Broken Tower

James Franco's Book Bag

Actor, artist and writer James Franco shares his six favorite books, from Faulkner to Bukowski. His debut short story collection, 'Palo Alto,' is out now.

As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner

I loved Faulkner’s use of voice in As I Lay Dying. Not just the way the chapters are told by different characters in first person, but the way that the characters’ interior and exterior voices clash. The interior monologues are so much richer and more complex for Faulkner. He gives voice to the characters’ emotions for them. This isn’t a short story collection, but each character has his or her own story and perspective even if they are all linked by the burial of Addie.

Jesus’ Son – Denis Johnson

Johnson is a master of mixing the comedic and the dark, the bleak and the spiritual in Jesus’ Son. He tells things so simply and bluntly that he gives himself space to create little moments of transcendence, little passages that go off in a crazy non-literal direction. He is great at voice, too.

The Nick Adams Stories – Ernest Hemingway

I read Hemingway’s Nick Adams Stories when I was in high school. It was great to read about a young man in the prose of a master. Hemingway showed me economy and how to pack a bunch into a little.

The Bear – William Faulkner

The Bear is not necessarily a short story collection but it is broken into different sections. The sections use a common narrator and show his growth as a man as the rural world around him dies. Faulkner’s prose is dense and difficult, but he raises adolescent experience into something profound.

Golden State – Frank Bidart

This is a book of poetry. In Frank’s first book he wrote about his hometown of Bakersfield, California. He writes about darkness as a way of self-exploration. He goes to extremes in his subject matter in order to capture extreme states of mind. He showed me how to use material from one’s own life and filter it through other personas. He showed me the beauty of darkness.

Ham on Rye – Charles Bukowski

He is funny and he’s honest. He is ugly and he knows it. He is sensitive. He is offensive and he doesn’t care. He has been beaten down so often physically and critically he can take anything. This book is one of the funniest and most moving childhood novels I have read.