet fraught with greed, obsession, and schizophrenia.


Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Nelson 2019)

Miles was a genius, obviously. And a bit of a bastard.

In Fabric (Strickland 2018)

Stylized, Giallo-like art direction. Great pallette. Still images/ variable film speed. Retro score.

Cashback (Ellis 2006)

A winsome post-college rom-com.

Hyena (Johnson 2014)

The English Bad Lt.? No, that’s too glib. Even so, this crime drama is a lot of fun.

True History of the Kelly Gang (Kurzel 2019)

Based on Peter Carey’s stupendous, Booker-winning novel. Cross-dressing bushrangers punish the Brits Down Under.

The Mauritanian (McDonald 2021)

Ultimately far too forgiving. Guantanamo Bay is a necrotic sore, and those who administered it, including Ron DeSantis, deserve punishment.

The Wonder (Lelio 2022)

Florence Pugh dominates this story about faith and fraud set in 19th century rural Ireland.

That Man from Rio (de Broca 1964)

Jean-Paul Belmondo at perhaps his lithest and most nimble pinballs around Brutalist Rio during its dictatorship era, something no one in the film feels compelled to address.

That Touch of Mink (Mann 1962)

There’s an icy distance to Cary Grant in his later films, a quality not even Doris Day’s sunny enthusiasm can dispel in this 1962 romantic comedy.

Berberian Sound Studio (Strickland 2012)

This homage to Italian trash cinema includes Toby Jones as a meek audio engineer whose work on a bloody giallo begins to warp his sense of reality. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the complete absence of screen violence. Instead of watching gore we witness foley artists hacking apart watermelons. Lacking any visual counterpart, the screams and squishes land that much harder. A great movie to use for Thought and Image.

Pilgrimage (Muldowney 2017)

A gratifying film for any fan of medievalist cinema. A 13th century Cistercian monk transports a holy relic through the bogs of Ireland, where Norman invaders and Gaelic warriors clash.

The Angel of History or, Progress (AMST310/HUM485)

From “Theses on History” by Walter Benjamin:

A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (Benjamin 1941, 257–8)

Summer Reading 22 (2)

Andres Barba, A Luminous Republic

This short moral fable concerns the sudden appearance of a group of semi-feral children in a small South American town.

Rafael Sabatini, The Sea-Hawk

An adventure romance from one of the best writers of that genre about an English petty aristocrat who becomes a Barbary corsair.

Ottessa Moshfegh, Lapvona

An exceedingly dark story set in the medieval village of Lapvona about a greedy lord and a stunted peasant boy.


Here’s a list of some of the books and films I read and watched this semester when I could have been doing other things:


Among the Thugs

A vivid ethnography of English football hooligans.

The Catastrophist

A political thriller by Ronan Bennett set in decolonizing Congo.

The Murders that Made Us

Tawdry tales of criminal San Francisco from the Bear Republic to the present.

This is the Beat Generation: New York, Paris, San Francisco

There are some remarkable details and anecdotes about the Beats in this study.

The End of the Golden Gate

A collection of essays by those who have loved and left SF.

Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard

These stories about a young, arrogant cavalier in Napoleon’s army are easily equal to Conan Doyle’s best tales of Sherlock Holmes.

Harlot’s Ghost

Mailer’s mature yet romantic history of the CIA.

A Year of Gold and Mud

Letters from the first year of the Gold Rush.


The Carpetbaggers

Based on the novel by Harold Robbins. Loaded with booze, sex, ambition and avarice.

Let’s Get Lost

A gauzy, black and white account of Chet Baker told by those who loved him and those he betrayed (usually the same people).

The Man Who Haunted Himself

Roger Moore’s best film is a story of dopplegangers and corporate greed.

Basic Instinct 2

Elizabeth Trammel (Sharon Stone) goes on the road to Europe where– you can bet– her perverse appetites and charisma are unleashed.

The Card Counter

Paul Schrader’s noir love letter to poker takes up the psychological aftermath of US sanctioned torture during the invasion of Iraq.


A prime 70s cop drama with Elliot Gould and Robert Blake.

The Northman

There is not a shred of irony in this epic rendition of the Viking eddas.

The Mad Doctor of Market Street

Despite its title this occasionally bizarre Code-era horror film by Joseph H. Lewis expends most of its energies on an island in the Pacific populated by ethnocentrically rendered “natives”.