I love old movies and I love books about old movies, hence this season’s classic film nonfiction-heavy To Be Read list (TBR). Though I read books about old movies frequently throughout the year, the bulk of them get read in summer when Raquel from Out of the Past hosts her Classic Film Reading Challenge.
What I like to do to prepare myself for this reading challenge is to sit down in front of my bookshelves in May and choose which unread classic film nonfiction books I’d like to get to. Some of them I’ve been putting off reading for years, some for months, and some are newly purchased. I like to mix it up a bit and choose two books from each category.
The ones I’ve been putting off for years are usually the thick, heavy hardbacks that intimidate me every time I look at them (i.e. Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan, Marlene Dietrich: The Life by Maria Riva and Michael Curtiz: A Life In Film by Alan K. Rode). I was so excited about reading them when I first bought them, but if I don’t pick them up right away and actually start reading, they’ll just languish on my shelves and collect dust until I feel brave enough to heave them off the shelf.
I think it’s about time that I tackled a couple of these beasts, so this year I’m planning on reading the aforementioned Dietrich bio and He’s Got Rhythm: The Life and Career of Gene Kelly by Cynthia and Sara Brideson. And as for the books that aren’t as hefty as those two, I’m planning on picking up Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford by Donald Spoto, Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr by Stephen Michael Shearer, and Elsa Lanchester, Herself by Elsa Lanchester.
As for the books I’ve already completed this summer, A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson by Michael Troyan and Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn Levy were both fantastic biographies that perfectly captured the essence of their subjects. Although the Garson bio was a tad dry and drawn-out at times, it read like a true insight into her life and career. Author Michael Troyan interviewed quite a number of Garson’s loved ones and coworkers and though their opinions on Garson were always glowing, you sensed they were being entirely truthful when they praised Garson’s personality, her foibles, her work ethic and her beliefs.
The same could be said about Shawn Levy’s Newman bio. It was a lot darker and grittier than Garson’s was but, let’s face it, Greer Garson and Paul Newman were polar opposites! She was grace and elegance personified and he was meatier, more dynamic and exciting than a seventeen year old going clubbing for the first time. Though I’ve always idolized Newman, he certainly had his faults and they’re all studied in-depth in Levy’s biography. His life is dissected minutely on nearly every page and this made for an incredibly intense, dense read. The amount of research that went into this book shows and it’s easily one of the best classic film-related biographies I’ve ever read.
Seeing as how we’re about halfway through summer already (eek!), this TBR will probably last me until September. As much as I’d love to add even more books to my reading list, I have to be realistic and keep things to a minimum. However (!!!) if by some miracle I get through reading all of these books, I’ll probably gravitate towards some of the gigantic coffee table books I’ve got sitting on my shelves. The newest one I’ve added to my collection is a rare, out-of-print copy of Reel Art: Great Posters from The Golden Age of the Silver Screen by Richard Allen and Stephen Rebello.
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Are you currently participating in Raquel’s Classic Film Reading Challenge? If you are, I’d love to hear about the books you’ve set aside for the challenge! Leave me a comment down below with your picks! I’m always on the look-out for classic film nonfiction I’ve never read before.